Cooking Hacks from a Chef in Quarantine

Chef Howard is here to offer his tips for tackling mealtime in quarantine. 

So I have been asked by a lot of friends and family random food and cooking questions over the past few months since many of us went into lockdown due to the pandemic.  After about 12 messages/phone calls I decided to start a “thing” on my personal Facebook page called “Hey Chef what’s for dinner?!?!”. This was done to answer lots of questions about what I am making for my family, what to use in certain situations and oftentimes how to use that can of veggies in the back of the pantry or what to do with that thing in the back of the freezer.  These weren’t necessarily “hacks” but they led to hacks in how to cook things without making such a huge mess, how to take some very modest and inexpensive ingredients, and make them appear to be next level or what to do in certain situations.  What I did was reach into my bag of tricks and shared some of them.  It became so much more than a shortcut for me (and other chefs around the country) and more of a movement that led to web pages, YouTube videos, and social media trends.  Here is a list of what I shared and a few ways we can help you through seasonings and spice blends here at Fuchs North America.  I hope you enjoy….

  1. Perhaps my biggest piece of advice became the 1 Pot Meal. While it is not a new thing I think it became a hack because it’s such a great way to do some many things in a relatively short period of time.  I know that being part of a household that had 2 working parents with the schedules that didn’t always match up the 1 Pot Meal was a way to make a full dinner in 45 minutes start to finish.  The meals were rustic, full of flavor, satisfying, and met the end goal of easy cleanup.  Ours often included a grain, some fresh chopped veggies (frozen or canned work just as well), some protein, and stock of some sort.  Depending upon the protein they may have been browned in a sauté pan, the veggies were then added to the pan to get some color, grains go in once the veggies start to brown, some stock goes in, toss in a seasoning, give it a stir.  Finally, a lid goes on and in the oven it goes.  At this point we’ve spent 15-20 minutes cooking, once it goes into the oven it usually cooks for 30 minutes, clean up the small mess you may have made, get the family ready for dinner and its time to eat.  At Fuchs, we have a plethora of choices from a simple Italian seasoning blend to a Harissa blend to give you a rich complex taste of Morocco.
  2.  Ramen, but not just Ramen. How do you take a $0.99 bag or Styrofoam cup of product and make it taste like you are being served a great bowl of Ramen in a Japanese Restaurant?  Well, let me tell you because its something I’ve spent literal years doing. Back in my days of being a poor practically starving at times culinary apprentice and college student I learned how to stretch a VERY cheap bag of noodles and flavored MSG into a meal to carry me for a few hours.  As I got older, I never lost the taste for a bag of doctored up Ramen Noodles and to this day they are always in our house and at my desk.  So, what do you do to your Ramen to make them so great Chef?  I like to take a little bit of a different approach; we still start with the noodle cake cooking it as recommended on the bag I add a different seasoning other than the pouch in the package.  At Fuchs, we have a full line of seasonings designed to be used with a traditional Ramen cake, so I have many choices at my disposal.  From there I pour the noodles into a bowl and its game on.  If I have fresh vegetables, I will poach them in the noodle liquid and add them to the bowl once cooked and if I have some tofu at this point it gets a pan fry it for some crispy texture.  I LOVE a soft boiled or even crispy sunny side egg so that is always an option to go into the bowl and one of my all-time favorite Ramen toppings is Nori Komi Furikake, the combination of sugar, salt, nori flakes, and sesame just screams flavor.  If you like spicy there’s always Sriracha or Gochujang, if you want some more rich Umami, add some dried Shiitakes or a dark rich Soy Sauce.  The beauty of Ramen is the sky’s the limit, the only thing holding you back is the available ingredients and your imagination.
  3. Finally, my last kitchen hack revolves around prepping ingredients. We like to menu plan for the week on Thursday nights.  I go to the store on Friday mornings early with a list based on our menu for the week (and that includes lunch and dinner) armed and ready.  Based on the menu and the day we are eating certain items I will prep heavily over the weekend.  I like to smoke large cuts of meats like pork shoulders, chuck roasts, briskets, or even whole turkey breasts.  On Friday night I will do dry brines (salt forward seasonings we have developed at Fuchs to help get flavors deep into the meats muscle structure rather than a wet brine which takes up much more space) and vacuum seal the meats to season overnight.  On Saturdays I fire up the smoker and get my meats done, maybe make a marinara for a midweek dinner, cut up onions, garlic, celery, and other random vegetables, we put them in airtight containers labeled and dated.  I try to repeat the same thing on Wednesday night for the back half of the week’s menu as well.  This saves me time; it helps keep us on track for the week and keeps leftovers to a minimum.  Doing some prep 2 times a week for an hour or so can save you a headache if you are in a hurry to make a meal, it keeps you organized for the week ahead and for us it helps to keep the time spent cooking to a minimum.

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