Well, hi there, summer!
We enjoyed an exceptionally cool and pleasant spring here in the mid-Atlantic, but summer showed up last week. All at once. Like, on Friday. You could almost hear the sound of millions of thermostats switching to cool simultaneously, and the peaceful quiet of my morning walk was instantly replaced with the hum of AC units.
This, I know, doesn’t do any of us any favors in the kitchen. I still have a pot roast in the freezer, and who wants pot roast when it’s a billion degrees and eleventy-hundred percent humidity outside? By the same token, cereal only sounds appealing for dinner so many nights in a row.
I don’t claim to have all the answers–hot is still hot–but there are a few simple strategies and meals that work particularly well when the weather goes all center-of-the-sun like it has:
- Cook ahead. This is the time of year I have dinner going by 8 a.m. Lots of things reheat beautifully (roast chicken, meatloaf, all sorts of casseroles and such, most pasta sauces), and if you can get those dishes cooked and popped into your fridge early in the morning, the kitchen will recover its cool by lunchtime, and the microwave steps in to get hot food on the table without incinerating the chef in the process.
- Cook even more ahead. Work in an office? Figure out a few dishes you can cook all at once and get hopping on Saturday or Sunday morning. Get one thing going in the oven and one or two on the stovetop with perhaps a third on your outdoor or indoor grill, and then package it all up into portions and freeze it all for the week. This takes planning, I know, but it can be done. Promise. (The other option, of course, is to cook at 9 or 10 at night, right before bedtime. Yes, the kitchen will heat up. But in most cases, the bedroom won’t, and you can run away right when the oven shuts off.)
- Embrace your slow cooker. You can (I’ve done it) plug your slow cooker in out in your garage or on your deck or patio (watch for rain), and it works just as well as on your kitchen counter. Most of my Crockpot recipes work just as well in the summer as they do in the winter, and you can select that category in the drop-down menu to the right to see them all. If you then buy ready-cooked rice at your grocery store. you can even have a side without heating up a single burner (and stop looking at me like that–it’s fine).
- Rethink leftovers. That chicken you roast on Monday will make fine fajitas, quesadillas, or tacos on Tuesday with just some salsa, cheese, guacamole, and lettuce. It’ll also be lovely in a big salad full of fresh veggies, and so will the fish you grilled or roasted, that pot roast that’s in the freezer (and that can be cooked in the aforementioned Crockpot outside)…just about anything. There’s no shame in a cold salad or sandwich dinner, y’all, and it’s a great way to get some extra nutrients in.
- Embrace your broiler. Didja ever hear Alton Brown talk about broiling? Broiling is grilling upside-down (the man is a genius, I swear). Only most of the heat is contained in your oven. Beautiful. Think fish, steaks, burgers, chicken, veggies. Put your cookie cooling rack on a baking sheet (with sides), spray it with nonstick yumminess, stick your oven rack about 4 inches below the broiler flame or element, and grill away right there in your oven. If it’ll work on your grill, it’ll work under your broiler.
- Think quick. I can have a pizza on the table in 10 minutes if I have dough ready at dinnertime. Ten minutes of oven is nothing. Crank that puppy up to 450, load up that crust with veggies and garlic, and enjoy a light summer dinner without a ton of heat. You can also make pizza on your outside grill, which is another option for summer.
- Love your Foreman. I know. Infomercial city. But they do a decent job of indoor grilling and really generate almost no external heat. I use mine as a panini press, too. Tons of possibilities thanks to boxer George.
Finally, spend some time in your grocery store to see what possibilities exist there. Mine, which has shelves that are just this side of a third-world country, will steam seafood while I wait and offers hot rotisserie chicken every day of the week for something like $5. The gourmet market across the street has a beautiful steam bar and an entire deli counter of ready-to-go hot foods. It’s not an every day solution, but really, when it’s 10 billion degrees out, you use what you have, yes?
Any of you have hot-weather strategies? Leave them in the comments–we’re all looking for ideas!