It's been a long day. A long hot day. And now you're faced with the prospect of a long hot evening, with dinner somewhere in the middle.
Stop sighing. Everything will be fine. You can shower, fix a cool drink and in no more than 15 or 20 minutes put a beautiful, nutritious and cool meal on the table.
It takes a little planning and shrewd shopping, so you have the ingredients on hand. But we know it can be done, because a couple of people who know well how horrible East Coast summers can be told us exactly how to do it.
For instance, there's Nick Sheridan of Cuisine Catering of Baltimore; does he cook during the summer heat?
"Oh, yes," he says with a laugh. "But I don't do oven cooking because my wife won't let me. And it does heat up the house." Most of the time, he says, "I do stove-top stuff, or else charcoal grilling outside."
Like many of the folks we consulted, Mr. Sheridan is a big believer in leftovers as "fast food." He suggests using leftover chicken in his pasta recipe. If "originals" from your kitchen don't linger long enough to become "leftovers," fix more the first time around and don't serve it all.
The shrimp in Mr. Sheridan's recipe are a snap to cook, but you don't have to bother; many places that sell shrimp will steam them for you.
Planned leftovers are a major ingredient in summer dishes for Janis Talbott, as well. "If we have chicken breasts on the grill," she says, "we always cook an extra breast, then we have it later in salad. And on Sunday -- which is the only day we really have breakfast -- we cook extra bacon, and then put it in a salad. I put it in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge, and then I nuke it, just a little, and sprinkle it over the salad.
"We probably eat salad three nights a week," says Mrs. Talbott, who, with her husband Bob owns Morton's Wines, Spirits & Elegant Eats in Baltimore's Mount Vernon area. "Actually, I raise a salad. I grow about half a dozen kinds of lettuce."
The rich and crusty breads from Marvelous Market, which Morton's carries, "have become a staple," she says. "With some bread, and a salad like that, you don't need anything else. Except a nice bottle of wine."
Chef Stephen Sappe of Truffles at the Belvedere, a division of Le Fountain Bleu catering, knows all about Baltimore summers: He was born here. Though he's "lived in places all over," he's recently moved back to the area. He cooks at home, in the summer, he says: "I like to barbecue out."
XTC And he suggests tossing barbecue leftovers with gourmet lettuces for a simple hot-weather meal. For dessert he suggests fresh fruit, marinated in a little Grand Marnier liqueur and topped with whipped cream -- which you can make or buy.
He also suggests cooking while the temperature's cooler -- late in the evening, or early morning -- and serving food cool or at room temperature when the heat's on. A pizza made of focaccia -- Italian flatbread, available at most markets these days -- with sliced tomatoes, sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese and shredded Italian sharp white Cheddar and Parmesan, garnished with fresh basil can be baked the night before (at 350 degrees, until the cheese is lightly browned).
See how simple this all is? Manufacture leftovers, shop for convenience -- and you can whip up a cool summer meal that's better than microwaved hot dogs or burgers from the nearest fast-food emporium.