We had Hamburger Helper on occasion when I was growing up. I don’t remember anything specific about it, really, just that it was there sometimes. And I think homemade versions of the Hamburger Helper concept are great food-to-share recipes. (I say “homemade” because the sodium content of the boxed version should send you into orbit. Seriously. It shouldn’t be legal. Take note that the numbers refer to 1 cup of the prepared meal.)
This is easy to throw together with things you probably have in your kitchen most of the time: macaroni, ground beef or turkey, onions, bell peppers, some spices, some canned tomato products, brown sugar and cheese.
Nothing fancy here, folks. But my grandmother enjoyed it and was delighted to have it on hand to share with some people who dropped by.
As I write this, she is not at home enjoying a home-cooked meal. In fact, she was admitted to the hospital today. We’re not sure how serious it is, but I’m going to keep stockpiling these easy-to-share recipes just so I’m prepared to help when she returns home.
This process always speaks to me about how intimately food is tied to our communities and to our families…how integral it is in the fabric of our lives. It is a very immediate, tangible kind of support to deliver a meal to someone.
I’ve been going to my grandmother’s house several days a week to check in on her, help out, and drop off food. And I always go on the days I pick up my son from preschool. After several weeks of this new routine he started asking me as soon as he got into the car, “Are we going to MeMaw’s house?” And when I would say “yes” he would ask, “Why?” In the beginning I just said, “To visit and drop off some food.” That seemed to satisfy his question.
But after awhile I realized I was missing out on a great teaching opportunity. I was neglecting a chance to instill something in him about family. Since then the conversation has been a little different.
When he gets in the car he still asks, “Are we going to MeMaw’s house?”
I still say “yes” and he still asks “why?”
“To see how her day is going and if we can help her with anything…and because I have her dinner for tonight and her lunch for tomorrow.”
“But we just took her dinner, didn’t we?”
“Yes, we did. And she ate it. And now she needs dinner again. Don’t you eat dinner every night?”
“Yes, I guess. How long will we keep taking her dinner?”
“For as long as she needs us to do it. This is just one little way we can let her know we love her and want to help her and take good care of her. Isn’t that what families are supposed to do?”
And then one of those little light bulb moments I adore:
“Do you make my lunch and dinner because you love me and because you are my family?”
I hope we have many more weeks ahead of us to keep having this conversation. And if we don’t, then I suspect there will be other lessons ready for us about what families do to support each other when they need it.
Cheesy Beef Macaroni
adapted from RelishRelish!
12 – 16 ounces macaroni
1 1/2 pounds ground meat
2 TB vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 TB chili powder
1 1/2 TB ground cumin
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
1 28-ounce can tomato puree
1 1/2 TB brown sugar
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Cook the pasta until still firm to the bite – a little less than al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid when you drain the pasta and set it aside.
Brown the ground meat until no longer pink and drain off any fat. Set meat aside.
Saute the onions and peppers in the oil until they just begin to soften. Add the spices and garlic and continue to cook until they brown a bit (about 7 minutes – you want a nice rich color here.) Add the diced tomatoes, tomato puree, brown sugar, reserved pasta water and ground meat. Bring to a simmer and allow flavors to meld for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Turn off the heat and stir in pasta. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour into baking dish (9×13…or 2 8×8…or even smaller portions if you plan to freeze several.) Sprinkle with cheese. (If freezing, you are finished here – cover and put in freezer. When ready to eat it, thaw completely and bake in a 350 degree oven until warmed through – about 25-30 minutes.)
If serving immediately, pop in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes to really melt cheese and warm through.