Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy (Feasting on The) 4th of July

Happy Independence Day! I hope you're able to enjoy the holiday relaxing and with the ones you love. My fiancé and I will be out on a picnic watching the fireworks tonight. Hopefully, some of our friends will get a chance to join us. It's sometimes difficult to convince people to venture outside in the Florida heat. Once we told them what was on the menu though, they signed right up.

I'm the nostalgic type and like thinking about our nation's history on days like today. I try not to take what I have for granted, and am grateful for all Americans who have sacrificed for our freedoms. I love having so many choices for enjoying the things I love - one of those being food. Three years ago I began researching the history of food in this country. The rapid changes made within the last half-century caused me to stop and think about what we are doing. I decided to start eating local, organic foods, and believe I'm healthier for it. I'm grateful I have that choice, the freedom, to choose something so important for myself. My cooking has come alive since I've started using organic ingredients. The flavors are so clean, and fresh. I was able to taste the difference immediately between the same dishes I had cooked before and then after I began using natural foods. I love being able to taste every item I've put into a dish and not have any of the flavors covered up by artificial ingredients. I no longer feel guilty feeding my loved ones foods I know we shouldn't be eating. Therefore, the ingredients I list in my recipes are organic and I hope to inspire you to try some, too.

When choosing this holiday's menu, I knew we were going to be outside for several hours in the sun. I wanted to choose foods that would be safe outdoors in a cooler, and contain high water content since dehydration can happen quickly and be dangerous. I also wanted dishes that are lighter than the usual breads, potatoes, and the like. It's still a party though, so the idea was to keep the dishes fun and delicious.

And I also got to go shopping for some new items! I usually write things down on lists to help me remember - my thoughts tend to be scattered at times. I was sure I'd be able to keep track of three little things. Oh, how wrong I was. I had to go to the store three separate times for each item! Thankfully, it's right up the block and each trip made me feel like I bought more than I really did. This time (or times actually) I picked up a 13-by-18-inch pan, a zester, and a sifter. I'll have to think of more things to bake with my extra-large pan. Yummy.

Eat up!

Papaya & Pineapple Salsa in Cucumber Cups
Printable Recipe

4 large, straight cucumbers
1 ripe papaya, finely chopped
1 pineapple, finely chopped
1/3 cup bacon, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Using a zester, remove the cucumber skins in different patterns.

Cut off each cucumber end and then in half. Next cut each half once, which makes 4 cups per cucumber. Using a small, sharp knife, cut a cone into a cup, remembering not to reach the bottom. Then even the sides to create room for the filling.

(If you choose to make smaller cucumber cups, I would recommend scooping them with a melon baller rather than attempting to hollow the centers with a knife. Also, if the bottom of a cup is accidentally cut away, it can be plugged with a cucumber strip and still hold filling.)

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and toss gently. Fill each cup and use the cucumber skins for decoration if desired.

~Original recipe by Brie.

Crab, Corn, & Tomato Salad with Lemon-Basil Dressing
Printable Recipe

1 tbsp grated lemon rind
5 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1/4 cup freshly chopped basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1 lb lump crab meat
2 3/4 cup chopped tomatoes, 2 varieties

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently.

This dish was heavy on the crab, so a 1/2 - 3/4 lb fresh crab meat would be fine. Also, the flavors in the dish were not very pronounced. After a taste test, I decided to double the olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard, and pepper, which made a difference (this is not reflected in the amounts above). Adding more spices or more powerful ingredients, such as avocado, would make it even tastier.

~ This is a Cooking Light recipe.

Mango & Black Bean Salad
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 cups cubed mango
1 cup finely chopped green onions
1/2 cup cooked wild or brown rice
3 tbsp fresh cilantro
2 tbsp fresh salsa or tomatillo
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 can no-salt black beans, rinsed and drained

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently.

This dish can be served chilled or warm by serving right after the cooked rice is added.

~This is a Cooking Light recipe.

Fruited-Cheesecake Flag
Printable Recipe

3 cups all-purpose flour
Coarse salt
12oz (3 sticks) unsalted butter - room temperature
1 cup + 2 tbsp light brown sugar
32oz cream cheese - room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
4 large eggs - room temperature
6oz (1 1/2 cups) blackberries
9oz (2 cups) blueberries
12oz (3 cups) raspberries

Preheat the oven to 300*F. Use the 4th stick of butter that comes in the box to coat a 13-by-18-inch pan. Line the pan with parchment and leave a few inches of overhang on both short ends. Then coat the parchment with butter.

Cream the butter in a mixer on medium-high speed for 5 min. While the butter is busy, sift the flour and 1 3/4 tsp salt in a bowl. Next, lower the mixer to a medium setting add the light brown sugar to the butter in a slow, steady stream, and allow it to blend together for 2 min. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Turn back on to a low setting and add the flour mixture, beating until just incorporated.

Transfer the dough to the center of the baking sheet. Using a piece of parchment the size of both hands, use your palms to spread the dough evenly around the pan. Be careful not to pull at the dough, as this will cause it to tear. Refrigerate for 20 min. Once chilled, bake the dough for 40 min. (With this downtime, wash the mixing bowl and beater for the filling.) Then remove from the oven and set the crust aside to cool completely. Raise the oven temperature to 350*F.

Beat the cream cheese in a mixer on medium speed for 3 min. Reduce the speed to low and add the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides. Turn back on to a low speed and add the lemon zest, vanilla and almond extracts, and a pinch of salt. Next add the eggs, one at a time. Stop to scrape down the sides one more time and turn back on for a moment to just incorporate ingredients.

Pour the mixture over the crust and spread into an even layer (you might need to wiggle the pan to remove any air bubbles). Bake for 25 min. Remove from the oven and allow the cheesecake cool completely. Then refrigerate until firm, 4 hrs to overnight.

Run a sharp knife along the long sides of the cheesecake. Carefully pull up the four corners of the cheesecake to loosen. Then grip the parchment and carefully lift the cheesecake out of the tray onto a flat surface. Using a sharp knife, cut the cheesecake into 48 squares - 8 vertical cuts and 6 horizontal cuts. Make sure to clean the knife after each cut to prevent the filling from tearing. Martha's Tip: you can use unflavored floss to mark straight lines before cutting.
(Note: I found the crust difficult to cut once the cheesecake was chilled, which also tore the filling. I would recommend cutting the cheesecake after allowing it to rest for 10-15 min once it has been removed from the tray.)

Transfer the cut squares to a serving platter. Decorate the top left squares (3 down, 4 across) with a blackberry in the center, surrounded by blueberries. Beginning with the remaining top row squares, and every other row thereafter, adorn with raspberries. Finally, dust the empty squares with powdered sugar or top with halved strawberries dusted with powdered sugar. To prevent the other rows from being dusted, you can choose to remove the squares and replace them once covered, or use paper towels to carefully cover the berries while dusting the rows. Make sure to dust thoroughly as the powdered sugar will seep into the cheesecake filling.


  1. Oh my goodness, what a feast you had! So sorry I had to miss that! We'll have to plan a holiday party together sometime. I loooove trying new, fancy recipes! Hopefully I'll be around for your next venture so I can eat and photograph it! :)

  2. Me, too! I go crazy during Halloween, so we'll have plenty of time to think up something grand.