It’s another of those 4H days: hot, hazy, humid, and horrendous. Temperatures have soared to the mid-eighties. Your house feels like the inside of an oven already and it’s not even noon. Ladies, are you with me?
And, of course, the family will be expecting dinner. What do you serve that isn’t going to involve turning on that oven and expending lot of effort?
Well, I surveyed my friends and I share here with you their creative and delicious—and nutritious too—ideas for what to serve on those 4H days.
Why not make a seafood pasta? You can cook the pasta on the stovetop or microwave. Use the whole wheat kind. It’s nutritious. Cool pasta and add zesty Italian dressing—right out of the bottle. Add your favourite seafood, onion, celery, veggies (I use frozen peas and add them right from the freezer while the pasta is still warm). Season with fresh rosemary or thyme. Serve with your favourite bread. Everyone will think you fussed. This dish keeps well for leftovers!
Create a chicken salad or slice chicken breasts in long strips and serve over mixed greens, spinach or Caesar salad. You can cook the chicken breasts in the microwave or on the BBQ to avoid heating up the kitchen. My kids eat the chicken strips and leave the greens so now I cube the chicken and insist they have greens with their chicken. I add pineapple chunks and/or sliced strawberries to make the salad more kid friendly.
Have a sandwich night. Get favourite assorted meats and cheese slices from deli counter. Assemble condiments. Slice some tomatoes and let everyone build their favourite sandwich on unique breads and buns. Serve a salad on the side—coleslaw, potato or macaroni salad from the deli. My kids love this night!
If your family is fond of mussels you’ve got a meal in the making! Put three pounds of washed mussels in a pot with half a cup of white wine, garlic cloves, basil leaves and chopped tomatoes. Steam until mussels open. Serve with bread.
Try a taco salad! Layer: refried beans, spiced ground beef, salsa, sour cream, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and top with a layer crushed taco chips. Serve with extra chips and salsa. Olay!
While we’re in a Mexican mood, have a build-your-own-soft-tacos night. Dice tomatoes, onion, cube chicken and/or beef (for the little ones I provide ground beef—less danger of choking!), provide salsa and guacamole and sour cream and let everyone make their own tacos. This and leftover taco salad (see above) are great companions.
Before we leave old Mexico…one more great dish: Gazpacho soup.
9 large vine-ripened tomatoes
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, cilantro, or parsley
Core the tomatoes and dip into boiling water for about 10 seconds to loosen the skin. Place the tomatoes in ice water to cool, and then slip off their skins. Cut the tomatoes in 1/2 crosswise and squeeze out the juice and seeds into a strainer over a bowl. Reserve the juice and discard the seeds. Puree 1/2 of the tomatoes in a food processor or blender. Coarsely chop the remaining tomatoes.
Combine the pureed and chopped tomatoes in a bowl and add the reserved juice. Stir in the cucumbers, red onion, bell pepper, oil, vinegar, garlic, and jalapeno peppers. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Divide gazpacho among 6 serving bowls. Sprinkle the fresh herbs over the bowls for garnish, if desired.
How about grilled or poached salmon served hot or cold with dilled cucumber sauce and a fresh salad: Fresh sliced tomatoes and sliced cucumbers on lettuce leaves garnished with chopped chives or green onions, light dressing?
Grill meat ahead when it isn’t so hot and quick nuke it just before serving. You can do this with make your own kabobs. Pork cubes, chicken cubes, beef cubes and some vegetables like onion, green or red peppers, corn, zucchini, or asparagus. These all pre-grill and zap just before serving just fine! Don’t want to be bothered with the skewers? Serve the meat and veggies on a bed of quick prepare microwave rice.
Cook ahead a Russian salad and serve cold. This keeps well too! Finely dice, and then boil for about 3-5 minutes: 2-3 potatoes and 2-3 carrots. In the last minute of cooking, toss in some frozen peas. Finely dice, and then boil separately: 1-2 medium beets. Or finely dice some canned (NOT pickled) beets. Either way, rinse the beets at least three times. Finely dice one medium yellow onion. Finely dice 3 dill pickles. Put the ingredients together in a bowl and mix. Pour 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, season to taste and fresh dill. Or use your own favourite purchased vinaigrette. (I like raspberry) Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Delicious with rye or whole-wheat breads or buns.
Create unusual omelets. You can whip up omelets in a stovetop omelet pan or a BBQ griddle. (I use up leftover meat and veggies from the night before in this way!)
Try a Cobb salad for those hot summer days. Make layers of each:
6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 large avocado, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup Ranch Dressing
1 cup Old Cheddar Shredded Cheese
3 Tbsp. Bacon Bits
My friends are Lebanese. They serve a great hot weather meal of tabouleh: cucumber salad made with sour cream and chives or scallions and lemon juice, falafel or hummus with pita, some good olives, and cantaloupe melon filled with ice cream or frozen yogurt for dessert. You could substitute some other fruit in season.
Salad Nicoise is always a hit. I t use romaine, steamed green beans or asparagus, cooked new potatoes, hard-boiled egg, and add an herb vinaigrette. Mix a little of the vinaigrette with some tuna, then top the salad with the tuna and blue cheese a bit more dressing.
How about a Greek salad? Here’s a recipe my family likes. 2 c torn romaine leaves
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 medium tomato cut in wedges
1/2 medium cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 medium green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
12 pitted black olives, sliced
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh dill
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
Greek salad dressing—commercial or homemade.
In medium salad bowl, combine lettuce, onion, tomato, cucumber, green pepper and olives. Refrigerate until well chilled. Add a commercially prepared Greek salad dressing or make your own. Toss salad. Top with feta cheese and serve!
It may be sweltering outside but you and your oven can stay cool and calm during those 4H days………….Your family will think you have fussed!
On 4H weather that is simple. Go with seasonal fruit. Add frozen yogurt or ice cream.
Let kids make s’mores on the BBQ.
Provide the fixings for build-your-own sundaes.
Create unusual smoothies.
Serve cookies and Rice Krispie squares with yogurt or applesauce.