Friday, October 21, 2011

Hamburger Helper & Time Warner: An Annoying Evening All Around

I had it all planned Wednesday night: make a delicious dinner, sit on the couch and watch Game 1 of the World Series in glorious, big-screen HD. But I couldn't. Why not? Well, if you've been reading this blog for a while, you can probably guess the answer: because Time Warner is awful and my cable frequently goes out when there is a big event.

Just like the 2009 NBA Finals, 2010 NBA Finals, the 2010 World Cup, 2011 Super Bowl and the 2011 NBA Finals, my cable went out just an hour or so before the event started. Calls to Time Warner were... well, if you've ever dealt with them, you know exactly how it went. If you haven't, you wouldn't believe me anyway; you'd think I was exaggerating how unhelpful they are. (Take a look at reviews of Time Warner in South Pas if you would like some idea of what I'm talking about.)

I thought about going out somewhere to watch the game but I just wasn't in the mood. It's not like I really care about either team. (And it's not like I didn't spend the first 27 years of my life without HDTV.) So I just sat on the couch and watched the game in non-HD - the grainy images, the dull-looking field, Tim McCarver's inane commentary. (Okay, the last one has nothing to do with the picture quality, but it's still atrocious.) It ruined my mood. All plans to make a nice dinner went out the window.

Elizabeth got home and asked if I had anything I planned for dinner. I suggested we go to the store. She saw that it was the 7th inning of a close game. "Don't you want to watch the rest of this?"

"No," I replied.

So we're walking around Ralph's and at one point she holds up a box of - I kid you not - Hamburger Helper's "Mexican Chili Macaroni."

"Is it wrong that I kind of want this?" she asked.

"It feels like it should be," I said, "but let's try it anyway."

I remember most meals from my childhood, be they dinners around the kitchen table, meals at fancy restaurants in cities around the country, or burgers at Bob's Big Boy with my grandmothers. And I do not remember ever having Hamburger Helper. Not once. And yet here I was in my 30s, standing in an aisle at a grocery store while the World Series was going on, holding a box of "chili macaroni," two words that I'm relatively certain I've never slammed together before. (Like "tasty avocado" or "favorite Yankee.") These are strange times.

Back at home the game had ended but the HD had not returned. Elizabeth asked if I cared if she watched "Revenge" and I said no. I was guessing she probably wasn't talking about the 1990 movie based on the Jim Harrison novel, and I was correct. (I only saw a little of the show; apparently it's about pretty teenagers acting insufferably, often with inexplicably wet hair.) I started making dinner.

This is what the contents of a Hamburger Helper box look like. In case you were curious. The directions go something like this: brown a pound of ground beef and drain the fat, add the above two pouches with 2.75 cups of hot water and bring to a boil, simmer for ten minutes, eat. So that's what I did. I thought about taking a picture of the cooking process, but it wasn't very attractive. (Before the majority of the water evaporates, it actually looks pretty disgusting.)

And this is what a bowl of it looks like. Let me say this up front: it was by no means terrible. (Elizabeth actually said she thought it was "delicious" although I think there is a 98% chance she was so hungry she would have said that about anything.) I have certainly had much worse things, even this month.

But it was surprisingly - nay, stunningly - bland. I suppose with the word "chili" appearing twice on the label I was expecting some heat, or at least some spice. There was none. The country of Mexico may be entitled to some reparations for the use of its name. This had nothing in common with even the worst dishes I have ever eaten at El Cholo or Acapulco, other than being bland in the same lowest-common-denominator manner.

I considered what to do. Should I add some cheese? Maybe if I'd had cheddar. But all we had was Muenster and fresh Mozzarella; I didn't see either of those working here. Sour cream seemed pointless; I enjoy a cooling drop or two when it tempers a spicy chili or some nachos, but it would have been just another bland flavor here. So I did the one thing that I thought could help.

I carpet bombed the bowl with Texas Champagne. It helped. A lot. And I finished my bowl, although again, that may just be because I was so hungry.

I can't really say that my first experience with Hamburger Helper was disappointing; that would imply that I had some kind of expectations that were not met. If anything, it was better than I was expecting. But it certainly wasn't good and it's not something I ever plan to try again.

But who knows? Maybe I'll be all set to watch the Lakers season opener this year in 2012 and Time Warner will once again crap out and I'll be in a bad mood and Elizabeth will want Hamburger Helper again and I'll say okay and we'll have it and I will write about it.


Anonymous said...


Julie said...

Everytime I mistake you for a foodie you post something like this. I am a hit-or-miss, unimaginative cook so I sometimes get "Helpers." Thank you for never ragging on things in such a way that would make anybody feel bad. Like saying, "Only uneducated, lazy, unhealthy people would feed this crap to their family," which is honestly how I feel when I buy it. Love your site!

Fritos and Foie Gras said...

Can i just say that after reading your description, I kind of want to see revenge?

JustinM said...

Anon: I can tell you're not an employee because you're using the word "sir."

Julie: I appreciate you saying that. Lord knows there are plenty of blogs out there that take that route. Hell, one of the most famous food writers/travel-show-hosts has made a nice career out of calling everything "evil" if it's less than ultra-gourmet.

I'm sure some people love Hamburger Helper, I'm sure some people use it because it's cheap, and I'm sure some people use it because they are super-busy and it's better than just getting fast food for their kids. I would feel like an asshole for making fun of any of those things.

Fritos: Feel free to come over next Wednesday and watch. You guys can paint your nails and s**t like that.

Liz said...

I thought this was pretty tasty. I know it's more for kids but maybe that is part of the appeal. And Revenge is a guilty pleasure.