DISHES TO CHILL WITH

Now that the relentless sun is burning everything that grows, three things make up my best efforts to beat the heat: air-conditioning, a swimming pool and cold food.

Eugenia Uhl Photograph

My usual effort to get out of town in the hottest part of summer has failed once again, and I’m planning my strategy to withstand the oppressive, searing, torturing heat of our otherwise wonderful city. That is, all but one week when I will bathe myself in the cool waters of Gulf Shores, Ala.

But this year, our big trip (Turkey) was somehow recklessly scheduled for the last two weeks of May, just when my husband’s first attempt at a large vegetable garden was flourishing. Thank goodness that my daughter and her family were able to enjoy the beautiful Creole tomatoes, fresh herbs, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplants, beans and corn, even if – sadly – we didn’t.

Now that the relentless sun is burning everything that grows, three things make up my best efforts to beat the heat: air-conditioning, a swimming pool and cold food. Actually, I enjoy chilled food and drinks with plenty of ice at any time of the year. But right now in the drink department, iced tea is at the top of my list, and gin and tonic runs a close second. I am also fond of cold soups, chicken and tuna salad, and icebox pies win my choice of desserts.
I always make gazpacho and cucumber-mint soups in the summer, but this year I wanted to experiment. I came across a creamy avocado soup recipe flavored with fresh basil and lemon juice.  Being a guacamole lover, I switched the basil to cilantro and the lemon to lime with great results. Using low-fat yogurt holds down the calories in a soup in which avocados supply all the richness needed.

On our last trip to Gulf Shores, a friend brought a luscious salmon-cream cheese mold that disappeared in an hour or so. I drug down some of my old copper molds and found a small one just the right size for my own version of this delicacy, again with good results. My fear was getting the appetizer out of the mold, but I found that a quick heating in hot water did the trick, having generously oiled the mold at the start.

Something about key lime pie lures me in to summer – whether I can find key limes or not. I have learned that any limes work well, so there’s no reason to scour every grocery store in town tracking down the real thing. I have been there, done that, and the difference isn’t worth the effort. I also prefer whipped cream to meringue as a topping in the summer because it’s colder. Icebox pies should be covered in whipped cream; otherwise, you have meringue pies.

Let us hope that we all survive the summer. If hurricanes and oil spills haven’t killed us, I don’t imagine the heat will. I’ve just got to remember to plan my next big trip in July; I’m thinking Greenland.

CHILLED AVOCADO SOUP
3 ripe avocados, peeled,
      seeded and chopped
3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cups low-fat plain yogurt
1 14-ounce can chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black
      pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons chopped
       cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 Tablespoons chopped red
      onion, plus more for garnish


Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender except garnishes and pulse until mixed. To your liking, you can leave a bit of texture, or blend until smooth. Pour into a container and refrigerate until serving time (at least 2 hours).

Serve in bowls, topped with about a teaspoon each finely chopped cilantro and red onion.

Serves 4.

SALMON CREAM CHEESE MOLD
Olive oil
4 ounces smoked salmon in
      thin slices
1 8-ounce package cream
      cheese
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon grated onion
1 1/2 Tablespoons small capers
3 Tablespoons finely chopped
      fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dill weed


Generously oil a 2-cup copper mold. Divide salmon into thirds.

Bring cream cheese to room temperature and mix in mayonnaise, Creole seasoning, Tabasco, Worcestershire, lemon juice and onion. Mix well and divide into 3 portions.

Place in bottom of mold: 1/2-Tablespoon of the capers, 1-Tablespoon parsley and 1/2-teaspoon dill weed. Line with 1/3 of the salmon. Spread 1/3 or the cream cheese mixture on the salmon. Repeat twice more.

Refrigerate mold for several hours or, better, overnight. It can be held in the refrigerator for several days.

When ready to serve, sink mold into a pot or bowl of hot water, keeping the open end dry, and hold for a minute.

Remove from water. Place serving plate on open end of mold and invert. Shake slightly or tap mold until contents are released.

Serve with crackers or toast points.

Serves 8 as a party appetizer.

KEY LIME PIE
1 refrigerated flaky piecrust
4 eggs, separated
1 14-ounce can sweetened
       condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons lime zest, plus
      more for garnish
1/2 pint whipping cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place piecrust in an 8-inch pie pan and pierce holes with a fork in the bottom about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, until golden brown.

Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees. Mix filling in an electric mixer, starting with egg yolks and adding milk, limejuice and zest. Place in a bowl.

Wash and dry mixer and beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in about 3 Tablespoons of the egg whites into the filling mixture. Add to pie crust and bake for 5 minutes more. Remove from oven and cool. (Remaining whites can be discarded or saved for another use.)

When pie is cool, whip cream in an electric mixer. When thickened, add sugar and vanilla and whip until peaks form. Spread on top of pie and grate more lime zest over cream.

Chill pie for several hours before serving.

Serves 6 to 8.

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