Rating: 5 / 5
Not wanting to pay for the high prices of freeze dried prepared dinners I checked out the grocery store.
Hamburger Helper struck my eye because it had decent enough calories per serving at a minimum of 140 and 310 per 39 grams after cooking with milk and adding ground beef. Each serving was to make 1 cup of cooked 4 Cheese Lasagna.
It also looked like it would taste better than some of the foods I have tried, it would go great over or with mashed potato, freeze dried corn or vegetables, and dehydrated ground beef or jerky. So it looked good tastewise and meal versatility wise.
My criteria was high calories for cold weather per ounce, low fuel consumption, low weight, taste to relieve any boredom or blahs about food, and low cost. I got the standard box, weighing 6.8 oz. net for 5 servings for $1.99 on sale.
Thus, each serving cost about $.40. It was cheap.
Each serving would weigh about 1.4 oz. average dry pack weight. So it met the weight criteria.
Cooked with powdered milk or with olive or other oil added in it could produce up to 310 calories for very little extra weight. As packaged it would produce around 140, if I read the box right. (So when I cooked it I added olive oil since I was not using powdered milk, on the trail I would use whole powdered milk and peanuts, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, chopped up brazil nuts, cahsews (all around 170 calories for 1 ounce), or dried beef and dehydrated ground beef to reach the higher caloric output per serving.) It met the caloric output test.
In the box was a 3 oz. cheese sauce and seasoning mix. And, a bag of flat "lasagna" noodles, 4 oz.
I was going to use it with water and no dried milk or beef to get started testing. Therefore the nutritional information would not be correct for the finished dinner:
The package says each serving would weigh 39 g. or roughly 1.33 - 1.5 oz. oz in a sandwhich bag when divided into 5 dinner packets (7 divided by 5, if the noodles weigh 4 oz. and the cheese sauce 3 oz.). With 1/5 of the dried cheese sauce, .6 oz and each noodle serving weighing .8 oz (and I added another .7 oz. of regular wide egg noodles in order to bulk up the dinner) the serving would provide minimum 140 calories for 2.1 ounces, so it definitely will need to have whole dried milk and nuts or meat to raise the caloric value per ounce. (Since this is just experimental so far I am going to have to think that one out more.)
The main problem or issue in this test run was: Could I rehydrate the noodles in plain, cold water without them getting soft, sticky and forming a noodle golf ball. I wanted to see if I could rehydrate nooles in cold water and then cook them, w/o the simmer times specified in the normal directions. The goal was to conserve fuel.
Normal directions called for heatinng, boiling, and then simmering the product for up to 20 minutes of total cooking time if you figure 5 minutes or so to bring to a boil and 13 or more minutes simmering.
I divided up the noodles and dried cheese sauce. I put noodles in a baggy, the dried cheese sauce in its own baggy inside the noodle baggy for storage and made 5 packages:
I took one package and put the noodles in a Snow Peak Ti drinking cup, w/ handles. I figured if the normal recipe called for 2 1/3 cups of water + 3/4 cups of milk (about 3 cups of fluid)and a pound of hamburger then I would use plain water equal to approx. .6 cups for one serving (5 x .6 = 3 cups). I put the water over the noodles and let them set for 6 - 7 minutes without cooking.
The noodles softened up and did not stick together, or stick together badly, because I stirred them up right after putting them in and every couple of minutes. They softened up some.
Then I put the cup on my Snow Peak canister stove on a simmer setting and started heating them.
As they were getting warm I stirred in the dried cheese sauce mix, before they boiled.
They boiled in around 3 minutes at a very low setting, thus using little fuel.
I simmered the noodles and sauce for about 2 - 3 more minutes, on the lowest setting possible on the Snow Peak. The sauce thickened the noodles softened up.
I turned off the stove and put a Campmor insulated mug lid over the Ti cup to hold in heat and wrapped it in a camp towel. It 'simmered' without stove heat for about 5 - 8 minutes and stayed pretty hot inside the cup.
The noodles did not stick together because I stirred this mix several times from the point of putting water over the noodles, to heating it, to adding the cheese mix, to bringing it to a boil, to simmering it on the stove, and when simmering it in the Ti cup with lid.
The total time to prepare was about: 6 minutes to soak, 1 minute to get the stove and gear ready to heat, 3 minutes or maybe a bit less to bring to a boil, simmered on stove for 3 minutes, simmered in Ti cup with lid about 5 minutes = 18 minutes, with only approx. 6 minutes on a very low or lowest Snow Peak fuel setting (I am pretty certain this would have worked if I had stopped at 3 - 4 minutes; turning the stove off immediately after it came to a good boil).
So there it was, a 4 cheese lasagna 1/2 - 1 cup dinner course for $.40 (plus whatever .7 oz of generic wide egg noodles cost).
Tasted it and it was good enough to eat at home, although it would pass with flying colors as a gourmet treat out in the back country. Big surprise -- the thick sauce retains heat and I burned myself at first. (It would have easily rehydrated and heated a 1/4 - 1/2 cup finished volume of home dehydrated ground beef, softened and heated up some extra dry jerky that had previously been soaked to initially soften it before adding it to the 4 cheese lasagna.)
I poured it out on a plate fashioned from the lid of an MSR Titan Kettle and aluminum foil. Leaving about 1/4 of the total prepared food volume in the cup or having already been eaten. So it produced a good sized portion of main course type food. I added a corn muffin (1 oz.), out of the paper wrapper they are cooked in, which fits in the sandwhich baggy with the noodles and dried cheese sauce mix for packing.
So the entire weight of the 4 cheese lasagna and the muffin is approximately: 1.5 oz. noodles, .6 oz. dried cheese sauce, 1.0 oz. generic corn muffin = 3.1 oz.
Cost at about $.45 -.50 for a meal with a muffin.
It gets a 5 until I really rethink the caloric output value, but for now it tasted good enough that I know it will be great at a campsite -- especially when it can replace a $6.00 or more Mountain House freeze dried meal, or do so at least once in awhile.
Conclusion: it worked and I could eat 1 muffin, 1 serving of 4 cheese lasagna Hamburger Helper, especially when beefed up with dehydrated ground beef, jerky, etc. and a .5 oz freeze dried corn side (makes about a cup of corn), finish the meal off with a candy bar, pringles, or any other high calorie fatty junk food and be full and happy out on the trail.
Plus, no food blahs since there are about 20 different flavors of Hamburger Helper.
Low fuel consumtion to prepare when the noodles are soaked first, filling meal, hot and retains heat for cold weather camping, will rehydrate other foods while it is cooking, has good caloric outputs (especially when supplemented with powdered milk and dehydrated beef or other nut products).
Takes little water as well so conserves water.
Only about $.40 - .60 for a basic dinner with 1 oz, corn muffin, and about $2,50 - 3.00 if you add a serving of Mountain House freeze dried corn, or peas, or green beans. (Bulk freeze dried corn would get the cost way down from that.)
Based on the USDA website, sesame seeds roasted add approx. 110 calories, with fats, for 19 grams, or approx. 160 calories per ounce.
So the sesame seeds boost the caloric value of one serving of Hamburger Helper at 1.4 oz. (w/o the extra noodles) + 1 oz. sesame seeds to 300 calories for 2.4 ounces of pack weight (w/o adding the dry whole milk, jerky, nuts or oil) -- and IMO the sesame seeds will cook easily and rehydrate and turn gushy in the sauce, even making it tastier and creamier IMO.
That means if I am really hungry and want to boost caloric outputs and decide to eat two servings then the meal will be approx. 5 oz. and equal 1 - 1.5 cup of solid food, providing 600 calories. Then a candy bar or nuts in a 1.75 oz. serving at about 160 - 310 calories gives me a range of approx. 750 - 1000 calories for 6.75 oz. if my calculations are correct. Or, approx. 100+ to 150+ calories per oz. of pack weight for main staple, hot, tasty, food for dinner or luch and a desert treat.
Ultimately, this means I can get my three meals cheap for a weight of under 21 oz. Plus snacks at 1.75 oz. (peanuts at 310 calories per package, 210 of those from fat, costing $ .99 for two packages) between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner I can achieve a 24 oz. daily food budget with calories for cold: approx. 3000 per day.
The cost for the meals per day being under $4.50 per day based on: the meal being about $ .60 per meal(using bulk sesame seeds from the local miller, and cheap packaged corn muffin mix or equivalent for breakfast and luch bulk of blueberry or cranberry muffins), snacks at $ 1.00, and desert or other item with each meal, like 1 Reeses large peanut butter cup or 1 more package of peanuts at approx. $.50 each meal, $1.50 per day = approx. $4.30 per day for shorter hikes.
These calculations have not been gone over to check for accuracy or certainty but I hope they are good enough for now. I ate so much lasagna testing this out that I gotta go lay down and read some articles, like unsupported hikes and food calculations.
PS: I can't wait to figure out how to add in the bean sprout salad idea Laurie posted about or other recipes from Sarah and Laurie, and others. Saving money on the daily food budget will help my partner get over the shock when she sees the cost of the gear she is getting for Xmas. bd