Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh Oh Oh It's Magic

It always seems like people who take a particular interest in magic are weird. As soon as the first secret to a card trick is revealed, the magic is gone and you learn it is all an illusion. Magic tricks become a way for people to annoy each other by performing them and not saying how they are done. Even though both parties know it is not really magic at all, the magician pretends that it is.

This is not to say I do not enjoy watching people perform magic tricks; I just prefer to know how it is done afterward. I think most of us can share some fond memories about performing card tricks with friends as children. It is always fun to watch the illusion, but I was always the kid pleading with friends to reveal their secrets long after they were finished. I remember getting angry at the television when those long magic specials would air on NBC once a year.

This could be linked to my aversion to surprises.

There are some types of magic I am partial to: the Orlando Magic and real magic. What is real magic you ask? Real magic is when you discover what a slow cooker is capable of for the first time.

I have used my crock pot to make some of the best meals I have ever put together with the least amount of effort. I love to spend time making an involved meal with several ingredients and cooking styles, but the only day of the week I have the time to do something like that is for a Sunday night dinner. During the week, the crock pot is the best way to go. I can usually throw all the ingredients together in the morning (usually within 5 - 10 minutes) and turn it on a low setting to cook all day long. When I walk in the door at night, the whole apartment smells of goodness.

It has been a little over a year since I used my crock pot for the first time. Zach's parents bought it for us when they were visiting town last summer. This recipe was the first one I tried and has become one of my favorites. It is from my Better Homes Cookbook that my sister-in-law's mother, affectionately known as Mama Jake, gave to me for college graduation. The book calls it "paella" even though I am sure the Spaniards would beg to differ. It is more of a thick chicken and sausage stew. Either way, you will not be disappointed.

Magic Trick Secret Revealed: Crock Pot Chicken and Sausage Paella

Makes 6 servings (recipe from the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook)

2 1/2 to 3 lbs chicken pieces (breast, thigh, drumstick) skinned
1 tbsp cooking oil
8 oz cooked, smoked turkey sausage (halved lengthwise and sliced)
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves minced garlic
2 tbsp fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried crushed thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp thread saffron or 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 14oz can reduced sodium chicken broth
1/2 C water
2 C chopped tomatoes
2 medium yellow or green sweet peppers, sliced
1 C frozen peas
1 C frozen yellow corn (optional - not included in the original recipe...I just like it)

In a large skillet, brown the chicken pieces in the hot oil. This seals the juices inside the chicken to retain the moisture during the slow cooking process. To be honest, I usually skip this step. Oops!

Place chicken in a 4 quart slow cooker and add sausage, onion and garlic. Sprinkle with thyme (if using dry thyme only), black pepper and saffron (or turmeric). Pour chicken broth and water over all.

Cook on low heat for 7 to 8 hours or on high heat for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. I always cook on low heat, and I usually have to leave the cooker on for about 11 hours since that is how long I am out of the apartment. Oops again!

Add the tomatoes, peppers, peas, corn and fresh thyme (if using). Cover and let sit with the vegetable for about 5 minutes. The meat will just fall off the bone as your scoop it out of the pot.

Serve over saffron rice. Or for a healthier option, eat it without just fine on its own. It is also just as good or even better the next day. This is true of many slow cooker dishes.

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