Friday, August 9, 2013

A One-Skillet Cheesy Pasta and Beef Recipe. It's Like Hamburger Helper, Except it Won't Kill You

Everybody needs it-- a one skillet cheesy pasta and beef recipe, for those nights when you're tired or short on time, and your family is starting to get that pesky "feed us" look.  But don't be tempted to turn to Hamburger Helper.  This stuff's not "helping" anybody. 

Looks so happy and innocent, right?  But that smiling hand is up to no good!

Deep down, I've always known not to trust that spoon wielding, creepy glove with a face. This ingredient list hurts my brain (actually quite literally).  When you see this many things listed on a label, just leave it.
Have you ever noticed that all highly processed foods seem to have nearly the exact same ingredients?  If you eat these kinds of foods every day, you're pretty much eating corn and soy every single time you open your mouth.  How can EVERYTHING be made with corn and soy?  It's not healthy to constantly eat the same nonfood-foods.  The big problem with non-organic corn and soy, is they are both usually genetically modified, which I discussed a little in my last post here.  These lab creations are not the corn and soy made by God.  In fact, though GMO labeling is not required in the US, we know this product does indeed, contain GMOs.  Here is the link to an online market, overseas, offering popular American foods.  Scroll down to the very bottom of the Hamburger Helper page, where the ingredients are listed.  It clearly says, "contains GMO." Labeling is required there, but here, the FDA continues to keep us in the dark about these frankenfoods. 
This filler is made from a starch, usually corn (high gmo risk).  The corn is processed so much that what remains has absolutely no nutritional value, but it does still have calories. 
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
This is a flavor enhancer and excitotoxin, which causes brain cells to be overstimulated until they die.  Maybe you get frequent headaches, and don't know why?  I found such a great article about this nasty stuff, by Dr. Joseph Mercola, I'm just gonna share it here.  I highly recommend that you take a moment to read about it. He links this stuff to some pretty awful problems like brain damage and learning disabilities, and diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and ALS.  Is it just a coincidence that my son's dyslexia symptoms disappeared, after we made the switch to real, organic food?
Artificial Color
Does it blow your mind that beef and pasta would need artificial color?  It does mine.  What's wrong with the normal color of food?  The problem is, this stuff gets processed so much, it probably really doesn't have any color by the time they're done with it.  It is known that petroleum-based yellow #5 causes hyperactivity in children.  And caramel color is made from ammonia and is a carcinogen.  It is abhorrent that chemicals used only for aesthetic reasons, contaminate so much of our food.  It wouldn't freak me out, if it were just the occasional slice of birthday cake.  But it seems it's in everything. 
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Contains MSG.
Partially Hydrogenated Oil
Trans fats will kill you.  
Yeast Extract
Contains MSG
Natural Flavor
Weird, and sometimes really disgusting stuff they aren't required to tell us about. Here's an excellent article on natural flavors from Food Babe.
Moving onto happiness..
This recipe will make you forget all about Hamburger Helper's troubling box of poison.  Everything, including the pasta, cooks in just one pan. 
I use organic whole wheat pasta.  If you're still on the white stuff, consider giving this a try.  It will be so caught up in sauce, meat, and cheese that I don't think you, or any picky eaters you may be dealing with, will notice.  And it will be tons better for you.  And speaking of picky eaters, if your kids are scared of green things, be sure to finely dice the bell pepper, using a chopper or food processor, if necessary.  Just be careful not to liquefy it.  That would be awkward.   
I use glass jarred tomatoes because of the whole BPA problem.  BPA is thought to be an endocrine disruptor, and if there's one thing I don't want for my family, it's screwed up hormones.  Hormones control everything that happens in your body.  It is my understanding that while a few (very few) companies have removed BPA from some of their cans' linings, they have not been able to do it with tomato products, because of their high acidity.  So I use tomatoes in glass.  But I wrote this recipe to accommodate normal can sizes, so no worries if you're still living on the edge, with canned tomatoes..

 I used strained tomatoes instead of tomato sauce, which doesn't contain any salt or seasonings, mainly because that's what I can find in glass. I just measure out the amounts I need from both of these big jars.  If you're gonna use tomato sauce, you may need to reduce the salt a little in this recipe.
 One-Skillet Cheesy Pasta and Beef
1 lb organic grass fed ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 small green bell pepper, preferably organic, diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
14 1/2 oz diced tomatoes
8 oz strained tomatoes (or tomato sauce)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (Less if using tomato sauce)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup organic whole wheat elbow macaroni
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese (from cows not treated with synthetic hormones)
In a sort of large-ish pan, brown the ground beef, and drain.  Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, and  garlic, and give that a few minutes to cook.  Then add everything else, (except cheese) adding the pasta last.  Stir. Reduce heat and cover.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until pasta is tender.  Add the cheese, and stir until mixed and melty. Remove from heat.
Serves 4:  1 1/3 cup each.  I came up with 448 calories per serving, using My Fitness Pal.

Peak and stir a couple of times to make sure nothing disastrous is happening, like sticking or cooking too fast.

To keep carbs and calories under control, I only give everyone one serving each. I served this with a small green salad, and some delicious little golden tomatoes that we accidentally grew in our yard.  But that's another story.
If you can't eat wheat, you could use rice instead, but I haven't tried cooking it all together like this. I'll update when I do.  Meanwhile, just pull that leftover rice out of the fridge, and stir some in.



  1. I'm so with you on this, Amy. I stopped buying those pre-packaged foods long ago and decided that if I couldn't pronounce the words on the box I probably shouldn't be eating it. Now, I haven't totally shifted to organic for a myriad of reasons and know there are still things in my pantry and fridge that aren't the best, but I do feel like that little changes add up to big benefits eventually. Thanks for the heads-up about the canned tomatoes - I didn't know about that.

    This recipe looks delish and I will give it a try. Noticed someone on fb mentioned that her child won't eat beef. Yep, same here. My boys won't touch it and it's really okay because we don't use beef anymore and use ground turkey breast instead, in any recipe calling for beef. The change hasn't been hard and we don't even miss it. We often find that when we do eat beef our bodies don't handle it very well.

    Anyway, love your blog and all the info. Keep the recipes and info coming!

    1. Thanks, Pam! I'm glad you like the blog. I have this weird psychological thing with using turkey in beef recipes. But we believe beef is okay so we've never made any effort to get used to turkey. Interestingly enough, I do have turkey burgers on my meal plan for next week. But the recipe is like it's written and seasoned specifically for turkey, not beef. Make sense? Okay.. I know it doesn't. haha!

  2. Hello from a fellow VGN newbie, this recipes looks amazing, I just shared it on facebook. That ingredient list makes me cringe!

    1. Doesn't it though? Thanks for sharing, Hannah! :)

  3. My whole family, including you g kids love this great recipe! I've been using tinkyada rice noodles to accommodate out gluten free diet-er. They work great! Just an FYI! :)