Kitchen Shrink: Feast on patriotic dishes this holiday weekend

A reader wants to know how to prevent her favorite sister-in-law from bringing her monster dishes that no one seems to like to her Fourth of July gathering.

It's a very common problem in families to have an enthusiastic cook with half-baked culinary skills. Not to worry. There's a way to delicately avert the near-crisis. Tell sis-in-law that the menu is under control or you have a specific theme. Then politely ask her to bring a good bottle of wine or a patriotic trio of red, white and blue ice creams or sorbets. This way she feels like she's contributing and you're saving the family from possible indigestion - or worse.

Since you signed up to do the cooking, take some help from this assortment of recipes:

Southwest Gazpacho

  • 4 large ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 sweet red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce
  • 2 cups of tomato or vegetable juice
  • 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons of virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
  • 2 ripe, firm avocados cut in chunks
  • Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  • Fresh cilantro sprigs and lime slices for garnish

Combine the ingredients except the avocado, cilantro and lime slices in a large bowl and stir gently. Chill for 2 hours. Ladle into martini glasses and garnish with avocado, cilantro sprigs and lime slices.

Brocslaw or Broccoli Coleslaw

  • 1 16-ounce bag of shredded broccoli or two big heads of fresh chopped broccoli
  • 1/2 small red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 small yellow pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1/4 cup of slivered almonds

For the dressing

  • 2/3 cup of grapeseed oil
  • 1/3 cup of seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the creamy version

  • 1 cup of mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • Pinch of wasabi powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the veggies. Set aside. In a separate bowl, add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and whisk in the oils. Toss with the slaw until evenly distributed, and top with almonds and more scallions.

For the creamy dressing, blend ingredients well, toss with the slaw until evenly distributed.

Patriotic Potato Salad

  • 12-14 potatoes (a mixture of redskin, blue and white) boiled in their jackets and cubed
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups of diced celery
  • 1/4 cup of diced red onion
  • 2 cups of mayonnaise (adjust for your desired consistency)
  • 2 teaspoons of spicy mustard
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  • Red pepper rings and red caviar for garnish

In a small bowl, blend the mayonnaise with the mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, eggs, celery, red pepper and onion. Toss with the mayonnaise dressing until the mixture is moistened. Garnish with red pepper rings, a dollop of red caviar and toothpick paper flags.

Old Glory Pizza

You can buy a dough ball from your grocer's refrigerated section or make it from scratch.

Dough

  • 2 cups of unbleached flour
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 2/3 cup milk (2 percent)
  • 1/3 cup of grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cane sugar

Topping

  • 1 cup of marinara sauce
  • 10 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Black olive slices
  • Red pepper strips

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the dry dough ingredients, then add the oil and milk. Knead until a ball forms. Place the dough between two pieces of wax paper and roll into an oblong. Fill a rectangular greased cookie sheet with the dough. Spread the sauce evenly and top with the cheese. Decorate with the toppings to resemble the flag - black olives in the upper left-hand corner for the stars, red pepper strips for the stripes.

Bake until cheese is bubbly and golden, about 12 minutes.

Navajo Peach Crisp (An American Indian twist on the colonial peach cobbler)

  • 6 large, ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup of cane sugar
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup of unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons of walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a 2-quart baking dish, toss the peaches with the cane sugar and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and salt. Crumble the butter into coarse chunks and add to the flour and sugar. Sprinkle the mixture over the peaches and top with the nuts. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with tri-colored ice creams - strawberry, vanilla bean and blueberry or any other funky blue hue.

Martha Washington's Meringue Cookies

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/3 cup of well-packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of pecan halves

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Beat the egg whites and salt until foamy. Gradually add the brown sugar and vanilla. Continue beating until stiff peaks are formed. Fold in pecan halves.

Drop by teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for one hour.

A few food rules

  • Keep your hot foods hot and your cold ones cold to avoid the formation of food-borne bugs.
  • Never let different food groups share cutting surfaces or knives to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Meat, fish, fowl and mushrooms need to be prepared like Goldilocks' porridge - just right. Burnt offerings can be carcinogenic - 'blackened Cajun' - and undercooked foods - especially Portobello mushrooms - can be toxic if eaten 'rare.'
  • Chill any leftovers in airtight containers immediately after you've finished eating.
   
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