With temperatures soaring, everyone's feeling the heat, and most are staying out of the kitchen, which is an understandable urge. Who wants to fire up the stove or the oven when the AC is already overworked?
While it may seem reasonable to hibernate in front of the fan and the Food Network and simply watch other people cook, that would mean giving up on one of the best seasons for entertaining. But that's a sacrifice that's unnecessary, as it is possible to feed a crowd without heating up the kitchen.
One of my favorite ways is by using a slow cooker. I know I've expounded on the joys of this appliance before, but with the summer weather we've experienced in the past few weeks, I feel it is a subject worth revisiting.
Slow cookers are perfect for summer meals, particularly if you're entertaining. They're versatile, able to make anything from appetizers to desserts. They're economical: It's less expensive to cook something in a slow cooker for seven hours than it is in a 400-degree oven for 1 hour. And it turns inexpensive, tougher cuts of meat into tender, succulent morsels. Best of all, it can cook what's in the pot without heating the rest of the house.
Oh yes, and meals in slow cookers are easy to make. Most recipes consist of combining a list of ingredients in the pot and walking away while the meal cooks itself. Ding, ding, ding ... winner!
At our house, the slow cooker is our favorite way to prepare pulled pork, a meal much beloved by my husband and three sons that also makes enough to feed a few more hungry friends. Now, now, I can already hear the groans coming from the connoisseurs of the smoked pulled pork variety. Rest assured, I understand what I'm proposing is not in that esteemed category. But I can still achieve a wonderful flavor and texture by cooking the meat for hours in a slow cooker. And it can be done unattended, which leaves my hands free to mix up a large pitcher of Arnold Palmers.
The Asian flavor sets my pulled pork apart from the barbecued kind. I enjoy using hoisin sauce (which to me tastes like Chinese BBQ sauce), soy sauce, fresh ginger and sesame oil. It's perfect served with an Asian coleslaw on the side or even on top of the sandwich, one that uses a rice vinegar-based dressing instead of the more traditional mayonnaise. You can use your favorite recipe or simply toss some purchased low-fat Asian (ginger and sesame flavored) salad dressing with thinly sliced cabbage, carrots and green onions. Scatter in some toasted sesame seeds and you're set to go.
All that's left to do is dig out the slow cooker you've packed away until winter, and invite a few friends over. They'll be thrilled to get a delicious meal, and you will be thrilled to be as cool as a cucumber.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.