Cooking with Kay: Great meals with little effort

By Kay Harrod Published:

Hot enough for ya?

The heat has dominated the weather these past two weeks and played as much havoc with outdoor plans as do snow and rain. Give me the latter any day; I’m not one who enjoys any temperature above 80 degrees. In fact, I just told a friend that while many people head to Florida to avoid the winter’s cold, I believe next year I may summer somewhere like Alaska.

Folks in person, on the phone, through email and on Facebook are expressing the effects of the heat. It is manifesting itself in our desire to eat and definitely in cooking. The idea of turning on an oven or burners on the stove to prepare a big meal is not appealing to many. More are turning to fast food and opting to dine out or bringing prepared food home.

I’ve been rather creative lately creating tasty lunches and dinners that require little or no cooking. Most are relatively healthy, but have lots of flavor.

For those of us fortunate enough to live in air conditioned homes, we should feel blessed. Think of those who have literally weathered this heat wave without this luxury. And think of those farmers who are not only trying to grow and save crops, but are also spending their days outside in the heat to bring fresh food to Farmers Market.

Lee Ann Jones of Happy Jack Farms says the heat got to her one day on the farm and that she probably experienced dehydration that sent her from the field into the house to re-hydrate. But she was selling on Saturday; just a bit more cautious about what the extreme heat can cause.

Susan Hutcherson of Hutcherson’s Family Farm was busy selling produce from atop their familiar stand. Susan told me she doesn’t expect the heat to affect their crops as it may others because they have an irrigation system that draws from a nearby water source.

She offered an easy recipe to prepare a delicious potato dish that doesn’t require using the stove.

Microwave

Cheesy Potatoes

Cut up several potatoes and a large onion into a glass bowl or small casserole. Add a half stick of butter, salt and pepper. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and cook until the vegetables are tender. I didn’t ask how long, but I think 5-7 minutes may be enough. Check after that much time and see if the veggies are tender. If not, put them back for some more time.

Once the potatoes and onions are tender, sprinkle a lot of cheese over them and return to the microwave, uncovered, for a minute or two, until the cheese is melted. Remove from microwave, and stir the dish.

Susan says her family really enjoys this dish and it is definitely one that will not heat up the kitchen.

The fact is the microwave could be the forgotten hero in fighting the heat in the kitchen. Potatoes can be baked or even prepared for potato salad. Vegetables of all sorts can be steamed and even corn on the cob can be served straight from the microwave to the table.

Don’t forget refreshing cold salads. Make them “abundant,” especially if you are creating an evening meal. Prepare your ingredients for salads and put them in plastic containers or wrapped in the fridge and they’ll be ready to go when you are ready to make them. For protein, think shrimp, leftover chicken or even steak.

As I looked around the Farmers Market these last two weekends, I found enough fresh ingredients to make all kinds of refreshing salads, from lettuces and herbs to heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and even beautiful carrots. Get there early, the carrots go quickly.

There are also fresh fruits such as apples, plums and watermelon. What is better than a crisp apple coupled with walnuts and bleu cheese with homemade vinaigrette?

Sharon Bale’s watermelon salad is so refreshing and tasty, with a lively vinaigrette dressing that you pour on and toss when you are ready to serve. I’ve provided the recipe before, but I think now is a great time to run it again, especially since watermelon is abundant and the rising temperatures encourage cooler dishes.

Watermelon Salad

This will serve a lot so you may want to divide it.

10 cups fork-size watermelon pieces. (Seedless watermelon makes this an easy preparation, but I have a friend who thinks watermelons with seeds are sweeter.)

One red onion thinly sliced – these are also available now at the FM.

One cup Feta cheese

Mix all this in a large bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Vinaigrette for

Watermelon Salad

Make ahead and leave out until ready to serve salad.

1/3 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons kosher salt

One teaspoon Tabasco

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1-2 teaspoons sugar

(Optional - I added this; when I tasted dressing, it seemed too tangy to be compatible with salad. Just softens taste.)

Whisk all together and set aside.

There are also a couple of salads we may not think about that can be made to beat the heat.

Fresh cole slaw, whether you use mayonnaise or oil

and vinegar based dressings, is delicious this time of year. Everything needed for ingredients is available now at the Farmers Market – cabbage, onion, bell pepper and yes, those carrots, if you get there early.

One salad I have already made to have for my lunch is one my mother used to make in the summer when fresh vegetables became available. Some of you may remember when Dean’s summer garden cottage cheese was sold in the grocery dairy case.

After buying a couple of cartons, mom decided she could make one that would even be better. Everything she used came from the garden.

Summer Garden

Cottage Cheese

One 16-24 ounce carton of cottage cheese

One small cucumber, peeled and finely diced

Two green onions, white and green ends, small chop

One ripe tomato, seeded and finely chopped

One-half of a bell pepper, finely diced

One carrot, finely diced

¼ teaspoon seasoned salt or kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

One heaping tablespoon Hellman’s mayonnaise. (This may be omitted, but it does give the salad some zing and make it more luscious.)

Put all in a mixing bowl. Stir and transfer to container to store in refrigerator until ready to eat. Serve over sliced tomatoes.

And let’s not forget that grill sitting in the sun. Again, I have not been in the mood to tend to a grill, so I decided recently to let the grill replace my oven and do the work. I do not have a fancy grill, just one of those square ones with a somewhat dome-size attached top that uses charcoal.

I wanted to have baked chicken to serve Shirley Williamson and Larry Davis when they came for dinner over the July fourth holiday. But heating up my kitchen, even for company, was not something I wanted to do.

I’ve smoked chickens on the grill before and know they come out beautifully done on the grill, as long as I have patience and build the fire correctly. I wanted to do two – one to serve and one to take to a friend. Also, I planned to turn the leftovers into chicken salad.

Smoking Chicken

(on a regular

ole grill)

One whole chicken, four to five pounds

Wash the chicken in cold water and then submerge into cold water with about ¼ cup kosher salt and let brine for at least two hours. This will ensure the meat is moist.

Into a charcoal grill, place about four pounds of charcoal – this is a guess.

Sprinkle the charcoal with lighter fluid and let stand for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, soak about 3 cups of hickory chips in a pan of water. To this also submerge hands full of your fresh herbs – rosemary, thyme, and sage are good aromatics.

Light the grill and let it heat until the coals begin to turn white. If this happens quicker than you want or you get busy and forget, just add some more charcoal.

Drain, rinse and transfer chicken to a heavy duty aluminum foil baking pan with sides that are at least two inches high.

Cover wings with aluminum foil so they will not burn. (Wings are my favorite.)

The following is up to you and depends on the flavors you enjoy on chicken.

In a small bowl, I zest a lemon and then juice the lemon and to that add a cup of white wine and pour this over the chicken.

I take rosemary, thyme and sage and sprinkle over the chicken and then sprinkle some salt and freshly ground black pepper on the chicken.

Before you place your rack on its middle position, take the hickory chips and go around the edges of the charcoal.

When you place your aluminum pan with the chicken in it on the grill, take the fresh herbs you have soaked and place them around the pan.

Put the lid down and adjust its air holes until you see a light smoke.

Let the chickens cook for at least three hours. Occasionally, maybe every hour, you may need to raise the top to give the coals more air to generate the heat.

If you are concerned whether the chicken is done, it should have a golden brown crust and the juices should be running clear and sizzling in the pan. Of course you can always use a meat thermometer.

After the chicken is cooked, remove from grill and bring it into the kitchen to stand for at least 15 minutes.

Place on tray or cutting board and slice as you like it.

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