Monday, February 6, 2017

"Prison Ramen - Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars" When car repairs require budget eating!

Date I made this recipe:  January 28, 2017 – When car repairs require budget eating!

Prison Ramen – Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars by Clifton Collins Jr. and Gustavo "Goose" Alvarez; with a foreword by Samuel L. Jackson
Published by Workman Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-7611-8552-9; © 2015
Recipe:  Sloppy Ramen Joe – p. 35

So January was proving to be an interesting month anyway, and then this happened:  the transmission went out on my car.  And then when I brought my car into the shop so they could rebuild it (cheapest of the not-so-cheap options), they found that my radiator (original to my 1999 car) needed to be replaced.  With "tax and license," the bill was inching its way up to heavens which was not good.  At least they threw in the motor mounts (also needed) for "free," because at this point, they were calling with more bad news on practically an hourly basis.

It was at this point that I quipped to Andy "I'll guess we'll be eating ramen from now on," thus foreshadowing the use of today's featured cookbook.  And here's another foreshadowing moment:  things are going to get worse for your cars and your budget before they get better.

At the end of the following week, we were on deck to drive a car – didn't know which – to Chicago to see some friends.  We were hoping that my car would be done (it wasn't), but in the event it wasn't, we still had Andy's.

And we could have driven Andy's car to Chicago except that his car also had some minor issues mainly, the replacement of some engine gaskets.  Those leaky gaskets caused his car to emit oil and gas fumes into the car itself that gave me headaches.  And even though the fumes dissipated once we hit the open road, I thought we should get everything fixed before we went.  File that under "It seemed like a good idea at the time."  (It wasn't.)

In theory, this should have been a same-day repair and so Andy found a garage near his workplace and they even had courtesy shuttle service to and fro.  Toward the end of the day though, they called and said they weren't quite done and so could he come and get his car and then return with it the next day?

He could.  But when he got into his car to drive it home, the brakes were out.  "Out" as in the pedal went all the way to the floor. And since it's kind of hard to stop a car without brakes (unless you are Fred Flintstone), he left it there and drove home in a loaner car.

Let me just review with you where we stood on cars at this point:  My car was in the garage (still) and so a friend of Andy's loaned him one of his cars so I could drive Andy's car in the interim.  On the day that Andy took his car in for repairs, he left the friend's "loaner" car in our garage, and that night, when he drove home with the garage's loaner, we had two cars in our garage that belonged to neither one of us – ha! 

At this point, the Chicago trip was fast becoming a no-go because of all these car do-si-dos we were doing so we canned it and this was probably a good idea as snowstorms were predicted for the Chicago area that same weekend and we are not fond of driving in blizzards, go figure.

So all total, our two car repairs cost us a flipping fortune.  But shall I just tell you reader, that we still weren't done?  Okay, I'll tell you:  we still weren't done.  My car's rebuilt transmission runs great.  And the new radiator seems to be doing its job.  But my brakes were very squishy and that wasn't the case before the car went in and so Andy (my very own personal car repair person), worked on them this weekend and now I need a new...thingamajig.  It's a brake part and he will buy it and install it but it'll add another $250.00 to our collective bill. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it appears that the gasket replacement on Andy's car did not totally solve his problem either, and so he needs to investigate and repair.  Oh, and my key is now getting stuck in the ignition and Andy thinks he knows what part to replace and he will do so but in the meanwhile, what the hell is going on here?  And as if all that wasn't enough fun, I temporarily lost my wallet on Saturday (the same day as the ignition key problem) and seriously folks.  Seriously.  But in the happy news department,  the wallet was "found" an hour later and I am so relieved I cannot tell you.  Still, I had to drive home in my key-sticking car with the very soft brakes and without my license because...of course.

Meanwhile and back at the ranch, Part 2, was this a good time for inexpensive ramen, or what?

I believe I found this book, Prison Ramen, at Common Good Books in St. Paul (owned by author and radio show star, Garrison Keillor), and just had to chuckle (and of course, buy it) as this is just the type of book I like to have in my collection:  quirky and off-beat.  With books like these, I am not as interested in whether or not these recipes actually hold together, and when I selected this one, I warned my husband not to expect great things as I was cooking from it because I could, and also to give us a taste of our potential menu options for rest of our lives and/or until the car bills are paid, whichever comes first.

Of the two authors, Gustavo "Goose" Alvarez spent some time in both juvenile and adult correctional facilities before being released from prison in May 2013.  He is now involved in a mentorship program for at-risk kids.  While in prison, a riot broke out and he and fellow inmates were saved from certain death by a couple of older gang members.  To show their appreciation, Alvarez and his "homies" cooked food for everyone and the main entree at this thank you dinner was ramen.  I have to say that it's not like I ever contemplated what kind of food would be served in prison but "ramen" never crossed my mind.  I learn something new every day.

Co-author Clinton Collins Jr. is an actor who was working on the set of a prison movie when his friend, "Goose" was caught in real-life riot hell.  After checking to make sure "Goose" was okay, they came up with this cookbook.

Amazingly, I came up with five potential recipe candidates which is saying a lot, especially since most recipes call for a lot of processed, ready-made foods that I avoid like the plague.  For instance, in addition to ramen, you'll see recipes calling for processed cheese, prepackaged rice and/or rice and bean combinations and also [fried and packaged] pork rinds or pork skins, all of which contain a ton of salt.  A ton.  Those with high blood pressure "need not apply."

 My favorite title out of the five, even though I did not make it, was "Shawshank Spread," a sandwich spread made with ramen as a homage to the movie, The Shawshank Redemption.  Once upon a time, this movie was so overplayed on cable network, TNT, that it was dubbed "The 'Shawshank' Channel."  TNT moved on eventually to overplay episodes of Law & Order but I'm down with that as it's easier to re-watch 20 year's worth of TV show episodes than 20 year's worth of one single, solitary movie.  Just sayin'. 

As per usual, once I narrowed down my choices, I handed the book off to Andy who settled on Sloppy Ramen Joe just as I was hoping he would. I wasn't sure what this would taste like, but once I read the words "Sloppy" and "Joe," we were all in.

And you know what, it wasn't half bad!  It wasn't haute cuisine by any means, but it was not terrible.  It was also cheap, coming in at $3.93 for all ingredients except the onion which I had on hand, and the buns that we bought from Trader Joe's (can't recall the price.)  Three ninety three for a meal is not bad at all, although that said, I'm amending my remark to Andy about eating ramen from now on because there's way too much salt in all the ingredients and I'd rather spend a few pennies more to get fresh groceries.

Speaking of groceries, here's what we spent at the grocery store:
  • 2 packages of ramen came to $.50 total or $.25 each.  (No wonder starving college students eat this.  In our day, it was popcorn.)
  • 2 small cans (9 ounces total), Vienna Sausages came to $1.58, or $.79 each
  • 1 can Sloppy Joe Mix was $.99; we "splurged" and got a can of "thick and chunky" instead of the original which was priced at $.79
  • 1 overly large jalapeno cost us a whopping $.07. 
  • Onion (already had)
  • Trader Joe's pretzel buns, priced approximately at $1.98 or thereabouts

Cheap at twice the price, right?

Were I to make this again, here are the things I would change: use only one package of beef ramen (two makes way too much); skip adding the flavor [read: salt] packet unless you like resembling "Roly Poly," a toy I enjoyed as a child; use summer sausage (an option for you in the recipe) rather than Vienna sausages, and possibly leave out the jalapeno.  I don't know about you, but I find there is no such thing as a "small" jalapeno as called for in this recipe and there was no way I was adding the whole [gigantic] jalapeno to this recipe as I feared it would do irreversible damage to my digestive system!  In our case, a little jalapeno went a long way.

And so that, my friends concludes our car capers story and our Prison Ramen story, with a little bit of grocery shopping high finance thrown in for good measure.  This book is a fun read and some of the recipe names are pretty clever to boot. And if you like a cookbook that's a little off beat, this one's for you!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that two days after Andy's friend loaned him one of his cars, the fuel pump went out on the other one.  I'm happy to report though, that he still likes us even though we appear to be car cursed for the time being!

Sloppy Ramen Joe – serving size not given but I'd say easily four people
2 packs beef flavor Ramen
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 can or pouch (7 to 11 ounces) read-to-eat Sloppy Joe
1 summer sausage (about 9 ounces), chopped, or 1 can (9 ounces) Vienna sausage, drained and chopped
½ medium-size onion, chopped
1 jalapeno chile, chopped
3 or 4 hamburger buns, split open

Crush the Ramen in the wrappers and empty into a bowl.  Set aside the seasoning packets.

Add the water, cover, and let sit for about 8 minutes.  Drain off excess water.

Combine the Sloppy Joe, sausage, onion, and jalapeno in a large microwavable bowl.  Cover and microwave for about 5 minutes, until hot.  (Ann's Note:  Do NOT do 5 minutes unless your microwave is as "weak as a kitten" i.e. doesn't have much power.  My bowl practically melted in those five minutes.)

Add the Ramen and seasoning.  Mix well.  (Ann's Note:  as mentioned above, you have been warned that adding both packets of seasoning will result in a salt overdose.)

Place the open buns on plates.  Cover with the Sloppy Joe-Ramen mixture.

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