• 75°

Keep your cool during hot, summer days

Let me just start this week’s column by saying I am old. Yep, I’m no spring chicken and with my age also comes a whole variety of memories that folks younger than 30 probably won’t have even if they are from the south.
In my youth, summers were spent picking, shelling and prepping peas for the freezer. It also meant shucking corn, cutting okra, pulling squash and the list goes on and on since my family had about an acre and a half of vegetables growing every year. The only good part about having to do all of that work was a trip to the local swimming hole. My family was part of the landscape of Cedar Creek back in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. My son doesn’t even know what Cedar Creek looks like and I’ve never handed him a pan of peas to shell.
I have a great memory of how my love of cooking came about because of all those summers spent on the front porch with a box fan pushing hot air around. When I was about 12 years old, when the family would be done picking for the day, we would sit on the porch and shell peas and butter beans until they were all done. During the early part of the morning, when there would be enough of the vegetables shelled to make a meal, I was delegated to the kitchen to begin preparing the noon meal. Those meals usually consisted of peas, beans, corn, okra, sliced tomatoes and bell peppers – all from our garden. If my dad happened to be home for the noon meal (he worked shift work at the paper mill) there would also have to be a pork chop or a piece of chicken on the table as well. I didn’t, and still don’t, need any meat when there are fresh vegetables on the table.
Since it didn’t take long for four or five folks to shell enough peas for a family meal, I got to get out of the shelling duties fairly early on in the day. I was happy to leave my pan behind and head to the kitchen to clean and cook vegetables for the meal. I can safely say, that break from what I thought was a tough job gave me my first love of cooking. It didn’t hurt that everyone seemed to enjoy the meal I had prepared right down to the cornbread and sweet tea. From those early days of working from sun-up to sun-down doing vegetables every summer right on up to today, I do love a good vegetable meal – no meat needed. 
One other thing I remember about that time in my history, was that you prepared enough at one meal to make two meals. That way, you didn’t have to get the kitchen and the house heated up from cooking twice on a hot summer day. The main reason for that in my family was because we didn’t even know what central air conditioning was. We were happy to have a large window unit installed in the living room portion of the home when I was about 10 or so. There was another window unit in my parents bedroom so that my dad could sleep during the hot days while working the graveyard shift. So, heating up the kitchen twice in one day was simply something you avoided at all costs.
Now, keeping that in mind (although I do have central air in my home) I always look for recipes that require nothing to do with a stove or oven in the summer time. I know things have changed and my kitchen is just as cool as the rest of the house most of the time, but if you’re planning a meal for a few extra folks in the hot summer months, having a cool, refreshing way to finish a good meal is a must.
I have looked for a few interesting recipes this week that you can prepare with things from your refrigerator and freezer that don’t require any heated appliances (unless you want to brown your meringue). Most good summer-friendly recipes include some sort of whipped cream, softened cream cheese, cans of sweetened condensed milk and fruit. Actually, one of my favorite desserts is made up of just those items. We call it fruit fluff at my house since I’m not sure it even has a proper name. That’s also the beauty of some no-cook recipes: you can change them up leaving this or that out or adding in some of this and that to make it your own. Then you can call it whatever you like.
I hope your summer is pleasant – even with everything that’s happening these days. Keep your cool and make something cool and refreshing for your family or just for yourself.
 
Fruit Fluff
8 oz. frozen whipped topping, thawed
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 pt. fresh strawberries, sliced
1 pt. blueberries
3 bananas, sliced
1 large can pineapple tid-bits, drained well
In the bowl of a mixer, beat cream cheese until soft and fluffy. Add in condensed milk and beat to combine. On slow speed, add in whipped topping. Fold in fruit until well coated and combined. Pour into a serving bowl and chill for an hour or overnight. 
 
Easy No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 oz Cool Whip
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pre-baked pie crust (or graham cracker crust)
In the bowl of a mixer, whip the cream cheese until smooth. Add in peanut butter, sugar and vanilla. Mix well. Fold in 8 ounces of the cool whip until combined. A few streaks are fine. Pour mixture into prepared crust and smooth. Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 30-second intervals until melted. Fold in the remaining cool whip and pour over top of peanut butter filling and smooth out. Place pie in freezer for three hours to freeze or leave overnight.
Easy No-Cook Banana Pudding
1 (5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups cold milk
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 (12 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 (16 ounce) package vanilla wafers
14 bananas, sliced
In a large mixing bowl, beat pudding mix and milk for about 2 minutes. Blend in condensed milk until smooth. Stir in vanilla and fold in whipped topping. Layer vanilla wafers, bananas and pudding mix alternately in a glass serving bowl (or use a 9×13 pan). Chill until serving.