If you can't stand the heat . . .

August 10, 1994|By Jana Sanchez-Klein | Jana Sanchez-Klein,Contributing Writer

Are you struggling with ways to keep your cool in the kitchen during these hot August days? Do you long to prepare gourmet meals for friends and family, but just can't bear to spend those sweltering evenings cooking? There must be a way. After all, how do the food professionals do it?

We got the scoop from some food editors, caterers, cookbook authors and restaurateurs who shared with us their clever shortcuts -- which you can use to help you cook like a pro.

Down in Alabama, where temperatures soar and everyone demands good, filling food year round, the staff of Southern Living has been busy creating new dishes to make the most of summer.

"Sometimes in the summer, we find ourselves going overboard with sandwiches and salads and we are left wanting something more substantial," says Dana Adkins Campbell, editor of Southern Living's annual Summertime special-edition magazine, which includes more than 120 recipes for summer foods. "Sandwiches get boring unless you get creative. Buy some interesting bread from the bakery, go to the deli and try a meat you haven't had . . . buy a new type of cheese."

She also suggests folding fresh or dried herbs into mayonnaise, especially the lower-fat varieties to spice up the taste. "If you are grilling outside, throw on some pretty vegetables, like purple onions, or colored peppers and grill them. Put them in the fridge with balsamic vinegar and oil and serve them cold on a sandwich or salad later on," she advises.

And to bulk up a green salad, so those with hearty appetites will feel satisfied, she suggests purchasing a roasted chicken from the deli, cutting it up, and tossing it in.

One creative approach to summer eating is a "pizza bar." Ms. Campbell buys ready-to-bake pizza crusts in the refrigerator section, assembles a wide range of toppings from shredded cheeses, to pesto sauces, Italian sausages and fresh herbs, and lets her family or guests build their own toppings. "Pop them in the oven for eight minutes, and you can accommodate a lot of tastes from simple to gourmet." She has found that children are more interested in eating foods that they help to select and assemble.

Nona Nielsen-Parker, who owns and operates the Baltimore catering firm, Culinary Capers, does most of the "heavy" cooking in the cool morning hours or late evening hours. She makes lots of salads, like her Summer Pasta Salad below, and uses primarily balsamic vinegars instead of mayonnaise for a lighter, zestier taste. She recommends using the broiler instead of the oven because it heats the kitchen less.

"Use boneless cuts of meat, because they cook faster," says Ms. Nielsen-Parker, and "don't think that you have to make three courses, just put everything in one dish and make that a meal." To stave off food boredom, use different ingredients. Instead of traditional pasta, or vegetable salads, try making her Asian Rice Noodle Salad with Grilled Tuna.

Columbia writer, Ruth Glick, co-author of "100% Pleasure: The Low-Fat Cookbook for People Who Love to Eat" (Baggett/Glick, $26.95), recommends grilling foods such as salmon or other fish, and vegetables to make a complete meal. Her No-fat Ginger-Soy Marinade promises to bring out flavor and add moistness when used with grilled fish or meats. Ms. Glick also recommends her tart and tangy Fresh Ginger-Peach Sauce, which could be just the thing to add to homemade or store-bought frozen desserts such as ice cream, yogurts and sorbets.

"We do a lot of seasonal cooking, and summer is the jackpot for us," says Spike Gjerde, chef and co-owner of Spike & Charlie's Restaurant. "We don't touch any melons until the local ones are ready and then we go crazy. Sorbet is a great way to use sweet Maryland melons." At the restaurant they make ice creams and sorbets with unusual flavor combinations, including the refreshing and fat-free Cantaloupe Mint Sorbet. Making these desserts at home can be as much entertainment as nourishment if the whole family gets involved. You may need an ice cream freezer, although Mr. Gjerde says that his recipes can be made using the refrigerator freezer.

The following two recipes are from Summertime.

Curried Chicken and Mango Salad

Serves 3 to 4

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon lime juice

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 cups chopped, cooked chicken

lettuce leaves

1 mango, peeled seeded and chopped (see note)

Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, curry, ginger, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl; stir in chicken.

Arrange lettuce leaves on individual plates; top evenly with chicken mixture and chopped mango.

Note: If you don't want to peel and chop a fresh mango -- or you can't find one -- buy a jar of sliced mangoes in the produce section instead.

Per serving: calories, 318; fat, 29 g; saturated fat, 7 g; carbohydrates, 15 g; protein, 4 g; sodium, 449 mg; calcium, 104 mg; iron, 1 mg.

BLT Croissants

Serves 4

3 ounces cream cheese, softened

3 ounces goat cheese, softened

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