Saturday, February 02, 2008

Chasing away the Winter Blues: Sloppy Joes

It's been really cold here, even for January. The weather dropped down to the single digits and even dipped down below zero, which it usually does not do until February, and then for a week or two. When it happens in January, we don't know what to expect for the rest of the season.

And then it got bizarrely warm for a day or two, and then bitterly cold again, and then we got the mother of all snowstorms this past week - over ten inches in some places. Needless to say (but I will say it anyway), it's the perfect time for some good solid comfort food.

Ever since I started working on the south side, I have bemoaned the lack of good restaurants. Now before you get all offended on me let me say that I am not talking about good sit-down-and-have-a-lovely dinner restaurants. I'm talking about it's lunch time and I didn't bring anything from home so let's order something in. The only restaurants within walking distance to the office are Burger King, White Castle, Popeye's, Subway, a crappy Chinese restaurant, and an okay diner-type place. At least there's a Dominick's so I can always find something, but it's a challenge.

And then there are a couple of restaurants that deliver, but they all pretty much have the same things - Italian and fried. And the food is basically good there, it's just greasy and unhealthy. The only vegetable they seem to have heard of is ketchup.

And one day last fall I didn't have anything with me and everyone was ordering from Ricobene's, which is known for its breaded steak sandwiches. One of which I had ordered some time earlier at the urging of my assistant, who assured me they were the best breaded steak sandwiches in Chicago. Which, in her defense, is probably true, it's just that I'm not really a big fan of breaded steak sandwiches so I can't really judge.

So I looked at the menu, my eyes wandering up and down over all of the fried, breaded, meat-heavy options, unable to pick anything that stood out in any significant way from anything else. But I had to pick something. It was getting close to lunchtime and I was holding up the ordering process. And then I saw it, down at the bottom of the menu, hidden among the burgers and club sandwiches.

I believe I had my first Sloppy Joe when I was in junior high school. My mother found the recipe, most likely in the food section of the paper, or maybe from a friend, and she made it for dinner one night. It wasn't just sloppy, it was a huge mess. The meat kept falling off the bun and there was a greasy puddle of water on the plate that made the bun soggy. I think I still have the recipe she used, which calls for corn flakes. It tasted all right, but it was too loose and sloppy for me. I don't remember how often we had sloppy joes after that first night, but I never felt compelled to make them or seek them out after I left home.

Until I saw it on that take-out menu from Ricobene's, and knew that it was the only thing I wanted to eat that day. I knew I was taking a risk, but I didn't have a taste for anything else. And when it came I slowly opened up the foil and, unwrapping it, saw exactly what I was hoping to see - a soft toasted bun stuffed with a thick, smoky mixture of beef, onions, and green pepper. And it tasted exactly the way I thought it would. Meaty and comforting, with a slight hint of barbecue and whatever it is that gives it that "sloppy joe" taste.

It was so good that I thought about pulling out that old recipe of my mother's. But I couldn't remember where it was and wasn't sure I wanted to use it anyway, it was so thin and watery. Now part of that I attribute to my mother's cooking, but some of it I think was due to the recipe. I decided to go online and get some ideas to make something up.

But the recipe I found at submitted by Tamara looked easy and good, and got such glowing reviews that I decided to make it just as it was. I'm glad I did. It delivered everything I was looking for - thick, meaty, smoky flavor that was heaven on a bun. I used kaiser rolls instead of the hamburger buns my mother used, which worked much better. The kaiser rolls are denser than the buns and can stand up to the flavor and texture of the loose mixture much better. I brushed a skillet with vegetable oil and toasted the kaiser rolls on both sides, which gave it even more flavor.

If the winter chill is getting you down, cook up a batch of sloppy joes. It only takes about half an hour to make, but will satisfy you for hours.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beef and Lamb
Servings: 6

1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 cup chopped onion1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
3/4 cup ketchup
3 tsp brown sugar
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
Package of kaiser rolls or hamburger buns

In a medium skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef, onion, and green pepper; drain off liquids.

Stir in the garlic powder, mustard, ketchup, and brown sugar; mix thoroughly. Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat cast iron skillet or griddle over medium heat until water sizzles when sprinkled on it. Brush with vegetable oil and place buns or rolls, open sides down, on the pan. Heat until toasted, then turn and heat outsides until warmed. Spoon Sloppy Joes onto the bun and serve while still warm.

Submitted by: Tamara ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2007 Printed from 1/19/2008/.

Exported from Home Cookin 5.5 (

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