Kitchen Focus

Summer means heat. And heat means trying to keep it cool -- especially in the kitchen. So instead of long-simmering stews or hours of roasting, August calls for meals that require little or no use of the stove or oven. While the typical response is to fire up the grill, this month I'm offering some additional ideas to help you keep your cool during the dog days of summer.
  • Try using some useful smaller appliances in your dinner preparations instead of the oven or stove. Examples include an electric skillet or griddle, a contact grill, a microwave, a toaster oven, a rice cooker and a crockpot. They all use considerably less energy and give off less heat into the room than a traditional oven.
  • Get to know cold foods! Salads and sandwiches are great summertime meal ideas. Experiment with unusual ingredients to make things more interesting.
  • If you must use the larger appliances in your kitchen, try to prefer the stove over the oven. Heating that large box and then opening it is a great way to dump a lot of hot air into the kitchen.

Of course, in an effort to help you keep cool and enjoy the process, I'm including a few recipes that I think you'll like. The daiquiri recipe below makes sweating through the end of summer seem like a breeze!

Watermelon Daiquiri

This blended drink is my most-requested in the summer months. Every time I have a watermelon on hand, about half of it gets sliced into pieces and tossed in the freezer for these popular drinks.
  • 1 1/2 oz. light rum
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 1 c. frozen watermelon chunks
  • Sugar syrup to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender with an ice-crushing setting. Blend until no watermelon chunks remain. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 2 minutes

Curried Chicken Salad

This sweet and spicy chicken salad makes a great dinner when spooned into wraps and served alongside spicy chips, pickles and sliced watermelon.
  • 1/4 c. low fat yogurt
  • 1/2 c. low fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp. hot curry powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 c. shredded, cooked chicken -- you can use leftovers or part of a rotisserie chicken
  • 1 celery rib -- diced
  • 2 T. diced red onion
  • 1/2 c. red grapes -- halved
  • 1 c. packaged coleslaw mix -- or you can shred your own cabbage and carrots

Mix the yogurt, mayonnaise, curry powder, salt and pepper together to form a dressing. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well to combine.

  • Yields: about 4 cups
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Crockpot Ratatouille

This vegetarian stew is a great way to use all of the zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes that gardens everywhere are producing in abundance this time of the year.
  • 1 large onion -- sliced into thin wedges
  • 2 medium zucchini -- sliced
  • 1 red pepper -- cut into thin strips
  • 1 eggplant -- cut into 1" chunks
  • 4 large tomatoes -- cut into wedges
  • 1 T. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 2 T. pesto
  • 1/4 c. olive oil

Layer the vegetables in the order listed -- onions thru tomatoes -- in a large crockpot. Sprinkle the vegetables with the seasonings, pesto and olive oil and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours. Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and crusty bread for a light meal.

To make this stew heartier, add a can of drained, rinsed great northern beans before serving.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes plus cooking time
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