This year, make your Fourth of July celebration pop and shine.

Written and styled by Morgan Stephanian, Photos by Ashley Kriegel

Let’s watch fireflies buzz through the backyard and sip watermelon martinis with close friends as we celebrate Independence Day. This year, I’ll be raising a glass to toast a dear friend who recently became a citizen of this country, giving the holiday new meaning and giving me a whole new reason to celebrate my favorite party of the year.

The highlight of this Fourth of July party plan is a festive hot-dog bar, where guests can heap on toppings to create the ultimate in hot-dog creations, from the Californian to the Texan to the New Yorker. Mix together a festive menu, patriotic decorations and an American whiskey-tasting station, and you’re guaranteed a win in the hostess handbook. End the evening with sparklers and glow sticks, and you’re really in business.

I try to avoid a long line forming at any food or drink station. Offering stations so guests get parts of their meals in different locations helps move people around and avoid lines. I like to set up my red, white and blue appetizer—which consists of blue corn chips, white queso and fresh red salsa—in a place where friends will see it as they come in. I also set up the other food stations inside during hot summer months to avoid food spoiling and bugs, and offer a big tub of cold drinks outside for easy access.

Simplified: Remove the chairs from your dining table to make the food accessible from all sides.

Next level: Consider your guests. If children will be in attendance, be mindful about what they can reach and what is appropriate for them. For example, I keep the whiskey-tasting station and desserts at bar height so parents don’t have to fight little hands grabbing. And I like to set out fruit and kid-friendly drinks at kid level so they can help themselves.

watermelon martinis
red, white and blue appetizer
hot-dog bar
kettle chips
mini chocolate Bourbon pecan pies
American whiskey tasting

The Texan: pulled pork, barbecue sauce, coleslaw, candied jalapeños

The Californian: avocado slices, crumbled bacon, cilantro dressing, sliced tomatoes

The New Yorker: sauerkraut sliced, sauteed onions, spicy mustard, dill-pickle rounds

Serves six to 12

12 mini frozen pastry shells
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 cup dark corn syrup
2 tablespoons Bourbon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup chopped pecans
vanilla ice cream
salted caramel sauce

1. Place the frozen pastry shells on a flat baking sheet. Cover the bottom of each shell with about a tablespoon of chocolate chips.
2. In a separate bowl, mix the next seven ingredients until combined, then stir in the pecans.
3. Scoop the filling into the pastry shells over the chocolate chips, being mindful to get an even amount of pecans in each shell.
4. Bake at 375 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the crusts are lightly browned.
5. Serve the pies warm with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce.

Serves four

4 ounces fresh watermelon juice (blended and strained, or store bought)
4 ounces vodka
1 ounce mint simple syrup
Juice of one lime
1 bottle Topo Chico sparkling water
sugar for rim
fresh watermelon slices for garnish

1. To make mint simple syrup, add half a cup of sugar and half a cup of water to a microwave-safe jar and microwave in 30-second increments until the sugar is completely dissolved when stirred.
2. Remove the jar from the microwave, add 10 mint leaves and let it steep for 10 minutes, then remove the leaves.
3. To make the martini, shake the first four ingredients over ice.
4. Pour the mixture into sugar-rimmed glasses and top with a splash of Topo Chico. 5. Garnish the martini with a fresh slice of watermelon.


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