Potluck on the 4th: Bobby Flay, Sara Moulton and Mollie Katzen share entertaining notions

(Published by Tribune Media Syndicates, July 2009)
by Francine Segan

Back in 1776 John Adams wrote that Independence Day should be celebrated "with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations". Adams might just as well have added cookouts, because "by the mid 1800s barbeques became synonymous with the 4th of July," notes food historian Andrew F. Smith, "and they have only grown in popularity with each passing year."

For this 4th of July's cookout, TV chefs Bobby Flay and Sara Moulton as well as award-winning cookbook author Mollie Katzen share tips and recipes.

Potluck Barbeque

Sara Moulton, the charismatic star of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" has great advice for entertaining on budget---host a potluck barbeque. "Given the economy, now more than ever, it is important to get together with friends and family. Potluck is the easiest and most economical way to entertain." Assign guests specific dishes or have them bring store-bought ingredients like ground meat and buns for the burgers.

You don't need anything fancy for a great barbeque. "Forget the bells and whistles and keep your equipment simple," suggests Bobby Flay, star of the Emmy-nominated Boy Meets Grill. "I rely on a good, strong pair of tongs, a sturdy spatula, a few heavy-duty potholders and a strong wire scraper to keep the grates of the grill clean."

Moulton, who likes to think green along with red, white and blue, adds, "you can even ask guests to bring their own cloth napkins, plates and glasses. It not only cuts out all the expense of disposables, but it's better for the environment too." Instead of expensive sodas, Moulton recommends asking guests to bring homemade drinks like lemonade or iced tea. "There is nothing more refreshing then a pitcher of half iced tea, half orange juice, flavored with fresh mint."

Bobby Flay's Top 6 Grilling Tips

1. Don't Be Intimidated By the Grill - A grill is just a source of heat, just like the stove.

2. Organize - When it's time to hit the grill, get everything out in front of you within easy reach — food, spices, and tools.

3. Give Yourself Room - Grilling is much more relaxing when you are not trying to juggle a whole collection of plates and bowls. If your grill doesn't have enough workspace (and they almost never do) set up a table right next to your grill.

4. Don't Play With Your Food - The more you touch the food on the grill the more it will stick and begin to fall apart. Don't touch for at least 2 minutes! A crust needs to form, but if you begin to turn it before the crust has formed, it will stick.

5. Grilling Meat - When in doubt, it's better to undercook than overcook. You can always put food back on the fire if you need to.

6. Keep it Simple. It's perfectly acceptable to just brush the food with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. I save the real blast of flavor for later by using bold flavored condiments such as fruit and vegetable-based sauces, relishes and salsas.


Flay, author of Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and Shakes (Clarkson Potter, 2009) says, "For a juicy, flavorful burger, chuck is definitely the way to go. Chuck is not pricey and has a relatively high fat content, about 20 percent. There's one thing you can't deny: fat carries flavor and moisture." Flay likes to season his burgers with salt and pepper only. "Put in a lot of other stuff and you'll have meatloaf, not a burger," he jokes. Instead Flay recommends serving burgers with interesting ingredients like arugula and Parmesan cheese. There's no limit to the burger toppings you can set out, like sliced tomatoes, raw and sautéed onions, assorted lettuce greens, sliced pickles, jalapeno peppers, crisp bacon, and interesting cheeses. One of his most creative toppings is potato chips. "I love getting a mouthful of juicy burger and salty, crispy potatoes in one bite. Reminds me of when I was a kid and would sneak chips into my sandwiches." Vary the condiments too. Season your own store-bought ketchup, mustard or mayo by adding maple syrup, herbs, paprika, horseradish, or chili, onion or garlic powders.

"Be sure to include options for vegetarians like grilled firm tofu, Portobello mushrooms or a thick slice of eggplant, all of which can be served on a burger bun," suggests Mollie Katzen author of the groundbreaking vegetarian food classic Moosewood Cookbook. "Another terrific food to grill is fruit like peaches, plums, and nectarines," Katzen adds. "Just slice the fruit in half, remove the pit, and grill. Splash with balsamic vinegar as a side to tofu or meats. Or serve them with frozen yogurt or ice-cream for dessert."

Grilled Pizza

"Grilled pizzas are fun and easy," notes cookbook author Moulton. "Just make or buy a big batch of pizza dough, rolled into individual-sized portions." (Sara's Tip: roll out the dough on an olive oil coated surface instead of flour-coated. The dough will shrink less and be easier to handle.)

"Place the dough on a hot part of the grill. Then after a few minutes flip it to the cool outer edges. Set out an assortment of classic fixings like tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni slices, and diced veggies including mushrooms, onions, peppers and zucchini so guests can pick their own toppings. One of my favorites is California BBQ pizza topped with shredded cooked chicken, barbeque sauce, thinly sliced red onions and smoked Gouda or Monterey Jack cheese," adds Moulton.

Sizzling Sides

"The great thing about the 4th of July is that vegetables and fruit are plentiful and cheap," says Moulton. "So you can add lots of veggie side dishes, eat healthy, but still stay on budget."

One of Sara Moulton's favorite side dishes is grilled corn, which she prepares naked--- out of the husk, that is. "It has a toastier, almost popcorn-like flavor that way," she adds. Moulton sets up a do-it-yourself toppings station for the finished corn. "First dip the corn in either melted butter, garlic mayo or BBQ sauce mixed with a little sour cream, then roll it in one of the following: finely chopped crispy bacon; grated sharp cheddar or jalapeno Monterey jack cheese; crushed tortilla or potato chips; or finely chopped walnuts, pecans or peanuts."

Katzen, with over 6 million cookbooks in print, beams, "4th of July is one of those times of year, like Thanksgiving, when there lots of vegetarian-friendly side dishes, which can often be more creative and delicious than meat." Katzen offers a bounty of ideas like simple grilled veggies, sliced ripe tomatoes, cole slaw topped with walnuts, and a mayo-less alternative to potato salad. "Toss boiled potato pieces while still hot with the juice from your favorite dill pickles. Add some of the same pickles chopped, along with cucumbers, radishes, scallions and a little olive oil for an unusual, healthy twist on a classic."

RECIPE #1: Philadelphia Burger

Adapted from Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and Shakes (Clarkson Potter, 2009)

Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell, is famous for its cheese steak-thin slices of beef topped with Provolone cheese, onions and bell peppers. Here, Bobby turns it into a perfect 4th of July burger.

Canola oil
1 large Spanish onion, sliced into thin rings
1 1/2 pounds freshly ground chuck
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 slices aged provolone cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 roasted red peppers, peeled, seeded, stemmed and coarsely chopped
Pickled hot pepper rings
4 Sesame Seed Hamburger Buns

1. Heat griddle over high heat.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil on the griddle until almost smoking. Add the onions and cook until soft and lightly golden brown. Remove the onions to a plate.

3. Form the meat into four 6-ounce burgers. Season burgers on both sides with salt and pepper. Add a few more tablespoons of oil to the griddle and cook the burgers for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium doneness. During last minute of cooking add 2 slices of cheese to each burger, cover grill and let melt, approximately 1 minute. Place burger on bun and top with red peppers, hot peppers, and the cooked onions.

RECIPE #2: Smart Cole Slaw with Pears, Walnuts, and Cranberries

By Mollie Katzen, for www.walnuts.org/smartmenus
Serves 6

A much less mayonnaisey version of traditional cole slaw. Surprise your guests with how amazingly delicious a super healthy dish can be!

2 pounds cabbage (one each, red and green), shredded
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1/2 cup very finely minced red onion
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup nonfat yogurt
1 to 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or light-colored honey
1/2 cup cranberries - dried, or minced fresh
1 to 2 bosc pears
Up to a cup of chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
Wedges of lemon

-1-Combine the cabbage, carrot, and onion in a very large bowl. Sprinkle with salt, toss to combine, and set aside.

-2- In a second (small) bowl, combine the vinegar, mayonnaise, yogurt and syrup or honey, and whisk until smooth. Pour this, along with the cranberries, into the vegetables, and toss to mix well. Transfer to a container with a tight fitting lid, cover, and refrigerate until shortly before serving time.

-3- Just before serving, cut the pear(s) into thin strips and gently mix into the cole slaw. Top with walnuts, and serve right away, accompanied by squeezable wedges of lemon.