Sloppy Joes

Sloppy joes you can make with meat or without, with equal success.

When I first started this blog, I was telling my co-worker and friend Haydee about it, and the first thing she asked me after I described it was something like, “Oh, and then you’ll give the healthier versions of the foods, right?”

I looked at her like she had two heads.

If my mom’s food were made healthier, it wouldn’t be mom food.  I mean, make clam chowder with low-fat milk and less butter and you just change the whole nature of the thing.

But sometimes. SOMEtimes, it really doesn’t matter.

One example is food that’s already very good when it’s unadorned. The glory of a tomato salad made with tomatoes at peak season shines, whether you use a lot of olive oil or just a little. If it’s an exceptionally good tomato, olive oil is gilding the lily. Not that I don’t like a good gilded lily from time to time.

Another example is a certain class of food that I tend to call “trashy,” but I should probably find another term. Help me out here — casual? I don’t know. Fast food, I guess.

Anyway, sloppy joes fall into this category for me. Their essence is in the textures, the sweet-and-sour-and-a-little-smoky sauce, and the fun of trying to eat it without getting it everywhere. I found out when I was a vegetarian that sloppy joes can be made with anything from tofu to lentils to commercial veggie crumbles, and the experience is roughly the same.

Growing up, I had NO idea you could make sloppy joes yourself. It was a can of Manwich in our house, and never anything else. When I was a kid, that sauce had lots of chunks of green pepper and onion in it. Those are smaller and less plentiful, but the sauce is still passable, if sweeter than I like. As it turns out, though, you don’t need the can, because you probably have most or all of the ingredients you need at home, and when you make it yourself, you get to tweak it to be just how you like it.

What you need:

Something tomatoey: Ketchup, barbecue sauce, tomato paste/sauce/puree, whatever — I’ve even used V8 juice.

Something smokey: I’ve used smoked paprika, liquid smoke, chipotle peppers, and smoky barbecue sauce.

Something sweet/sour: Ketchup is already sweet/sour, and so is barbecue sauce, but if you use another tomato product, you’ll want to add some kind of sweet thing (sugar, honey, apple juice concentrate, etc.) and some kind of sour thing (usually vinegar, but lemon juice, citric acid, and tamarind paste all work). Also, if you like things tangy rather than sweet, you can cut down or eliminate the sugar, and you can add some mustard (powder and/or prepared).

Something crumbly: browned ground beef, veggie crumbles, crumbled extra-firm (drained/pressed) tofu, ground turkey, firm cooked lentils, smoked mushrooms, crumbled tempeh, even brown rice. When I could eat soy, tempeh was probably my favorite of these. Nowadays, I mostly use Quorn crumbles.

Onions and bell peppers, any color.

Below is a recipe of sorts, or click on the thumbnails in the gallery for step-by-step photos. The slaw you see is James’s adaptation of Bakesale Betty’s — we were customers at her shop on its first day, and we continued to go there a lot until we left Oakland. If you have a chance to go, you really should. The line is always long, but it moves fast, and you should get there early, because when she sells out of chicken, it’s all over. Our location was on the corner of 51st and Telegraph in Temescal, but there are other locations, or there were last time I checked.

Eventually, I’ll make a post about the slaw, because we eat it all the time.

Do you make your own versions of fast foods you had as a child? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Sloppy Joes
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
 
This recipe is just a rough guide. Use what you have. Be flexible. These are sloppy, after all.
Ingredients
  • 1 lb of meat or veggie substitute (see post for ideas)
  • ½ onion, chopped finely
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped finely
  • 1 clove garlic, minced, or to taste
  • 1 to 1.5 cups ketchup or other tomato product (see post for ideas)
  • Something smoky (see post for ideas)
  • Something sweet/sour (see post for ideas)
  • Something spicy (optional -- I use either sriracha, chipotle, chili powder, hot sauce, or hot peppers)
  • 4 sandwich rolls
Instructions
  1. Saute onion, pepper, and garlic in about ½ cup water on medium-high heat until translucent, around 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add remaining ingredients except for rolls, along with about a cup of water.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened.
  4. Spoon ¼ of the meat onto each roll and serve.

 

Chopped liver

Chopped liver like my mom makes. Mainly because my mom made it with me.

To Mom and to me, cooking is like breathing. I know that cooking is a skill that has to be taught, but both of us have been cooking for so long that it feels like we’ve been doing it all our lives. So I understood what she meant when I walked in with my camera and notebook to learn to make chopped liver and she shook her head.

“People think making my own chopped liver is such a big deal, but it’s practically the easiest thing in the world to make.”

It never occurs to her how daunting a recipe with several steps, even easy steps, can seem to a non-cook, and before I started this blog in 2009, it really didn’t cross my mind much, either. For the blog’s sake, I take photos and jot down quantities, but I don’t remember when I learned how to tell how long to cook something or how much onion to use, and I don’t write those things down in my normal day-to-day life. Knowing how to achieve the taste and texture I want feels like a part of me, and that’s mainly because Mom has been letting me help with the cooking since I was able to stand on a stool in the kitchen.

When I was planning what to cook for my first recipe back after a long break from blogging, I looked over the list of Mom’s recipes, the ones I’ve already done here, and was surprised not to see chopped liver. I grew up on the stuff, and it’s one of those things that is never as good in a restaurant or store as it is homemade. I think many of us have those things that we only like done a certain way, and the livers are like that for me.

While we made these this morning, Mom told me about a time when a friend of a friend from Israel was visiting and Mom made chopped liver for her. The woman from Israel was so happy to have some food that reminded her of home, and today, I’m feeling that, too.

If you haven’t had chopped liver before, it may remind you of pâté. Pâté is delicious and fancy, but chopped liver is, well, chopped liver. It’s cheap and homey and casual and the perfect thing to eat on toast as an easy, quick meal. Mom likes it best on rye toast. I am more likely to use white toast or crackers (or just a spoon).

If you’re a novice cook and you like chopped liver, this really is a great starter recipe, and it’s something different to add to your hors d’oeuvres repertoire. There’s nothing difficult about it, and I’ll even help you with shortcuts and substitutions. Plus, the quantities are forgiving. Just make sure your livers are fresh and you’re good to go.

 

Chopped Liver

Equipment:

Either a meat/food grinder or a food processor
A frying pan (nonstick isn’t necessary)
A large bowl

Ingredients:

1 pound of fresh chicken livers
1/3 cup schmaltz. If you don’t have schmaltz, you can use oil or butter. There’s also a mayo alternative — see note
1 large onion, chopped (the pieces should be small enough to fit into your grinder chute or processor bowl)
3 hard-boiled eggs (if you’re not sure how to boil an egg, Elise will help you out)
2 or 3 good-sized slices of white bread. We used home-baked today; if your bread is especially soft, you might want to use an extra slice.
salt to taste

Directions:

Mom's antique grinder

If you’re using a meat grinder (also known as a food grinder), set it up with a coarse disk on it. If you’re using a food processor, a regular metal blade is what you want. If you have neither, this can absolutely be done by hand with just a knife, but expect it to take quite some time, and that’s really just a last resort.

frying chicken livers in schmaltz

Heat schmaltz in a frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken livers without draining. Cook and stir over medium heat until the livers are firm, around 5 minutes. Cut into one of the livers and make sure most or all of the pink color is gone. If not, cook a couple more minutes and test again until they’re cooked through. A tiny bit of pink is okay, but if the livers aren’t firm, they’ll end up soupy once they’re ground up.

chopped onions

Remove the livers from the heat and place all the ingredients near the grinder or food processor.

frying chicken livers in schmaltz

With a slotted spoon, remove the livers from the schmaltz and run through the grinder or pulse in the food processor until coarsely chopped.

running chicken livers through a grinder

Put the bread slices into the schmaltz to soak it up while you grind the onions and eggs.

Pan of bread soaked in schmaltz

Next, grind the rest of the items in this order: onions, eggs, soaked bread.

grinding the onions

hard-boiled eggs being ground in a grinder

 

bowl of ground ingredients for chopped liver

Mix everything together. Test the texture and salt to taste. I usually don’t need much salt, if any. Some people like it saltier.  Remember that the livers will firm up in the fridge, so you want the texture to be a little thinner and looser than you’re hoping they’ll be when they’re cold. If the livers are too soft for your taste, add more bread. If they’re too dry, add a little schmaltz.

Jar of chopped liver

Note: In a pinch, you can skip the schmaltz and use a good brand of mayo. In this case, cook the livers in a small amount of oil or butter, process all the other ingredients in the grinder or food processor, and then mix the ground ingredients with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of mayo, to taste. The flavor is similar, but not as good as with schmaltz.

Pantry Cooking Project, Day 7

Day 7 of the project; still plenty of food in the house

Long, hard day. Here, have a photo!

This is dinner: macaroni with homemade spaghetti sauce, cooked green beans, and a salad of tomatoes, avocados, red peppers, olive oil, salt, and balsamic vinegar.

dinner

 

It’s day 7 of our project, and we’re nowhere near running out of food. We are still shopping, but only for veggies and coffee. I am still eating out a lot; not sure when I became a person who can’t go a week without buying prepared food. Good to know about myself, though!

Breakfast was an apple and a slice of cheddar. I took a cellphone photo of it, but it didn’t turn out.

Lunch was an avocado sandwich, a cold artichoke dipped in homemade mayo, and a pear. Later, a bought snack: cheese fries and an iced tea.

I forgot to post the week’s menu plan, so I may as well do that:

Monday (pasta): see above

Tuesday (Mexican): If I’m up for it, I’ll make flour tortillas and have soft tacos. Otherwise, it’s Spanish rice again, with beans and veggies (I bought tomatoes and cilantro today).

Wednesday (noodles): Peanut noodles with tofu

Thursday (sandwiches): Veggie burgers with homemade buns

Friday (stir-fry): Stir-fry seitan and rice and veggies

Saturday (chickpea gravy): chickpea gravy and potatoes

Sunday (anything I want to make): fish and chips

Money spent on groceries today: $30.70 (project total $86.56)
Money spent in restaurants: $7 (project total $99.76)
Food gifts received today: $0 (project total $17)
Things we’ve run out of: Mayonnaise, ice cream, hamburger patties, pork chops

Pantry Cooking Project, Day 6

Buttermilk pancakes and a brief report on day 6.

Just a quicky today.

Breakfast was my basic buttermilk pancakes (recipe below) and a ham-and-green-onion frittata.

breakfast

Lunch was the leftover rice from the day before and some of our farmer’s market bounty: strawberries and donut peaches.

lunch

Dinner was a fancy restaurant with a friend, so basically, I’m not doing all that well in my resolve not to spend much in restaurants this month. Oh, well.

Money spent on groceries: $16.25 (project total $55.86)
Money spent in restaurants: $55 (project total $92.76)
Food gifts received today: $0 (project total $17)
Things we’ve run out of: Mayonnaise, ice cream, hamburger patties, pork chops

Simple buttermilk pancakes
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 3
 
Ingredients
Dry ingredients
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • dash salt
  • 1-3 Tbsp sugar
Wet ingredients
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I use the thick Bulgarian kind; it makes a difference)
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter, plus more for the pan
Instructions
  1. Combine the dry ingredients with a fork in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Combine the buttermilk and egg in a small bowl and add all at once to the dry ingredients. Stir until the batter is smooth.
  3. Stir in the melted butter.
  4. Fry the pancakes in melted butter. If you're unsure how to cook pancakes, leave me a comment, and I'll be more specific.

 

Ah, bliss. (Pantry Cooking Project, Day 5)

First weekend post-graduation. So nice to just putter around my house and relax!

It’s my first weekend as a college graduate, and it’s off to a wonderful start. Slept in a little bit (until 8am! yay!) and then delighted in a gorgeous breakfast James made us: morel omelettes, potatoes, V-8, and tea. Later, scarfed an entire pint of raspberries all by myself. Life is good.

Today’s food:

The aforementioned breakfast.

breakfast

Lunch was veggie burgers with homemade mayo (you may recall we ran out of store-bought pretty early) and oven fries. James made lunch, as well. He’s a really useful guy to have around.

lunch

(I made the mayo from this recipe from the Frugal Farm Wife, Elise New.)

mayo

For dinner, I thought I’d try my hand at making flour tortillas using my friend Koko’s instructions, but I ended up feeling less ambitious than that, so I just made “Spanish rice” instead, and served it with refried beans and a tomato-and-avocado salad.

dinner

(I haven’t been mentioning snacks. Today’s snacks were the aforementioned raspberries, some milk and cookies, and a couple of white peaches. Ah, summer!)

Money spent on groceries today: $0 (project total $39.61)
Money spent in restaurants today: $0 (project total $37.76)
Food gifts received today: $0 (project total $17)
Things we’ve run out of: Mayonnaise, ice cream, hamburger patties, pork chops

Easy Spanish rice
Author: 
Recipe type: Side dish
Cuisine: Pseudo-Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 small bell pepper (any color), finely diced
  • 1½ cups medium- or long-grained white rice
  • 3 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • 2½ cups stock or water (I used a knorr beef tub in hot water)
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes (or tomato sauce, or diced tomatoes with the liquid)
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for a couple of minutes, until softened. Add pepper and rice and cook and stir 5-8 minutes, until rice starts to turn light brown. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
  2. Add in broth and tomatoes. Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Let simmer 20 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork and serve.