Monday, July 25, 2011

Cooking when it's too hot to cook?

A suburban greenmom realizes she has no idea what to make for dinner...

This is sort of embarrassing. My main blog-fare for the past couple of years has largely been centered around "how a way-too-busy adult can cook fast, easy, and healthy whole food that her picky family might actually eat." But I'm discovering now that while I'm absolutely fine in winter and fall, most of my go-to recipes require oven or stove and are fairly miserable to cook in the summer.

Am I the only one with this problem? I do a lot of stews, soups, and crockpot dishes; these are my standbys. And my problems are compounded by being married to this wonderful man who unfortunately somewhere got the idea that "if it's cold it can't possibly be a Real Dinner." So adios gazpacho and any of the other cold soups and salads Most Normal People would consider the perfect summer dinner. (Sorry, honey.)

So here's what I've got, and it's nowhere near as long a list as I'd like:
  • Raw Veggie Side Dishes: the only veggies my kids will eat are raw ones. So carrots, snap peas, cucumber sticks or slices, and such are "side dish" standbys. As an added benefit, the only veggies I really love are also raw ones; I cook them sometimes because it is supposedly the civilized thing to do, but I like them better raw, and I think they are better for you anyway. Notice there's no such thing as a "Cooked Food Movement," whereas "Raw Food" has all kinds of proponents
  • Grilling: we have a gas grill outside, which, by our unashamedly gender-generalized areas of household responsibility falls into My Husband's Turf. Which means dinner, but I don't have to cook it. (okay, yeah, I guess I'm a little ashamed.) This leaves room for all kinds of grilled dinners. Including kebabs, grilled marinated veggies, typical burgers-and-dogs, and...
  • Insta-Veggie-Burgers: unfortunately, I'm the only one in the family who will eat them, though I could probably talk my husband into them (he'll sneak back into the kitchen later for some "real" food, but what can you do?)--there are a gajillion recipes online for easy non-meat burgery things involving some mooshed legume, a grain product, and shredded veggies. I posted one here a couple of years ago, but you can pretty much make this up. And you can make this super-easy by shredding that oversized zucchini in the food processor and keeping it in your fridge, and then making smaller bread-crumb-rolled versions of these using prepared hummus and veggie-shreds and almost nothing else and calling it falafel.
  • Pre-cooked staples: In the morning when it's cooler, I make 6 cups of brown rice or barley and keep it in the fridge to eat over the next several days. It's easy to reheat quickly as part of some other fast meal, like rice and beans, or "risotto cakes" (you can actually use regular leftover rice for these, though they don't hold together as well as the ones made with actual creamy starchy risotto. Same with lentils--make a bunch, save them. It's not my default, since I'd prefer to simmer rice and lentils together with spices in broth till they are lovely and seasoned, but it's too hot for that. This way the seasonings are lighter and fresher--maybe a can of diced tomatoes and fresh cilantro and garlic--and still delicious, just different.
  • Crockpot food: Now I'm edging into the stuff I don't really do as much but wonder if I should. I mentally associate the slow cooker with wintery foods--stews, soups, heavy warming things. But when you think about it (as Stephanie O'Dea suggests we try), summer is a very sensible time to use the crockpot, since it enables easy cooking without heating up the kitchen. She has a recipe for Coconut Red Beans and Rice that looks delicious and which I might have to try tonight...
  • Rotisserie Chicken: I've mentioned this before in my own posts, I think--Whole Foods has rotisserie chickens on sale every Tuesday, and they are great fodder for shredding into chicken tacos, tossing into soup, or who-knows-what-all else. (We tend to stop at chicken tacos, honestly--it's one of the few meals everyone agrees on.) This feels like a cop-out.
  • and finally...Am I the only one who still has a George Foreman Grill lurking in the back of my pantry? Or just the only one who will admit to it? I rediscovered mine one night when the gas grill wouldn't light, and thought, eh, why not? It's still a handy little appliance, and it enables us to cook what we need to cook quickly and without heating up the whole kitchen. I hate the counter space it takes up, but it does get the job done...
What are your summer standby meals? Please, please widen my repertoire!
--Jenn the Greenmom


Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Burritos. But then again, we eat Mexican food several times a week year round.

I cook basically the same things for dinner year round, but I try to combine all of my baking into one day so I'm not turning the oven on multiple times in a hot house.

I read once (though I don't know how true it is) that in China, they drink hot tea in the summer because it heats up the body and then the outside temperature feels cool. I thought it was an interesting theory and anyway gives me an excuse to serve hot soup for a summer meal.

The Nurturing Pirate said...

We are the Low Expectations family, so the following work for us:
1. Salads - make sure there's some beans in there for protein. Sometimes dh will add bacon, which you could do on the grill, for extra yumminess.
2. Avocado on toast - for when you're not real hungry. Mash the avo on some toast, sprinkle a little salt & pepper & serve! If your a bit hungrier than that, you could add:
3. Smoothies
4. Sandwiches. If they're good enough for lunch, then they're good enough for dinner too!
Have you tried a pressure cooker? Sure you're still using the stove, but for a much shorter time.
So there you go: a bunch of rather unimaginative suggestions. Although, to be fair, we live in San Diego, so it doesn't get too hot to cook very often. I do remember the summer it got to 90+ and I had the brilliant idea to make gazpacho. I bought the ingredientst - and then remembered I don't really like gazpacho.

Dea-chan said...

We... uh... well... we've been eating out. Luckily it's cooled down, but when it was 100+ here (Boston area) my guy and I hopped from one AC place to the next.

Other than that, I've made big bowls of pasta salad, and used my toaster oven instead of the real oven. Anything where you can move the heat away is a good thing (smaller oven, crock pot, solar ovens, grills, etc.).

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

I'm a big fan of cold pasta salad when it's hot. Here's my current favorite: grated raw carrots and zucchini, diced green onion, toasted sesame seeds or sliced almonds, cubed extra-firm tofu, whole wheat or regular pasta (spirals work well).

Dressing: soy sauce, fresh lime juice, sesame oil, grated (or powder) ginger, a little sugar (optional)

But my husband needs something else to fill him up.

We just bought a camping stove to use mostly in the backyard when it's too hot to use the stove inside. And then we can use it for car camping. We decided to get the camping stove instead of a BBQ. I figure it will work great with our cast iron -- my husband is looking forward to trying it for turkey burgers.

robbie @ going green mama said...

Betsy, I love that recipe!

For us, we like stirfry (not alot of stove time), pastas, grilling (yes you can grill sides) and salads. Wish I could say I ate more salads, but I'm just not seeing lettuce in the markets this summer, nor have I grown much that didn't bolt!

Renee Felice said...

Taco salad -- a hit as a no-stove meal! It's a chopped salad with chips and cheese added.
You chop a ton of lettuce, just about any and all summer vegetables (tomatoes, zucchini, squash - slightly cooked in micro - corn, green onions, etc.), then toss on grated cheese and rinsed beans. Add a favorite dressing and some chips. (Some like to add ground beef. Not me! :)

Farmer's Daughter said...

I like to serve fresh fruits like blueberries or cherries as appetizers or sides (or dessert). I'd be happy with farmer's market baguette and fresh cheese, crisp veggies and a cottage cheese/sour cream dip. DH likes meat so we grill a lot in the summer.

Kelly Coyle DiNorcia said...

I am the queen of crock pot cooking, all year around, but especially in the summer. You do all the prep in the morning when it's cool, you have all day to do summer laziness, it doesn't heat up the house, and it's pretty much hot and ready to go whenever you are ready for dinner. Love it!


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