Monday, August 20, 2012

Weekly Menu: 8/20. Too Hot to Cook!

 One of my new readers, Eileen, asked to see some easy, no-cook, family-friendly dinner ideas for these sweaty summer evenings when you might be happy with a pint of ice cream and a cold marg, but alas, everyone else in the household wants an actual meal. 

I did a little research online to get inspired for family meals requiring little to no cooking with heat, and was surprised to find so many suggestions for dishes like gazpacho and cold cream of watercress soup. Um, no. I’m all for introducing new foods, but cold soup for dinner is not gonna fly unless my kids have somehow achieved a European sophistication that they didn’t have yesterday. 

So I’ve come up with a menu plan with virtually no cooking, minimal prep work and the ability to “deconstruct” the meal a bit if you’re dealing with picky eaters.  One dish is a salad that can be served item by item for kids or all mixed together for everyone else. My kids ate little piles of most of the items (beans, chicken, tomatoes, corn) and enjoyed scooping them with chips and topping with dressing. Another involves cooking pasta, but that is IT. This is bright and seasonal, and you could easily serve this for a casual dinner party. For picky eaters, reserve some plain pasta, cherry tomatoes and cheese on the side. And finally, the last dinner is inspired by the meals we take to outdoor summer concerts. You cook and prepare NOTHING. All you do is display and serve. The beauty of this summer dinner is that everyone picks only what they want to eat, it’s a finger food dinner, which is usually a novelty to kids and it’s a welcome break from the standard protein + veggie + starch formula.

Other easy dishes that are cooked on the grill and keep your kitchen cool are the Asian Grilled Flank SteakPerfectly Grilled Steaks and the Pork Chops with Carolina Rub from previous Weekly Menus.

But wait... don't miss the grilled dessert, which is our Extra Credit dish this week. Now that we're on the subject, what’s your go-to dish when it’s too hot to cook?

Southwest Chicken Salad

Side: Tortilla chips

 I prepared both the Southwest and the Barbecue dressings to see which we'd like better, and we all ended up using both. I also offered flour tortillas and my kids used those to make wraps with the salad ingredients.

Prep Note: You could assemble all veggies, then pick up the chicken on the way home and add it last for a really quick meal.

  • Use a cooked rotisserie chicken from your grocery store to get great flavor and save time
  • Use bagged, pre-washed lettuce
  • Use canned corn or frozen, thawed instead of fresh

Make-ahead notes:
  • Rinse and drain beans
  • Chop veggies and herbs
  • Blanch the corn to cut starchiness (see directions below), then cut corn off cob
  • Assemble entire salad without dressing, loosely cover and refrigerate for later
  • Mix up the dressing(s), cover and refrigerate for later

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1 bag of mixed salad greens
  • 2 ears of fresh corn
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 2 breasts from rotisserie chicken, chopped (also use dark meat if you like)
  • Tortilla chips
For Southwest Dressing:
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. fresh salsa (found in tubs in refrigerated section)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
For Barbecue Dressing:
  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce

Optional for salad: Fresh chopped cilantro, diced red onion, shredded Jack cheese, sliced avocado
Optional for serving: Small flour tortillas

  • Blanch corn to remove starchiness by cooking it in boiling water for 3 minutes (no longer!), then plunging in ice water to stop cooking. Drain and cut kernels from cob.
  • Combine salad greens, chopped veggies, chicken and any of the optional salad items in a large bowl.
  • Combine Southwest Dressing, adjusting spices to taste and/or combine Barbecue Dressing
  • Serve dressing(s) on the side.

Pasta with Tomatoes, Arugula and Burrata

Side: Crusty Italian bread served with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping

Find the recipe on the Williams-Sonoma site.






  • Use minced, jarred garlic
Make Ahead Notes:
  • Infuse oil with garlic
  • Rinse and halve cherry tomatoes
  • Combine infused oil with tomatoes, arugula and S&P several hours ahead

Ingredients for Shopping List:
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced or passed through a garlic press
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 lb. small cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt, plus more, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup firmly packed baby arugula leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 lb. gemelli or other spiral pasta shape
  • 1/2 lb. burrata cheese, roughly torn (substitute fresh mozzarella if you can't find or don't like burrata)


Casual Fruit, Cheese & Meat Platter Dinner


No sides needed, but chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert would be perfect with this dinner.

Items for shopping list (choose any/all that sound good to you):
  • Baguette
  • Crackers
  • Assorted cheeses
  • Salami and/or prosciutto
  • Ripe stone fruits
  • Grapes
  • Baby carrots
  • Hummus 
  • Dips and spreads (try the Caramelized Onion Dip from Trader Joe's - really tasty)
  • Almonds or other nuts
  • Marinated artichoke hearts
  • Olives
  • Honey

Extra Credit: Grilled Pound Cake with Spiced Peaches

Stick skewers in the pound cake slices to make it easy to flip on the grill and fun to eat. Did I mention the peaches taste like pie when prepared like this?

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • One prepared pound cake, such as Sara Lee, found in frozen section
  • 4 ripe peaches
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • Whipped cream (optional)

  • Set gas grill to medium or heat stove top grill pan on medium
  • Mix cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar in a bowl. Brush the cut side of peach halves with melted butter. Gently toss the peaches in the cinnamon mixture and allow to marinate for at least 5 minutes.
  • Place peaches flat side down on grill. Cover and grill for 5 minutes.
  • Flip peaches, cover and grill for 5 more minutes. Remove from grill, slice each peach half in quarters and cover to keep warm.
  • Wipe grill off of sugar from peaches burn on the grate.
  • Brush both sides of each pound cake slice with butter and place on grill over indirect heat. Cover and grill 1 to 2 minutes. Flip each slice and grill for another 1 to 2 minutes, until slices are crisp and golden.
  • Top with grilled peaches and freshly whipped cream, and serve immediately.

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