Heat Wave Cooking

Heat Wave Cooking

Any friend of mine knows that it takes a lot to keep me from making dinner. It's part of my daily routine and has been for many years. I can be persuaded to dine in a restaurant, but not often. Until it's summer.

Hot weather and I don't get along. By day's end, even with air conditioning, I'm wilted, cranky, and de-motivated. Transit budget cuts must be why this summer it's been harder to find air conditioned subway cars; coming home in a sultry subway filled with sweating New Yorkers proves how tolerant and resolved and, thankfully, well-bathed folks in this city can be.

New York's not the only place where it's been hotter than usual and home cooks in many cities have the dilemma of choosing between cooking with summer's irresistible ingredients and boycotting our own kitchens.

But we have options. Some require a little planning but most just need a little switching around of the ways we may normally make our meals. So to help, here are some hot weather cooking recommendations:

Microwaving

Although convection ovens and other newer appliances have overshadowed the microwave oven, it's still a fixture in most kitchens. A microwave is not perfect for everything, but it's a versatile technology that can cook many foods well, quickly, and without excess heat.

If you've relegated your microwave to reheating coffee, maybe this hot summer is a time to get re-acquainted with it. One of microwave cooking's best advocates is award-winning cookbook author Barbara Kafka. In the recipe section of her website and blog, BKafka.com, she shares some of her microwave recipes. Or take a look at her splendid book, Microwave Gourmet.

Ms. Kafka also shared with us her recipe for making shrimp risotto in the microwave. That means that even if it's too steamy to spend a half hour stirring Arborio rice over a hot stove, you can still satisfy a summer craving for risotto.

Slow Cookers

I'm still relatively new to using a slow cooker. I got my first one about two years ago and love it for dishes like braised lamb shanks and beef short ribs, meals I associate with winter appetites. But the fact is that you can cook summer flavors as well in a slow cooker.

If you're a slow cooker novice and want an introduction, we have an article that will help you buy a cooker, find slow cooker cookbooks, and tips for getting the best results.

Hot Weather Recipes

City cooks usually don't have grills so for most of us, stepping out of an air-conditioned apartment to throw some chicken breasts on the barbeque isn't an option. And while microwaves and slow cookers let us make complex dishes without an oven, on our hottest days I think most of us prefer hardly-cooked or not-cooked meals. It helps that summer produce is particularly satisfying, suggesting that with foods this good, we shouldn't be fussing with them anyway.

My hot weather favorites include pasta and other grains. Before I get your wagging finger about how boiling water heats up a small kitchen, hear this suggestion: for pasta, rice, couscous or similar salads you can cook the pasta or grains several hours in advance -- maybe before the day hits its peak heat -- and giving your kitchen time to afterwards cool off. Bring the water to a boil with a cover on and that will reduce nearly half of its steaminess (but take off the cover while cooking to avoid over-boiling which would be a steamy mess). After the pasta or grain is cooked and drained, add a small amount of olive oil. Use only about a teaspoon on a pound of pasta. Then toss and refrigerate. You're going to add dressing anyway and the tiny amount of oil will keep the cooked pasta or rice from turning into a single block as it chills. This works best if you'll be making the salad within three hours.

I also let a local market cook my chickens. I'm an avowed fan of rotisserie chickens and there's no better time to make use of these spit-roasted chickens than in the summer.

Finally, try to cook once and eat twice. Summer is a perfect time for leftovers, especially if both meals feature fresh salads, vegetables and fruit. As examples, last night our dinner on a very hot night was half of a rotisserie chicken plus a room temperature pasta salad. Tonight I'll add the rest of the chicken to a potato salad dressed with a sour cream-mayonnaise-mustard dressing which I'll serve on a bed of arugula and big chunks of the first field tomatoes I found at my local Greenmarket.

Here are some of my hot weather favorites, all of which I've been making during these back-to-back heat waves.


Can you stand a little more time at the stove? Summer greens like Swiss chard cook in a flash in a hot pan and a little olive oil -- they'll be done before the heat rises. Or crab cakes, which are pan-sautéed. See our recipe. You can assemble the crab mixture in advance and then pan cook just before serving, two minutes a side.

Stay cool but still cook happily and eat well.

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