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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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Tacos Two Ways: Salsa Verde Shredded Chicken Tacos

Hi. And happy Taco Tuesday.

Salsa Verde Shredded Chicken Tacos

I love tacos. In my house, our standby is ground turkey tacos — you know, the same as the usual beef tacos, but with turkey. I can only handle so many Taco Tuesdays before I want something a little different, though. These salsa verde tacos are really easy and customizable!  Kinda like most tacos….but anyway….

You could make these in a slow cooker, but I’ll be honest — I’m just not organized enough to plan that far in advance sometimes. So that’s when I made these babies.

Salsa Verde Shredded Chicken Tacos

Ingredients

28 ounces chicken breasts (about 4 chicken breasts or 1-3/4 pounds — go ahead and do 2 pounds if that’s easier)
1 medium white onion, chopped and divided
2-1/2 cups (24 ounces) jarred salsa verde (I use Archer Farms)
1/2 tablespoon canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Oregano, to taste (I used about 3 teaspoons)
Onion powder, to taste (I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons)
Salt, to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon)
Black pepper, to taste (I used about 1/4 teaspoon)
Cayenne pepper, to taste (I used about 1/8 teaspoon, but do 1/4 if you like it hotter!)
12 small flour tortilla shells

Salsa Verde Shredded Chicken Tacos

Toppings

1 medium vine-ripened tomato, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, removed from stem and chopped
1-2 avocados, chopped
8 ounces 4-Cheese Mexican shredded cheese (or your favorite)
Sour cream

Salsa Verde Shredded Chicken Tacos
1. Place chicken breasts in a large skillet pan and fill with water to just cover the chicken. Add half of the chopped white onion and a few sprigs (stems included) of the cilantro. Place on stove over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Do NOT boil the chicken — it will become tough. Poach chicken for about 15 minutes, or until they are white all the way through when cut in half at the thickest part.

2. When cooked through, remove the chicken from the pan and place in a large bowl. You can discard the liquid. Using two forks, shred the chicken into bite-size strips.  I hear this method also works, but I’ve never tried it!

3. In another skillet pan, heat canola oil over medium heat. Once the oil has heated up for a minute or two, add garlic and saute for about 10 seconds. Add shredded chicken and push around to coat with the garlic and oil.

Salsa Verde Shredded Chicken Tacos
4. Add salsa verde, oregano, onion powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne and stir. Let simmer on medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will help infuse the flavor and cook down some of the liquid. Taste to see if you’d like to adjust the amount of seasoning.

5. Remove from heat and squeeze 1/4 of a lime over the top.

6. Place some chicken in a warmed tortilla and add your choice of toppings: squeeze of lime juice, remaining chopped white onion, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, etc.

Salsa Verde Shredded Chicken Tacos

I served these with some delicious sweet fried plantains, but you could also whip up some Mexican-Style Potato Salad for a refreshing side.

Salsa Verde Shredded Chicken Tacos

If you have leftover toppings (i.e. avocado, tomatoes, onion and cilantro), you can whip up some homemade guacamole by mashing the avocado, adding the above ingredients, and adding lime juice, salt, pepper and garlic. I also made some homemade tortilla chips (since of course I just ran out) by slicing tortillas with a pizza cutter into fourths, brushing with olive oil, and baking at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes (but watch to see when they start getting crispy but not too brown). When you pull them out, top with salt and dig in!

Hope you enjoy!

Jaime