Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recipe - Italian Hamburger Helper

Or in my case, turkey helper!

I mentioned in one of my posts already that I try to stay away from pre-made or processed foods as often as possible without giving up every thing. When I lived in the USA, I was very fond of hamburger helpers in any shape or form. Sure some more then others but in the end, what wasn't to love about pasta/rice/potatoes with some meat and sauce?? Oh yea... the added salt and other crap they add to it in the process to make it 'storable'. Bleh I say... making home-made is SOOOO easy and so much better for you. And it really takes no more time then adding the meat and liquid to those cheap not so good for your processed boxes. I found this by pure accident and have completely changed it to suit a gluten free diet while retaining pasta (in this recipe at least) and making it mine. The original recipe has been changed so much that it won't be worth mentioning any more here and it was for a completely different dish all together. This just kind of happened in the end by tossing this in, changing that and altering this bit and that bit. Hope you enjoy as much as my husband and I did!

As usual with some more in depth dishes, here are a few tips to make this go easier
Tip #1 - If you choose to use veggies in this, I suggest fresh/raw or frozen if you want to just cook the veggies right along with all the main dish ingredients instead of having another step later on. If you wish to use canned veggies, simply add them to the end of the main dish cooking time instead of at the beginning. Still suggest frozen or fresh though because they are better for you, aren't processed for 'storage' and don't have all that salt it's packed in.

Tip #2 - Use non-stick pans for the entire dish. You don't want pasta stuck to the bottom of your pan and most certainly don't want cheese burnt to it either. Remember to not use metal on the non-stick pans, especially if you are using a whisk for the cheese sauce. I always have a plastic one for these cases.

Tip #3 - If you are doing this with pasta (I use a rice based gluten free one) you must use macaroni! I've tried a number of other pastas from spirals to penne and they all just dissolve into nothing for some reason before the main dish is cooked through enough to absorb the liquid.

Tip #4 - Use a large pan to start this dish. In the end you will need a pan big enough to fit all of the below ingredients along with the fact that you'll need room to mix it all together along with the cheese sauce. I suggest a soup pot but it will be quite over sized. My option most of the time is I cook it in my deep sided frying pan and when I'm ready for the cheese sauce to be added, I transfer it to a large tuperware bowl and do my mixing there.

Tip #5 - This is two fold. When using seasoning mixes (such as the Italian mix I suggest in this recipe) try to get them in salt-free versions. They are better for you, allow the taste of the actual wanted spices to come through and also allow you to adjust the salt in the dish rather then making it the main seasoning. And part 2, I suggest not adding any additional salt to this dish (it's not even in the ingredient list) as there is already plenty of salt in the rest such as the cheese, the bouillon cube and the tomatoes alone.

Main Dish
 1 pound ground meat (I used turkey as I don't eat much red meat any more)
 16 oz can diced tomatoes (roughly.. a bit more won't effect it much but don't use less)
 1 chicken bouillon cube (or beef if you are using ground beef)
 16 oz water (use the can or carton from the tomatoes! Works well and less dishes!)
 2 TBS Italian seasoning mix (make sure to read the ingredients to ensure the mix doesn't contain gluten based bulking agents)
 1 cup broccoli florets (optional... peas, corn, carrots, finely cut green beans... all work well too)
 1 to 1/2 cups gluten free macaroni pasta (see tip #3)

Cheese Sauce
 2 TBS butter (must use butter or the sauce won't set right)
 2 TBS gluten free flour mix
 1 cup skim or 2% milk (don't use whole, it makes it way too heavy)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 or 3 TBS sour cream
 freshly ground pepper (season in the end to taste)

In a fairly large non-stick pan brown the ground meat until cooked through. On top of that add all of the rest of the 'main dish' ingredients (including veggies if you are using them). Stir together and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and cover. You want a nice firm boil going so I suggest a medium heat to remain under it. Cook about 20 minutes or until the liquid is 90% absorbed (you want some liquid to remain but not a whole lot... you want it to be thick). Come back every few minutes and stir the mixture and remember to do this as you want the pasta to cook evenly and not to stick to the bottom.

While the main ingredients mix is cooking away you'll want to prepare the cheese sauce to go over it. In a small sauce pan melt butter but don't let it burn. Add flour, whisk and cook flour mix for 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the milk slowly. Bit by bit while whisking the whole time. You don't want lumps so start out slow. When you have about half the milk mixed in you can just pour the rest in at once. Return to a low heat. You don't want to burn your sauce so if you see it start to boil at all, remove again from heat. This is a vital part... do not let it boil. Once the mixture is hot but not boiling, add cheddar cheese and mix well. When the cheese is fully melted, you will have to judge if you want your sauce a bit thinner or not, if you want it thinner add more milk but only a tablespoon at a time. While you are doing this add your sour cream as well, this will also thin out the sauce a bit too. When you have the thickness you want, remove from heat and season to your taste with pepper.

When main mixture has absorbed most of its liquid and the pasta is fully cooked through, remove from heat, add cheese sauce and mix well. I think this dish is better served hot but hey it's pasta, can't go bad cold either!

Don't mind the silly looking hairy man below while he licks off the serving spoon from this delicious recipe. It only shows the honor to how great this dish is and his personal chef.

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