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Hamburger helpless

Slumgullion is one of the great comfort foods of the Western World. Slumgullion: that would be a stew-like mélange (some would call it “slop”) concocted from whatever fresh and leftover (preferably leftover) food happens to be in the house.

The folks who invented Hamburger Helper recognized this and capitalized on it. You take the contents of a box and stir it in with some fried hamburger; reconstitute some dried sauce by stirring it in, and…uhm…voilà.

Slumgullion under way.
Right: Macaroni a-cooking. Left: Slumgullion under way.

If you have a can of tomato sauce, a little hamburger, some frozen, canned or leftover veggies, and some pasta, rice, or potatoes hanging around the house, you can make your own slumgullion without the “help” of a megacorporation. It may not be cheaper (I don’t buy a lot of processed foodoids and so don’t know the price of Hamburger Helper), but you can bet it will taste better. And you’ll know pretty much what’s in it.

Slumgullion is mighty forgiving. You can whip it up with as many or as few ingredients as you have at hand, assuming you have some hamburger and something to flavor it up with. I happen to favor tomato sauce or canned tomatoes, but leftover gravy, milk, or wine will do the job. The other day I found chuck roast on sale at the Safeway for $1.27 a pound. I bought a humungous chunk of meat and had the butcher convert it to hamburger (which happened to be selling for $2.27 a pound that day). Most of this was dogburger: intended to be fed to Cassie the Corgi. However, I can’t resist good hamburger, and fresh-ground from a single roast can’t be beat.

So the first night I grilled several patties over charcoal, providing a feast for myself and about a half-dozen meals for the dog. This left a large amount of hamburger to be dispensed with. Last night, shoveling my way through a mountain of burger, I used some of it to build a tasty slumgullion, which made enough for dinner and at least two more meals. The general outline of the recipe looked like this:

You need:
• A large frying pan
 Some hamburger (1/2 to 1 pound, depending on number of people to serve)
 1 or 2 small cans tomato sauce, or 1 can tomatoes
 A splash of red wine, if you have it; or some beef broth; or some milk
• Leftover or frozen veggies (I had a few frozen asparagus spears, some frozen peas, and some frozen corn)
 An onion
 Some garlic
• A splash of olive oil or other vegetable oil
• Whatever herbs you have around the house or garden (such as thyme, marjoram, basil…anything will work. I used some dried herbes de provence)
• Some ground cinnamon
• Cooked pasta, leftover mashed potatoes (!), or rice

Dice the onion. Coarsely chop the garlic.

Skim the bottom of the frying pan with oil. Over medium to medium-high heat, cook the onion until it begins to caramelize (i.e., to brown). Lift the onion out of the pan and set it aside on a plate or in a bowl. Put the hamburger into the hot pan; add the garlic and the cinnamon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is done through. Add the herbs. Stir. Add the tomato sauce or canned tomatoes. Stir. Bring back to the simmer. Add the frozen vegetables. Stir around and allow to simmer until the veggies are cooked.

Meanwhile, reheat mashed potatoes (you can microwave them) or cook the pasta or the rice.

Assess the slumgullion. If it seems too thick to act like a sauce (it should be about the consistency of spaghetti sauce, IMHO), add another can of tomato sauce or a splash of red wine or some beef broth or milk to achieve the desired sauce-likeness.

Serve the miracle elixir over the starch of your choice. Top with some parmesan or other grated cheese, if desired and as desired.

This concoction, which is about as down-home as you can get, serves nicely as a full meal. You can add a salad, if you think you can get around it, to create an even more complete full-meal effect. Sooo good on a cold day! And it gets better when it’s reheated the next day.

4 thoughts on “Hamburger helpless”

  1. This sounds very like the “recipe” in MFK Fisher’s “How to Cook a Wolf”–I think it’s the last ditch food. I was planning to write a post on this book. We must be in some harmonic convergence, given shoes and recipes!

  2. LOL! She did have some down-home chow! It must have been the generation: Americans didn’t eat well during the Depression and World War II…but I have the impression they didn’t eat especially well before that, either. This particular decoction is similar to things my mother used to make, except she never would have had wine or fresh herbs to put in the food.

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