Recipes & Ideas from Nelda Starks

Fourth of July ideas

Fourth of July parties are ideal for showcasing the bounty from our gardens or your local farmer’ market. Lima beans, peas, okra, tomatoes, cucumber, squash of all kinds, green beans, peppers in all colors, and corn are all at their peak mid- summer, along with berries, peaches, figs and melons. Don’t forget the summer herbs like basil, mint, thyme and oregano. These all offer the hostess a wealth of ideas for entertaining as we celebrate the independence of our country. These luscious, colorful fruits and vegetables are also great for making centerpieces and edible decorations.

American Flag Caprese Salad
18 small purple potatoes (about 1 pound)
Kosher salt
1 pound herbed cheese spread, at room temperature
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
26 cherry tomatoes, halved (about 2 pounds)
24 1-inch mozzarella balls in brine, drained well and halved

Special equipment: 12- by -17 1/2-inch wooden cutting board, pastry bag fitted with a small star tip
Cook the potatoes in generously salted boiling water until fork-tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Drain well and allow to cool completely. Cut in half crosswise.
Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a small star tip, with the herbed cheese spread. Cut a piece of parchment large enough to fit a 12- by -17 1/2-inch wooden cutting board. Put a dab of cheese spread on the underside of each corner of the parchment to help it adhere to the cutting board.
Pipe and spread a thin layer of cheese spread in to a 6 1/2- by -9 1/2-inch rectangle in the upper left corner of the parchment. Arrange the potatoes in rows, cut-side-up, on top of the cheese. Pipe the remaining cheese in between the potatoes to make stars for the flag.
Drizzle the remaining empty portion of parchment with half of the oil then sprinkle all over with the basil. Starting from the top, make a line of tomato halves, cut-side-up, followed by a line of mozzarella halves, cut-side-down. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes and mozzarella. Drizzle everything with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Mini Muffin Tin Vegetarian Taco Cups
For the taco cups
24 wonton wrappers
1 (16-ounce) can refried black beans
1 envelope taco seasoning
1/4 cup salsa
1 cup mashed butternut squash
2 cups grated cheddar cheese mix
For topping
Sour cream
Diced tomatoes
Corn kernels

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F, and spray a muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Line each muffin cup with 2 wonton wrappers.
3. In a bowl, combine the refried black beans, taco seasoning and salsa, and mix well.
4. Spoon the bean mixture into each muffin cup, and top with a small spoonful of the mashed squash.
5. Top each cup with grated cheese, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until the wontons are golden brown.
6. Remove from the oven, garnish with desired toppings, and serve warm.

Open-Faced Tomato Grilled Cheese
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
1/2 baguette, halved lengthwise or
1 medium eggplant or zucchini, sliced lengthwise (1/2 inch)
1 large clove garlic, halved or garlic powder
1 medium tomato, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 pound sliced provolone cheese

1. Preheat a grill to medium high. Combine the olive oil, oregano, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Brush the cut sides of the baguette with some of the flavored oil. Grill cut-side down until toasted, about 4 minutes. (If using eggplant or zucchini slices, brush with flavored oil and grill until brown, watching carefully)
2. Rub the grilled sides of the baguette (eggplant/zucchini) with the garlic or sprinkle with garlic powder. Top with the tomato slices, season with salt and cover with the provolone. Grill, covered, until the cheese melts, 3 to 5 minutes. Drizzle with the remaining flavored oil and season with salt. Cut into pieces.

Note: Instead of bread, use zucchini or eggplant sliced lengthwise for the base. Might need to adjust the grilling time.

Bruschetta with Tomatoes, Cucumbers and Basil
3 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 small red onion, finely diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for brushing on baguette
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
coarse salt
fresh ground pepper
1 baguette
2-3 garlic cloves
In a large bowl, combine diced tomatoes, cucumber, onion and basil.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Add extra virgin olive oil and vinegar.  Toss to combine.  Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour, but not longer than 3 hours.

Heat broiler.  Cut baguette diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Brush both sides with olive oil.  Broil on both sides until toasted.  Once out of the oven, rub hot bread slices (on one side only) with garlic clove.  Top with tomato mixture.  Let stand for a few minutes to allow juices to soak into the bread before serving.

Lima Bean Hummus
3 tablespoons safflower oil, or more as needed
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 3/4 cups cooked lima beans
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, or more to taste
Combine safflower oil, tahini, lemon juice, vinegar, tamari, cumin, salt, black pepper, garlic, kombu, and cayenne pepper in a blender or food processor; blend until smooth. Add lima beans and blend until smooth, adding more oil as desired. Add parsley and pulse just until mixed.
Use fresh veggies (carrots, celery, pepper, cucumbers, squash, broccoli, cauliflower) as dippers. Also, fried or grilled whole okra, fried eggplant or zucchini sticks) could be used.
For serving with the red, white and blue theme: Place the dip with is somewhat white in a large red bell pepper that has had the top cut off and the seeds and membranes removed. Place the pepper filled with dip on a tray and surround the pepper with blue corn chips.
Prosciutto-Wrapped Crostini with Melon Salsa Crudo
1 long loaf country-style bread, such as Pugliese
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Parmesan
1 small red onion, minced
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 ripe cantaloupe
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
12 slices prosciutto, sliced in 1/2

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Cut the loaf of bread in half crosswise, then cut each half lengthwise into 1-inch thick slices. Lay the slices in a single layer on baking sheets. Generously drizzle the top side of each slice with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the slices. Cook in the oven until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside.
Marinate the onions in the vinegar for 5 minutes. While the onion is marinating, peel, seed and dice the melon and place in a bowl. Add the diced melon to the onions, season with salt and stir to blend together. Add the minced parsley and stir to combine.
Wrap the end of each crostini with a piece of prosciutto. Arrange on a platter and spoon a tablespoon of melon salsa on each and serve. Serve remaining salsa on the side.

Flatbread with Fresh Figs, Monterey Jack, Blue Cheese and Red Wine Reduced Vinaigrette
Red Wine Reduced Vinaigrette:
1 cup fruity dry red wine
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Kosher salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin California olive oil
2 tablespoons honey, or as needed
Dough (Can use store bought Flatnread or Naan)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce envelope)
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
5 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting, preferably organic
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
8 fresh ripe figs, quartered
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1. For the vinaigrette: Combine the wine, fennel seeds, peppercorns and thyme in a wide shallow saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced to 1/4 cup. Strain the mixture into a blender and discard the solids.
2. Add the vinegar and salt to taste and blend to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until emulsified; add the honey to taste.
3. For the dough: Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in 3 cups flour and the salt, stirring until smooth. Stir in an additional 2 cups flour. Continue adding the flour (up to 1/2 cup), 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until the dough comes away from the bowl but is still sticky.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with lightly floured hands. Start by slapping the dough onto the counter, pulling it toward you with one hand and pushing it away from you with the other. Fold the dough back over itself (use a bench scraper or a wide knife to help scrape the dough from the surface). Repeat until it’s easier to handle, about 10 times. Finish kneading normally until the dough is smooth, elastic and soft, but a little tacky, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat. Cover with plastic and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume, 3 hours. Press it with your finger to see if it’s done; an indent should remain.
5. Prepare the charcoal in a chimney starter (allowing the charcoal to burn until all the charcoal is covered with a thin layer of gray ash). Add to the grill and create a two-level fire by spreading the coals out over half the grill bottom, piling them up in a mound 3 briquettes high, leaving the other half with no coals.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl, divide in half and shape each half into a ball. Brush with oil and set aside for 30 minutes.
7. Stretch and shape each ball of dough into a 12 by 10-inch rectangle or round on a flat surface. Brush the tops of each with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let rest for 15 minutes. Place on the grill directly over the coals, oiled side down, and grill until lightly golden brown, about 1 minute. Flip over and grill for 1 minute longer.
8. Place the flatbreads on a flat surface and divide the Monterey Jack cheese evenly over the top. Arrange the cut figs on top and the blue cheese around the figs. Return to the grill on the opposite side of the coals, for indirect heat, close the cover and cook until the cheese has melted and the figs are heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the grill and drizzle with some of the red wine vinaigrette and garnish with parsley leaves. Cut and serve immediately.
Note: Use store bought flat bread (Naan) instead of making it. I thought this would be good to use with home grown figs since a lot of folks have fig trees.

Red, White and Blueberry Trifle
Two 16-ounce containers strawberries
Two 6-ounce containers blueberries
One 6-ounce container blackberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch kosher salt
One 8-ounce package cream cheese
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 prepared angel food cake (about 12 ounces)
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish, optional
1 1/2 tablespoons apple jelly or apricot preserves, for garnish, optional
1. Trim and quarter the strawberries and set aside. Combine the blueberries, blackberries, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/3 cup water, lemon zest, juice and salt in a medium saucepot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries break down and the sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. 
2. Place the cream cheese, 1/4 cup cream, the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar and the vanilla extract in a large bowl and beat on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. In a second large bowl, whip the remaining cream until stiff peaks form. Fold about one-quarter of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture until lightened, and then fold in the remaining whipped cream. 
3. To assemble the trifle, rip or cut the angel food cake into 2-inch pieces. Place half the cake pieces in the bottom of a 12-to-14-cup trifle dish or large bowl. Top with about half the blueberry sauce, half the cream and half the quartered strawberries. Repeat the layers with the remaining cake, berry sauce, cream and strawberries. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 8 hours or overnight. Before serving either dust with confectioners’ sugar or heat the apple jelly in the microwave for 25 seconds to loosen, and then brush over the strawberries.
An alernative for this is Fruit Pizza, using the same cream cheese mixture on top of a baked cookie dough crust in a rectangular shape. Spread the cream mixture on the cookie crust and then add the fruit to resemble a Flag – blueberries in the top left corner and strawberries cut in half in rows for the red stripes, leaving a space between for the white strips. Add stars to the blueberry field with a decorator bag filled with some cream mixture, fitted with a star tip.

Watermelon Lemonade

“Light and refreshing summer drink. Garnish with watermelon slice. Can be made into an adult cocktail by adding a little vodka.”
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup water
4 cups cubed watermelon
3 cups cold water
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
6 cups ice cubes
1. Place the watermelon into a blender. Cover, and puree until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
2. Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 3 cups of cold water and the lemon juice. Divide the ice into 12 glasses, and scoop 2 to 3 tablespoons of watermelon puree over the ice, then top with the lemonade. Gently stir before serving.
Decorations and centerpieces
These would be cure on small tables using the personal size melon, but for a large table centerpiece, use a large round watermelon.
Cut in half and scoop out as much melon as you can from both halves. Use a melon baller so you can use them for the kabobs, but reserve the other pieces that you have to scrape out with a spoon and use this for beverages.
I would make the legs with dowel rods that would support the melon and stick them into a square of Styrofoam large enough to set one of the watermelon halves on top of it. You could insert the dowel rod into large celery ribs to conceal the wooden rods. The styrofoam could be covered with foil or decorative plastic and covered with lettuce as a base for extra kabobs.
The “lid” of the “grill” will be made from the other half, which needs to have about 2 inches cut off the cut side. Attaching it to the grill may be tricky. It will need to be supported with long skewers or small dowel rods. Place one or two rods into the back side of the “grill” half about half way down making sure they go into the front side without sticking through on the surface. On the back side of the “Grill” half the rod should extend at least 2 inches. Stick another rod into the cut edge of the “grill” on the left side making sure it is secure in the white part of the melon for stability. It should extend at least 4-5 inches above the cut surface. Repeat on the right side. Now, carefully place the “Lid” half onto the rods starting with the 2 extending from the “Grill” half cut surface and then push the rods from the back into the inside of the “lid” section. If the rods are too long, you make need to adjust them.
Once the “grill” is constructed, make a rack from long skewers or dowel rods (1/8”) placing them across the top of the “Grill”, forcing at least one end into the melon for security.
Make Kabobs using fresh fruit and cheese cubes, if desired. For serving, place the kabobs on the “grill rack” and the others on the bed of lettuce beneath the “grill”.
If you don’t want to go to this much trouble, make the kabobs and stick them into a fresh pineapple. Use halves of pineapple for dip.
Other melon ideas:
Make a basket from a watermelon and fill with assorted fruit.
Carve the watermelon to look like a fish or other characters. I did you last year for our class reunion to resemble a bulldog.
Use cantaloupes cut in half with scalloped or pointed edges to hold fresh fruit and dips.