Sunday, November 29, 2009

COMFORT FOOD REMIX FOR ONE

Here I am again admitting stuff no one in their right mind would admit to. When I was a young person learning to cook for myself, I learned to really love Hamburger Helper – especially the Cheeseburger version – high sodium content and all. Many, many nights that was my go-to meal after long days studying or working. Eventually I began cooking “for real” and stopped purchasing boxed versions of food and this old standby faded from memory.

A few years ago I attempted to relive the experience when I happened across a sale of Hamburger Helper at the store. Hmmmm, I thought…I used to LOVE this stuff. Why not give it another try for a busy weeknight meal? So I wandered past the meat counter and picked up a pound of ground beef and was sort of excited to get home and try to relive my un-culinary history.

A few nights later my ground beef hit the hot skillet and a batch of Cheeseburger Mac was created. It looked good and smelled just like I remembered it. I was actually pretty excited so I settled into my comfy TV watching chair with a bowl of sloppy, cheesy meat and after a bite or two…heavy sigh…it went directly to the trash. It’s hard to say whether the product itself has changed so much over the years or whether my tastes have changed but it truly was awful.

However, not to be daunted by one bad experience, I determined to try to revisit this and make it something I can have again and really like. Plus I added the caveat of making it a “meal for one” that I can make, eat and not have leftovers.

A little research on the web found a slew of recipes for cheeseburger macaroni. Some called for cans of condensed cream of cheddar and/or chicken soups, some for Velveeta cheese products, some a can of tomatoes and mushrooms – some of which looked pretty darned good, but made WAY more than I could eat in a single sitting without inviting half the neighborhood for dinner. So I went to an old “secret recipes” cookbook that supposedly had the original version and I decided to back into my single serving version based on that.

Now don’t laugh, but my version calls for powdered cheese. I know that it’s not very culinarily correct to use such a product, but my reasoning behind giving it a try is that I can purchase a bulk amount of the powder at my local bulk food store and let it sit in the pantry while using only enough for one meal at a time. It’s very hard to buy just enough of a block of cheddar cheese like that, so this way I’m not putting anything to waste. Plus I imagine we’ve all learned that it’s very difficult to melt cheddar cheese and not have it become clumpy or oily. So this solved that issue as well.

The other obvious alternative was to simply buy a box of macaroni and cheese and add some cooked ground beef to it. And realistically, that might be a great idea except that it defeats my “single serving” idea. Plus you’re stuck using the plain old macaroni they give you and sometimes I like choo-choo wheels or little shells – you’ve got to have SOME fun, right?

Here is the recipe I ended up with after a bit of tinkering. As usual, I keep my ground beef in the freezer in quarter pound balls, so deciding to make this on the spur of the moment is pretty easy, everything else sits in the pantry awaiting my whim.

SIMPLE SINGLE SERVING CHEESEBURGER MACARONI

¼ lb. ground beef (turkey or pork sausage would also be tasty here)
1/3 cup macaroni (uncooked)
3/4 cup water
1 Tbls dehydrated cheddar cheese powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
additional 1 tsp cheddar cheese powder

Brown ground beef (adding salt and pepper to taste) in a small heavy saucepan or skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Add 1 Tbls cheese powder and the remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, cover the pan/pot and let cook on medium heat for 10-12 minutes until the pasta is fully cooked. Sprinkle on the additional cheese powder and stir to combine. Continue to cook uncovered until liquid is ostly absorbed.

You could easily add peas or a bit of cooked broccoli to this at the end to get some veggies into the dish, or even a teaspoon or so of tomato paste to give a different flavor. As is, this is a lot as I recalled the old meals when I was a young non-cook. This was perfect alone for lunch, but add a salad or piece of garlic bread and it would make a very decent weeknight dinner. Yippee for something coming out the way I remembered! Nostalgia maybe, but comforting, yes siree!

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