Saturday, July 5, 2008

Spirit of the Fourth

Since the year 2000 I have inadvertedly developed a 4th of July tradition, one that either involved getting up exceptionally early or staying up extraordinarily late and always lasted for at the very least 8 ½ hectic hours. Like many holidays for the past seven years I have spent our nations Independence Day managing massive crowds, counting piles of dirty money, sassing (err…I mean helping) angry customers, and generally working my bootie off at the movie theater. Out of habit this year I very much intended to spend the 4th doing the same that I had all those years past but after 2 weeks in a row of working 12 hour days with one day off a week in a hiring frenzy I had a revelation.

I really did not need to work on the 4th of July this year

It would be nearly impossible for me to get any of the hiring work I needed to do done when it was going to be so busy and there was enough management staff to cover the regular need of the theater and most importantly it would be a waste of resources to work myself into exhaustion considering I had another super busy week of hiring fun ahead of me come Monday.

So in celebration of my first 4th of July off in forever I decided to take Saturday and Sunday off as well and have a fun, family, and food filled, completely work free three day weekend. It was unbelievably awesome and reminded me of how much fun free time can be.

Like any good weekend in my book this one started off with a delicious meal. One that was inspired by a recipe found in Bon Appetit and breakfast treat I recently had for the first time in forever during my last trip to Santa Barbara. I tweaked the original recipe to eliminate the gluten, reduce the sugar, lower the fat, and make it vegan since I am not a fan of eggs.

Vegan Citrus French Toast with boozy berry sauce

Ingredients for the berry sauce

¾ cup orange juice
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup dark rum
2 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with a splash of water to form a thin paste
5 cups of berries, fresh or frozen and thawed (I used a combination of both: fresh blackberries and raspberries and frozen blueberries)

Ingredients for the toast

2 cups vanilla soy milk
1 cup orange juice
2 mashed bananas, preferably ones that are on their last leg and covered with brown spots
2 tablespoons Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A few thick slices of gluten free bread (or thin ones if that’s all you have)

Making the berry good sauce

Add the orange juice, sugar, and rum to a medium sized sauce pan and simmer over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Add the cornstarch and water mix to the pot and stir constantly until the liquid thickens. Add your berries, reduce heat a smidge, and stir to combine. Let the berry mixture bubble a couple of minutes just until the larger berries start to break down slightly. Remove the berry sauce from the heat and set aside while you prepare the toast.

Making the toasts

Preheat your oven on its lowest setting (mine is 175) so you will have a warm place to keep the toasts while you finish cooking all the batches. First off you want to mash your bananas, to do this I typically like to gently squish the banana while its still inside its peel, be careful when doing this that you don’t squish the banana too hard and cause a tear in the peel which would cause all of the banana guts to leak out before it has adequately been mashed. Once you are done with your squishing give the banana a good squeeze and let all of the mushy banana goodness seep out of the banana into a rimed baking dish large enough to hold most of your bread slices. Using a fork or potato masher squish any large bits of banana that the “in peel” mashing method might have missed. To the mashed banana you can now add your soy milk, orange juice, liqueur of choice, and vanilla. Whisk all the ingredients together until combined. To this lovely liquid add your bread slices, turning to fully coat both sides of the bread, and let the bread sit in the mixture until you are ready to cook.

If you happen to be using a thinner slice of bread a quick dip in the liquid will suffice. With the thicker slices though letting them sit a bit gives the bread ample time to soak up all of the delicious batter. Heat a couple large skillets over medium heat and once hot spray with cooking spray of your choice to prevent any sticking. Add the soaked bread to the skillets and cook until browned on both sides, put finished toasts on a pan and keep them warm in the oven until all the bread has been toasted.

To serve

Arrange toasts on plates and top with a generous portion of the berry sauce. If you want things a little sweeter you can sprinkle with powdered sugar or a drizzle of agave nectar.

To complement our toast I also made some Applegate Farms turkey bacon. The toast was scrumptious and the berry sauce turned out perfectly, sweet and slightly lumpy with the faintest hint of rich rum flavor.

After cleaning up the kitchen we got ready for a 4th of July bike ride. We checked the chains for tangles, tires for air, and paused for an ever important pre ride picture in the yard...

and then we were ready to ride and headed off in the 100 degree heat for Web Park.

When we were youngins every year the fam would go to Web Park where they always had a huge festive fair with food, games, vendors, performances and all sorts of 4th of July festivity (my mom said they even had a beer garden!). We arrived at the park to find that the previously bustling event had fizzled out over the past 8 years and was about 1/6 the size that it used to be and consisted mostly of people trying to get you to donate money or sign petitions, republicans with a giant cardboard cutout of Arnold, and a make shift stage with kids singing what sounded like karaoke but might have actually been planned performances. The sight of the sad event sunk our spirits and standing around in the heat was not making us feel any better so after capturing the moment with another precious family photo…

we decided to cheer ourselves up and cool down by heading to the Golden Spoon for some delicious frozen yogurt. I had peanut butter cup and cookies in cream (which actually does not contain any cookies, yay!) and it was delicious. So delicious in fact that I forgot to take a picture (as often happens when I am excited to eat something) but you know what frozen yogurt looks like, a swirly tower of creamy chilly goodness. It did the trick alright, just look at these before and after pictures taken with my brothers spiffy new super sharp camera.

Before frozen yogurt…hot, sweaty, and overheated outdoors at a lackluster fair.

After, cool, calm, and content in an air conditioned shop with a belly full of delicious frozen yogurt.

Happily almost all of the flavors at Golden Spoon are gluten free, the only ones that you need to steer clear of are any of the malt flavors. My personal favorites are the pistachio, peanut butter cup, cake batter, and coconut.

After we finished our yogurt we rode home along the parade route and waved to the people that were sitting along side the road waiting for the parade to start.

Back at home after resting a spell while watching PCU we found that we still had a bit of time to kill before beginning our prep for dinner and I am no good at staying still for too long so we decided to head back out into the heat and go for a hike at the newly reopened Blue Sky Ranch. Most of the huge trees were still standing but the leaves, small branches and dense foliage that previously filled the gaps between the trees had all burned away leaving a canopy of black twisted tree twigs and trunks. In the past the plants that lined the path were so dense that you could not see through them on either side and the only way to view the interior clearing that spanned under the canopy was to take the sub path that took you down under the tall trees.

The fire completely wiped out all the dense vegetation and made it so as you hiked you could now see completely through the branches along the path to the other side. After having spent many years hiking here as a kid and adult it was quite a sight to see it now in this way. The smell of the fire was still pretty noticeable and the heat amplified it even more so. We hiked down to where the path splits between the Lake Poway and Mt.Woodson trails where we rested for a minute and then began the trek back. After all the hot outdoor activity we were all feeling overheated, sweaty, dehydrated, and quite hungry so we headed back home to clean up and begin preparing dinner.

Like most of our holiday celebrations our 4th of July dinner was an array of delicious dishes. There were two racks of slow roasted pork ribs one that was rubbed with brown sugar, onion powder, garlic, salt, and pepper and then doused in a bbq sauce that my mom made and another seasoned by me. Even though I am not much of a fan of ribs I tried my hand at making a rub of brown sugar, Cajun seasoning, hot paprika, garlic, onion, salt, and pepper. The rub mixture sure smelled yummy and it was fun to massage all the different delicious seasonings into the meat.

We also had hamburgers which mom stamped with the Virgin Mary toast stamp I got her for Christmas.

Grilled asparagus and yellow and white peaches.

My favorite yam fries which we cut into thick slices, par baked in the microwave for a few minutes, sprinkled with brown sugar, cinnamon and a smidge of earth balance, and then grilled outside until they were browned on all sides. And of course what 4th of July feast would be complete without grilled sweet corn on the cob served with butter, hot sauce, lemon, and salt.

Last but not least I made a yummy chicken dish that was inspired again by my most recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

Nutty crusted mustard chicken with berry sauce

Wet chicken dip ingredients

1/3 cup honey mustard
¼ cup veganaise (or real mayo if you are into that sorta thing)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

Dry chicken dip ingredients

1 cup toasted and chopped hazelnuts
1 cup gluten free bread crumbs, (I used the leftover crusts and stale bread from sandwich week)
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper

Other ingredients

3 or 4 chicken breasts
non stick cooking spray or light olive oil
Berry sauce leftover from breakfast

Preparing the chicken dips

First preheat your oven to 375.

After you have toasted and chopped the nuts and crumbled your bread combine all the ingredients in a large bowl with the sea salt and pepper, give a good stir, and set aside.

To make the wet dip combine all of the wet dip ingredients and mix until all the different ingredients are well blended and then add to this your chicken breasts, using your hands to coat the chicken with the wet dip completely.

Heat a large skillet on medium high heat and spray with cooking spray or add a light coat of olive oil to prevent sticking. While pan is heating dip your first piece of chicken in the dry dip, use your hands to make sure the chicken gets fully coated with the bread nut mixture. When the pan is hot gently add your chicken to it, repeat process until all the chicken breasts are sizzling in the pans. Chicken will cook about 4 or 5 minutes on each side. Be careful when you flip the chicken not to knock off too much of the coating.

Once the chicken is cooked on both sides transfer to a rimed baking pan and cook until cooked throughout, about 15-20 minutes depending on the thickness of your breasts.

Serve the chicken topped with the berry sauce from breakfast, equally delish on this would be the black berry sauce recipe from waffle day.

At dinner I tried a little of everything except for the hamburgers. I even tried a bit of the pork ribs, the flavor from the spicy rub was quite good but the meat was a little too fatty for my taste. The chicken turned out scrumptious! The toasted nuts added a really hearty flavor and the pan fried bread crumbs provided a nice crunch. The mustard, veganaise and mint added just enough tang to tickle the tongue and the sweet berry concoction added a delightful fruity twist that reminded me of thanksgiving turkey with cranberry. The yam fries as always were delish and cooking them on the grill was such fun. The hot grilled peaches were scrumptious too! I think these would have been delish served with some vanilla bean ice cream or drizzled with honey and cream but not this time, we had more than enough food already.

After dinner we sat around and relaxed and soon the sun began to set and we realized if we wanted to watch fireworks we had better get moving. We grabbed the bikes and a couple of helmets (to protect our heads from those crazy 4th of July drivers) and headed out towards my old school Poway High. The ride there was a slow climb up a slight hill the whole way so by the time we arrived at the school I was plum tuckered out. We found a nice patch of grass across the street from the stadium and settled in for the show. The fireworks were great! Sparkly, colorful, and super loud, just how I like them. While everyone else rushed off to their cars after the show to drive home in traffic we enjoyed a quick, traffic free, super speedy, downhill bike ride home.

Back at the house I realized how exhausted I was. All of that delicious food, heat and physical activity had plum tuckered me out and I was ready for bed. Especially since I had to get up bright and early Saturday morning to meet my dad and brother for breakfast at one of my old lunch spots, Swamis Café.

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