With outside temperatures hovering near a hundred degrees, the thought of turning on the oven in late summer sounds just about as comfortable as roasting inside a sealed automobile on the airport tarmac at noon. The oven heats the entire house to the point that I no longer feel up to making dinner. Plus, our air conditioner is already about to stage a mutiny, and I fear over taxation by a too-hot kitchen would be the feather that breaks its exhausted back.
Unfortunately, this has led to many nights of hodge-podge meals that neither inspire nor satisfy. There have been far too many ordered-in dinners and far too few cheap alternatives. Besides that, the kids have begun to rebel against take-out.
Instead of shaking my fist at summer’s unrelenting heat, I’ve finally decided to embrace its limitations as a chance to get creative. Luck is on our side; dinner doesn’t need an oven, or even a stovetop, to be delicious. Here are five easy summertime meals that will keep your kitchen cool and your family happily well-fed.
Place 3 to 4 chicken breasts in a crock pot with 1 jar of salsa and 1 envelope of taco seasoning. Cook on low for about 6 hours. Shred and stir the chicken. Fill taco shells or soft tortillas with chicken and your favorite combination of veggies and cheeses. A buffet of toppings works well for getting the kids excited to decorate their own tacos.
Toast whole-wheat bread and top with deli ham and turkey, microwaved bacon, sliced lettuce, tomato, cheddar and Swiss cheese. To boost this from a simple sandwich to a memorable meal, use three or four slices of bread for each sandwich, making a veritable tower of food. Serve with raw vegetables and dressing.
Chop or tear romaine and iceberg lettuce. Top with hard-boiled eggs, chopped tomatoes, sliced carrots, fresh-cut corn, shredded cheese, leftover shredded chicken, crumbled (microwaved) bacon, and balsamic vinaigrette. Other toppings could include chopped broccoli, avocado, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, sliced cucumbers, or croutons.
Finely chop (or coarsely food-process) 1 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 4-5 tomatoes, 1 zucchini, 1 cucumber, 1 bell pepper, and 2 stalks of celery. Combine in large bowl with 3-4 cups tomato juice, ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup white wine vinegar, 1-2 tablespoons sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for a few hours to chill and allow flavors to blend. Serve cold with chopped avocado and sour cream. If possible, add a loaf of crusty bread from a local bakery; their hot kitchens will appreciate your support.
Chicken Salad Wraps
Chop or shred 4 cooked chicken breasts (could be leftovers or slow-cooked in crock pot). Toss with ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 cup chopped red grapes, 1 stalk chopped celery, ½ cup chopped almonds, and salt to taste. Spoon ½ to ¾ cup chicken mixture onto tortilla or wrap, and roll into individual servings. These have the added benefit of being hand-held – perfect for on-the-go summer evenings.
Once the weather cools down a bit, we can get back to real cooking. But as long as we can eat well without sweating in the kitchen, I plan to take advantage of the benefits: quick, fresh, affordable family meals, all summer long.
What do you do for dinner when the temperatures soar? Do you use the backyard grill? Have ice cream for dinner? Have any favorite recipes to share?
[Originally published in The Joplin Globe.]