Celebrate the Fourth with minimal fuss, maximum flavor

Susan Selasky
Detroit Free Press

Fourth of July celebrations mean outdoor gatherings with plenty of food and drink. After all, it’s the most popular time to grill, according to many barbecue and grilling surveys.

The Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen decided to chill out with a collection of no-sweat recipes. We are staying away from the creamy salads, and those with cheese. Not that cheese is ever a bad idea, but our goal was breezy, cool and refreshing. Also, low effort and low cost.

For our grill, we turned to less expensive whole cuts of meat, such as flat iron and flank steak, which take less time to cook. Tri-tip is another good option; it just takes longer to cook. All these meat cuts are economical and go a long way. They take to most any kind of marinade and seasoning. And once grilled, you can slice them into thin pieces.

For salads, we relied on the standards of pasta and cole slaw, but with flavorful oil-based dressings. Both of today’s salads area a great match for the Chili-Lime Flat Iron.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad has become a popular dessert for summer potlucks. Everyone knows it’s not really a salad, but it warrants that name thanks to the strawberry gelatin layer. But instead of the cake pan version, we like the Food Network’s terrine version. It features cream cheese and creamy mascarpone and wins in the make-ahead category.

We couldn’t leave out a thirst-quencher. Today’s recipe for a Watermelon-Cucumber Vodka Cooler, is, well, super cool. You can make it with or without the vodka. And if you are not a vodka fan, sub in white sparkling wine.

Chili-Lime Flank Steak

Serves: 6

Prep time: 50 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

1 large lime, plus wedges for serving

1 tablespoon favorite chili powder

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

11/2 to 13/4 pound flat iron or flank steak

Vegetable oil, for the grill

Grate the zest of 1 lime; cut the lime in half. Combine zest with the chili powder, brown sugar, thyme, cumin, chipotle powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper in a small bowl. Squeeze the zested lime over the steak and use the lime halves to rub the juice into the meat. Rub the spice mixture on both sides of the steak. Let stand at room temperature, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat a grill to medium-high. Brush the grates with vegetable oil. Grill the steak until it’s well browned with nice grill marks, about 8 minutes. Flip and grill until a thermometer inserted sideways into the center registers 125 degrees, about 5 to 7 more minutes for medium rare (the thinner edges of the steak will be cooked to medium).

Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. Season with salt and thinly slice against the grain. Serve with lime wedges.

From Food Network Magazine, June 2016 issue.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Spinach Avocado Penne Pasta Salad

Serves: 8

Prep time: 30 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes


1 pound box mini penne pasta or other small pasta

1 bag (5 ounces) baby spinach

1 bunch of cilantro, bottom stems removed

1 bunch green onion, thinly sliced on the diagonal

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled, pressed or very finely minced

2 avocados, peeled, seeded and diced

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters


Zest and juice of 1 large lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons sugar

11/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon cumin or to taste

Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions in well seasoned boiling water until al dente. Drain pasta and set aside.

In a food processor, place the cilantro and spinach and process until chopped into tiny pieces. Add cilantro mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in garlic onion, tomatoes, avocado and beans. Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine all the dressing ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Pour dressing over the top and stir gently until everything is well coated. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

Adapted from www.pinterest.com.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Spicy Pineapple Slaw

This slaw gets its spiciness from jalapeno peppers. For less spiciness, remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers. You can substitute about 6 cups of coleslaw mix for the cabbage and carrots.

Serves: 8 to 10

Prep time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

5 cups shredded green cabbage (from one small head)

3 carrots, peeled, shredded

1 cup thinly sliced red onion

3 cups small diced pineapple from about three-fourths of a pineapple

2 jalapeno chiles, finely chopped, ribs and seeds removed for less heat

1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup fresh lime juice from about 4 limes

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, onion, pineapple, chiles, cilantro, and mint. Drizzle with oil and lime juice.

Season with salt and pepper; toss to combine. Let stand 30 minutes. Toss again before serving.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine, May 2016 issue.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Strawberry Pretzel Terrine

Here’s a different take on the strawberry pretzel salad recipe. If the terrine doesn’t seem set, you can freeze it until firm enough so you can cut it into slices.

Serves: 8

Prep time: 45 minutes

Total time: 6 hours 45 minutes (not all active time)

11/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder

1/4 cup hot water

2 pounds strawberries, hulled (11/2 pounds chopped small, 1/2 pound whole)

1/3 cup plus 21/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus the juice of 1 large lemon

1 container (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese, softened

1 package (8 ounces) regular or reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups small pretzel twists

Pinch of kosher salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the gelatin and hot water and stir until fully dissolved; let cool. Combine the chopped strawberries, 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 11/2 tablespoons lemon juice in a large bowl. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries are juicy, about 15 minutes. Stir the dissolved gelatin into the strawberry mixture.

Meanwhile, beat the mascarpone, cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and lemon zest and beat 1 more minute; set aside.

Pulse the pretzels with the salt and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar in a food processor until finely crushed. Drizzle in the melted butter and pulse until well combined. Pour the mascarpone mixture into the prepared loaf pan; smooth the top. Top evenly with the pretzel mixture, then top with the strawberry-gelatin mixture in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 6 hours.

To make the strawberry sauce: Puree the whole strawberries with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar and the remaining lemon juice in a blender until smooth.

When ready to serve, invert the terrine onto a platter. Top with the strawberry sauce.

From Food Network Magazine, June 2016 issue.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.