There's nothing sloppy about this weeknight staple

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For most parents of school-age children right now, back-to-school preparations are feeling a bit ... sloppy.

We're worried about masks, hand sanitizer, industrial-sized containers of Clorox wipes and whether our kids are correctly logging into Zoom. Dinner plans? Oh, right. (Forget about those creative back-to-school lunches we once scrolled through on Pinterest; who has time for fancy salads on a stick or inspired Bento boxes of balanced meals?)

It's time to turn to recipe bullpen — you know, those tried-and-true recipes that come together in less than 45 minutes (because, really, how many meals honestly take 30 minutes from stove to plate?) with ingredients always stocked in the pantry, pandemic shopping or not. For my family, that's a pan of good-old-fashioned Sloppy Joes. Both tangy and slightly sweet, with a hint of heat, this one-pan weeknight dinner is a staple in my Tuesday night rotation (usually Tuesdays because I forget to thaw the meat on Monday and don't want to cook by Wednesday).

My version of this cafeteria classic is condiment heavy, with no extra chopping of peppers, which is just how I like it so I know, most of the time, I have the ingredients on hand. I also use ground turkey, but have swapped it out for ground beef or even chicken with the same tasty results. I've also included Associate Features Editor Margaret Button's two favorite versions of the meaty mixture that are a bit more involved, but still serve up great flavor with little work.

Serve your Sloppy Joes however you like: on a buttered roll, or over a piece of plain white sandwich bread that's about to go stale. Leftover hot dog buns that need to get used up are a fan-favorite in our house. For those wishing to get more vegetables, try roasting up some medium-sized sweet potatoes at 400 degrees until soft, then slice in half and pile on the Sloppy Joes for a more carb-friendly dinner.

However you serve them, just make sure to have plenty of napkins at the dinner table.

ULTIMATE SLOPPY JOES

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion diced

1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

2 cups of ketchup

1/4 yellow mustard

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

hamburger buns/bread for serving

DIRECTIONS:

In a large, heavy-bottom skillet over medium-high heat add olive oil and onions and saute for 4 to 5 minutes until translucent. Add ground turkey, season well with salt and pepper, and brown meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Once cooked, add ketchup, mustard, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, and tomato paste. Reduce heat and simmer mixture for 10 to 12 minutes.

Finish with apple cider vinegar, stirring it in, and adjusting seasoning right before serving.

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SUPER SLOPPY JOES

(From "30-Minute Meals 2" by Rachael Ray)

INGREDIENTS:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/4 pounds ground beef sirloin

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon steak seasoning blend, such as McCormick brand Montreal Seasoning

1 medium onion, chopped

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

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2 cups tomato sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 crusty rolls, split, toasted, and lightly buttered

Garnish: sliced ripe tomatoes, pickles, Deviled Potato Salad

DIRECTIONS:

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and meat to the pan. Spread the meat around the pan and begin to break it up. Combine brown sugar and steak seasoning. Add sugar and spice mixture to the skillet and combine. When the meat has browned, add onion and red peppers to the skillet. Reduce heat to medium and cook onions, peppers, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce with meat for 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and paste to pan. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to simmer and cook Sloppy Joe mixture 5 minutes longer. Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, pile sloppy meat onto toasted, buttered bun bottoms and cover with bun tops. Serve with your favorite sides or sliced tomatoes seasoned with salt and pepper, dill pickles and potato salad.

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MESSY GIUSEPPE WITH CHEESY GARLIC ROLLS

(From "Express Lane Meals" by Rachael Ray)

Serves: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

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1 pound ground, 90 percent lean sirloin

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small onion, chopped

5 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 medium portobello mushroom cap, finely chopped

1/8 teaspoon (eyeball it) allspice

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Coarse salt and black pepper

1/2 cup (a couple of glugs) red wine

3/4 cup beef stock

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup (a generous handful) flat-leaf parsley, chopped

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

5-8 fresh basil leaves, about 1/4 cup, chopped

1/4 cup (a small handful) grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano cheese

4 individual ciabatta rolls or any kind of crusty hoagie rolls

1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 8 slices

DIRECTIONS:

For the meat sauce, heat a deep skillet or a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the ground beef and cook until lightly browned, breaking up the meat. Add green pepper, onion, 3/4 of the garlic, mushrooms, allspice, red pepper flakes and a little salt and pepper to the beef and cook for about 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the wine and cook another minute, then add beef stock, Worcestershire and tomatoes. Bring the mixture up to a bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 10 minutes. Finish it by stirring in a handful of chopped parsley.

While the meat is simmering, combine the remaining garlic with the soft butter, basil, Parmesan cheese and a little salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Split the rolls in half lengthwise without cutting all the way through and separating the halves. Press open the rolls by flattening them out a little bit. Slather the insides with the butter and place 2 slices of the mozzarella on each roll. Toast until golden brown under the broiler, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Top one side of the cheesy garlic rolls with a heap of meat.


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