Beau's admission of his guilty pleasure came as a surprise given the accomplished Italian and Lebanese cooks in his family. But convenience products like Hamburger Helper are a mainstay in many homes. Beau's revamped version is better than anything that comes in a box. He employs classic béchamel to make a creamy cheese sauce and uses lots of aromatics and sharp cheddar for rich flavor. He tops it all off with bacon. This is a great make-ahead dish that freezes well...we call it homemade convenience food.
2 1/2 cups elbow noodles
1 lb ground beef (sirloin or round)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cups chicken or beef stock
1/2 cup beef or chicken stock
2 tsp Granulated Garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Pinch grated Nutmeg*
1 cup milk
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
2 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
Chopped parsley for garnish
Cook elbow noodles in salted water according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Heat Garlic Extra Virgin Olive Oil in large skillet over medium high heat and add the onions. Saute until wilted but not browned. Add the ground beef, salt, pepper and Granulated Garlic and sauté until the ground beef is cooked through--about 7 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Turn off heat and set aside.
In another pan, melt the butter and add the flour. Whisk for 1-2 minutes and very lightly browned. You are creating a blonde roux. It should smell nutty. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Simmer gently until sauce begins to thicken, about 4-5 minutes. Add the grated Nutmeg. Remove from heat and add 1 1/2 cups cheese. Stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.
Combine the noodles and meat mixture then gently fold in the cheese sauce. Top with remaining cup of cheese and bake at 350 degrees until heated through--about 15 minutes. You can cover the casserole loosely with foil if the cheese is getting too brown, but you do want the cheese to both melt and get a little crispy here and there...those are the good parts! Remove from oven and top with bacon and a little fresh parsley, if desired.
*Just about every white, creamy sauce (Alfredo, Bechamel, Cheese Sauce) benefits from a pinch of Nutmeg. The use of nutmeg in these applications goes back to classical French sauce making techniques. Nutmeg adds a layer of almost indistinguishable, but necessary, flavor to the rich sauces. It seems to help cut the richness and adds depth. Just a pinch will do. The sauce shouldn't shout, "NUTMEG!"