"Hamburger" Noodle Bake

I don’t remember often hankering for any particular meals when I was a kid. I ate just about everything and I think I was relatively happy regardless of what my mother served on any given night, although I wasn’t very happy when she insisted on making breakfast (eggs or pancakes) for dinner. Really, the food I remember most fondly from my childhood is the salads my mom and I made just about every night in the summers, with vegetables grown in our own garden. Other than the occasional brownies or cake from a mix, picking the veggies for the nightly salad was about the only “cooking” I did as a kid. And my mom even made her own croutons, can you believe that?!

Anyway, apart from salads, although I remember particularly liking special-occasion meals like baked ham and roast beef, I don’t remember ever requesting my mother make any particular meals…except once, when I remember asking for “that noodle stuff with the meat and cheese” for my birthday dinner. When I went through her recipes this weekend, I discovered it is called Hamburger Noodle Bake and it was my great-aunt’s recipe, and although Mom didn’t make it all that often, I guess it made a big impression on me because I’ve never forgotten it (unlike the alleged pork chops). As more and more years have passed since I became vegetarian (more than 20 now), I’ve forgotten what the dish really tasted like, but I have never forgotten liking it. At long last, the memory is restored!

The original:

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 T. shortening
1 1/2 lb hamburger
1 med. onion
1 tsp salt
3 8-oz cans tomato sauce
1 8-oz package noodles
1 tsp sugar
1 3-oz package cream cheese
1 cup sour cream

Melt fat in skillet. Put in hamburger and brown. Add onion, salt, pepper, sugar, and tomato sauce and cover; cook 15-20 minutes. Cook noodles according to pkg. Combine cream cheese and sour cream together and add in layers starting with noodles, cream cheese mix, and meat Cover with cheddar cheese. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Now mine:

“Hamburger” Noodle Bake

1 medium onion, diced
1 12-oz package vegan “ground beef”
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (optional, as it wasn’t in the original)
1 tsp salt
freshly-ground pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia (optional; I won’t use next time)
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
8 oz noodles (the rombi shape I used was perfect)
3 oz vegan “cream cheese” (I measured for those of you who don’t have a kitchen scale: it’s about 1/3 cup)
1 cup vegan “sour cream”
1/2 cup grated vegan “cheddar cheese” (I can really only recommend Cheezly, but I realize with grocery bills being what they are right now, most of you outside of the UK are going to think I’m crazy.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Weigh noodles. I usually never scale pasta and just guess at serving sizes, and I always vastly over-estimate. So tonight I scaled it!

Cook the pasta al dente and drain. Meanwhile, bring a large skillet up to medium heat and then add a bit of oil. When oil is warm, add the onions and saute until translucent.

Add the “ground beef” and cook for 5 minutes.

Next I added garlic because I found it inconceivable it wasn’t called for, but that’s just me.

Add the tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and sugar or stevia if using and stir to mix.

Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the cream cheese and sour cream in a small bowl.

Grate the “cheddar cheese”.

Place the noodles into a casserole dish. I sprayed it lightly with olive oil so they wouldn’t stick.

Cover noodles with the cream cheese/sour cream mixture …

… then top with the “meat” and sauce mixture.

Top with the “cheddar cheese”.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Serve with a tossed salad (I do wish for those halcyon days of having a garden that grew an entire salad!) or plenty of veggies.

I made a super-easy zucchini dish by sauteing a sliced zucchini with a few onion slices, then tossing with Hawaiian red salt and freshly-ground pepper. I also steamed some broccoli because I figured Mark wouldn’t touch the zucchini, however, he not only helped himself to some, he stole a slice or two off my plate while we were eating! This is highly unusual; I think it was the salt. Must remember to put red salt on things I want Mark to eat…

Mark, who is on a big health kick, has a habit of asking me if everything I make is “bad for you”. As a general rule, very few things I make are actually downright bad for you, and he actually asks this question of things like steamed broccoli, so the answer he generally gets is, “Are you insane?” His question was a bit more relevant than usual in regards to this meal, because it was made with several processed and convenience foods, which I generally like to avoid or use sparingly. So I told him it wasn’t as great for him as most meals I make, although probably better than the original. However, I wanted to know what this meal from my memory banks really tasted like, and making it with Tofutti products and commercial vegan “ground beef” was the closest I was going to get to that – and it worked: it tasted right. But as I was pulling it together, my mind was already churning with ways to healthify it – or in other words, in typical Renae fashion, make it much more difficult than it needs to be – and sophistify it. I’m thinking bulgur instead of “beef”, cashew and/or tofu cream for the “cheese”, and whole wheat noodles. And I felt the tomato sauce was just calling for wine. It is my plan, therefore, to repeat this meal, using whole foods. I think it will be a fun experiment.

This meal also reminded me of one I was served more frequently as a child: Hamburger Helper.

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"Cheese"-Topped Green Beans

This is one of the recipes I got from my mother’s recipe box that I don’t remember her ever making. It was in my aunt’s handwriting, so I suspect my aunt made it for us at one time and we liked it, so she gave my mom the recipe. But speculation is all I have on this one. I won’t bother typing out the original because really the only substitution I made was vegan Parmesan for the real thing.

“Cheese”-Topped Green Beans

1 lb fresh green beans
1/4 cup dry onion soup mix
1 cup water
1 Tbsp vegan margarine (original recipe called for 3 Tbsp; I found 1 Tbsp to be plenty)
1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds
3 Tbsp grated vegan Parmesan (I used Bryanna’s okara parmesan)
1/2 tsp paprika

Trim the green beans.

Place the green beans, water, and soup mix in a medium sized pot. Because all I could find at Whole Foods was French onion dip mix and not onion soup mix, I also included a teaspoon of “beef” bouillon.

Cover and cook over medium low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until green beans are tender.

Meanwhile, toast the almond slivers over medium heat. This should take about 3 to 5 minutes.

When the green beans are ready, drain.

Place green beans in a serving dish (I just returned them to the pot since it was just me and Mark), then toss with the margarine, almonds, and “Parmesan”. Top with paprika.

The green beans weren’t actually in focus in any of the pictures I took of the plated meal last night, so I don’t have a presentation photo for you. Mark really liked these; he ate two rather large servings. I tasted a green bean before adding the “cheese” and actually liked it better than I did after adding the “cheese”, but after a few bites, it grew on me.

By the way, Mark reports that last night’s baked ham was really good on a sandwich today, in fact, he had a sandwich for breakfast and then requested one for dinner. I had already started on veganizing another old recipe for dinner, however, so stay tuned tomorrow for another episode of My Family Recipes!

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Grandmother's Bean and (Non-)Bacon Chowder

It’s another Pig-approved post!

When my mother saw my Smoked Seitan Butt post and noticed it included vegetarian bacon bits, she thought I might like to try veganizing the following recipe of my grandmother’s:

Bean and Bacon Chowder

1 lb. pea beans (washed)
16 slices bacon (1 lb.)
2 cups chopped onions
2 (28 oz.) cans tomatoes
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. basil
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
4 beef bullion cubes, dissolved in 4 cups boiling water
2 T. sugar

Simmer beans in 4 cups water for 3-4 minutes in Dutch oven. Cool 1 hour. Drain water. Fry bacon until crisp; crumble and add to beans. Save bacon drippings. Saute onions in drippings until golden. Add to beans with tomatoes, salt, pepper, basil, tomato paste, bullion and water, and sugar. Cover and simmer 4-5 hours or until beans are cooked. Makes 4 quarts.

So that’s exactly what I did yesterday! Here’s my version; I’ve also halved her amounts:

Bean and Non-Bacon Chowder

8 oz navy beans
1 small or 1/2 large onion, chopped
1 cup diced UnPork
1 28 oz or two 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes (fire roasted is good here)
2 tsp vegan “beef” bouillon
1/4 cup vegan bacon bits
1 Tbsp sugar or 9 drops stevia
1/2 tsp basil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups water

Soak the beans overnight. (Or you can quick-soak them as described by my grandmother above.) Dice the UnPork.

In a Dutch oven (preferably cast iron), heat some olive oil. Add the onions and UnPork …

… and cook until onions are beginning to caramelize and UnPork is crispy, deglazing the pan with white wine (or broth or water) as necessary.

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and bring to a simmer, then add the bouillon and stir to combine.

Add the rest of the ingredients, …

… cover, and simmer for 4 to 5 hours or until beans are done.

If I had realized that this was going to take 4 to 5 hours even after soaking the beans for what turned out to be 24 hours, I would have made it in the pressure cooker, which I suspect would have taken 45 minutes. I was thinking it would take 2 hours. We probably could have eaten it after 2 hours, but I wanted the beans to be softer, so I kept staving off hunger with a slice of beer bread and waiting another hour…until it was midnight. I also had to add water to thin it back out a couple of times. Next time it is definitely the pressure cooker!

I can’t say that I remember eating this at my grandmother’s, but the aroma was very familiar, so I guess I remember smelling it.

Serve with a loaf of crusty (and preferably beer-filled!) bread and salad.

Something about this chowder made Mark want to pose like a senior portrait. Mark is a unique individual.

This is unrelated to food (although he did write an article for Gourmet magazine), but David Foster Wallace is dead. This is especially shocking to me because I am actually currently reading Infinite Jest. RIP, David.

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