Heat in a heavy skillet over medium heat:
1 tablespoon neutral oil such as safflower
Add and brown well on all sides, about 2 minutes per side:
When you tell people you're from the South, they assume hot weather doesn't affect you. "Oh, you're from the South. You're used to it."
And while I do have a lot of experience dealing with hot, humid weather, I don't have a special gene that makes me impervious to unbearable temperatures. Some people thrive in hot weather. I am not one of those people.
Now that we're back to air conditionless apartment life (one of the features of the awesome old-school apartment building we live in is the funky, unusual windows--windows in which an air conditioning unit will not fit), we're re-learning how to cope with the heat. Mostly, this amounts to several fans on full blast and sticking our heads into the freezer when things get really rough.
But one easy way to keep your house (or apartment) cool is to stop cooking.
Sounds extreme, right? But really, I'm not telling you to order take out (although that would be okay, too). I'm saying that you can "cook" without actually cooking anything.
There are plenty of dishes that don't require a stovetop or oven and even more that only require you to heat something briefly. In short, this is not the time for roast chicken or long-simmering soups. This is a week for gazpacho and panzanella, for granita and quinoa salad.
And you're probably also looking for a dessert that won't monopolize your oven or make you feel like you just went to a Bikram yoga class. Enter: No-Bake Cheesecake.
My mother used to make this all the time. Her usual protocol was to top the whole thing with those canned cherries in goopy red syrup. As kids, we loved this dessert. It meant summer and being out of school and staying up late. But now, I'm looking for a fresher variation on the theme. Something a little less cloying.
This "cheesecake" is so simple it hurts. I made a basic graham cracker crust, which does require about 10 minutes in the oven. If you're not feeling it, you can buy a pre-made graham crust or you could hypothetically go crustless, although this last approach will be messier.
I topped the crust with blueberry purée, then with the foolproof cheesecake filling, and finally with raspberry purée. If all that puréeing sounds too fussy, you can always just top the cheesecake with fresh berries in an artful pattern. It will look like you sweated up a storm, when really you were cool as a cucumber.
Note: As I said above, you can just top this with fresh berries and be done with it. I went for the purées to get a layered effect, but I have been known to overdo things. For the filling, you can go as highbrow or lowbrow as you want. Use an all-natural cream cheese or just the standard stuff. You could probably even replace the cream cheese with mascarpone--I would have if the stuff wasn't so darn expensive. We like to use Longevity Brand condensed milk because the only ingredients are milk and sugar--you can find this brand at Asian markets and some well-stocked grocery stores.
Prepare the crust or have ready one pre-made graham cracker crust.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. In the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan, combine:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 3/4 of a sleeve of graham crackers)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted and cooled (I browned my butter for extra flavor--if you want to do this, read this article on browning butter)
When the crumbs are evenly moistened with the butter, press them evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan. To get a very even crust, press a pie pan of equal size into the pan with the crumbs and remove. Bake the crust for 10 to 12 minutes or until browned. Allow the crust to cool completely.
Make the blueberry purée. Combine in a food processor:
1 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Process until very smooth. Taste and add more sugar and lemon juice if needed. Pour the blueberry purée into the cooled crust and place in the freezer to chill for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Make the cheesecake filling. Beat until smooth in a stand mixer:
1 pound (16 ounces) cream cheese
Zest of 2 limes
Add, with the mixer running, in a thin stream until combined:
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add slowly with the mixer running:
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (from 3 to 4 limes)
Beat until very smooth. Pour the filling over the blueberry purée, and smooth it out. Place back in the freezer to chill while you make the raspberry purée.
Clean your food processor bowl and combine in it:
1 cup raspberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Process until very smooth. Taste and add more sugar and lemon juice if needed. Pour the purée over the cheesecake filling and spread it to cover the filling completely. Place in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.