15 December, 2021
Once upon a when-my-kids-were-little, I would ask the question, “what do you guys want for supper”, and a little voice would answer (generally the mancub), far more often than I appreciated, “Hamburger Helper”.
Sorry, Betty Crocker, but I hate that stuff. It’s bland and the sauce is plastic-y and no amount of dressing it up is going to make it awesome. But my kids, and most other kids, love it. I’m going to blame my kids’ father for it. I’m pretty certain he’s the one who introduced that stuff to our household. My girlchild preferred Tuna Helper – the cheese kind, but she was okay with a couple of the kinds of the ground beef version. I, personally, tolerated the potato stroganoff version….it was tolerable.
There are a couple of positives about Hamburger Helper, I must admit. It is extremely inexpensive, it’s enough to fill bellies and it doesn’t take many extra ingredients. Depending on the version, sometimes it doesn’t even need milk, just water, ground beef and some margarine. When you’re a broke parent, just before pay day, there is no shame in making it and ensuring your kids’ bellies are full and they’re happy….but I still don’t like the stuff.
The mancub – he loved all of it. Fortunately for all, his tastes have improved with time. He does, however, often ask me to make a homemade version of it. So, I did.
This is still not fancy cuisine, it is more expensive than the box version, but if you have a stocked pantry, it’s not too bad. Jazz it up with your preferred spices, cheese, ground meat….Hot Sauce! Whatever works for you will probably work for this. You want Mexican, add cumin and some chilis. You want Italian, add basil and some Parmesan. You want Greek, add some feta and oregano…maybe some chopped olives.
- 1 lb ground beef (or pork, or a combination of the two)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, whatever colour you have or prefer (optional, but extra vegetables are good)
- 1 small zucchini, grated (if you have it, if not, no worries, but again, extra vegetables are good)
- 1 tsp paprika
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- pinch cayenne (or more, whatever works for you)
- 1 TB tomato paste
- 2 1/2 cups beef broth
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 3 cups macaroni
- 1 28 oz can of tomatoes, with juice
- 2 cups shredded cheese, whatever mixture you like. I used cheddar, but a little mozzarella would be good, as would Parmesan
In a big pot, cook the ground meat with the onion over medium to medium high heat. If you are using pork, you probably won’t need any oil added, but if your meat is really lean, please add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. If the meat, when it’s done, is very fatty, drain it, but don’t rinse….a whole bunch of flavour goes away when you do that….then add it back into the pan. Turn the heat down a little.
Add the spices you are using as well as the garlic, tomato paste, bell pepper, and zucchini, if you are using them, and stir fry until fragrant. Don’t burn that garlic! If things are getting too warm too quickly, add the broth and let the garlic cook along with the noodles. No right or wrong way here.
Add in the milk, tomatoes and the pasta. Pop a cover on the top and let it simmer until the pasta is done. The majority of the liquid should have been absorbed by the pasta, but if you’ve still got more than you love, let it simmer a little longer with the lid off. It will also thicken as it cools.
Add in your cheese and mix it until it’s all melty. Let the lava sit for 5 or so minutes then serve.
So much better than the box version! If you want to really get some extra vegetables into the family, serve with a salad.
Could be low carb with low carb noodles.