As a toddler, my body didn’t really do dairy that well. My parents have told me the horror stories and kept our fridge stocked with lactose-free milk throughout my early childhood. All seemed well until, at five years old, I started complaining about stomach pain daily. In response, my doctor suggested I cut out all dairy all together. I still remember the hysterical sobbing that occurred when my dad told me I might not be able to eat macaroni and cheese again.
After a long period of scraping the cheese off of pizza and substituting my favorite bagel-and-cream-cheese lunch for a PB&J, however, I was allowed to start slowly reintroducing dairy into my life. While large quantities of milk and ice cream should still be avoided, I was thrilled to find that cheese wasn’t a trigger for any major issues.
I can’t remember for sure, but I’m pretty certain the first thing I did after making this discovery was grab all the cheese I could find and fill my face with it. I’ve been celebrating that way pretty consistently ever since. But now, I plan to take my celebrating to a whole new level. Through this blog series, I’m going to relive those great, carefree, childhood glory days with the added glory of cheese. Every week, I’ll try out a different kid-friendly, cheesy recipe and share my experience, ultimately declaring whether or not the meal was good enough to adequately make up for my cheeseless childhood.
And I’m not talking pizza bagels and homemade mac and cheese. To get back those cheesless days, I’m going all out and preparing some of the wackiest dishes I can find. My hope is not only to fill my stomach and soul with cheese, but to provide recipes for fun, easy, and delicious meals to families can make together with their cheese-loving child.
As a kid, ramen was one of those foods that wasn’t in the house often, but when it was, there was no stopping me. It was a favorite after-school snack, and I would beg my dad to buy more so I could take a thermos of it for lunch. It had been quite some time since I’d invested in ramen when I learned of the ramen grilled cheese craze. The food was first brought to my attention by a slideshow presentation during my internship at Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve—a forward-thinking marketing consulting firm that studies trends—where it was given as an example of the “pleasure revenge” trend, in which stressed and angry consumers let loose (I like to think of it as the Treat Yo’self trend). While laughing along with the rest of the room at the absurdity of someone actually deciding to create a ramen grilled cheese, I was also secretly intrigued. A hybrid of one of my all-time favorite foods and one of my childhood food love affairs? My five-year-old self would have been all about this concoction for sure, and my cheese-deprived five-year-old self is basically calling the shots here. Plus, I’m always about treating yo’self.
So I went to the store and bought a single serving of beef-flavored ramen—my first time getting ramen in over two years. I used a few different recipes as inspiration, most notably those from People, House of Yum, and Dude Foods.
The ingredients are simple and inexpensive:
- 1 pack of ramen
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 3 slices (or more) of the cheese(s) of your choice
- Extras: bacon, apple, or anything else your belly desires
Making the “sandwich” takes about forty minutes. Start by cooking the ramen according to the packet directions, seasoning and all. After draining the broth, mix the raw egg into the noodles. Then you make your mold.
Most of the recipes I looked at suggested splitting the noodles into two separate ramekins. I didn’t have even one ramekin, so I just used a single Tupperware container and kept the noodles all together. Press down with a spatula to make sure the noodles are tightly packed, then cover and refrigerate to help the noodles keep their box-like shape.
After twenty minutes, take out your ramekins/container and hold it upside down over a heavily-buttered pan until the noodles come loose. My noodles kind of lost their shape in the process, but it was an easy fix. I cut them down the middle to create my two slices and did some more spatula-pressing. Don’t worry if they don’t hold together immediately; mine fell apart the first few times I tried to flip them. Just keep pressing down on them and give each side a few minutes to cook through. I also continuously added butter to the pan until I could hear the noodles sizzling.
Once the noodles are sticking together and both sides are a nice golden-brown (or, in my case, starting to burn a bit), add a few pieces of cheese and whatever extras you have to each ramen-bun and then close the sandwich. I had freshly picked apples waiting next to my pan that, in my rush to get the cheese going before the ramen burnt more, I 100% forgot to throw in.
As far as cheese goes, I used two slices of sharp cheddar and one slice of provolone. Three slices was a good noodle-to-cheese ratio to me, but cheese can be applied liberally. The cheese seeps between the noodles, so definitely add as many slices as you can handle.
When the cheese is melted, slide your ramen grilled cheese onto a plate, cut in half, and dig in.
The actual act of eating the grilled cheese was… okay. The beef noodle flavoring and the cheese worked well together, which I was pleasantly surprised about. The texture, however, was pretty off-putting. Despite the ramen slices burning a bit on each side, the bulk of the noodles stayed soft. Add the cheese and you have a pretty gooey mixture and a texture I couldn’t really get past.
Adding something with a crunch to it definitely helps the texture issue. I managed to squeeze some of my previously-forgotten apple slices into the sandwich, and the crispness of the raw apple actually counterbalanced the noodles pretty nicely.
It didn’t completely solve the problem, however. I know some people love this dish, but—for me—it was was one of those things where Bite 1 is great, and then by Bite 7 you’re kind of ready to be done.
So, does the ramen Grilled Cheese make up for my cheeseless childhood? While I’d definitely opt for bread next time as a crunchier (and lower-sodium) option, this recipe was a lot of fun to experiment with, minimal effort required. As a kid, I would have loved combining the egg and noodles, molding the noodles in the pan, and seeing how the cheese worked its way through all of the noodle crevices in the finished product. With that in mind, I’m going to say the taste of this grilled cheese doesn’t quite cut it, but the process of making it just might.
Up next will be another favorite-food mash-up: mac and cheese tacos!