I’ve been a bit of a WIU delinquent as of late, but I assure you, interwebs, that I have still been cooking (and eating…) as much as ever! A couple weeks late (maybe just one? Who can say?), I present to you…an old favorite! More so for GP, who fell in love with Helper meals in college and, being a capable but lazy male cook, still has a soft spot for them. I, being a bit of a snob (or quite snobby, but still of with that), have refused to buy or eat the Helper meals, but agreed to put a similar, preservative-free version. Of course, this required making things up as I went along, which I seem to be getting more and more comfortable with.
The prepped veggies– not exactly a mirepoix, but I had a ton of mushrooms on hand, and had to use them before they became complete slime. Garlic and onion because, come on, that goes in everything. FYI, this is about half a pound of whole mushrooms that I sliced, about three quarters of a small onion, and three cloves of garlic (because I am a garlic fiend). Soften the onion and garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium/medium low heat until they are golden, while in a separate pan (I know, high maintenance), cook the mushrooms in a teeny bi of oil and a couple tablespoons of red wine (I used a Viansa merlot, which GP would have discouraged use of while cooking because it is too delicious and expensive, but shhhh). Take the mushrooms from looking like this:
Drain the liquid and set the mushrooms aside. As you begin to brown the meat (I believe we had about a pound of lean-ish ground beef, but I am a firm believer in ground turkey as well) in the pan with the onion and garlic, start cooking your pasta. I used slightly less than a pound of fusilli, but feel free to change that as your pasta and pasta-to-sauce/meat ratio desires see fit. When the meat if browned, add the mushrooms to the mixture, as well as a can of condensed tomato soup (I used Campbell’s Healthy Request because that’s what we had on hand– the important part here is to only use half of the recommended amount of water, so as to avoid a too-soupy faux-Helper meal). Into this mix, also add your spice mixture:
Things will be looking very brown at this point, so feel free to add a splash more of that wine you used to cook to mushrooms. Can’t hurt, right? While you’re at it, pour a glass or two, drain the pasta, mix the pasta and “sauce,” and call your fiance in from the study, because you are done concocting a from-scratch Helper meal! Take that General Mills!
Ok, now for the recap:
Was the recipe easy to follow? Well, yes. I coupled my vague memories of Helper meals with my willingness to make things up as I went along, and it ended pretty tastily. (Is that a word?)
Did the dish taste good? Yup! And there was no salt headache or waxy post-meal mouthfeel like I sometimes get with the actual Helper meals.
Would you make it again? Absolutely. I assume that it might be a little different, based on what we have on hand, but this is such a simple recipe that I think it can be adapted really easily to fit that sort of thing.
Megan’s Made-Up “Helper” Meal
1 small yellow onion
8 oz whole mushrooms
2-3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
about 1/4 cup of red wine, divided
about 1 pound of ground beef or turkey, depending on preference
1 can of low-sodium condensed tomato soup
Italian seasoning blend
ground black pepper
1 pound desired pasta shape (recommended: penne rigate, fusilli, elbow macaroni, rigatoni, shells)
1. Prep your onions, garlic and mushrooms by finely dicing, mincing, and slicing, respectively.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large pan over medium/medium low heat, and add the onions and garlic. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until softened, being careful not to scorch the garlic.
3. In another pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the red wine, and cook the mushrooms over medium low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Once they are softened, drain the liquid and set aside.
4. Begin to cook your pasta.
5. To the onion and garlic mixture, add the ground meat. Cook over medium/medium high heat until browned.
6. Add condensed tomato soup, half the recommended amount of water. Season with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning mix, and garlic powder to taste.
7. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes.
8. Drain pasta, combine with sauce, and serve.
Coming up: I have a bunch of avocados on hand! What could possibly ensue?