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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Countdown to dinner: Beef dish is simple, hearty and filling

Thursday, January 04, 2001

Tested by Suzanne Martinson

The name is straightforward: The Ground Beef Mixture. But this winning Countdown to Dinner is, to borrow the words of cook par excellence Lou Dell 'Aquila, a real "tummy-warmer."

This is not sophisticated stuff, just a good recipe for a homey meal, which my husband loved. It was submitted by Linda J. Heil (pronounced Hail) of McCandless.

Linda says it was given to her by her mother-in-law, Flora Heil of West View. "She deserves the prize, not me," says Linda, referring to the cookbook that contributors to our weekly column receive.

Linda says the recipe serves her family of four, which includes husband George Heil, a field technician for Dominion Peoples Gas, son Dustin, an eighth-grader at Carson Middle School, and her mother, Rose Martin.

There are leftovers, so she guesses it would serve 6 to 8 people. Her family prefers mashed potatoes, though she says it is also good with rice or noodles.

In order to come in under Countdown's required 30 minutes or less, we bought frozen mashed potatoes, which we microwaved while the meat sauce cooked. Next time, we'll make our potatoes from scratch, thus saving the rather high cost of the convenience food -- and for the option of cutting down on fat. A half-cup of the frozen mashed potatoes had 9 grams of fat, or 14 percent of the day's Daily Value -- and that was before we added the delicious, meaty gravy.

Linda likes to buy the house brand of gravy mix at Shop 'n Save -- "sometimes you can buy it three-for-a-dollar" -- and she has also used McCormick when it goes on special. (We used fat-free Pillsbury brown gravy mix because it cost 53 cents a packet vs. $1.59 for McCormick.)

For us, The Ground Beef Mixture was done in fewer than 20 minutes. If your total meal needs to be finished in under a half-hour, Linda suggests quick rice or instant mashed potatoes. "It takes a half-hour just to peel the potatoes and put them in the pot," she says.

Linda, a service representative for One Call Systems in Ross, says she mashes her potatoes with skim milk and uses margarine in order to reduce her cholesterol. A salad or applesauce rounds out the quick meal.

One improvisation didn't turn out so well. Linda used ground turkey rather than the lower-fat ground beef with the brown gravy mix, but her son didn't like it.

"It didn't have the rich taste," she says. "Stick with the beef."

Hobbies include cooking, gardening and workouts at Bally's, which is part of her husband's health maintenance plan.

The Ground Beef Mixture

1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon oil, or spray bottom of skillet with Pam
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 envelopes (each 5/8 ounce) brown gravy mix
3 cups of water

Brown ground beef and drain off fat.

Saute onion and celery (we substituted a little green and yellow pepper) until transparent and add to ground beef. Add brown gravy mix and gradually add water, one cup at a time. Cook until thick.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes or wide egg noodles.

Do you have an entree, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com. Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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