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Recipe Thursday: Why Hamburger Helper Disappointed Me

I was looking for a quick and yummy meal, so I decided to try out a little hamburger helper. I’d never used it before, but I figured it’d work. However, I was very disappointed…sort of. What I ended up with tasted good, so yay for that. But the helper itself was problematic.

Biggest complaint—what’s up with the rice? There was only 1 (uncooked) cup of white rice which was supposed to go with 1 lb of ground beef. We got a little over 1 lb and bought 2 hamburger helpers (since this was one of those bigger dishes that’s going to last us longer, but still). That’s a ridiculous combination.

So as soon as I saw how little rice it included, I started cooking up some brown rice, another 2 cups worth. I let that cook about 20 minutes (brown rice cooks more slowly than white) so that I could add it to the recipe when I added the uncooked white rice.

When you look at what we actually bought, it was just some sauce mix and 2 cups white rice. It was a good sauce mix, but I’m not sure it was worth it.

We also bought a bunch of veggies (bell peppers, broccoli, mushrooms) and with double the rice it seemed like a more sensibly balanced meal.

It’s not that hard to cook, which was convenient. Only 45 minutes (the brown rice lengthened the overall time). So what I’m going to have to figure out is a way to get the spice/sauce mix all on my own. Either something similar that I can buy prepared or a recipe that I can mix up. Because I’m pretty sure the rice was overpriced compared to what we normally buy. And everything else is separate anyway.

Anyone have sauce recipes to share?

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paidtwice April 17, 2008 at 11:37 am

I use those “helper” mixes sometimes, butonly use 1/2 lb of “meat” and I add 1 lb of veggies to it as well. My spouse is “low-carb” so the small amount of rice or pasta is good for him. lol.

I only buy them on a big sale lol.

Nicole April 17, 2008 at 11:56 am

Try those seasoning packages that come in envelopes at the grocery store. They are often less than a dollar and quite tasty (and usually for a good quantity of food). They are usually next to the spices…

squawkfox April 17, 2008 at 12:16 pm

I don’t really cook using the packaged stuff. I just cook tomatoes, beans, lean meats, veggies in a pot or slow cooker…and add seasoning like basil or whatever to taste. The packaged stuff kinda scares me actually. πŸ™

Mrs. Nathan April 17, 2008 at 12:22 pm

I am e-mailing you one of our favorite recipes rather than take up blog space. It’s from Cook’s Country, which is my favorite, favorite cooking magazine in the world. You can also get an online subscription which is only $20. I use it every day. Their recipes often call for a lot of spices, which is expensive at first, but now that I’ve been cooking with them for a while I’ve built up a nice collection and I’m trying to grow many of my own right now. They always have a section on 30-minute meals and they are super yummy.

Aryn April 17, 2008 at 12:24 pm

It’s time to start looking at the cookbooks at the library! Check out books like Joy of Cooking, a basic Betty Crocker, and How to Cook Without a Book. The last one gives formulas for various meals – learn them and then create variations – as well as several basic sauce formulas.

Betty Crocker and Joy of Cooking have simple recipes for all the stuff Hamburger Helper makes. I love the Betty Crocker beef stroganoff recipe. I use the one that calls for tenderloins and sub in ground beef. Their recipe for a hamburger version doesn’t look as good.

Steven April 17, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Stick with the pasta-based Hamburger Helper. We really like the Lasagna and Cheeseburger Mac flavors.

My wife says, “Gee, I should be able to make this myself!” (i.e. without buying HH). But frankly, hers isn’t as good (don’t tell her!!)

Looby April 17, 2008 at 1:38 pm

I’m so confused, I thought hamburger helper was something to do with actual burgers, but I’m guessing it’s just minced beef in general?
I’m with squawkfox, I’ve always found things in boxes a little scary.
I tend to just season as I go, either an Italian seasoning/fresh basil route or a chilli/cayenne/cumin route for a bit of a kick,if it is a tomato based sauce.

telly April 17, 2008 at 3:59 pm

I’ve never had hamburger helper before but I’m with squawkfox, throw some veggies, beans, and herbs in a slow cooker in the morning and dig in for dinner.

Anitra April 17, 2008 at 5:26 pm

I grew up with Hamburger Helper, but I don’t use it much anymore – the price is a big part of it (both of the box and of ground beef / ground turkey). I also get the feelings of “I should be able to make this from scratch”, but making anything similar from scratch takes a lot more effort and attention (even if it doesn’t take more time). I also haven’t figured out how to make any other kind of meat + starch dinner in one pan.

Next time I’m at the grocery store, I will look at those spice packets, though…

Dad April 17, 2008 at 5:36 pm

Nicole’s idea has some merit. In our grocery store there is a section near soups and prepared foods that are envelopes which make soups and such. It is in the area of gravy mixes. Some of them can be good spice combinations. I don’t think they cost a lot and you control the hamburger, pasta/rice, and vegetables.

Funny about Money April 17, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Hmmm…. I have my mother’s spaghetti sauce. Like Mrs. Nathan, I’ll e-mail it to refrain from hogging blog space.

Also I’ll send you my recipe for slumgullion, which is stupidly easy and IMHO endlessly better than packaged stuff.

Maybe we should collect whatever comes in on one of our blogs? That would be kinda neat.

budgets are sexy April 17, 2008 at 8:50 pm

man, i was a HUGE fan of hamburger helper growing up (what growing boy wasn’t?), but for whatever reason this latest round didn’t go well for us either πŸ™

this time it was the meat…*shiver*…actually, we didnt have meat frozen but we did have hamburgers…so, since it was called hamburger helper, we thought we’d just cut up and use….*shiver*…

never. again.

hank April 18, 2008 at 12:35 pm

I’m still a fan of hamburger helper; I grew up with it too and still eat it, but I have very simple tastes; there are often good sites out there that will help you enhance the ol’ hamburger helper standard.

And yes, I think they’re overpriced for what is given for sure, but I suppose that’s how they make a profit… πŸ˜‰

CindyS April 18, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Herb/Spice rules of thumb:

If it’s italian, add oregano and basil and a touch of garlic.

If it’s Mexican, add chile powder, fresh cilantro, bay leaf maybe a touch of oregano.

Poultry: A combination of Sage, Marjoram, Thyme and/or rosemary.

Those are the herbs I wouldn’t live without and I have experimented with them long enough that I mix and match in different recipes. Herbs and spices are very forgiving in the amounts that you can use. I tyically don’t measure them I just shake some in with one exception. If I am using cayenne pepper I measure otherwise I may be the only one eating it. πŸ™‚

James April 18, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Good call. I totally feel like hamburger helper skimps on the rice/pasta in their products.

Stacey April 18, 2008 at 4:47 pm

I agree with Steven (#6) – my family doesn’t like the rice Hamburger Helpers, either. We stick with the pasta, add a few more egg noodles to ensure leftovers, and usually have good results. The Mexican and Italian styles are our favorites.

While I do try to make most meals from semi-scratch for health reasons, these boxes are a great help when the husband has to cook! They go on sale for $1 per box every few months.

heartbeat April 18, 2008 at 8:21 pm

hamburger helper is a “processed” food which is not only not real good for your health (overprocessed and with preservatives). homemade is better and takes just as long to make (30min. or less) for instance, cheeseburger hamburger helper is mainly mac and cheese with cooked meat added. you can add just about anything to cooked ground beef, chicken, tuna and have a one skillet/pot meal in minutes!

bookaunt April 19, 2008 at 11:39 am

Here’s my basic dinner in a skillet recipe.
If you don’t have time to chop seasoning vegetables use frozen or try those previously mentioned sauce mixes. Canned tomatoes now come with onions and garlic, or chili peppers or italian seasoned.

Basic meat/carb skillet dinner recipe:
scaled for 4-6 servings
experiment with different combinations

1 lb ground meat

brown in skillet, drain any excess fat

1-2 cups chopped seasoning vegetables (onion, peppers, celery, 1-2 cloves minced garlic perhaps. if you want to use fresh carrots, this is the place to add those. You can add grated carrots here or at the end)

Add to skillet with meat and cook until soft

4-6 cups liquid depending on type & amount of carbohydrate chosen and desired end consistency (consider canned tomatoes as part of the liquid)
seasonings – 1-3 teaspoons (see comment by CindyS for different combos)

Add to skillet after seasoning vegetables are softened and bring to boil

desired carbohydrate:
2 cups rice, 4-5 cups noodles or pasta

Optional: 2-3 cups extra vegatables- fresh, frozen or drained canned, sauce additions

Stir carbohydrate into boiling liquid, bring to boil again, turn down and put lid on skillet. Simmer until carbohydrate is cooked. If adding vegetables add them the required amount of cooking time before the carbohydrate will be done.

When the carbohydrate is cooked, adjust consistancy of dish or add additional sauce ingredients (boil off excess liquid, thicken with a little cornstarch, add grated cheese or cheese sauce mix), adjust seasonings.

Possible combinations:
Skillet Turkey & Noodles (ground turkey, onion, celery, carrots, water & bouillion cubes, poultry seasoning, noodles, peas)

Skillet Spaghetti (Turkey italian sausage, onion, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, water and canned diced tomatoes and/or can or jar of spaghetti sauce, basil, broken up spaghetti or use other pasta, top with cheese)

Chili Mac (ground beef, onions, peppers, garlic, water and canned tomatoes, chili powder, macaroni, kidney beans, corn)

Sarah April 19, 2008 at 8:48 pm

Mrs. Micah.
I’ve done just as you had on nights when I just can’t deal with lots of intensive cooking. And boy that hamburger helper slaughters rice.

Out of disgust and perhaps a slight sense of superiority over the designers of hamburger helper, I’ve experimented and made the following instead. This is not a sauce recipe really, but an oven rice recipe that takes 5 minutes to prep and then you put it in the oven for an hour and ignore it. It makes two cups of rice. Once that rice is 40-45 minutes into cooking, I make a ‘topping’ to put on it. It is not saucy, but the juice is yummy on the rice.
Before that, I either take my dog out for a walk , have a beer, make a salad or complain about my effing dissertation (my sympathies to Micah).

Heat oven to 350.
Combine everything below in a 9 x 9 x
2 pan.
1 cup of rice,
1 teaspoon olive oil,
1 cup chicken broth,
1 cup water,
2 diced cloves of garlic
1/4 cup diced onion
(about half of a medium onion)
1/4 cup chopped carrots
can also add bell peppers,I even added
zucchinni once. That was once because
it was weird.
Cover with foil after mixing it all up in your dish (this is super important or your rice will dry out) Put it in the oven. Have a beer.

Stovetop Beef
I brown 1/2 an onion and 4 cloves of garlic with a little olive oil and some pepper. I remove it from the pan. I then brown a 1/2 lb of 90/10 beef. When it is almost browned, I add the previously browned onion and garlic. Pour the meat over the rice and serve. The juices with the meat flavor the rice more.

I swear it tastes better than hamburger helper and is less fattening, perhaps because I use lean beef and don’t add creams and butters. I think it may cost less too, but it depends on your supermarket and the cost of your produce and meat.

mrsmicah April 25, 2008 at 10:37 am

I bought a chipotle spice mix, and it worked pretty well in what I made this week.

Lazy Man and Money April 25, 2008 at 11:42 am

I just use the noodle versions and they come out perfectly every time.

guinness416 April 25, 2008 at 6:58 pm

Like squawkfox, I’m skeered of hamburger helper. Try Shan spice mixes if you have any south asian grceries nearby. They have a number of mixes which with ground beef or chicken turn out great kebabs.

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