July 4th. The 4th of July. Independence Day. Our nation's birthday. So many names for one of my favorite holidays. There are three US holidays where you know the whole country is celebrating at the same time - Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day - all of which conveniently occur during the warm and sunny summer months. What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means you can actually be off from work, as opposed to being on vacation aka taking phone calls and meetings from a destination more exotic than your fluorescent lit office or living room. But more importantly, it is a time for family, friends, food and fun in the sun.
This mini rant reminds me of a very poignant episode of Saved by the Bell, circa 1991, where Zack was a judge for the Miss 4th of July pageant. He was conflicted when choosing the winner, as he was put in a precarious situation by his employer who wanted him to vote for his daughter. All of the answers to the question 'What does the 4th of July mean to you?' were spot-on but they were missing one key element. Jessie felt this was not really our country since there was a rich history before we settled here. Fair but off topic, Jessie. She was always going rogue. Lisa was excited about the sales at department stores. Oh Lisa, that is so you to talk about shopping. Stacey had a thoughtful and touching answer about spending time with friends and family but Kelly had her beat when she tied it back to our ancestors. Competing for Zack's vote or heart, ladies? But I digress. The one thing missing from all of their answers was the food. Maybe because they all weighed the standard 90's sitcom weight. But come on ladies, everyone loves a 4th of July BBQ! Whoever said food would have had my vote.
Time to fire up the grill, put on your favorite playlist and break in the blender with your favorite people. Here are some of my personal favorite recipes for July 4th and all summer barbeques! #freedomfood
There is no better way to get a party started than appetizers. Well, maybe summer cocktails. Oh, and a really cool playlist. And obviously entertainment (aka Holly). You know what I mean...check these out to kick things off right!
Who doesn't love guacamole? I mean, really. Personally, I enjoy the taste of avocado so much that I keep my ingredients to a minimum. Three ingredients to be exact. Avocado (obviously...), lime and sea salt. Serve with gluten free chips, crudite or use as a condiment. It doesn't keep too long in the heat, but let's be honest. Your guests will devour it as soon as it hits the table.
These little guys are amazing. Don't believe me? They are one of the most popular recipes on my blog! So there - thousands of other people saying they are fabulous. This recipe is incredibly 1) cheap and 2) versatile. All you need is a can (or cans) of garbanzo beans and spices to make them salty, sweet or spicy. This crunchy, tasty and healthy appetizer will impress your guests - let them think you are a creative ingenue in the kitchen. I won't tell.
Speaking of chick peas... Hummus is always a crowd-pleaser. Sure, you can easily go to the store and buy a tub but doesn't it mean more when you slave away in the kitchen for your guests? The good news is, this recipe is so easy that it can really be made in a matter of minutes. Have fun with your homemade hummus by adding extra ingredients - roasted red pepper, spinach, cilantro, or my favorite, extra lemon. Serve with gluten free chips, crudite or use as a condiment. Noticing a trend? You can maximize your ingredients by serving all of these app recipes together. You're welcome.
Yes, you read that right. These are so, so good. And gluten free. And relatively healthy. Swap potatoes, salt, lard and a deep fryer for polenta, coconut oil and an oven. I can't describe how delicious (and easy!) the dipping sauce is so you will need to just make this and see for yourself. This recipe is a must for your BBQ, especially if you will have little ones running around. Just get the Tide stick ready for tomato stains.
Move over clams, steamers and lobster. There is a new seafood in town for BBQ season. Mussels are delicious and affordable. This recipe might be the best thing you've ever had. Seriously. And it is easy to make in bulk for your party. Just make sure to have some (gluten free!) bread on hand for the lemon garlic oil. Holy moly. Added bonus? The mussel shells are fun to play with. Oh, that's right. Don't play with your food.
Sides & Salads
This is my favorite set of recipes. Why? Because I hate mayo and am always on the search for BBQ sides and salads that are not made with mayo. Nothing is scarier than a red and white checkered table covered with potato salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad, all smothered in that dreaded stuff. Try these instead!
The simple act of adding fruit to a salad instantly makes it fit for summer. This strawberry and goat cheese salad is not only incredibly tasty, but it also ups your healthy food group intake. Arugula or spinach, almonds and a homemade dressing keep this dish deliciously simple. Since it is summer, feel free to skip the steps of baking the strawberries and goat cheese by topping your salad with fresh, chilled ingredients. Keep extra strawberries on the side to serve with dessert!
Nothing says summer quite like fresh ingredients. This salad is bright, bold and beautiful. There is also a delicate balance of sweet and tangy with flavors like pomegranate seeds, feta cheese, raisins, lemon and fresh herbs. The dressing is homemade but super simple to make. I promise this will go fast so you might want to double your batch! And if your guests ask, its pronounced 'keen-wah' not 'queeno' :)
Kale! All hail kale! Trick your guests into eating it with this tasty kale salad. Apples, goat cheese and a lemon ginger dressing - its that simple! If you are really dedicated, you can follow the trend that is all the rage right now and massage your kale. As for me, I don't have that kind of time and I am not interested in becoming that intimate with kale. Clean, crunchy kale is good enough for me!
Be sure to have something for your food intolerant guests. This pesto pasta is both dairy free and gluten free - but nobody will know the difference! Make it ahead of time and pop it in the fridge to serve cold as a pasta salad. If you don't need to accommodate a dairy intolerance, add some goat cheese for a creamy texture and added sweetness.
A BBQ is not a BBQ without mac 'n cheese. I realize that. However, don't forget about your guests who cannot have gluten or globs of cheese. The alternative? Gluten free pasta, goat cheese and a surprisingly yummy ingredient. And voila - a traditional side dish with a healthy spin. It's that simple. This is super tasty and yet another winner with the kids.
Yum, yum, yum. This is the perfect summer salad. The smell and taste of mango reminds you that it is, in fact, summer and adds a crunch to the salad. Avocado is obviously just amazing. Whether you chop up shrimp, add crab meat or lobster tail, you have a fabulous seafood side salad. You can also keep some shrimp to the side for kebabs on the grill!
Grilled to Perfection
I am not here to tell you how to grill up burgers, hot dogs and kebabs. You already know how to do that, grill master. However, if you are looking to change up the menu, here are some fun new ideas to try!
Steak is the rich, fancy king of the summer BBQ. If you want to look swanky on a dime, buy a large cut of meat that can be sliced thin so it makes its way around the picnic table. What better cut than skirt steak to go the extra mile. This chimichurri recipe is phenomenal. Packed with flavor and fresh herbs, phenomenal. Who needs ketchup or BBQ sauce with something this delicious?
Still aiming to look like a fancy pants? Break out the rack of lamb! This choice will not go as far as the skirt steak, but if you are having an intimate get together definitely try this recipe. Ditch the oven or broiler and grill for the perfect rack of lamb. The homemade marinade can also be used as a dressing for your sides and salads, so feel free to make a little extra.
Hopefully I haven't offended my vegan and vegetarian friends with the steak and lamb recipes. You should always have a delicious veggie burger recipe to please all of your guests. You can easily keep a box of veggie burgers in the freezer, but all of your guests deserve a freshly grilled entree, don't they? These are super simple - even a veggie burger novice (like myself!) can make these. Have extra avocado from your guacamole or shrimp and avo salad? Perfect - top your burgers for added flavor!
Every BBQ should have grilled chicken. Not everyone likes red meat and it is really simple to grill up. I am sure you have your preferred spices, rubs and marinades, but let's face it, grilled chicken can get a little boring. Whip up this margherita topping - tomatoes, roasted red peppers, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette - and top with goat cheese for a more interesting and complex grilled chicken. After all, don't we all want our food to have the same drama and complexity as our love lives?
Ice Cream Social
What is summer without ice cream?! Traditional ice cream is not very healthy or friendly to us lactose intolerant folks. Refined white sugar is also a no no. So try these really, really ridiculously yummy and healthy alternatives. I promise your guests will not know the difference!
Love vanilla ice cream? Perfect. Swap it out for this tasty little wonder! Replace the heavy cream with coconut milk, the refined white sugar with coconut sugar and, well, vanilla for...vanilla. My favorite topping is the cinnamon, honey, walnut and pomegranate seeds pictured here. However, you can have tons of fun with your guests and kids by laying out a topping station. Fresh fruit, gluten free granola, nuts - go crazy. They are amazing replacements for the old school favorites like sprinkles, chocolate syrup, whipped cream.
Oh. My. Goodness. This is one of my favorite desserts. Believe it or not, it is free of gluten, dairy and refined sugar but not of lip smacking deliciousness. If you've already made the dairy free ice cream above (which you obviously have) then all you need to do is pop this ridiculously good gluten free cookie dough in the oven. Kids will go crazy for this. Oh, who am I kidding? Your whole party will!
You've heard of banana bread, banana pancakes, banana donuts, banana splits...now its time to try banana ice cream. This is so easy to make and you can easily add fun flavors like peanut butter and chocolate. Surprise your guests when you tell them they just met their fruit serving for the day with dessert. Your guests will go bananas. Sorry, I had to.
Okay, okay. This doesn't exactly meet the 'ice cream social' standards but you have to have a healthy option at your BBQ. Feel free to top it with dairy free ice cream! I'm sure you already bought the princess of BBQ's, watermelon, and your guests will love it. But changing up the fruit salad recipe to add crunch and flavor will be unexpectedly delicious. That sounds familiar. Oh no, wait, I'm thinking of magically delicious. That too...