Don’t stop cooking when the temperature rises. Even when it’s hot outside, your body requires a steady supply of super nutritious food. You can’t subsist entirely on salads and smoothies and expect to feel satisfied, nor can you subsist on a steady diet of restaurant food and expect to get or stay healthy. Most restaurants use poor quality ingredients to cut costs (refined, polyunsaturated, inflammation-promoting oils, hydrogenated fats, pre-made, sugar-rich sauces and salad dressings, and other highly processed ingredients). Very few restaurants use organic, locally grown, or pasture-raised eggs and meat, wild caught fish, and organically grown vegetables and fruits. Those that do cost considerably more than most people are willing to pay on a daily basis.
The solution? If you’re committed to eating healthy foods, saving energy, and making your food dollars go farther, you’ll need to have a plan for cooking efficiently in hot weather. Consider my motto, “Shop ahead, chop ahead, and cook ahead, so you always have food on hand when hunger strikes.” The following 10 tips will help you do this and beat the heat. For more great ideas for meal and menu planning and preparation, see chapters 11 and 12 of my book, The Garden of Eating: A Produce Dominated Diet & Cookbook.
1. Do it ahead
Do all or most of your cooking early in the day. You won’t have to turn on the oven during the hottest part of the day and you’ll have healthy, convenient food to spare and to share. (For more specifics, refer to The Garden of Eating: A Produce Dominated Diet & Cookbook.)
2. Turn the parcel into parts or cook smaller pieces of your favorite foods.
Cut a whole chicken into fryer parts so it cooks more quickly. Cut a turkey breast into cubes or strips, perfect for stir-frying, sautéing, or making shish kabobs. Do the same for a pork roast, or cut it into thin slices to sauté, sear, or grill. Transform chuck roast into chuck steaks or a top sirloin roast into sirloin steaks, then marinate for the grill.
3. Convection is the cure
A convection-type toaster oven heats up in minutes and cooks foods 30 percent faster than a conventional oven. It generates less heat, so it won’t overheat your kitchen in hot weather like a full-size oven. It’s a fantastic appliance that sits out on my counter at all times.
I use my Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven throughout the year and more often than my full size oven in hot weather. I use it to bake or roast sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, turkey breast, cut-up fryer parts, fish fillets and steaks, small beef roasts, to broil steaks and lamb chops, to toast sea vegetables and roast nuts, and to reheat leftovers (no microwave needed!).
On a hot day, I might cook two, three, or four dishes sequentially (chicken fryer parts, then a few sweet potatoes, then nuts or roasted onions, then bell peppers for salads). I cook with two to three days in mind, so I have an overlap of fresh foods and leftovers to work into multiple meals each day.
4. Make more stove top and grill top protein dishes
You’ll find plenty of recipes that fit this requirement in the Index of my book, The Garden of Eating. Examples include the following:
Quick Smoky Simmered Salmon with Chipotle
Macadamia Orange Roughy in an Orange & White Wine Reduction Sauce
Sautéed Fish Fillets
Herbed Meat Balls
Tuscan Chicken Casserole
Poached Chicken Parts in White Wine with Herbs
Quick Smoky Turkey
Honey Mustard Chicken
Sautéed Chicken Breast Fillets
Stir-Fried Beef with Broccoli
Stir-Fried Veggies with Last Night’s Meat
Pan Grilled Chicken Breasts with Mango-Ginger Chutney
5. Grill it
Grill more meats, plain or seasoned––indoors in a grill pan or electric grill, or outdoors––and remember to make everything with two or three meals in mind. Hot or cold, grilled fish, poultry, and meat taste delicious, they’re nutritious, and they’re convenient.
Don’t forget to grill extra vegetables to serve cold the next day or two. Add them to omelets, green salads, roll ups (if you eat tortillas; there are some grain-free recipes for these online). You can also serve grilled veggies over burgers or chop or puree them to make sauces or impromptu soups.
6. Parboil your veggies
When the temperature climbs, prepare more parboiled vegetables and fewer roasted and baked vegetables. Parboiled veggies taste great cold or close to room temperature––dressed or undressed––as side dishes, added to green salads or omelets, or as dippers (in place of chips). They’re fantastic tossed with homemade dairy-free pesto, lemonette, vinaigrette, or some other salad dressing. Or, add parboiled vegetables to stir fried meat or shrimp during the last few minutes of cooking.
8. Chill out
If you don’t want piping hot meals, make chilled raw vegetable soups, such as Gazpacho, or serve cooked soups, such as Creamy Carrot Soup (from The Garden of Eating), close to room temperature. Enjoy more homemade buffet-, salad-, and picnic-style meals. Serve cooked dishes cold or close to room temperature.
You can serve cold baked potatoes, sliced and fanned over a salad or as a side, drizzled with homemade pesto or topped with flavorful homemade garlic or herb-infused mayonnaise. Enjoy more fruit salads, Fresh Fruit Gels (a healthier alternative to Jell-O), raw vegetable salads, parboiled vegetable medleys, and main dish salads that include a mix of meat and raw or raw and cooked vegetables.
9. Steam it
Not just for vegetables, steaming works for cooking fish in a heat-proof dish, in a parchment and foil wrap, or directly on a metal steamer tray. It also works for some puddings, placed in heat-proof custard cups covered with foil. You can also steam heat some leftovers in a heat-proof bowl on a rack. Countless foods can be steamed.
10. Center more meals on salad
Light lettuce salads will feel more substantial when you add roasted, grilled, steamed, parboiled, or marinated vegetables, freshly cooked or leftover fish, poultry, or meat, or hardboiled eggs, sliced sun dried tomatoes or olives, and a friendly fat source, such as avocado, toasted nuts, seeds, olive, avocado, or flax oil, diluted nut butter, or homemade pesto or pistou. Fresh or dried fruits also taste great in green salads. Refer to the salad chapter for more ideas.