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Your Three-Minute Dinner

Hi all.  A (fairly) recent conversation with my Aunt Verla veered towards talking about food.  With family, that tends to happen — food is love, after all!  While we chatted, Verla needed to set down the phone for a moment to finish prepping her dinner — ramen noodles.  She then told me how much she enjoys jazzing them up with different toppings and additions, taking them from college staple to real-life meal.  The blog was facing a bit of a drought at the time, but her meal spurred me to make a request:  Please guest blog, and tell us all about your ramen noodle creations!  Verla graciously accepted.  So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce the fabulous, funny, and food-loving, Aunt Verla!

Like many people, I was introduced to ramen noodles as part of my college experience. It’s universally thought of as the go-to food for broke college students stretching their budgets, but in my case, the motivation wasn’t financial. I had a prepaid meal plan that allowed me to eat as much as I wanted.

Ramen - Three Different Ways

I had a friend in the dorm, Sheri, who had grown up as the daughter of missionaries in Bangkok. She longed for a taste of home, especially the extremely hot flavors she was used to. This was before we had Sriracha (“rooster sauce”), the widely popular hot sauce that was created in 1983 by a Thai immigrant who couldn’t find anything in the States to appropriately satisfy his craving for that burn. Sheri made ramen noodles with things like sunflower seeds added, loads and loads of Louisiana hot sauce, and something crunchy like crumbled Fritos on top. This awesome combo, great for late-night studying, created my lifelong love of ramenizing.

Almost 30 years after my college graduation, I don’t eat ramen very often. But I do keep it around, and occasionally it’s the right thing to hit the spot. I just have to ignore the fact that even in comparison with refined white pasta, it has almost no nutrients. Its primary ingredients appear to be carbs and chemicals. No mind. I still dress it up, and it still takes just three minutes once the noodles hit that boiling water.

Keep a few of your favorite frozen vegetables around, together with some seeds or nuts. I buy Oriental flavor ramen, which seems to mix well with other flavors, at least in comparison with beef or chicken ramen. I don’t care for their bullion taste. In most cases, I put all ingredients  (except noodles and topping) in the water and bring it to a boil before adding the noodles.  After adding the noodles, don’t forget to cover, turn the burner off, and set your timer for three minutes, lest the noodles get too soft.

Here are some of the combos I like to make these days. For most, I start with the seasoning packet, half a dozen dashes of Louisiana hot sauce (like Crystal), and a good long squirt of Sriracha. I like to use both sauces not for extra heat, but because I like a touch of the vinegary taste that Crystal has.

Base recipe:

2 cups water

1 package Oriental-flavored ramen, including flavor packet

A good long squirt of Sriracha hot chili sauce

6-7 dashes Louisiana-style hot sauce


Ramen with okra and pumpkin seeds

“The Current Favorite”

1-1.5 c. frozen sliced okra

2 T. shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Crumbled tortilla chips for topping

(This has been my favorite lately. Did you know that okra is very high in fiber? I love its flavor too.)

In a small sauce pan, combine 2 cups water and all ingredients except the noodles and topping (so base recipe ingredients plus okra).  Bring to a boil and let boil for 2-5 minutes depending on how soft you want the okra.  Add the noodles, cover, turn off the heat, and let simmer for 3 minutes.  Remove the lid, stir to break up the noodles, and add pepitas.  Transfer to a bowl, sprinkle crushed tortilla chips on top, and enjoy!

Ramen with Spinach, Sausage, and Sunflower Seeds

3S – Spinach, Sunflower, & Sausage

1 c. frozen cut leaf spinach

2 T. shelled sunflower seeds

Crumbled tortilla chips for topping

½ sausage (brat, kielbasa, or smoked sausage), cut into quarter moon slices

Start again with the base recipe.  Instead of okra, add spinach and diced sausage (I used smoked sausage- so delicious).  Follow the recipe from above, adding the noodles once the water reaches a boil, covering, turning off the heat, and letting the noodles simmer for 3 minutes.  (Something else you could add instead of the sausage — some shredded rotisserie chicken — though then you’ll have to call it 2S &1C…)

Italian Style Ramen

The Italian 

1 c. frozen cut leaf spinach

Pinch of dried oregano

6 grape tomatoes, cut in half

3 or 4 fresh basil leaves, torn up

2 T. pine nuts

Italian seasoned croutons for topping

For the last ramen rendition, we’re incorporating Italian flavors.  This time, start with the base recipe and then add the spinach and oregano.  Bring to a boil, and add the noodles, tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves.  Cover and turn off the heat, then let simmer for 3 minutes. Remove lid, stir, and add pine nuts.  Heap the ramen into a bowl, and top with croutons.

Those are a few to get you started. Next time you need a hot supper but don’t have more than a few minutes (or a few minutes’ worth of energy) to make it happen, give one of these a try—or see what’s in the fridge for your own creation. Happy experimenting!

Italian Style Ramen

Bonus note:

Excerpt from News of the Weird item from April 2010

Computer hardware engineer Toshio Yamamoto, 49, this year celebrates 15 years’ work tasting and cataloguing all the Japanese ramen he can get his hands on (including the full ingredients list, texture, flavor, price and “star” rating for each), for the massive 4,300-ramen database on his website, expanded recently with hundreds of video reviews. Yamamoto said he had always eaten ramen for breakfast seven days a week, but cut back recently to five. “I feared that, if I continued at (the seven-day) pace, I would get bored.”


Yum — these were so easy and delicious!  A couple notes from me:

  • Make sure you don’t overcook your okra!  It can become slimy. Unless you like it slimy — to each his (or her) own!
  • Verla says frozen cut leaf spinach for a reason — get that kind!  It’s a lot more difficult to cut off a chunk of frozen spinach that comes in those little rectangle blocks.  How do I know this?  I tried.  Then had to borrow my husband’s muscles.  If you don’t have frozen cut leaf spinach, or don’t feel like picking any up, you can microwave the spinach block and add a scoop, or throw in some fresh stuff.
  • These make really great make-ahead meals.  I put a portion in a Tupperware , threw it in the fridge, and warmed it up for lunch the next day.  The noodles absorb the juice (and flavor) so it’s like a noodle dish rather than soup.  Just bring some extra tortilla chips or croutons to add crunch once it’s heated through. 

Thank you, Aunt Verla!  Come again — any time! 

What are some of YOUR favorite ways to jazz up ramen, or other store-bought foods?

xo Jaime

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Tuna Two Ways: Tuna Salad Sammie

Tuna SaladIn terms of photogenic foods, tuna salad is only slightly more attractive than refried beans. BUT. It terms of comfort foods its up there with the best of the best. The mac and cheeses, the chocolate chip cookies. Especially when its warm and melty.

So for my tuna-two-ways, I give you an open faced tuna salad sammie melt. Yum. Mee.

Open-faced Tuna Salad Sammie Melt
{Inspired by Skinny Taste}

12 oz. canned white tuna in water, drained
1 small green pepper, chopped
1/4 c. red onion, diced
2 tbsp. light mayonnaise
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
4 slices cheese (I used extra sharp cheddar)
4 slices whole wheat bread
Sliced tomoato
Salt and pepper to taste
Pam olive oil spray (or other cooking spray, but the olive oil is my favorite)

1. In a large bowl combine tuna, green pepper, red onion, mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and stir to combine.

2. Spray a large skillet with olive oil spray and heat on medium. Place bread in skillet and cover with a piece of cheese. Allow bread to start to brown and cheese to melt, about 3-4 minutes.

3. While still in the pan, scoop tuna salad over cheese and bread. Turn heat to medium-low (so as not to burn your bread) and allow tuna salad to heat.

4. Top with tomato slices. Enjoy!

Serves: 4

XO – Rae


Tuna Two Ways: Peas, Tuna & Toast

Rae and I got to thinking about food.  Weird, right?  Well, we thought about the fact that we always have lots of one ingredient, but maybe not lots to do with it.  So, we’d like to present a series of posts for one ingredient, two ways.   You’re probably thinking “Wait, isn’t that Dueling Dishes” — well, it kind of is, but it kind of isn’t.  Basically because we’re completely noncompetitive about it.  Oh wait, Rae is not competitive, that’s me.  Whoops! Well, either way, here is our first ingredient: two ways post!

Peas, Tuna & Toast


If you’re like me, you’ve got a stockpile of canned tuna in your pantry.  It’s a healthy, relatively cheap protein and seems to somehow pile up unnoticed until it’s sort of taking over.  Instead of putting together another tuna casserole, I’ve got a quick dinner you can throw together with some of your other pantry staples.  This is something I remember eating as a child so it’s also a comfort food for me (but maybe really weird to everyone else? I have no gauge for this). Plus, it’s something easy to whip up after a long day of work!

Peas, Tuna & Toast
Serves 4

2-7 ounce cans flake tuna, packed in water, drained
1-10.75 ounce can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup  milk (I fill the empty mushroom soup can about 3/4 full)
1-1/2 cup frozen peas
8-10 pieces of bread (I used Roman Meal, but use what you have!)
To taste:
Seasoned salt (I used Lawry’s)
Cayenne pepper
Black pepper

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the drained tuna, cream of mushroom soup, milk (you can use a full can for a saucier consistency, or a half a can for a thicker consistency), peas and seasonings.  If your peas happen to be stuck in clumps of ice like mine ALWAYS seem to be, just put them in a colander and run cold water over them until the ice melts.  Strain them well, patting with a paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible and add them in.  Stir and heat through until hot, about 15 minutes.

Once your tuna mixture has been heated through, lower heat and let it stay warm while you toast your bread.  You can butter it if you like — I usually don’t.

Peas, Tuna & Toast

Stack two to three pieces of toast on a plate and scoop the tuna mixture over the toast.  Add additional salt or pepper to taste and dig in!  This recipe is pretty flexible, so if you LOVE peas, add more.  Like it hot?  Add extra cayenne. If you’re out of bread, go ahead and pour it over egg noodles. You get the idea.  Stay tuned later this week — you probably have MORE tuna in  your pantry, and Rae’s got a great recipe to help you use it up!

What are some “strange” comfort foods from your childhood? Or am  I the only weirdo…?  Please, comment below!