Works for Me Wednesday: Make your Own Hamburger Helper
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Or, Who Needs A Claymation Hand when You've Got a Plan?

Today, a recipe: Make your own Hamburger Helper. It's so easy, and you'll be kicking yourself for spending $2-3 on those little boxes of chemicals all these years! You can also make this gluten free by using chinese rice noodles and cornstarch.

We can't eat MSG or food dyes, and we would be a 3 box family by now, so this really saves money and health.

Hamburger Helper is basically meat, sauce, and noodles. The sauce usually comes in a powdered form, and is highly processed so that all you have to do is add water. I use egg noodles (plain, yolk free, whole wheat - whatever floats your boat) or no bake lasagna noodles, broken up, work well too. Now you know what to do with those crushed pieces in the bottom of the box! You can scale this up or down: the ratios are roughly 1 lb. ground meat, 8 oz. egg noodles, 16 oz. of sauce (that's two cups). But since YOU are in charge here, not Betty Crocker, you can make it noodlier, saucier, or meatier. Allow 1-1/2 oz. noodles for each adult portion and 4 oz. of uncooked meat.

Basic recipe
Brown the meat (sometimes I get sassy and use ground sausage. I always use ground turkey or turkey sausage, it's cheaper, healthier, and once you throw all the other stuff in you can't tell the difference). Add some chopped up onions if you've got them. Drain it to reduce fat (dump meat in colander, rinse with hot water, dump back in pan.)

I usually use half an onion in a recipe, but I'm lazy, too, so I sometimes chop the entire thing and save half in a sandwich baggie so I only have to wash the knife and cutting board once. Save money on soap, too!

Now, add sauce:
For Lasagna style, add 1 jar of spaghetti sauce, which I get free with coupons or buy the WalMart brand, for $1.00/16 oz. jar. I can't make this same amount of marinara sauce for cheaper than that! My family's big, so I brown 2 lbs. meat and add 2 jars of sauce, or 1 jar sauce and 1 large can of crushed tomatoes. I like the crushed tomatoes, it is thicker than tomato sauce but doesn't have chunks like diced tomatoes. Add garlic and italian seasoning to taste.

For Cheeseburger style, put about a cup of beef broth per pound of meat in a measuring cup. Add a spoonful of flour or cornstarch. Flour will give you brown gravy, cornstarch will give you a translucent sauce; use a small spoon if you go with the cornstarch. Mix it up with a fork until there are no lumps. Pour it into the skillet and bring to a boil.

For Taco style, drain 1 can of diced tomatoes into a measuring cup (15 oz. size). Add beef broth to make 1 cup, add flour, dump broth and tomatoes into pot. Add garlic and cumin, and maybe a spoonful or two of salsa if you prefer. Bring to a boil. (You can add a can of corn or whole pinto beans if you need to stretch it, or make it meatless. Use the bean juice and corn water from the can instead of adding water.)

For Stroganoff, make it like the cheeseburger style at this point, using milk instead of broth. Or use 1/3 dried milk powder mixed into 1 c. broth . Or, you can add in canned mushrooms; drain into a measuring cup and add milk to make a cup. I don't buy canned mushrooms, because they are pretty much expensive and tasteless. I buy dehydrated mushrooms at the Chinese food store (not shiitake, just generic dried mushrooms). You put them in a bowl, add boiling water, and let them sit. Much tastier, easier to store, and you get tasty mushroom water to use instead. Of course, that takes some of the convenience out of the hamburger helper style meal. Put a dash of Worcestershire sauce in if your family like it.

Bring meat and sauce to a boil, stirring often. (For stroganoff, make it a gentle simmer - don't want to have burned milk taste!)

Add the noodles and stir them in. Add more water if needed, so the noodles mix well into the sauce (note: it should not cover the noodles. You are not making soup Just enough water that you can mix the noodles in easily without a lot of clumping or your spoon getting stuck.)

Cover and continue to simmer, stirring often, until the noodles are soft (15 minutes or so down here at sea level for 16 oz. of noodles).

Now, top it off:
Lasagna style, turn off the stove and stir in some ricotta or cottage cheese, or I just sprinkle shredded mozzarella on top. Serve.

Cheeseburger, reduce heat to low, add a handful of cheddar cheese, and stir it in until it melts. Turn stove off, sprinkle more cheese on top, and serve.

Taco, turn off stove, top with cheese - monterey jack, pepper jack, or queso fresco are good choices. Serve.

Stroganoff, reduce heat to very low. Add a couple of big spoonfuls of sour cream and stir into mixture. Cook gently until heated through - do not boil! You can use non-fat plain yogurt as well, but it has a more acidic taste so it won't taste like true stroganoff.

I like this recipe because it is a true pantry recipe (except the stroganoff). Everything can be stocked and stored on a shelf, (My freezer is part of my pantry, so the meat counts as a pantry item too!) It cooks up in one pot. It's quick, convenient, and you can make it without meat for vegetarians or meatless Fridays. (Just add some sort of bean or tofu for protein.) You can easily make it fat free, or whole grain; it works as an organic recipe or regular; you can use stuff from your garden or from cans; you can use up your leftover spaghetti sauce or noodles; you can easily hide veggies in here for picky kids (shredded zucchini, carrots, smushed up white beans... )

Works for me!

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posted by Milehimama @ Mama Says at 1/31/2007 07:19:00 AM | Permalink | |