You never knew your favorite stew-pot could produce all these amazing recipes
Uncle Jack's Mac-and-Cheese
Credit: Photo: Hector Sanchez

Let it braise, boil, or stew. All while swinging on the front porch. In the winter, it's nice to come home to a hearty meal when it's cold outside. And in the summer, it's a great way to cook without heating up the kitchen. Sure, we all know that the trusty slow cooker is good for chili, soup, or pot roast, but there are lots of unexpected things you can make with it. Here are some of our favorites.

Warm up with Comfort Food: Nothing is more comforting after a long day than a big bowl of mac and cheese. What if you could come home to oozy, cheesy cafeteria-style mac and cheese? You can. We love this recipe, which can be a side dish if you're feeding a crowd, but could also be dinner for a family of four.

Whip up a Tomato Sauce: And while we're on the subject of pasta, do you have a huge batch of fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes? Preserve their summery flavor by making this slow-cooker tomato sauce. Freeze or can to extra to enjoy out of season.

Use Chicken for Stock: We all know that homemade stock is a great thing to have on hand, but maybe you don't always have time to make it? Get the most from a store-bought rotisserie chicken by throwing it in the pot with aromatics and making simple chicken stock overnight.

Beat the Summer Heat: That's right, these dinner ideas won't heat up your kitchen. Make barbecue ribs or this delicious garlicky chicken for great protein options that don't require turning on the stove. Lettuce cups are another light summer option. And avoid turning on the stove by "baking" potatoes in the slow cooker. Simply wrap your spuds in foil, add to the cooker, and let it work its magic.

Get Creative With Fresh Fruit : Have you thought of making apple butter in the slow-cooker? Apple sauce is another natural, and poaching pears in the slow-cooker is a great way to create a no-fuss, hands-off dessert that comes in handy when you're entertaining.

Entertain Smart: In the colder months, there's nothing like cider or hot chocolate (spiked or not) to offer to guests. Keep big batches warm in the slow-cooker, and let guests serve themselves. No fondue pot? Gather ‘round the slow-cooker. Fuss-free breakfast for a crowd? Try making steel-cut oats in the slow-cooker.

Work It Outside the Kitchen: Yes, you read that right. Get the most out of your slow-cooker by trying a few of these non-food uses. Try perfuming the house by combining orange peels, cinnamon, and other aromatics with water and leaving the lid off. Apply the same idea sans aromatics if you're stuck in a pinch and need a humidifier but don't have one. Combine water, ½ cup of white vinegar and 2 tablespoons of salt in your slow-cooker to clean jewelry. Candlemaking becomes a less-messy project when you heat the wax in the slow-cooker.