Other than Halloween – which is, without contest, the best day of the year – I tend to rank all other holidays based on their food and dining possibilities. For the big three – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter – I feel like my Dad and I are compelled to one-up each others’ holiday menu, even when we’re thousands of miles apart and wont even be sitting at the same dinner table. I’ve recently decided to add the Fourth of July to that list, a day that is usually dominated by an area of my dad’s expertise: the grill.
Since we’ll be traveling on the Fourth to a kitchen-unknown (read: an airbnb in Colorado), I had to act before the big holiday. So we planned an impromptu southern inspired cook-out in our back lot this weekend. The smell of freshly lit charcoal lured our upstairs neighbors down and the promise of homemade lemonade is what probably ensured that they stay. Inside I stuffed peppers with crumbled queso fresco and wrapped them tightly in bacon – trying again to one up my Dad’s own pecan-stuffed jalapeno poppers – and squeezed lemons till my palms hurt.
We lit two grills: our small portable one – perfect for small sides and things that require quick stints over the coals, and our larger one that we covered with brats, sausages, and buttered rolls. A small army of various mustards stood at the ready. A butcher-paper covered table held a massive pitcher of homemade Blueberry Lemonade sweetened with smokey sorghum syrup and crushed blueberries and the nearby tray of fresh peaches impatiently waited to be grilled for dessert. The buttermilk biscuits baked the day before had already fallen victim to nibbling.
The sun began to set and cast a perfect glow over the dying coals on the grills and I quickly brushed the peaches with a melted mix of butter-honey-and-salt. They took a quick turn on the grate and then were sandwiched between two halves of a biscuit and topped with vanilla bean ice cream to form the most American shortcake I could ever dream up. Their summery sweetness was tempered only by the slow, lingering burn from one-too-many jalapeno poppers. Not that anyone is keeping track, but I think I may have won Fourth of July this year.
Blueberry Sorghum Lemonade
makes about 1 gallon
2 1/2 cups lemon juice
1 gallon cold water
1 cup sorghum or cane sugar
1 ½ cups blueberries
additional lemon slices and fresh blueberries for garnish
1. In a large pitcher, combine the lemon juice, water, and sorghum and stir until thoroughly combined.
2. Add 1/2 cup of the blueberries to a wide bowl. Using the bottom of a heavy glass, or the back of a large wooden spoon, gently smash the berries to release some of their juices.
FAMILY STYLE: If serving the lemonade in a large clear drink dispenser or pitcher, add the smashed blueberries and the whole ones to the bottom of the container. Top with the lemonade to mix. Serve with additional blueberries and lemon slices for garnish.
COCKTAIL STYLE: If serving the lemonade by the glass, add a teaspoon or so of the smashed blueberries to the bottom of a glass. Top with ice cubes and a few more whole berries. Carefully pour the lemonade over the cubes so that the drink slowly fades from dark blue to lightly purple at the top. Garnish with a lemon slice and serve.
Grilled Peach Buttermilk Shortcakes with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Serves 6 to 8 (depending upon how big you cut the biscuits)
FOR THE BISCUITS:
1 1/2 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter, chilled
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup buttermilk
1. Set the oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and sugar. Using two forks or your fingertips, cut in the cold butter until the mixture is crumbly with only pea-sized pieces of butter remaining.
3. In another small bowl, whisk together the vanilla, egg, and milk. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it just comes together. Pat or roll out the dough until it’s about ½-inch thick. Using a round biscuit cutter (I used a 2.5”) or a thin-lipped glass, cut the dough into circles. Transfer dough circles onto a baking sheet, brush the tops with a bit of leftover milk or egg, and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the tops just begin to turn a golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on the counter slightly before serving.
FOR THE SHORTCAKES:
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon tablespoon honey
pinch of salt
peaches (firm, but ripe), washed, halved, pits removed (one half per person)
vanilla bean ice cream
1. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, honey, and salt. Brush each peach half (cut side only) with a thin layer of the honey butter.
2. When the grill is heated and the coals have died down slightly, place the peach halves cut-side down on the grill. Continue to grill for 3 to 5, until the bottoms just begin to caramelize. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly.
3. To assemble a shortcake: cut a biscuit in two and place the bottom half in the bottom of a bowl or plate. Add one grilled peach half and top with the top half of the biscuit. Finish with a scoop (or two!) of ice cream. Repeat with remaining biscuits and peaches. Drizzle any juices that accumulated after grilling the peaches over the bowls (or any leftover honey-butter) and serve.
Grilled Jalapeno Poppers stuffed with Queso Fresco
makes one dozen
¼ cup cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces (about 6 tablespoons) queso fresco, crumbled
black pepper to taste
6 jalapenos, washed and patted dry
6 strips of uncooked bacon, cut in half crosswise
1. In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, queso fresco, and black pepper. Set aside.
2. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the peppers in half, lengthwise. Leaving the stems intact, scoop or cut out the seeds and ribs and discard. Fill each pepper half with the cheese mixture. Wrap a half piece of bacon around the middle of each jalapeno and secure with a toothpick.
3. When the grill is heated and the flames have died down, carefully place each jalapeno half on the grate, cut side up. Grill the peppers for 15 to 20 – turning or moving as necessary – until the cheese is bubbly and the bacon is cooked through.
NOTE: if the peppers are too small, place a piece over heavy-duty aluminum foil over the grate to keep them from falling through.
This post was sponsored by and in collaboration with the lovely folks over at Birch Lane. Per usual, I would never put anything on this blog that wasn’t already something I used or was proud to associate with, so you can trust me when I say that Birch Lane has some of the swellest – and lets be honest, most photogenic – bits and pieces for your kitchen and table. All the pieces I used in this post can be found through the links below.