Summer meals can be a challenge if it is your job to prepare them. Here are a few ideas to keep you away from the stove on a hot day. The biggest helper for many is the crock pot. Pick a meat from the freezer, not sea food, and toss it in your crock pot with no seasoning or veggies in the morning after breakfast. Exactly what form you want your meal to take can be decided later. Your frozen block of meat will cook slowly all day. As meal time approaches you can decide how to finish the tender, cooked meat. You had not added seasonings, liquid or vegetables in the morning so your ‘next step’ actions are wide open to many cuisines. The easiest finish is to add BBQ sauce and shred the meat with two big forks, this will blend the meat liquids and the sauce into a delightful ‘pulled’ meat dinner. Additions might include a big dinner roll, canned ‘nuked’ baked beans and corn on the cob. Corn is in season all summer, it can be simply cleaned in the sink, set into a pot that will give them space to boil-steam with water about half way up the cob. Add a tight fitting lid and set it to boil. If you want to move things along, set the water on a high flame until it boils, then turn the fire down to low, to keep the boil active and set the timer for twenty minutes. An old vegetable and fruit guy provided some guidance on picking the right fresh corn from the bins. First look at the end, it should be white and moist not moldy and dry, then look at the husk, it should be moist and holds tightly to the corn. The tassel should be silky and dry, not limp and gluey.
Another approach is to go with a Latin theme. Add your favorite salsa or seasoning of your choice. Shred the meat with the seasoning and natural juice. Set the meat on the counter and set out warmed tortillas, lettuce shreds, radish slices, chunky tomato, avocado and other yummy ingredients to finish the help-yourself tacos. Serve them on paper and you have some work reduction goals met. Forks and two pots, the corn pot is a rinse and dry, the crock pot can be rinsed thoroughly and set in the dishwasher. This method can be used any time of the year. The use of frozen food is economical, the slow cooker tenderizes even the cheap cuts of pork and beef. It is faster than fast food in that the meat has been cooking slowly all day, you come home to the welcome scent of a great cook at work.
If you are planning ahead, buy a rotisserie chicken at the market. Let it cool and remove the meat from the bones, chop the meat with your chef knife, cover and refrigerate. From there you can use the ideas above or add the cooked chicken to the top of a crunchy summer salad. Try playing with the wonderful fruits and melons of the season. If you are a fan of blue cheese you can transform a salad with some chunked up blue cheese, be sure to use a wedge here, prepackaged blue cheese looses its tang very quickly. To this add big chunks of apple or pear and layer the salad into serving bowls. Add your favorite blue cheese dressing at the table. The marriage of blue cheese and crisp apple or pear is match made in heaven. Serve with fresh rolls or crackers, an elegant dinner salad with cold chicken, fruits and a crunchy lettuce is sure to impress.
A favorite summer garden dish is fresh tomatoes and chunks of cucumber, lightly peeled. Add thin slices of onion and fresh mozzarella cheese, toss lightly and pour balsamic vinegar salad dressing over the mix. It is not necessary to fill the bowl with the dressing. Cover and refrigerate for up to two hours, turn the mix over very, very gently and return to the fridge. Serve in chilled bowls and forks straight from the freezer.
Reserve the leftover dressing in the bottom of the serving bowl, store in a covered container or a jar and use it as your next salad dressing. The already spicy balsamic has mingled with the juices of your fresh marinade, big yum.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.