Using Your Noodle

I'm not ashamed to admit it. During a particularly cash-poor period in college, I squeezed a packet of ketchup into a bowl of instant ramen and pretended it was minestrone.

Tell me you didn't do the same thing.

Ask most Americans what commercially available soup they've consumed the most of, and chances are Campbell's will top the list. But I'm betting that these days, ramen would come in a close second. The curly, ten-for-a-dollar, ten-minutes-from-packet-to-table flour-based-noodle soup -- available with at least a dozen different seasoned flavor packets -- is the number-one college dorm meal and probably the number-one meal in more homes than their occupants would care to reveal.

Those numbers are becoming more obvious now that 101 Ways to Make Ramen Noodles (C&G Publishing, $9.95), a cookbook written by Greeley resident Toni Patrick, has experienced a resurgence in popularity. First published in 1992, the smallish, wire-bound book went through its initial printing of 5,000 almost immediately, and then the second printing of 10,000 slowly but steadily sold until this year, when suddenly, no one could keep it on the shelves. "It's the millennium," says Patrick, 28, who wrote the book when she was 21 and working her way through college. "I keep hearing from people who are stockpiling it in case the whole Y2K thing blows up in our faces. It's perfect: Ramen keeps forever, it's easy, and it needs little else besides water, yet it can be doctored up and made even more delicious with the simplest things you already have on hand."

And that's where Patrick's book comes in handy. She'd already had a taste of cookbook publishing through her mother, Georgie Patrick, who's written and published several of them with her partner, Cyndi Duncan (those would be the C and G of the publishing company). "I had maybe ten or fifteen recipes that I was using in college," Patrick says. "Just like everybody else, I did it because it was cheap and easy. And I was always trying to come up with new ways to make it. Then I started talking to other people and found out that they, too, would have several recipes sort of floating around in their heads, and I kept telling my mom that one day I was going to write a cookbook, too. And then she started asking me, 'Well, where is it?'"

Mom wouldn't let up, so Patrick began compiling her friends' recipes -- and eating ramen day and night. "Yes, there is a limit to how much ramen one person can stand in a lifetime," she says. "I got to the point where I couldn't even smell the stuff without getting sick to my stomach. I'd say I took about two years off from it. But then I started thinking about one of my favorite recipes, where you eat the ramen like oatmeal, with milk and syrup and brown sugar..."

Patrick trails off. Yeah, she's still got it bad. Not so bad that she'd eat the most bizarre recipe in the book, though, the one that she kept getting over and over from fellow college students: ramen, crumbled Doritos and Cheez Whiz. "It's good," she offers and then laughs. "Okay, it's not too bad. But I ran into people who ate it, like, all the time." A few more ideas from the book: ramen stir-fried with tuna fish, boiled with shredded cheddar, and baked with eggs and chocolate into a custard-like dessert.

But Patrick's top ramen preparations -- Maruschan is her favorite brand -- remain the oatmeal style, the chicken Oriental salad (recipe follows) and egg drop soup. "The funny thing is that anyone who knows me knows that I am an absolutely lousy cook," she says.

Still, she has a few more ideas for cookbooks and says she'd like to work on another one. First, however, she wants to finish that degree in ancient history that she started at Colorado State University seven years ago. "I got kind of sidetracked," she admits. "I went to work for Old Chicago here in Greeley, and then a couple of other restaurants, and then I thought maybe I'd open up my own place, but then I thought, 'What if no one shows up?' So I think eventually I'll work for museums."

In the meantime, she's back on a college budget. "Hey, I just bought ten for a dollar yesterday," she says of her favorite food.

Here's Patrick's recipe for a cold salad that keeps pretty well if you hold the lettuce. And if you're looking for more ways to use up your millennium stash, call 800-925-3172 for a copy of the cookbook.

Chicken Oriental Salad
1 package any flavor ramen
4 cups cooked chicken breast, shredded
half a head of lettuce, shredded
3-6 green onions, sliced
1 cup blanched, slivered almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 cup oil
3 teaspoons seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons sugar

Cook the noodles in boiling water for one minute and drain. Roast the almonds in a 350-degree oven until light brown. Mix vinegar, oil, seasoned salt, pepper and sugar. Mix noodles, chicken, onions, almonds and sesame seeds. Combine with dressing. Add lettuce just before serving. Serves four to six.