All-American Dishes for Fourth of July

June 24, 2014 Grilling, Seasonal Tips

There is no better time than the Fourth of July to hold a full-fledged, red-white-and-blue-dipped blowout. It is the anniversary of our American independence, after all. And frankly, any day that begins with a parade and ends with fireworks is a reason to celebrate all unto itself.

However wonderful, the Fourth is an all-day event and requires planning for maximum enjoyment, especially when I will be the one entertaining my family and friends. From the menu to the tabletop, there are some key things I do to guarantee success well before we fire up the grill. Here are my favorite tips to ensure an especially stellar holiday.

Pre-Parade Prep While the kids are weaving the last strands of crepe paper through the spokes of their bikes, I take time to get myself all set up to feed the masses later in the day. A hearty chili is always my first priority. I chop, sauté and let simmer while the parade preparations are underway. When everyone is ready for lunch, we can dig right in. Toppings like shredded cheddar, crispy tortilla strips and sour cream make for a filling midday meal in a mug.

The Fourth is an all-day event and requires planning for maximum enjoyment.

The Great American Potluck Spread Part of the excitement of pulling together the holiday menu is looking forward to what spectacular side each family will contribute to the meal. To create a proper stage for the potluck feast, I like to cover the buffet table in kraft paper with bouquets of red, white and blue crayons set out along the top. From the moment they arrive, I invite children and adults alike to color on the "tablecloth." I cap the ends with pitchers full of punch and blueberry ice cubes, and let the array of homemade dishes do the rest of the decorating.

The Grill It's the focal point of the entire summer, really, and never more important than on the Fourth of July. On this day, brats and hot dogs are expected to be cooking over the grates, but many other favorite menu items may be served hot from the grill, too. Roast veggies, grill black bean burgers and upgrade the good ol' fashioned hot dog to a chili dog with toppings kept warm on the grill. So many options give guests the opportunity to personalize their plates and also keep the grill master in good company.

I love to keep a cast-iron crock of blackeye peas on the grill, too. They not only make a yummy side dish, they serve as a delicious good-luck wish for the second half of the year.

Fireworks! I plan the entire dessert menu around the quintessential fireworks display. All sweet treats must complement the show and be easily consumed in the grass while watching the fireworks. Any cupcake shines brightly with a sparkler lit atop, and there is no more American surprise than sugar cookies with a sprinkle of Pop Rocks. But the day is not officially done until every kid on the lawn has slurped down a melting Bomb Pop. All of the above are wonderful and most importantly... simple. It's a real gift after a full day of festivities.

For all the patriotic frill, unabashed fun and kitschy food traditions, the midsummer holiday is easily one of my favorites. From parade to potluck to popsicles under the fireworks, I relish the time we get together and the extra-special food we share. God bless America, and everyone have a really good time.