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JULY/AUGUST 2013

The Fourth of July, possibly the quintessential American celebration and the only big holiday of the summer season, is a grand excuse for a party with family and friends.

My husband really gets into the spirit. He puts out not one or two, but three American flags on various flagpoles around the yard. Small American flags on sticks are jabbed into flowerpots, window boxes, and in the flower bed that borders the driveway. Red, white and blue bunting adorns our pier and party barge. Mounds of red, white and blue napkins and paper plates are always at the ready. He even found twenty-four matching bright blue glass goblets that he thinks are just the thing to set the mood for the holiday.

He also likes to plan the menu to include lots of red items—strawberries, watermelons and lobsters. Blueberries, and drinks he’s christened with names like Blue Parrots and Blue Lagoons represent blue. And white can be anything from homemade vanilla ice cream to angel food cakes.

Burgers are always fun and welcome for any outdoor occasion. All that is necessary is to prep the meat patties, toss them on the grill, and supply condiments and buns for everyone to dress their own.

Since I’m a great burger fan, I have several of my personal favorites that just might inspire you for the Fourth, or for any summertime occasion.

Spicy burgers
Makes 6 servings
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
  • 6 hamburger buns, lightly toasted
In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, bell peppers, green onions, garlic, oregano, hot sauce and barbecue sauce. Season with salt and black pepper. Mix well, but do not overwork. Shape into patties. Grill (or broil in the oven) the meat to five to six minutes on each side, or until all pink disappears. Don’t press down on them with a spatula! You’re draining all the taste out!

Place the burgers on the toasted buns and dress.



Blue cheese burgers
Makes 4 to 6 servings
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
  • 4 to 6 toasted buns
Combine the beef, pork, chives, salt, pepper, soy sauce and olive oil in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Shape the mixture into patties. Then, make a pocket in the center of each patty and fill each with a tablespoon of the blue cheese. Close the pocket by pinching the meat together. Grill for five to six minutes on each side, or until all pink disappears. Serve on toasted buns.

This final recipe is one of my favorites. I like dousing the burgers, as I eat, with lots of hot sauce!



California burgers
Makes 4 to 6 servings
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound lean veal
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 medium-size ripe Haas avocados, peeled, pitted and mashed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • 4 to 6 toasted buns
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground meats, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Mix well and shape into patties. Grill (or broil) for five to six minutes on each side, or until all pink disappears.

In a small bowl, combine the avocados, lime juice, hot sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
Spread the avocado mixture on the buns and place a hamburger patty on top. Dress with grilled onions or tomatoes, or whatever strikes your fancy!
And what could be better than a cool coleslaw to serve with the burgers.



Best coleslaw
Makes 6 to 8 servings
  • 2 cups shredded white cabbage
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1 cup shredded spinach
  • 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onions
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons Creole mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
Toss the cabbage, spinach, bell peppers, onions, jalapenos, and parsley in a large salad bowl.
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and sugar and mix well.
Add the mixture to the salad bowl and toss to mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.



Red, White and Blue Cheesecake
Makes 10 to 12 servings

Crust:
  • 28 chocolate wafers, ground fine in a blender or food processor (about 1 1/2 cups crumbs)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
Filling:
  • 4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups raspberries or strawberries
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries
To make the crust, stir together the cookie crumbs and the butter until the mixture is well blended. Pat the mixture onto the bottom and 1/2 inch up the side of a 9 1/2-inch springform pan. Chill for 30 minutes. For the filling, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl with an electric mixture beat the cream cheese until it is light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, beating until the mixture is well blended. Beat in the flour and the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream, the zests, the salt and vanilla until all is well blended.

Pour the filling into the crust and bake the cheesecake in a foil-lined shallow baking pan in the middle of the oven for one hour and 10 minutes. The cheesecake will not be completely set, but will set as it cools. Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake stand in the oven with the oven door propped open about six inches until it is cooled completely. Cover and chill the cheesecake for at least six hours.

Remove from pan. Arrange the raspberries or strawberries on top of the cheesecake in a star shape. Then arrange the blueberries around the star to cover the top of the cheesecake. To serve, cut into thin slices.
Hope you enjoy your 4th of July!



BASTILLE DAY

Vive la France! Don’t put away those red, white and blue decorations from the Fourth of July just yet. Just exchange out the American flags for French flags and you’re set to celebrate Bastille Day (July 14) to commemorate the French Revolution. With so many of us of French descent or with a French connection, it’s yet another reason to have another summer celebration.

Break out the best of your French champagne, or offer aperitifs to stimulate the appetite, and serve a festive hors d’ouevre that can be as simple as rillettes de saumon fume, (a smoked salmon spread) or the best store-bought pate you can find. Follow with a very French (but simple) dinner of Steak au Poivre, Pommes Pailles, and Tomatoes Provencale.



RILLETTES DE SAUMON FUME
Makes 4 appetizer servings
  • 6 ounces smoked salmon
  • 3 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions, white part only
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill plus dill sprigs for garnish
  • Toast points or croutons
In a food processor puree two thirds of the salmon with the creme fraiche or sour cream, the butter and the zest and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Chop the remaining salmon and stir it into the mixture with the green onions, lemon juice, salt, cayenne and the snipped dill. Using two teaspoons dipped in cold water form spoonfuls of the rillettes into oval mounds, arranging three mounds on each of four small plates. (The rillettes may be made one day in advance and keep covered and chilled in the refrigerator.) Garnish the rillettes with the dill sprigs and serve with toast points or croutons.



STEAK AU POIVRE
Makes 4 servings
  • 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 4 (1/2-pound) beef fillets, each about 3/4 inch thick
  • Salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 1/2 cup Cognac
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • Cayenne
  • Watercress or parsley sprigs for garnish
Coarsely crush the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or in a peppermill. Press the pepper into both sides of the steaks. Season the steaks with salt to taste. In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil and the butter over moderately high heat until the foam subsides. Add the steaks and cook for two to two and one half minutes on each side, or until they are just springy to the touch, for medium-rare, or longer if you prefer the steaks to be medium. Transfer the steaks to a platter and keep them warm. Pour off almost all of the oil in the skillet. Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until it softened. Add the Cognac and cook until the mixture is reduced to a glaze on the bottom of the pan. Add the broth and boil until the mixture is reduced by half. Add the cream and boil the mixture, stirring occasionally, until it is thickened slightly. Season the sauce with salt and cayenne to taste. Pour the sauce into a warmed sauceboat. Garnish the steaks with the watercress or parsley and serve the sauce separately.



POMMES PAILLES
Makes 4 servings
  • 1 1/2 pounds russet (baking) potatoes
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying
  • Salt, cayenne and fresh ground black pepper
Peel the potatoes and drop them into a large bowl of ice water. With a mandoline or similar slicing device, cut the potatoes lengthwise into very thin sticks, dropping the sticks as they are cut into the bowl of water. Toss the potatoes in the water to wash off excess starch, drain, then pat them dry between several layers of paper towels. Heat the oil to about 360 degrees F. and deep fry the potatoes in small batches for about two minutes, or until they are golden. Remove each batch and drain them on paper towels. Season the potatoes with salt, cayenne and black pepper. (The potatoes can be made several hours in advance. Just before serving spread them in a large roasting pan and heat them in a 325 degrees F. oven for five to 10 minutes, or until they are crisp and hot.)



TOMATOES PROVENCALE
Makes 4 servings
  • 4 medium, ripe tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil plus additional for brushing the tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 flat anchovy fillet, rinsed, dried and minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup minced parsley
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and black pepper
Cut off the top third from each tomato and discard. Scoop out the seeds with a small spoon. Brush the outside of the tomatoes with some of the olive oil. Put the tomatoes, cut sides up, on a lightly oiled shallow baking pan and season the inside of the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes in a preheated 325 degrees F. oven for 20 minutes. Remove and invert them over paper towels and let them drain for about 15 minutes. In a small bowl toss together the bread crumbs, the anchovy, garlic, Parmesan, parsley, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Divide the mixture equally among the tomatoes and stuff into the cavities. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the three tablespoons of olive oil. Return the tomatoes to the shallow baking pan and broil about four inches from the heat for about two to three minutes, or until the topping is crisp and golden brown.


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