If the hot days of summer are keeping you out of the kitchen, then beat the heat with these cooler takes on quick and healthy meal ideas:
Grilling options. When summer’s heat is too much for outdoor grilling, consider using your electric indoor grill. Meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetables can be cooked quite easily on this kitchen appliance which lets fats drip away from foods for healthier cooking.
Summer salads. The convenience of bagged greens and seasonal vegetables make for quick main-dish salad options. Skip the “white” iceberg lettuce and head for the really green stuff, such as baby spinach, romaine or the garden mix varieties. Try bagged greens with summer tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, shredded cheese, and grilled protein options, such as chicken, salmon, beef or pork. Add fresh blueberries, melon, pineapple to mixed greens and vegetables for a sweet twist on your next salad. Combine a bagged medley of broccoli and cauliflower with artichoke hearts, whole-wheat pasta and toss with low-fat Italian dressing – refrigerate several hours to chill and flavors to blend. Toss canned beans such as black beans, black-eyed peas, or white (cannelini) beans with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and serve over mixed greens. Add purple onion, tomato, corn and other vegetables for color and variety to salads.
Microwave magic. Most people only use their microwave to reheat leftovers, thaw foods, or to cook frozen dinners. Microwave cooking helps to save time and energy. It also helps to retain color, flavor, and texture of foods. Many foods can be prepared using the microwave, which can reduce cooking time and keep the kitchen a little cooler. Cook diced potatoes in the microwave for potato salad or mashed potatoes. Fresh corn-on-the-cob (about 3 to 6 minutes for two ears) and other vegetables can easily be prepared in the microwave.
Slow-cooker success. What better way to have a no-fuss meal prepared without the heat? Slow-cookers or crockpots are very easy to use and there are a variety of foods you can prepare. When selecting slow-cookers, be sure to choose one of a suitable size for your family’s needs. Cook your main course in the slow-cooker and add a simple side salad and fresh bread to complete your dinner meal. Soups, stews, lasagna, meats, and even cakes can be prepared in a slow-cooker.
Toaster-oven tidbits. Toaster ovens can be very convenient in the kitchen, especially when cooking small amounts of food. This is a great way to quickly make your own oven-toasted sandwiches without turning on the real oven. Prepare your casserole or baked item in the pan that comes with your toaster-oven to be certain it will fit. Most grocery stores now carry disposable aluminum pans that fit well in toaster-ovens. Here are a few other tips to help save energy and keep your kitchen cool:
- Boil only as much water as you need and keep the lid on to speed the heating process.
- Do not spend too long pre-heating the oven – 10 minutes is usually enough.
- Cook several dishes at one time when using the oven; foods requiring the highest temperature first.
- Defrost frozen foods before cooking them.
- Close your kitchen shades on hot days.
- Use ceiling, window, and range fans to circulate air.
- If you use the oven, keep the door closed and use the oven light to check progress.
- Check your oven door seal for heat leakage and replace it if necessary.
- Keep your oven clean for maximum cooking efficiency.
With a little know-how and a few fresh ideas for the summer, you can serve meals that are sure to please the family without heating things up in the kitchen. Learn more about N.C. Cooperative Extension’s summer classes by contacting Linda Minges, Family & Consumer Science Agent at 704.922.2127 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at gaston.ces.ncsu.edu.