Cheesy Beef and Shells

Does anyone remember the old commercials for Hamburger Helper with the Helping Hand? I’m still not sure if I find that it was cute or creepy…. the wavy hand that is, not the dinner. Mom made hamburger helper every once in a while, but she mainly made up her own pasta meals. I’ve made them a few times for hubby and me, they are pretty good, but I kind of find them lacking a little. So I came up with my own version of sorts. It’s pasta shells nestled in a cheesy, beef sauce that tastes like it had been simmering on the stove for hours. It’s simple to make, especially if you use my Shortcut Meat Sauce and there is no cooking the shells ahead of time….it cooks as it simmers in the sauce.

Here’s what you need:

*4 C. meat sauce; I used my Shortcut Meat Sauce

*a splash of Worcestershire sauce

*1/2 C. beef broth

*2 C. dried medium pasta shells

*1 1/2 C. shredded cheese; divided

*1/2 C. milk or heavy cream

Heat a large pan to medium high heat and add the meat sauce, stirring occasionally until the sauce starts to gently bubble.

Turn the heat to medium and stir in the Worcestershire sauce.

Next, add in the shells and the beef broth.

Stir until all of the shells are covered in the sauce.

Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the shells are tender; stir occasionally.

Take off of the heat and stir in the milk and 1 cup of the cheese. Top with the remaining 1/2 Cup of cheese right before serving.

Shortcut Meat Sauce

I’m a big fan of making my own homemade meat sauce, but there are times when I want to put a dish together quickly or I’m just too tired to do all of the work it takes to make a great sauce. This is my go to shortcut sauce. I have used it in many dishes that require a meat sauce. With some added love and ingredients, no one will know it came from a jar…… just make sure you get rid of the evidence before anyone enters the kitchen. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.

Here’s what you need:

*1 LB ground beef

*2 jars or your favorite spaghetti sauce

*1 Tbs olive oil

*1 small onion, diced

*2 cloves of garlic, minced

*2 tsp. onion powder, or more to taste

*2 tsp. garlic powder, or more to taste

*2 tsp. dried oregano, or more to taste

*2 tsp. dried basil, or more to taste

*2 tsp. sweet paprika, or more to taste

*1 bay leaf

*1 tsp. chili powder, or more to taste; yes you read right, chili powder in a small amount doesn’t really add the heat, but it adds another depth of flavor.

*salt, to taste

Heat a large sauce pan to medium high heat. When the pan becomes hot add olive oil and onion and cook about 2 minutes stirring frequently. Add in the garlic and saute until onions are softened, but do not let the garlic burn. Add the ground beef, and break into large pieces while mixing it with the onion and the garlic; let it brown for several minutes. As the beef continues to brown, break it up into even smaller pieces. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, but not too often so all of the meat can brown; drain if needed and add back to the pan. Turn the heat down to medium and add in the spices except for the bay leaf, cook for about 1 minute, stirring to mix spices into the beef. Carefully add both jars of sauce; stir to mix well and add in the bay leaf. Cover and simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf. Use right away or refrigerate for 3 to 4 days. This also freezes nicely in an airtight container or zip top bag for 4 to 6 months.

Enjoy!