Even More Food to Share

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.

Mission accomplished.

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?”

Mission accomplished.

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.


Daring Cooks’ Challenge: Beef Pho

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

During our years in Seattle we discovered Pho and fell in love.  Pho is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup with a very distinctive, delicious broth garnished with basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, limes and fresh chiles.  (And, by the way, the pronunciation of Pho is “fuh?” like a question.  Funny huh?)  It can be chicken or beef or vegetarian…it’s all about the broth.  When it’s done right, nothing beats it on a cold, dreary day.

Pho photo from The Steamy Kitchen
Pho photo from The Steamy Kitchen

Since moving back to Texas we’ve searched for the elusive broth and some place that does this yummy soup justice.  My husband has found a place or two that will satisfy the craving, but none that have totally knocked his socks off.  He was hopeful and excited about this challenge.

There are some key elements to the broth: charring the onions and ginger, toasting the spices, the right amount of fish sauce and allowing the broth to simmer long enough for the flavor to really deepen as it should.

Ginger and onions ready to be charred
Ginger and onions ready to be charred
Toasting fennel seeds, cinnamon stick, star anise, coriander seeds, cloves and cardamom pods
Toasting fennel seeds, cinnamon stick, star anise, coriander seeds, cloves and cardamom pods
Beef bones, charred ginger and onions and toasted spices simmering to make the broth.
Beef bones, charred ginger and onions and toasted spices (in mesh bag) simmering to make the broth.

The broth simmers for about 3 hours and the aroma is so yummy and distinctive it is nearly impossible to wait that long!   When it is finally time to serve you place cooked rice noodles in a bowl with very, very thinly sliced raw beef and some of the beef from the bones used to make the broth.  The hot broth gets ladled in, “cooks” the beef and gets soaked up by the noodles.


Then comes the fun part: garnishing with an assortment of delicious greenery and sauces – basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, fresh chiles, limes, Sriracha and Hoisin sauce.


And when it all comes together…mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Beef Pho
I know that beef looks rare in the photo, but in a matter of a minutes it was cooked perfectly.

So, the verdict?  Well, it was mixed.  The flavor was definitely there and nearly perfect…but it was light or thin…it didn’t quite have the depth we were looking for. Naturally, the next day the broth was a little more complex and much closer to the pho grail we seek.  Also, I think it needed more fish sauce.


Next time – and oh yes there will be a next time – I will up the fish sauce, allow the broth simmer for a bit longer and let it sit overnight before serving.  I suspect it will make us happy, happy…like, maybe even Seattle happy.

For the full recipe and instructions, visit The Steamy Kitchen.  And for a gazillion other versions of Pho, see The Daring Kitchen.

Left-over Chicken

So remember the roasted chickens from Saturday?  There were quite a bit of leftovers.  Yesterday was beautiful and we were all kind of wanting a picnic dinner in the park.  So, I used the March issue of “Cooking Light” to help me do something with cooked chicken: Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken.

Spicy?  Not so much (needs some adjusting in that department)

Asian? I guess so.

If you have these items lying around, you can give it a go yourself and see what you think:

Ingredients: Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken

So, that’s sesame oil, ginger, garlic, cilantro, green onions, rice vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili paste (or heat of your choice,) chicken (cooked and chopped,) rice noodles and chopped peanuts.

Now, I have a hard time following a recipe exactly.  Always have.  But if it’s a new one, sometimes I can manage it.  This one, I actually did follow pretty closely.  And, considering it only took about 20-30 minutes to throw together and the only real cooking involved was boiling the water for the noodles and quickly sauteing the ginger/garlic…it’s not bad at all.  Certainly a reasonable “throw together meal” when you have left over chicken* to use.


Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken


  • 1  tablespoon  dark sesame oil, divided
  • 1  tablespoon  grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 2  cups  chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2  cup  chopped green onions
  • 1/4  cup  chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3  tablespoons  low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2  tablespoons  rice vinegar
  • 2  tablespoons  hoisin sauce
  • 2  teaspoons  sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
  • 1  (6.75-ounce) package thin rice sticks (rice-flour noodles)
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped dry-roasted peanuts


1. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic to pan; cook 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Place in a large bowl. Stir in remaining 1 teaspoon oil, chicken, and next 6 ingredients (through sambal).

2. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain. Cut noodles into smaller pieces. Add noodles to bowl; toss well to coat. Sprinkle with peanuts.

Nutritional Information

Calories:381 Fat:8.1g (sat 1.5g,mono 3.2g,pol 2.7g)  Protein:27.5g  Carbohydrate: 47.1g Fiber: 2.3g Cholesterol: 60mg Iron: 3.1mg  Sodium: 614mg Calcium: 55mg  David Bonom, Cooking Light, MARCH 2009

My suggestions:

Needs more spice, for sure.  I did not rinse the noodles in cold water as I wanted the heat from them to warm everything through.  I also mixed the liquids together first before adding them to the bowl so they would be more homogeneous.  And because I’m a big fan of Pad Thai, I also garnished with lime slices before serving.

*Left-over Chicken: stay tuned for some serious tips on cooking large batches of chicken ahead of time and making dinner prep easier than ever…”Power Cooking” is on its way!