It is hard to feel celebratory when the Fourth of July comes in the middle of the week. Like today. Waking up and thinking, “what's for dinner” takes on a whole new meaning. And suddenly the family wants a Saturday breakfast on a Wednesday.
Don't despair. The weekends are times for a pig cooked long and slow in a pit or even ribs, which also take a bit of cooking. But a weekday holiday is the time for a faster life, as many people face a return to work the next day.
A quick look at the most recent grocery ads offered many items that can be cooked fast for the Fourth, and yet still bring the aura of the holiday. Rib-eye steaks make fabulous sliders (fancy term for meat in a small bun). Beef tenderloin can be sliced thinly and made into the same kind of sliders, something summer intern Mary Katherine Wyeth thought of when finding buns in my freezer.
Chicken breasts make a fun satay that the whole family will enjoy, but particularly the children, who love the concept of food on a stick.
There is plenty of watermelon around, and a few tomatoes added with goat or bleu cheese are a refreshing change from the humdrum.
Tiny potatoes cook in the flash of an eye when cut in half. Bathe them in a simple vinaigrette and they can be snacked on or served with the meat.
The Coca-Cola wings offered in this week's video recipe are about as quick and easy as anything. That same sauce can be adapted to just about any meat, especially pork. It's possible to make a larger batch of the sauce and brush ribs with it in the last part of cooking in the oven and then again when they come out.
Blueberries can make the watermelon the requisite red, white and blue. Or purchase a few pre-made tart shells or phyllo cups, fill with store-bought lemon curd, top with blueberries and raspberries, and the colors of the flag will be flying. (Making the tarts from refrigerated pie dough is pretty easy these days, too.)
In short, an hour or less in the kitchen can make the Fourth an easy, low-key day for everyone, even the cook.
And there will be plenty of time to get to the fireworks display and pretend it is the weekend.
Makes 8 skewers Skewered chicken pieces marinated in a snappy sauce are ideal for snacking on while waiting for the grill to finish cooking the main course. They can be served with vegetables and turned into a main course for fewer people.
Ingredients 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup soy sauce 1 teaspoon finely chopped or grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil Directions
If using wooden skewers, soak in water until needed.
Move chicken breast pieces to a plastic sealable bag. Add soy sauce, ginger and oil. Marinate 30 minutes or up to overnight.
When ready to grill, thread the chicken onto small presoaked wooden skewers and move to a hot grill or a rimmed baking sheet 6 inches from the hot broiler.
Grill or broil 3 to 4 minutes; turn and cook the second side another 2 to 4 minutes, until the chicken registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Remove from grill or broiler. Serve hot on skewers, or remove chicken from skewers to a serving bowl and serve with toothpicks.
Serves 4-6 Watermelon has always been a staple at Southern cookouts, and this salad is a spectacular variation for using the refreshing fruit. If you really want to gild the lily, add blueberries and make this a beautiful red, white and blue salad that's ever-so-yummy and healthy.
Ingredients 2 to 3 cups cubed watermelon
6 ounces goat or feta cheese, crumbled
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved 1 pint blueberries, optional
Fresh herbs to taste, such as chopped fresh basil, thyme, or lemon balm, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Directions Combine all ingredients and toss lightly in a large bowl just before serving.
Makes 4 good-size sliders We found thin rib-eye steaks on sale at the grocery store this week so we bought them. They were smaller than the rib-eye steaks I'm used to cooking with, but when divided, they fit perfectly between two small hamburger buns, thus the name “Rib-Eye Sliders” was born. Any thin steak would work here, but I think rib-eyes are the most flavorful. The tangy mayonnaise takes almost no time at all and is an excellent component to this sinful sandwich.
For mayonnaise: 1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fennel fronds, chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard Dash of salt
For rib-eye sliders: 2 small, thin-cut boneless rib-eye steaks
Salt Freshly ground black pepper
4 small hamburger buns 2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces goat or blue cheese Directions
To make mayonnaise, combine all ingredients and stir well. Refrigerate until needed.
For sliders, preheat grill (or grill pan if grilling indoors) on high heat. Divide each rib-eye into two pieces using the membrane as a guide. (It's OK if they are oblong and a portion hangs outside the bun.) Season both sides of each piece generously with salt and pepper. Lightly grease grilling surface with oil. Place steaks on grill and cook 3 to 4 minutes on one side, then flip and cook another 2 to 3 minutes until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. Remove from grill and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, butter both sides of each bun and grill for 1 minute per side until nice grill marks are achieved.
To assemble sliders, cover the bun with a good slab of the mayonnaise, top with the meat and then the cheese. Feel free to add tomato and lettuce of your choice.
Serves 8 Since potato salads are frequently left out on buffet or picnic tables for several hours, when I take one to such an occasion, I use one made with a vinaigrette rather than homemade mayonnaise. I find the mayonnaise is not missed, and it is nice to not have anxiety about the salad making someone sick.
Ingredients 2 pounds small new potatoes, quartered if necessary
2/3 cup red or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 11/2 cups olive oil
Salt Freshly ground black pepper
Granulated sugar Chopped fresh herbs such as thyme or parsley (optional)
Directions Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook about 25 minutes, until fork-tender. Take care not to overcook and let the potatoes get mushy. Drain.
Whisk together the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and continue whisking until emulsified. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and sugar.
In a bowl, toss the hot drained potatoes with enough dressing to coat lightly. Add herbs if desired.
Makes 6 mini tarts or 1 (9-inch) tart
Last-minute summer desserts are easy with pie dough and lemon curd already stashed in the refrigerator.
Ingredients 1 recipe pie dough (homemade or store-bought)
1 pint berries (strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries) (see cook's note)
21/2 cups store-bought lemon curd or homemade lemon curd (recipe below)
2 cups heavy cream, whipped 1 egg, plus 1 tablespoon water combined to make an egg glaze
Directions Cook's note: If berries are too tart, gently toss them with confectioners' sugar to taste.
Roll out cold pie dough and divide it between 6 individual tart pans or 1 (9-inch) tart pan. Place tart pan(s) on a sheet pan and refrigerate for 15 minutes or until needed.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crumple 6 small pieces of parchment, waxed paper or aluminum foil (or 1 piece if making a 9-inch tart); reopen, smooth out and place one into each of the tart crusts; fill with raw rice and beans and prebake 20 minutes, covering edges as necessary to prevent burning. Remove from oven, scoop out rice and beans and remove paper. Brush bottoms with egg glaze, and return to the oven for 10 minutes, or until completely baked. Remove from oven, and cool on a rack.
Mix lemon curd with enough of the whipped cream to make a tasty filling, and scoop into the tart pan(s) with a large spatula or spoon. Sprinkle fresh berries over top and serve within a few hours.
Makes 21/2 cups Ingredients 5 large egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice 3 tablespoons lemon rind, no white attached
Directions Lightly whisk the egg yolks in a heavy saucepan or bowl or double boiler. Whisk in the sugar and butter, then the lemon juice. Stir the egg mixture with a rubber spatula over low heat until thick but still falling easily from a spoon, 5 to 10 minutes, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom occasionally. The temperature should register approximately 170 degrees. (If the mixture simmers at the edges of the pan, quickly strain; it will be usable if smooth and no egg bits remain.)
Add the rind to the egg mixture. Taste for flavor and add more juice or rind if necessary and available. Remove from the heat and cool. Store in the refrigerator in a tightly covered jar.
Nathalie Dupree is the author of 11 cookbooks, most recently “Southern Biscuits.” She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.