Congrats, you’ve almost made it through July! You’ve got this cooking in summer thing down, right? Except there’s still August, arguably the most punishingly hot and steamy month. Even if you can’t imagine it now, there might be nights in the coming weeks when it just feels too hot to cook, and too sweltering to even consider going out to eat. But eat you must.
Whether you will eventually feel like heating anything up or not, here are tips to keep cool in the kitchen.
Be thoughtful about when you cook. In the South, “people are really smart about when they do their work,” whether it’s yard work, farm chores or cooking, says cookbook author, Southern food expert and part-time Georgia resident Virginia Willis. Especially when the oven is in use, cooking early in the morning or later in the evening can cut back on the heat.
If you do choose to heat up the kitchen, get the most out of it. “I do a lot of pre-cooking or cooking in batches and eating more leftovers and repurposed meals,” Willis says. “Try to be smart about maximizing the heat.” So roast one chicken (or start with a store-bought rotisserie bird) and use some or all of it for chicken salad, wraps and more. One of Willis’s strategies is to boil peas to serve hot for dinner one night and then make a cold salad out of them the next day.
Think about oven alternatives. Why heat up a full-size oven when a toaster oven will do? Some models these days can accommodate a whole chicken. Look to your other small or countertop appliances; there’s no need to boil a pot of water to cook ears of corn, Willis says, when the microwave will do just as well, if not better. You can do even more cooking in the microwave than you might realize. Check out these tips and recipes from cookbook author Nancy Baggett.
And while you might think about slow cookers and multicookers (i.e. Instant Pot) as tools for chilly nights, they’re also great for summer meals. One idea from Willis: pulled chicken or pork. Or if you are more opposed to heating up the kitchen as opposed to heat itself, you can, of course, take the party outside to your grill.
Or don’t cook at all. No, I don’t necessarily mean takeout, although that is totally acceptable sometimes, too. But there are plenty of dishes you can put together without actually heating anything up. (Stay tuned this week for a no-cook menu from WaPoFood deputy editor Bonnie S. Benwick.) Salads are an obvious way to go. Jazz them up with a seasonally appropriate relish, salsa or yogurt sauce.
But salads are just the beginning. How about a chilled bowl of blender-made gazpacho? Raw fish in the form of ceviche? And unlike regular pasta, Asian rice noodles don’t typically need to be boiled — just soaked in tap water.
Get the air moving. In her other home in Massachusetts on a 90-plus-degree day, Willis recently cooked dinner for 100 people in her “souped-up” kitchen (six burners, double oven, wall oven — lots of heat-generating appliances, in other words). To keep from sweltering, she positioned an old-fashioned box fan in a window to suck out the hot air. But any size fan capable of creating a breeze will help, even if it’s a small personal model. It also helps to turn on the vent fan for your stove. At the same time, try not to heat up the air more than you have to, so dim the lights or turn them off if you can.
Keep yourself cool. One trick Willis swears by is running her upturned wrists under cool water, the idea being that the blood that runs close to the surface there will be chilled and moved through the rest of your body. Similarly, try laying a cool or damp bandanna around your neck. It’s important to stay hydrated, so you can sweat efficiently. Have that glass or bottle of water handy.
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