Kitchn Love Letters

This Creamy Beef and Shells Recipe Gives Me All the Hamburger Helper Feels

published Oct 6, 2020
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Credit: Christine Han; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

My dad, who grew up in the post-Depression era, is the first person who taught me how to cook. He loved to experiment in the kitchen, often making us a meal called “accident” (which he came up with by — you guessed it — accident), and whenever he cooked he’d pull out the granulated garlic and onion powders, which he told me were essential ingredients. His house was known for having a home-cooked dinner on most nights, but on Friday nights — the night of my dad’s bowling league — we had to fend for ourselves.

Although I used to go with my dad to the bowling alley when I was little, once I hit my teenage years I preferred to stay home and talk to my friends on the phone and watch TV. It was on those nights that we turned to Hamburger Helper — and I loved it. It was one of the first dinners I made on my own in his house, and it was so easy and everyone was always satisfied.

As I got older, I found out I was mildly allergic to one of the ingredients in the box, so I abstained from eating it. I missed it and craved it regularly, but this was long before I became a recipe developer, and I didn’t have a clue on how to recreate it at home for myself. Flash forward to 2020 at the beginning of quarantine, and my whole family was craving extreme comfort. I thought to myself “I should write a recipe for Cheeseburger Macaroni,” and checked Kitchn to see if it had been done. Turns out, my awesome colleague and badass mama Meghan already beat me to it. And let me tell you, she nailed it.

Meghan’s recipe hits all those comforting Hamburger Helper feels, and is just as easy to make. All you do is brown the beef; add aromatics, seasonings, broth, and pasta; let it all simmer until the pasta is cooked; and then add in lots of cheese and heavy cream. The cheese and cream make it so comforting, and the starchy pasta broth gives it a luxurious feel. In three easy steps and less than an hour on the clock, you’re in Nostalgia City. The kids are happy, I’m happy, and if there are leftovers, they are perfect for virtual school lunch. I hope you add it into your own family’s weekly rotation.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.