Hot Days, Cool Cook

For the past week, daytime highs had hovered around 100. While that may be a normal summer temperature for some parts of the country, here in Colorado, at an elevation of 7,100 feet, it’s anything but. (I’m glad we don’t live lower and hotter!) Even with our cool nights and ample insulation, the house was getting pretty warm by late afternoon. At that point, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was cook dinner.

I managed to avoid turning on the stove or oven for several days in a row. However, by the end of the week, salads were getting a bit redundant. What else could I do? Sure, there are other uncooked dishes, such as sandwiches and cold cereal, but I wanted ideas for more traditional dinner fare.

Turning to Google and Pinterest, I looked up some suggestions for hot weather meals, but I was disappointed. Yes, the recipes were easy, but you have to heat the oven for sheet pan anything, and I didn’t want to stand over a pot of boiling water to cook pasta. What could I make besides salad that wouldn’t heat either the house or the cook? (Those of you with air conditioning can always cool things down again, but we rely on a nighttime attic fan.)

Being the inventive person that I am, I came up with my own list of hot weather meal ideas. And being generous, I decided to share them with you. (By the way, I’m humble, too.)

I concluded that the best way to keep the house cool is to move the cooking outside. Sure, the microwave is a terrific resource for heating and cooking without warming the room it’s in. I’m not a fan of microwaving everything, but there are plenty of times when it’s completely appropriate.  Sometimes, however, you want things to be crispy. In that case, a toaster oven comes in handy. I hauled ours out to the garage and did my baking, browning, and broiling out there.

The toaster oven was followed by the Crock-pot. It doesn’t heat the house as much as turning on the oven, but I didn’t want anything in the kitchen sitting at 200+ degrees all day. Crock-pots rarely need attention, so it is easy to turn it on and ignore it.

While soups and stews are definitely Crock-pot friendly, I find that slow cooking is also an excellent way to make Indian food. Last night’s chicken tikka masala was a case in point. Setting the pot on high, I sautéed chopped onions, garlic, and ginger with a little oil and a little water. It took a couple of hours for the onions to be thoroughly limp and brown.

Next I added the spices and waited another hour for them to release their flavor. Then I added diced tomatoes and enough nonfat half-and-half so that I could puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Once I had a smooth sauce, I tossed in the raw diced chicken breasts. Finally, two hours after that, I stirred in some plain Greek yogurt and the last of the whipping cream (left over from last week’s strawberry pie), sprinkled it with chopped cilantro, and served it all over microwaved rice. Microwaved Indian peas and potatoes completed the menu.

The easiest option is to simply send my husband outside to grill something. I appreciate his willingness to stand around in the heat with his tongs and instant-read meat thermometer while I throw together yet another salad, zap some broccoli in the microwave, and call it dinner.

It just so happened that sirloin steaks were on sale last week, so I skewered some teriyaki shish-ka-bobs and Pete cooked them to perfection. Other family favorites include salmon and marinated chicken (I’ll post some recipes next week). In fact, you can grill pretty much any hunk of relatively tender protein.

My pièce de résistance was the lasagna I made one day. For some reason, and in spite of the heat, we had a craving, and I was determined to satisfy it. I started early in the morning before the day got too hot. Turning on the stove vent to suck out the hot air, I sautéed some chopped onions and browned the burger. (That was the only exception to my “don’t heat the kitchen” rule, and in truth, I did not heat the kitchen at all. Cool air wafted in to replace the hot air the fan blew out.)

Later that afternoon I added a jar of spaghetti sauce to the meat and onions, then layered my lasagna into a glass 9 x 13 pan. I didn’t boil the noodles first. Instead, I added some extra water (about ¾ cup) and sealed the dish with plastic wrap. As dinnertime approached, I stuck it in the microwave for 30 minutes at 50% power.

We were delighted with the result. Although the top layer of cheese bubbled, it didn’t brown; otherwise the lasagna was indistinguishable from my usual baked-in-an-oven-for-an-hour version.

If you have them, rice cookers, instant pots, and electric frying pans and griddles all offer more ways to move the cooking into the garage or out onto the patio. The main point is to avoid adding heat to your indoor living spaces.

There’s one more way to avoid baking the cook during a heatwave. Get someone else to cook dinner. Whether you go out or bring home take-out, either way you’ll keep your cool. Maybe we’ll try that next time the temperatures soar!


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