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 ūüĖ§ūüĖ§ūüĖ§ 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 –¬†one,¬†two, &¬†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.

Sopa de Fideo (Almost)

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As is my usual plan, when I’m uninspired and looking for something to make, I turn to a) the internet and b) a random cuisine from around the world. Is it because I’m American and have always eaten “American” food, that I think it’s the least interesting cuisine out there? Or is it because legitimate “American” food doesn’t really exist – just a combination of bits and pieces of all of our immigrant roots? I think it’s probably some combination of the two. Whichever reason, I was thinking Mexican for my dinner creation. And I wanted something a little different. I feel like¬†in this country, we just assume that Mexicans live solely on tacos, burritos, and the occasional chimichanga. There’s so much more to Mexican cuisine than that (obviously), but I’m the first to admit I don’t know a whole lot about it.

Why did I call this post Sopa De Fideo (Almost)? Well, turns out the fideo connotates a specific type of noodle. Fideo looks like spaghetti noodles that have been broken into smaller pieces¬†(and as such, most recipes you see for sopa de fideo tell you to purchase spaghetti and break it into smaller pieces.) Before I read more about it, I thought, “Hmmm… that orzo I have in the pantry would be a perfect substitute for broke spaghetti pieces…” Little did I know by substituting orzo, I essentially took away the namesake of the soup.

Oh well…

Historical, ethnic accuracy? FAIL

Delicious soup? WIN

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Sopa De Fideo

(Adapted from Cooking the Globe blog)
Ingredients:
  • 2 + 1 tsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 14oz crushed tomatoes
  • 3 + 1 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 16oz orzo
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • Salt & pepper
  • Optional garnishes: cilantro, avocado, cheese, crema
Instructions: 
  1. In a large pot, warm 2 tsp of olive oil. Add the chopped onions and cook for 5-6 minutes, until fragrant and translucent. Top this with a few turns on fresh black pepper.
  2. Add the minced garlic, continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
  3. Now, combine the garlic/onions, tomatoes, spices (cumin, cayenne, allspice), and 1 cup of stock in a blender or in a bowl with an immersion blender. Pulse until smooth.
  4. Add the remaining 1 tsp of olive oil in the original pot. Once warm, pour in the orzo. Toss to coat with oil. Toast the pasta, stirring frequently, so it becomes golden, but does not burn. Give this ~5 minutes.
  5. Now return the blended mixture and the remaining cups of stock to the pot. Stir to combine.
  6. Bring to a boil and then lower heat. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. The pasta will plump up and the soup thicken a bit.
  7. At the end, stir in the lime juice.
  8. Taste and adjust salt & pepper as you like.
  9. Serve with one or several of the the garnishes!
Makes ~ 10-12 servings

Bangladeshi Beef & Potato Curry

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I don’t know about y’all, but I follow an absurd amount of food-related Instagram accounts. Some days I love it and drool over all the gorgeous photos, and some days I’m like, I just want to see my friends’ babies and sunsets!! (When I’m not freaking out like that), one of these delicious feeds that I love is that of the James Beard Foundation. They share amazing photos of their chef dinners and feature other dishes from chefs they love (I’m guessing). I save recipes that strike my fancy (and that I think I might actually be able to recreate). Some I know from a glance are out of my league, but there are plenty I think I can attempt. This was one of them.

Now let me tell you more about this recipe and its source, that I only discovered myself as I was making it today. While I found it featured via James Beard Foundation, it comes from the cookbook The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Baking from Around the World, by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez. In reading the recipe on JBF’s page, it quotes a description from the cookbook itself, including the line, “Another¬†Lutfunnessa specialty, this curry, called alu-maunsho torkerry in Bangladeshi…” And I’m sitting here like, who is Lutfunnessa…? Isn’t the author’s name Jessamyn…? She doesn’t sound Bangladeshi…? ūü§∑ūü§∑ Being the incredible internet detective I am, I followed the breadcrumbs to the Hot Bread Kitchen’s website. Turns out Ms. Rodriguez is the founder of the bakery and initiative called Hot Bread Kitchen. Her organization, among other things, is a functioning bakery, that employs immigrant women facing economic insecurity and provides training and education including English skills. While her trainees/employees appear to gain much from this organization, the bakery gains much from them, particularly in the form of multi-ethnic new recipes! Sounds like an awesome setup! Back to, who is Lutfunnessa? Per their website, she is a 2012 graduate of the Bakers In Training program, who now works for Hot Bread Kitchen. I’m taking a wild guess that she’s Bangladeshi, given the description of this recipe.

So thank you Lutfunnessa, Jessamyn, Hot Bread Kitchen, the James Beard Foundation, and Instagram for this great recipe! We followed the original recipe pretty closely, except for our addition of vegetables. I think the corn and the green beans were perfect additions! The flavor of the curry is subtle, but builds as you eat it.

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Bangladeshi Beef & Potato Curry

(Adapted from this recipe, as mentioned)
Ingredients: 
  • 4 tbsp oil, divided
  • 2lbs chuck beef, cut into ~ 1 inch chunks
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 3 yellow potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 12oz fresh green beans
  • 2 ears of corn
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Rice
Instructions: 
  1. Heat 2 tbsp of oil to medium-high in a dutch oven.
  2. Season the beef chunks with salt and pepper. Toss into the dutch oven to brown. Stir a few times to brown on all sides.
  3. Once browned, remove the beef to the side.
  4. Add the other 2 tbsp of oil to the dutch oven and lower heat to medium.
  5. Cook onions, garlic, and ginger in the oil for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’ve browned.
  6. Top with all of the spices. Toast for just a minute.
  7. Now return the beef to the dish and top with the stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover with the lid. Cook for 1 hour – check occasionally to ensure the heat isn’t too high and beef is still mostly covered with liquid.
  8. After an hour is up, add the potatoes, green beans, and corn (removed from ears). Ensure the liquid returns to a simmer. Re-cover and cook for another 30-45 minutes.
  9. Serve over top rice and with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.
Makes 8 servings.

Braised Chicken Thighs with Middle Eastern Spices

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Given all of the turmoil in the news these days, I need a break! So let’s focus on one of my favorite and non-political aspect of the Middle East – the food! If anything can bring us all together, food just might be it. Maybe if we all get together and cook for and with each other, we’ll be more focused on delicious flavors and new friendships than differences of politics, religion, and all the rest. One of my favorite authors/bloggers is Sasha Martin, who created the site Global Table Adventure says this: “…cooking has the power to help families bond, empower, and heal. What‚Äôs more, setting a global table creates compassion and understanding ‚Äď which¬†helps the world¬†heal…” I’ve mentioned this beautiful site before… you should all go take a look. Ever since I stumbled upon her site (years ago!), I’ve been inspired by her.

The flavors of the Middle East are amazing. This recipe isn’t based on a traditional recipe that I found, but was instead developed based on delicious spices/flavors and the ingredients I had at home. The chicken comes out nice and moist, and surprisingly, the carrots might be my favorite part of the whole thing! When you eat your chicken, spoon a little bit of the braising liquid on top so you get as much flavor as possible ūüôā

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Braised Chicken Thighs with Middle Eastern Spices

Ingredients: 
  • 4 large bone-in chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • 20+ baby carrots
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Salt & pepper the chicken thighs on both sides.
  3. In a dutch oven (or similar stove/oven-proof dish), heat the 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat.
  4. Once the oil is hot, place the thighs in the dish, skin side down. Leave to sear for ~6 minutes. Then flip and brown on the non-skin side for another 4-5 minutes. Once the chicken is browned on both sides, remove to the side briefly.
  5. Lower the heat just slightly and toss the onions and garlic into the remaining oil. Cook stirring occasionally until just beginning to brown, ~10 minutes.
  6. At this point, if there is significantly excess oil, drain it off.
  7. Add all of the spices to the onions and garlic. Cook an additional 3 minutes.
  8. Deglaze the dish with the chicken stock, scraping all the delicious brown bits from the bottom.
  9. Return the chicken and the carrots to the dish.
  10. Cover with the lid and place into the oven. The chicken will braise for 45 minutes.
Serves 4.

 

Hearty Hoppin’ John

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Technically this is our second New Year’s Eve living in South Carolina, but the first one barely counts. We had just moved here, in a whirlwind month that not only included moving to a new state, but also getting married, honeymooning in Puerto Rico, and spending Christmas with Ally’s family. I’m pretty sure there were boxes strewn about, half unpacked, while we watched the ball drop to close out 2015.

This year we decided to put a little bit of effort in and make a New Year’s Eve dinner. I strongly considered going Asian and honoring their traditional New Year’s noodle dishes, representing longevity for the next year. But instead, I decided to pay homage to our not-so-new-anymore home with southern Hoppin’ John.

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In researching Hoppin’ John recipes, I learned that like pimento cheese (see similar ravings in that post), everyone’s own grandma prepares it the correct way, while everyone else’s grandma is doing it incorrectly. Here are the facts regarding Hoppin’ John as best I can tell: It¬†contains black eyed peas, although certain specific areas substitute field peas or red cowpeas. The peas are what makes Hoppin’ John one of the lucky New Years dishes of the American South – the peas represent coins and thus, wealth in the new year to come. The dish also must contain rice and some form of pork product. The dish almost certainly originated with slaves brought to the US from Western Africa. And most agree that the dish’s American origins began in the Carolinas, more specifically in the South Carolina Low Country. Now for the controversies: Which pork product to use – bacon, ham, pork sausage? Which spices, if any, to use? Where did the name originate? Does the rice have to be cooked in the same dish?

Therefore, I make absolutely zero claims to the authenticity of this Hoppin’ John. In fact, I guarantee you that it is not authentic.¬†I skimmed probably 20-25 different recipes for inspiration, but did not follow any one in particular. With the base of the aforementioned black eyed peas + rice + pork, people toss in all sorts of different additions. I certainly did. This is quite a stretch from the plain, historic version that only contained the three base ingredients. But to be honest with you, I doubt I’d really enjoy plain rice, peas, and bacon.

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Happy New Year! We’re looking forward to 2017 and hope everyone else is too!

Hearty Hoppin’ John

Ingredients: 
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepped, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups of dry rice
  • 6 cups of stock (chicken, turkey, vegetable)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 15 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 large spicy sausages, sliced
  • 4 cups of cooked black eyed peas*
  • 2 tbsp hot sauce (we like Frank’s)
Instructions: 
  1. Slice bacon into lardons. Toss into a large pan with tall edges. Cover and cook over medium heat until the bacon begins to release its fat, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the onions and carrots to the pan and stir to coat in the bacon fat. Re-cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  3. Now add the garlic. Cook uncovered for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the next 10 ingredients to the pan (peppers through sausages). Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover the pan. You want the liquid to be just slightly simmering while the lid is on.
  5. Uncover and stir briefly every 15 minutes. At the 30 minute mark, add the black eyed peas.
  6. The dish is done when the rice is fully cooked. This took us ~45 minutes. You may require slightly more or less time, and/or slightly more or less liquid.
  7. Before serving, stir in the hot sauce.

*You may choose whether or not to use canned black eyed peas or soak/prepare dried peas yourself.

Serves ~10 people.

Post dinner notes: We soaked our own beans, instead of using canned ones. We overdid it in the preparation phase, and the beans were fairly mushy. Next time, we need to be a little more attentive when preparing dried beans.

Northern African Braised Chicken

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This recipe is another prime example of why we created this blog. We first made this recipe a few years ago for Selim’s father and sister. We all loved it then! I was thinking about how delicious it was the other day, but could not for the life of me remember where I got the recipe from! I was convinced it was from Jerusalem, an excellent cookbook of Middle Eastern recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I paged through it over and over trying to find the recipe to no avail. (Literally I did this for a good 45 minutes.) I followed this up by googling “chicken recipe braised harissa olives.” Google isn’t perfect after all… Turns out, I¬†had the¬†entirely wrong cookbook in mind.

This recipe is in fact from Best Ever Slow Cooking, another favorite of mine. This recipe brings the flavors of the Mediterranean and Northern Africa into a delicious braised one-pot dish. We made a fair amount of changes to the original recipes, but stayed pretty true to the flavors I think.

The aromas coming out of our Le Creuset evolved as this recipe progressed. ¬†Initially, you’re hit with the crackling of the chicken searing on the stove that fills the air with a warmth that only cooking fat brings. ¬†Once you toss in the onions and garlic, there is that familiar aroma of things to come. ¬†After adding all the ingredients to the pot, you’ll be flooded with African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean scents as the cumin, harissa, cinnamon, citrus, and saffron meld together with the chicken fat, onions, and garlic. ¬†The little saffron threads will dominate as this recipe cooks for an hour or longer. ¬†Trust me, even as I write this well after dinner is done and we’re a few glasses into our lovely bottle of Virginia chardonnay from DelFosse, the whole house smells like saffron and we couldn’t be happier about that. ¬†We hope you’ll enjoy this recipe as much as we have.

Northern African Braised Chicken

Adapted from Best Ever Slow Cooking
Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 6 bone-in chicken thighs (we prefer skinless)
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 2/3 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
  • 1 lemon [1/4 tsp of lemon zest, 2 slices, & the juice of the rest of the lemon]
  • 1 tbsp harissa
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 cup of sliced kalamata olives
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste

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Instructions: 
  1. In a large dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Once hot, sear the chicken thighs on both sides. Remove from pot after seared and set aside.
  2. Saute the onion and garlic in the same pot, also over medium heat, for ~10 minutes. They should be browning and quite fragrant by this time.
  3. Sprinkle the cumin over the onions and garlic. Stir and saute for another minute.
  4. Pour the stock and lemon juice into the pot and deglaze the pot. (Scrape the bottom of the pot to get all of the delicious bits loose and back into the liquid.)
  5. Add the cinnamon stick, harissa, saffron, and lemon zest. Bring the liquid to a boil.
  6. Now lower heat to a low simmer. Add the chicken back into the pot, plus the lemon slices and olives. Arrange so the chicken is covered with the liquid, as much as possible.
  7. Cover and cook over low heat for ~1 hour. Stir once halfway through cooking.
  8. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Top with the chopped cilantro.
  9. Serve over rice, couscous, lentils, or whatever grain you would like.

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Makes 6 servings.