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A few years back, my aunt gave me a cavernous crock pot for Christmas. The idea of tossing a few chopped ingredients in it after breakfast, punching a button, and then simply serving up dinner several hours later sounded too good to be true, like one of those free timeshare gimmicks. It was.
I first ran into a trouble trying to figure out what to cook in it, until my sister came to the rescue with an entire cookbook full of recipes just for crock pots (imagine!).
Then my kids threw me a major speed bump in the form of "we don't like food that's mixed." Some kids will chow down chili, lasagna, and stir fry like half-starved wolf cubs, but mine are firmly in the "keep it plain and separate" camp. Somehow in my eagerness to streamline the dinner thing, I had overlooked this minor detail.
I tried off and on for a year to find crock pot meals that everyone could agree on. I was ready to give up and trade the bloody thing in for a milk shake mixer, when I finally stumbled upon two recipes that actually didn't cause cries of "No, not the crock pot, Mom!" when I haul the slow cooker up onto the counter.
The first, Apricot Lemon Chicken, was embarrassingly easy, with minimal prep. Add rice and a veggie, and you have a tasty meal that truly does not look like 17 things all mixed together.
The second success came with a recipe for Barbeque Turkey Sloppy Joes. I wagered I was on pretty shaky ground with this one, given that you start with ground meat and add a string of ingredients — one of which I'd never heard of. Maybe the mess factor of sloppy joes appealed to my kids enough to overcome what might easily be classified as "mixed" food items, but at any rate, only one out of three girls complained, and it was more of a mild comment about the "burnt" taste.
When I explained that I hadn't really burned dinner, just flavored it with hickory smoke, Ellie replied, "Oh, like when Pa smokes a deer with hickory chips in LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS."
Yup, just like that. Except instead of chipping and hauling wood all day, all I had to do for dinner was plug it in.