Television host and cookbook author Christine Cushing tries to avoid using the oven during hot weather.
"When you think of summer eating or cooking, you want it to be satisfying, but you don't want it to be heavy. That's the fine line we dance. How do you make it satisfying and not heavy at the same time?"
Her outdoor grill with its side burner is "my right-hand man, my sous chef."
"I look at everything I can make on the barbecue because it's outdoors, I don't turn on the oven inside, and I use my barbecue not only to grill but also as an oven."
The Toronto-based Cushing grills meats, fish, vegetables and desserts and suggests doing prep early in the week to make summer eating easy.
Vegetables can be grilled, refrigerated and added to salads or sandwiches or teamed with barbecued meats throughout the week. Brown rice or quinoa can be cooked ahead and used in salads. Then there's no need to turn on the stove again.
"When you're eating in the summer, look at the week a little more holistically," she says. "If I grill a bunch of veggies on a Monday or Sunday night I'll have a few leftovers for a couple of days."
The veggies, she suggests, can be mixed with a salad, combined with a can of tuna or salmon or teamed with fish, shrimp or chicken grilled just prior to eating.
She and her husband love to cook sweet potatoes on the barbecue over indirect heat while they're grilling something else. "From the charring of the grill, you get a really kind of earthy smokiness from the sweetness of the potato," Cushing says.
"We put sweet potatoes or baking potatoes in the barbecue on indirect heat in one corner, put down the lid and everything can bake in there and we don't have to worry about heating up the house. It's a really great trick.
"When you close the lid on your barbecue, which in a lot of ways is how it's meant to be used, it really turns into that oven and you get this great circulation of heat and then you can cook a lot of different things much more easily and obviously coolly."
Poke holes in the sweet potato so it doesn't get mushy from steaming. Cook extra, wrap and refrigerate. The next day chop it into salads for a hit of flavour, fibre and nutrients.
Because fresh herbs add so much flavour, Cushing has an herb garden in her backyard and cuts what she needs. Potted herbs can also be grown on a windowsill if you don't have a garden.
"I use a ton, a ton, a ton of fresh herbs because that fits the category of adding a pronounced flavour but is very light at the same time," says Cushing, who hosts "Fearless in the Kitchen" on OWN and appears on "The Marilyn Denis Show" on CTV.
As an alternative to lettuce, Cushing opts to keep many vegetables raw that might traditionally be cooked and creates unusual salads.
With kale, for instance, she washes the leaves, removes the woody stems and finely chops it. Crush it slightly with your hands to soften it — "it makes it easier to eat and loosens its flavour." For a head of kale, mix in the juice of one lemon, drizzle with some extra-virgin olive oil, chili flakes, salt and pepper to taste and top with Parmesan cheese.
"The great thing about this is you can make it and eat it for two days. As it sits, the flavour develops and the kale really holds up to that dressing and doesn't wilt," Cushing says.
Add creaminess and contrast with avocado, colour with peppers and variety with grilled vegetables.
Dress up a can of chickpeas with "some citrus zest to kick up that flavour a lot. Add a little bit of fresh onion — I go with a Vidalia or red onion because it's sweet (and adds) a little bit of crunch," said Cushing. "That's just a lovely salad and you can put in all kinds of grilled vegetables."
Instead of cooking pasta for salad, Cushing opts for versatile Vietnamese vermicelli, a rice noodle that can be soaked in very hot, not boiling, water for 15 to 20 minutes to soften. If you put the noodles in boiling water, they will get sticky, she cautions.
The blender and food processor are great tools to keep the kitchen cool.
Whirl the ingredients for soup in a blender. "Gazpacho is to me the quintessential cold soup that ... really feels rich and satisfying." A cold fruit soup can also be delicious and refreshing.
Raw salsas or sauces whipped up in the food processor add zip to grilled fish, chicken or shrimp.
Cushing suggests pureeing a plum tomato, lime juice, touch of chili, salt, pepper and a teeny bit of olive oil — "sometimes I add a bit of honey depending on the texture of the tomato" — for a fresh colourful sauce with shrimp, halibut or salmon.
A rotisserie chicken is a godsend. If you don't eat it all the first night, remove leftovers from the bone (the meat keeps better), wrap in plastic and make a sandwich with it the next day or add it to a bean, quinoa or kale salad.
For dessert, "fruit is my No. 1 go-to thing," says Cushing.
A bowl of Greek yogurt can be sweetened with honey and topped with fresh fruit and toasted nuts. "You feel like you're finishing your meal with something sweet but not too heavy."
Cushing varies the campfire favourite s'mores with bananas. Cut a peeled banana in half, insert chocolate bits into the cut ends, wrap in foil and grill. Slice over graham crackers. "It's fantastic — a little bit ooey and gooey."