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KEEPIN YOUR COOL CAN'T STAND THE HEAT? DON'T TURN ON THE STOVE. IT'S EASY TO EAT WELL WITHOUT TURNING THE KITCHEN INTO A SAUNA.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

When the mercury climbs past 100 degrees, the last thing you want to do is fire up the stove and slave in a hot kitchen.

So keep cool and beat the heat with great-tasting no-cook summer meals that you can whip up in minutes. It's easy if you stock your fridge, pantry and freezer with an array of precooked and prepared food items from supermarkets, delis, ethnic markets and the like.

``High-quality prepared ingredients can be a godsend because some invisible helper has done all of the chopping, slicing, peeling and other prepping for you. It's like having a sous-chef,'' pointed out an article in Food & Wine magazine earlier this year.

We're talking about convenience, step-saving, good-quality ingredients like grilled or rotisserie chicken (several seasoned styles now available in some markets), cooked turkey breast, shrimp or salmon chunks (or salmon in foil packets), sliced salami, packaged triple-washed lettuces, spinach or shredded cabbage, cooked brown or wild rices, frozen risotto, canned tuna, cutup or sliced seasonal fresh fruits or vegetables, canned artichoke hearts or hearts of palm, jarred roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella and shredded cheeses, assorted olives, cooked bacon, frozen edamame beans, canned beans, assorted salad dressings, salsas and spreads, tortillas and more.

``Speed-scratch cooking, as it's known, which consists of buying some prepared or cooked items and tossing them together at home (like scratch cooking),'' notes Shelley Sikora, co-author of the recently released ``Tomatoes & Mozzarella,'' (Harvard Common Press; $19.95), ``is not new, but it is fast and fresh -- and less expensive than buying fast food. Basically. I just mix whatever I have in the refrigerator.''

Don't feel guilty. In most cases, you won't be compromising taste, but you will save time and energy with the shortcut options.

With a little imagination, you'll be amazed at the speedy dishes possible. There are no hard-and-fast rules -- mix and match to suit personal tastes and time schedules.

We've designed a collection of rapid summer offerings to get you started -- salads, sandwiches, wraps, cold soup and a couple of no-bake desserts. We've made the cook-top and grill off limits and used the microwave oven in a few instances.

Other fast-fix, effortless creations you might give a whirl -- a rice salad with brown or wild rice, Italian vinaigrette, Dijon mustard, dried cherries or apricots, raisins, chopped green onions and red pepper, diced chicken and sliced almonds. An antipasto salad is another quick, delicious choice, as is a tuna or shrimp salad in a pineapple half. Or try a chopped, Cobb or Greek salad. You can also spread tortillas with cream cheese, then roll up with meat or poultry slices and spinach or lettuce leaves for a cool meal. Even nachos in the microwave with shredded cheese (try reduced-fat), diced chiles, chunky salsa and diced cooked chicken breast is a possibility. A Mediterranean platter -- with assorted appetizers like purchased hummus, stuffed grape leaves, chunks of feta, assorted olives, tomatoes, tzatziki and hunks of sourdough bread -- can also make a meal.

Sometimes it's fun to just eat dips, spreads and vegetables with assorted artisan rolls or baguette slices with fresh fruit slices for dessert.

Sikora, a Scottsdale resident and co-owner with her husband of Bobby Q, Great Steaks and Real BBQ in Phoenix, is into heirloom tomatoes. She enjoys using an array of varieties and colors, from purple and green to all shades of orange and red. ``Each one has a bit different flavor,'' she notes, adding that she slices or chops them to use in summer entrees like sandwiches; caprese, confetti or Southwestern salads; or cold gazpacho.

Some of her other heat-buster dinner faves include a salad made with prewashed spinach, chopped chicken breast, pecans or almonds and a dressing of apricot preserves mixed with a bit of olive oil and vinegar. Another uses mixed greens combined with grilled corn and chicken strips, sesame seeds, cashews and Wishbone Italian dressing. Her latest creation uses blood orange olive oil in combination with cider vinegar, romaine lettuce, apricot-glazed roasted chicken from the grocery store, orange slices and nuts.

She also tosses chunks of smoked salmon with feta cheese, black olives, romaine, sunflower seeds, cherry tomatoes and a vinaigrette dressing.

Alison Mochizuki, a spokeswoman for Trader Joe's, suggests a roasted corn and black bean salad made by combining roasted frozen, thawed corn, canned black beans, diced red pepper and tomatoes along with a store-bought cilantro or vinaigrette dressing. Toss in some cooked chicken or shrimp, if desired. You can also turn out a steak salad in no time with ready-to-eat seasoned tri tip from the market.

When it comes to dessert, ``You can make some of the best cookies and bars around without ever turning on the oven,'' notes Camilla V. Saulsbury in her new book, ``No-Bake Cookies'' (Cumberland House; $16.95). No-bake cookies take just minutes and are a boon for busy home cooks with a penchant for sweets, especially during the warmer months.

Whatever you create, make it as colorful and appealing as it is delicious-tasting during these lazy days of summer. You'll beat the heat and get out of the kitchen with minimal muss and fuss.

Natalie Haughton, (818) 713-3692

natalie.haughton@dailynews.com

SOUTHWESTERN LAYERED BLACK BEAN SALAD WITH SMOKED MOZZARELLA

1 ancho chile

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium white OR red onion, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons finely minced cilantro

4 ounces cooked crumbled bacon (buy it cooked)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups frozen corn kernels, defrosted

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1 pound plum tomatoes, halved

4 cups shredded smoked mozzarella cheese (about 1 pound)

2 tablespoons tomato-chili OR chili oil plus more for serving

2 additional limes, cut into small wedges for garnish

Soak ancho chile in very warm water until softened, about 25 minutes. Drain and cut into 1/8-inch slivers. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine black beans, cumin, garlic, white onion, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons cilantro, bacon and salt and pepper to taste, mixing well.

Place corn in a small bowl and stir in remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice and remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro. Season with salt and pepper and mix.

Place 1 cup bean mixture in bottom of a clear glass serving bowl. Sprinkle 1/4 cup green onions over beans. Top with 1/2 of red pepper, followed by 1 cup corn and 1/2 of tomatoes. Top this with 1/2 of mozzarella. Repeat layering, using remaining ingredients. Drizzle oil over top. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving, or up to 1 day. Serve at room temperature accompanied by the lime wedges and additional oil. Serve over mixed greens, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

Adapted from ``Tomatoes & Mozzarella,'' by Hallie Harron and Shelley Sikora

TRICOLORED GAZPACHO

2 EACH ripe red, orange and yellow tomatoes (about 2 pounds total), cored and cut into sixths

1 large garlic clove

1 medium red onion, cut into eighths

2 small purple OR green bell peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 English cucumber, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, plus a handful for garnish

Sea salt to taste

Sherry vinegar to taste

Pinch cayenne pepper

1/2 cup quartered cherry tomatoes

3/4 cup diced fresh mozzarella cheese (about 3 ounces)

2 (1/2-inch-thick) French bread slices, cut in 1/4-inch cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

Place tomatoes, garlic, onion, all but 1/2 cup peppers, all but 1/2 cup cucumber and mint in a blender and puree into a slightly chunky texture. (This most likely must be done in batches.) Remove soup to a large serving bowl. Taste and season with salt, vinegar and cayenne pepper as desired. Cover soup and refrigerate until well chilled. Taste again and re-season, if necessary.

Mince remaining 1/2 cup chopped peppers and 1/2 cup cucumber and place side by side on a serving platter. Place cherry tomatoes and cheese side by side on the platter. In a small bowl, heat bread cubes in the oil in microwave oven. Drain and place on the platter. Scatter entire platter with a few additional mint leaves. Serve gazpacho in individual bowls, passing serving platter of garnishes at the table.

Makes 4 servings

From ``Tomatoes & Mozzarella,'' by Hallie Harron and Shelley Sikora.

ANTIPASTO PLATTER

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 (9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, cooked in microwave oven and drained

12 thin slices prosciutto (about 1/4 pound)

1/2 cantaloupe, peeled and cut into 12 short wedge

6 ounces Italian bread, cut into 12 slices and toasted, if desired

2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

2 plum tomatoes, sliced

10 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

12 Kalamata olives

In medium bowl, combine vinegar, oil, garlic and pepper. Add artichoke hearts while still warm; toss to coat. Set aside to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

Wrap prosciutto slices around cantaloupe wedges; secure with toothpicks.

Drain artichoke hearts, reserving dressing; place at one end of a large platter. Arrange prosciutto-wrapped melon at other end, and the bread slices and mozzarella, fennel and tomatoes in between. Sprinkle reserved dressing and basil over cheese, fennel and tomatoes. Arrange olives in a bowl in center and serve at once.

Makes 12 appetizer servings (118 calories; 2 Weight Watchers points) or 6 lunch servings

From ``Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook,'' by Weight Watchers International Inc.

SALTY-SWEET CHOCOLATE CRISPY CHEWS

2 cups semisweet, milk OR white chocolate chips OR butterscotch baking chips

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows

1 cup lightly salted mixed nuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup crisp rice cereal

Line cookie sheets with wax paper. In a microwave-safe medium mixing bowl, melt chips on high power 2 minutes, stirring after every 30 seconds. Stir in peanut butter and vanilla until blended. Stir in marshmallows, nuts and cereal.

Working quickly, drop by small spoonfuls onto prepared wax-paper-lined sheets. Store in a covered container in a cool place.

Makes about 24 cookies

From ``No-Bake Cookies,'' by Camilla V. Saulsbury.

CAMPANILE-STYLE CHICKEN SALAD OLIVE BREAD SANDWICHES

4 cups diced OR shredded cooked chicken breast

4 cups shredded Napa cabbage

3 cups shredded red cabbage

1/2 cup chopped red OR green onions

1 can (8.75 ounces drained weight) Kalamata olives, drained, cut from pits and chopped (OR buy pitted Kalamatas, drain and chop)

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, roasted 15 to 20 seconds in microwave oven and pressed

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 to 16 olive bread slices OR other hearty country bread

In a large bowl, mix chicken, Napa cabbage, red cabbage, red onions and olives.

For dressing, in a small bowl or cup, whisk vinegar, olive oil, garlic, mustard and salt until smooth and blended. Add dressing to chicken mixture and toss until blended.

Spread 6 to 8 bread slices with plenty of chicken salad. Top with remaining bread slices. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 sandwiches

(about 10 cups chicken salad mixture)

CALIFORNIA-STYLE CHEF'S SALAD

DRESSING:

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon fresh OR 1/2 teaspoon dried chives

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons nonfat sour cream OR yogurt

2 tablespoons olive oil

SALAD:

6 cups mixed salad greens

4 slices Canadian bacon, julienned

3 ounces cooked skinless chicken breast, sliced

8 bottled OR canned, drained artichoke hearts, halved

6 sun-dried tomato halves, julienned

3 ounces EACH pepper Jack and Cheddar cheeses, julienned

2 hard-cooked eggs, quartered

Place all Dressing ingredients in bowl of a food processor and pulse 45 seconds. The dressing will be slightly chunky, so scrape the bowl and stir dressing together before storing in the refrigerator. Stir again before using.

For Salad, combine greens and dressing, reserving some for top, and toss. Arrange remaining ingredients atop greens on 2 dinner plates. Drizzle with remaining dressing.

Makes 2 main-course servings

CAPTION(S):

drawing, 4 photos

Drawing:

(cover -- color) Stay cool

With no-cook summer meals

Jorge Irribarren/Staff Artist

Photo:

(1 -- 3 -- color) SOUTHWESTERN LAYERED BLACK BEAN SALAD WITH SMOKED MOZZARELLA, LEFT; ANTIPASTO PLATTER, ABOVE; CALIFORNIA-STYLE CHEF'S SALAD, RIGHT.

Photo by Richard Eskite from "Tomatoes & Mozzarella."/The Harvard Common Press

Photo by Rita Maas from "Weight Watcher New Complete Cookbook

(4 -- color) no caption (TRICOLORED GAZPACHO)
COPYRIGHT 2006 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Jul 25, 2006
Words:2100
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