Perfect 4th of July Menu (No Really, It’s Perfect)

I want to make your 4th of July easy and delicious, mostly because I want to live vicariously through you.

I don’t have big plans, being that we’re in the Bay Area and I have no idea what to do around here (and currently have very few friends).

But if you have tons of friends near you and are looking for the perfect 4th of July menu, I’m going to tell you the 5 major components of an Amazing 4th of July (because I know you are dying to get my unsolicited advice).

The idea is to keep it simple and delicious, so here’s what you’ll need. . .

1.  Meats

Ribs.  Always grill ribs on 4th of July.

In my perfect Food Network world, I imagine that Gina and Patrick Neely make the best ribs.  So let’s go with their recipe found here.

If you don’t have a grill (heresy! oh wait, I don’t either), then make them in the oven a la Smitten Kitchen.

Photo Credit: Smitten Kitchen

Regardless of what you choose, ribs are a must.

2.  Hot Dogs

Nothing says 4th of July like Hot Dogs.  You can get sassy and put egg salad on them:

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Or go traditional and grill up some fatty sausages and slather them in mustard!  I swear Costco’s Kirkland brand hot dogs are the best for the price.

PSA: Don’t forget to grill the buns too!

3. Side Dishes

You don’t need a million side dishes, but you need some diversity.  And let’s be honest… you need carbs.

This Torellini Salad is amazing.  You need to include it.  I’ve made it for 4th of July and other gatherings.  It’s always a hit.   If you’re not feeling tortellini, use rotelle pasta and you’re good to go.

Photo Credit: The Kitchn

This Red, White and Blue Potato Salad looks awesome.

Photo Credit: Chive Cooking

If you don’t love mayo, you’re a liar.  Make this potato salad anyway.  People love mayo.

And of course, no summer meal is complete without baked beans.  Normally, I would just say buy a few cans at the grocery store (because I really do think canned baked beans are delicious and I’m not ashamed), but you can also give these slow cooker ones a try.

If you don’t love beans, we can’t be friends.

Let’s also not forget to have a fruit salad or some watermelon, because fruit is a wonderful refreshing side.  And potato chips.  Always potato chips. Because ‘Merica!

4. Dessert

Pie is for 4th of July!

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with a touch of bourbon is a fine option.

You might also want to consider this Bourbon Banana Pie, because it’s simply divine.

BourbonBananaPie3Let’s also not forget the magic that is cake.  This year, I’m sort of itching to make an American Flag cake.  Too cheesy?  Maybe, but doesn’t this one look good?

Photo Credit: Oh Sweet Basil

5. Drinks

Beverages must be flowing on 4th of July.  Beer is an obvious choice.  But Gin is also a winner.  Try these strawberry-basil gin and tonics

strawberrybasilginandtonic2For something alcohol-free (and really hydrating, because it’s hot and hydration is important), keep a pitcher of this Coconut Mint Cooler in the fridge.

coconutmintcoolerWith this menu, I promise your 4th of July will be a hit.   You’ll be well-fed, happy and ready to celebrate our nation’s independence.

You can also feel free to throw some cornbread into this menu mix.  We could always use more cornbread.

What’s on your 4th of July menu?

 

 

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Confession: I Don’t Love Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I’m making my friends wedding cake(s) for her September wedding, and I’m incredibly excited.  I love weddings and I love cakes.  Combining the two is pretty much almost as exciting as pies in jars.

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I’m also extremely concerned that I’ll somehow mess it up.  I want her cakes to be tasty and beautiful, because it’s her special day.  That means I’m practicing like it’s nobody’s business.

In my cake making craze, I wanted to try out a new frosting.  I had read that Swiss Meringue Buttercream is great for getting smooth edges, so yesterday, I decided to give it a try.

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Everyone talks about swiss meringue buttercream with descriptors like: luxurious, satiny, rich, decadent.

To me, it tasted like straight up butter with some sugar in it.

I added some strawberry jam to mine to try to add some flavor to it, which improved it, but I’m still not a fan.  I might try it again with other flavorings but plain… never again.

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Now that I’ve trash talked it, in case you want to try, here’s the recipe I used.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup white sugar
2 egg whites
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup strawberry jam (optional)

Whisk together egg whites and sugar in your stand mixer bowl.  Place over a pot of boiling water (make sure water isn’t touching the bowl), stir it every so often until the egg whites become hot and you can no longer feel the sugar granules.

Transfer to the mixer and whip until they’ve formed peaks.

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Add vanilla. Then start to beat in butter.  At this point, it might look curdled, don’t worry.  Keep whipping.  It can take up to 10 minutes to get fluffy.   Once it’s the right consistency (pretty silky, I must say), you can feel free to beat in jam or just smooth it on a cake.

**This recipe makes enough to frost a 6 inch cake (and probably enough to fill as well).  For a 9 inch (3-4 layer cake, I would probably double this recipe).

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The one benefit is that it gets very solid (like a stick of butter almost… hmm wonder why?) when cold, which means you get beautiful slices.  That’s definitely the redeeming quality of this buttercream.

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For my friend’s wedding, I’m sticking to traditional American buttercream (not just because I like it better but that’s what the bride and groom tried and liked).

In case you (like me) are not a fan of Swiss Meringue Buttercream, here are some alternative to frost your cakes/cupcakes with:

  • Traditional American Buttercream: This is what we’re used to. Butter. Powdered Sugar.  Vanilla and a touch of milk.  Sickeningly sweet goodness.  Make it vanilla, make it lemon, make it almond. It’s all great.  (Example: Fall Cake)
  • Whipped Cream: Simple and delicious, not too sweet, not too heavy.  Literally just heavy whipping cream and a bit of sugar and vanilla. Probably my favorite, but doesn’t hold up well it hot weather.   (Try it on rum cake)
  • Marshmallow Frosting: Sooo tasty! Not buttery at all.  Sadly, also doesn’t hold up well while sitting out. (Example: The Best Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake)
  • Cream Cheese Frosting: I’m not the biggest fan, but I know people love it.  So why not? (Example: Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramel Filling, Cream Cheese Frosting and Sea Salt Candied Walnuts <– can totally be made into a layer cake)

What’s your favorite way to frost a cake?  or are you that person who leaves all the frosting behind?

 

Macaron Making: I Promise It’s Not Scary

I’ve started wedding planning and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if the word wedding is attached, it’s automatically expensive.

Cakes. Flowers. Dessert tables. Photographers. Dresses. Shoes. Invitations.

All of it = $$$$

So with dollar signs looming over my head, I’m going through a phase where anything I buy seems outrageously expensive, and I want to make everything myself.  While I don’t plan on having french macarons at my wedding, they’ve always been something I thought was ridiculously expensive.macarons1

$2+ a pop is too much for el cheap-o over here.

I was determined to make them myself but never got around to it.  I had tried a few times before and failed.  One time they turned out like meringues (with a little peak).  Another time, they just crumbled and fell flat.  After some research and reading, they turned out great.

These cookies are delicate and delicious.  I can see why they’re so pricey, but honestly, you can make them at home on your own.  They take some time, because they require a lot of sitting, but the active amount of work is actually minimal.

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Basic French Macarons

from All Recipes

100g egg whites
50g white granulated sugar
100g powdered sugar
110g almond flour, finely ground
Food coloring of choice (optional)
Filling of choice*

Weigh out your egg whites and allow your eggs to get to room temperature.  100g of eggs was a tiny bit less than 3 egg whites.  Yes, I was neurotic and weighed out exactly 100g.  I think this was part of my success.

While your egg whites get to room temperature, weigh out your remaining ingredients and set aside.  Sift together the powdered sugar and almond flour, set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the egg whites.  Once they start to foam, slowly stream in the granulated.  Continue to beat until they reach soft peaks.  Try not to over mix and get firm peaks.  Soft peaks are good! They tip of the peak will fall over to the side a bit.

Fold the almond flour and powdered sugar into the egg whites, along with a few drops of any food coloring you’d like (I used a few drops of red to get a bright pink).  Keep turning/folding until it’s all incorporated, but you don’t want to overmix it.  Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a round tip, then get your baking sheets ready.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  If you want you can draw circles using a bottle cap so that your cookies are all the same size, I did that at first, then I just eyeballed it and it turned out fine.   You want the parchment paper to be fitted exactly to the baking sheet so it can be completely flat.

Then start piping.  Pipe some frosting onto the baking sheet.  They’ll spread a bit so leave an inch or two between each one.  Once you’ve piped enough to fill your sheet, lift the baking sheet and lightly slam it on the counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles.  Then continue piping onto another baking sheet until you run out of batter (this recipe makes about 24 macarons, so for me that was 3 baking sheets full of cookies).  Let the unbaked cookies sit out on the counter for an hour.

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Then preheat the oven to 275F.  Bake 10-14 minutes.  This is where it might get tricky.  My first batch was underbaked and completely stuck to the parchment paper.  The second batch, I baked a few minutes longer (13 minutes) and they turned out great.

Once you take the macarons out of the oven, transfer the parchment paper with all the macarons on to a cooling rack so they can cool completely (you can put them in the freezer for a few minutes to speed up the process).  After the cookies have cooled completely you can assemble them!

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*For my filling, I used a simple chocolate frosting recipe, because I wanted to get the basics and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand.  Later I’ll try experimenting with different fillings, but I wanted something quick and easy.  And so, I used the Hershey’s Chocolate Frosting Recipe.

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Chocolate Buttercream Filling

adapted from Hershey’s Chocolate Frosting

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/6 cup coffee (or milk)
Melt butter and mix with cocoa powder.  Using a mixer, beat in powdered sugar, a bit at a time, alternating with coffee until all ingredients are incorporated.  Beat a few more minutes until fluffy, then set aside.

Now assemble the macarons by spreading some frosting (or other filling of choice) on one cookie then putting together like a sandwich.

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Then ta-da! You have 24 beautiful macarons!  That wasn’t too scary, right?

Overall, in the macaron-making process, I learned a few key things…

Tips for Making Macarons:
  1. Sift the ingredients (and make sure you buy extra fine almond flour).  I hate sifting ingredients but these cookies are so light that it’s a must.  If you buy the almond flour at Sprouts in the bulk food section, it’s not fine enough.  I’ve tried.  Get the Bob’s Red Mill one.
  2.  Let the batter sit a bit before piping it.  I found that my last batch turned out the best, so I’m chalking that up to the fact that it sat the longest in the piping bag (a few hours really) and sat for about an hour and a half on the counter before baking (because I was working and forgot about them).
  3. You need to let them rest for 1 hour after you pipe them onto the baking sheet.  When they sit, they smooth out and develop that nice coat.  Let them chill.
  4. If you underbake your macarons, they’ll stick to the parchment paper.   It depends on your oven and the size of your cookies. Figuring out when the macarons were ready to come out of the over took some guess work.  They have to look set, but not browned.  If this is your first time, I recommending each baking sheet separately in case one gets messed up, there are still two others for you to try with.  I ended up baking mine for 13 minutes, and that was the magic number.  But remember, every oven is different and your macarons might be bigger than mine.

I’m excited to try to make different flavors now.  I’m a big believer in mastering the basics before moving on to more extravagant things or tweaking recipes.  I had a lemon macaron from Lette Macarons that basically changed my view of macarons.  I must try to recreate it!

Have you tried making macarons? or are you just an eater? What’s your favorite macaron flavor?

Burlap and Sage Baby Shower

Pinterest has really changed the way we throw parties.  Or at least parties with my sister.

For me, parties are about food and people.  She loves parties to be beautifully decorated and perfect.  So when it was time to throw her another baby shower, Pinspiration had to happen.

This weekend we threw a baby shower for my sister’s second child.  Baby James will be here soon, so what better way to celebrate him than with some cute decorations and tasty foods.  Normally, I would want to make a ton of foods to feed a crowd, but things have been crazy over here in Foodologie-land.

Here’s a quick update before we get into the baby shower details.  I’m currently homeless.  Jesse and I moved out of our apartment last week.  Our stuff is in storage and we’re moving from house to house for the next few weeks until we move up to the Bay Area at the end of the month.  Between moving and work and life, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to make food in advance.  Instead, I focused on decor and kept the food simple (and store-bought).

I think it worked out well and was far less stressful than trying to make all the food myself.

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We rented tables and sage green table cloths.  My sister bought a burlap runner that we trimmed to fit each table.  

The centerpieces were simple but nice.  Some beautiful hydrangeas, some small candles and some letters to spell out James.   The flowers I got at Costco that morning.

Tip: Costco is a great place for flowers if you’re throwing a party! IMG_9084

For favors, we got some little burlap sacks and put some hershey kisses and hand sanitizers in them, along with a little tag that says Thank you.

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Upon arrival, guests took a photo of themselves and filled out a “Wishes for Baby” card, with cute advice for Baby James.

Then there was food of course… IMG_9105 IMG_9106 We kept it simple with a sandwich bar and salads.  

The salads included: green salad, pasta salad, potato salad, and fruit salad.

For Dessert, we had various treats (mostly for decorative purposes) and pies! IMG_9108

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Like I said, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to bake, but Coco’s has some seriously good and reasonably priced pies.  Definitely recommended.  We had fresh strawberry pie, dutch apple pie, banana cream pie, chocolate cream pie and cheesecake pie with lemon curd.  

They all looked and tasted great!

For drinks, I did strawberry flavored water and a fun concoction I found on pinterest, a mix of pineapple juice, lemonade and sprite.  It was a bit too sweet but tasty! IMG_9095 We didn’t do any baby shower type activities.  Instead people just had fun while eating and drinking.  

Overall, this baby shower was much less stressful to plan.  Keeping the food simple made the whole event come together more easily.

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I hope the mom-to-be (aka my sister) liked it.

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I can’t wait to meet Baby James!

Coming up next on Foodologie…. Fun-employment and a few trips coming up before the big move.  Hopefully some good eats along the way.  Stay tuned!

What’s your favorite part of throwing a party?

Peanut Butter Goji Soda Bread

I missed the boat on St. Patrick’s Day.  There was no green beer or corned beef and cabbage, but I did get a little inspiration from the Irish yesterday… Soda Bread.

I’ve never actually had soda bread, but a lot of people seem to like it.  So given the Irish inspiration and some jars of peanut butter and a bag of goji berries sitting around, a great idea came.  Let’s put the two together.

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The good news is my experiment was a success!  Again, I’ve never had soda bread so I’m not entirely sure what’s it’s supposed to taste like but this one was good.  Faintly sweet and with a hint of peanut butter.

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I kind of think you could make an amazing PB&J with this soda bread, but it would be all sorts of dense and intense.

Feel free to give that a try.

Peanut Butter Goji Soda Bread

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp butter, cold
1/2 cup The Bee’s Knees Peanut Butter
1/2 cup dried goji berries, rehydrated, liquid reserved
1/4 cup plain yogurt mixed with
3/4 cup water (1 cup total) or 1 cup buttermilk if you have it
1 tbsp melted butter

Take some hot water and pour it on the goji berries to rehydrate, set aside until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add butter and use your fingers to work it into small pieces.  Add peanut butter and do the same.  It’s ok if there are chunks of PB, you’ll work it in more later.
Strain goji berries and reserve the steeping water.  You’ll need about 1-2 tbsp of it.  Add yogurt mixture and goji berries to the flour mixture.  Work into a ball.  Add goji berry liquid as needed (I used about 2 tbsp).

Once you’ve got it into a ball.  Transfer it onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and form into a round thick disc shape.  Score the top in an X shape with a knife.   Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with additional sugar.

Bake 45-50 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test.  Allow to cool completely, serve and enjoy!

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This recipe makes one pretty big loaf.  It’s a lot of soda bread, but worth it.

Anyone ever tried making bread pudding with soda bread?  I think that could be amazing!

GIVEAWAY! Don’t forget to enter the Peanut Butter & Co Giveaway.  It ends this Friday!  To enter, go back to the Chocolate Peanut Butter Goji Berry Pie Post and leave a comment!  Entering is easy, winning is awesome.  Tell your friends!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Goji Berry Pie

Before I went to Thailand, I got an email from Peanut Butter & Co. about a Mystery Ingredient Challenge they were doing this month.  The deal was: they send me peanut butter and a mystery ingredient, then I make something tasty with it.

Of course, I was excited about it because…

1. I love peanut butter.

2. I love making things with peanut butter.

After a few weeks my mystery ingredient arrived: Goji Berries.

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I have to tell you.  I had never tried goji berries.  I imagined sweet little dried fruits, but actually they’re pretty tart!  I was excited to see what I could pair with goji berries other than peanut butter.  Then conveniently, pie day happened…

So of course, I had to make a pie.  Then the idea came: rich chocolate ganache with peanut butter and goji berries.

Chocolate PB Goji Pie

It really was as awesome as it sounds (and looks?).

Chocolate Peanut Butter Goji Berry Pie

1 Graham Cracker Crust (store bought or homemade)
1 cup heavy cream
9 ounces dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup Smooth Operator Peanut Butter
1/4 dried goji berries (plus extra for garnish)
1/4 tsp coarse seal salt (optional)

Heat heavy cream in a saucepan with goji berries.  This way they’ll soften and plump up.  Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine chocolate chips and peanut butter.

Pass cream through a strainer and pour hot cream on chocolate and peanut butter.  Let it sit a few minutes and stir to combine.

Take the rehydrated goji berries and place in the bottom of the graham cracker crust.

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Pour chocolate mixture on top.  Garnish with goji berries and coarse sea salt (optional).  Chill for 4 hours and serve with whipped cream.

This turned out great! It was dense, not too sweet and a great balance of flavors.  It’s got sweet, sour (from the goji berries), bitter from the dark chocolate and a touch of sea salt on top really balances it all out.

Also, can we talk about how easy it is?

I didn’t have time to get photos of the slices, because I took it to a Pi(e) Day party, because I wanted to be sure to get this up in time for a giveaway!

Peanut Butter & Co. is giving one Foodologie reader a free Peanut Butter & Co. Prize Pack!

To Enter: Leave a comment on this blog post telling me your favorite way to enjoy Goji Berries OR if you’ve never tried them… what would you like to eat them with?

The giveaway ends Monday March 23rd! So be sure to enter and tell your friends about it too!

WINNER: Mary W! Winner has been emailed 😀  Thanks for entering!

P.S. I have a few more Peanut Butter/Goji recipes up my sleeve.  Stay tuned!

Culinary Bucket List: Monkey Bread

I’ve been excited about the concept of my culinary bucket list ever since blogging about it last month.  I guess I should have set some ground rules… or really one important ground rule… the rule of perfection (or lack of).

Whatever I make on my culinary bucketlist might not be perfect, but I’ll try anyway.

With that said…

The first item to check off the list: Monkey Bread.

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Oh monkey bread.  I had no idea what to expect, because I had never eaten it (or made it).  It’s like a giant cinnamon roll stuffed into a bundt pan and covered in butter.

You really can’t lose.

I did learn, however, that monkey bread (like cinnamon rolls) gets hard and dry after sitting out.  This is best devoured hot.  Straight out of the oven is best.

Mine wasn’t perfect.  In fact, when I turned it over, it got a little stuck.

Ok honestly, it was a bit of a mess…

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I used a recipe I found online and make some changes (as usual). I added pecans because that sounded great.

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I skipped the glaze and that was a mistake.  I should have made the glaze, but it looked so intense on it’s own that I thought it wasn’t necessary.

Lesson learned.

I won’t share the recipe I used, but feel free to check out this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction that I based mine on.

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Overall, monkey bread was tasty, but I don’t think I need to make it again.  It was intense, but maybe I’m just not a big fan of cinnamon rolls in general?

Next time, I’ll know not to skip the glaze.

Next on the Culinary Bucketlist/Foodologie is Thai food!  I’m off to Thailand for 2 weeks.  I’ll be back with updates, photos and tasty recipes… then when I return there will be some peanut buttery goodness too.

Lots to look forward to!

Are you a fan of Monkey Bread? or just cinnamon rolls? or neither?