Chat Leftovers: Fourth of July Vittles

We're going to the beach Friday! I'm excited, and wanted to make a picnic for lunch. What do you suggest would be a good, but cheap main course. I was thinking of baking chicken wings with a sweet soy glaze of some sort. Any other ideas?

You'd get more bird for your buck if you roasted an entire chicken, quarter it and pack it in foil for the cooler. You'll have more variety of nibbles and a cut-up bird should prove to be less messy than a mountain of glazed wings. Here are the details for my naked chicken, a whole skinless bird infused with a curry-style rub. Bring along a baguette and you can make sandwiches.

Getting into the Fourth spirit, circa 1970. (Family photo)

Speaking of sandwiches, I've got cold meatloaf on the brain. Make the meatloaf the night before, but refrain from slicing it until the next day when it's good and cold. Don't forget to pack some strong mustard, red onion and cheddar for sandwich fixins.

Fruit is a picnic must. Cut up a watermelon into chunks or stop off at a roadside farm stand for a few pints of local berries -- ideal nibbles for an al fresco feast.

If you're keen to do sides, keep the mayo out of the equation, mainly for food safety reasons. We all know there's nothing like hot mayo on a summer day. Good times!

In your picnic shoes, I'd be tempted to boil up a bunch of spuds for a mayo-free potato salad as well as an impromptu snap bean salad, both of which travel well, can be made the night before and will complement both the chicken and the meat loaf menu options.

Washington, D.C.: Hosting a vegetarian/lactose intolerant BBQ for the 4th -- any suggestions on what to make? Was thinking grilled corn, some sort of pasta thing, any luck/suggestions in grilling tofu?

I've got the goods on grilled tofu -- all you need is a marinade that you love and a couple of skewers -- and you'll be in business. Contrary to what everyone thinks, tofu does exceptionally well on the grill; in fact, it's one of my favorite ways to eat the curd.

For variety, I might whip up a batch of black bean burgers for those who don't do soy (but FYI, the patties are held together by an egg); they're terrific al fresco fare, with lots of topping promise, including a hunk of avocado or some just-picked cherry tomatoes. The only caveat: Patties are too delicate for the grill, so cook'em on the stove top instead.

My feeling about summery pasta salad is that it can get icky, as in overcooked and swimming in mayo. I'm more tempted to play with instant couscous, a smaller granular member of the semolina family, a flavor chameleon that requires hardly any cooking whatsoever. Couscous loves being the star of cold salads, and the beauty is that you can season it however you want. For your group, keep out the cheese, but bring on the mint and the lemon, the pine nuts and cucumber!

Last-minute thoughts that can be grill thrillers: Try grilling a pineapple this weekend. I learned this trick from my friend Carlos: Slice off the thorny top, then start cutting ½-inch rounds, skin included. Place on grill, brush with a little brown sugar and/or lime juice, and let them cook until fork tender. Heavenly.

And on second thought: Quarter a few onions, brush with cumin, cayenne, olive oil and your favorite vinegar and thread on a skewer. Keep out of direct heat but let them go until sweet and tender. They'll go with everything on the menu, and you'll be the star of the show.

Got something to throw on the grill? Share your favorite Fourth nibbles in the comments area.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 2, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Backyard Cooking , Chat Leftovers , Flames , Holiday Treats
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grilled tofu is quite good. don't forget grilling zukes, yellow squash, & eggplant or really any veggie. years ago i bought a grill basket. it took me awhile to start using it but once i did i really use it. my fav combo is zuke, squash, & eggplant with onions. eggplant needs to cook for longer so either cut those pieces smaller or let them cook for about 10 minutes before throwing on the other veggies. it also depends on how you like them cooked. i love the eggplant nice & soft but like the squashes a bit firmer. once they're cooked put in a bowl with some balsamic vinegar. yum yum!

Posted by: quark | July 2, 2008 9:22 AM

For a beach picnic, I bake chicken legs. They're not too pricy and they'e not too messy to eat. We take along cut up watermelon and cantelope. I suggest strawberries since they are in season. We've even pack fixins to make BLTs. Just get a small jar of mayo and keep it on ice. Have fun!

Posted by: Fred | July 2, 2008 9:36 AM

One correction: mayo is not a particular health risk in warm weather. In fact, the New York Times had a nice little piece yesterday on the subject that reveals that commercial mayo actually REDUCES food spoilage:

Posted by: Joe | July 2, 2008 10:13 AM

I like to make my pasta salad with a vinegrette, rather than mayonaisse, for dietary reasons rather than hot weather/mayo reasons. A fine dice on some red onions, red peppers and zucchini, then drain the pasta over the veggies(cooks them slightly, but not too much. If you want it quick, use a bottled dressing.

Posted by: sparks | July 2, 2008 10:54 AM

I also wanted to comment about the mayo - it's high-protein, low-acid food that tends to spoil, so pretty much all meats, fish, poultry, egg dishes are at risk - mayonnaise, per se, should not be cast as the villain. Cooked vegetables spoil more quickly than raw, for other reasons, so they need to be chilled the same as any other risky food.

Posted by: sergio georgini | July 2, 2008 11:07 AM

Am intrigued by the grilled pineapple suggestion, and will give it a try. Meanwhile, I recommend grilled grapefruit: sliced about a quarter-inch thick, brushed lightly on both sides with olive oil, and grilled just until grill marks are pronounced (depending on heat, anywhere from 2-5 minutes per side).

Posted by: Audentes | July 2, 2008 11:40 AM

Perhaps the mayo warning came from the days when people made their own.

Anyway, I make an incredibly easy pasta salad:

- 1 package pasta, whatever shape you want
- sundried tomatoes (1 cup or so rehydrated with boiling water)
- olives (good ones, not from a can, about 1/2 cup)
- marinated artichoke hearts (2-3 little jars)

(The measurements are all guesses--just use whatever proportions appeal to you.)

Cook the pasta, then cut the other ingredients up and toss them all together with the liquid from the artichoke hearts. If it's too dry you can add a little olive oil.

When I lived in DC I would make a big bowl of this and just eat it day after day during the summer.

Also, for grilling, I always grill up a few extra vegis, like eggplant, zuchini, onions, cherry tomatoes, etc. (I have a charcoal grill and it's such a pain that I hate to waste any heat.) Any leftovers get used in the next couple days for pizza (grilled vegis make is so it's not soupy, like a lot of vegi pizzas) or toss them with olive oil and pesto, then put them on top of some polenta slices. Ok, I guess that's not really traditional 4th of July fare, but I like it!

Posted by: seattlecookingmom | July 2, 2008 12:29 PM


Posted by: NALL92 | July 2, 2008 12:30 PM

Excuse me while i throw up! The following is real 4th food. BBQ chickens, Ribs, potato salad /lots of mayo. Beef Burgers/Kaiser rolls, Hebrew National Hot dogs,Baked Beans with Burnt ends of the smoked brisket! UMMM great left overs too! Happy 4th Otto. OH ,Beer and sweet Tea. I do not drink either but you may!

Posted by: Otto | July 2, 2008 12:50 PM

Mayo--I concur; it retards spoilage. And if you have an ice chest, what's the problem? I filled the grill with vegetables that I had seasoned and rubbed with olive oil that everyone seemed to enjoy. The next day I turned the leftovers into an ad hoc ratatouille that was spectacular for its subtle smokey flavor.

Posted by: Dave | July 2, 2008 12:53 PM

Tofu can be amazingly tasty, but I've found that it needs either a good marinade or a good side. My pal Cheryl's blog has a great recipe for a yummy peanut coconut sauce... you won't be disappointed.

Posted by: Diana in Boston | July 2, 2008 2:42 PM

Ok...I need some BBQ advice.

I'm going to be making ribs for a party in the oven, and I'm going to use a rub on them. I'd like to have a sauce for dipping.

Any ideas from the peanuts? I experimented making one type of sauce, and it came out TERRIBLE.

Posted by: Rita | July 2, 2008 3:07 PM

Last year we had a grilled salad as one of our summer standards. I think it was inspired from a recipe from We grilled eggplant and zucchini, sometimes red peppers, all brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper. When these came off the grill we left the slices large and tossed them with balsamic vinegrette. We also toasted bread on the grill. Assembled it in layers - greens (arugula, spinach, lettuce, in order of preference) then bread then vegetables. Absolutely delicious and worked as a main/only dish meal.

Posted by: esleigh | July 2, 2008 3:08 PM

Rita, trying to make bbq sauce is a waste of time. Go to the store and buy two or three brands of sauce, open them and taste them, then pick the best tasting one. PS: Pour the sauce out in a bowl and no one will know its from a bottle.

Posted by: SLT | July 2, 2008 4:19 PM

SLT -- I hear's just that canned BBQ sauce is, like, against my religion.

Posted by: Rita | July 2, 2008 6:00 PM

BBQ sauce is easy. Start with 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil in sauce pan. Add one onion almost minced; if you have celery, add a stalk, almost minced. Saute until tender. Add 2 tablespoons each: tabasco sauce, vinegar, sugar or brown sugar. Add one tablespoon powdered mustard. Add quarter cup lemon juice. Add one cup ketchup. Taste and play around with. If not sweet enough, add more sugar. If not tart enough, add a little more vinegar. You can even add whatever fruit preserves you have on hand. Taste and adjust accordingly.

Posted by: Dave | July 2, 2008 6:53 PM

Oops! When I said tabasco, I meant worcestershire sauce. Oh, and if you have some of that smoke flavor in a bottle, you can add a couple of drops of that. Really, the best thing would be to google barbecue sauce recipe and find something similar.

Posted by: Dave | July 2, 2008 7:06 PM

Posted by: Giv me a break | July 3, 2008 7:00 AM

Happy 4th of July to everyone. kim, the family photo is adorable!!1 Good to grow up where Mom and Dad go all out for holidays. I cant imagine potato salad without Mayo. Especially Duke's mayo! Happy July 4th to all. Be safe and have a great holiday! USe sunscreen at the beach; its better than nursing a horrible sunburn! Happy 4th!!!! : )

Posted by: East Coast | July 4, 2008 11:39 AM

Dave -- we tried the BBQ sauce and it turned out AWESOME. We made two batches and added a home-pickled habanero to one for heat. Divine.

Posted by: Rita | July 5, 2008 10:34 AM

Kim--There are lots of yummy summer pasta options that don't get icky or swim in lots of mayo.... One of my faves is to take a small pasta shape and toss with thin pesto (pesto that has a little more hot pasta water added than usual), serve lukewarm or cold.

Posted by: SummerPasta | July 6, 2008 2:43 PM

Tried the couscous salad over the weekend, when we had a ton of family visiting. Subbed fresh peas and corn for the canned chickpeas, but otherwise stayed on script. It was fabulous, even in the opinion of those who hadn't had couscous and were sketpical. And the leftovers just made for a yummy lunch on back-to-work day. Thanks!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 12:44 PM

Rita--Way to go! Commercial BBQ sauce is against my religion too.

Posted by: Dave | July 7, 2008 7:54 PM

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