My Journey from Hamburger Helper to Homemade

Image Source: Jane Maynard

I was still in college when I got married and moved into a basement apartment in Boston with my husband. We had little to no money and pretty much no clue how to cook. I grew up with a mom who prepared our meals every day, and while she taught me the basics, the only thing I could confidently make when I left for college was brownies. When I think back to those early days in that tiny basement kitchen it makes me laugh. Seriously, some of the food we ate was just plain scary! I love looking back over the last 15 years to see how my cooking has evolved. I’ve gone through three distinct phases to get me where I am today — homemade.

Phase One: Hamburger Helper

When we got married, friends from my husband’s hometown threw us a food shower. We were given all kinds of recipes and groceries to help us get started in our new life. A lot of the food we received was inexpensive, easy to prepare packaged dinners — think canned soups, Hamburger Helper, and Knorr pasta sides as main dishes. Given our lack of experience in the kitchen and busy life going to school full time while also working, those prepared foods were perfect.

Phase Two: Sandra Lee Style, i.e. “Semi-Homemade”

As years passed I started to cook from scratch more and more, but we often had “fake” homemade food for dinner. There were a few years there where our meal plan was filled almost exclusively with Trader Joe’s sort-of homemade food. I couldn’t live without their simmer sauces and the frozen orange chicken!

When we began to have kids, I started working from home, which meant I had more time to experiment with food. With each passing year the level of cooking from scratch has increased and, at this point in our life, prepared foods rarely make it home from the grocery store. Which leads us to our current phase!

Phase Three: Simply Homemade 

Nowadays I love cooking from scratch. The food tastes better. It costs less. It’s better for the environment. And it’s healthier for our family, since I know exactly what foods are going into our bodies.

This is not to say everything in our house is homemade. In fact, we still eat store-bought cereal every morning. But I’m always aspiring to improve and seek out inspiration from friends. One of my most prolific friends is Aimée Wimbush-Bourque from the food blog Simple Bites. She grew up on a homestead and is a professionally-trained chef, so she pretty much is the queen of all things homemade.

In fact, one of my favorite recipes — Maple Walnut Granola — comes from her new cookbook Brown Eggs and Jam Jars. That’s right, homemade cereal, baby! This granola turned out to be really easy to make and beyond delicious. In addition to eating it simply with milk for breakfast, we also used the granola in one of our favorite muffin recipes.


Image Source: Jane Maynard

Maple Walnut Granola

recipe from Brown Eggs and Jam Jars

Makes: 6 cups

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

2/3 cup applesauce
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup walnut pieces (Jane note: I chopped the walnuts)
1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup organic maple flakes (optional)

1. Position oven racks in middle and top third of oven and preheat oven to 300 F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, stir together applesauce, maple syrup, oil, salt, and cinnamon. Add oats, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and maple flakes, if using. Stir well to combine everything, taking care that the oats are fully coated.
3. Divide the oat mixture between the baking sheets and spread to an even layer. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown, rotating the baking sheets and giving the granola a stir halfway through the baking time.
4. Turn off oven. Dry granola for 15 minutes in the oven with the door slightly ajar, then cool completely on the counter.

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