I am always looking for ways to wow, especially on a holiday. Ahead of yesterday’s July 4 BBQ, I was looking for a special dessert that would cost little money and time to make. But, of course, I wanted it to dazzle all the same. There were some amazing looking desserts – poke cakes and trifles, cake balls and cookie bars. There was a cake that showed off the actual flag once you cut it open, stars and stripes and all. Oh, how I want to make that one someday! But it was too complicated and required three cake mixes, strawberries, blueberries and a bunch of other stuff. I nixed that idea (at least for now). Then, I saw this vision of beauty that actually looked like a firecracker and featured the red, white, and blue on the inside. It couldn’t have been easier either. I had a winner.
The recipe for Firecracker Cake comes from Betty Crocker, one of my favorite sites. All you need is a white cake mix, the water, oil, and egg whites required to make it, and red and blue food coloring. Basically, you make the cake mix as you normally would and then you divide it into three bowls. I kept a little extra white because I thought it would make the stripes, which was the look I was going for. Then you layer your bundt, first with red, then white, and then blue cake mix.
You can purchase white icing at the supermarket, which is suggested in the recipe. But I like homemade icing. I used a favorite, trusted recipe from Allrecipes. Then, I did the same thing. I left part of the icing white and turned the other two parts red and blue respectively with the food coloring. I put each dish in the microwave for about 10 seconds to soften it. Then, I drizzled white, then red, then blue icing with a spoon on top of the cake. You could also add some red, white, and blue sprinkles if you have them. The results were outstanding, and I recommend using this method to add pizzazz to any party bundt you make.
I’ve spent many a 4th of July in Italy, but this was by far the best one ever. I turned my Italian relatives into patriots for the day, had them drape the American flag in every corner of their kitchen, fed them American food (which you will see below), and forced them all to proudly wear – yes, I insisted they wear them proudly – Old Navy tees with the American flag on them (and yes, all 13 of them and one friend obliged). Rather than just describe what we ate (since that’s all real Italians will care about anyway), I decided to share the photos with you.
Confession: I did make one Italian dessert, strawberry tiramisu (in the photo above), but I dressed it in red, white, and blue. If you like the sound of the tiramisu (you’ll like the taste even better), then click here for the recipe by Giada De Laurentiis. Although my cousins in the States can’t get enough of her version with Cointreau, I replace the one-third of a cup of liquor with one-third of a cup of orange juice (so you’re doubling the amount of orange juice) and leave the rest of the Cointreau out, so the kiddies can enjoy it, too.
For the main course, I made chicken wings. I know tradition calls for hamburgers and hot dogs. But the hot dogs aren’t beef in Italy; they are wurstel, which is pork and the burgers just aren’t American enough. They have this weird after taste. Chicken, on the other hand, is delicious here. Recently, you’ve been able to special order wings (Italians don’t usually eat ’em). My Italian relatives beg for this dish. This is another old recipe I picked up from Giada De Laurentiis. It’s like American-Chinese food adapted for Italian people because it includes balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. Since my mom sent me brown sugar (which is not available in Italy as you know if you read my blog entry about chocolate chip cookies), this was the best version of the dish I’ve ever made for them.
The corn on the cob wasn’t the winner I was hoping it would be. Unfortunately, nothing beats fresh New Jersey corn. Although my in-laws were able to find a place from which we could order it, the kernels were huge and no matter how long they boiled, they remained pretty tough. Still, taking my mom’s advice to put sugar and butter in the water and add more butter afterward, made the flavor good.
Caesar salad is an Italian American dish. Most real Italians don’t know of it. When I made this for my relatives for the first time last year, they screamed with pleasure. So, I knew it had to be on the 4th of July menu. I was happy to serve it in the punch bowl my husband and I received when we wed in Ischia nearly five years ago. It made a beautiful presentation (as did all the wedding gifts we got to put on display). I used a Ceasar dressing recipe from Once Upon a Chef, but I eliminated the anchovies. Most recipes call for raw eggs, but this one doesn’t, which is appealing to me because I’m afraid we could all end up in the hospital for salmonella poisoning.
Decorations are always on hand for 4th of July because I’m always here in Italy for the holiday. I had tons of stuff from years past, and my mom sent some more in a package. We decked ourselves and the dining area in red, white, and blue.
My nieces don’t all like strawberries, so chocolate-covered confetti cupcakes were my back-up dessert. Of course, the flag had to be featured on top of each one. I’ve only made cupcakes from scratch one other time, and my two-year-old niece and 18-month-old son had to help me the first time. So, these, which I did solo, were infinitely better. (For starters, the icing ended up on top of the cupcakes instead of into the mouths of babes.) I used Baking Bites’ recipe for the cupcakes (minus the almond extract because I couldn’t find any in Ischia), and About.com’s Guide to Southern Food’s icing recipe, which is so simple that I’ll probably never buy pre-packaged icing again.
A 4th of July party – or any summer get together – is incomplete without watermelon. Rather than just cut it into wedges, I had my husband slice half a watermelon and then use a star cookie cutter to make shapes. Whatever melon was left after he cut out the stars was cut into chunks and eaten as well. Of course, those flags made yet another appearance. Wouldn’t be 4th of July without the red, white, and blue!
I’m excited to be celebrating America’s birthday in the United States for the first time in four years. I hope you and yours are stuffing yourselves with hot dogs and hamburgers, taking in the sun, and getting ready to view some fireworks. We just finished off a plate of grilled corn on the cob, onions, sliders, dogs, and ribs. The cupcakes with strawberries and blueberries on top are now calling my name. If you’d like to join me and my parents at our table or at the George Washington Bride, where the flag is flying high, you can visit the “Fourth of July 2010” photo album.