Kitchen Shrink: Ideas for a no-grilling, Fourth of July feast to celebrate Independence Day

KITCHEN SHRINK:

A few years ago we were invited to a friend's home for a July 4th shindig and when they ushered us to their lavish backyard, we were surprised to see that the barbecue was completely enveloped in a grill cover with pizza boxes piled high on top. The pies were appropriately decorated with red, white and blue toppings in keeping with the holiday spirit.

While America's birthday is typically celebrated with a carnivorous grilling orgy, non-grilled options can be delightful, healthful and patriotic, too. So here's an A-(merican) List of dishes and drinks representing the colors of the flag, leaving no one feeling deprived.

Kick off the party with some whimsical appetizers and cocktails, including tri-colored skewers of buffalo mozzarella balls or feta cheese chunks, alternating with red and purple bell pepper slices, jumbo black olives, and grape tomatoes drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Or serve crudités with red-and-white radish buds, purple carrot sticks, jicama strips, purple asparagus spears, and cauliflower florets accompanied by a roasted red pepper Greek yoghurt dip. A trio of garlicky brushchetta some topped with diced Heirloom tomatoes, others with a tapenade of black olives, while the third a smear of goat cheese with a sprinkling of dried cranberries and drizzle of chestnut honey.

Of course, a heap of organic white-and-blue corn chips paired with a black bean dip, pico de gallo or a purple eggplant caviar is always a fave, while a seafood "martini" with choice chunks of red lobster tail, wild-caught pink shrimp, and jumbo deep-sea scallops swimming in a spicy tomato-based vodka sauce will keep everyone smiling.

Up to the lips, over the gums with a thirst-quenching watermelon Daiquiri, tart and tangy Crantini, elderflower Cosmopolitan, zippy Bloody Mary, or a red-white-and-blue Margarita meticulously layering frozen strawberry, coconut and blueberry concoctions dialed up with tequila, lime juice and Cointreau like a tipsy liquid parfait.

For some celebratory white cocktails, whip up the dessert delicious Limoncello White Chocolate, an indulgent mix of heavy cream, white chocolate, almonds and lemony Italian limoncello liqueur, or the White Nixon, a lip-puckering refresher of ruby red grapefruit juice blended with vodka, white tea and lavender over ice.

Shake things up with some lively blue sips, including a bright and tangy Azul Lemonade blending Pucker Island Punch schnapps, citrus vodka and lime soda, a Blue Hawaiian, the classic summer whistle-wetter combining white rum, blue Curacao, pineapple juice and coconut cream, or a festive Sprinkletini with Hpnotiq liqueur, champagne and iced cake vodka, the cocktail glass rimmed with a confetti of red, white and blue sprinkles.

Bring on some hearty family-style dishes for sharing, starting with a three-bean vegetarian chili with sweet Vidalias, purple peppers, red kidneys, white navies and black beans in a zippy sauce. Or add chunks of white meat chicken or turkey to satisfy the meat lovers' palates.

For pescavores, a fine kettle of fish and seafood in a rich, red peppery tomato base for a cioppinio extravaganza. Roasted red beet risotto or paella with blue mussels (of course) would fill the bill. A cold sandwich platter with carved turkey off the bone, sliced roasted chicken beasts or grass-fed, organic beef on crusty ciabatta or black olive sourdough rolls can be jazzed up with eye-popping sides like patriotic potato salad (redskin, Russet and purple spuds), purple slaw or prima vera pasta.

For some just desserts, incorporate one or more of the super foods — such as red or white raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, pomegranates, summer's bounty of ruby red cherries, the fruit of Americana legend or refreshing watermelon. Whether a custard and berry trifle, an all-American berry and apple cobbler or pie, fruit platters, or this stars and stripes display over a luscious layer of lemon mascarpone, it'll be a Yankee Doodle Dandy celebration.

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Recipe: No-Bake American Flag Flan

Ingredients: 1 8-ounce package of mascarpone cheese, room temp; zest from 1 Meyer lemon; 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream; 3/4 cup lemon curd; 1/4 inch of fresh ginger, grated; 1 tablespoon orange blossom honey; 1/2 cup each fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise; 1 firm banana, sliced in coins.

Method: In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Add the cheese, zest, ginger and honey, and blend well. Gently fold in the lemon curd. Spread the cheese mixture on a large square platter. Decorate like an American flag with a square of blueberries in the upper left corner, and horizontal stripes, alternating strips of strawberries, bananas and raspberries over the cheese layer. Scoop into parfait glasses, and garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: kitchenshrink@san.rr.com

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