Time to C E L E B R A T E ! ! !
It was the 4th of July of whatever year it was and we were happy to be in Seattle — one of the greatest cities on earth — to celebrate independence and freedom. We hope you can glean some ideas about how to jazz up your Independence Day tables from our experience and photos from the vacation condos we rented near Pike Place Market.
A visit to World Market earlier in the day had yielded red rimmed plates and blue napkins. Michele “Party On” Petry spotted a placemat that paid homage to the Declaration of Independence that was just perfect for our table. The flower sellers at the Market were able to fill our request for red dahlias, white sweet peas, scarlet-colored poppies, purply-blue dutch iris, vibrant cornflowers, and other fleurs in our palette so we could fashion patriotic floral arrangements. At this point, the condo teetered on the brink of smelling like the room of an extremely popular hospital patient — but only until we began cooking and the air was filled with the aromas of our kick-ass recipes.
Some of the evening’s menu items were going to take quite a while to cook, so appetizers were imperative for staving off impatient diners. We started off the evening with a bang with Brie Bites that had been given “star” treatment.
I invented Brie Bites when I was looked for something to serve unexpected company. I won’t wax poetic about the creaminess of the soft cheese juxtaposed against the dry crunch of the toast and the juicy goodness of the fruit. You’ll just have to trust me. They are divine.
To make them, you preheat the oven to 350 (universal temperature, as far as I’m concerned. When in doubt, bake at 350. You’ll rarely go wrong.) Get out your ever-faithful toast points (yes, those again — they are very versatile!) and put them on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Cut small slices of brie cheese (if you can find the new brie logs, get them — they are just the right shape!), and dredge them in Brown Sugar Splenda blend (or brown sugar, if you prefer). Put a slice of dredged brie on each toast point and pop in the oven for just a few minutes (maybe five?) just until the cheese is melted. Then you top with your choice of fruit. While we were baking, Michele had the great idea to grab one of the smallish cookie cutters I had dragged to Seattle and use it to cut thin slices of fresh pear into star shapes. When the brie-covered toast points came out of the oven, we placed a pear star or two on each, then garnished with blueberry halves and raspberry halves. We could practically hear the chorus of Yankee Doodle Dandy as we chewed.
Lest anyone have any doubts about which holiday we experiencing, the Brie Bites display certainly removed them. It was not Halloween.
Raise the flag, sing the Star Spangled Banner (oh, please, let’s not, let’s do American the Beautiful instead) — it’s Independence Day!
We had been on a two appetizers per dinner regimen for two evenings and dared not break that pattern lest we have to seek medical treatment for some kind of hors d’oeuvre deficiency. Never fear. We had the cure — Four Bit Goodies.
This is one of those recipes that will make you a hero at parties, as well as in your own home, as it never fails to please. It is called Four Bit Goodies because the topping has quatro ingredients, amigos. One cup of mayo, 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, 3 tablespoons minced onion, and an 8 ounce package of cream cheese. Mix well, spread on (wait for it, wait for it. Oh, yeah. Toast points. For those of you sad sacks who have no toast points, cocktail rye squares from the deli section of supermarket work nicely). Top with chopped chives, or crushed red pepper flakes, or chopped green onions. Place them on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees (see, I told you it was the universal temperature) for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve. Relax. Suck up the compliments.
Our main course for the evening was being fixed indoors, on the stovetop, then oven, thus relieving the guys of the necessity of trudging up to the grill. We slathered two pork tenderloins with olive oil and minced garlic, pan fried them until lightly browned, then tucked them into the oven in a baking dish (at guess what temperature?). When they were almost done, we coated one with jalapeño garlic jelly and the other with a mixture of 1/2 cup red raspberry jam mixed with two tablespoons of worcestershire sauce. After they came out of the oven and were resting (no, the meat doesn’t get weary, resting is necessary to prevent the juices from running out), we continued to baste each one with its designated sauce, and drizzled the remaining scrumptious liquid on the finished slices. Michele went wild with another star cookie cutter — this time carving pieces of English cucumber into shapes. Our stars and stripes consisted of rows of pork slices, a semi-circle of celestial cucumbers, and a melange of tomatoes, basil, and pearl sized fresh mozzarella. Even Congress would have approved this bill of fare.
What is it the food pyramid says you’re supposed to have in the way of vegetable servings each day? Well, we weren’t there yet. Fortunately, we had baked cauliflower gratin in individual ramekins. In gruyere cheese, cauliflower has met its soul mate. Saute the chopped cauliflower with onion for ten minutes in a little butter and olive oil. Add a bit of almond flour (or regular, if you prefer), a dollop of cream, some fresh thyme, some parmesan cheese, some shredded gruyere or jarlsberg, a little salt and pepper, and bake until the top is turning golden. Betcha didn’t think you liked vegetables until this sat on your tongue!
Do you know why I like using individual ramekins for something like this? Because it apportions the available supply of the gratin into personalized segments, so that you can hear yours say “Mine, mine, mine, all mine!” and, conversely, you know that what is on my plate is not yours. Hands off, buster. I’m eating this.
At the completion of the meal, there were a few lame comments made about “I’m too full for dessert.” I assure you those words did not escape my lips. The ice cream we had made using locally grown strawberries (small and ugly, but intensely flavorful), was to be paired with tiny scoops of vanilla and garnished with strawberry sauce and chocolate zig zags. There was simply no way to say no. Besides, we had had too much fun experimenting with making the chocolate pieces.
In the end, the objections to dessert were easily overcome and we all went to bed with strawberry smiles on our faces to dream sweet, sweet ice cream dreams.