Surviving the Hot Months
Dishes prepared away from the stove
It’s a known fact that tourists avoid New Orleans in the heat of summer. And many who live here try to escape. Hard as I try, my trips lean toward early summer or fall, leaving me to survive the inferno of August. In the midst of sweat and torture, I refuse to turn on an oven or be anywhere that is not wet or air-conditioned.
That said, I try to make the most of it by eating light and falling back on some of my childhood favorites, especially pimento cheese, which made it into my school lunch box three out of five days. It hasn’t been long since people in New Orleans didn’t eat pimento cheese, but somehow the long-time Deep South (that’s not Nawlin’s) favorite blossomed. Not only here but in many places where people had never heard of it before.
Once when working for The Times-Picayune, we had a little argument over how to make the best pimento cheese, and mine won the taste-test. Truth is, my recipe is the simplest of all with just three ingredients: cheese, pimentos and mayonnaise. The type of cheese shares a secret that New Orleans’ queen of cheese straws Lady Helen Hardy demanded in her now-famous recipe, and that is Kraft’s extra-sharp cheddar. It applies to her cheese straws and to my pimento cheese.
I’m a little picky on the other two ingredients, too. For the pimento, I use jarred roasted red bell peppers and for the mayo, I demand Hellman’s. No declaration needed. Unfortunately, I am not financially connected to any of these brands.
Another summer favorite is chicken salad. As I said, I refuse to cook In August so I buy a rotisserie chicken from Sam’s or Costco where the chickens are huge. I serve all but the breasts for dinner that night and make chicken salad the next day. All that for $4.99. I even find it hard to light up the grill this month so instead of grilling the chicken, I sometimes add a few splashes of liquid smoke to the mix. Again, sometimes the best approach is the simplest one.
Finding your own cool meals is easy with rotisserie chicken and cheese on hand, and there is so much more delicious cold stuff – fresh peach ice cream, gazpacho, smoked salmon, chocolate milk shakes, pesto, pineapple sandwiches, iced coffee, spinach-feta salad, cucumber-dill soup.
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar
1/3 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup roasted red peppers or pimentos, roughly chopped
1. Cut cheese into chunks.
2. Place cheese and mayonnaise in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add peppers or pimentos and pulse several times, just until peppers or pimentos are in small pieces, not ground into the cheese.
3. Serve on sandwiches or crackers. Makes 4 to 6 sandwiches.
2 breasts from a large store-bought rotisserie chicken or 2 large chicken breasts, poached until just done
1 large rib celery, minced
3 green onions, white and green parts, minced
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon Creole seasoning
Dash or 2 garlic powder
¼ cup mayonnaise
Several drops liquid hickory smoke, optional
1. Shred or pull apart chicken, and chop any large pieces. Place in a large bowl.
2. Add all other ingredients and mix well.
3. Serve cold or at room temperature on lettuce leaves as salad, on bread as sandwiches or on crackers as snacks. Serves 4 to 6 as a light meal.
Optional add-ins: sliced green or red grapes, chopped pecans or almonds
Pick of the Season
August is a great month for fresh fruit in Louisiana. Look for peaches, pears, plums, apples, blackberries, melons and figs. Think ice cream, sorbet, sundaes and, best of all, fresh out of hand.