Friday, July 13, 2012

6 Kitchen Cheats That Beat the Heat

I really love to cook. I really DO love to cook. But when the temperature stays over 90° for days on end, often topping out past 100°, I like to cook a lot less. The most appealing place at that point is not the kitchen. You'll either find me in a pool, wearing Floaties on my arms and clutching a cold drink, or supine, on a sofa, again with a cold drink and the air-conditioning cranked. And I LIKE summer and hate winter. With that  in mind, I do actually cook, or at least prepare tasty edibles that rock and are fast, easy and most of all, cut down on the actual WORK that takes away from my pool floating time. I will probably get drummed out of the food blogosphere for this post, but here it is anyway.

1. If you find a few pre-made spice mixtures that you like, use them. No shame. Nothing faster than sprinkling something delish over a steak or chop and popping it on the grill, especially if you don't have to actually DO the grilling. Curry powder and chili powder are both mixtures that are in most folks spice cabinets, but there are numerous available that will do the trick. Check out how much salt and sugar are in there, though, as well as strange chemicals you don't want to eat. Both Mrs. Dash, Char Crust, and Paul Prudhomme products (none of those companies are paying me to say anything nice about them; I like them) are available in supermarkets, and are good, inexpensive mixes to start with. Anything you can find from Stonewall Kitchen is also to die for; a little pricier, but worth it.
Look carefully, tucked in between my fancy, "gour-may" stuff
 is my trusty Mrs. Dash and Char Crust.
2. Everyone knows about bagged lettuces, but everyone forgets about the lowly shredded cabbage and carrot mix called "Cole Slaw Mix." While it's all well and good with traditional cole slaw dressing on it, you can really go to town with it and all you have to do is open the bag. Plus it's often on sale for like a buck around here. Pop the bag open, and instead of cole slaw, mix it with some peanut sauce (bottled or scratch), some shredded scallion, some fresh cilantro and a few crunchy peanuts. Or just dump it into a soup, or--give it quick saute with some flavored oil and a splash of lime juice. Nice side with grilled fish. Cool, crunchy and good.

3. Rotisserie Chicken. Yes, it's fine eaten right off the carcass. No, you don't have to feel guilty about tossing out the picked over bones in the dead of summer. Although I will look down my nose at you for not making a quick stock with them. Everyone seems to have recipes for doctoring it up, but it's too hot for that. Just bring it home, and set it alongside whatever other things are lurking in your fridge and pantry that can be eaten cold, like olives, pickled beets or cucumbers and enjoy. Extra points if you arrange it all pretty-like on a platter as if you planned it.

4. Cold Braised Beef Roast. You heard me. Overnight, toss a pot roast cut of meat, like a bottom round or rump roast into your slow cooker, add some of your favorite spice mixture (see #1 up there) and add about a cup or so of wine. Any wine except "cooking wine". White, red, vermouth,,,whatever you have . Slap on the lid and cook on low until you arise in the morning when you can remove the meat, wrap it and pop into the fridge to slice cold for dinner. Keep the juices if you want to make the effort to make a French Dip, but roast beef sandwiches on good rye bread with mustard and pickles can't be beat for flavor or laziness. Or, just serve it like you did the chicken with goodies from the pantry or salad bar. Which brings us to...

5. The Salad Bar. If you don't live where the markets have really nice salad bars, then you need to move. I'm only half kidding.  Sometimes nothing is better than a little marinated mozzarella, a few artichoke hearts and a few roasted peppers with olives. Not a whole jar full. just a few. Add some chunks of good cheese and crusty bread and suddenly, it's a really nice meal. With some tweaks, and a visit to a salad bar like the one at a Whole Foods or a Wegman's you can do vegetarian, or gluten-free or even Paleo meals right off the bar.

6. Ice Cream for Dinner. I may have dreamed about this when I was 10, but now, I'm big and can do it almost any time I want. If it'll make you feel less guilty, pop a couple of cool scoops over an assortment of seasonal fruit. But a homemade chocolate fudge sundae, or a banana split for dinner is good for the soul. If you are really digging in your heels about this, then do low-fat frozen yogurt over fruit, or choose either greek yogurt or cottage cheese as an accompaniment for fruit. Personally, I'm going with the fudge sundae.

I actually have a favorite, and it would  be number 7. Just make dinner reservations. And to be honest, I really wanted to give you 13 Cheats in honor of Friday the 13th, ( I have way more) but, well, I was just too anxious to get back in the pool.  Happy, Hot Weekend!

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