Empirically: my mother is amazing. Let’s narrow it down to cooking. I learned 95% of what I know about food from my mom¹, including my favoritest quality: knowing the value of humble foods. Don’t get me wrong; she’s an adventurous, open-minded and curious eater, but she’s also from working class Scottish stock and therefore knows the joy of a slice of very buttery, very soft “french” bread, if you know what I mean. So while she could be found making homemade nougat confections from scratch at Christmas and made a seriously authentic chicken curry from scratch before anyone we knew had heard of Indian food before, she also makes the following: goulash.
Let me rephrase that: “goulash”. The quotes are important. Because what she makes is Hamburger Helper, minus that expensive box of noodles and flavor packets.
But don’t make a face! Or go ahead and make it and get it out of your system, and then read on. As much as I dislike Hamburger Helper, I like my mom’s goulash. It’s simple, comforting and easy. And she’s probably cringing right now reading that I’m sharing the recipe with the world, but she shouldn’t be. Did I ever tell you guys I trained to be a tattoo artist? I did. And one thing I learned is that the very hardest thing to tattoo is a simple straight line. If you could make a perfectly even, reasonably straight line then you were good at your job. I feel like recipes like this exist in the same spectrum: they’re deceptive in their perfection. Don’t overthink it, but don’t undervalue it either.
A note about ketchup: ketchup is an unfairly maligned ingredient. I think the mere mention of it cheapens recipes, and it shouldn’t — it’s a fine thing! A sweet-tart, very smooth and seasoned tomato sauce that both thickens and gently flavors whatever you put it in. I find myself slipping spoonfuls of ketchup into recipes almost as much as I sneak spoonfuls of soy sauce in. Flavors! I love you, flavors.
“Goulash” aka Lamburger Helper
any ground meat or fake meat works. mom usually makes beef, I prefer lamb or turkey, and I imagine that Quorn grounds would be rad too. for “cheesy helper” add some cheese. for “Italian helper” add some Italian herb mix. you get the idea. this recipe makes two large portions and is easily doubled. and be warned that this makes for soft noodles – this is not authentic Italian cuisine, dudes, this is nursery food. 1/27/2011 UPDATE: my mom is emphatic that she uses twice as much meat as I do. she wants you to know this.
1/2 lb. ground lamb (or beef, or turkey, or Quorn)
2 Tbsp butter
1 8oz can (small can) plain tomato sauce – NOT tomato paste
1/2 C. ketchup
1/2 tsp granulated onion
1/2 tsp porcini mushroom powder (optional, but get on this bandwagon please)
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs. sugar
pepper to taste
1 heaping C. large elbow macaroni noodles
2 C. water
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high, quickly brown the meat in the butter on just one side. If using fatty beef, drain off the fat, otherwise keep it. It tastes good. Also: try not to substitute cooking oil for butter. The butter has magical properties.
- Add the tomato sauce, ketchup, granulated onion, mushroom powder, salt, sugar, pepper, water and then macaroni noodles. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes at a low simmer, taking care to stir every few minutes.
- At this stage the noodles are basically cooked but maybe a little al dente, and the goulash is pretty saucy. This is good. Remove from the heat, put a lid on it and walk away for 10 minutes. Let it think about what it’s done. If you want to add cheese to make cheese sauce, add it now before you set it aside.
- After its rest it should no longer have any sauce but still be moist and the noodles bloated and delightfully soft. Top with some cheese and eat while in your jim-jams.
¹The other 5% from my dad, who is actually a great cook but is perhaps the boringest eater in the history of the world. Ask him how many times a week he eats spaghetti. Hell, ask him how many times a DAY he eats spaghetti.October 7th, 2010 | Make It So