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My son wants me to make Hamburger Helper, only not...

So the other day he's in the grocery store, calls me at home and asks me to make something like "double cheese beef and mac" . He goes on to say its hamburger helper, and it "looks good". Without thinking, I say something that implies hamburger helper isn't good.... so by the time I suggested it would be the perfect thing for HIM to cook, he had changed his mind. I still think the same dish from scratch might be a compromise, and while I'm familiar with what my mom called "american chop suey", I'm not sure how to approach what I imagine to be a cheese sauce, but not becharmel.. Any thoughts?

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  1. Hamburger Helper, particularly that variety, is one of those processed foods with a flavor so its own that I have difficulty even thinking about how to describe it. It truly has a "non-food" character -- though I can practically taste it now, based on two encounters with it over a decade ago. Its "cheese" component is a lot like Kraft boxaroni (which I actually like sometimes, though I vastly prefer the extra-cheese-powder box to the regular). But the combination with ground beef, cooked all together, sends it into some other land entirely. Bear in mind, too, that I found loose ground meat in casseroles or soups unpalatable 95% of the time.

    If you want something in the ballpark but a lot more edible, I'd sear beef patties then break them up (a la Wendy's chili). Make a macaroni and cheese that uses Mornay (though I'd do sharp cheddar instead of the traditional) and mix the beef chunks in.

    Hamburger Helper is truly one of the worst processed foods I've ever had -- though I admit to having tried only two varieties.

    1. I have never made Hamburger Helper before, but I have made this Cook's Illustated Skillet Lasagna a number of times. It might not be exactly what you are looking for, but when I make it, it reminds of what I think Hamburger Helper might be like if I did actually make it.

      I use all ground beef, no veal or pork, and I have also made it with ground turkey. Again, while it might not be exactly what you are looking for, it might work, and I will say that my kids LOVE it!


      9 Replies
      1. re: valerie

        Similar to that, I've made this Cook's Illustrated Skillet Chili Mac a couple of times to raves from my Hamburger Helper-type husband. What can I say? It's comfort food to some people! The sauce is built on tomatoes but the cheese really makes it more like a mac and cheese. Honestly, if I were to give it a box-mix name, it would probably be something very close to "double cheese beef and mac." Hope this helps!

        1 T veg oil
        1 lb 90% lean ground beef or ground turkey
        1 minced onion
        1 T chili powder
        1 T ground cumin
        3 minced garlic cloves
        1 T brown sugar
        1 15oz can tomato sauce
        2 c water
        8 oz elbow mac
        1 8oz pkg shredded mexican cheese blend

        Brown beef and spices in oil over med-high until beef is mostly brown, about 3 min (don't overcook at this stage). Stir in garlic and brown sugar, cook 30 sec. Add tomato sauce, water, and macaroni. Cover and cook, keeping mixture at a simmer and stirring often, until macaroni is tender, 10-15 minutes.
        Season with salt and pepper. Stir in half of cheese, then sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Cover and let cheese melt.

        1. re: kshrimp


          PS....not that I doubt your recipe, but I couldn't find it on the CI site. Is that the official name? Do you know which issue?

          1. re: Shrinkrap

            It's from their 30-minute cookbook - The Best 30-Minute Recipe. I haven't tried a lot of what's in the book, but what I have made from it I make often. They also have an American Chop Suey recipe, but it's got more veg and no cheese. I think the Chili Mac will be a good place for you to start :)

            1. re: kshrimp

              I never noticed that Chili Mac recipe before, but I am going to put it on my list of things to make. Sounds like another thing that my kids will like. I make turkey chili and sometimes put it over pasta, and that goes over well.

              Another variation is this one called Hamburger Buddy (yes, dumb name!). It has no cheese, but sour cream to make it creamy. And it's not tomato based. It's pretty good.


          2. re: kshrimp

            Uh oh... onion minced; pan hot... when do I add onion?

            1. re: Shrinkrap

              Ok, finished. Not bad.... to me... son is playing video games and hasn't tried it... gahhhh!I Made too much though. Maybe 10 servings,

              1. re: Shrinkrap

                Oops. I lumped that in with "spices" in my paraphrase of the recipe. Sorry!

              2. re: kshrimp

                I also make the American Chop Suey recipe from the CI 30 minute cookbook. I love it ( it tastes like something my mother made when I was a kid that we called "Bess Meyerson's Casserole" - She got the recipe from her friend Bernice Meyerson)
                Anyway - I tried the chop suey and it was a trip back in the past. I felt like Proust and his madelaine. My husband, however, took one bite and said " You just spent all this time making Hamburger Helper!"

              3. re: valerie

                I make a homemade taco seasoning without all the preservatives and salt in it and its delicious. the packaged stuff is 1/2 salt! Makes the equivalent of 4 packs of the store bought I think.

                1/4 cup (1 package) Ancho/Pasilla chili powder *
                1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne or chipotle powder **
                1 tsp dried oregano
                1 tsp granulated onion
                1 tsp granulated garlic
                2 tsp paprika
                2 TBS ground cumin
                1 - 2 tsp sea salt
                1 tsp black pepper

                Mix it all and keep in container - 2 TBS is equal to one package of Taco Seasoning. Use more or less pepper to taste . The Pasilla ground pepper is found in the Mexican section of supermarkets, hanging in little bags on the top where you find the dried peppers.......When I make it this way, I add 1 TBS of a slurry of garbanzo or whole wheat flour and mix in, because I think there is a thickener in the packaged stuff. Its delicious. If anyone wants my Taco Hamburger Helper recipe, let me know and I'll put it on here.

              4. When I was a young teen my mom was sick a lot, so I would wing dinners for my dad and me. i would make ground meat, noodles and gravy from a packet (didn't know how to do it from scratch back then.) Then I would mix it all together and add some grated cheese, salt and pepper. Viola! Hamburger Helper without the box. (They didn't even make that stuff back then.) Sounds like the same thing, but now I would add some better cheese, extra herbs, better spices, Just make your regular mac and cheese a little soupier than usual, brown some ground beef, and add some southwest seasonings. Mix together and serve.

                1. [okay! thanks for the suggestions. I keep coming back to a skillet lasagna/ziti idea, but that's a tomato based sauce...and when I think of just adding cheese to ground beef and pasta, I don't imagine it melting smoothly. I hate to think about it, but maybe I should consider a "gravy packet" or "cheese packet"?. It's the processed taste and sauce consistency that i think I'm going to have a problem with.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                    I wouldn't go with a cheese packet, but a combo of cheeses such as what you would use for a homemade mac and cheese, you could make it creamier by adding sour cream. Make the sauce on the side and then mix it in the meat and pasta. Don't think processed!

                    1. re: danhole

                      "Don't think processed!"

                      That makes sense to me. If I've done any parenting right, it might be reflected in the fact that they HATE American cheese and boxed mac and cheese.

                    2. re: Shrinkrap

                      You can just make American chop suey in one pot without the processed packets. I brown the meat w/ chopped onions. Add chopped pepper (or not). Add pasta uncooked, w/ your favorite canned tomatoes, chopped (a couple of cans) but can leave this out. Add stock gradually and stir. Keep adding stock until the pasta is cooked. It makes mushy pasta like Hamburger Helper. Add grated cheese. You could do it more like Alton Brown's stovetop mac and cheese if you want it creamiers. Mix eggs, cheese, evaporated milk (if you hate evaporated milk, use whole milk and sour cream mix). Pour over pasta.

                      1. re: chowser

                        I will check that out. Doesn't Alton's skip the white sauce? I recently tried one of the recipes on the recent mac and cheese thread here. I usually make a custard type, and was surprised how easy and how much I liked the one with the cottage cheese in the blender, and no eggs. I'd really like it if that could work, but last time I baked it, and it ended up pretty tight.

                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                          Alton Brown's version is similar to CI's but CI's has more fussy details and, having done both, I'm not convinced it produces a superior product. You don't back it but you get a very creamy mac and cheese. So, to replicate HH (which I haven't had in years so I'm just guessing), I'd use a lot less of the cheesy sauce.


                      2. re: Shrinkrap

                        get a can of cream of celery soup and add that in, then the cheese. That should give you the consistency you're looking for.

                        1. re: weezycom

                          Hmmm......cream of celary soup. That's going to have to be a back up plan. Not in my "pantry".

                        2. re: Shrinkrap

                          When I was a kid my mom used to make mac & cheese by cooking butter & flour together for a roux, then adding milk and stirring in grated cheese until it melted. It's fairly smooth & pretty simple, might be what you're looking for.

                          1. re: Emmmily

                            Forgive me if this shows up twice. i replied and it seems to have dissappeared. I like the white sauce idea, but I want HIM to make it, so I think that's going to have to be further down the line.

                          2. re: Shrinkrap

                            I would do a basic scratch beef stroganoff. That would satisfy his needs for what he saw. My children are little, and know that we don't normally eat "things from shiny boxes." Or cans of cream of something. I want their palates to understand the difference, because I've seen kids get hooked and they can't get off the horse.

                            I do all the cooking, but my wife got them hooked on Pasta Roni Shells and White Cheddar. Check out this cocktail:


                            I will admit, it does taste good with mushroom and peas, and sometimes Tuna.

                            1. re: rudeboy

                              But beef stroganoff is made with steak, mushrooms, etc.

                              This is nothing like hamburger helper!

                              1. re: sandylc

                                So what? It doesn't have to be steak, it can be ground beef, egg noodles, mushrooms, etc. The point is that he would like it. I sure did when I was a kid.

                          3. When I was young and poor, and stupid, and just learning to cook, I would brown ground beef, and add mushrooms and onions, and then add prepared mac and cheese from the box. It was very satisfying back then, and might be a sufficient substitute for Hamburger Helper, which I keep threatening to try before I die, because of its position as an American food icon. (Those were the years when I tried to make tofu, too. I don't recommend it.)

                            1. I'm ashamed to say I used to eat HH... under what conditions I won't tell you...but lets just say it tasted really good back then.

                              In retrospect if I had to re-engineer I would start out with a basic roux to replicate the synthetic silkiness the original HH has. I would then add the cooked hamburger (the 65%/35% fat variety)...the noodles, generous hunks of velveeta, and then about a half cup of the water from ther macaroni. Reduce till the velveeta melts and the pasta water thickens into a creamy sauce.

                              Then call your cardiologist !

                              1. I made something similar tonight if you still need ideas....pretty simple and a bit of processed stuff but I feel better not buying the hh anymore since i found this recipie - which seeems like it can be played around with quite a bit

                                sautee and onion and 1 lb ground beef
                                add one can campbells tomato soup and about 1/4-1/2 can water depending on how thick you like your final dish...

                                then add 3/4-1 lb cooked pasta - again shape and amount can vary according to your preferences

                                after mixing that all together sprinkle with about 1 cup grated cheese and cover for about 5-10 minuters till melted in and warmed throughout.

                                Season as you go with again s+p and spices of you liking. Good comfort food...

                                1. Here's a recipe that my brother and i loved as teenagers. I've never eaten Hamburger Helper so I can't tell you whether this is like that, but this is pretty satisfying in that meaty/cheesy casserole way. (Remember -- this was in the days before you could buy any low-fat dairy products. I've since tried it with lower-fat ingredients and it still works pretty well for a family meal.)
                                  MARTHA'S COMPANY CASSEROLE
                                  1 lb egg noodles
                                  1 lb ground beef (chuck)
                                  16 oz tomato sauce
                                  1/2 lb cottage cheese
                                  1/4 cup sour cream
                                  1/3 cup minced scallions
                                  1 tablespoon minced green peppers
                                  2 tbs melted butter.

                                  Cook noodles, drain. Saute beef, drain, stir in tomato sauce. Combine cottage cheese and next 4 ingredients. In casserole, spread half of noodles, cover with cheese mixture, then cover with rest of noodles. Top with melted butter and tomato/meat sauce. (My recipe card ends there, but I assume one must bake this in the oven for a brief period and then declare it done.)

                                  1. This recipe is great -- haven't met a kid who didn't like it. Enjoy.


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. Geez..Just buy the Hamburger Helper. It's like 1$ a box. It's like trying to come up with a twinkie recipe.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: rochfood

                                        Since the original post. we made our own ( I initially inadvertantly discouraged the "box"), AND bought a box a week ago( the "hash brown" type. Essentially a bag of dried, shredded potatoes, and a bag of "sauce".More than a dollar though.). Thanks!

                                        1. re: rochfood

                                          But have you tasted Hamburger Helper? It makes the dogs sob no...no...don't make it...even we hate it..... To me, there is a certain 'tin' taste about it. My husband has purchased it and I let him know that I don't do HH, so whenever he wants it, here's the key to the kitchen. He made it, so of course I had a tiny taste to make him happy. BLARRRFF Gawdawful stuff.

                                        2. This is far superior to Hamburger Helper and a local specialty in my hometown. Johnny Marzetti is a casserole created in the 1920s by the owner of the Marzetti Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio; this is definitely not haute cuisine, but very tasty, comforting and affordable.

                                          1 (8-ounce) package noodles (egg noodles)
                                          1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
                                          1 large onion, chopped
                                          1/2 green pepper, chopped
                                          1 (8-ounce) can mushrooms (juice included)
                                          1 teaspoon salt
                                          1/4 teaspoon pepper
                                          1/4 teaspoon oregano
                                          2 cans condensed tomato soup
                                          1 small can tomato paste
                                          1 cup water
                                          2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
                                          8 ounces (2 cups) sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

                                          Brown meat; add onion, green pepper and mushrooms. Cook until tender, then add seasonings; set aside.

                                          In another pot or bowl, combine soup, tomato paste, water and Worcestershire sauce; set aside. Cook noodles and drain.

                                          Place a layer of noodles in a greased casserole (9-by-13-in), then a layer of meat mixture and half of the sauce and half of the cheese.

                                          Repeat, ending with the remaining cheese.

                                          Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 1 hour.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                            Thank you! Son likes casseroles; his dad not so much. Son recently said something to the effect of "I'm not the kind of kid that likes to use a knife/ cut up food".

                                          2. my dear boyfriend has an affinity for processed foods from his misguided childhood - to satisfy this (SOMETIMES), i do a version of giada's skillet dinner with cavatelli, mascarpone, sauteed turkey and frozen peas - the mascarpone gives the dish a richness and creaminess that (i'm told) is similar to a beef stroganoff boxed concoction

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: jmullen1251

                                              I like Diane's recipe-(even though I'm from the midwest-I try to avoid the creamed soup varietals for "casseroles and hotdishes")....but I agreed with one of the posters who made a roux - and then added shredded cheese. Since I've done Barefoot Contessa's croque monsieurs-I can say with pleasure that her cheese sauce is quite rich and works well....subbing a cheddar (and then a softer so the cheese doesn't separate) would work well (hers of course with the french sandwich calls for gruyere). I think that along with pasta, hamburger, onions, spices etc. would make the recipe your son wants.

                                                1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                  That cracks me up! My Chow hubby gave me the nickname! Then he's definitely going to want something hearty when out on the slopes! :)

                                                2. re: snoboardbabe77

                                                  I third this. My "fake out Cheeseburger Macaroni" goes the same way. Brown ground beef and onion and remove to drain. Make roux. Add milk. Add Cheese. Add a little tomato paste and some chili powder. Add cooked macaroni and add back the beef. Yum.
                                                  My boyfriend grew up in a boxed meal house, and I DID NOT. I make this for him when he is need some comfort food.

                                              1. When my son was a sophomore in college, he and a friend got an apartment after living in the dorms their freshman year. I knew the cooking would be a disaster. I never used box mixes for anything. Mac and Cheese was baked, "hamburger helper" was Johnny Marzetti. My son goes to Costco and buys packaged Mac and Cheese and Hamburger Helper. I will never forget his comment one day in a phone call: "Hamburger Helper is really good when you add the hamburger." Fortunately, today he is married to a lovely Malaysian woman who does all the cooking.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Jane917

                                                  This is hilarious Jane. I wonder how long he had been making it without the hamburger?!

                                                2. Here is a good Taco flavored hamburger helper.

                                                  TACO HAMBURGER HELPER - HOME MADE -

                                                  1 pound Turkey Ground meat - 97% lean (or beef)

                                                  1 medium chopped onion
                                                  1 tsp garlic powder

                                                  2 TBS homemade Taco Seasoning

                                                  1 rd. TBS Sorghum or garbanzo or white flour in water - slurry

                                                  1 -1/2 cup water or stock w/ bouillon

                                                  1 cup reconstituted evap milk ( or 1 cup any milk)

                                                  2 cups regular or whole wheat penne or shell macaroni
                                                  1/2 to 1 c. sharp cheddar - added after cooking

                                                  Brown the meat and onions
                                                  Add rest of ingredients and bring to bubbling
                                                  reduce to simmer -covered 15 minutes

                                                  Add 1 cup sharp Cheddar Cheese and stir - cover a few minutes .

                                                  If you use gluten free pasta and the garbanzo flour thickener, it can be a gluten free meal.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. he's never had hamburger helper, so he won't know the difference. find something he'll like with noodles, cheese and ground beef that has a recipe easy enough for him.

                                                    pretty sure he won't be able to tell if it's chop suey instead of a hamburger helper copycat.

                                                    here's a copycat recipe though: http://divascancook.com/2013/04/homem...

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: chartreauxx

                                                      Thank you! That was five years ago, and he is now living in an apartment, and a senior in college. He is known as someone who cooks among his friends, and sometimes texts me pictures of what he is cooking.

                                                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                        ha! just realize this was 5 years ago! myyyy baaaad. i just saw it float by on the board as having recent posts and chipped in without date-checking! sounds like you did a bangup job raising him, congratulations on his upcoming graduation! what did he major in?

                                                        1. re: chartreauxx

                                                          Well, he finished his junior year last month and he will start his senior year in the fall. Mech Engineering.

                                                          And thanks!

                                                    2. Hamburger Helper is grounds for divorce. my lawyer and the judge agreed. I have not eaten that product for 12 years, I suppose my ex keeps serving it.

                                                      1. If he is unwilling to try making it himself, he must want it very much. I wouldn't indulge him, but would encourage him to try it himself. Someday he's going to have to cook something.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. As revolting as Hamburger Helper sounds to people who can cook, it is regarded as comfort food by those who can't. I made the same mistake you did, with a family member. It's a reflex, I think, just as if someone suggested that a plate of maggots might make a nice amuse-gueule.