Thursday, July 12, 2012

Two Approaches to Hot Weather Cooking: Beat It, or Join It

My family enjoyed two very different meals this week, as the temperature and humidex hovered in the 30s (or 90s, if you do Fahrenheit). As I've already mentioned, my gas range throws a lot of heat, and my newly opened-up great room, while great for entertaining, does little to contain the heat in the kitchen.

I was looking for ways to keep the house cool, while also using what I have in the fridge and freezer. Here are two very different kinds of hot weather meals, both delicious:

Beat the Heat: Cool, Light Meals

I have used Bobby Flay's Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad recipe for years. I have used it for catering as well as at home, and I make it at least once every summer. It makes a huge amount, though—which is okay, since you'll enjoy eating it in the days to come. I just made a big old bowl of this (I had already made the dressing when I decided to use half the noodles required. I upped the veggie content too, adding an extra carrot and some bean sprouts. Even with half the noodles it's quite a large quantity, and the amount of dressing was not overpowering).

When the heat is getting to you and you don't feel like cooking or eating, this is a good option. Fresh, light, nutritious, tangy, salty, and crunchy. And the kids always love noodles.

Join the Heat: Sweat!

I found a beef shoulder roast in my freezer, and there is more beef on the way this weekend, so it needs to be used. What the heck do you do with a cut of meat that is best braised when the heat is sweltering? I found an amazingly simple recipe for slow cooker Pot Roast with BBQ Beans and decided to give it a try. The slow cooker is a perfect hot weather cooking implement, giving off virtually no heat. I don't always love slow cooker recipes, because they can turn out a little mushy and bland. This one was neither.

When I had decided on BBQ beef and beans, I realized the other part of that meal had to be cornbread. How does one make cornbread without turning on the oven? In a Pampered Chef stoneware baker, on indirect heat on the grill. [Disclaimer: I have since learned that Pampered Chef's warranty for stoneware is null and void if it is used on the grill or BBQ. If it breaks in the process, you may be left high and dry. The trick, however, is indirect heat. My baker is still perfectly sound, and I have broken stoneware bakers in my oven by using them incorrectly. I am therefore well-versed in what they can stand and what they can't, and indirect heat on the BBQ seems just fine]. I used King Arthur Flour's whole grain cornbread recipe, blogged about here by Slow Like Honey.

I finished off the menu with a simple salad gathered from my garden, mostly cress and radish leaves, but some mesclun, too. I had to replant the mesclun after covering the garden with screen to keep the birds off. It's doing better now, but the lettuce supply is pretty low.

The result? A hearty, delicious, protein-filled meal that almost immediately got me sweating. But there's nothing wrong with a little sweat, and I ate heartily, thinking, this is the kind of food that they eat regularly, in places where it's this hot out—and hotter—for months on end. They must know what they're doing!

Maybe here in the north, we have the best of both worlds. We can enjoy those hot weather foods, like steamy soups, curries and heavy braised meats, all year round. They are amazingly comforting in the dead of winter, because they warm your belly and make you feel nourished and safe tucked indoors out of the cold. But cultures steeped in hot temperatures, like India, Vietnam, the Deep South, evolved those recipes to help survive the heat. Sweating is good, and with a good dose of chile heat in the hot sun, you'll sweat like you didn't know you could.

You could beat the heat, or join it. I recommend doing a little of both.

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