Unsweet Ramen Salad . . . and a Summer Picnic

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I haven’t posted a recipe in at least half an eon. Yesterday evening my daughter and I attended a summer potluck picnic at Bittersweet at Betty’s Farm here in Lima, Ohio. Bittersweet offers a range of services for people with autism. My daughter has been participating in their periodic social living programs for a couple years now.

Three times a year (weather permitting) there are gatherings for all of the families served by Lima’s Bittersweet. Yesterday’s picnic offered the full array of Ohio picnic fair, from ambitious dips served in Crock Pots to cream pies.

Pictured above are my indulgences from the picnic. Yes, I rested a chocolate chip cookie on top of a slice of gouda cheese, and all was good. I was so delighted to spot a ramen salad on the buffet tables that I filled a bowl with it.

I hadn’t thought to make a ramen salad myself until today. I decided that I’d rather not add sugar to my version. I’m finicky about sweetening an otherwise savory salad because it’s so easy to overdo it.

Here’s my super simple version of ramen salad:

Unsweet Ramen Salad

(good for a picnic potluck or a dinner inspired by such cuisine)

  • 2 – 3 oz bags ramen noodles, your favorite of the simple flavors; I chose chicken
  • 1 16 oz bag coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)
  • 1/2 cup additional carrots, sliced (optional)
  • 2/3 cup Italian dressing (use more or less to taste as long as the salad is saturated)
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the Italian dressing and ramen noodle seasoning packets. Break up the ramen noodles and add to bowl. Add the coleslaw mix, carrots, and peanuts to the bowl. Stir all together gently, lest the noodles and cabbage scatter about your kitchen. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving.

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Now that I’ve shared that recipe, I will offer a few of the highlights of the picnic aside from the food. There was a spirited bubble battle. I so wish I’d brought a camera aside from my cell phone. My daughter is just emerging from depression, and I was thrilled to see her so happy and engaged in the presence of others:

The picnic’s music was great as well. I heard Ike and Tina Turner’s cover of “Proud Mary” for the first time in over a decade. I mustn’t forget to buy a copy of it. How did I go so long without having it in my sonic arsenal?

It’s one of those songs that’s bound to grab people’s attention. I could tell that about a third of the people at the picnic had not heard it before. I was so delightful to see another generation won over by this song’s impossible, arresting charm. One after another just froze in place long enough to “tune” into the song and begin the toe tapping and hand clapping.

Ham and Bean Soup

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I haven’t written much about food lately. My love/hate relationship with this necessity of life has trended toward the latter in recent months. The root cause of this discomfort has been the intent to reverse the weight gain associated with my back surgery. At best, I’ve stalled that gain.

My husband started a diet around the same time with lots more success than I’ve had. When I mentioned this contrast to my family doctor recently, she told me, “Don’t despair about this. My husband could lose weight just by sleeping fifteen extra minutes a day.”

Right now my husband is resting. Sleep has been elusive for him this week because he had his second rotator cuff surgery in 18 months. I’ve heard that such a surgery used to be remarkably painful. Now there’s a 3-day nerve block that alleviates the worst part of recovery from the surgery.

Unlike me, my husband is practically a model patient, good-natured and oriented to reality. He is not grouchy or prone to confabulation. He wouldn’t complain loudly about the help then whisper that he’d given birth to alien twins that had been absconded moments after birth, which is exactly what I did once upon a time years before I met him.

I decided to make him some ham and bean soup today. Now that his appetite is returning, I thought I’d make him something to help him rebuild after the surgery. The soup was well-received, for he ate four bowls of it.

This soup has plenty of onion in it. Actually, both my husband and my daughter railed against the smell of the onions sweating in butter. My daughter hid from it, complaining that the smell would be bonded to her shower-wet hair. Then my husband asked me to open a couple windows to air out the house.

I suppose that they do not have the happy association I have with that smell. It is the scent that assailed me every time I arrived for a holiday meal with extended family while I was growing up. In my family, a good gathering began with the sight and smell of yellow onions sweating in hot butter or lard.

Ham and Bean Soup

Serves 6-8

  • One large yellow onion, finely diced
  • generous dash freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups sliced carrots
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 lb ham, cubed into 1/4-1/2″ pieces
  • 3 16 oz. cans great northern beans, drained

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium. Add diced onion and pepper to pan and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent. Stir in carrots and celery. Cover and cook for five minutes. Add remaining ingredients, cover and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer for 45 to 60 minutes until vegetables are tender. Serve with toast or garlic bread.

Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup

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My birthday is just days away, so I went to the license bureau to renew my car’s registration. One of my neighbors works there, and she asked me about my back. It so happens that she is also having trouble with her lumbar spine, so I commiserated with her briefly about my muscle spasms that have been flaring up this week. She advised me, “You need celery.”

The line was moving too quickly for me to ask how celery had helped her. Obviously food choices do have an impact on health. I’m uncertain of what magic celery could work on muscle spasms. Perhaps it is one of many fruits and vegetables that reduce inflammation.

This is the second time this week my curiosity has been piqued about celery. Yesterday I read a superb food history article called “Celery Was the Avocado Toast of the Victorian Era” by Heather Ardnt Anderson. It seems strange indeed that such an unremarkable vegetable once occupied center stage on the dinner table.

All of this reflection on celery inspires me to share my favorite recipe that includes this vegetable.

Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup

Serves 6

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups sliced carrots
  • 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
  • 5 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 t freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking barley
  • 1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 15 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained
  • 4 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (I used a whole bunch from the grocery store because I love parsley)

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrot, celery, ground pepper, and bay leaf. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, beans, barley, and broth. Cover pan with lid and let simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables and barley are tender. Stir in chopped parsley, remove bay leaf, and serve.

 

PB&J Smoothie

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A few days ago my daughter and I visited a smoothie shop that recently opened in our neighborhood. While their fare was delightful (and I wish them the best of luck with their business), I walked away calculating how I could make similar drinks that could cost less in dollars and calories.

My childhood love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches has not diminished in adulthood. This smoothie uses frozen fruit and peanut powder to infuse this drink with PB&J flavor with less fat and added sugar.

This time I used frozen grapes, but almost any fruit that freezes well would work in this recipe. I froze these grapes myself almost four months ago, and they are still holding up well in my freezer. After rinsing and drying them, I plucked them from their stems and packed them in freezer bags. Once frozen, they are great in smoothies and homemade sorbet. I suppose they could also be used in place of ice cubes in cold drinks.

PB&J Smoothie

Makes one serving

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 frozen sliced banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen grapes (plus a few more for garnish)
  • 3 T peanut powder

Place all ingredients in blender and pulse until smooth. Serve topped with a few frozen grapes.

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Taco Soup

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This is my planned sequel to taco night. I make this soup about once a month. It’s one of those mixtures that improves in flavor as a leftover. Like its second cousin chili, it tastes better after resting for a day or two in the fridge before reheating.

I usually use leftover ground beef taco filling in this soup, but other taco-seasoned meats could work in this recipe, too.

Taco Soup

Makes 8 servings

  • 1 lb leftover taco meat
  • 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
  • 1 quart reduced sodium beef broth
  • 1 15 oz can pinto beans, drained
  • 1 15.25 oz can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook sliced mushrooms in a dutch oven coated with cooking spray over medium-high heart until mushrooms are golden brown in spots. Add leftover taco meat, breaking up the meat until it is heated through and well combined with the mushrooms. Add broth, beans, and corn. Heat to a gentle boil and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Stir in hot sauce and black pepper to taste.

Diced tomatoes and shredded cheese are good toppings for this soup.

Quick Johnny Marzetti

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This is not the first time I’ve posted a recipe for Johnny Marzetti on this blog. Today I had neither the time nor the need to whip together a dinner so large, so I tried to make this as simply as possible with some convenient ingredients.

By the time I started making dinner today, I’d already walked 15,000+ steps, so I was more than willing to toss aside any culinary aspirations. I admit that I used a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti sauce in tonight’s dinner. Yes, it possible to buy a can filled with nothing but the same sauce that blankets the famous ravioli of that same brand. Strangely enough, whenever I use this spaghetti sauce, the resulting dish does not scream of canned ravioli. Instead, the sauce lends a bit of complexity with its hints of Romano and fennel.

My husband was the one who introduced me to the Chef Boyardee spaghetti sauce. It’s one of those tips that have been surprisingly useful in the kitchen, like his suggestion to cook hamburgers “low and slow” on the stovetop (which actually makes delightful burgers, by the way).

Quick Johnny Marzetti

Serves 4

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 8 oz sliced white mushrooms
  • 1/2 t seasoned salt
  • 1 15 oz can spaghetti sauce
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 cups cooked pasta, such as macaroni or small shells
  • 1 medium tomato, diced

Season beef and mushroom with seasoned salt in a 10″ or 12″ skillet. Cook and crumble over medium heat until beef is well-browned and mushrooms are soft. Drain fat. Stir in spaghetti sauce and diced tomatoes. Heat until bubbling. Add pasta to skillet, tossing gently until it is covered in sauce. Sprinkle cheese over mixture and stir until cheese is melted.

This recipe goes well with sweet peas and Texas toast on the side.

Cheeseburger Shepherd’s Pie

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Here’s a comfort food recipe that is ideal for summer. The entire recipe may be cooked on the stove top, but I usually finish it in a glass casserole dish in the microwave. It has the bright flavor of this season’s savory fare, but the potato topping mellows the recipe just enough to give it staying power over the appetite.

Sometimes I make this recipe in the cold of winter to remind me that everything will thaw and rebound again.

Cheeseburger Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 4-6

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • dash seasoned salt
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 yellow mustard
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 T ketchup
  • Dash hot sauce (or to taste)
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t dried thyme
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 15.25 oz can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 2 cups warm mashed potatoes, can be leftovers or the store-ready kind
  • 1/4 cup diced green onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped dill pickles, for topping

Brown and crumble ground beef with chopped onion and seasoned salt over medium heat in a 10″ or 12″ skillet. Drain fat. Pour in beef broth and bring to a simmer. Mix in mustard, tomato paste, ketchup, hot sauce, garlic powder, thyme, and black pepper. When all is well combined and bubbling, stir in the corn. Next add 1/2 cup cheese and stir until melted.

To finish on stove top:

Turn down heat to medium low. Spread mashed potatoes over the top of the ground beef mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese and the green onions. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until all is heated through and cheese is melted.

To finish in microwave:

Empty ground beef mixture into 2 quart microwave-safe casserole dish. Spread mashed potatoes over mixture and sprinkle with the remaining half cup cheese and the green onions. Heat in microwave for 5-7 minutes or until heated through.

Both versions are good served with pickles. I’ve made this dish with a bit of crumbled, cooked bacon on top, too. Just about any cheeseburger topping is a festive addition to this recipe at the dinner table.
 

This recipe is adapted from Better Homes and GardensCheeseburger Shepherd’s Pie. I tried that recipe three years ago, and I’ve simplified it a bit more every time I make it. In this house, it has evolved into the version I offer here.