Sunday, July 21, 2013

Baby, it's hot outside!

I live in Virginia, where the summers are hot and humid.  Both of those conditions were in full force this week, which made me not want to use the stove AT ALL.  Actually, I didn't do much of anything, because the heat just drains all the energy out of me.  It doesn't matter that I spent much of the time either in my air-conditioned home or my air-conditioned car. Oh no.  It is still an excuse, because I had to take one son to his swim practice every morning and swelter on the pool deck, and take my other son to his week-long camp, so the car sits out just long enough to get oven-baking hot, yet the A/C doesn't really cool things down before we're home.

Yes, yes. I know you're saying, "Boo hoo, whine, whine. What does this have to do with food?" Whatever, peeps.  My blog, my whining. But I promise to get to the food.

My kids love it when we do a smorgasbord of random things that they get to put together themselves and call it a meal.  Cheese, crackers, lunch meats, veggies, dips and fruit.  Or whatever. This week, I did a little more prep than I usually do for something like this, and I did actually turn on the stove (and oven). These recipes are not my own, but they were delicious, so I'll provide the links for you to try them as well.

I had been thinking about chilled soups which, generally, are not my favorites (gazpacho tastes like I'm eating runny salsa, IMHO), but I do like vichyssoise (potato and leek soup).  Surprisingly, none of my cookbooks actually had a vichyssoise recipe, but I did have one that had a recipe for "Potage Parmentier", which had leeks and potato and cream in it, so I figured it had to be pretty much the same thing. [And yes, I realize I could have just looked up a recipe online, but I was stubborn enough to think I had to have an acceptable recipe in my cookbook collection]  Williams-Sonoma's blog recently provided a long list of chilled soups that I am eager to try out.

The rest of the meal consisted of White BeanTapenade and Marinated Summer Vegetables, both from the June 2013 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, antipasto peppers, a cured Italian sausage, some deli meats and cheeses, mustards, sweet gherkins, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls (perline) and a variety of crackers.

Here's what the spread looked like:

I apologize that I didn't get a good shot of the soup.  I took the picture after the boys started eating. :-)

Now, as I mentioned before, I did have to actually turn on the stove to make the soup and the oven to cook the veggies for the marinated salad, so if you're really sweltering, this particular line-up won't help you.  BUT: I did both in the morning before it got really hot and I got too tired to do anything but make sandwiches.  You could also grill the veggies, so at least you're not heating up the house, or if you are grilling a meal earlier in the week, you could grill up extra vegetables to use for the salad later.  Lots of possibilities there. There's also the option of just buying a variety of salads, dips, spreads, meats and cheeses from the prepared food section of the grocery store and setting it out for everyone to taste.  I get that it's hot, people are tired and cranky and food needs to get on the table. I'm not judging.

For the marinated vegetables, I used a lemon olive oil, which gave it a nice citrus punch. If you don't happen to have that, you could add a little lemon zest instead (or leave it out -- the original recipe doesn't call for any sort of lemon).  I also didn't have oregano, so I used fresh thyme (I have a nice patch growing just outside my back door). You know me; I make do with what I've got, and I hope it gives you ideas how you can play with your food, too.

What are your favorite meals to fix when it's too hot to cook?

Here's the recipe I used for our chilled soup:

Potage Parmentier

Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells (I highly recommend this book for delicious, yet simple, French bistro basic recipes)

3 large potatoes (I used Russet), peeled and quartered
2 leeks, just the white and pale green parts, sliced
1 quart of water
1 cup beef stock (you could also use chicken stock, but beef is what I had)
3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons chopped chives, for garnish (optional) - the original recipe suggested chervil or tarragon

Combine the potatoes, leeks, water and broth in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer and cook until vegetables are meltingly soft, 35-40 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend vegetables in the pot until smooth. Add cream and heat through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender, in batches (be sure to keep the small hope at the top of your blender cover open to let heat escape) or a food mill

Serve either warm or cold (it's delicious either way), garnished with fresh herbs, if you like. Note: It took a while for the soup to chill (about 4 hours in the fridge, and it still was more lukewarm than chilly), so be sure to factor that in, time-wise.

Serves 6 to 8

Tip: To get all the sand out of leeks, I fill my sink with water, then put the leeks, already sliced into rings, in the water.  I then separate all of the rings, swishing them around and then letting the sand fall to the bottom of the sink. Then I scoop up the leeks either with my hands or a medium-mesh (not fine) sieve.

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