Summer Cooking

It’s officially July. The evidence abounds, although most of me is in disbelief (where did June go, anyway?!): flower gardens are blossoming, schools are no longer in session, the temperature is warm, schedules are erratic, and nobody feels like cooking!

I don’t know about you, but there are few things I dislike more than having my oven and gas burners on in the summer between the hours of 3-7pm, the hottest time of the day. Even when I force myself to the task, I must admit that it’s rather disheartening to toil over a hot stove, sweat beading on my forehead, only to have the family push the food around their plates with their forks because they’re just too hot to eat.

So when this question came in last week, I could definitely relate!

    I was wondering if you all could give some suggestions for… summer menus. This is my first summer back in the North and [with] no air conditioning in the house which makes for a, not very hungry for hot food, family. I would love any help I could get!

One thing that’s great to do in the summer when cooking in a hot kitchen is unpleasant is to take advantage of the all the fresh produce that abounds this time of year. When else can you gorge yourself on freshly picked strawberries because they only cost $1.20/quart? And when else is it affordable to hand your kids a bunch of organically grown carrots that you bought at a local farmer’s market to snack on? The great thing about fresh produce is that even when it feels to warm to eat a full meal, fruit and veggies are still appealing.

Of course BBQ’ing is fun and most everyone likes food cooked on the grill, but if your family is like ours and you don’t usually eat meat every night of the week, hamburgers or chicken on the grill only works every so often. One great solution is to grill marinated veggies that can be eaten plain, as sandwich filling, or over pasta and rice instead.

A standby meal around our house this time of year (it’s quick and easy on hot, busy summer days) is saute’ed garlic and veggies (whatever’s cheap that week: bell peppers, eggplant, summer squash, zucchini, etc.) in oil. Top pasta or rice with the veggies and then generously sprinkle parmesan cheese over it all. So, so good.

I also love to make salad the main dish in the summertime. Lots of greens, cheese (any kind on hand will do!), nuts, and some tuna or chicken topped with a good salad dressing needs nothing more than a loaf of tasty bread to satisfy. A bowl of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers marinated in oil and vinegar is absolutely delicious. And, of course, fruit salads are loved by everyone.

Find recipes that require less cooking time so that you don’t heat up your kitchen (and house) too much. I whip up this simple egg casserole and serve it for dinner frequently in the summer because it only takes 25 minutes to bake in the oven. Homemade pizza is another good idea, especially when I remember to get the dough started before it gets really hot or– even simpler– when I use english muffins instead of standard pizza crust. Tacos (beef, chicken, or bean) are also a great option.

What are some of your favorite summer menu items? Please share!


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  1. Hurray for summer meals!

    Lately, I have taken to serving a cold brown rice salad with chopped raw veggies and lots of fresh herbs from the garden. I throw in some shredded parmesan and toss it with a vinagrette dressing.

    Posted by nancy | July 1, 2008, 4:54 pm
  2. I think my new summer favorite is chicken salad. The only heat involved is boiling the chicken for an hour or so — and it can be done in the morning, before the temps rise.

    I like mine half mayo, half sour cream; lemon juice; a touch of brown sugar; salt and pepper; basil (dried or fresh); chopped celery; craisins. Let it sit in the fridge for a few hours in order for the flavors to meld. It’s yummy served on top of greens, or as a sandwich. Meaty, flavorful, and refreshing.

    I also like pasta salad with a twist — like throwing in asparagus with the pasta at the last minute of cooking, and serving it with garlic, oil, and parmesan cheese on baby spinach.

    But when all else fails, and it’s REALLY hot, watermelon always works. :)

    Posted by Danica | July 1, 2008, 7:06 pm
  3. I love summer meals. We grill a LOT in the summer. We grill chicken, burgers, hot dogs, zuccini, kabobs etc. If I can think of a way to get the mess and heat out of the kitchen, we do it!

    Another favorite is always salad like you mentioned. I do tossed green salad, pasta salad, potatoe salad etc. I try to make these salads the main dish when possible.

    Recently we have been having “breakfast” at dinner about once a week. I will make pancakes and bacon or waffles or french toast. This has been going over VERY well with my little ones. Ryan says that he is enjoying it too since we rarely have a traditional breakfast in the morning.

    Another way to cut down on the heat is to have sandwiches like Danica mentioned. Chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad or just cheese sandwiches seem to make my family happy!

    Posted by Abby Daniels | July 2, 2008, 9:18 am
  4. Crock pots are a heat saver in the summer too. Beans, rice, meats, chicken, even some desserts can be made in the crockpot.

    And I try to bake as early as possible on warm days, even if it means mixing batters and dough while my eyes aren’t all the way open. To have the oven off and done by 9 AM is worth it.

    Posted by Jackie C | July 2, 2008, 4:32 pm
  5. Aw, someone beat me to the crockpot idea.

    Potato salad with peas & shredded carrots as a main dish.

    Black Bean & Corn Ranch Salad:
    1 can black beans (or equivalent cooked)
    1 can/frozen bag corn
    1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
    1/2 cup chopped red onion
    2 Tbsp chopped parsley
    1/2 c. Ranch dressing
    Combine ingredients and chill. Quick, simple, and yummy! I like to serve it with tortilla chips on the side.

    Posted by Wendy | July 2, 2008, 4:45 pm
  6. Re: Danica-
    Molly’s favorite chicken salad has shredded or cubed chicken, (half mayo, half sour cream- like yours), toasted walnuts, diced apples, raisins, shredded extra-sharp cheddar, and lots of minced celery! Often I’ll pick up a bag of blue corn tortilla chips so the kids can scoop the salad up on those and think they are having such a treat!
    Like Brietta, I like making salads the main dish in summer. Orzo, pasta, various lettuces, and potatoes all make great salads-
    and don’t forget classics like caesar and German potato!
    Remember to always grab a paper copy of the menu from your favorite deli or cafe as they often have great summer soup/salad/sandwich ideas that come in handy on those hot summer days when your brain needs a little jumpstart!
    Love you guys!

    Posted by LisaC. | July 5, 2008, 8:48 am
  7. How could I forget? Hummus with torn pita bread and veggie sticks for dipping. Easy and yummy! We also like tabbouli and baba ganouj but those take a little more work to make.

    Posted by Wendy | July 9, 2008, 4:39 pm