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Monday, July 29, 2013

Meal Planning Monday: Swelter will return, so pull out tasty meals and put away extra heat

By Christine Luken
KyForward columnist

We’ve been blessed with a nice cool spell here in the Ohio River Valley, which has been a welcome relief to the sweltering heat. As the saying goes, nothing good lasts forever! August is bound to have some red-hot days, which makes me NOT want to turn on the oven to make dinner. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get a tasty meal on the table without adding too much extra heat in the kitchen. Besides the obvious choice of grilling, here are some of my favorites:
Stovetop – If there’s any way I can make something on the stovetop versus the oven in the summer, I’ll do it. Using the stovetop does put off some heat, but not nearly as much as using the oven. Rather than baking fish or chicken, I’ll pan-fry it with a little bit of olive oil or Smart Balance cooking spray. Stir-frying meat and veggies makes a great summer dinner, too.
Toaster oven – I use my toaster oven all the time! Since it’s just my husband and I, it’s the perfect size to roast some cauliflower, bake some sweet potato fries, or cook up a piece or two of salmon. Because of its small size, it doesn’t put off much heat at all. However, if you have a large family, this may not be a good option for you.
Slow cooker – Some people tend to think of the slow cooker as a winter appliance, which always puzzles me. We love bone-in chicken in the slow cooker! Whenever our local Kroger store has chicken on sale, I stock up the freezer. Because I’ve got so many great recipes, we could have chicken in the slow cooker once a week and not get tired of it. Last week I threw in some carrots, potatoes, chicken broth, and a little parsley and basil with the chicken and it was fantastic! Some of my other favorite recipes are Maple Dijon Chicken Thighs found here, Beer Chicken found here, Crock Pot Buffalo Chicken found here, Pesto Ranch Chicken found here, and Chicken with Artichoke Hearts found here. You can even make dessert in the crock pot!

My steamer with fresh Swiss chard. (Photo by Christine Luken)

My steamer with fresh Swiss chard. (Photo by Christine Luken)

Steamer – Several of my friends and my husband are convinced that the microwave is not good for us, so we’re trying to use it less. I picked up this steamer (pictured above with my homegrown Swiss chard) at Wal-Mart for $20, and I must say that I love it! There’s a second basket that can be stacked on top, so that you can steam two different things at once. Veggies taste so delicious in the steamer; they almost don’t even need butter! We also like to steam ears of corn, but they have to be broken in half to fit in the basket. The base is less than 12 inches across, so it doesn’t take up much room in the cabinet or on the counter, which is another big plus.
“Baking” with the Grill – The obvious choice for summer cooking is the grill. Think outside of the box for firing up the grill! Many recipes that are baked in the oven can also be made on the grill. We purchased a new grill this summer and I love that it has a temperature gauge. I can now “bake” my roasted salmon found here or my Portobello mushroom pizzas found here without worrying about overcooking (or burning) our dinner!
Zero heat cooking – Sometimes we will take leftover grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp, or taco meat and make some huge dinner salads. A satisfying dinner with zero heat required!
What is your favorite summer recipe to make that doesn’t require slaving over a hot stove?

Meal Planning Monday is a regular feature of yourstrongtower.com, a website dedicated to promoting the financial well-being of families through the use of coupons and good money management principles. Financial coach and self-proclaimed Coupon Queen Christine Luken, along with partner Craig DeLisle, aims to reduce the cost, time and stress of shopping and meal preparation so families have more time and money to invest in the things that matter most to them. Read more of Christine’s money management tips and check out her Coupon Wizard at yourstrongtower.com.

Read more “Meal Planning Monday” columns here.