Once upon a time, holidays marked an important day in history. But somewhere along the way, they’ve become more about celebrating the celebration, than the world-altering event that inspired it.
Case in point: Fourth of July. These days it’s more of a high-five to summer than anything else. It’s about taking the day off to get together with friends, grill outdoors and shoot off fireworks into the warm night sky. That we get time off to contemplate the birth of the United States, and the bloody battles fought to make such an impossible dream a reality, has mostly been forgotten.
It’s been 238 years, after all.
I’m just as guilty. I’m no history buff. While I appreciate the fortitude of our founding fathers, I have to admit I’m not going to be thinking much about them this Friday (sorry Thomas, Ben and George).
But I will be raising a toast to our hard-won and increasingly tenuous democracy, and to the soldiers (and, yes, politicians) who fought to protect our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
And still do.
I love that “the pursuit of happiness” is written into our Declaration of Independence. What other country has turned such a beautiful sentiment into a law? We take the phrase for granted, but happiness is more than a mood, and it’s almost always found on the road less traveled. It takes courage, faith, hard work and passion to go down that road. That’s something our forefathers understood well.
And the entrepreneurs who came after them.
You’ve got to have guts to jump off the payroll and start your own business. And we salute anyone willing to try. So this July 4, we’re celebrating our country’s independence by celebrating some of the independent food producers who’ve worked so hard to pursue their happiness and make their own impossible dreams a reality.
To start, we’ll be mixing up ruby-red cocktails with Vincent Family cranberry juice from Bandon, Oregon. Family-owned and -operated, the farm grows the ripest, plumpest cranberries you’ve ever seen. Red all the way through, the berries make decadent and intense juice – perfect for our Bandon Breeze cocktail (recipe coming on Friday).
Sour cherries, another great Oregon fruit, will be taking center stage in a big slab pie spangled with stars. Slab pies are baked in a sheet pan, so they can feed a crowd. Cornmeal in the crust grounds it with an earthy note and accentuates the butter, making it a great backdrop for the tart fruit filling.
On the side we’ll have a gorgeous, flavor-packed potato salad with double-mustard vinaigrette, green beans, bits of bacon and, just to guild the lily, Bacon Pickles from Portland’s Unbound Pickling. Their sour-smoky flavor ties everything together.
And for the main dish, we’re putting Mulay’s Sausage on the grill. Colorado-based Mulay’s isn’t “local” to us, but they offer everything we love about our local producers. The family-run business is committed to sustainability, ethics and quality. Their sausages are made in small batches in Colorado, using humanely raised pork from family farms, vegetables and spices — no fillers and no nitrites. New Season’s carries their Italian sausages, which is what we’ll be loading on our grill this Friday.
But Mulay’s makes half a dozen other varieties that are a little harder to find this side of the Rockies. Killer Hots, which are (finally!) seriously hot, the most flavorful and well-balanced chorizo ever, and juicy, lip-smacking bratwurst. These are truly the best sausages I’ve ever had, so much so that I order them and have them shipped, which is something I never do since there’s already so much great food in Portland.
I first tried Mulay’s sausage several years ago as a favor to Wendi. You see, Wendi and Loree Mulay grew up together in Colorado. But as soon as I tried them I knew Wendi was the one doing me a favor. Loree’s Sicilian-American family has been making sausage for generations — some of the family’s recipes are centuries old – so it’s safe to say they’ve got the recipes dialed in. Loree started her business 24 years ago on July 4, 1990, so it seems only fitting we celebrate her anniversary — and independent spirit — with Mulay’s sausages on our grill.
Sour Cherry Slab Pie With Cornmeal Crust
Makes 12 to 16 servings
The secret to a great pie crust is keeping everything chilly. Cold (if not frozen) butter, cold flour (store it in the freezer if you have room), icy water. Mix it up fast so nothing has time to get warm and gushy, then let it chill in the fridge before rolling it out. Once you line the pie dish with dough, freeze it before baking. This will help keep the butter from melting too quickly, resulting in more flaky layers.
Some slab pies go easy on the filling, but then they seem more like bar cookies than pie to me. This one is thick with tart cherry goodness, but that means you have to take precautions to make sure the bottom crust doesn’t get soggy. I brush it with egg whites to create a barrier to the saucy fruit, then put a sheet pan in the oven while it preheats so I’ll have a super-hot cooking surface to give the bottom crust a good head start.
You can get fresh pie cherries at farmers markets during their fleeting season each July, or buy them frozen from Willamette Valley Fruit Company. http://www.wvpie.com/
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups fine cornmeal
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2/3 to ¾ cup ice-cold water
2 eggs, separated
Demerara or other coarse sugar, for sprinkling
4 pounds pitted frozen pie cherries
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
Zest of 1 lime
2 teaspoons almond extract
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
To make the crust:
In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the cold pieces of butter and pulse several times until the mixture looks like coarse sand with some pea-sized pieces of butter remaining.
Whisk the egg yolks into 2/3 cup ice-cold water. Pour over the flour mixture and pulse several times until incorporated and the mixture holds together when squeezed. If it crumbles apart, add more ice water, a tablespoon or two at a time.
Turn the dough out into a large bowl or onto a large, clean surface. Squish the dough into a large ball, then cut in half, with one half a bit larger than the other. Wrap each in plastic wrap, shape into a disk, and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight, to allow the moisture in the dough to become evenly dispersed.
To make the filling:
In a large saucepan, combine the cherries, granulated sugar, brown sugar and lime zest. Set over medium heat and cook until cherries have softened and released some of their juice, about 10 minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cherries to a bowl. Bring the cherry juice in the pot to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 10 minutes until slightly reduced.
Place the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add some of the cherry juice to make a slurry, then stir it into the pot. Add the cherries and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Allow to cook for 3 to 5 minutes until thickened, then remove from heat and stir in the almond extract. Allow filling to cool before using. (Filling can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.)
To assemble: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a baking sheet upside-down on the center rack.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger disk of dough into a large rectangle that’s about 1 inch bigger than a half-sheet pan on all sides (about 19 by 14 inches). As you roll, pick up the dough and dust it with flour underneath to keep it from sticking. Lay the dough in the sheet pan, fold the edges under and crimp. Freeze for at least 15 minutes while you roll out the remaining dough.
Roll out the second disk of dough until it’s 1/8-inch thick. Use varying sizes of star or circle cookie cutters to cut out shapes and place them on a lightly floured baking sheet. Freeze the cut-out shapes until firm.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites with a splash of water until frothy. Brush the bottom of the chilled pie shell with a thin coating of the beaten whites (this will help keep the crust from getting soggy). Pour in the cooled pie filling. Arrange the cut-out dough shapes over the top. Brush with beaten egg whites and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Place the pie on the upside-down baking sheet and bake until edges are set and beginning to brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until filling is bubbling in the center and the crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes more. Cover the edges of the pie with strips of foil if they’re browning too much.
Allow pie to cool to room temperature before cutting into squares and serving.
Potato Salad With Green Beans, Bacon and Mustard Vinaigrette
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Creamy potato salads are deliciously comforting, but a bold mustardy version goes particularly well with sausages from the grill. This one uses two kinds of mustard in the vinaigrette, plus pickles, shallots, herbs and bacon.
3 pounds baby new potatoes
1 1/2 pounds green beans or asparagus, ends trimmed
1/2 pound bacon (about 6 slices), cooked and roughly chopped
1/2 to 1 cup Unbound Pickling Bacon Pickles, pickles cut into fourths
¼ cup whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup cider vinegar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Large pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
To make the salad: Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Salt the water generously, cover pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and gently boil until just tender, about 7 to 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Remove potatoes with a slotted spoon.
Bring water back to a boil and place a large bowl of ice water next to the stove. Add the green beans or asparagus to the boiling water. Cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge in the ice water to stop the cooking. Cut into 1 1/2 –inch lengths.
When potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice each in half. Place in a large serving bowl along with the green beans or asparagus. Add the cooked bacon bits and bacon pickles.
To make the dressing: In a jar with a lid (or use a blender, food processor or bowl and whisk), combine all the ingredients and shake (or process or whisk) until well-blended and emulsified. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
Pour about half the dressing over the potato salad and toss to coat. Add more dressing as desired. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary.