October 15, 2012

Comfort Foods Revamped

The other day I was at a friend's house and she was eating Hamburger Helper. You know, that cheesy, meaty dinner mix that--like I learned about Kraft Dinner--is a good idea in theory, but is not so good for you.

I don't even want to know the list of preservatives, and not to mention the sodium, inside a box of Hamburger Helper; however, there was something about the smell that made me crave a big bowl of cheesy pasta. I like to think my cooking repertoire has expanded since my days of boxed, canned and frozen meals. I try to use fresh ingredients as much as I can, but I had a craving for comfort food and wanted to create my own version of the classic.

There's something about the weather getting slightly colder and drearier that makes me want to dive into a plate of carbs with a hot cup of tea or hot chocolate and maybe a slice of something decadent for dessert. Am I right? This version of "Hamburger Helper" is made with whole wheat pasta, homemade tomato sauce and even some kale thrown in there for good measure. 

"Hamburger Helper" (Low-fat, dairy-free alternative to the boxed mix)

2 cups whole wheat macaroni
200 g lean ground beef or turkey (about 1/2 cup)
Tomato sauce:1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
1 can of tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 bunch kale, stems removed (about 1 cup)
White sauce:1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup milk (soy/almond milk for dairy-free)
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp nutritional yeast (substitute grated cheese for a dairy sauce)


1. Brown the ground beef until cooked through and drain any excess oil or fat from the pan.

2. For the tomato sauce, add the onions and garlic to a saucepan and saute for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and any additional water depending on how thick you want the sauce. Let simmer for about 30 minutes until the sauce thickens and add the kale.

3. Cook the pasta and drain. In a separate saucepan, make the white sauce: add a tbsp of olive oil, then the flour and let cook for a few minutes. Add the milk and whisk repeatedly for a few minutes until thickened. Add the nutritional yeast and season with salt and pepper.

Depending on how tomato-like or more creamy you want the sauce, add about a half of the tomato sauce portion to the white sauce. Freeze the rest of the tomato sauce for another meal (I always have some in the freezer for a quick pasta meal). Add the pasta and ground beef to the sauce mixture.

And then there's dessert. As soon as I come home the kettle is on and I am warming myself up with some tea and thinking about a snack, or dessert.

I recently tried the new lemon flavoured Activia yoghurt and thought it tasted exactly like lemon meringue pie. I also tried the President's Choice 0% Greek Yoghurt with lemon fruit on the bottom and enjoyed that it had an actual lemon swirl in the yoghurt, unlike the Activia version.

So I got to thinking that all the lemon yoghurt needed was a crust and it would taste exactly like pie without all of the calories of pie. It's not an exact replica, but it's a healthier lemon treat that can be frozen and eaten cold or consumed straight away.

"Lemon Meringue Pies" with Lemon Yoghurt (makes 6 mini pies)
Ingredients: Crust (Gluten-free)

1 cup almonds (or almond flour)
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp melted butter or margarine
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg and salt
Filling1 cup low-fat milk (can be soy or almond milk)
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice (can also add grated peel of 1 lemon for more lemon flavour)
1/2 cup low-fat lemon yoghurt


1. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they reach a flour-like consistency.
2. In a large bowl, slightly melt the butter then add the remaining crust ingredients. Press the mixture firmly into a muffin pan.
3. Bake for 15 minutes at 350F.

4. For the filling: In a medium saucepan, combine milk, cornstarch and sugar over heat. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and lemon yoghurt. Pour into the shells when they have cooled. Set the pies in the fridge for about 3 hours. Sprinkle candied ginger, lemon peel or brown sugar on top for decoration.

So there you have it: a comfort-food inspired pasta dish and dessert without all of the guilt of their original versions. Now all you need to do is turn on the kettle, cuddle up under a blanket and find a good book, T.V show or someone to snuggle with and you're all set for winter.

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