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. I’m also making a video version of the sloppy joe recipe. When I have the video ready, I’ll link to that, as well.

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.

 

Mom’s kind of burger

Classic American burger.

Just a quick post today. The burgers I made would make my mom’s mouth water. Rare, lean beef. Toasted buns. Lots of veggies. (Cheese on James’s, but not on mine. I don’t usually do cheese on burgers.)

SO delicious. The kind of food I grew up on. Just a quarter pound of lean ground beef for each burger, sprinkled with salt/pepper/garlic and seared in a hot pan. Served with oven fries (from fresh russets, tossed in oil and roasted in a single layer in a 400°F oven) and plenty of ketchup to dip the fries in.

cheeseburger, oven fries, ketchup

Yum.

Dad’s Easy Nacho Night

Comfort food from Kombucha’s dad

[Note from Serene: Please welcome our new contributor, Kombucha! She has graciously agreed to tell us about her own Dad Food, and I’m happily anticipating hearing more from her.]

Our family ate dinner every night together while I was growing up, and my mom cooked 99.9 percent of those meals. This percentage is probably not entirely mathematically accurate. I can count on my fingers the number of times my dad cooked for us as kids. He had one meal that he could make, and we had to help him out lest he forget one of the ingredients.

dad's nachos as tostadas

My mom worked full time in addition to raising my brother and me, and what was so comforting to me about those few instances that my dad cooked was not just the meal that he made — an easy layered nacho recipe that can also be turned into a great burrito filling and be adapted for vegetarians (just leave out the meat) — but knowing that she was going to be able to relax a little when she got home. My parents worked extremely hard to provide a good life for us, and eating fresh healthy good food was always part of that. I always felt guilty that my mom had to cook a meal after working a full day at her demanding retail job.

This is not a healthful recipe, but it is easy, quick, and a crowd-pleaser. I’ve made it for many friends over the years who have raved about it. I always think of my dad when I do.

sauteed pecans and onions

In the photos, you can see this version I made with spinach and pecans cooked with onions and green chiles. I am a vegetarian now, so I try to find creative ways to recreate the recipes I used to like with meat!
layering beans with veggies and cheese

Easy Layered Nachos (or baked burritos)
Author: 
Recipe type: Main dish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • ½ pound ground turkey or ground beef
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 small can diced green chiles
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (Monterey Jack, cheddar, pepper Jack, or Mexican blend, or any combination totaling 1 cup)
  • Salsa
  • Sour cream
  • Guacamole, optional
  • Tortilla chips, taco shells, or flour tortillas
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Sauté meat and onion with salt and pepper until the meat is completely cooked.
  3. In an 8"-by-8" square baking dish, layer the beans, meat, chiles, and cheese.
  4. Bake 25 minutes.
  5. Serve with tortillas for dipping, or use taco shells or flour tortillas to create warm tacos or burritos. Serve with salsa and sour cream. Add guacamole if you have fresh avocados.
  6. Side dishes: Rice or salad.

layered casserole after baking

Kombucha is a contributing writer for RENTCafe,  where she writes about home design, entertaining, and other lifestyle topics on the RENTCafe blog.

Korean-style braised beef

Korean braised beef stew. So good!

The starting point was Maangchi‘s recipe for Doejibulgogi, or spicy stir-fried pork.

I used a pound of chuck, and since chuck prefers a slow braise, I put the ingredients (minus the green peppers, which I didn’t have handy) into a cast-iron Dutch oven instead. I browned the beef first, then added the remaining ingredients and about a half cup of water, then cooked on low heat for about an hour and a half.

It’s not too spicy, but it’s got a little zing to it. It’s very very rich and delicious.

Korean beef braise

Two bad photos equal a good one, right? This stuff was far more tasty than it looks here.

Korean braised beef stew

FFwD: Cafe Salle Pleyel Burger

My family is very fond of Dorie today. Because of her, they got HUGE burgers for dinner.

Though I think of myself as a good cook, and can find my way around the kitchen pretty well, what I like about things like French Fridays is the opportunity to make foods that are entirely outside of the realm of things I would normally tinker with. Capers and tarragon and parsley in a hamburger? With Parmesan on top? Are you serious?

burger on a square plate, open-faced so you can see parmesan strips on top, next to a caesar salad

She was serious.

This recipe was surprisingly non-fussy, considering all the ingredients, and I think you’ll agree that it makes an attractive burger.

Dorie wrote about this burger in 2008, if you want to read more.

I thought it was okay, but I’m not a huge fan of tarragon. The kid, who is usually suspicious of leafy green things in her food, decided to take a photo to tell you all what she thought of it.

the kid giving thumbs up in front of the plate of food

Since I had three (and only three) gorgeous Asiago buns to use for this dinner, I made three burgers out of what was supposed to make four. These were HUMONGOUS burgers. Again, the kid was vocal in her approval of this move. I left half of mine in the fridge for later. Some elves or something must have come in the night and taken it off my hands.

The burger may have only gotten a 67% approval rate, but the onion marmalade was an unqualified hit. Silky, delicate, with a lovely texture. I’ll do it again.

I’m happy to be back in the French Fridays saddle. If you want to see other folks’ treatment of this burger recipe, check out the Leave Your Link post.