Take it easy on the Fourth

By Holly Ebel

July is the bulls-eye of summer, and even though the livin' is easy, sometimes the Fourth of July holiday is a lot of work for party hosts, particularly if there are hordes of family and friends gathering to celebrate.

Whether you will be in the backyard, at the lake or at the park, the goal should be to plan food that can be made ahead of time so that you, too, can enjoy the day. Simple and easy, those should be the operative words. If people volunteer to bring something, so much the better.

To start, stick with munchies for appetizers. Potato chips, taco chips, salsa and a few dips. Some of those '50s favorites like clam and onion dip are make-ahead as well as dipping favorites.


Even though brats, burgers and hot dogs are pretty standard fare, many folks are adding boneless, skinless chicken fillets to the grill. They are just as quick and easy as hamburgers, and with a sprinkle of seasonings they make a good alternative. Put them on buns with lettuce and tomato or offer the same condiments as you do the other grilled foods. Buffalo burgers would also be something new to try.

Salads are always a big part of any Fourth of July get-together, and the more that can be made ahead the better because no one wants to mix and chop on the holiday. Take advantage of what is in season. Big platters of blanched asparagus or green beans drizzled with a vinaigrette brings the best of summer to the table.

Don't forget your favorite deli, which can be a treasure trove of salads, specifically potato salad. You can dress them up with celery, chopped pickles and radishes or any other ingredients you like to use. Pasta salads are also favorites and improve when made ahead. Because watermelon is synonymous with the Fourth, you could make it into a salad by hollowing out the halves and mixing in a variety of fresh fruits and berries along with the watermelon. Fruit salads like this, however, need to be made the same day.

Baked beans, good anytime of the year, always seem to go best with summer foods. Even though purists may start with the dried variety and go from there, why bother? It is hard to top opening cans of Bush's baked beans and dressing them up. Drain off the liquid, add onions that have been sautéed; in bacon drippings, add crisp bacon pieces, some molasses, ketchup and a dash of mustard. You can hardly tell the difference from "scratch" baked beans.

Special desserts decorated for the Fourth are a fitting end before the fireworks begin, whether they're cupcakes with a little flag stuck in the center, or something more involved and elaborate. However, in our "keeping it simple" mode, you might want to just bake a chocolate pound cake. The recipe given here is excellent and stands well by itself or with a dollop of ice cream. It also gets better when baked ahead.

A recipe for a decorated cheesecake is included here, but in keeping with our no-fuss theme, there are excellent cheesecakes at your grocery store that can be easily decorated for the day. The star made from fresh berries would also work well on a simple white cake with a white frosting.

Finally, to make the cleanup easy, use paper plates but buy sturdy ones. They may cost a little more, but they are worth it. While plastic knives and forks are an easy way to go, use real utensils because the others can be difficult to eat with.

The recipes are sure to make your July 4th event the easiest ever.


Holly Ebel of Rochester is a freelance writer.

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