* In 1778, Ambassadors John Adams and Benjamin Franklin held a dinner for Americans in Paris, France. Oddly, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (the only two men who signed the Declaration of Independence and went on become President of the United States) died on the same day - July 4, 1826, the year of America's 50th anniversary.
* In 1781, Massachusetts was the first legislature to recognize Independence Day. However, it wasn't until 1870 that U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees. July Fourth became a paid holiday in 1941.
* Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island (Brooklyn) was supposedly started July 4, 1916, as a way to settle a dispute among four immigrants as to who was the most patriotic. It's estimated that Americans consumed about 150 million hot dogs on July 4, 2006.
While I've rarely found a red, white and blue outfit that excited me as a patriotic fashion statement, I love tapping into the nation's wonderful bounty of colorful foods. And since July Fourth is typically linked to America's favorite summer eating venues - picnics, barbeques, festivals, etc. - this Epicure is dedicated to our country's independence ... and the reds, whites and blues that make our summer cuisines special. A sparking Fourth to you and yours!
Jacqui lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Lobster Salad with Potatoes, Corn and Tomatoes (serves 8)
1-1/2 lbs. small red potatoes
2 1-lb. live lobsters (or equivalent lobster meat)
1-1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears of corn)
1/4 cup crème fraiche
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp snipped cloves
1. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the potatoes until tender, about 20 min. Drain and let cool completely. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lobsters, head first, cover and return to a boil. Uncover and boil the lobsters over high heat until the shells turn bright red, about 8-10 min. With tongs, transfer the lobsters to a large bowl of ice water to cool; drain. Twist off the claws and tail to remove the meat. Add the claw meat to a large bowl. Remove the intestinal vein that runs along the length of the tail. Cut the tail meat into 1/2-inch pieces and add to the bowl with the claw meat.
3. In a medium saucepan of boiling water, cook the corn until crisp-tender, about 1 min. Drain and refresh under cold water; then pat dry. Add the corn, diced potatoes, crème fraiche, mayonnaise and lemon juice to the lobsters; season with salt and pepper, mixing well.
4. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on one side of 8 plates or a large platter and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the lobster salad next to the tomatoes, garnishing with the chives. Serve immediately (or prep through Step 3 and refrigerate up to 2 days).
Watermelon Salad (serves 6):
5 cups 3/4-1-inch cubes seeded watermelon
1 cup chopped scallions
3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
3 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
1-1/2 Tbsp finely chopped seeded and deveined jalapeno chiles
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp Champagne vinegar
1. Combine all sold ingredients in large bowl. Whisk to blend oil and vinegar in small bowl. Pour dressing over watermelon mixture; toss to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper to taste. Note: Eat within 2 days or before watermelon begins to get soggy.
Red, white and blueberry tart (one large pie)
Basic Pastry dough (below), or use store-bought pastry
3/4 stick (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup (3 oz) skinned whole almonds, finely ground in a food processor
1 Tbsp amaretto extract (optional)
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups (12 oz) strawberries, hulled and cut lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
2 cups (8 oz) raspberries
2 cups (8 oz) blueberries
1/4 cup strawberry or raspberry jam, melted and strained
1. Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough out on a lightly-floured surface with a lightly-floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round. Fit into a 10- or 11-inch fluted round tart pan with a removable bottom, then roll rolling pin over top of pan to trim edges of dough flush with rim. Refrigerate for one hour.
2. Lightly prick dough in several places with a fork. Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights, raw rice, or dried beans. Bake for 15 min. Remove foil and weights and bake shell until just golden, 5-10 min. more. Cool on a rack but leave oven on.
3. Beat together butter and sugar in a small bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg, almonds, amaretto, flour and salt. Spread this cream mixture evenly in bottom of shell.
4. Bake tart until pastry cream is just golden, 20-25 min. If crust looks too brown after 15 min., cover with a pie shield or loosely with foil. Cool tart on rack for about 30 min.
5. Arrange overlapping strawberry slices and raspberries decoratively on pastry cream. Brush gently with jam. Note: If jam is thick, thin it with hot water, 1 tsp at a time, as necessary. Remove rim of pan before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Basic Pastry Dough (for a single crust pie or tart):
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 Tbsp cold vegetable shortening
1/4 tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp ice water
1. Blend flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-sized) lumps of butter. Drizzle 3 Tbsp ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until blended.
2. Squeeze a small handful of dough: if it doesn't hold together, add more ice water 1/2 tsp at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until blended. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough. Turn dough onto a work surface; divide into four portions. With the heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute the fat.
3. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one. Press into a ball and flatten into a 5" disk. If dough is sticky, dust lightly with additional flour. Wrap disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour. Dough can be made and refrigerated a day ahead.
Cobb Salad (4-6 main servings)
1 lb. sliced bacon, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup tarragon-flavored vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp minced shallot
About 1/2 tsp fresh-ground pepper
About 1/4 tsp salt
1 quart lightly packed watercress sprigs (4 0z.), rinsed and crisped
5 quarts finely shredded lettuce (half butter lettuce and half iceberg or all iceberg)
2 firm-ripe tomatoes (2/3 lb. total), rinsed, cored and chopped
1 -1/2 cups sliced skinned cooked chicken (or substitute equivalent amount of shrimp)
2/3 cup crumbled bleu cheese (3 oz., try Roquefort, Gorgonzola or a California Blue)
2 hard-boiled large eggs, shelled and chopped
1 firm-ripe avocado (1/2 lb.) pitted, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
1. In a 10-12-inch frying pan over medium heat, cook bacon until browned and crisp, 10-15 min. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain; discard remaining fat in pan.
2. In a 1-cup measure cup or small bowl, mix olive oil, vinegar, mustard, shallot, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp. salt. Set aside 4-6 watercress sprigs, coarsely chop remaining sprigs. In a large bowl, combine chopped watercress and lettuce. Add all but 2 Tbsp dressing and mix gently to coat.
3. Arrange equal portions of lettuce mixture in wide, shallow bowls; top with equal portions of bacon, tomatoes, chicken (or shrimp), bleu cheese, eggs and avocado.
4. Spoon remaining dressing, evenly over toppings. Garnish salads bowls with reserved watercress. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Classic American Potato Salad (serves 8):
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3 pounds waxy potatoes (such as Yukon gold or new), scrubbed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
4 scallions, white part minced, green part thinly sliced
3/4 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, loosely packed, coarsely chopped
1. Set a steamer basket in a Dutch oven (or large pot with a lid), and add enough salted water to come just below basket; bring to a boil. Place potatoes in basket, cover pot, and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Steam potatoes, gently turning until tender, 15-25 min.
2. In the meantime, combine vinegar, scallion whites, 1 tsp coarse salt, and 1 tsp pepper in a large bowl. Add hot potatoes to vinegar mixture; toss to combine. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 1 hour.
3. Add mayonnaise and scallions to cooled potatoes; mix gently to combine. Serve, or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.
* For a hint of sweetness, add a pinch of sugar to the vinegar mixture. For extra tang, use sour cream for some of the mayonnaise.
* Consider a no-mayo version: replace the mayo with 1/2 cup olive oil whisked with 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard.
* After the salad cools, consider a combination of add-ins: sliced celery, diced red onion,
sweet pickle relish, chopped pickles or cornichons, slivered green olives, capers, chopped herbs, chopped hard-boiled eggs, crumbled bacon, etc.
* Keep your add-ins simple and balanced in flavors. My favorites are sweet relish and hard-boiled eggs. Don't overdo!
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