Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pinterest Review: Cheesey Hamburger Casserole

A lot of meals when I was growing up came from a box.  We had a lot of Hamburger Helper when I was a kid.  And when I was in college.  And for a few years after.

Then when I started reading labels I realized that I should probably not be eating something with so much sodium so often.  And for the past half-dozen years or so, I haven't even bought them.

But I so love the concept!  One pan!  One dish!  Yum!

That's why I decided to try the Cheesy Hamburger Casserole that I found on Pinterest.  Even though it dirties three dishes instead of one, it had the concept I was looking for.  The casserole style I wanted.  I've made it twice now.

Macaroni & Beef with Cheese

1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil
salt to taste
optional seasonings: black pepper, oregano, cumin, coriander, chopped garlic, hot smoked paprika, chilli powder—whatever you’re in the mood for (I just used black pepper, garlic and a tablespoon of fish sauce, which gives it depth)
one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, pureed in the can with a hand blender or in a blender blender
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 box macaroni
1 cup each grated cheddar and mozzarella cheeses
Sweat the onions in the oil with a three-fingered pinch of salt.  Add the beef and cook it, breaking it up as you do. (Because my beef was very fatty, I cooked it separately and added it to the pot along with the tomatoes. Also an option, but uses an extra pan.)  Add another three-fingered pinch of salt or two, along with any dry seasonings you want.  Add the tomatoes and any fresh seasonings you may be using, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for an hour.
Cook the macaroni in boiling water till it’s half done.  Drain it and add it to the tomatoes.  (I wanted this to stretch into two meals, so I used the whole box, but if you want your dish to be very tomatoey and beefy, you might want to add only half the macaroni).  Stir it into the sauce.  Taste it.  Add more salt and other seasonings as needed, and cover.  When it’s cooled and the pasta has absorbed the tomato juices, transfer it to a large baking dish and cover it with foil.  It can sit out for several hours like this, be refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen a few weeks.
Bake it in a 400 degree oven till it’s piping hot (about 45 minutes if it’s cold to room temperature).  Just before you’re ready to eat, remove the foil, cover macaroni with the cheese and broil till it looks beautiful.

I made a few changes:  less noodles, tomato sauce instead of tomatoes cause that's what I had in the house, and I winged it on the seasonings.

This recipe made me feel like I know what I'm doing in the kitchen.  The first time anyway.

When you start with tomato sauce, it really takes some seasoning to get something that tastes good instead of something that tastes like, well, tomato sauce.  And I hit the nail on the head the first time!  I kept tasting and adding and stirring and tasting until I had just the right flavors.  I felt like I learned why salt is so revered.  It was magical.

Or about as magical as I get in the kitchen, that is.

The second time I made it just felt wrong.  I felt like I had to keep. on. adding. spices.  Ugh.  It never did end up tasting right.  It did end up tasting salty thought.

Would I make this again?  Sure.  I would make changes though.  I would add veggies.  Lots of chopped onion and pepper and mushrooms and heck maybe even some zucchini or something.  Even less noodles.  Lighten up on the cheese (I know, blasphemy for someone in Wisconsin!).  Perhaps a different ground meat (like turkey) to make it a lighter dish.  But it won't be my go-to meal.

Do you have any one-pot-wonders you can share with me that won't break the calorie bank?

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