Serve up traditional Fourth of July foods with a twist

Published 10:22 pm Wednesday, July 2, 2008

By Staff
I have often said that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because there are no gifts connected with it and the food is always good.
I may have to rethink that a little bit, especially with the July 4 holiday upon us. This holiday is a close second to my Thanksgiving favorite. It is second only because at the July 4 dinner, you sweat. I'm kind of against sweating. Usually in November you don't sweat.
With my second favorite holiday just a couple of days away, I've started making some plans for some not-so-typical dishes for our holiday gathering.
I realize that barbecue, watermelon and ice cream are usually found at those gatherings. The things I wanted to change about the meal are the side dishes and the variety of things on the table.
Typically, our barbecue meals consist of potato salad, corn on the cob and maybe some baked beans. Nothing like putting a little starch on the table.
This year, although there is still bound to be plenty of starch on the table, I plan to change things up a bit. I'm sharing some of the recipes I plan to use in this space in case you and your family are ready for a change.
Watermelon is in season and most people think you can't have a summer gathering without one. If you feel the same way but are looking for some way to use what's left over, this may be just what you're looking for.
Watermelon Salad
3/4 cup halved, thinly sliced red onion
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 1/2 quarts seeded, cubed watermelon
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup pitted black olive halves
1 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons olive oil
Place the onion slices in a small bowl with the lime juice. The acid of the lime will mellow the flavor of the raw onion. Let stand for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the watermelon cubes, feta cheese, black olives, onions with the lime juice, and mint.
Drizzle olive oil over it all, and toss to blend.
I know it sounds like you are committing a crime against the watermelon, but until you try it you won't believe how good this salad can be.
If you are looking for something more traditional, this next salad recipe is a good one to try. It's not the usual potato salad, but it's close enough so that your guests aren't mad at you for serving it.
Sweet Potato Salad
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
Place potatoes into a large saucepan, and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 8 minutes, or until tender. Drain, and cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir together the mayonnaise and brown sugar. Stir in the sweet potatoes, walnuts and raisins until evenly coated. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.
I think it may be perfectly fine to use canned sweet potatoes for this salad. They are probably a little mushier than you'd like for such a dish, but in a pinch you could give it a try. Drain the sweet potatoes very well and cut them into cubes as best as you can. It should be fine.
Now on to the main course. Most people will have a variety of grilled meat coming from the grill including hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs, chicken and so on and so on.
This recipe is sure to make my son happy. He thinks anything that has ranch dressing on it is wonderful. I'm planning on giving this one a try instead of the hot dogs we usually throw on the grill just for him.
Ranch Chicken Kabobs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup ranch dressing
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon white sugar, or to taste (optional)
5 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cut into 1 inch cubes
In a medium bowl, stir together the olive oil, ranch dressing, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, salt, lemon juice, white vinegar, pepper, and sugar. Let stand for five minutes.
Place chicken in the bowl, and stir to coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place skewers in a pan of water and allow to soak while chicken marinates. Preheat the grill for medium-high heat.
Thread chicken onto skewers and discard marinade. Lightly oil the grill grate. Grill skewers for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, and the juices run clear.
No cookout would be complete without some baked beans. I know that those little jewels have to make an appearance on our picnic table.
This next recipe is for baked beans with a little something extra. With a variety of beans in this recipe, the flavor is so much richer. If you take a look at the ingredients of this recipe, you'll know there will be plenty of baked beans for a crowd from this one.
Ultimate Baked Beans
1/2 pound bacon
1 (4.5 ounce) can mushrooms, drained
1 large onion, diced
2 (16 ounce) cans baked beans with pork
1 (15.25 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can butter beans, drained
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a large casserole dish.
Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown; drain. Reserve 3 strips whole, crumble remainder and set aside.
Add the mushrooms and onions; cook until tender. In a large bowl, combine the crumbled bacon, mushrooms, onion, pork and beans, kidney beans, butter beans, ketchup, brown sugar, dry mustard, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper. Scoop bean mixture into prepared casserole dish.
Place 2 or 3 strips of bacon on top of the bean mixture, if desired. Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven until thick and bubbly, about 2 hours.
Now for dessert. Ice cream is usually the special treat of the day at any Fourth of July cookout. Since I've shared a variety of ice cream recipes with you over the past couple of weeks, I'm sure you've already decided which ice cream you'll have for the day. That's why I've decided to share a couple of recipes for topping some great homemade ice cream.
Butterscotch Topping
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons butter (no substitutes)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
In a heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for three minutes. Cool to room temperature. Cover and store in the refrigerator. To reheat, microwave at 50 percent power for one minute or until heated through. Serve warm over ice cream.
For something completely different, this next topping recipe puts a tropical twist to plain vanilla ice cream.
Warm Tropical Topping
3 tablespoons butter
6 ripe bananas, sliced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
3 1/2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Place the banana slices in the skillet, stir in the vanilla, and cook until bananas are golden brown. Stir in the coconut, and top with confectioners' sugar and walnuts. Serve immediately over ice cream.
I hope that some of these recipes will help give your cookout a twist that will delight your family and guests. Serving the traditional dishes with a twist is always a welcome change. That's the way dishes are invented - changing up the preparation to suit your own tastes.
May your July 4 grill be filled with the wonderful foods your family enjoys and may you have leftovers to feast on all weekend long.
If you have a favorite summer recipe you'd like to share with the readers of Cook's Corner, I'd love to help you out. Submit your recipes, or kitchen tips and ideas, to me at or by mail at The Brewton Standard, P.O. Box 887, Brewton, AL 36427. If that seems like too much trouble, just give me a call at 867-4876. I promise to give you credit when we print your submission.
Next week, I plan to share some interesting recipes for coffee. Not necessarily the way to brew coffee, but what you can do with it after it has been brewed. You won't believe where you can add a little flavor and zing to dishes you'd never suspect have coffee in them.
Until next week, happy cooking!