I look forward to the big Fourth of July celebration every year! Summer is in full swing, and I love to gather family and friends together for a huge blowout and to celebrate Independence Day with fabulous food.
I don't even try to keep the menu simple. It's time to grill hamburgers and hot dogs with all the fixings, along with hot and sweet Italian sausages. I prepare plenty of coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans and grilled corn on the cob. You think I would stop there, but no, I just can't help myself—this is a celebration! I also grill chicken that I marinate overnight and a million pounds of baby back ribs because who doesn't enjoy succulent, fall-off-the-bone barbecue?
Grilled Summer Veggies I add a lot of vegetables and summer fruits into the mix as well. Grill up a medley of freshly sliced vegetables by brushing olive oil over both sides, add a sprinkle of kosher salt and crushed black pepper, then fire them up. I fill a beautiful, large platter with grilled zucchini, eggplant, red, green and orange bell peppers, thick onion slices and asparagus. It's delicious!
Naturally Sweet, Fresh Summer Fruits For the fruit platter, I look for the best summer fruits available, such as organic strawberries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries, Crenshaw melon, watermelon and red and green grapes. Chop 2 to 3 tablespoons of mint and sprinkle it over the top of your beautifully arranged fruit platter for a refreshing, cool, naturally sweet and good-for-you treat!
Vegetarian-Friendly Salads Salads are big in our house because we have a lot of vegetarians in our family, so I make sure to serve at least two—including coleslaw. A big bowl of baby arugula and small chunks of Parmesan cheese with a lemon and olive oil dressing and a Caesar Salad is a must!
Drinks That Are Good for You I'm not a soda person, so I like to make my own drinks. To do this, I brew mint or peppermint tea bags to make cool and satisfying pitchers of iced tea sweetened with agave syrup (found in health food stores and some supermarkets), with fresh lemons and mint!
I also make my own pitcher of lemonade with 1 cup of fresh lemon juice and 2 quarts of water sweetened with 1/2 cup of agave syrup dissolved in 1/2 cup of really hot water. I then add 4 to 5 stems of fresh mint and serve over ice! This lemonade will not be as sweet and sugary like the frozen ones in your grocery store. It's lighter and more delicate in flavor, but it's very refreshing and satisfying. If it's not sweet enough for you, add more agave syrup—it's better for you than sugar. Remember, there is a lot of food and washing it down with drinks that have too much sugar or artificial flavors is not the way to go.
For a smooth slushy, add a few splashes of cranberry juice into the lemonade and mix. Pour into a blender with 1 cup of ice and blend until smooth! You can also mix the lemonade with the ice tea for an Arnold Palmer! Or, you can have a great soda drink that is natural and good for you by using Perrier water or soda water added to your favorite juice, mixed well and poured over ice.
Patriotic Salute to Dessert I'm not big on serving overly sweet desserts because they get everyone—including the kids, which is not my favorite part—overly stimulated, hyper, running around in circles looking for matches to light sparklers, eventually irritable and in a bad mood. Instead, I serve the fresh fruit platter with frozen yogurt—it's refreshing and leaves everyone satisfied.
But what kind of a celebration would it be without cake? That's why I make one using ladyfingers, fresh strawberries, lemon pudding and whipped cream. The fun part is to take all of those ingredients and shape the cake to look like an American flag. It's fun and so easy to do! Get the American Flag Cake recipe.
My challenge this year is that we are celebrating the holiday at my home instead of my sister's. You see, I live in a high-rise, so barbecuing on a charcoal grill it not going to happen. Thank goodness for my trusty grill pans! I have two cast-iron ones, and I can grill up everything you can grill on an outdoor one! You can find these pans at William-Sonoma and Sur La Table. They're heavy-duty and do the trick.
My celebration is not casual this year. I'm setting the table with real dishes instead of paper plates and bringing out the good stuff I save for company, just because I wanted to do something different. I bought some navy blue juice glasses to use as vases for the flowers to scatter up and down the table along with navy blue star-shaped votive candle holders.
Fill the juice glasses with a bunch of baby's breath and drop red roses into each one. It looks like a burst of fireworks. The red, white and blue effect will just pop! Later that evening, I will light the votives for a dazzling effect.
Paper and Plastic
You can create the same effect outdoors using paper plates and colorful red and white glasses that are made from plastic. They make so many beautiful and colorful paper or plastic plates and glasses in all shapes and sizes that look like the real deal. In fact, if I were outdoors this year, I would definitely go for paper and plastic. Just remember to recycle!
We won't miss out on the fireworks because we live up so high, which means we'll see fireworks all over Los Angeles, from over the mountains and all the way down to the ocean. Fantastic!
Happy Fourth! Don't forget to hang out your flags and remember our troops overseas and their families for the sacrifices they make on a daily basis with deep gratitude and prayers for their safe return.
Sending everyone a "big bowl of love with sparklers!"