Recipes to fireplace up the style buds for the weekend vacation

With a few bright and fiery choices, it’s easy to make your Independence Day picnic or barbecue spread almost as sparkling as these brilliant and colorful fireworks.

Every summer party should start with a great cocktail. Gin is often the first choice for the base because it is light and wonderfully botanical and is suitable for lots of refreshing punch, gimlets, martinis and other mixed drinks.

The folks who occupy the bar at the Pittsburgh Food Hall Federal Galley suggest mixing the clear spirit in a cocktail shaker with some dry vermouth, a dash of black raspberry liqueur, chambord, simple syrup, and some fresh lemon or lime juice.

They call it the River Sipper, and that’s exactly what it is – an easy-to-drink daily drink that will keep everyone in a good mood. The citrus fruits make it particularly refreshing on a warm summer day and the light blush tone of the raspberries adds a touch of color. It comes together in less than a minute and goes down almost – almost as quickly.

July 4th parties always include one type of potato on the picnic table, especially a mayonnaise or mustard salad.

Why not be a little more explosive and full of flavor this year? I like to toss diced baby or fingerling potatoes in a little olive oil with coarse salt, garlic, and paprika flakes and then toast them in a super-hot oven until crispy.

To serve, I fry the potatoes in a little more oil with more paprika flakes and then drizzle them with a spicy and smoky salsa brava, which can also be used for dipping. It is a variant of the popular Spanish starter patatas bravas and goes just as well with pork as it does with chicken, steak or hamburgers.

As for the main course, we of course go with the perennial holiday favorite, the grilled ribs.

Babyback pork ribs in particular are made all the easier because they’re cooked in the oven and done on the grill (only if you want the extra step). Here, too, we go to the fireworks, prepare the ribs with a chilli-based rub and a fiery-spicy-sweet sauce made from habanero peppers.

They may not literally cause an explosion, but they will certainly increase the heat.

Create fireworks in your yard on July 4th with this refreshing gin cocktail from Federal Galley.


Makes 6 cocktails

Recipe from the federal kitchen.

It can be served straight or over stones.

10½ ounces (about 1¼ cups) Citadelle Gin (or any other botanical gin)

3 ounces Noilly Prat (or any other dry vermouth)

3 ounces of fresh lemon or lime juice

1½ ounces chambord (raspberry liqueur)

1½ ounces of simple syrup

Prosecco or champagne to round off

Fresh lemon peel for garnish

Put all ingredients except prosecco or champagne in a large cocktail shaker with ice.

Shake vigorously until the can becomes frosty to properly dilute the drink. If you don’t have a big enough cocktail shaker, combine the cocktail ingredients in a large mason jar and shake them in portions.

Strain into your favorite glass, either directly or on the rocks. (You need 6 glasses.)

Use the thumb and forefinger of each hand to twist the lemon peel, peel down, over the glass to expose the citrus oil on the surface of the drink.

Rub the bowl around the rim of the glass for a little extra flavor. Top up with a splash of prosecco or champagne and serve.

Potatoes drizzled with a spicy patatas bravas sauce will add a little sparkle to your July 4th celebration.


Makes 4 to 6 servings

Recipes from Gretchen McKay.

For potatoes:

2 pounds of small potatoes, Baby Yukon Gold, fingerling or red skin potatoes

2 cloves of garlic, cracked from the skin

2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, enough to brush just potatoes

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Generous pinch or two crushed red pepper flakes

For the sauce:

⅓ cup of olive oil

½ small yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 bay leaf

a pinch of sugar

1 tablespoon of hot smoked paprika

1 tablespoon of sweet smoked paprika

1 tablespoon of flour or cornstarch

1½ cups of water, chicken or vegetable stock

Sherry vinegar, optional

Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Clean the potatoes, then cut in half or quarter (depending on size) and place on a baking sheet.

Add broken cloves of garlic. Brush the potatoes and garlic with oil and season generously with salt, pepper and crushed paprika flakes.

Place the potatoes on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 20 minutes, until just tender

For the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Add the bay leaf, sugar and paprika and stir until everything is well mixed. Add flour or cornstarch and stir until everything is combined.

Gradually add the water or broth, stirring constantly. You may need to add more flour or cornstarch to get the consistency you want, which needs to be velvety and smooth.

Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt to taste. Remove the bay leaf and then puree in a blender and place in a glass. If desired, lighten the sauce with a dash of sherry vinegar.

To serve, drizzle the sauce over the warm fried potatoes. For extra crispness and flavor, fry the potatoes in vegetable oil with a pinch or two of paprika flakes just before serving.

Firecracker Baby Back Ribs are slowly roasted in the oven until they delicately fall off the bone.  (Gretchen McKay / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / TNS)


Makes 3 to 4 servings

This is perfect for family gatherings as most of the work is done before someone arrives; The ribs are baked low and slowly in the oven.

However, you can grill the ribs if you want a smokier taste. After taking the ribs out of the oven, spread the sauce on both sides of the ribs. Grill on a wire rack for 15 minutes over medium heat, brush with additional sauce every 5 minutes, turning once. Adjust the heat as needed to avoid burning. For less heat, you can replace the habaneros with jalapeno pepper.

2 racks of baby back pork ribs, about 2 pounds each, excess fat removed

For rubbing:

1 cup of brown sugar

½ cup of white sugar

½ cup of salt

2 tablespoons of cayenne

1 tablespoon of ancho chilli powder

1 tablespoon of chili pepper flakes

For cracker sauce:

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

½ onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 cups of apple cider vinegar

2 habanero peppers, chopped

1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1 cup of brown sugar

¼ cup of ketchup

1 teaspoon of salt

Prepare the ribs by peeling off the tough silver membrane on the back of the meat. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Mix the sugar and spices in a small bowl to rub in. Place the ribs on a foil-covered baking sheet, sprinkle a generous amount of dry grater over the ribs (both sides) and rub in. Wrap the ribs tightly in foil and bake for 2½ hours or until very tender but not falling apart.

While the ribs are baking, prepare the sauce: heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and garlic and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until soft.

Add vinegar and chopped habaneros and bring to the boil. When it comes to a boil, add the cayenne pepper, brown sugar, ketchup, and salt and stir. Cook the sauce over medium heat until it has a sauce-like consistency, about 30 minutes. Keep warm.

After the ribs have finished cooking, remove the ribs from the foil and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Brush the ribs with sauce and put them back in the oven for another hour, brushing the meat with the sauce every 15 minutes.

Let the ribs rest for 5 minutes, then cut the grid into individual rib segments and serve with more barbecue sauce, coleslaw and plenty of napkins.

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