Maple Dijon Sloppy Joes

sloppy joes
I love that it has become trendy for even the most upscale restaurants to offer mac and cheese on the menu. And I love that we have more ‘gourmet’ burger joints in our town than we do gas stations. And I extra love that the gastro-pub we dropped into yesterday for lunch had ‘Grandma’s Green Bean Casserole’ as a special. I am thrilled that all of the delicious, nostalgic, homey foods from my childhood are being reinvented, and enjoyed all over again.

Chefs seem to have tackled and upgraded everything from tater tots to oatmeal cookies. But you know what has been totally overlooked in this comfort food overhaul? Sloppy Joes.

Is there any dish that screams ‘Kid Food’ more than the humble Sloppy Joe? I’ll admit that not all sloppy joe memories are happy ones. The soggy school-lunch sloppy joes were fodder for elementary school nightmares. But sloppy joes CAN be delicious. I recall a fantastic summer camp sloppy joe served on a perfectly crusty pretzel bun. And another, spicier version that a neighbor’s mom made with leftover chili. The thing about sloppy joes is that there are no rules. Anything goes. Which is why they are ripe for reinvention.

A little bit messy, a little bit sticky, these Maple Dijon Sloppy Joes are all the sloppy joe was meant to be. Sweet, tangy, hearty and full of flavor, this is kid food that I love even more as a grown up. I’m a big fan of maple syrup in savory dishes. With the ground beef here, it provides just enough sweetness and plenty of rich flavor. Be sure to use good quality maple syrup (the real stuff!) and good Dijon mustard too.

This recipe makes plenty for four big sandwiches, but if you have leftovers, they actually freeze well. Or, you could get creative and reheat leftovers with a bit of hoisin sauce, a dash of soy sauce and some chopped water chestnuts and serve in lettuce wraps for a whole new Asian-inspired meal.

Maple Dijon Sloppy Joes
Serves 4+

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cop finely chopped carrot
2/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 pound 85% lean ground beef
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1/2 cup maple syrup
salt, to taste

To serve:
4 whole wheat rolls or buns, toasted
4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
Thinly sliced crisp apple

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery and pepper and sauté until the veggies are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ground beef, and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until no pink remains (if the meat starts to stick, add a few tablespoons of water). Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the ketchup, Worcestershire, paprika, mustard, and maple syrup. Stir well and simmer about 10 minutes. Add salt to taste. To serve, spoon the sloppy joe mixture into the buns and top each with a slice of cheese and a slice of apple. Pass around plenty of napkins!

Check out for more information on pure maple syrup and Think Outside The Griddle recipes.

Published in: on October 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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Roasted Onion Barley Risotto

sweet onion barley risotto

Was your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier? How long did it last? A few days? A week?  I usually start out the year exercising daily and eating my five-a-day quota.  But it doesn’t last long, and by the middle of January it all falls apart. My cravings for the warmth of winter favorites, from gooey macaroni and cheese and rich beef stew to creamy hot chocolate and flaky cinnamon buns, always seem to win out. 

When it’s cold and grey and blustery, all I want to eat are hearty, indulgent favorites.  And risotto is high on that list. A steaming plate of creamy risotto is just the thing to warm the belly on a chilly night.  But it is generally not the thing to flatten that belly. 

Although my resolution this year is to simply enjoy, to eat for pleasure, and to savor every bite, nutrition still counts. For the moment I’m content to hide these extra few pounds under bulky sweaters and puffy jackets, but I know that I’ll have to pull out that bathing suit soon enough. So while I may not make it to the gym every day, I’m trying for some balance.

A little more fruit and a little less ice cream.  A handful of carrots in place of those potato chips.  And more whole grains across the board. 

Barley risotto has all the wonderfully creamy steaminess of traditional risotto (which is typically made with Arborio rice), with the added benefits of toothsome texture and plenty of fiber. The sweet onions and salty cheese build plenty of flavor in this tasty risotto.  Although lovely as is, this risotto is also fantastic topped with a few grilled shrimp for a special meal.

risotto with onions, Italian health food

Roasted Onion Barley Risotto

Serves 4 as a side dish or starter

1 medium yellow onion, sliced

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup pearled barley, rinsed

½ cup dry white wine

3 cups vegetable stock

3 tbsp shredded parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the sliced onion with half the oil and roast on a baking sheet until soft and slightly browned at the edges, about 10-15 minutes. Toss the hot roasted onion with the vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, sauté the garlic in the remaining oil over medium heat until fragrant.  Add the tomato paste to the garlic.  Add the barley and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the wine and simmer until evaporated.  Add half a cup of the stock, and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is mostly gone.  Add the remaining stock by the half cup, stirring often, until the barley is tender and only a small amount of liquid remains. Stir in the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in the onions.  Serve hot with extra cheese, if desired.

Published in: on January 18, 2011 at 11:58 am  Comments (15)  
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Beef Stew: The Little Black Dress of Dinner

beef stew

Beef stew is one of those chameleon dishes.  It’s homey enough for tonight, when the wind is whipping and the snow is falling and all I want to do is curl up on the couch and keep my toes toasty.  But it also works wonderfully for dinner parties, since it keeps very well warming on the stove, and looks awfully fancy in pretty bowls.  Kids love it, dogs love it, I love it.  It’s my little black dress in the kitchen, as it pretty much works for any occasion. 

And there are a million variations on the theme.  I’m a big fan of the classic Boeuf Bourguignon, of course.  And who can resist a hearty Irish stew, chock full of potatoes and served with a Guinness? I love to dress up beef stew occasionally with smokey chipotle chilis and a pinch of cumin.  But for a weeknight, this Chianti Beef Stew is my go-to comfort food.  Rich, deep wine flavor and tender chunks of beef melt in your mouth.  And the noodles are a must.  The gravy coats the pasta, stretching the flavor, extending the pleasure. 

Chianti Beef Stew

Serves 4

4 ounces pancetta, chopped (you can substitute bacon)

1/2 cup sliced onion (about 1/2 a medium onion)

1 tbsp minced garlic

1/4 cup chopped carrots (about 1 medium carrot)

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound beef chuck, cut in 1 inch cubes

2 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3 cups Chianti (or other red wine)

1 cup beef stock

12 ounces egg pappardelle or egg noodles*, cooked according to package directions

3 tbsp shaved parmesan cheese

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the pancetta until crisp.  With a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.  Add the onion, garlic, and carrots to the fat in the pot.  Add salt and pepper and cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Remove the vegetables to a dish and set aside.  Add the butter to the pot.  In a small bowl, toss the beef with the flour and salt and pepper.  Add the beef to the pot.  Cook, undisturbed, for two minutes to allow the beef to brown.  Move the beef around for a minute or two to allow for some browning on all sides, but do not cook through.  Stir in the tomato paste and cook one more minute. Add 1/4 cup wine to deglaze and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to bring up all of the caramelized bits.  Add the remaining wine and broth.  Stir the pancetta and vegetables back into the pot.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring every so often, for 45 minutes to an hour.  Serve the stew over pasta and topped with cheese.

* I typically buy fresh papardelle at DePasquales Pasta Shop a few streets over, but given the blizzard conditions, I improvised with a bag of simple egg noodles, and turns out, egg noodles are a very tasty stand-in!

Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm  Comments (23)  
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The Question of Meatballs

Sicilian meatball

My Sicilian friend Katia first introduced me to this easy method of cooking meatballs.  I stood in her kitchen watching her form and drop meatballs into simmering sauce, and wondered if perhaps it was an Italian secret.  But after interrogating the wait staff at a variety of North End Italian restaurants, I found that the majority go for frying, touting the browned edges as flavor boosters.  But I must admit, these meatballs, simmered in wonderfully flavorful sauce, impart their flavor and become meltingly tender, unlike their fried counterparts.   I then thought that maybe this simmer method was specifically Sicilian, but in chatting with a colleague at work, discovered that his Sicilian wife bakes her meatballs. A mystery.

When it’s so cold outside that my eyes tear up as soon as I leave house, all I want is warm comforting food.  Hearty food. But given the abundance of holiday treats and frequency of holiday parties this month, I’m trying my best to eat lightly in between the festivities.  So healthy comfort food is the name of the game in December. And of course, with all those parties to attend, and cookies to bake, this is not the time of year for lengthy dinner recipes.

Which brings me back to these meatballs.  Is there anything better than a steaming plate of spaghetti and meatballs?  But ground lean turkey and egg whites make these lighter.  And if you choose, whole wheat spaghetti is a great alternative for a bit more fiber.  But what I love most about these meatballs is how they are cooked.  Simply form the meatballs and drop them into the simmering sauce, no need for added fat.  

How do you cook meatballs? Bake? Fry? Simmer?

If you have never tried the simmer method, I urge you to give it a shot.  Tender meatballs, extra flavorful sauce, and no added fat from frying.  I found this particular recipe in an old issue of Bon Appetit Magazine.  I love the use of pesto to flavor the meatballs.  You can use store-bought pesto or homemade, whichever you prefer.  And good quality store-bought chunky tomato pasta sauce is just fine here.  The meatballs will flavor the sauce itself anyway. But I like my quick-fix tomato sauce, so I have included that recipe for you below as well.

pasta with meatballs

Turkey Pesto Meatballs

adapted from Bon Appetit

Serves 6

4 cups chunky tomato pasta sauce  (store-bought or ee recipe below)

1 pound ground turkey

1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

1/3 cup pesto (store-bought or homemade) 

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound spaghetti

Bring the sauce to a simmer in a large pot. Mix together the turkey, breadcrumbs, pesto, egg whites, and salt. Form into 11/2 inch meatballs. Drop the meatballs gently into the sauce. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.  Serve the meatballs and sauce over the spaghetti.

Quick Fix Chunky Tomato Pasta Sauce

4 garlic cloves, sliced

1/3 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 26 oz package of Pomi brand chopped tomatoes

1/4 cup red wine

1 cup water

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried parsley

salt and pepper

In a large pot, saute the garlic and onion in oil over medium low until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, and water along with the herbs, and simmer on low 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Published in: on December 11, 2010 at 5:13 pm  Comments (24)  
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