Once upon a time there was a boy and a girl who moved to Minneapolis after college to whoop it up for a few years before settling down into adulthood, or whatever it is they call being a mid-upper twenty something.
The boy and the girl were dating, but lived in separate apartments. The girl liked to have the boy over for dinner as often as she could because she liked the boy a lot, but also because she knew what the boy would eat every night if left to his own devices.
See, while the girl liked to cook meals chock full of fresh veggies and lean protein (for the most part,) the boy had a weakness for boxed dinners that called for a pound of “hamburger” to “help” them along.
The meals were quick, cheap, and painless to prepare, but loaded with salt and weird ingredients.
“Disodium guanylate?” The girl once asked the boy, after looking at the ingredient list.
“I think that just means ‘extra delicious’.” The boy replied.
The boy and the girl ended up getting married and moving back to Iowa a few years later, and while they’ve been eating well ever since, he occasionally likes to think of the boxed dinners from his bachelor days and drool a little.
More in love with the boy than ever, the girl offered to whip up a homemade version of his favorite “flavor”, Cheeseburger Macaroni.
And the boy freaking LOVED IT. And guess what? The girl did too!
Ok. The jig is up. The boy is Ben, and the girl is me. IGE. The rest of the story is true, however, including the part where Ben inhaled his bowl of Cheeseburger Macaroni. I literally gave him a bowl, went to snap a few pictures, and it was gone by the time I got back. Thanks for waiting. I kid!
The beauty of this meal is that it is inexpensive – I had all the ingredients on hand except for the hamburger to “help” bring the meal together – it’s made in one pot, so clean up is basically nil, and it’s ready in 20 minutes. 20 minutes!
Start by browning, and draining, one pound of ground beef. I used ultra-lean 96/4 ground beef.
Next, sprinkle in a rainbow of yummy seasonings and thickeners, including paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and cornstarch.
Pour in water, skim milk,
and any short pasta. I wanted to use elbow macaroni, but only had mini penne on hand. Still worked fine!
Stir everything together, pop a lid on top, and simmer the mixture until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes.
Finally, stir in a wee bit of sharp cheddar cheese, and it’s done!
Ultra cozy, ultra easy, and, most importantly, disodium guanylate free!
Homemade Cheeseburger Helper
1lb lean ground beef (I used 96/4)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup hot water
2 cups skim milk
1-1/2 cups elbow macaroni (or other small pasta)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Brown ground beef in a large skillet or pot. Drain and return to pan.
- Add in cornstarch, seasonings, hot water, skim milk and pasta. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, place a lid on top, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente, stirring a couple of times.
- Turn off the heat and stir in cheddar cheese until melted. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until sauce is thickened.
This meal is the ultimate in comfort food, shockingly easy to prepare, and so dang good. SO good!
“The boy” also had a fondness for scooping up his boxed dinners with tortilla chips (I know) so “the girl” went ahead and made a healthy alternative for those, too. Kale Chips!
Kale Chips blow. My. Mind. How a soft, leafy vegetable goes from, well, soft and leafy, to audibly crispy and crunchy in 15 minutes in a hot oven, never ceases to amaze me.
Start with fresh kale. You can buy kale in bunches in the produce department, then strip the leaves from the tough stem and chop them up, or buy a bag of pre-cut and washed kale, like I found in my local grocery store.
I literally squealed aloud in delight when I found this!!
Place the kale in a ziplock bag, season it with extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper, then shake the heck out of it.
Spread the kale out on a non-stick sprayed, foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees, or until the leaves are dry and crisp.
You’ll be able to pick some off the baking sheet and tell if they’re done.
Sprinkle with a little salt when they’re still hot out of the oven, the be prepared to get your giggle on, because you will not believe how crispy, and potato-chip like these babies are!
Ok. Ben said they tasted like “burnt leaves”, but I LOVE them. Loved this whole dish!
In other news, the boy and the girl are going to go settle in for a night of good television together. Last week they laughed like crazy at the first funny episode of The Office of the whole entire season. They’re hoping for a repeat performance tonight!