01 March, 2014

Bacon!!! Mmmm...Bacon....

I'm sure I don't need to tell you all what a Facebook lurker I am...right?  Right.  So, one day when I was on posting photos for the Nana to see of the grand babies I saw a photo of a bowl of heaven on my screen.  Bacon Cheeseburger Macaroni.  Yes, it sounds as great as it looks to read.  Now, I won't lie...I grew up in a house where it wasn't uncommon for dinner to come out of a box or a can.  There is nothing technically "wrong" with that, but it depends on the ingredient list for me.  Hamburger Helper isn't necessarily the healthiest thing on the planet.  It has three times the ingredients than the recipe that will follow...

 33 ingredients folks.  33.  Including food colorings, corn syrup, and...ta da!!!...MSG.  Gross.  I can't even stomach the thought of setting a plate of that in front of my children.  In fairness to my father, he was not a label reader.  He was a hard working, blue collar guy from northern Minnesota taking care of three children on his own when we were with him instead of our mother.  He actually cooked.  Right there, that is enough for me to admire him...he cooked and baked.  He tried.  Ha!...he even made sure he bought Minnesota produced products if he could when he was buying food.

But, now as a mother myself, I know I can do better.  So I did.  Even though the Hamburger Helper version of this meal is quite unhealthy to eat on a regular basis, it was one of the favorites of me and my siblings.  I knew I could make it in a healthier way using organic products and thereby create a meal that really sticks with you throughout the evening.  Less preservatives means more for the body to turn into fuel.  It is as simple as that.  So, let us get to it!

Bacon Cheeseburger Mac
16 oz. elbow macaroni
1 lb. of organic grass fed ground beef
12 oz. organic canned or boxed tomato soup
1 c. organic sharp cheddar, grated
1 c. organic American cheese, crumbled
1 liter of organic beef stock
8 slices of organic bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 tsp. sea salt
3 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
dill pickle juice, optional 

In a large pot, cook the slices of bacon until just done.  Set aside to cool on paper towels before crumbling.  Cook the ground beef, salt, and pepper in the same pan WITHOUT draining the bacon fat out (organic grass fed beef typically has very little fat marbled into it..you will NEED the bacon fat to stop the meat from sticking to your pan, trust me).  Remove to a bowl and set aside until you're ready to assemble the casserole.

In the same pot, pour the whole liter of beef stock in and bring to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook per box/bag directions, or until you try a noodle and it feels al dente.  Remove to a separate bowl until you're ready to assemble the casserole.

In the same pot (yes, you will only need the one pot!  awesome eh?!) pour in the tomato soup and heat it until just under a boil.  Toss in the cheeses and stir until they start melting then switch to a whisk, whisking the mixture constantly to ensure an even melt.  Try the sauce at this point to reassess the need for more salt or pepper.  Typically the salt level is right on, but I noticed I wanted more pepper at this point.

Crumble the bacon and toss it into the warm noodles, then turn the noodles out into the sauce.  Add in the ground beef and stir until all is well incorporated.  At this point you'll need to decide if you LIKE the way it tastes with the pickle juice.  Take a couple bites of the casserole withOUT the pickle juice, and then in a bowl put a couple spoonfuls of the casserole in and 1 T. or so of pickle juice and stir it with your spoon to make sure it is well incorporated.  Give it a try...if you like it, feel free to add pickle juice to the whole amount of casserole.  If you have picky eaters, you may want to do the pickle juice on a plate by plate basis.  I personally loved it and the Mister thought it helped with the unctuousness of the dish.

Yes, it tastes as fabulous as it looks.  It may not look it but there is a TON of bacon flavor in this dish and the right kinds of fat being in this dish mean that it is a BREEZE to reheat without the dairy in it curdling.  Golly, I wish you all had been here for dinner last night.  It really feels like quite the success story when I think of that half mile long ingredient list that comes with buying this in a boxed form.  It was a "pat myself on the back" kind of evening if ever there was one.

This recipe made enough to feed at least 8 people 1 cup servings; perhaps 10 servings if there are more children than adults at the table.  I knew I would want a lot of leftovers because the Sprout is awful fond of bacon (he eats 4-5 strips every morning...yes, dedicated and in love) and it is also my Mister's choice of breakfast meat if he ends up with any meat on his plate.  With tomato, bacon, cheese, pickle, pasta (bun), and ground hamburger, this truly tastes like a bite of bacon cheeseburger every time your fork hits your mouth!  

P.S. There are a TON of ways to play with this recipe!  You can switch out the beef for organic ground chicken, organic ground bison, or organic ground turkey.  If you switch out the meat, make sure you switch out the stock for the corresponding meat.  If you go bison, you can stick with organic beef stock.  If you want to take this in a Spanish direction, try adding salsa to the sauce.  If you want to take it in an Italian direction, add fresh chopped basil or rosemary to the sauce.  If you want to take it in a German direction (yes, this WILL taste fabulous!) try adding some "wine sauerkrat" to the sauce.  If you go the German route, you can omit the dill pickle juice.  Now...go have some yummy fun in your kitchen!

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