When my boys were kids it seemed that nearly every day there was some activity we had to get to after school and on weekends. Even in summer there was softball, swimming, Scouts, and 4-H. I hated not being able to cook at home and even on nights I did cook at home it was sometimes something from a box. One meal that was quick and that the boys liked was Hamburger Helper. Then I realized I could do my own version and the kids declared it Better than Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni!
The homemade cheeseburger macaroni takes just a tiny bit more work than the boxed stuff. You still have to brown the ground beef and the homemade dish means you have to measure a few spices and the cheese(s) but it’s darned near the same amount of time to create a delicious homemade meal without the additives found in the boxed meal!
I start by measuring out the spices, the sugar (I use such a small amount I could probably omit it), and the cornstarch. They can all go into one bowl because they’re all going to be added at the same time. Easy peasy.
Next I brown the ground beef. I like to use an 80% lean beef. I think the little bit of extra fat is important for flavor in this recipe. I cook it until it’s no longer pink but not too well done because it’s going to cook along with the pasta. Drain it and return it to the same skillet.
I add the milk, water, macaroni, spices, and ricotta cheese to the skillet and stir everything together.
When the mixture comes to a boil I reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the skillet, and cook until the pasta is al dente (the box reads “9 – 11 minutes” but I start checking it at about 8 minutes because I’m a PITA even to myself). While it’s cooking I give it a quick stir occasionally.
I add peas to the dish because it makes me feel all healthy and noble. After the pasta is cooked and before adding the cheddar I stir in about a cup of peas and let them heat through.
With the heat off I stir in the cheddar cheese. Mr. C likes it really, really cheesy so I usually use 2 cups. If you prefer it creamier and not quite as cheesy just use a cup. Or split the difference and use a cup and a half.
I serve Better than Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni with a loaded tossed salad for a complete meal.
Better Than Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup very hot water
- 2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves cut into very small pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 cup peas (optional)
- 1 – 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (sharp, mild, or a combination)
- Brown ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until no longer pink.
- Drain beef and return to skillet.
- Add all the remaining ingredients except for the cheddar cheese.
- Stir to combine and bring mixture to a boil.
- Reduce heat, cover and cook over medium high, stirring occasionally, until pasta is al dente.
- Turn off heat and add the peas (if using) and stir. Allow peas to heat through (about 2 minutes).
- Add cheddar cheese, stirring until melted.
For a creamier result use 1 cup of cheese. Add two cups if you want a fuller cheese flavor.