Some of my favorite memories of childhood stem from visiting my dad after my parents split up. My parents went through a nasty divorce when I was a kid, but our dad was always the perfect cure of goofiness and a hands-off upbringing that I can attribute much of my personality to today. It also explains why all of my college guy friends befriended my dad after losing a number of drinking games to him at a UCLA-USC tailgate! Anyway, when I was eleven or so, my dad moved into his own house in Reseda, a Hispanic suburb of Los Angeles. He would pick my younger brother and me up on Wednesday nights for visitation, and we’d make dinner, do homework, and go to the driving range, or go running, or some other odd activity that defined nights with Dad.
One of the most-told memories at the Gerrity family gatherings dealt with visitation nights at Dad’s — forget that I taught him how to do laundry or the fact that he lived off of beer and canned sardines for a while — the night he made sloppy joes for dinner was just so typically Dad. He picked us up from Mom’s, and we headed to Ralph’s to go grocery shopping. After years of hearing about his childhood favorite, “sloppy joes,” our father was finally determined to make them. So he bought the canned mix and burger buns, amongst other odds and ends that he ate during the week (packaged sandwich meat, string cheese, and his personal favorite: Trader Joe’s taquitos). We got home; he poured the can into a saucepan on the stove, and toasted the buns. When I came into the kitchen to have him check my homework assignments, I asked the magic question.
“Dad, aren’t you supposed to cook it with meat?”
When he tells the story these days, he justifies that he assumed a can of sloppy joe would automatically come with meat in it (as repulsing as that sounds now). To be honest, I don’t actually remember how we resolved it that night: we probably migrated down the street to our favorite Mexican joint, Melody’s. The important details illustrated the smartest, most rational figure in our childhood, forgetting something so basic simply because he was not used to organizing normal weeknight dinners for his kids on his own. Looking back on it, I realize how adorable it really was. But since then, Daddy has learned to triumph in the kitchen, and he had done so long before I even tried cooking. To celebrate, he installed an amazing poolside kitchen a few years ago, complete with his own kegerator. He’s come a long way from sloppy joes.
WHAT YOU NEED:
1 French baguette
3 medium sized chicken breasts, diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, also diced
2 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 small can tomato paste
1 12-14 oz. canned tomatoes, finely chopped (use a food processor if needed!)
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
WHAT TO DO:
First, sauté the garlic, onions, olive oil, and chicken together until the onions are translucent. Then, add the bell pepper and cook on low heat for 3 to 4 more minutes. Combine the worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and tomato ingredients in the saucepan as well. Heat on low until bubbling. Then, add dry ingredients slowly, stirring continuously and tasting as you go.
Slice the baguette horizontally lengthwise, and toast in the oven. As a variation, brush a little butter or olive oil to help toast — then, spoon the sloppy joe mix onto the baguettes. I prefer mine open faced, and therefore slightly more refined. Don’t be ashamed if it gets everywhere… we cleaned up and enjoyed our isolated thunderstorm evening with a nice Sauvignon Blanc, strawberries, and mint hookah.