Is there such a thing as healthy hamburger helper?
Here’s what I’m looking for: a one-pot dinner that combines macaroni, ground beef, and maybe tomato. It doesn’t even have to be low calorie. It just has to be healthier than the stuff you buy in a box and add to ground beef. As usual, I like my recipes to use regular grocery store ingredients, to not dirty every pan in the house, and for the meal to come together without a lot of fuss. This is a weeknight meal, not a “pleasing my in-laws” meal.
So I was thrilled when I saw a recipe for Hamburger Buddy in a healthy eating magazine I subscribe to. I folded down the corner of the page, added it to my weekly meal plan, and I figured it could be recipe #1 in a series of recipes I would try during my search for an easy macaroni beef dinner.
Even better, this recipe included sneaky vegetables – those chopped up in a food processor – so that we’d be getting extra servings of vegetables without even trying. Yum, sounds perfect, right?
First, I get out the food processor (which has a base, a top, a blade, and a plastic piece to shove things inside) – yes, that means 4 parts that have to be washed. When I’m chopping the mushrooms with the garlic and carrots, it all turns to mush very quickly, so that when I add the onions to be chopped, the machine locks up – the mush getting mushier, the onions remaining in the centre still virtually whole. I fish out the onions and chop them by hand.
OK, then I brown the ground beef, add the squishy pureed vegetables, and begin to cook. It looks wrong, the colours are wrong (lots of orange from the carrots), but I try to have faith. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of dried thyme, which turns out to be way too much, but the first time I make a recipe I like to follow it exactly, before I begin modifying, so that I can see what the chef intended. I should have realized that if the only spices were salt, pepper, beef broth and thyme … well, it was going to taste like beef and noodles and thyme. And let me tell you, this is a weird combination. Thyme is better with chicken, with pasta, and in vegetable soup 🙂
So then I added the raw macaroni to the cooked veggies/meat combo, and then added cups and cups of water and beef broth so the whole thing could boil. You’re right, I know, I can see you all shaking your heads … yes, now I’ve got boiled thyme-scented beef.
Finally, I add some reserved beef broth thickened with flour (mixed in another cup that has to be washed). Then I add sour cream. This is more of a beef stroganoff than hamburger helper, but anyway…
It wasn’t a disaster. André ate it, saying it would be better with less thyme. I ate some and deemed it ‘edible’ but not worth making again. And while we were still sitting at the dinner table, I reached behind me and pulled out my three favourite cookbooks and began searching for another recipe to try, and I found three or four. Some require cooking the ingredients and then putting it in the oven to make a casserole, others use tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce as the only flavourings. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on my progress as I sample my way through these recipes. It might take me 6 trials (like lasagne did), but in the end I’ll come up with something tasty and cheap and easy that is a combination of the best elements I can find.
Along with the macaroni beef dinner, I’m already working on Moroccan chickpea stew that doesn’t taste watery and bland. Then my next cooking adventure is pot roast (as requested by new subscribers Anne, Tammy and Katie). I’m totally excited to find a really great pot roast recipe that works every time, isn’t overcooked, and makes enough for leftovers.
If you have any recipes that you would like me to develop, just drop me a line 🙂 I’d love to hear your feedback.
You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks and bon appetit!
Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu,
Owner & Head Chicken