Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fancy Joes

Ah, Sloppy Joes...

When I was growing up, my mom made dinner every night despite the fact that she worked full time and had four kids. Even more miraculous was the fact that dinner was always fresh and healthy fare - lots of vegetables and chicken and light pastas glistening with olive oil. I was a lucky girl.

That said, that didn't stop me from LOVING going to friends houses for dinner. Their family meals were a thing of wonderment to me - delivered pizza, bags of greasy (but delicious) burgers and fries, and 'homemade' meals with the aid of Hamburger Helper, Rice A Roni, and of course, canned Sloppy Joe mix. Kid heaven. The funny thing was, those kids loved coming to my house for dinner, where my mom's home cooking filled them up in a way that takeout never could.

Anyway, of all of those retro box mix/canned suppers, Sloppy Joes were my favorite. I still occasionally crave them. However I could never bring myself to buy that damned can of sugary brown goop. It just felt soul less to dump it into a pan of ground beef and call it a day. Even if it did taste as good as I'd remembered, I wouldn't feel good about eating it.

So I decided to create a fresher, homemade version that would satisfy my nostalgia without making me do a walk of shame afterwards. I have no idea what's actually in Sloppy Joe mix and I purposely didn't look it up before attempting my own recipe. Instead I used flavors my childhood memory told me were in them as well as ones my adult palate wanted. I replaced most of the meat with ground turkey with a little ground sirloin to ensure richness. I threw in finely minced piquillo peppers to add some depth, along with bay leaf, ancho chili powder and allspice. Finally, I used Madeira, molasses and just a touch of brown sugar to round it all out. The result isn't the sauce laden Sloppy Joes you remember as a kid, it's better.

I call them Fancy Joes because I'm a dork.

Apparently, the power of 'Joes' is still going strong today. When Kris and I went to Florence Meat Market this morning to buy the ground sirloin, we found ourselves in line behind a father and his young son. The dad happened to overhear me say I was making them and immediately grabbed his son. "Tyler," he said, nodding to us. "They're having Sloppy Joes tonight! You probably want to eat at their house for dinner." The little boy, who had been slumped over the counter like a crumpled napkin, bored out of his mind, shot upright and peeled his eyelids back at us like we were Mickey and Minnie Mouse live and in person.

He clearly did want to go to our house for dinner. He would've gone with us right then and there, even though it was only eleven in the morning. His eager little face stayed on us as we waited for the beef, paid, and headed back out of the store, giving him a wave goodbye before shutting the door behind us.

Fancy Joes
Serves 6.

6 Egg Challah Rolls

1 tablespoon butter
3 small shallots, finely minced
salt and pepper
2 piquillo peppers, finely minced (from a can)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 lb ground turkey (preferably with 7% fat)
1/2 pound ground sirloin or ground round
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup Madeira wine
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon molasses
1 tablespoon ketchup

Heat the butter in a large rimmed nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, seasoning with salt and pepper, and saute for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the piquillo peppers, stir in and saute 2 more minutes. Move the shallots and peppers to one side, making a 'hot spot' for the allspice and chili powder. Add the spices giving them each space to 'toast' for 1 minute, undisturbed, before incorporating into the vegetables. Stir in the tomato paste.

Add the turkey and ground beef, along with a touch more salt and pepper, and cook for 5-7 minutes, until mostly browned. Add the Madeira and bay leaf, and raise the heat if necessary to bring to a light simmer, until the Madeira has reduced by half (do not bring to a full on boil - you will dry out the meat too much.) Lower the heat again slightly, and stir in the brown sugar and molasses. At this point the meat should be fully cooked and you just want to let the sugars meld into the mixture for 2-3 more minutes until fully dissolved. Turn off the heat and stir in the ketchup.

Serve on Challah buns, toasted or untoasted.


The Katzbox said...

Oh YAY!!!! This is such a timely find! So many of us are printing up our menus in advance. This is very synchronous for us to have found your blog...I put a shout-out at my place...great blog, by the way...WOOT!!!!

Haley said...

oh sloppy joes... how i love thee. makes me want to sing that sloppy joe lunch lady song :)