I won’t lie to you, but there are definitely some days after work that I’m absolutely beat and I really don’t want to cook, but then those seem to also be the days that I don’t have anything in my fridge and I really don’t want to spend the money on take out (Chicago is pretty expensive after all). So, when stuck between a rock and an empty stomach, I turn to my quick and dirty take on the ever easy [and normally prepackaged] goodness of Hamburger Helper.
This dish always reminds me of one of my dearest friends, Molly, and all the nights I spent in her apartment during college, hanging out on her couch, watching anime or playing Wii with a beer or glass of wine on the side, and even on the rare occasion, some serious studying. And it is Molly that I always remember whenever I make this dish because this was what we usually had whenever we got hungry and she was awesome enough to share her food with me—that and spaghetti, which is one of her favorite meals ever. I still remember all our trips to Giant Eagle on grocery runs, and I can still see all the boxes of Hamburger Helper stacked in her pantry, in addition to the other crazy things we got up to, and the not so crazy. Once, this wonderful lady came with me to my great-aunt’s funeral (which also happened to be Easter weekend), and afterwards, I offered to get the ingredients for dinner that wouldn’t take forever to cook. So, we picked up some ham steaks, thinking that would suffice—mind you, these were cheap, prepacked ham steaks—and when we tried to cook it, it was one of the worst tasting things we had ever eaten, and I guess since I’m chuckling while I remember, perhaps it was still pretty good all things aside. I don’t know if she remembers that dinner, but I’ll have to bring it up next time I talk to her. No doubt she’ll laugh about it with me too.
Now, keep in mind, the last time I was lazy enough to make it out of the box was years ago, and since coming across & altering the original recipe I had found, I don’t plan on ever going back to the box. Not that it was bad out of the box (it was oh so good), but I just prefer to make things from scratch when I can because it’s healthier! No preservatives in this recipe I can tell you that! (And speaking of making things from scratch, I have a BOMB recipe for Copy Cat PF Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps that I actually prefer to what I’ve had at the restaurant. So keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks!) The key to figuring out this recipe is finding the large elbow macaroni’s to make it as close to the box as possible, but more often than not, when I can’t find them, I just use the mini macaronis. It’s just a few minutes less cooking time overall, or cellentani pasta if you want to stick to a larger pasta. Either will work! And besides, when I make it by scratch, I can tailor it to my tastes and it ends up being even better than the box anyway! Frankie likes it with a kick of heat, so I even add a little hot sauce to my recipe (and some diced tomatoes for a little Tex-Mex flair)! [Note: My photo shows flat leaf parsley, which I happened to have on hand, but curly parsley works better I think.]
Here’s to the memories we delight in recreating. —Cooking Maggie
- 1 pound lean hamburger meat
- 1 envelope taco seasoning
- 1 (10 oz) can Rotel tomatoes and green chilies (or petite diced tomatoes)
- 2 cups beef broth (or water)
- 1 cup large elbow macaroni
- Hot Sauce (after adding cheese sauce) to taste
- Fresh parsley to top, finely chopped
For Cheese Sauce
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ¾ cup milk
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Brown and drain hamburger meat. Stir in taco seasoning, Rotel, beef broth, and macaroni. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and cover pan. Simmer 12-14 mins until macaroni is tender.
- For the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking for 5 minutes until fragrant and light brown in color. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil. Whisk until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheddar cheese until melted. Add the salt and pepper to the cheese sauce. Pour the cheese sauce over the hamburger mixture. Stir gently to combine.
- Add hot sauce to taste and top with fresh parsley.