Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fourth of July Feast...chills and spice to beat the darned Texas heat!



Every year I dread the Fourth of July celebrations.  I worry abut the heat, the heat, the heat.  And...every year, we end up having a blast and the weather seems to cooperate and we enjoy good food, good family, and good fun!

Fourth of July week this year brought all sorts of festivities.  I had been looking forward to and preparing for the month of July for awhile now and just had to take the attitude, "heat...be damned."

First, we had a family wedding in Dallas, Texas.  I haven't been to a wedding in ages so I was really looking forward to pretty flowers, elegant summer dresses, wedding cake, and just seeing family gathered in one spot for a few days.

We were all wondering how we were going to tackle the 100˚F heat that threatened to press in on Dallas for the weekend.  However, having an outdoor wedding at 8:30pm under thick lush southern oak trees, with a shimmering pool nearby, and twinkling lights wrapped in the branches of the trees made for a casual but elegant wedding ceremony.  Beautiful breezes gently swayed the trees as our family members took their vows in a pretty and gentle setting.






The wedding ceremonies ended with blowing soft bubbles all around the wedding couple, dining on deliciously juicy roast beef while drinking chilled margaritas and then finished off by joyously dancing the night away.

Some of the family caravaned down with us back to Houston for a week filled with summertime entertaining, summertime dishes, and summertime fun in the big sprawling city of Houston.

How fun to be a tourist in our adopted city.  It seems that we have barely scratched the surface of this city until family come to stay and then we uncover yet another layer of this diverse, fascinating, multi-layered  city.




I knew the objective of the week was going to be how to have fun and not melt away at each and every activity planned outdoors.

So, what did I plan for us to do first?  Go to the ZOO.  Yes, the Houston Zoo in mid-90's degree temperatures at the height of summer heat.  Crazy, I know...but it was terrific.

We arrived just as the zoo opened at 9:00 am.  After seeing the heavy foliage draping over the walkways, misting fans blowing out droplets of tiny beads of cool water, and several perfectly placed indoor air-conditioned sights, we realized the morning was going to be enjoyable and very doable.


I can't say enough positive things about our city's zoo.  It was smartly laid out, filled with animals that were active, happy, and playful, and just an all around beautiful setting to walk around and enjoy the outdoors...even in the blistering southern heat.  Thank you, Houston.  Thank you...thank you.




One of my solutions to playing tourist in our own city with our family and staying cool was to keep a supply of cool refreshing sorbet on hand when we returned home.

While in San Francisco recently, I was at the Ferry Building at Ciao Bella Gelato.  I spotted an interesting flavor sorbet -  "Lemon Basil" sorbet.  I sampled it and was surprised that I liked it.





I really wanted to try my hand at recreating this sorbet at home for the 4th of July week.  I'm not sure you can go wrong with cool, tart, smooth sorbet...in July...in the blistering heat of the south.

From squeezing the tart lemon juice and breathing in the clean fresh lemon aroma to snipping the basil leaves from my patio, lemon basil sorbet is just perfect for mid-summer relief. 

A few shortbread cookies paired with the sorbet and a nice refreshing tingling dessert was on hand for our hot and tired group when we returned from fun and exhausting outings.







There is one lesson that I have to remind myself when I make sorbet.  That is to let the sugar/syrup cool completely before attempting to churn it in my ice cream/sorbet maker.  

If not allowed to get cold, the syrup mixture will churn and churn but not form the little ice crystals necessary to turn it into the consistency of sorbet.







So summertime means flowers, and color, and bees, and birds.  I added a few additions to our small back garden this summer.  I'm trying to start a bougainvilla vine growing around the back guest bedroom window.  My hibiscus bush is huge and dripping with the large red flowers that are beginning to attract hummingbirds.  I decided to get a hummingbird feeder out there and am now anxiously waiting to see tiny little flutters of movement.

As far as potted herbs, I've added lemon balm, mint, and sage.  It takes vigilance to keep all of these guys watered in this heat but so far so good.  I'm slowly learning what will survive the Texas heat and what will be a waste of time to grow here.




I have to chuckle at the assortment of activities that we went to during the week.  I planned a visit and shopping trip to the the city's Middle Eastern Market, Phoenicia (so I could recreate a Turkish meal for my relatives). Then we meandered through the huge Houston Asian market, Viet Huong, with its wonderful fish stalls in the back.  We even visited the striking carved white marble Hindu Temple in Houston which sits sparkling in the sun and rising up like a huge wedding cake on the horizon.  It is one of six Hindu temples in the U.S. and even has a market/cafe offering all sorts of traditional Indian foods to sample.

At each stop we picked out a medley of foods to carry back home, so several meals had an interesting diverse ethnic mix of flavors. We had Japanese mochi, Turkish baklava, lychee fruit, kaymak and honey, and Indian spiced cashews. It all worked out well and we  had a fun time trying new things.




Aside from our diverse shopping trips, we jumped from outings like touring through the magnificent and striking Indian Hindu Temple here in Houston to the "Bat Bridge" in downtown Houston.  At sunset each evening, thousands and thousands of bats emerge from underneath a bridge in the middle of the city to forage on insects for the night.  What an experience to see.  We sat on a hillside and watched as the bats swirled from under the bridge, flew off into the sky and around the trees and disappeared.  

The twinkling lights of the Houston high rise buildings made a pretty backdrop and silhouetted the bats in the sky as they flapped and fluttered their wings in dizzying swarms.








One of my big decisions for the week was...what to EAT for our Fourth of July gathering this year.  I was at the reins of menu planning so the options were vast and I jumped from one idea to the next unable to decide among all of the BBQ options.  

I pulled out my favorite BBQ cookbook, The Cook and The Butcher, and I flipped through looking for something to catch my eye.  






I flipped to a photograph of a dish called "Straccetti with Roasted Cherry Peppers".  It looked delicious, smoky, flavorful, and...well...patriotic!

The dish involved roasting cherry peppers with olive oil, salt, and a head of garlic.  Being Texas, I figured I wouldn't have too hard to a time finding cherry peppers...and I didn't.





I added some cherry tomatoes to my cherry peppers just in case some of the family didn't like only peppers.  I also knew the cherry tomatoes would caramelize and give a little hint of sweetness to the savory flavors.  

The steak is thinly cut, much like Japanese shabu-shabu steak and pounded out a bit.  After quickly pan frying the meat with rosemary fronds, olive oil, and more garlic, it is put aside to rest.






Next, an aromatic pan sauce is stirred together with the drippings from the meat mixed with the roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes, and garlic.  Bold flavors of rosemary and soft flavors of oregano infuse the sauce as balsamic vinagrette is added.

The savory sauce is cooked down until rich and fullbodied then  poured on top of the steak.  

I knew when reading this recipe which sides I wanted to pair with it....Molasses Pork and Beans, and Roasted Baked Potatoes.  I roasted Idaho potatoes in the oven until soft.   Dollops of sour cream, creamy butter, chopped chives, and shredded cheeses made up the toppings.





It's not very often that we eat this side dish, but the southern "Hickory Smoked Pork and Beans" seemed to fit right into this menu.  My kids don't quite understand this sweet and savory bean dish with the chunks of hickory smoked bacon cooked into the dish.  This is certainly a southern dish; my southern roots yearned to match those  "pork and beans" with nothing other than big plump baked potatoes.  So the menu was set...Savory rib steak with caramelized peppers and tomatoes, molasses kissed pork and beans, and big fat baked potatoes with all the trimmings.






Finished off with apple pie, this Fourth of July was a wonderfully festive week filled with all manner of touristy field trips in and around the city for our family.  How wonderful to be a tourist in your own city and see it through the eyes of visiting relatives!

Another field trip was to see the Battleship Texas anchored on the Buffalo Bayou along the bustling Houston Ship Channel. 

Touring through the ship gives visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the shipmen during battles in WWI and WWII.  They even have sleepovers for teens in the ship.  What an experience to sleep deep in the recess of this enormous ship and re-enact life during the active days of the Battleship Texas.  







The fun and active week was capped off with a huge and festive fireworks show at our brand new Skeeter's Baseball arena that finished off the "red, white, and blue" -ness of the week.  

Thank you to Houston for not roasting us alive as we hopped from one outdoor activity to another.  We had such a fun and festive week full of laughter, exciting field trips, delicious meals, but most importantly "thyme" spent around the table, enjoying family and enjoying life.








24 comments:

  1. That sorbet must be divinely refreshing and the stracetti looks really good!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. I really love sorbets...more so than ice cream. They are the perfect dessert for down here in the heat of summer.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your family activities and 4th of July with us . . the photos as usual are just beautiful. Since it is a cold midwinter in Australia and we naturally do not celebrate the day, it is great to get a personal insight how people 'across the Pond' come together . . .

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    1. Likewise Eha! Isn't it so fun to see holidays in different countries and what are the traditional foods? Blogging just opens up all of that to the world.

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  3. Our minds thought alike this week! We visited the same Asian market last weekend, and enjoyed the star spangled spectacular in Sugar Land yesterday too. Loved your recap and photos; gorgeous as always! :)

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    1. How terrific! Can't believe how many people were at the fireworks over here. Really amazing.

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  4. Both recipes are perfect for your heat wave my friend, though the sorbet is calling my name :)
    Happy belated 4th!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Thank you! Yes, I'll take a tangy fruity sorbet over steak too.

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  5. I like each recipe. I also like to read how people celebrate 4th of July :) And the last picture is georgeus.

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    1. The 4th is a nice celebration that brings so many people and family together. It's a fun holiday to enjoy all of the summer produce, pies, and BBQ's of summertime.

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  6. I would love to make that. SC heat is kicking in now as well! I have not made sorbet or icecream before. I am not sure if I can pull it off without icecream maker though!

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    1. Ilke, I see lots of recipes that don't call for an ice cream/sorbet maker. I haven't read them in detail but it seems it is indeed becoming possible to make it without one.

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  7. Beautiful Sarah! I'm going crazy with fruit ice cream, sorbets, and frozen yogurts this summer! The meat with those bright cherry red peppers is gorgeous!

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    1. I'm trying to keep up with all of your wonderful creations! I see so many coming across Facebook that you make that look so delicious!

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  8. Yum, I love thinly sliced meat dishes, and lemons with anything works for me. Houston sounds like a wonderful city. I am glad you are surviving the heat

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    1. This steak dish was a keeper. I loved all of the smoky roasted vegetables and garlic. The rosemary perfumed the house as well as the steak and the balsamic vinegar gave everything a nice sauce to pour over the dish. A keeper!

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  9. Everything you made looks delicious. Excellent photos. By the time I read about the beans with bacon my mouth was watering and I was googling slow cooker country ribs and beans. :) How did you make the beans and what brand (canned?) did you use? Sounds like you and your family had a wonderful week! Enjoyed sharing it.

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    1. Yes, Christine...canned beans. I added extra bacon chunks from leftover breakfast. I was cooking all week for numbers between 7 to 10 so I spent more time making other dishes and relied on the canned "molasses pork and beans" to pull everything together.

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  10. Gorgeous Sarah - just what I needed to see in the midst of our chilly winter :)
    Trish

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    1. Likewise! When I need relief from the heat, I pop over the other side of the world and see the wonderful articles on fall/winter festivities!

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  11. The sorbet looks delicious. It is always a treat in summer. It get as hot here as it does in Texas but this year, the weather has been kind. Up to now, at least.

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    1. Good for you! If it's been kind this far into the summer...I'd call it a good one!

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  12. I'm like you, Sarah, in preferring sorbets over ice cream. I've had lemon basil sorbet once before and adored the combination. I also like the look of those beans!

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    1. Yes, John. the first attempt, I put a few skimpy leaves of basil into the syrup. The second time I put in a generous handful. Much better!

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