The obvious answer to the title question is, “Don’t cook; that’s why God created Delivery.” But if I don’t even want to go out to eat during a 95° to 105° “heat dome,” much less cook myself, why would I want to make one of those good-natured, hard-working “Mexican” immigrants our Führer manqué is so fond of reviling, bring the food to me? “Well,” would be the response, “because they depend on your tips to make a living. If you don’t order out, they can’t feed their families.” And so on. When is a rationale merely a pretext? Must every little decision involve an ethical dilemma? Well, yes, or so it seems. And so now I have to admit that we have finally broken down and ordered an air conditioner for the kitchen. After all these years of having an air conditioner only in Popeye’s room, we went against our principles and bought yet another. I know, I know. If it weren’t for all the air conditioning units, etc., we wouldn’t even have a heat dome. Sigh. But truthfully, I can’t wait for it to arrive and be installed. There, I’ve said it. It’s official: I am a hypocrite and a bad person.
Be that as it may, what can you cook under a heat dome before the AC arrives? I wanted to stay ahead of the heat wave, and so I spent two days cooking up deli containers of mix and match vegetables that can be added to salads, pastas (cooked in the microwave), or served with eggs and toast. Anything that doesn’t require a hot oven. Eggplant is nice and meaty, so I cut it up and mixed it with olive oil and garlic. It stores in the refrigerator to be used as is. I did the same thing with zucchini. I loaded up on cucumbers, scallions and basil to add some brightness to whatever I ended up throwing together, and I didn’t forget the Granny Smiths. They go with everything!
And what doesn’t go with fresh corn? In recent weeks, I’ve learned that you can cook corn on the cob, husk on, in the microwave. Two ears, three minutes, and “viola” — cahn! Jars of tuna, frozen fish sticks, and cans of beans help a lot. Food that was stockpiled on cooler days is a boon. Just don’t do what I did: a mystery container from the freezer turned out to be a four-alarm chili that only Mr. Darcy could eat. Oh, NO, Mr. Bill!
Long-time neighbors invited us for dinner the other night. One of the hallmarks of living in Gotham is that you live next door to the same people for years, and year after year, you nod and smile, you make small talk in the elevator, and you say, “We should get together.” But, you have careers, families, and all the stress and anxiety of keeping your Big City/Big Dreams lives from stalling out, and so you never do. Then, after, say, 30 years or so, when you are all in various stages of hearing loss, you finally get together. You bring a Lime Buttermilk Pound Cake that you’ve adapted from a Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake recipe (because you have limes but no lemons) from Christopher Kimball’s new venture, Milk Street Kitchen.
You are treated to an elegant dinner of fish en papillote, beautifully dressed greens, and pasta with uncooked, fresh tomato sauce—not to mention a dessert of fresh fruits, shortcake, ice cream AND whipped cream (be still my heart). You admire their home, you share your political despair, you talk about travel, the other neighbors, and you overstay your welcome. And then you steal their recipes.
Fresh Uncooked Tomato Sauce
1 large container cherry or grape heirloom tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon crushed tarragon
That’s it. Mix it all up, keep it in the refrigerator, and use it for anything. Here it is in a pasta with chicken meatballs plus some fresh corn and sumac red onion thrown in. Add the tomatoes and vegetables to the pasta straight from the refrigerator or at room temperature , add a schlug of the pasta water, and lots and lots of freshly grated parmesan. No one will complain. And with the tomatoes and the corn, it tastes like summer. In a good way.
Mushrooms, Eggplant and Scallion All-Purpose Mixture
1 medium graffiti* eggplant, cut into small even pieces of any shape or size
2 boxes any kind of mushrooms, sliced or chopped
6 large scallions (or 1 large leek)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Juice of one lemon to squeeze over the eggplant to keep it from turning color
Pinch of salt and pepper
*Graffiti eggplant because it’s so pretty and has fewer of those pesky bitter eggplant seeds, and you never have to feel guilty about not taking the time to salt the eggplant.
Cook everything together in olive oil until just wilted. Use for all manner of meals, such as frittata, omelets, or on pasta.
Kale, Mushroom, Eggplant, Scallion and Ricotta Frittata
7 large eggs
1/2 cup fat-free half and half
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
12 small thin slices of parmesan cheese
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
4 cups kale, trimmed, chopped and steamed
1/2 cup of eggplant and mushroom mixture above
- Heat oven to 375°;
- Spray a muffin tin with Bakers Joy or neutral vegetable oil like canola;
- Beat the eggs with the half and half;
- Add the cheeses and then the vegetables and mix well;
- Fill the cups;
- Bake for 15 minutes;
- Top each “muffin” with a slice of the parmesan cheese;
- Bake another 5 minutes;
- Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack for no more than 10 minutes.
Watermelon and Crumbled Feta Cheese — or not
Did it work? Was it worth two days of sweat just to get us through the heat dome? Well, it got us through the weekend, and there are still three days to go so the jury is still out. Despite my best efforts, there have been some epic fails. Like the eggplant, pureed with olive oil, red onion and garlic that is sitting in the refrigerator, because I just don’t know what to do with it that doesn’t involve chips. Every meal tends to reference the last, but, in the end, I am able to spend more time holed up in Popeye’s room with the air conditioner. Mr. Darcy is happy and, as for me: It’s too hot to eat!