Kitchen Accomplice: Lunch in the camp dining room

Rene (pronounced Reeney) made these. It was at a camp where I worked in the summers. The staff became fast friends over several summers and our friendships have survived the years. At camp, food is the great leveler. No matter what altercations, disagreements or unpleasantness occurs, a good dining hall solves all. Once the former would-be combatants have had a satisfying meal, all is forgotten and the day begins anew.

A particular favorite was Thursday. This is when Rene worked her magic on Sloppy Joes. Staff and students alike always looked forward to Thursday. Staff because students would be leaving on Friday and students because Rene's Sloppy Joes were legendary -- and deliciously sloppy.

I had forgotten how wonderful these were until recently when I was called upon to do a dinner for youngsters. I was trying to puzzle out what they would eat, perhaps even enjoy. Then, I thought of Rene and her Sloppy Joes. Like music and the savage breast, these sandwiches are a universal elixir. Not limited to kids, these also make very nice offerings for company spending an afternoon with you, whether for a sporting event or just conversation. Clip this recipe for use when you want something fast, delicious and simple -- and sloppy.

Sloppy Joes


2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cups diced onions

1/2 cup diced celery (small dice)

1/2 cup diced green bell pepper

(small dice)

1 teaspoon freshly ground

black pepper

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons minced garlic

11/2 pounds lean ground beef

(about 91 percent lean)

3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 cups tomato sauce

1 cup beef or chicken stock or canned,

low-sodium chicken broth

2 teaspoons hot pepper flakes

(optional depending on your crowd)

4 to 6 hamburger buns or a

proportionate number of miniature

Kaiser rolls

Cooking Directions:

Heat the 2 teaspoons olive oil in a 12-inch saut? pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, black pepper, and salt, and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 2 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the beef, breaking it up with the back of a spoon, and brown for 2 minutes. Then add the brown sugar, pepper flakes - if desired, Worcestershire, tomato sauce, and beef broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring as needed.

While the mixture is cooking, preheat the broiler.

Arrange the buns, open-faced, on a baking sheet and lightly brush the cut sides with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Broil until the buns are golden, about 3 minutes. (Alternatively, grill them in a grill pan or toast them in a skillet, oiled side down, over medium-high heat.)

Generously spoon the Sloppy Joe mixture over the toasted bun bottoms. Top with the bun tops, and serve immediately (with forks).

4 to 6 servings for regular hamburger buns; more, if using miniature rolls.

Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 20 minutes Total: 30 minutes.

For accompaniments, I like slaw, and a dill pickle from a cloudy looking jar in the refrigerator section of the market. At the conclusion, pass around some ice cream drumsticks from the freezer section. The ones without the peanuts are easier to deal with since they don't leave tell-tale trails. And the miniatures now available are the perfect size.

Judge John Kirkendall is a retired Washtenaw County Probate judge. He presently serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. He is past president of the National College of Probate Judges. He can be reached at

Published: Mon, Mar 1, 2010