Hamburger Helper

When my mom returned to nursing two days a week, my sisters and I received the commission to make dinner. We loved our New Boys and Girls Cookbook from Betty Crocker. It was chock full of hints for making mealtime memorable.

Yes, the marveling female
Yes, the marveling female
Helpful tips
Helpful tips

It was also sprinkled with testimonials from other Real Life kid cooks, offering opinions or encouragement to their non-published peers.

Real life kids!
Real life kids!

The recipes were basic and worked hard to be appealing to young cooks-we did make the bunny-shaped canned pear salad with cottage cheese tails:

Bunny goodness!
Bunny goodness!

When we weren’t using a cookbook, we turned to the pantry for assistance. Mom kept a supply of Bisquick, those little blue boxes of cornbread or pizza dough mix, the brand I don’t remember, hard taco shells along with packets of seasoning, and boxes of just-add-meat convenience, Hamburger Helper.

Ground beef was the meat of economy. Finding new ways to funnel ground beef into our dinner menus was tricky. God bless the food industry for making life easier! Hamburger helper was a favorite of ours, all of those flavors scientifically engineered to please each and every sensor of the human tongue, a kind of meaty creamy pasta-y mess. An almost instant hotdish, the memory of which makes me shudder. When my dad developed colon cancer, red meat disappeared from our home. It would be years of remission later before burgers and beef tacos returned to the dinner table.

These days, Marcella Hazen’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is my hamburger helper. Better yet, it is my local, grass-fed, definitely not economic, chuck-roast-ground-as-needed helper. I love making her version of Bolognese. Beef with some vegetable simmered in milk, then wine, then tomatoes, cooked slow for over 3 hours, finishing with a little butter and hand-cut tagliatelle. Sometimes I make the sauce a day before, letting the flavors mingle and mellow, before marrying it with pasta.

My mom, growing up in a time where those in the kitchen produced everything by hand, from scratch, appreciated the time and money-savers provided to her in almost every aisle of the grocery store. A Hamburger Helper dinner would be ready in 20 minutes. This Marcella Hazen version takes significantly longer with its “just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface” simmer, but it doesn’t need attention during the entire cooking time. The shortlist of simple ingredients requires careful choosing for quality. The slow cooking process brings out all that the whole food, real ingredients have to offer. With the comfort of time-taken, a unrushed cook can bring a meal for savoring to the table, connecting participants to the ingredients, to the process, to the person who brought the process to light. Gracie Mille, Marcella!

Bolognese Meat Sauce

Marcella Hazen, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Yield: 2 heaping cups

Ingredients

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon for tossing the pasta

1/2 cup chopped onion

2/3 cup chopped celery

2/3 cup chopped carrot

3/4 pound ground beef chuck

Salt & pepper

1 cup whole milk

Whole nutmeg

1 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta

Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese at the table

Method

Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in the pot, turn heat onto medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.

Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well, and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.

Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating-about 1/8 teaspoon-of nutmeg, and stir.

Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, continue the cooking, adding 1/2 cup water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding the tablespoon of butter, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

Note: Once done, you can refrigerate the sauce in a tightly sealed container for 3 days, or you can freeze it. Before tossing with pasta, reheat it , letting it simmer for 15 minutes, stirring it once or twice.

Toe•may•toe, Tah•mah•toe

Bluebird, having a summer sale of 10% off any order, had me crunching numbers for emmer and einka. I can source emmer at my coop, but einka, the name Bluebird uses for einkorn farro, is harder to find. I was happy indeed that ordering einka from Winthrop, including USPS shipping, was less money than the one Seattle source that I know of. I ordered 10 pounds.

IMG_2786
a box of beauty

Fast forward 2 days. It’s Saturday, Farmer’s Market day. I haven’t been doing the Saturday market, opting for the closer-to-home, a-little-less-expensive Sunday market. However, the Saturday market is where you score excellent clams and amazing kombucha, so with clams & pasta on the menu, I went. I make a clam & pasta dish originating with Mario Batali’s Simple Italian Food, a book I bought before ever knowing who Mario Batali was. Since it’s summer and warm out, I brought home some whole wheat linguine to boil up rather than mix up handmade pasta. When the mail carrier brought me a box from Winthrop, however, my plans changed.

I thrilled that my order from receipt Thursday mid-morning had grain at my door Saturday mid-afternoon! Wasting no time, I loaded the mill, knowing we’d be trying Einka pasta with our clams.

Nutrimill at the ready
Nutrimill at the ready
Einka and backyard eggs
Einka and backyard eggs

I’ve not used a lot of gluten-free flours, but the einka does remind me in texture of oat flour, even the way almond flour looks and feels. I found 1 recipe for einkorn flour pasta and it was essentially identical to how I always make pasta so I did 3 heavy cups of flour and 3 eggs. The flour is very loose when processed in the Nutrimill, the air has not been compressed out of it via packaging/storage. The dough came together nicely, and I left it to rest for 30 minutes.Kneaded, ready to rest

I use a pasta machine for rolling but I do knead the dough before it rests, per Marcella Hazen’s insistence. I got the moisture level just right, with little sticking and no crumbling.

Dough, folded into thirds, making its way through the rollers
Dough, folded into thirds, making its way through the rollers

While the rolled dough waited for cutting, I got the water boiling, and proceeded with the other items on dinner’s menu: clams, kale, green peas for Junior, green salad, and baked-this-morning sourdough bread. When the dough is perfect, I love using the cutting attachment on the pasta machine.

Fettuccine
Fettuccine
A busy stove
A busy stove

The pasta turned out great. The texture and bite of the noodle seemed like the other whole wheat version I make. For a low-gluten grain, the final product was not slimy, and it held together in the sauce. I look forward to more recipes with my new stash of Bluebird Farm Grains Einka.

Bon appetit!
Bon appetit!

Reincarnation

Swedish, Norwegian, a tiny tidge of Irish, and bits of other Northern European Peoples are what make up my DNA. I have the ruddy skin and stocky ankles belonging to any quality Scandinavian grandmother. But lefse, lutefisk, and långkok? These leave me cold. The foods that move and comfort me are pastas, red wine braises, polenta, porcini, and Sangiovese.

I must have been Italian in a past life.

My dinners and parties usually pay homage to my adopted or former nationality without apology. Most recently I made dinner for thirteen guests, celebrating friendship and the season of Christmas. Armed with my copy of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, here’s what I served:

Antipasti

Olive, Genoa Salami e Parmigiano

Prosciutto San Daniele con la Mela

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi

Primi

Ravioli con Ricotta e Pomodoro

Secondi

Manzo Brasato al Vino Rosso

Forno Patate Arrosto a Dadini

Venda Colli Euganei Rosso

Contorno

Fagiolini al Limone

Zucca Arrosto

Insalata

Verdure Miste con Scaglie di Parmigiano

Dolce

Crostata di Mele

Semifreddo di Cioccolato

There were elements that really worked and some that could have been better. A thicker ravioli pasta would have kept the parcels from rupturing but the texture and taste were very good. The braised beef was amazing, and my first attempt at semifreddo was tasty indeed.

Multiple course dinners are tricky in my tiny kitchen but I’m willing to keep practicing. The only apology I’ll make for being an Italian wannabe is that I use Google to translate. Language learning is on my list of things to do but I’d rather cook and eat. Salud!