Cooking TM_CK_SMMRSLO_AP_001

I’ve never been much of a summer girl. I like going to the beach, wearing flip flops, and the smell of sunscreen, but the heat always gets me (plus, growing up in New England, I’m a sucker for fall). As a home cook, I’m torn when it comes to summer cooking. The season is bursting with fresh, readily available ingredients, but trying to cook a feast indoors in the midst of the summer heat is dreadful — not to mention wanting to spend time outside in the beautiful weather instead of stuck in my kitchen. And ever since a traumatic barbecue incident which ended with my father having to hose down the grill (shrimp and asparagus included), my outlets for summer cooking are limited. That’s why I turn to one of my most trusted kitchen tools when the summer heat blazes: my slow cooker.

Yes, the appliance you might think is only good for pot roasts or hearty cold-weather stews is a lifesaver during the summer. Tucked away in the corner of my kitchen counter, it cooks for hours on its own without me having to hover over a burning flame or open a hot oven. It also keeps me safely away from the grill and allows me the freedom to enjoy the sunshine without having to be tied to my kitchen.

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_SLOWC_FI_001

I learned early that a good slow cooker is both a budget and sanity saver on busy days. I bought my very first one at a thrift store when I was 23 and living alone for the first time. It held four quarts, was avocado green, and cost $3. In those days, I would make cheap, filling things like split pea soup and pots of long-simmered beans flavored with just a little bacon.

I still make some of those same comforting dishes that I started with, but in more recent years, have discovered that one of the very best things that a slow cooker can do is make a tender roast chicken.

Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_SLOWCK_FI_001

When you think of a slow cooker, what do you think of? Do you even know what a slow cooker is? Yeah, your mom might have had one — a white crock most likely adorned with a stenciled blue flower design around the outside like my mom’s — used only when she made beef stew. Otherwise it probably sat in the deep corners of a lower kitchen cabinet next to the juicer or meat grinder. You probably thought beef stew was the only thing you could make in a slow cooker. Or that it’s an appliance you would never need in your kitchen. Do they still even make those things?

The Larder TM_TL_FBUTTER_AP_001

The first summer I started canning in earnest, I made a lot of jam. I used more than fifty pounds of sugar and filled hundreds of jars. Many of those half-pints became favors for my wedding, but even with all that giving away, I still had a whole lot of jam left to consume throughout the year.

As much as I liked having a full pantry, I came to realize that it was too darn much for the just one jam lover to manage (no matter how much I try to convince him of their virtues, my husband does not cotton to the sweet spreads). And with all that sugar, this girl just couldn’t live on jam alone. What was a newly obsessed canner to do?

I quickly discovered that the answer was to switch my allegiance from super sweetened jams to fruit butters. Fruit butters start life as fruit purees or sauces (no dairy products are involved). You cook them slowly over low heat, concentrating the sweetness of the fruit and creating a spreadable texture by evaporating out much of the water. In the end, they need only a touch of sweetener (sugar, honey or agave nectar all work). On occasion, I also add a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. MORE