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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

Variations:

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.”

–Verla

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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Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

Spicy Sweet Potato SoupEarlier this week I posted a recipe for Cinnamon Honeyed Pears to help fend off the mid-winter blues. If you are craving savory rather than sweet, this spicy sweet potato soup will do the trick!

It can be served with bread and salad for a light meal or, if you are in the mood for something more substantial, served over rice or quinoa.

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup
{Adapted from Allrecipes.com}
Serves 4

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 (2 inch) piece fresh ginger root, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 (15 ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
3 cups vegetable broth
3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Pierce sweet potatoes a few times with a fork and place in baking dish. Bake until tender enough to easily pierce with a fork, about 45 minutes turning once. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

2. While potatoes are cooling, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and ginger; cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the curry paste and heat for 1 minute. Whisk in the coconut milk and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes.

3. Remove the skins from the sweet potatoes and cut into chunks. Add to the soup and cook for 5 -10 more minutes.

4. Pour half of soup mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Repeat with second half and return all to cooking pot. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt.

5. Drizzle with a little bit of sesame oil and top with a sprig of cilantro. (Be careful not to over-do the sesame oil – its soooo good, but too much can overpower the other flavors.)

DSCN2531

XO – Rae


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Vegetable Carrot Soup

I recently visited my sister and niece (Lucy the puppy) to do some sisterly bonding.  We had big plans to hit up the grocery store and gather ingredients for a fantastic dinner.  And then the weather happened.  It was sleeting and just plain gross, so we didn’t want to leave the house. And if I’m being honest, we didn’t want to get out of our onesie pajamas. Yes, you read that correctly. No shame.

Vegetable Carrot Soup

We went back and forth peering into the fridge, trying to come up with recipes for celery and ketchup, when she pulled out this recipe (which she’d gotten from a co-worker).  Let me tell you, it was perfection — we had all of the ingredients already so we were sold. If you tasted this soup without seeing the list of ingredients you would probably swear it had cream in it. But you’d be wrong. This soup gets it’s velvety texture from the potatoes, and the spices give it the perfect depth of flavor. The best part: it’s really easy to make!

Vegetable Carrot Soup
{Slightly modified from Taste of Home}

Ingredients
Yield: 4 servings.

2 teaspoons canola or olive oil
3 cups carrots (about 5 medium-large carrots), thinly sliced
1 cup chopped onion (about 2 small yellow or white, or 1 medium)
2/3 cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
1-1/2 cups potatoes (about 1 large potato), peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Optional, or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste (I would start with 2 teaspoons salt and increase as desired)

Carrot Vegetable Soup

1. Add oil to a Dutch oven or stock pot and place on the stove over medium-low heat. Add carrots, onion, celery, potatoes, garlic and sugar and saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Vegetable Carrot Soup

2. Add broth, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

3. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature, or for at least 30 minutes. Puree in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth and no lumps remain. Return to the kettle and heat through.

This soup goes great with crusty homemade bread — instead of the rosemary, I roasted a head of garlic with olive oil in a foil packet and then roughly chopped and added it to the dough! Serve with a fresh green salad to make this a heart-warming, belly-filling meal.  And do it all in your pajamas — no one is judging here!

Vegetable Carrot SoupWhat is your favorite soup in the wintertime?

Hope you enjoy!

xx Jaime