How to Beat the Heat in Your Summer Kitchen

Growing up, I distinctly remember a few summers where Mom just didn’t cook much at all. Those were the summers where it was regularly 106, 107 degrees outside and we didn’t have air conditioning. We had a gas stove and oven, so cooking much of anything heated the entire front of the house way past sweltering.

Back then, Mom’s solutions were places like Ryan’s and Shoney’s with their kids eat free specials, drive through (my brothers were young, so a happy meal could totally fill them up), and–occasionally–cereal for dinner and then like.

Now, of course we have air conditioning in the Dollhouse, but after 100+ years the insulation is pretty much kaput, so the a/c isn’t always super-effective on the hot and humid days of a south-Georgia summer.

It’s enough to make cereal for dinner sound like a good idea again!

I haven’t quite gotten that far, yet. Instead, I planned this week’s menu to take advantage of some cold-cooking techniques and some chosen appliances that keep the ambient temperature at a comfortable level.

A Week of Meals: 6/27-7/3
A Week of Meals: 6/27-7/3

Monday: Salad Bar Salads

First I went for one of my no-cook favorites: Salad Bar Salads. The difference between Salad Bar salads and other dinner salads is partially in the presentation and partially in the customization. I like to take a little time and lay everything out on platters or in small bowls and set them out so the diners can choose what goes on their salads. This works well for picky eaters since there can be a little something for everyone, as much or as little as they want. I may have spent an hour or so slicing and dicing, but the most cooking I had to do was bring a small pot of water to a boil to hard-boil some eggs.

It’s also convenient for snacking later in the week on the leftovers.

Next, I consulted a book I reviewed a few years back: The No Cook, No Bake Cookbook. That gave me meals for Tuesday and Friday, along with some convenience items added in.

Tuesday: Rotisserie Chicken with Watermelon-Jicama Salad

The watermelon salad was pretty quick to prepare, though our watermelon was a lot juicier than the ones they used for the stylized photos. Still, it tasted pretty good with the salty feta cheese and crisp jicama, and the chilled rotisserie chicken from the prepared foods aisle of the grocery store meant absolutely no heat was required in the making of this dinner.

Wednesday: Zuppa Toscana with Bread sticks

A rainy night helps cool things down just enough to fire up the stove and oven. With the soup ready-to-cook in our chest freezer, I could have easily prepared it in the slow cooker to minimize the heat (and used the toaster oven for the bread sticks since it generates less heat than the full-sized oven), but I could also set the soup to simmer and leave the room. Not something I generally advocate, leaving the stove unattended, but if you have plenty of head-room in your soup pot and check it periodically, it’s relatively safe to do.

Thursday: Take-Out!

We ended up taking Duncan to the pet store after Todd got home from work so decided to pop through a drive-through on the way home instead of cooking. The choice of the night was Arby’s–I adore their Jamocha shake! (The turkey club was acceptable, but the shake was the star of the show.)

Friday: Tuna and Lentil-Stuffed Tomatoes with Fruit Cocktail

Another no-cook recipe, the stuffing calls for canned tuna and lentils. Canned lentils, once drained and rinsed, are supposed to be Low-FODMAP so I decided to give it a whirl. If (and that’s kind of a big if) I make it again, I’ll use chicken, leave out the capers, and substitute tarragon for the dill. It was okay, but not our favorite. The curry-yogurt sauce was tasty, though! Fruit cocktail is a delightful throwback to meals at my grandmother’s table when I was little, back in the late-70s, early-80s but when you just need a little something to round out an otherwise-complete meal? It totally fills the bill.

Saturday: Lemon-Pesto Noodles with Shrimp

Pasta is not generally a cold-prep food, but there’s a trick that you really need to know: rice noodles. Not the brown rice pasta in the gluten-free section, I’m talking about the thin rice noodles sometimes called rice sticks, rice vermicelli, or cellophane noodles. They barely need any heat to cook, just soaking in hot tap water will do if you’re going to add them to a stir-fry or soup. Since I was going to add a cool sauce of yogurt, homemade pesto, and lemon sauce, I employed another tool useful in avoiding a hot kitchen: the microwave.

Converting a traditional recipe into a microwave recipe is pretty simple. The biggest adjustment is time: I usually divide the suggested cooking time by 3, but some guides I’ve seen suggest only cooking for a quarter of the recommended time. If you’re making soup or something else with a lot of liquid, don’t add the fully amount at first–you can always add more, later, but there’s not as much evaopration going on in the microwave as there would be on a stove or in an oven. Finally, you want to avoid over-salting your food to be microwaved. Cut back on the strong seasonings and wait to salt everything until it’s finished cooking. Better safe than salty!

You can also find a lot of ready-to-microwave options in the Mug Meals book I reviewed back in 2014.

Sunday: Sweet Potato-Kale Turkey Burgers with Zucchini “Fries”

Another cool tool for cooking without heating up the house is an electric griddle. I was able to cook my “fries” on the large, flat surface, then follow up with the turkey burgers from our freezer stash.

Speaking of our freezer meal stockpile, it’s getting pretty low. Time to resupply and prep is coming soon, I think!

What’s your go-to supper plan for beating the heat?

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