When the weather is hot, the kitchen is hot, so use the cooler evening weather to your advantage and do most of the preparation for dinner the night before.
Make-ahead salads are a perfect choice. They're delicious, crunchy and tempting. Best of all, they are easy to prepare and so satisfying.
Take Chicken Salad Ring, for example. It's party-pretty and delicious enough to put in the gourmet class. While some chicken salads are too pallid to be interesting, this salad ring has a real zesty personality all its own, thanks to crushed crackers, crushed pineapple and chopped pecans. It's a hearty main-dish salad, perfect to serve for lunch or dinner during the warm summer months. Just add rolls, iced tea or coffee and fruit and the meal is complete.
And, not only is this salad cool to eat, it's also cool to prepare if you make it ahead and let the flavors mingle all day.
Some of the other suggestions that follow may seem a little intimidating, but there's nothing quite like the elegance of an unmolded dish presented on a gorgeous platter. Armed with a few tips, even the novice cook can prepare molded salads with confidence and good results.
Molds are simply containers that have been specially designed to shape food. They are often made of tin-lined copper, stainless steel, porcelain or earthenware and may be ring-shaped, square, rectangular or shaped like an animal (usually a fish or lobster) or a fruit (quite often a pineapple).
As a rule, food with considerable texture is prepared in a relatively plain mold, while smoother-textured food is considered more appropriate for decorative molds with ribs, swirls or detailed shapes.
A good molded recipe for hesitant cooks is Chicken Loaf Aspic, a layer of flavorful congealed chicken crowned with another layer of spicy tomato aspic. Although the two layers give it an impressive appearance, this recipe is actually quite simple to prepare.
First, the aspic layer is made by sprinkling unflavored gelatin over vegetable cocktail juice. As the mixture heats in a saucepan, the gelatin slowly dissolves. Horseradish is added for flavoring and the tomato aspic is ready to be poured into the mold. For easier unmolding later, brush the inside of the mold with a bit of oil first.
While the aspic chills, the chicken layer is prepared. This time, the gelatin is dissolved in canned chicken broth, then heated in a saucepan. The broth is then chilled until slightly thick; a mixture of finely chopped chunk chicken, sour cream, shredded carrot, chopped green onions and horseradish is folded into the broth. The thickened chicken layer is spooned onto the aspic layer to chill at least four hours.
To unmold when thoroughly chilled, remove from the refrigerator and run a knife or metal spatula around the edges of the mold, then dip the bottom of the mold into a shallow pan of hot water several times to loosen this area. Take a chilled serving platter and place it over the open side of the mold. Hold platter and mold tightly together and invert. When you lift the mold, the food should remain on the platter. Some recommend returning the molded dish to the refrigerator to firm up after this process.
Other simple molds are Pineapple-Cheese Chicken Mold and Molded Salad Primavera.
CHICKEN SALAD RING
2 cups diced cooked chicken
22 rich flavor, rectangular-shaped crackers, finely rolled, about 1 cup crumbs
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple
1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Combine chicken, cracker crumbs, pineapple and juice, mayonnaise, pecans, celery, onion, egg yolks, parsley flakes and lemon juice.
Beat egg whites in medium bowl with electric mixer at medium speed, until stiff, then fold into chicken mixture. Evenly spread into greased 6-cup ring mold.
Set mold in large shallow baking pan and place in oven. Pour in hot water to about 1/4-inches deep. Bake at 350 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until wood pick, inserted in center, comes out clean. Remove ring mold from baking pan to wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Unmold onto serving platter and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until serving time. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
TURKEY SPROUT SALAD
1 (8-ounce) package medium egg noodles
2 cups cooked turkey, cubed
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3 hard-cooked eggs, diced
1/2 cup sliced sweet red pepper
1/2 cup cashews
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
Bottled Italian dressing
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and cool in cold water. Drain again. Combine with turkey, sprouts, mushrooms, eggs, pepper, cashews, sunflower seeds, celery and green onion. Chill. Serve with dressing. Makes 8 servings.
CHICKEN LOAF ASPIC
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups vegetable cocktail juice
2 teaspoons horseradish
1 (14 1/2-ounce) chicken broth
2 (5-ounce) cans chunk chicken, finely chopped
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup shredded carrot