- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

My childhood memories of the Fourth of July sparkle with showy fireworks falling in brilliant showers from high in the sky, black snakes slithering their way out of charcoal tablets on the sidewalk, and the torture of knowing that any minute I might be jarred by the blast of a cherry bomb, apparently some sort of patriotic coming-of-age thing for the boys in my neighborhood.

Milder memories have to do with backyard badminton and croquet, Dad’s goopy barbecued chicken and Mom’s dependably yummy potato salad. The children were put on ice-cream-churning duty, which started out as fun but a few turns later turned us into cranky brats, even if bribed with a lick of the dasher.

Nowadays, backyard fireworks are forbidden, a good thing for the safety of us all. I don’t even enjoy explosions that reach my yard from nearby legitimate displays because their effect on pets and wildlife upsets me, apparently some sort of unpatriotic grown-woman thing.

But another time and place for animal rights. Let’s talk about what’s left of the fun and food for the Fourth. I say you can still have your fun and fireworks and eat them, too.

Cherry-bomb chicken is as sticky as Dad used to make, but it comes to that table in a deep mahogany (instead of ketchup red) glaze from a basting of soy-laced cherry preserves that you can fire up as much as you want with hot pepper sauce.

The same goes for firecracker coleslaw, a healthier salad choice than Mom’s mayo-driven side dish. Give it more or less minced jalapeno to control the heat to your liking. It can be made ahead of time and stored in a sealed plastic bag or covered bowl. If you like a crisp slaw, add the dressing just before serving. For a more tender texture, go ahead and toss the slaw in the dressing a few hours or even a day ahead of serving.

Watermelon limeade will extinguish any fires the two previous dishes have ignited.

This pretty pink drink is as thirst quenching as it gets for the height of summer’s high holiday. One of our testers thought a splash of vodka improved the quench and made everything, pink or not, prettier.

Old-fashioned strawberry shortcake makes its appearance at dessert with a new look. We’ve macerated the berries in balsamic vinegar. A scant scent of rosemary can barely be detected in the shortcakes.

The shortcakes are especially good if split and toasted for a crisp tooth feel. If balsamic and rosemary are too extreme a makeover, keep the tradition and just don’t invite them into this recipe. Either way, be sure to serve it with ice cream, kid-cranked or not.

Round out the menu as you like, but a start of deviled eggs and a side of grilled corn seem good, easy and American. And while the backyard fireworks may have fizzled, they haven’t in the food and you can still bring out the badminton or croquette set for some fun.

Cherry-bomb chicken

½ cup soy sauce

1 10-ounce jar cherry preserves

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or to taste

4 to 5 pounds chicken pieces, rinsed and patted dry

Scallions, sliced lengthwise for garnish

In small saucepan, mix soy sauce, preserves, garlic and mustard. Stir over medium heat just until preserves are melted and mixture is well blended. Season to taste with hot pepper sauce. Cool. Arrange chicken in single layer in baking dish just large enough to hold pieces. Pour sauce over all and turn pieces to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.

Lift chicken from marinade, collecting remaining marinade in small bowl.

Grill chicken over medium coals until done, about 25 minutes, turning frequently and basting with additional marinade. Garnish with scallions. Makes 6 servings.

Firecracker coleslaw

½ head green cabbage, shredded, about 6 cups

1 medium red bell pepper, cut in julienne

1 large cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and finely sliced

½ red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 jalapeno chili, seeded and minced, optional

½ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

3 tablespoons peanut oil

Salt

1/4 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts

In large bowl, combine cabbage, bell pepper, cucumber, onion, cilantro and jalapeno. Toss lightly. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. In small bowl, whisk vinegar with sugar to dissolve. Whisk in sesame and peanut oils and season to taste with salt.

When ready to serve, pour dressing over cabbage mixture and toss thoroughly. Season to taste with salt. Sprinkle with peanuts. Makes 6 servings.

Watermelon limeade

1 cup sugar

6 cups chopped seedless watermelon

1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Spears of melon, optional

In saucepan, bring 2 cups water and sugar to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool. Working in batches, place melon pieces in blender and process 30 seconds to liquefy. Strain mixture into cooled sugar syrup. Stir in lime juice. Serve in tall glasses filled with ice. Garnish with melon spears, if desired. Makes about 2 quarts.

Rosemary cream shortcakes with balsamic strawberries

This recipe is adapted from “Totally Strawberries” by Helene Siegel and Karen Gillingham (Celestial Arts).

6 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Rosemary cream shortcakes (recipe follows)

Vanilla ice cream

Rosemary sprigs for garnish

Combine strawberries, sugar and balsamic vinegar. Let stand at least 1 hour at room temperature or up to 7 hours in refrigerator.

To serve, slice each shortcake in half and place bottoms on serving plates. Top each with a generous spoonful of strawberries. Place one scoop ice cream over berries and drizzle with some of the juice from the berry bowl. Cover with top piece of shortcake. Garnish with rosemary sprigs, if desired. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

ROSEMARY CREAM SHORTCAKES:

1½ cups flour, plus more for flouring board

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and rosemary. Mix with fork. Gradually pour in generous ½ cup whipping cream, stirring constantly with wooden spoon to evenly moisten. Drizzle in remaining cream, turning dough by hand until just moist enough to hold together.

Turn out onto floured surface and knead 1 minute. Pat dough into circle about 1/3-inch thick. Cut out with 3-inch biscuit or cookie cutter or glass dipped in flour. Gather dough scraps, re-roll, being careful to handle gently.

Transfer to baking sheet, brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle each cake with a little sugar. Bake in preheated 425-degree oven about 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on rack.

Makes 6 servings.

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