Beefing up Quick Meals

Ground beef is one of the most versatile meats for quick meals that can satisfy almost any family member.

A kid’s favorite is the sloppy Joe, ground beef sauteed with onions, and green peppers, then mixed with ketchup, chili sauce or better yet, canned tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes. Jazz this up with spices like chili powder and hot pepper sauce, if you like, and serve on a hamburger bun.

Of course, there is the hamburger too, though people are a bit wary of medium-rare or rare hamburgers these days because of concerns about e-coli. However, this threat can be reduced by having a butcher grind the meat to order or grinding your own boneless chuck or sirloin in a scrupulously clean food processor or meat grinder.

Chili seems to have as many variations as the number of people who cook it. For example, there are a variety of beans that can be combined with the ground beef such as red kidney, pinto, even black beans or black-eyed peas. Corn can be a nice addition too. Tomato products can vary from diced tomatoes to tomato sauce to stewed tomatoes. Seasonings can include chili powder, cumin, ground dried or fresh chili peppers, garlic, oregano, thyme, cilantro, Worcestershire sauce, and one of a slew of hot pepper sauces. (Tacos and burritos are also candidates for ground beef and they can use many of the seasonings used in chili.)

Another way to use ground beef creatively is to think of dishes made with other types of beef and substitute with ground beef. For example, ground beef can be used instead of strips of round steak or sirloin tip for that 1950s classic, beef Stroganoff. Or in a quick Hungarian goulash in place of cubes of beef chuck.

If you’re concerned about fat in your diet (and who isn’t?), don’t buy meat simply labeled “ground beef.” It may contain up to 30 percent fat. Better choices (though more expensive) are ground chuck (about 20 to 25 percent fat), ground sirloin (about 15 to 20 percent fat) and ground round (15 percent or less fat).

In most meat sauces or ragus for pasta, ground pork or pork sausage meat is added to the beef to give the sauce sweetness. Sauce variations can include a half cup of red wine, cooked for a minute before the tomatoes are added, and fresh basil.

Pasta with Meat Sauce

  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/4 pound Italian sausage meat or ground pork
  • One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon good quality dried oregano
  • Hot pepper flakes to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound dried capellini or any fresh unstuffed pasta
  • 4 large sprigs parsley, preferably Italian flat-leaf variety
  • Grated Parmesan cheese at the table

1)Run the hot-water tap and put 2 quarts hot tap water in each of 2 pots (one large enough to eventually hold all the water and pasta). Cover and bring both pots to a boil over high heat, 8 to 10 minutes. (See Note)

2)Meanwhile, put a 12-inch sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Peel the garlic. Peel and quarter the onion. Put the garlic and onion in a food processor. Pulse just until chopped. (Or chop by hand.) Put the oil in the sauté pan.  Add the garlic and onions and increase the heat to high. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.

3)Add the beef and pork and cook just until the meat loses its color, about 2 1/2 minutes. Break up any clumps of meat with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes, oregano, and hot pepper flakes, if desired. (Hot pepper flakes may also be added by each person at the table.) Rinse out the can of tomatoes with 1/2 cup water and add to the pan. Stir well, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce to a brisk simmer, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

4)When the pasta water boils, pour the water from the smaller pot into the larger pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Stir well, cover, and return to a boil. Stir well again, partially cover, and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, stirring a few more times, or until the pasta is done to your taste.

5)While the pasta cooks, chop the parsley leaves and add to the tomato sauce. When the pasta is cooked, drain and top with the meat sauce. Pass the grated Parmesan at the table.

Serves 4

Per serving: 851 calories, 43 grams protein, 98 grams carbohydrate, 31 grams fat, 10.7 grams saturated fat, 99 mg cholesterol, 424 mg sodium.

Note: In my  two “Cooking to Beat the Clock” books, I used hot tap water to speed up the cooking of rice, pasta, and vegetables. Some readers were concerned because they believed that hot tap water might contain harmful substances. While  there is no reliable test to determine if your hot tap water is appropriate for cooking, newer or remodeled houses, where copper or plastic have replaced lead pipes and fiberglass-lined hot water heaters have replaced unlined heaters, are less likely to pose a hazard. (Flushing out the pipes by letting the water run won’t mitigate a problem if it exists.)  If you have concerns about using hot tap water for cooking, use cold water, which will increase cooking times by a few minutes or more.

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