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.
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.
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.