For those of us non-essential workers doing the critical work of staying at home to flatten the curve of Covid-19, we’re launching a new recipe series: Applestone in the Kitchen. We’ll be featuring ways to use meat with whatever pantry staples you may have on hand, like cheeseburger helper below. We’ll also share lots of suggestions on what to substitute in for items you don’t have. Expect suggestions for how to cook cuts of meat you’re unfamiliar with as well as ideas for fun projects to tackle now that you might have some time on your hands. We say might because if you’re working from home with kids online schooling and maybe now cohabitating with extended family, you most certainly do not have more time on your hands! But, hey, you still have to eat. And for that, we’re here to help. If you have a recipe you’d like us to explain, any questions about cooking meat, or ingredient substitution quandaries, reach out. We are so happy to answer and be of help. Stay safe!
Cheeseburger Helper From Scratch
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 pound ground meat, whatever you have on hand, if using a lean grind, including ground chicken, increase cooking oil by 1 tablespoon
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 pound cooked pasta like elbows, bowties, and shells, preferably not long thin noodles like spaghetti, fettuccini, or linguini
1 tablespoon mustard, preferably Dijon (optional if you have none available)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika (optional if you have none available)
1 pound cheese, grated — shredding fresh works best — we like sharp cheddar, but you can also use pre-shredded store bought
3 ½ cups milk
½ cup stock — chicken, vegetable, beef, or water if you have no stock
2 teaspoons cooking oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Toasted breadcrumbs (optional)
1. Heat cooking oil in a wide-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground meat to the pan and break it up. Season liberally with salt and pepper, smoked paprika if you have it, and stir, cooking ground meat about seven minutes until evenly browned.
2. Lower heat to medium and add flour 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until flour is incorporated — you’re making a roux. Next, stir in mustard. Let this mixture cook until it’s a medium brown color. It should start to smell a little nutty, kind of like buttered toast.
3. Stir in ½ cup of stock. Once roux is incorporated into stock, slowly whisk in 3 cups of milk. Bring to a simmer while stirring. Do not boil! If this sauce starts to get too thick, add the remaining ½ cup of milk a little at a time. (If the sauce starts to break, you will see visible dots of oil and fat in the liquid. To fix, remove from heat, add a little more stock, and whisk quickly until incorporated again. Water will not fix a broken sauce. Fats need protein to emulsify.)
4. Slowly add in grated cheese. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little more liquid — stock or water — 1 tablespoon at a time.
5. Stir in cooked pasta until well coated. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
6. Serve cheeseburger helper in bowls. If you have them on hand and are feeling fancy, top with toasted breadcrumbs.
Cool completely then store leftover cheeseburger helper in fridge for up to a week. Be smart, people. Always smell your leftovers and give them a good look before you eat them, especially if you’ve forgotten them at the back of the fridge. If you freeze your cheeseburger helper, to reheat, just warm a little milk in a skillet and stir in spoonfuls, one or two at a time, until the sauce forms again and it’s hot. You may need to adjust seasoning.