Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hamburger Helper without the 'help'

When I was a kid we were often caught up in the Hamburger/Tuna Helper craze. At least once a week we had one of these easy and fairly cheap meals. And we loved them. Mom seriously had at least 10 cans of tuna in the pantry and as much frozen hamburger stocked in the freezer so that we could make this whenever she wanted without running out. It might have been the first real meal I made all by myself.
I haven't had Hamburger/Tuna Helper in a long time, but I recently got a craving for it. Not to knock the convenient invention, but I prefer to know exactly what is going into my meals. And then I got to thinking: How hard would it be to mimic Hamburger Helper with fresh, delicious ingredients? It turns out that it is so easy I'm disappointed I haven't been making this dish my whole life.
The challenge I had in creating this, was really the seasoning. I wanted to keep this from being just a meaty pasta sauce. I think I balanced it well enough, but, as always, feel free to tweak as you wish!

Homemade hamburger helper
2 lbs ground beef, browned
Olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 med. onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 cup chopped mushrooms
Salt and pepper
1 cup red wine (I bought a $8 bottle of Pinot Noir, which turned out to be delicious.)
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 (28 oz.) can of diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) can of tomato sauce
1 tbsp. Oregano
1 tbsp. Thyme
2 tsp. Basil
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 box elbow macaroni

1) Brown the ground beef, drain (I do this for health reasons) and return to your pot.
2) Add the chopped garlic and onions. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are softened. When the onions are softened and just turned translucent, add the red bell peppers and mushrooms.
3) Once the peppers/mushrooms are cooked to your preference (I like them to keep their texture, so I cook them a little less so they will survive boiling), add the red wine. Scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon in case anything is stuck to the bottom (This is called deglazing the pan. If you have a nonstick pan, likely nothing actually stuck and you don't have to worry about it, but stir it all together anyway).
4) Add everything else except the pasta and stir to combine. Add half a cup of water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer for a half hour.
5) Add the macaroni, stir, cover and let simmer until the pasta is tender. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom.

I picked this one because it was cheap and also because the company plants a tree for every bottle purchased. It turns out that it is a pretty good Pinot Noir and I would definitely buy it again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stewed garbanzo beans and chicken

I'm a big fan of repurposing my leftovers in new dishes. There's a show on Food Network I watched a lot (when I had access to cable) that revolved around the idea. The host would show you how to cook a big meal when you had more time and use the leftovers from that meal to stretch into two more dinners the rest of the week.
For me it's more about saving money than time, but not eating the same thing every night of the week is also a perk.
After the wedding we took home a bit a food. We ate most of it over the honeymoon, but we had several grilled chicken thighs leftover that I had frozen to use later. So when I stumbled on a recipe that I had every ingredient for (even a can of garbanzo beans I had been saving for a batch of hummus that never appeared) on Budget Bytes, I couldn't wait to get started. So I present my version of Greek stew with garbanzo beans and chicken.

Stewed garbanzo beans and chicken
3 chicken thighs
1 med. yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
olive oil
dried oregano
dried thyme
crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz. can of dices tomatoes
1 8-oz can of tomato sauce
1 can of garbanzo beans, drained
feta cheese

1) Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large, deep skillet over medium/high heat with 2 Tbsp. of olive oil. The oil is ready when it has a wavy appearance. Cook the chicken pieces on each side until golden brown and crispy (5 min. each side). (Mine were already cooked, I just crisped up the skin in the pan.
2) While the chicken is browning, dice the onion and garlic. Once the chicken has browned, remove it to a plate and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cook the onion and garlic until they are soft and transparent.
3) Add the canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaves, oregano, thyme and half of the chopped parsley to the pan. Stir well to combine then add the chicken pieces back to the pot. Reduce the heat to low, place a lid on the pan and simmer for 20 minutes.
5) After the stew simmers for 20 minutes, remove the lid, drain the chickpeas and add them to the pot. Continue to simmer for 15 minutes without a lid.
Serve with couscous and sprinkle with feta cheese.

I made my couscous with chicken stock instead of water and added golden raisins to it. I have no final picture because everyone ate it too quickly! That seems to be a regular happening around my food.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saying goodbye to my best friend

When I was about 4 or 5 years old, a dog appeared in my life. All I remember of this dog was that it might have been black, it might have been big and it definitely chewed a chunk of my parents' orange couch off. If I remember correctly we were taking care of the pup for a family friend, but the incident with the orange couch swiftly ended that dog's time with us.
I tell this story because it quite possibly was the first time I became obsessed with owning dogs. At the time we'd had a cat for a while and I loved cats. But a few days (maybe even weeks) with a puppy brought out the dog lover in me.
Over the years we got a new kitten, a couple of fish and a cockatiel, but my pleas for a dog went unanswered.
But, when I was about 8 years old, we went to visit a litter of brittany spaniels. The wriggling mass of reddish-brown and white fur might have been the cutest thing I'd ever witnessed in my relatively short life. But it was one in particular, the apparent "runt" of the litter, who stole my heart (and the hearts of my mom and sister).
We took that little girl home and named her Kelly (after the uninspired name "Brittany" was tossed about). To this day I have no idea why we dubbed her that, but I generally called her Kellybelly. 8-year-old's will do that.
Two years later, my frustrated stepdad decided to get a new dog because Kelly was too "bullheaded" to be the bird dog he had wanted. That year Kelly was exiled from the most of the family's hearts. She was no competition for a younger, more amusing puppy. Yet, when everyone was drawn to Misty, our new German shorthaired pointer (who, incidentally, turned out to be even more unsuited for hunting), I would join Kelly on her bed. She would put her head on my leg and I would tell her about my day. That's when she became my dog.
Over the years we protected each other and I could always count on her to comfort me when it was called for. She would be there to keep my toes warm during the freezing winter nights in the mountains. When I had fights with my step-dad, I would usually escape to the side porch, where she would come running and shove her head under my arm in her version of a hug. She never failed to make me smile.
These memories are what I hold onto now that I am forced to say good-bye to my best friend. Home is not really "home" without her.
But the cycle continues. The night after Kelly was put down, I crawled into my own bed and promptly started to cry. Miyagi has generally slept on the floor because of my husband's allergies, but when allowed on the bed, he usually prefers to sleep on Travis' side and doesn't want to be touched. If you pet him he'll move farther away and if your feet are touching him, he'll often chuff at you and jump off in disgust. But that night, Miyagi got up and walked over to my side of the bed and stared at me. Eventually, he put his head on the bed next to my face and licked some tears off my nose. Then crawled in to bed next to me and I wrapped my arm around him, just like I had done so many times with Kelly. Instead of protesting, he snuggled closer. I will never forget Kelly. But it hurts slightly less knowing that I can build a similar relationship with Miyagi.