In Praise of American Cheese

Welcome back to Five Weeknight Dishes. For some recipes, American cheese is a gift from the gods. Take macaroni and cheese, for one; queso, for another. And it’s the key to from-scratch Hamburger Helper, which I stirred together at the last minute on a blustery evening this week. (I knew my kids would like it as soon as I read Priya Krishna’s tip that it was invented by the culinary director of Shake Shack.)

American cheese is labeled “processed” because it’s made from Cheddar (or a similar cheese). It’s been treated to make it smooth and melty, but it can have exactly the same ingredients as “real” cheese, especially if it’s organic. (The stuff labeled “cheese food” can have a lot more additives.) All that’s to say, if processed cheese gives you pause, just read the packaging and go with the shortest ingredients list.

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But one can’t live on cheesy Hamburger Helper alone, so here are five dishes for the week:

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Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

1. Homemade Hamburger Helper

This is not a recipe where you have to be a stickler about measurements or ingredients: Everything blends together into a fabulous oozy mess. And it calls for bacon and ground beef, but the turkey bacon and ground chicken that happened to be in my fridge worked just as well. (This takes a little longer than most of our weeknight recipes, but most of it is just simmering time, which you can use to cut up some vegetables to balance out all that cheese.)

2. Lemony Shrimp and Bean Stew

The crispness of fresh shrimp and the creaminess of white beans are almost weirdly wonderful in combination. Separately, I would steam a head or two of broccoli florets to dip in the buttery, lemony sauce.

View this recipe.

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3. Mushroom-Parmesan Tart

Obviously, on a weeknight you’re not going to make your own pie crust. But with thyme, Parmesan, onions and a little cream in the filling, using store-bought isn’t going to stand in the way of a delicious result.

4. One-Pot Turmeric Coconut Rice With Greens

A can of coconut milk can be a transformative ingredient, especially in a vegan kitchen. The richness it brings to a pot of spiced rice and greens nudges this dish into main-course territory. Roast some butternut squash cubes or pair it with a tomato salad, for contrast.

View this recipe.

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