The very best way to kick off any bash is with cocktails and appetizers! As your guests gather and visit, it’s the perfect time to nibble and nosh. Even if I’m serving a big meal, I like to treat my guests to delicious starters. My Fourth of July celebration is no exception!
Cheese and Crackers
Margarita Chicken Skewers
Grilled Pizza with Bacon and Tomatoes
Cheese and Crackers:
Really now, what is there to say about preparing cheese? I like to select a nice variety, for instance, at my 4th of July party I am serving; Chipotle Gouda (creamy and spicy!), Monteray Jack with Dill and Garlic (such fresh flavors!) and a Yellow Cheddar with Horseradish (not your everyday cheddar). For the sake of streamlining my preparations, I cube the cheese the night before and store it in none other than a Ziploc Baggie (the object of my obsession).
I believe that I mentioned a certain fabulous slate cheese board that my friend Mrs. Lilly found for me from William Sonoma…. The night before my party, I write the names of the cheeses in chalk directly onto the slate. Informational and quirky! You know how crazy I am for cracked black pepper, so I always serve my table water crackers and my Triscuit’s with a little kick!
Margarita Chicken Skewers:
Talk about a wallop of flavor, especially if you are partial to a classic little drink from South of the border….
In a large Ziploc Baggie (again with the Ziploc) combine;
1 ½ lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into 12 strips (I actually purchased chicken breast tenderloins, so I was one step ahead of the game, rather than behind the 8 ball)
1 10-ounce can frozen margarita mix, thawed (oddly enough, this can be found by the frozen oj)
2/3 cup tequila (isn’t Jose Cuervo ever bodies friend?)
½ cup fresh cilantro chopped (so good!)
2 Tbsp chicken seasoning
Squeeze the air out of the bag and marinade over night.
Prior to grilling, soak enough wooden skewers for each chicken strip in water.
Remove chicken from the marinade and thread each individual strip onto a skewer.
Pre-heat the grill to medium. Oil the grate and grill for several minutes per side.
Arrange the cooked chicken skewers on a lovely bed of arugula or baby spinach and serve. You can certainly choose to garnish with fresh slices of lime. Garn-y is pretty.
Grilled Pizza with Bacon and Tomatoes;
I did pull out the big, bad boy for this one…..my Kitchen-aid.
In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup stir together;
2 1/4 oz envelopes of active dry yeast
2 cups of warm water
Let stand for 5 minutes.
In your large mixing bowl (attached to the industrial mixer, if you are using) stir together;
3 cups of all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp dried thyme
Option: add 1/3 cup of cheese such as parmesan or asiago, whatever you like
½ cup of olive oil
Beat at a low speed until well blended (scraping the sides of the bowl when necessary).
Stir in another 1- 2/3 cups of all purpose flour to make a good stiff dough.
In a lightly greased large bowl, place;
1 Tbsp olive oil
Turn to coat
Cover with a towel and let rise for about 45 minutes (or until nearly doubled in size). Punch dough down.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4-5 times, kneading in an additional 1/3 cup of all purpose flour (who knew there was so much flour?).
Divide the dough in half and shape into balls.
Roll each ball into a 14” circle (yeah right! I actually loved the odd ball shape of my dough. It screamed homemade!).
I did this the night before. To store, I placed a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet and placed to dough on top. I layered on an additional piece of wax paper, and placed the second rolled out dough on top of that. Then I covered the whole kit and caboodle with plastic wrap to ensure its freshness until the following day.
NOTE: This dough freezes quite nicely. Simply divide the dough into two balls prior to the kneading process. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in a freezer proof Ziploc Baggie. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and pick up with the kneading process. The dough can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Now you should go crazy with the toppings!
For the adults, I chose;
Shredded mozzarella cheese
6 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped (typically, I have cooked bacon on hand in the fridge because I cook it 2 lbs at a time. I store it, layered with Bounty Paper Towels (No endorsement, I’m just a paper towel snob.) and keep it in a sealed container. I pull it out for salads, sandwiches and burgers.).
16 cherry tomatoes, halved, or quartered, depending on the size
Basil leaves, fresh and thinly sliced
NOTE: I prepare my toppings the night before as well. I wrap each individual topping in Bounty Paper Towels to absorb any moisture, especially from the tomatoes. Then I tuck them all safely together into a Ziploc baggie to keep them fresh. You’ve totally gotta love Costco and their bulk products (like baggies and paper towels….and everything else they carry).
Pre-heat the grill to medium heat.
Brush oil directly onto the pizza dough and flip over onto the grill, removing the wax paper. Grill for 8-12 minutes (you may need to rotate for even cooking). Brush oil onto the top of the pizza dough and with two spatula’s carefully flip over to the other side.
Add your toppings. Cook for another 8-12 minutes (you may need to rotate for even cooking). Remove from grill. Let cool, slice and serve.
Now I only hope you and your guests have paced yourselves and are ready for…..more tasty morsels!