it’s hot. And turning on the oven is like torture.
But Livermore’s Rebekah Culp is a master of no-bake cooking. Even when summer temperatures exceed 100 degrees, Culp doesn’t sweat, as she draws much inspiration from the creative “toastini” and large, hearty salads served at her artisan cafe, The Press.
At The Press, which has locations in Pleasanton and Livermore, Culp and his team use Acme whole wheat sourdough and homemade ricotta to create great seasonal toastinis like Peach and Coppa with Honey and Basil or The Elote-Ro with local roasted corn, bacon, sauces and “summer fairy dust”, which is just Tajin. But we now call this chili-lime mixture summer pixie dust.
“You have your carbs, add your good fats and proteins, sprinkle in some toppings for texture, and it becomes a complete meal,” says Culp, founder and co-owner, with her husband, Marshall, of popular Tri-Valley cafes.
So when the temperature skyrockets and you just can’t eat another no-recipe salad with store-bought chicken, there are amazing alternatives. Indulge yourself with Culp’s toastinis, or serve them as the perfect accompaniment to other no-bake dishes endorsed by California chefs and food bloggers, from mezze or charcuterie platters to Andrea Potischman’s spicy sushi bowls, with Andy Baraghani’s cold noodles with lemony peanut sauce, watermelon gazpacho or citrus burrata.
Culp had the idea opened up in 2015, after leaving a career in corporate catering to start his own business in Pleasanton. Since then, this little cafe on Santa Rita Road has doubled in size. In 2018, the Culps opened their second location on First Street in downtown Livermore, where they serve 10 varieties of toastinis alongside Chromatic Coffee.
“People told me they didn’t want the standard breakfast with pancakes and potatoes,” she says. “So I came up with an avocado and egg toast. And every year we keep adding more.
His advice: Start with a hearty loaf sliced thinner than you normally would and toast it over medium heat. Spread the toasted bread with a layer of goat cheese or ricotta and top it with fresh slices of whatever you have on hand – tomatoes, beets, stone fruits. Add depth with a drizzle of good olive oil or honey, and crisp up with microgreens, seeds, bacon bits or sea salt. Avocado is wonderful in place of ricotta . And any nut butter works great with fresh fruit.
“They’re so easy to make and so versatile,” Culp says.
If you’re a planner, like Michelle Tam of Palo Alto, you can anticipate the heat by cooking up extra batches of protein before the temperatures start to soar. Nom Nom Paleo blogger and award-winning cookbook author tests recipes for a living, so she can’t walk away from cooking even when she wants to.
“If I know the weekend is going to be hot, I’ll throw two flank steaks on the grill instead of one or make an extra batch of ginger poached chicken,” Tam says. “Both taste great cold and can be used in different ways.”
Her family’s favorite way is in salads bursting with fresh, crunchy vegetables, like carrots, cucumbers and daikon radishes drizzled with sesame-ginger vinaigrette. On hot days, Tam stays away from the oven and stovetop, but relies on smaller appliances that don’t heat up the house, like the microwave, Instant Pot, or air fryer. She cooks whole chicken in her air fryer.
His secret weapon is microwave cookware called Anyday. Invented by a Chinese-American woman and backed by Momofuku chef David Chang, the airtight, vented glass bowls lock in moisture, steaming meat and vegetables in minutes. “It’s quite life changing—and I promise I’m not working for them,” Tam laughs.
When her family of four craves more than salad, Tam prefers cold or room-temperature egg dishes, such as frittatas or noodles made with kohlrabi or daikon (as a gluten-free eater, she gets tired). “Remember to blanch the daikon first to reduce its bite,” she says.
At Beth Lee’s in San Jose, the OMG! A delicious blogger and Jewish cookbook author assembles bowls, platters of mezze and charcuterie boards while rummaging through her fridge.
“You’re usually a little less hungry when it’s warm, so just pour in a glass of cold lemonade or rosé and choose those things,” says Lee, author of “The Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook” (Rockridge Press, $17).
Look in the cheese drawer, discover deli meats, fresh fruit or chunks of fish, Lee says, and never underestimate the power of prosciutto, whether it’s from Eataly or Trader Joe’s. She’s been known to cook a meal out of leftover crispy stir-fried grains. briefly with herbs or tomatoes and an egg in the middle, egg toast in a hole.
On warmer nights, Lee will prepare a platter with store-bought hummus and cover it with za’atar and a drizzle of good olive oil. She’ll toast leftover bread as a vehicle for avocado, canned fish, or smoked salmon. Or she’ll marinate extra-firm tofu with soy sauce, sesame oil, rice or black vinegar, chopped green onions, and togarashi.
“We love chilled tofu,” she says. “It’s so refreshing. Take out a bag of edamame. You may have leftover rice. Suddenly, it’s a meal.