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.

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