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Ramona King

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Try these 5 summer recipes to show off the red, white and blue

Beginning with Memorial Day and carrying through Labor Day, summertime seems to bring out the red, white and blue in all of us. Cooking dishes that highlight our nation’s colors can add an extra “wow” factor to your festivities, especially if your gatherings fall on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.

Fortunately, much of summer’s seasonal produce bounty easily checks the red and white boxes. Blue? Well, you might need to be a little creative at times. Whether you’re celebrating a national holiday, feeling patriotic, or just enjoy the color scheme, here are some red, white and blue dishes guaranteed to impress your guests.

Red means tomatoes … and cake?

Depending on how true to the color spectrum you wish to stay, you’ll have numerous options when it comes to preparing a dish that screams red. From clay-colored barbecue sauces to vibrant watermelon, red dishes can include fare ranging from hearty to light. If you’re feeling savory, try this recipe for classic Louisiana shrimp creole. Many dishes from the Pelican State tend to be rich and filling; however, the acidity of the tomatoes brings a brightness that makes this dish perfect for warmer weather. While this particular recipe calls for canned tomatoes, you could always substitute fresh when they’re ripe and in season. Serve over white rice and you’ve satisfied two of our three colors.
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For a sweeter option, it’s difficult to look past a cornerstone of Southern desserts: red velvet cake. Not naturally red, this chocolate cake from Anne Byrn owes its color to an ample dose of red food coloring. Buttermilk keeps the cake light and springy, and the true decadence arrives in the form of cream cheese frosting. Again, red and white in the same dish keeps you on the right track for a full patriotic spread. As a famous rotund singer once declared, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”
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For a truly patriotic dessert, we love making this easy poke cake. Poke cake is a favorite Southern style of cake; if you're not familiar, it simply involves poking holes in a baked cake and then pouring a flavorful sauce on top. This sauce soaks deep into the cake, adding, often, color and tons of flavor to the cake. In this case, we're making our poke sauce from strawberry Jell-O to give it red coloring throughout the cake. Perfect for  Independence Day, this easy flag cake is short on work but big on flavor. Don't be afraid of all of the Jell-O and Cool Whip — it makes for an ultra-moist cake that'll stay that way for days.
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Keep it cool and creamy with white

Warmer weather frequently calls for cold dishes to help combat our oft-oppressing heat in the South. Try this regionalized take on a traditional French vichyssoise by substituting sweet Vidalia onions for the more typical leeks. Legendary Atlanta chef Gerry Klaskala utilizes a combination of chicken stock and cream to lighten the soup, then purées it until smooth and luscious. To make this soup feel more substantial, try garnishing it with grilled or pickled shrimp.
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Want to try a dessert instead? Make simple vanilla ice cream from scratch. Rich vanilla ice cream is the perfect accompaniment to dishes like peach cobbler, or it can act as the centerpiece for a killer ice cream sundae. Make sure to control the heat when cooking the custard base, as scrambling the egg yolks would ruin the ice cream. When it comes time to spin and freeze the ice cream, you could always use a tabletop ice cream maker or a mixer attachment if you have one. Better still are the older machines with the hand crank, especially if you want your kids to work for their dessert.
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What to do for blue?

This is the trickiest color because there aren’t really any blue foods that occur in nature. While the exterior of a blueberry boasts a deep, dark blue hue, the berries immediately turn a reddish-purple color when smashed or cooked. Unless you want to order butterfly pea flower tea directly from Thailand (which will steep into something resembling 2000 Flushes), you might have to take some liberties in the blue department. For that, I recommend using a recipe that features blue cheese. Inoculated with Penicillium mold cultures, this blue-veined cheese plays nicely with many seasonal summer ingredients, including berries, peaches and tomatoes. Try this recipe for a classic cheeseburger; however, melt a creamy blue cheese atop the burger instead of the more common American or cheddar. Temper some of the funk with salty bacon, caramelized onions or earthy mushrooms.
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Photo (Burger): Ramona King


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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”

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