3 Tips for Cooking in Summer Heat

Fourth of July fireworks Monday night. 

This morning even the dog didn’t want to go outside. You could feel the temperature climbing at 7:30 a.m. and knew it was going to be a day to hit the beach or stay inside.

I’m not complaining. I’ve lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, too long to whine about summer. I just wish I could can the July days like I do tomatoes in late August to pull off the shelf on a particularly nasty February day and be reminded of what sunshine looks and feels like.

Without much rain and promises of temps hitting the 90s, it’s time to get creative when it comes to turning on the oven. Some people just don’t do it. I’m a baker. With strawberries, cherries, blueberries and peaches ripening throughout the summer, I’m always thinking of cobblers, coffee cakes, pies, grunts and crumbles.

1. Bake at night or early in the morning.

When I want to bake, I typically work late at night or early in the morning. Sometimes I do both.

Last night, I made the batter for zucchini bread minus the leavening ingredients. Early this morning, I added the baking powder and baking soda and popped two loaves into the oven. I was tired, so I forgot to add the chocolate chips last night. So my suggestion for baking at night is to put the ingredients out on the counter and that way you won’t forget. The French call it mise en place.

I was also making corn bread from Melissa Clark at the NY Times. That comes together very quickly, so I mixed up a batch of cornbread when the zucchini bread still had about 30 minutes to go, then added the corn bread loaves to the oven.

corn bread

Everything was done and cooling by 8 a.m. Batch baking is the best.

2. Keep your slow cooker working all summer so you don’t have to.

Many people use the slow cooker only in the winter for soups and stews. I pull it out just as often in the summer to make ribs, pulled pork or chicken, and fresh tomato sauces.

With ribs, I will put a rub on, then cook on low in the slow cooker with about a cup of root beer or cola overnight. I pull them out in the morning and wrap in foil. When it is time for lunch or dinner, I finish on the grill with a brush of barbecue sauce.

Ribs in the fridge.

This summer, I am going to try baking in it as well.

3. Batch grill.

If you are going to fire up the grill, why not cook a few chicken breasts at the same time? We eat a lot of chicken breasts in the summer. When I come home from the market with a family package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about half go into a zip-top baggie with about a half cup of buttermilk, a few pinches of salt and some seasonings. This is when it’s great to use those seasoning mixes. I’ll throw in a tablespoon or more of Northwoods blend from Penzey’s. It has salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, granulated garlic and ground chipotle pepper – making it very versatile. Allow to marinate until you are firing up the grill, then cook. You can then slice and store for topping on salads, in wraps or on top of pasta. Other favorite blends include Forward, Singapore, and Fox Point.

You can do the same with a pork loin.

Throw on a few extra vegetables from your CSA and toast a loaf of ciabatta split in half. Now you can make a lovely sandwich with sliced grilled chicken or pork and vegetables for lunch tomorrow.

Grilled meats will usually hold for three days in the refrigerator.

My favorite – the Big Green Egg.


Stay cool.




Family Rooted in Revolutionary War

This year’s Fourth of July celebration has more meaning for me because I’ll be heading to Philadelphia later this month. I will be attending the Democratic National Convention as a guest, and in my free time I’ll be able to visit some meaningful sites, both historically and personally.

Capt. Samuel Morris – several greats ago on my mother’s side – was second lieutenant of the Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia (later became the First Troop Philadelphia City Calvary) and crossed the Delaware with Gen. George Washington, where he fought in the battle of Trenton in December 1776. He also fought in the battles of Princeton, Brandywine and Germantown.  A Quaker, he was “read out” (kicked out) for his military service, but continued to practice as Free Quakers, a group of about 200 Quakers who felt that the Revolution was too great to ignore (USHistory.org) and founded their own meeting house in Philadelphia.

This piece of American history has been in our family home for decades, but because it has become more significant to me this year because of the DNC being in Philadelphia this year and because I’ve been doing research on my mother’s family as part of the trip.

Capt. Sam, as he was known, apparently was quite the life of the party, having served as governor of the Schuylkill Fishing Company for much of his life (apparently when not fighting the British) and in the family’s brewing business.

This portrait doesn’t exactly show a cheery man, but here he is:

capt sam morris
Capt. Sam Morris (1734-1812). 

The Morris family, Quakers, came to the United States in the late 1600s after hearing about William Penn’s signed charter to settle lands in Pennsylvania. The family’s property eventually was inherited by  my great-grandmother, Marguerite (aka Nanny). Her husband published a book that contains a copy of Penn’s original charter of the land, which became known as Green Hill Farms. The property was sold in the 1950s after she became a widow. Part is now Philadelphia Friends Academy.

So I’ll be celebrating this Independence Day with this history lesson in mind, while also getting ready to uncover and witness more in Philadelphia later this month.

In between the research, I did manage to find a pie recipe to celebrate the Fourth in style. It’s very simple. The decorations are limited only by your skill with a can of whipped cream (do buy the real stuff, please).

The blueberries are cooked only for a couple of minutes, allowing the fresh flavor of the berry to dominate the flavor of the pie. Combined with a graham cracker crust, it has a nice texture to contrast with the berries.


fourth pie

Red, White and Blueberry Pie


11 graham crackers (2 1/2 x 5 inch boards), broken into pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional)


6 to 7 cups blueberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, about 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/16 teaspoon ground nutmeg (about 6 to 8 scrapes of a nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Whipped cream

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the crust, in a food processor, pulse graham crackers until the size of pebbles. Add melted butter, sugar, salt and vanilla bean paste (optional). Pulse until combined. Press into the bottom of a tart pan or a 10-inch pie plate.

Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

To make the filling, place blueberries in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Combine orange juice and corn starch. Add to pan with blueberries, along with sugar, orange zest and salt. Bring to a simmer (just below a boil) and stir until thickened, just a minute or 3. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg and cinnamon. Pour into cooled crust.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. (If you make this first thing in the morning, it will be perfect by picnic time).

Before serving, decorate with whipped cream and berries.

Adapted from Epicurious.com


Happy July Fourth