- Time To Cook According To Recipe: 25 Minutes
- Actual Cooking Time (Including Prep): 45 Minutes
As a gluten-free eater, I sometimes feel left out of the boxed-meal movement since products like Hamburger Helper typically make use of wheat-based pasta. Thankfully, I came across this recipe for an allergen-friendly substitute from scratch, which meant I could use the noodle base of my choice. I wasn’t sure if this quick, one-skillet meal sounded too good to be true so I was determined to try it out for myself.
To make the gluten-free version of this cheeseburger skillet, Serena suggests using brown rice penne or macaroni noodles. My favorite penne pasta comes from the brand Barilla and is actually made of corn and rice so I opted for a box of that, but you can certainly make use of whatever product best serves your taste buds and dietary preferences.
As long as the noodle is durable and won’t turn into a pile of mush when mixed with ground beef and cheese, you ought to be good to go.
Before doing anything else, I actually threw my frozen hamburger in the microwave and selected a defrost setting so the meat could start to thaw. Then, I put extra light virgin olive oil and some chopped onions in a big pan on the stove. Instead of cutting up a fresh onion, I made use of the pre-chopped variety that live in my freezer. In my case, it took five minutes of medium-high heat for the onions to soften up nicely.
By the time my chopped onions got the head start they needed on the stove, my ground beef was ready to be tossed into the skillet along with garlic powder. Since I knew it would take a little over ten minutes for the ground beef to brown, I used this time to periodically stir while also prepping my other ingredients.
I measured some chili powder, salt and tomato sauce. Although Serena uses tomato paste, I went ahead and implemented the red fruit in sauce form, which is a good substitute if you double or triple the called-for amount and later decrease another liquid in the recipe. Since this is a pasta dish, I knew there’d be no problem with having an extra tablespoon of tomato-based juices and a tablespoon less of water or milk.
For the equivalent of chicken stock, I popped a few gluten-free chicken bouillon cubes in a heat-resistant container filled with water and microwaved the combo for a couple of minutes. The purpose of this step is simply to soften the cubes enough so that, with a little bit of stirring, the cubes will seamlessly dissolve into the water.
Once the ground beef was browned, I added into the skillet the pre-measured blend of chili powder, salt and tomato sauce followed by the chicken bouillon, some milk and my favorite penne pasta. I gave everything a big stir and continued to use medium-high heat so the ingredients would be brought to a simmer, which ended up taking around six minutes to happen.
Once my ingredients were simmering, I reduced the heat to low and covered the pot so the noodles would become nice and tender. I tasted at the ten-minute mark and at a few intervals after that, but the pasta wasn’t to my likings until seventeen minutes of cooking at this low heat. If you like more al dente results, or if you’re working with a different type of pasta, your optimal cooking time can certainly differ from mine.
Once my noodles were nearly perfect, I removed the lid and cooked the skillet for a minute or two longer so the dish would be less runny. I tossed in a couple handfuls of shredded cheese and continued to stir until the cheese was melted and everything looked delicious. Since a meal like this tastes best piping hot, I made sure to dish up right away.
My family ended up loving the cheeseburger helper, but it was just okay for me. I think part of the letdown I was feeling was the fact that this “quick” meal took nearly forty-five minutes for me to make rather than the alleged twenty-five minutes. The other disappointment I experienced was simply due to me not loving the flavor profile.
Although I’ve been pining over boxed meals for years, maybe I’m just not a cheeseburger-and-noodle kind of girl. I would consider making this meal again if my family requests such–but if I were cooking just for myself, I’d be more inclined to try out a different recipe for mac and cheese.