Summer, When It Sizzles

September 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm Leave a comment

It’s been a cruelly hot season.  I could be uttering that comment from almost any state in the union this summer of 2012, or from a lot of international locales for that matter.  But then plenty of our ancestors, living in eras predating the “threat” of greenhouse gases, have suffered similar heat wave conditions.  London, in 1858; New York in 1896; most of North America in 1936. 

Such references are sacrilege to those who view the dogma of Global Warming as Gospel Writ, but historical cycles of radical temperature fluctuation are documented by both human records and geological evidence.  On the other side of the argument, some of the prime movers behind the concept of climate change – at Britain’s University of East Anglia, for example – have been exposed as having deleted, doctored, and withheld information that fails to support the theories upon which their careers are founded.  They also sought to blacklist both the scientists who refute those theories and journals which publish opposing viewpoints.  That’s a clincher for me. 

But I really didn’t intend to make this a piece on political controversies.  (There’s always so darned much to fume about, is the problem.)  I’m thinking in more down-to-earth terms, as I while away a rare Monday morning when my husband and I can both sit in the study together, clicking away at our keyboards – he playing solitaire and listening to Mexican music on Pandora, me rambling my way to the true topic of the day for this blog posting.  Guess we’re the 21st century version of celebrating Labor Day by avoiding real labor of any kind. 

As for that practical perspective, I could thank this scorcher of a summer for forcing me to make some positive changes:  A literally sickening bout of overexposure one 105° day in early July motivated me to move my four-mile power walk from pre-lunch to pre-breakfast.  Who needs all that direct sun exposure, anyway?  How much cooler, more comfortable, and shady the walking path is at seven a.m.  I got a particularly early start one day last week, and was treated to a soul-stirring view of the sun, glistening like a freshly-cut blood orange just above the eastern horizon.  Talking to God feels like a true one-on-one in those still quiet hours, before the neighborhood starts to rumble into full-gear. 

I’ve also changed some cooking habits, like starting things – oiled, quartered red potatoes, for example – in the microwave, then finishing them on the stovetop.  Or maybe starting a main dish on the stovetop, allowing for a 15-minute finish in the oven rather than an hour-long sauna-maker of roasting time. 

And the weather has apparently been very good to people’s vegetable gardens – at least to those who were diligent about watering.  More than one kind neighbor has gifted us a bucketful of cucumbers and tomatoes.  Now there’s another motivator:  a pile of plump, luscious, juicy, red lycopersicon esculentum – that New World discovery which our European friends can thank Christopher Columbus for exporting back to them, along with its full complement of 14 essential nutrients. 

I cubed some of the Roma tomatoes and tossed them with peeled, diced cucumbers and a light lemon juice and olive oil dressing, with salt and pepper to taste, but any good Italian-style dressing would work for this summer version of an enticingly crunchy tossed salad. 

When most of the beefsteak tomatoes came to full ripeness at the same time, I remembered I had a drawer full of zucchini and two eggplants waiting impatiently in my vegetable crisper.  A little recipe skimming on the internet, and PING! came the idea for my new favorite veggie casserole.  Add some lightly sautéed, sliced smoked sausage and it could easily become a main dish. 

I served pork chops braised in red wine with shallots with the Cheesy Layered Eggplant, Zucchini, and Tomato casserole to a whole tableful of non-eggplant eaters.  They scraped every last bit from the serving bowl and never knew what hit ’em. 

On another sweltering afternoon, I discovered a really good price on chicken thighs and let Better Homes and Garden online inspire this lightened version of Chicken With Golden Raisins.  Served with ultra-quick-cooking whole grain couscous and a spinach salad, we gave thanks for the blessing of digging into a pile of appetite-reviving richness, even in the middle of…whatever you choose to call this.  I call it a good excuse to sound off a little, and an even better excuse to cook light.

For the layered vegetable casserole line up: 

1 lrge onion, diced                                                 2 eggplants, peeled and diced

4-6 lrge zucchini, peeled and diced                3-4 large tomatoes, diced

3/4 C whole grain breadcrumbs                      1C grated sharp white cheddar

1 tsp dried thyme                                                   ground white pepper to taste 

Place a large skillet, sprayed lightly with cooking oil, over medium heat and add onions.  Cook for five minutes, stirring often.  Add eggplant and zucchini to pan along with seasonings.  Lower heat to medium low and continue cooking vegetables another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Preheat oven to 350° and coat the inside of a large oven-safe casserole pan lightly with cooking oil spray.  Spoon 1/3 of the vegetable mixture into prepared pan, followed by a layer each of 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and 1/3 cup grated cheese.  Repeat to complete two more layers.  Bake for 20-30 minutes.  Serve hot. 

For the rich, golden chicken dish, assemble: 

1 lrge onion, sliced thin                                           2 cloves garlic, minced                                               

2-1/2 # skinned, bone-in chicken thighs         ½ C red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste                                           1 C chicken broth

1/4 cup golden raisins, packed                            1/8 tsp powdered thyme

½ tsp dried marjoram, crushed            

Spray a large cast-iron skillet generously with cooking canola oil.  Cook onion over medium heat for three minutes, stirring often.  Add garlic and cook an additional minute.  Add chicken pieces to skillet and cook until lightly browned, approximately ten minutes per side. 

Add the remaining seven ingredients to pan, bring to a boil, cover, and continue to simmer for at least 35 minutes.  I cooked mine on low for well over an hour, and the result was…indescribable.  Do feel free to sound off and let me know what you think.

As I get set to post this, the temperature has dropped from the mid-nineties to the mid-seventies, but not before it finally worked our 25-year-old central air conditioning system to death.  We’re hoping it’s a matter of repair versus replace, but at least we have the luxury of advanced technology available.  I’m betting that those ancestors mentioned earlier would have eagerly given up either the cost of a service call or the year’s salary for that kind of relief.

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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