Anyone ever have Hamburger Helper when they were a kid?
I may be part of a minority of Americans whose childhood was not, at the very least, punctuated by the presence of this warm, hearty genre of meals. Along with a myriad of other pre-packaged foods, Hamburger Helper was on my parents mental black list of food that would rarely, if ever, see the inside of our cabinets, and in exchange my brother and I were treated to a variety of delicious home-cooked meals each night, made usually from scratch (although Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was, thankfully, an exception).
Despite the fact that, growing up, I rarely wanted for anything more delicious than what my parents put in front of me nightly (except for on Fish Fry nights, I truly hated that flounder), I wonder if I was perhaps missing out on a quintessential childhood experience of a small box of Hamburger Helper transforming ground meat into a delightful family experience and delicious meal. Every time I saw those commercials, a little part of me would wonder…
Until now! On Friday, one of my favorite food bloggers, Kristen at IowaGirlEats, posted her traditional list of Friday Favorites, and among it was this recipe for Homemade Chili Mac from Babble. Although it was well before lunch time when I perused her post, I immediately began drooling over the picture for this recipe, and filed it away in my inbox while making a mental note to prepare this over the weekend.
During a stroll around town on Saturday afternoon, my craving and curiosity still hadn’t waned, so I hopped into the local grocery store and picked up the onions, peppers, ground meat and cheese necessary to create this self-proclaimed Hamburger Helper remake. But as I walked around Gristedes, grabbing items from the shelves, I had a clear sense of satisfaction in that not a single ingredient I picked up came in a colorful box labeled with indecipherable ingredients. This would be Hamburger Helper 2.0 – a cleaner, fresher, though not quite healthier version.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record in saying that “I can’t believe how easy this was to make,” but it’s true! Honestly, it’s fool proof – the trickiest part of this recipe, perhaps, is over cooking the meat, but since it’s simmered in beef stock while the elbow macaroni cooks, it’s nearly impossible to achieve anything but juicy, tender hamburger meat. And while the meaty base may taste a bit flat, even with the savory meat and added spices, that mild cheddar cheese provides just the right amount of tang and thickness to bring the whole dish together.
Needless to say myself, my roommate, and my boyfriend all went back for more of this. As in seconds. And thirds. We even compared it to these, which is probably one of the more delicious creations to come out of my kitchen. Moral of the story? If you’re a home cook who prefers to cook “au natural” and avoid pre-packaged meals, you can capture the rich, home-style flavors of a hamburger classic all on your own. And, if you are a lover of Hamburger Helper, why not give this homegrown version a whirl? You might be pleasantly surprised with what you whip up on your own :)
Homemade Chili Macaroni and Cheese
(Adapted from Babble.com)
- 1 lb lean ground hamburger
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 medium bell pepper, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ tablespoon of hot sauce, like Chili-Garlic sauce (or less, to taste)
- chili powder to taste (optional)
- 4 ounces of tomato paste
- 1 – 15 oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 4 cups beef stock
- 2 cups elbow macaroni
- 2 cups mild cheddar shredded cheese
- 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
- Canola oil
Preheat a large skillet or pot. Drizzle with canola oil. Add ground beef, onions, bell peppers and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until beef is browned and vegetables are tender.
Add cumin, paprika, and oregano to ground beef. Add hot sauce (or chili powder) at this step if you want a spicier dish. Add tomato paste, kidney beans, diced or canned tomatoes and beef stock. Bring to a boil and add macaroni.
Turn to a simmer and cover. Cook until macaroni is tender, about 10 minutes. Add cheese and mix until blended. Serve immediately.
Want to lighten this up? Substitute lean ground turkey or chicken for the ground hamburger meat, whole wheat elbows for the pasta, and use low fat cheddar cheese instead of the full fat version.