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6 shortcuts for 6 summer recipes

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By Aviva Patz
From Ideas That Spark 

You don't want to be stuck in a steamy kitchen on a hot summer day.

So how can you get dinner on the patio table faster?

"It can take less than 30 minutes, even as little as 10 minutes, to pull a meal together," says Marnie Swedberg, author of Marnie's Kitchen Shortcuts. "With just a little advanced planning and know-how, you can show up in the kitchen and pull it off." Here, Swedberg offers tips for slashing your cooking time on six all-American summer foods.


1. Make double-decker burgers
.

Take a cue from fast food restaurants and grill up slimmer patties. Craft the slim patties yourself from ground beef or turkey, or slice the store-bought, pre-shaped kind horizontally. While the burgers are still hot, add a slice of cheese or lettuce and tomato, and place another patty on top to create a zippier version of the monster burger that would have taken twice as long to cook.


2. Stir-fry kebabs.


Many markets sell pre-assembled kebabs -- meat or fish with vegetables on wooden skewers -- that you can literally just toss on the grill. But buying prepackaged food is more expensive. Instead, ask the butcher to chop your chicken, beef or lamb into 2-inch cubes; most butchers will do it free of charge. Then, instead of threading them onto skewers, which takes time, throw the meat and veggies into a grilling basket sprayed with cooking spray and treat it like a stir-fry on your grill.


3. Make faster fajitas.


Put a fun summer twist on leftovers by using any combination of meat and vegetables you have on hand to make fajitas. Simply season them with this quick mix: 3 teaspoons of seasoned salt, plus 1 teaspoon each of garlic powder, chili powder and onion powder. Saute with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Toss into toasted tortillas and serve.


4. Nuke corn on the cob
.

Peel off all but a few layers of husk. Microwave on high for three to four minutes per ear (or 10 to 11 minutes for four ears). Slip off the remaining husk and silk -- and serve! If you're grilling other foods, it's easy to throw partially husked corn on the grill at the same time. Or take your nuked and shucked corn, place it on a sheet of tinfoil and pop it on the grill for a quick minute or two to add that smoky taste.


5. Easier than pie
.

There are many shortcuts for pie. For the crust, you can use the store-bought kind or make your own in a flash by putting graham crackers or cookies in a blender with 1/4 cup butter and 1 tablespoon sugar and pressing them into a pie tin. You can also skip the crust entirely and just bake the filling by itself in ramekins. Add a dollop of frozen whipped topping or ice cream as garnish. If you have an hour or more before dessert time, make your own delicious fruit filling: Toss 3 to 4 cups of fresh or frozen berries with 3/4 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons flour, pour into pie shell and bake 45 minutes, or until it bubbles.


6. Make cleanup easy.


A fun party can quickly turn into a big mess. Avoid spending hours cleaning afterward, by buying enough paper products before the party. This way, you eliminate the need to use and wash dishes, glasses and real utensils. Designate two large, easy-to-spot garbage bags -- one for trash and one for cans and bottles -- so you don't need to separate recyclable items. Toss any food that's been out for a few hours, particularly if it's been sitting in the sun.


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