I love to cook, and have loved to cook since the age of about 10. I used to bake cookies for my family, and the occasional “Sahara Desert” cake (A chocolate cake so dry it removes all the moisture from your head… I’ve always had a blind spot for cakes). During my Bachelor and early dating life I started to really get into cooking more and more. Somewhere along the lines I stopped using exact recipes for stove-top work (baking is generally more of an exact science). I learned that a lot of recipes can be viewed as loose guidelines and that creative license can often turn a good recipe into a great one.
Once I’d become very comfortable with cooking this way, I decided to start trying my hands at some creative cooking. I’m happy to say that I’ve made a small selection of very tasty dishes in my kitchen experiments: TacoBalls, Southwestern Chicken Cheese Casserole, Noodle Thing, Beef Patty Mozzarella, etc.
Of those, my very first creation was Noodle Thing. This was back during the early days of my first summer bachelorhood. I worked nights so generally my day would go like this: Wake up around 2pm and play video games for an hour while I waited for the drowsiness to wear off then take a shower. Realize that it was 3:30 and I had to be at work in an hour. Toss an off-brand Hamburgler Helper on the stove while getting ready for work; wolf down half of it, box up the other half then jet out the door for work. I’d eat the other half for dinner on my break at work.
Now, I still like Hamburgler Helper; specifically the real brand which has a multitude of flavors that are quick and pretty tasty. Healthy they aren’t, but on those really rough days when nobody can be bothered to cook anything they’re a life saver. But, in the old days of my bachelorhood, I couldn’t afford $1.50 for the real stuff, so I paid 70c for the off brands, of which there were three flavors… only two of which I actually liked to eat: Lasagna and Chili Mac. Chili Mac always seemed kind of silly, because with a 20c box of macaroni and cheese and a 40c can of Chili (I shopped the off-brands) I could create the same thing cheaper and faster. So, I really only bought the Lasagna Hamburgler Helper.
After a month of eating it several times a week I decided to see what I could do to make my own version; both because I was sure I could do it a bit healthier, and I thought I could do it cheaper. Thus: “Noodle Thing” was born.
1-2 Tbsp Oil (Needed if using garlic and onions)
1 clove Garlic, crushed (Optional)
1/2 of a medium onion, diced(Optional)
1 Lb ground meat (Turkey, beef, or pork… they all work pretty well)
1 Cup Dry noodles (Those wavy egg noodles work best, but otherwise Macaroni or other small noodles work fairly well too)
2-3 Cups water*
1 8oz can of tomato sauce
2 TBSP tomato paste
Italian Seasonings (Either the combined kind or whatever green leafy Italian seasonings you have around)
1 tsp Chili Powder (optional)
1/2 tsp paprika (optional)
If using garlic and onions, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and sauté garlic and onions until soft. Add ground meat and cook until the meat is brown. If you didn’t use garlic and onions you can add garlic powder and onion powder/flakes while you brown the meat. Add the remaining ingredients (yes, add the dry noodles too) and mix well. Increase heat and bring the mixture to a boil then reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes: until the noodles are soft and have absorbed the water. The sauce should have thickened to about the consistancy of marinara sauce. If the sauce starts getting too thick and the noodles aren’t completely soft you can add more water. If it’s too watery you can cook it a bit longer to reduce the thicken the dish… or add cornstarch.** It can be served with grated cheese if you’re feeling fancy.
*The amount of water you actually need is hugely dependent on what kinds of noodles you use. The egg noodles tend to need less water whereas macaroni tends to need more.
**When adding corn starch, first mix it into an equal amount of cold water. Otherwise if you add it directly you end up with something I lovingly call “Hell Dumplings”. Generally for noodle thing you would probably be fine with 1 Tbsp of cornstarch in 1Tbsp of cold water. However, in the instances where I added too much liquid I usually just either ate it watery, or simmered it an extra 10-15 minutes.
NOTE: Most of the measurements listed are estimations. When I make Noodle Thing I just add whatever feels right; as such I’ve never actually created the same Noodle Thing twice; which is a shame because a few times it turned out really, really good and I have no idea what I did differently those times.