Food & Drink

Cool cookin'

You won't catch Marilyn Markel in the kitchen for long on a hot summer evening.

Markel, the cooking school manager for A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, slices, grills and dices early on a weekend morning. After working long hours in the store during the week, she can complete most meals in less than 20 minutes.

“It's a great day on Saturday when by noon, you have five meals for the week,” she says.

When it's hot and you want to keep your cool making dinner, put the grill and the slow cooker to work for you. Both can save heat – and with planning, they save time, too.

Markel starts by shopping early Saturday at the Farmers Market in Chapel Hill. As she sips homemade lemonade with cucumber from one of the vendors, she picks out the best of summer's bounty.

Quickly, her cloth bag is filled with Japanese eggplant, squash, zucchini, tomatoes and gorgeous onions. Back home, Markel heads for the kitchen. She cuts the vegetables while her husband, Jim, gets the grill ready.

In addition to the produce she just bought, Markel adds peppers and portobello mushrooms to the grill.

“You're getting the best flavor out of the vegetables,” Markel says.

After picking up chicken and pizza dough from the grocery store, she'll turn her grilled ingredients into a frittata, vegetable tacos, pizza, chopped salad with rotisserie chicken and portobello sandwiches.

The grill isn't the only tool in the cool-kitchen arsenal. The slow cooker is perfect because it doesn't generate heat, says Beth Hensperger, author of “Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker: Recipes for Entertaining” (Harvard Common Press, $18.95).

“Your kitchen stays totally cool,” she says. “Feeding a family is tough. And when you're tired when you get home, even cooking a hamburger can be too much.”

With these tips from Markel, Hensperger and Lynne Rossetto Kasper, cookbook author and radio host of NPR's “The Splendid Table,” you can beat the heat and cut your evening time in the kitchen.