Hamburger Helper, Minus the Box

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I may have mentioned it once or twice, but I have an embarrassing love of most things that come in a box, especially with powdered cheese. Kraft mac & cheese? Clearly. Those Knorr rice or noodle sides in a bag? So good and only $1! Hamburger Helper? Be still my heart 🖤🖤🖤 Are any of these things actually good or good for me? No and no, but my taste buds are confused. Someone mentioned Hamburger Helper the other day, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. (Don’t judge me!)

I knew the chance of convincing Selim that Hamburger Helper was a decent meal choice was slim to none, so I went for a slightly less processed version. Maybe not exactly low calorie or low fat, but hey – I added vegetables and cut out the processed/powdered cheese. Wins all the way around. And it’s delicious! Take that dinner in a box! I guess I should also mentioned that this is based on Cheeseburger Macaroni – which to me is THE Hamburger Helper, but that might not be true for everyone.

I looked to Pinterest for a little guidance in getting started with this recipe. I checked out these lovely blogs, but didn’t follow one in particular – onetwo, & three.

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Hamburger Helper, Minus the Box

(Inspired by a few different blogs – see above)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1/2 of a large onion, diced
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups dry macaroni
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
Instructions: 
  1. In a large pan with tall edges, heat the oil.
  2. Over medium heat, cook the onions and the carrots for just 2-3 minutes. Top the onions with a few turns of black pepper and a pinch of salt.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high and add the beef and worchestershire sauce to the pan. Break up the beef with your cooking spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef has browned.
  4. If you have any excess grease, drain it off before adding the next ingredients.
  5. Now add the rest of the ingredients, except for the cheese. Stir together.
  6. Bring liquid to a boil. Then turn the heat back down to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer for ~10 minutes. Stir once or twice.
  7. Remove lid. Stir in the cheese. Once it’s well-combined, serve!
Makes ~8 servings.

The ODB – The Ol’ Dirty Burger

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One of my all-time favorite restaurants is a breakfast and BBQ place in Charlottesville, VA where I lived for 10+ years or so. It’s called Ace Biscuit & BBQ. It’s a little bit of a tucked-away, hole-in-the-wall kind of place… with some of the best breakfast biscuits I’ve ever had. It used to be the best kept secret in C-ville, but the word has gotten out. If you ever find yourself in Charlottesville, I cannot recommend it more highly. Now maybe you’re asking yourself, why is this crazy woman talking about a BBQ joint in Charlottesville, when she should be telling me all about the burger she made for dinner? There is a connection, I promise. Plus, I like to send business towards my favorite places. (I act like this blog is so well-read that an established restaurant is going to benefit from my recommendation… 🙄🙄)

Anyway. Moving further into my tangent… In case you have forgotten, back in the 90s there was a rapper who called himself Ol’ Dirty Bastard, or ODB. He was one of the original members of the Wu-Tang Clan. The owners of Ace’s must share my love of popular 90s hip-hop, because two of their dishes pay homage to the era. There’s the Ace Doggy Dogg (their hot dog) and, you guessed it, the ODB! In this case, the ODB stands for Ol’ Dirty Biscuit. Y’all. You haven’t lived until you’ve clogged your arteries with this guy. Ace’s ODB consists of a homemade biscuit, topped with fried chicken, sausage gravy, pimento cheese, and pickles, all house-made. It is amazing! (And super low-cal, obviously.)

What does all of this have to do with the burger I made tonight? Really nothing honestly. For whatever reason, all afternoon as I’ve been mentally planning my decadent burger, the real ODB’s shout-out to himself in Mariah Carey’s Fantasy Remix, “Ladies and Gentlemen… Introducing the Old, Dirty, Doggy… Here we go now…” kept playing over and over in my head. I guess my subconscious was trying to tell me that tonight’s burger is to a standard boring burger what the Ol’ Dirty Biscuit is to a cheap fast food breakfast biscuit. The secret to making this burger over the top as compared to other burgers? Mixing sausage and ground beef! Ups the flavor and deliciousness! It’s still a simple burger, but the taste is 👌🏼👌🏼

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Humor me and pretend my ramblings were linear and logical. And enjoy an ODB – of any variety.

The Ol’ Dirty Burger

Ingredients: 
  • 1 lb ground beef (85%-15%)
  • 1 lb ground Italian sausage
  • 1 tbsp granulated onion*
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Salt
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.**
  2. Mix together all ingredients except for the salt.
  3. Form the meat into patties.
  4. Sprinkle salt and a little extra pepper on top of each burger.
  5. Place patties on a rack over a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. [Since the patties are on a rack, they don’t need to be flipped. We made six 1/3lb burgers and cooked them for about 12 minutes – yielding medium burgers. I was going for medium-rare and overshot, ho hum.]
  6. Top with your favorite burger garnishes!
*Do yourself a favor and pick up some granulated onion instead of onion powder – it’s so much better than that clumpy, powdery stuff.
**You can also grill these like a normal person would, if you don’t live in an apartment complex that doesn’t let you have them like we do…
Makes 6-8 burgers.

Meatloaf with Beef-Onion Gravy

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I don’t think it was until I was in high school or college that I realized that my mom’s meatloaf was different that most other people’s. Apparently, it’s more standard to have a tomato-based sauce, brown sugar, or BBQ sauce mixed in or coating the meatloaf. Don’t get me wrong, those are good too – but my mom’s meatloaf is better. It’s an indisputable fact… don’t argue with me! This was the only meatloaf I ever knew, but in looking through the family cookbook, I recently noted two separate recipes: “Mama’s Red Meatloaf” and “Mama’s Brown Meatloaf.” (“Mama” in this context being my grandmother.) So apparently my own mother was the one partial to the “Brown Meatloaf.” She probably made it for us once every few weeks, while I don’t think she ever made the red version. The meatloaf itself is simple. There’s not much more to it than the ground beef. But the gravy… oh the gravy… that’s what makes the dish! It’s so savory, thick, and delicious. There’s plenty to coat your meat, as well as whatever starch and/or vegetables your choose to serve with it. My recipe is slightly adapted from my mother’s, which is slightly adapted from her mother’s. This may not be nostalgic for you as it is for me, but it is homey, comfort food no matter what.

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PS: Can someone teach me how to photograph meatloaf and gravy so it looks appetizing? I promise you, this is delicious, despite it’s blah appearance!

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Meatloaf with Beef-Onion Gravy

Ingredients: 
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup fine bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 10 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp + 2 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 packet of dry onion soup mix
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients (beef through 2 tbsp beef stock). Mix together with your hands until well-combined.
  3. Form the mixture into a loaf. Place your meatloaf into a glass casserole dish.
  4. Place in the oven on middle rack. Baking times will vary based on the thickness of your loaf (if you make a longer/thinner loaf, aim for the lower end… if you make a thicker/stouter loaf, aim for the longer end…). Plan on an hour & 15 minutes to an hour & 45 minutes. Safe internal temperature per the FDA is 160 degrees for ground beef.
  5. After 45 minutes to an hour, begin to make the gravy. Start by melting butter in a pan over medium heat.
  6. Once butter has melted, whisk in the flour. Whisk continuously until the butter and flour have come together to make a thick roux.
  7. Next, add the 2 1/2 cups of beef stock in by the 1/2 cup. Continue whisking. (You, of course, may add more or less depending upon how you like the thickness of your gravy.)
  8. Lastly, stir in the onion mix and milk. Lower heat and stir occasionally.
  9. With 20-30 minutes left in the cooking time for the meatloaf, remove it from the oven briefly. Pour off any released grease/fat.
  10. Coat the meatloaf with the gravy. Return to the oven for an additional 20-30 minutes.
  11. Serve after confirming that it is fully cooked.
Serves 4-6.

Thanksgiving Stuffing

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Last night was had Friendsgiving with our eight of our good friends. It was a great night to spend with some of our favorite people, pretend we’re grownups, and experiment with some Thanksgiving recipes. I don’t know about y’all, but my grandmothers, aunts, and mother have the handle on the main aspects of big family holiday meals. My generation can contribute a dessert or appetizer, but none of us have graduated to the important elements like turkey, potatoes, or gravy. Because of this, I’d never made stuffing before yesterday! And I’m not going to lie… I had no idea how to do it. But thanks to my subscription to Bon Appetit and the internet, I figured it out. For my first stuffing adventure, I wanted to stay pretty traditional. My only personalizing twist was the addition of the pretzel buns. It worked out well, I think because this stuffing had great texture and flavor. (And don’t tell anyone, but I think mine was better than ones I’ve had in the past.)

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Which brings me to my next controversial statement. I called this “stuffing.” I grew up in Virginia and always have known the herb-y, bread-y, Thanksgiving side dish that can either be found stuffed inside a turkey or baked in a casserole dish as “stuffing.” Selim, the Ohioan, agrees. I learned last night however, that all my native South Carolinian friends refer to this as “dressing.” But they also felt like my dish “wasn’t quite dressing” like their moms/aunts/grandmas made it. What was the difference? Unclear. None of us could figure out if there truly was a difference between dressing and stuffing, or if it was just regional semantics.

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Good thing Google exists… In my googling I learned several things that sort of answered the question and sort of confused me even more. Some facts you never knew you wanted to know about stuffing:

  1. There is definitely a regional variation. The South uses the term “dressing,” while the Mid-Atlantic up through New England and most of the rest of the country prefers “stuffing.” Turns out there’s also a segment of the country (Pennsylvania Dutch country) that calls it “filling.”
  2. Many believe that “stuffing” can only be cooked inside the turkey (or another bird). This is logical based on the definition of “to stuff,” and is very commonly cited as the main difference between the two, but is not universally accepted.
  3.  Many others believe that “dressing” has a cornbread base while “stuffing” has a white bread base. This is even less universally accepted than above and likely is just based on the fact that Southern cooks frequently make their dressing/stuffing with cornbread or biscuits.
  4. The first documentation of this concept dates back more than a thousand years. Recipes for stuffing animals appeared in the Roman cookbook Apicius, which scholars date to the late 4th or early 5th century.
  5. Victorians in the mid to late 1800s first started using the word “dressing,” as “stuffing” was apparently too crude of a word. Our genteel Southern ancestors evidently agreed.
  6. The National Turkey Federation says the terms can be used interchangeably. They’re probably the closest thing we have to an expert opinion, so we’ll go with that.

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Thanksgiving Stuffing

(Recipe based on several from Bon Appetit magazineone, two, three.)
Ingredients: 
  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 1 loaf of French bread, torn
  • 4 pretzel rolls, torn
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, divided (1/2 cup + 1/4 cup + more)
  • 2 tbsp fresh sage, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 3+ cups turkey stock, divided (2 cups + more)
  • 2 large eggs
Instructions: 
  1. Tear the bread & rolls into bite-sized pieces at least 24 hours prior to making the stuffing. Let sit out to dry.
  2. On the day you’re preparing the stuffing, place the bread into a large bowl.
  3. Slice bacon into medium lardons. Saute over medium heat until slightly crispy. Remove and add into the bowl with the bread.
  4. Leave the bacon grease in the pan, lower heat slightly, and add 1/2 cup of butter.
  5. Once butter has melted, return heat to medium and add onions. Cook for 5 minutes and then add herbs, salt, and 10 turns of pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for another 8 minutes.
  6. Pour butter and onions over the bread in the bowl and toss well.
  7. Melt 1/4 cup of butter. Whisk together with 2 eggs and 2 cups of turkey stock.
  8. Pour that mixture over bread. Stir until liquid is absorbed by the bread.
  9. Add additional turkey stock by the 1/4 cup until the bread is saturated. Wait a few minutes between adding stock to ensure it all gets absorbed. (You want the bread to be very wet, but without pools of liquid in the bowl. I used an additional cup total.)
  10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  11. Butter a large baking dish. Place the bread mixture into the dish.
  12. Butter a large piece of foil and cover the dish. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
  13. Increase oven heat to 450 degrees. Uncover and bake for a few additional minutes for a crispy top.
Serves 8-12.

Baked Brie with Caramelized Onion Chutney

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I’m pretty satisfied with myself. Why? Because I made another family recipe, as I’ve been wanting to do, AND I got to inhale some delicious cheese. This recipe comes from my aunt Lori. I’ve made it several times and every time wonder why I don’t make it more often. This is a great appetizer to share with friends; I made it tonight for our girls movie night. It would also be perfect for your upcoming holiday events!

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Baked Brie with Caramelized Onion Chutney

Ingredients: 
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (ie: Craisins)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 round of Brie
  • {crackers for serving}
Instructions: 
  1. Melt butter in pan over medium heat.
  2. Add onions to the pan and toss to coat with the butter.
  3. Sauté onions for 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently. Cook until the onions are beginning to brown and are very fragrant.
  4. Add the cranberries, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar to the pan. Cook another 5 minutes, continuing to stir occasionally.
  5. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  6. Place the round of Brie on the cookie sheet. Bake for ~10 minutes, until it is soft and starting to melt.
  7. Slice the top rind off the Brie and spoon chutney over top.
  8. Enjoy spread on crackers!

 

Cinnamon Buns

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Yesterday was Selim’s birthday! We celebrated by both having weekend shifts at the hospital. I was only there until 11pm, while he was there overnight, setting me up perfectly to make him post-birthday breakfast. Usually he’s the breakfast guy… It basically requires heavy machinery to drag me out of bed in the morning. But I always get excited for a good surprise, so out of bed I went!

I have two broad goals that I’ve been working on recently in terms of picking new recipes to try. 1) I’ve been wanting to bake more. Baking makes me nervous. You can’t taste it halfway through and adjust. Once it’s in the oven, you’re stuck with it. And 2) I’ve been wanting to make more family recipes from the family cookbook. These things, plus the fact that Selim has been eyeing the massive cinnamon buns at the farmer’s market the past few times we’ve been there, sent me to my Aunt Bobbie’s recipe for homemade cinnamon buns. All of my aunts are great chefs, but my Aunt Bobbie might win in terms of baking. She creates amazing desserts, not to mention really delicious breads and rolls. (Here’s to hoping no other aunts read this post 😉 !)

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Update 11/8/16: We decided to submit this recipe to Our Growing Edge, a monthly recipe link-up. The goal of this is to encourage the participants to conquer a food-related goal. As I mentioned above, I’ve been wanting to bake more – I think I’ve made good progression towards this goal with this recipe! This month’s link-up is hosted by Alicia at Alicia’s Bits ‘n Bobs

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Cinnamon Buns

Recipe courtesy of Ally’s Aunt Bobbie
Ingredients: 
  • Dough
    • 2 packages of yeast
    • 1/2 cup warm water
    • 1/2 tsp + 1/3 cup sugar
    • 3 cups + 1 1/2 cups flour
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1 1/3 cup vegetable oil
    • 2 eggs
  • Filling
    • 1/2 cup butter, softened
    • 1 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 tbsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Icing
    • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • Several tsp warm milk
Instructions: 
  1. Stir yeast and 1/2 tsp sugar into the warm water. Let sit for 5+ minutes, until the liquid begins to froth.
  2. Scald the cup of milk. That is, bring it to just under a boil and then remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, sift together 3 cups of flour, 1/3 cup of sugar, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer.
  4. At low speed, begin adding the wet ingredients to the bowl (yeast/water, milk, oil, and eggs). Beat until well-blended.
  5. Now slowly add the remaining flour while the mixer is set on low speed. You may or may not use exactly 1 1/2 additional cups – keep slowly adding until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a floured countertop. Knead for 5-10 minutes until elastic and smooth.
  7. Place dough in a large greased bowl. Cover. Allow to rise for ~1 hour.
  8. Cream together all of the filling ingredients.
  9. Once the dough has risen, return it to your floured countertop. Use a rolling pin and roll out into a rectangular shape. [My aunt suggests roughly 10 x 18. I didn’t measure.]
  10. Spread the filling mixture generously across all of the dough except for the very edges (leave ~1/2 inch).
  11. Now roll the dough very tightly. The result will be a long log.
  12. Using a large sharp knife, slice the log on the horizontal. Aim for your slices to be approximately 1 inch thick. Remove each slice to a foil-lined cookie sheet.
    • The ends of the log might not look as pretty. You can discard or gobble down the misshapen ones while no one is looking.
  13. Again, let them rise – this time about 30 minutes.
  14. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  15. Bake for 20 minutes. Check on them towards the end – as the edges just start to turn golden, they’re done!
  16. While the buns are baking, whisk together your icing. Start with the sugar. Add the vanilla. Slowly add milk by the teaspoon until you achieve your desired consistency.
  17. Drizzle icing over the buns to serve. (I think they’re also delicious sans icing, but some might think that’s sacrilege.)
Makes 12-16 cinnamon buns.