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Hello readers! Our Fourth of July week was a whirlwind of fun, resulting in 4 parties, 2-3 house guests, and minimal blogging. We kicked off the week with a dinner party for some new friends, capped it off with a celebration at Caseus, and filled the rest of the week with baking and cooking galore!

Our Fourth of July menu included the following:

  • Lechon roasted on the grill
  • Thai-inspired summer slaw
  • Grilled bread
  • Corn on the cob
  • Strawberry-blueberry pie
Lechon
Lechon is a traditional pork dish in Spain and in former Spanish colonial possessions (including Venezuela). It’s typically a whole suckling pig roasted over charcoal for several hours, until it’s deliciously tender and smoky. Somehow, we couldn’t find a whole pig to buy (darn you, New Haven!) so we settled for a shoulder instead.
10-lb. pork shoulder, lean (for 15 people, with leftovers)
1 jalapeno, sliced thinly
2 onions, sliced thinly
dry rub, enough to cover surface of pork
Advance preparation: 24 hours before cooking, rub the pork liberally with your favorite dry rub. Ours was a homemade concoction of paprika, crushed red pepper, oregano, garlic powder, cracked black pepper, salt, and coffee. Wrap tightly and refrigerate. (If you fail to wrap tightly, your refrigerator may smell like pork for days!)
Day of: Light up the grill by placing hot coals on one side only of the grill. Place pork, onions, jalapeno in a grill-safe container. We used a disposable aluminum foil tray. Cover pork with two sheets of foil, leaving a bit of a crack at the top. The foil ensures that the pork will not dry out in its 8-hour sauna session, and the crack at the top ensures a wonderfully smoky flavor to circulate.  Place the pork on the other side of the grill where there are no coals. This ensures that the pork will cook with indirect heat. Do something else for the next eight hours and you might need to add more coals after 4 hours. Return, and remove pork from grill. Let it sit for one hour before serving. Pull apart gently with two forks.

Thai-Inspired Summer Slaw

Half head of red cabbage, shredded finely (on mandoline preferred)
Half head of green cabbage, shredded finely
6 scallions, diced
Fish sauce, to taste
Sesame oil, to taste
Habanero pepper, chopped

Advance preparation: Once the cabbage has been shredded, place in a large bowl and salt heavily. Refrigerate for 24 hours at least. This steps breaks down the toughness and bitterness of the cabbage.

Day of: Squeeze the excess water out of the shredded cabbage. There should be a pool of salted water sitting at the bottom of the bowl. Discard water. The cabbage should be nicely tender and slightly salty. Add scallions and habenero pepper, and mix well. Add fish sauce and sesame oil to taste, and mix well. Let sit for at least 1 hour before serving.

Strawberry-Blueberry Pie with Mark Bittman’s Crust

1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c all purpose flour
1 t sugar
1/2 c butter, cold
3 T ice water, plus more as needed
3 c berries
1 T cornstarch
2 T sugar

Advance preparation: The pie crust can be prepared up to two days before baking. Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the container of a food processor; pulse once or twice. Add the butter and turn on the machine; process until the butter and flour are blended and the mixture looks like cornmeal, about 10 seconds.

Place the mixture in a bowl and sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water over it. Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to gradually gather the mixture into a ball; if the mixture seems dry, add another ½ tablespoon ice water. When you can make the mixture into a ball with your hands, do so. Wrap in plastic wrap, flatten into a small disk, and freeze the dough for 10 minutes (or refrigerate for 30 minutes); this will ease rolling. (You can also refrigerate the dough for a day or two, or freeze it almost indefinitely.)

Day of:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Ensconce the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll with light pressure, from the center out. (If the dough seems very sticky at first, add flour liberally; but if it becomes sticky only after you roll it for a few minutes, return it to the refrigerator for 10 minutes before proceeding.) Continue to roll, adding small amounts of flour as necessary, rotating the dough occasionally, and turning it over once or twice during the process. (Use ragged edges of dough to repair any tears, adding a drop of water while you press the patch into place.) When the dough is about 10 inches in diameter (it will be less than ¼-inch thick), place your pie plate upside down over it to check the size.

Move the dough into the pie pan by removing the first sheet of plastic wrap. Place the pie pan upside down on the uncovered side of the dough. Slide your hand underneath the pie crust, then flip both the pan and the dough right side up. Remove the second sheet of plastic wrap. When the dough is in the plate, press it firmly into the bottom and sides.. Trim the excess dough to about ½ inch all around, then tuck it under itself around the edge of the plate. Freeze the dough for 10 minutes.

Toss berries in cornstarch and sugar until well mixed. Fill pie with berries. Bake for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

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Our Fourth of July weekend kicked off with an epic feast celebrating the fully American value of diversity. Before I spin off into secular liberal propaganda, Greg has already vetoed my plan of celebrating a different new culture each Fourth of July with a different new traditional ethnic cuisine, country chosen by current events. His gentle argument is that Junior and Juniorette will have plenty of introductions to diverse cultures and foods that we don’t need to dedicate just one day a year for this form of subversive celebration.

Moving along, our Vietnamese summer roll party might just turn out to be our version of the KimJohnsons’ sushi party. Apparently this make-it-yourself sushi party theme has been so successful in the KimJohnson home that Brian now only invites guests over conditional on their not wanting a sushi party. (At least, the one time I tried to invite myself over for a sushi party, Brian quickly turned me down due to self proclaimed fish fatigue or something.)

The summer roll party starts off pretty simple with a number of items that can be prepped beforehand. Feel free to use any or all of the following:

julienned cucumbers, marinated in sesame oil, salt, sugar
julienned carrots
Pan-Asian spicy slaw
bean sprouts, raw or cooked (cooked if you fear e.coli)
shredded chicken or pork
piles of mint and basil
vermicelli

Now what really differentiates Vietnamese summer rolls from Chinese spring rolls is that Vietnamese summer rolls are made with a dried rice paper and not fried, and Chinese spring rolls are made with a flour based wrap and are fried. This rice paper, once dipped in hot water, becomes pliable and sticky and can easily be used to wrap the filling ingredients. It can get quite sticky, though, and if too much time elapses between your dipping in water and wrapping the summer roll, it can stick to your plate!

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Christmas Eve Brie

Our Christmas Eve party actually was kind of sprung on us.  Yeah, we accidentally threw a party for Christmas Eve.  The original plan was to invite over anybody from our church that didn’t have plans for Christmas (maybe because their family was far away, or nonexistent, or because visiting friends and/or family wasn’t an option for some other reason), so we expected to have 3 or 4 people, and certainly no kids.

Well, it didn’t quite go that way.  We started inviting people, quietly, one by one, at church the Sunday before, and then one person who will remain unnamed (let’s call them M.) announced at the end of service, during announcements, “Hey, how exciting that Greg and Joann are having us ALL over for a party on Friday.”  At which point somebody else (call them T.) chimes in, “I’m There!  I love a good party.” (Worth noting that T. was definitely not in the target audience from above, but certainly one of our favorites.)  So now we’re expecting some 15 people.

Twenty-two people.  That’s how many we ended up feeding.  We have no idea how we did it.  Well, about 10 of those were kids, which leads to the next question: how did we do it without having our apartment destroyed?  A Christmas miracle, for sure.  Well, the easy part was actually feeding everybody.  We outsourced most of it (huge thanks to Costco for the 3 rotisserie chickens, chips, salsa, cheese, crackers, etc.)  We did dress everything (er, some things) up a little bit.  Like the brie.

Baked brie is usually made by wrapping a wheel in puff pastry and baking at 350.  We did it differently: we melted it all over the cookie sheet and then reconstituted it in a ramekin.  On purpose.  We swear.  We cut the brie in half (a horizontal slice), filled it with craisins, rosemary, and chopped walnuts, and placed the other top back on (like a sandwich).  Obviously, the combinations of herbs, fruits, nuts, etc, are endless.  Bake at 350 until gooey.  However, it doesn’t hurt to first wrap it in pastry; it certainly would lead to a cleaner and more visually appealing final product.  But either way, it’ll be delicious.

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