I am a serious mutt. I have a Cuban mother and a French Canadian father. I was born in New York, hit puberty in Georgia, started a punk rock record label in Miami, destroyed my right knee in St. Louis, and became a professional chef in Seattle. Some days it’s hard to pinpoint who I am or where I come from.
Some days I’m like, “Hey ya’ll, I sure could use me some fried giblets and collards. Yeehaw!” While other days I’m like, “Ola! Yo queto carne frita. Viva Cuba!” Add to that the influences of my Italian Godfather (for reals) and the little bit of Chinese blood from generations back floating around in my veins and I’m like Disneyland’s "It’s A Small World" ride, minus the tourists and creepy singing.
Growing up, there was some serious diversity at the dinner table. The thing is, no matter what we had I’d eat it happily. I love picadillo, Italian wedding soup, and tuna noodle casserole.
I think that perhaps this nightly identity crisis gave me a bigger appreciation for food in general. I’ve never been a food “snob,” whatever that means. I can even see the positive side of a gas station chili cheeseburger cooked in a greasy microwave.
I have a serious soft spot for Americana post wartime food. You know, those June Cleaver condensed-soup casserole type meals filled with salty goodness. My mother had a particular knack for those kinds of dishes.
One of my favorites was called Mash, a baked casserole that consists of a layer of seasoned ground beef, a layer of mashed potatoes, and a layer of creamed corn. Sometimes it was topped with some American cheese. I know, it sounds like depressing prison food but it really is a deliciously simple and comforting dish (just make it from scratch and use cheddar cheese).
Speaking of comfort food, I would go absolutely mental when I heard that it was Sloppy Joe night. It was one of three things my father knew how to cook for us: hot dogs, hamburgers or Sloppy Joes.
He would cook up some ground beef, dump a can of sloppy sauce on it, plop it on some hamburger buns, and call it a day. I thought it was the best thing ever. Red grease dripping off my face and down my arms. I’m sure we looked like clan of blood soaked cannibals at the dinner table. That’s probably what I liked so much about it.
Here’s my version of a more classy style of Sloppy Joe. I give you:
The Sloppy Joan
1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground Spanish chorizo sausage (or any spicy pork sausage)
1 white onion, small diced
1 green bell pepper, small diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp piméton (Spanish smoked paprika)
1 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup basic tomato sauce
2 tsp honey
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
½ cup water
4 large burger buns
4 slices sharp cheddar cheese (I love Beecher’s Flagship)
Add a little olive oil to a sauté pan over medium high heat. Saute the onions, green pepper and garlic until soft (about 3 minutes).
Add the ground beef and chorizo and sauté until browned (2-3 minutes)
Add the chili powder, cumin, piménton, and oregano. Stir in the tomato sauce, mustard, honey and water. Break up any lumps in the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium
low. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes or until the liquid is nearly evaporated. It should thick and saucy but not dry. Oh, and if you’re like me, a few dashes of hot sauce somewhere in there would be lovely.
Towards the end of cooking toast the buns.
To serve, place a slice of cheese on the toasted bun and pile the sloppy mixture on as high as you dare. Wear a bib and eat your sloppy Joan with a side of tater tots or a side salad or perhaps a salad made of tater tots. Enjoy. xoxo