Teaching Teens to Cook: Turkey Sloppy Joe Sliders

sloppy joe sliderFor a couple of summers now, I’ve suggested that my boys (now 17 and almost 15) start learning how to cook.  This summer, out of necessity, I’ve given them no choice.  Over the past year, when I’ve been too busy or tired to make dinner, I’ve summoned them to the kitchen and insisted they stay until dinner was on the table.  Ice-T, my older son, is learning how to grill.  With the help of a meat thermometer, he can cook a flank steak to medium rare perfection.  He can make french toast, rice, waffles and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Warren Buffet, my younger son, understands the basic composition of salad dressings and marinades, fries bacon and makes guacamole,  blueberry pancakes with orange honey butter, and brownies.aus-ginger-tube-new-lge  All those years of watching Top Chef are clearly paying off!

Over the past couple of months, there have been several nights when I was busy with freelance projects and had absolutely no time to cook.  I had planned and shopped though, and saw no reason to order pizza (not that any places deliver to my address anyway). Their first joint cooking project was a chicken and asparagus stir fry served over rice.  I keep Gourmet Garden tubes of garlic, ginger and a couple of herbs on hand for times when I am trying to throw together a dressing, marinade or stew in a hurry.  This cut down on the kind of chopping that might make me nervous.  The asparagus was easy to slice,.  The guys received extensive instructions on the proper handing of chicken (during which they announced that their dad and my mother each thought I was a little neurotic on this topic).  Dinner turned out really well.

Whenever one kid is gone and one is home, I tend to scale back on cooking,  While Ice-T was in the mid-west sailing and having a great time at engineering camp earlier this month, I was super busy teaching a course while updating my teaching materials, spending time on research, and working on freelance projects daily.  Warren Buffet was thrust into the role of chef and, more or less, rose to the occasion.  One night, he mixed up a marinade for chicken breasts, put together a Greek salad including the dressing, and made tzaziki sauce with me providing instructions from the next room.  Another night, he made his blueberry pancakes with cinnamon-maple syrup and orange-honey butter and bacon with little maternal guidance.  His third dinner that week was these sloppy joe sliders, made with ground turkey and loaded with vegetables.

Turkey Sloppy Joe Sliders
Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 pounds ground turkey (I prefer 85/15% fat)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion (1/2′ dice)
  • 2/3 cup diced celery (1/2′ dice)
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini, excess moisture removed*
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 table spoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Cholula hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme (plus sprigs for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 8 slider buns

* After you grate the zucchini, wrap in a paper or kitchen towel and squeeze out any excess fluid.

Directions:

  1. Brown the meat in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, using a spatula to break it up. When you are sure the meat is thoroughly browned, dump it in a colander to drain the extra fat.
  2. Wipe out the skillet, and heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions, celery and carrots until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the zucchini to the skillet and saute until any moisture has cooked off, then add the garlic and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Dump the meat back into the skillet, add the salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Then, add the ketchup, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce and thyme. Stir to combine.
  5. Stir in 1/2 cup beef broth and simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes.
  6. Adjust seasonings to taste.
  7. Toast the slider buns. Top each bottom bun with the meat and top bun.

Yield: 4 servings     Prep time: 30 minutes     Cook time: 30 minutes

This is a great dish for teens to learn to make. It’s filling, nutritious, comfort food and way better for them than processed frozen stuff.  It is inexpensive and can easily be doubled or tripled and frozen.  The leftovers always get eaten!

I don’t have a nutritional analysis of a serving of these sloppy joes, but I tell myself that each diner is surely getting at least a cup of vegetables so that a side dish is not absolutely necessary.   If you’re not buying it or want a fresh side with a contrasting texture, try my broccoli- apple slaw or crunchy broccoli salad.  Or you could just have some potato chips.

Stops Along the Way: Cork & Bean, Bryson City, NC

A few weeks ago I took a Saturday afternoon paddling trip down the Tuckaseegee River* in a canoe   It was a gorgeous day, warm in the sun and chilly in the shade.  My friend and his daughter are both experienced whitewater paddlers. I have mostly flat water kayaking experience on lakes, bayous and creeks so was pretty much just along for the ride.  After my initial horror that I would be spending the afternoon on my knees in the front of the canoe, my leg muscles and I relaxed and enjoyed the trip, picking up some paddling pointers and lingo along the way.  We spent the night at a group camping area in the Nantahala National Forest and had a fun time sitting around the campfire sipping red wine and listening to the kids tell jokes.

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  On Sunday morning, the weather was cool and drizzly so I headed for home early.  By mid-morning, I was starving so pulled off at the Bryson City exit, just outside the Smoky Mountain National Park, in the hopes of finding something good to eat.   I parked and spotted the Cork & Bean, but the restaurant didn’t start serving for another twenty minutes or so. Wandering down the street and over the bridge, I found a place that looked promising, but had a long line of people waiting to eat.  I’d rather spend my time window shopping than waiting so headed back up to the Cork & Bean, and am really happy that I did!photo-12

The Cork and Bean is located at the corner of Main and Everett street in the former Bryson City Bank building. It’s ambience is perfect for Sunday morning brunch — casual, a little bit of elegance combined with a little bit of funk:  Cabin-style wood paneling, moose folk art, fabulous old dark wood arched top windows and very cool wrought iron chandeliers.  The front room of the restaurant, where the bar is located is furnished with small tables as well as a cozy sitting area.  In addition to a good selection of wines and seasonal beers, the bar serves organic, free trade coffee and espresso,  mimosas and bloody marys.

The back room, the main eatery, is a little less less so, but still interesting and pleasant.  I was seated at a table in the corner by the window — a great spot for dining alone.  After ordering an ice coffee and some fresh orange juice, I turned my attention to the menu.  The restaurant prides itself on serving as much organic and locally-sourced foods as possible.  They are known for their crepes — both breakfast and dessert.  There were a number of enticing dishes on the brunch menu, but I only had eyes for one…

158 I had stopped in the pottery shop across the street to kill some time while waiting for  it to open.  The artist working there recommended the Eggs Benedict.  I didn’t need to be told twice!  Mine arrived with a side of stone ground grits.

Cork and Bean’s Eggs Benedict is slightly untraditional — a toasted english muffin topped with well poached eggs and rich hollandaise sauce served over a bed of fresh spinach with slices of bacon, ripe avocado and tomatoes on the side.  So much goodness!  It was a beautiful plate of food.  And I loved that the dish included more than token good-for-you fruits and vegetables to alleviate my guilt (just a little) about the poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.  I relished every bite.

I am not sure if I had been to Bryson City before that day.  I had in my mind that the town was one of the little tacky tourist traps that dot the Smoky Mountains.  And while there may be some of that in the summertime, the town itself is quite charming. With its many inns, lodges and B&Bs, it would be a lovely spot for a little romantic weekend getaway in the spring and fall.  And if it were my romantic getaway, I’d definitely plan on making more than one stop at the Cork and Bean.

*That is not me in the kayak, but the video gives you an idea about the scenery and water hazards!

Cork & Bean on Urbanspoon

German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting

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My newly seventeen year old son, Iced T (his current choice of blog persona) , arrived home today from a 10-day trip which took him from Charlotte to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for the Club 420 Nationals then on to Michigan State in Lansing for engineering camp. By all accounts, it was a grand adventure.  He and his partner Patrick finished 5th in the regatta of 60 boats — better than any of us expected.  And he had a great time, enjoyed the independence and made a lot of friends at engineering camp.  His birthday was last Monday so a celebration is overdue.  Warren Buffet (current blog persona for my younger son) and I are planning to make my mother’s absolutely divine German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting.

Growing up in the Mississippi Delta in the 1950s, my mom was served cake every Sunday. Six days of the week, my grandmother Mimi made a pie. On Saturday, she baked a cake as well. And on Sunday, she went to church then came home to a bounteous lunch with delicious cake for dessert. Mimi baked an impressive array of cakes, all from scratch — Devil’s Food or Angel Food with 7-minute Icing, white cake with caramel icing and pecans on top, and one she called 1234 cake. She iced yellow and white cakes with fudge-like cooked chocolate icing, white cakes with coconut icing and, at Christmas time, made her special Jam Cake. But, according to my mom, she never made a German Chocolate Cake.

After her freshmwedding photo - Copyan year at the Mississippi State College for Women (now the Mississippi University for Women) — a somewhat improbable choice in my view — my mom transferred to Ole Miss where she met my dad while working on his successful campaign for 1959 editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian. At some point during her sophomore year, her sorority sister Eleanor Becker’s aunt arrived from El Dorado, Arkansas with a German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting for her niece’s birthday. In my mom’s words, she “thought that she’d died and gone to heaven”. I’m not sure my boys are familiar with that expression, but they pretty much feel the same way.

Eleanor’s aunt was happy to share the recipe. My mom used it to bake the cake for years until the frayed recipe card washed away with much of the rest of the lower floor of our family home in Hurricane Katrina. Now she uses the recipe from the inside of the Baker’s German Chocolate package.

I’ll confess that I plan on cheating a bit.  My altitude of 3500 feet makes baking cakes from scratch a losing gamble.  So my plan is to use a Betty Crocker German Chocolate Cake and doctor it up with extra eggs, some sour cream and vanilla.  If you don’t have altitude issues, give the real thing a shot!  One tip of my mom’s is that when baking cakes, always use pans that you only use for cakes.  Otherwise, the layers may stick.

German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting

Ingredients:

For the German Chocolate Cake:

  • 4 ounces Baker’s German Chocolate
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla
  • 1 cup buttermilk

For the Cococut-Pecan Frosting:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 12 ounces evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon good quality vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 7 ounces sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut 3 rounds of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a 9-inch round pan.
  3. Spray the bottoms and sides of 3 9-inch round pans with cooking spray, then line the bottoms with the rounds of parchment paper.
  4. Combine the german chocolate and water in a microwaveable bowl on high, stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate is almost melted. Remove from the microwave and stir until the chocolate is completely melted.
  5. Beat the egg whites in a bowl with the mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form and set aside.
  6. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.
  7. Beat the butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until light and fluffy.
  8. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each.
  9. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla and blend to combine.
  10. Add the flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating until well blended after each addition.
  11. Fold in the egg whites, stirring gently until well blended.
  12. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
  13. Bake the cake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in one of the centers comes out clean. Immediately run agerman-chocolate-cake-2 small spatula around each of the layers.
  14. Cool the layers in the pans on wire racks for 15 minuntes, then remove the layers from pans and set on wire racks to cool completely.
  15. While the cake cools, make the frosting by combining the egg yolks, milk and vanilla in a large saucepan, whisking until well blended.
  16. Add the sugar and butter and cook on medium heat for about12 minutes or until thickened and golden brown, stirring constantly.
  17. Remove from heat and add the coconut and nuts. Stir well to combine.
  18. Cool slightly to desired spreading consistency.
  19. Spread the frosting between the cake layers and on top of cake.

Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Of all the wonderful cakes that my mom makes, this one is probably my family’s favorite.  The cake is beautifully moist and the perfect delivery system for the oh-so-yummy frosting.  The boys enjoy it with big glasses of white milk.  I like it with a Pinot Noir after dinner or a cup of coffee at breakfast. Good cake doesn’t last long around here!

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