Sunday, July 6, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

While I love to go out to eat, there is nothing like a home cooked meal with your closest friends and family. When I think about it, most of my favorite memories are not when I’m out at six course meals, but at a friend's house in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. Cheesy? Maybe a little, but, I love any excuse to get together with friends and family, and holidays give me the opportunity to celebrate with the people I care about the most.

The 4th of July is no exception! I’m sure most Washingtonians would agree, there is no finer tradition than grilling all day, and then heading down to the National Mall to watch mediocre fireworks (I prefer Disneyland’s regular evening fireworks to D.C.). And, since my friend, Whitney was on a plane to Peru during the actual festivities, we decided to celebrate twice.

Thursday night we gathered for a girls’ night of wine, salad, lasagna, and red velvet cupcakes. The meal was colorful and delicious and after we were full, we headed out for the “traditional” girls night of club hopping, dancing and more drinks.

On the 4th we planned to have a poolside bbq; I was beyond excited because my friend PK was cooking and he just happens to be a professional chef! Okay, he's still in culinary school, but he's already a fabulous cook in his own right. His talents have allowed him to work in some fabulous restaurants including the late Bistro Asiatique of Bethesda.

When my friends and I arrived PK had already cooked quite a spread, including burgers, hot dogs, beef short ribs, chili and pulled pork sandwiches! Despite the rain and horrible humidity, we toughed it out with the help of a medley of summer Sam Adams and fresh made strawberry-banana daiquiris. For sides my friend M. brought two different pasta salads and I rounded out the meal with a strawberry-blueberry short cake.

Some recipes, including are on the second page. Enjoy!

Continue reading...

Here are some of the recipes from the two Fourth of July dinners I attended:

Whitney’s lasagna:
Her recipe comes from her friend's blog,
Two Fat Als.

Vegetable Lasagna:
2 zucchini, sliced thinly (1 yellow, 1 green)
1 tomato, sliced thinly
2 portabello mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 peppers, sliced
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 eggplant, sliced thinly
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 jar tomato sauce
1/3 cup pesto
2 1/2 cups mozzarella, shredded
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1 box whole wheat lasagna pasta

Preheat the oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Toss the vegetables in the oil and vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and spread them onto the baking sheets. Roast for about 30 minutes, until they are caramelized.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until it is just barely done. Also, mix the pesto and ricotta together in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the mozzarella and parmesan.

When the vegetables are done, prepare to assemble the lasagna by turning the oven to 325 and finding a large 9×15 inch baking sheet.

Layer the lasagna by adding sauce to the bottom, then 3 noodles. Next add 1/3 of the pesto ricotta cheese, 1/3 of the vegetables, then 1/4 of the parmesan/mozzarella mixture. Repeat twice, then the remaining parmesan/mozzarella, and any leftover vegetables or sauce to the top of the lasagna.

Bake for 40 minutes uncovered, and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Red Velvet Cupcakes:
I just adapted the recipe from to make cupcakes instead of a layer cake. I fill the tins 2/3 full and keep a close eye on them (about 20 minutes). I also use a regular cream cheese frosting, instead of a whipped.

Red Velvet Cake:
2 1/2 cups (250 grams) sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (15 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk
2 tablespoons liquid red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.
In bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until soft (about 1-2 minutes). Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

In a measuring cup whisk the buttermilk with the red food coloring. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.

In a small cup combine the vinegar and baking soda. Allow the mixture to fizz and then quickly fold into the cake batter.

Working quickly, divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 25 - 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.

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