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Posts Tagged ‘mac’n’cheese’

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)

Ingredients

  • 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 

Method

 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.

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Today I have something very special to  share with all of you. And I promise, it’s worth the wait of sitting through my spiel as I get there. It’s also worth crossing bridges and braving $40 cab rides for. Just to give you a little context…

It all started late one Saturday afternoon. Five twenty-somethings sat lounging on some fallen trees and stumps atop a high, shady hill in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. After a day of flea market browsing and traversing some brownstone-lined blocks, it was upon this hilltop that we took momentary solace to rest our weary legs and share some stories.

After thirty minutes of swapping tales on our childhood pets (more specifically, we learned that nearly all of us had killed a hamster at some point), our minds started to wander to the outskirts of the park, where beer, food and opportunity lay beyond.

On a stump to my left, I noted that Graham, my friend who could undoubtedly be dubbed the iPhone King of the Northeast, was already wired in, scrolling away for a nearby watering hole to satiate our cravings.

Then, he looked up and smiled.
“I got it. I think you guys will be very impressed.”

The statement in and of itself seemed like a jinx; an unintended guarantee for ensuring a terrible time. But then…

That happened.

A little over an hour later, we sat contented in a round booth at Dram Shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and I felt like I had been dropped head first into an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate. It went a little something like this:

We were sitting in our round booth, finally seated comfortably and playing Jenga while waiting for our food to come, after patiently waiting at the bar while scouting the venue for a table to open up. Yes, Dram Shop operates under super-chill, very Brooklyn, who-cares-if-we’re-hipsters “Seat Yourself” policy. On the other hand, it also has board games, which is complete frosting. This particular dichotomy leaned strongly in favor of Dram Shop.

And that was all before the food came. When no one was quite paying attention, our ambivalent waitress rolled up with armfuls of plates heaping in a plethora of deep-fried goodness, the Jenga tower crumbled as if on cue, and the excitement level of everyone at the table rose a few decibels.

She set the plates down and walked away, and then I saw them. The one dish that had me the second it was set down on the table. The Deep Fried Macaroni and Cheese bites.

Except they weren’t just single bites – they were more like three bites in one, three ecstatic moments of complete foodie bliss. Even for a long-winded gourmand like myself, it’s hard to put such perfection into words, but I shall do my best.

To begin, you have the crust. A delicate, yet substantial, perfectly browned, crispy, savory and HOT shell of what appeared to be deep-fried Panko breadcrumbs, aching to crunched into and melt in your mouth. Inside, the macaroni and cheese was sublime – it was gooey, rich, salty and sweet, as the sharp Wisconsin cheddar just barely oozed out around the noodles and Panko crust. And in the center of the plate was a homemade ranch dipping sauce that provided just the right amount of tangy lubrication as these babies went sliding down into your belly, well on their way to making you very happy.

Obviously, we got some other noshings too, but after that, who really cares?

Alright, I’ll give.

We also ordered the Irish Nachos, which some in our party were surprised to hear did not include a tortilla chip of any sort. I was pretty excited for this dish; I’d had a wonderful experience with Irish Nachos up in Poughkeepsie, New York, while visiting friends at Marist College. The college’s main bar was famous for their Irish Nachos, so much so that if one dared to order this dish during a busy night at the bar, they could expect the plate to arrive at their table only half full, as hungry bar patrons would reach up and grab nachos off the plate as the staggering waitress attempted to plow through the crowds.

Thankfully, our’s arrived in tact.

Irish nachos are essentially what we all think of as nachos, but with French Fries instead of chips. Nothing wrong with that, eh? My middle school, French Fry obsessed self would have loved these, and my adult self couldn’t get enough of them either. We also ordered the trio of sauces, which made us the proud owners of a roasted garlic aioli (an Italian mayonnaise made with olive oil instead of vegetable), a chipotle mayo, and a house-made salsa.

For those of you keeping tabs, that’s a lot of sauce on this table.

But the crowning jewel of all the sauciness we were belaboring under was still to come – that’s right, it was the succulent barbecue wings, which were dripping in a thick layer of sweet sauce. For someone who likes but can’t always handle hot wings, this was right up my alley!

So after all that, it’s probably not hard to guess what my overall take-away on Dram Shop was. Great day-to-night bar (with the potential for a great night bar), fantastic kicked-up bar food, decent selection of craft beers, perfect place for groups – if you can snag a table, I’m in LOVE with the board games, and of course, if you order the deep-fried mac and cheese bites, none of this will matter because you’ll lapse into a food coma so blissful, you won’t even care that you’re in Brooklyn.

KIDDING! We all love Brooklyn!

(Now.)

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