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Need Help Cooking Through The Coronavirus Pandemic? Chef Amanda Freitag Has Tips

Chef Amanda Freitag's rice pudding is a simple comfort food that's easy to prepare.
Courtesy of David Malosh
Chef Amanda Freitag's rice pudding is a simple comfort food that's easy to prepare.

Coronavirus home cooking is now a part of American life.

Many restaurants across the U.S. are empty. Grocery store shelves are often bare. And in recent days, amateur cooks have posted about their improvised, less-than-delectable quarantine dinners — dishes including hot dogs with strawberry jam, fish fingers and custard and, as one Twitter user confessed, microwaved cheese on a plate, with barbecue sauce.

But in case you're clueless in the kitchen during this era of coronavirus, chef and Food Network star Amanda Freitag has shared some ideas with NPR.

What are some pantry staples?

Freitag recommends starting by keeping "dried things and canned things" in stock in the kitchen: legumes such as lentils and beans, dried or in cans; quinoa; barley; ground cornmeal for polenta or grits; pasta saucesand lots of different shapes of pasta.

"Don't keep the same shape. We need to mix it up a little bit," she says. "I think they all feel a little different when you cook them."

And the following:

  • Baking staples, including all-purpose flour, white sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, butter and yeast. Also keep stocked up on eggs, for baking and other uses, as well as oils, such as olive and vegetable.
  • Oatmeal and dried fruits that can be turned into granola, along with some nuts and seeds.
  • A freezer loaded with proteins, frozen vegetables and broth, as well as frozen fruits for smoothies and for baked items such as muffins.
  • Tired yet of rice and beans?

    Try that dish with a twist. Freitag suggests Cuban congri: Start with handfuls of chopped bacon, scallions and onions, as well as some garlic, cumin and olive oil, in a pot.

    "Then you put in your beans and your dried rice, and you cook it all together," she says. "It's just a flavor bomb – and it's beautiful. It turns purple-y color."

    She suggests pairing it with a protein for dinner — or try it with a fried egg on top for lunch or breakfast.

    Aside from spices, what else can give things more flavor?

    Freitag suggests trying the briny, salty taste of red or black olives in a jar or a can — or the vinegary punch of capers. There's also bacon, cured meats and pickles.

    What if the only thing the meat department has is corned beef?

    You might have discovered last week that corned beef is all that's there, so that's what you bought. Thank Saint Patrick's Day grocery ordering. Freitag says if you have corned beef in your fridge or freezer, cook it slow on the stove and on low until it's really tender. (She says to cook a 3-pound corned beef at a simmer, covered with water or a water-beer mixture, for 5 hours or until fork tender.)

    Then use in multiple ways: Go ahead and have your delayed Saint Patrick's Day dinner with potatoes and cabbage. Leftovers can be turned into corned beef hash in the morning, be put in a sandwich for lunch and be added to pasta.

    For other kinds and cuts of meat you're planning to keep, make sure to portion them into smaller sizes so you don't waste any after thawing.

    (See the mustard sauce recipe below for something to top onto leftover corned beef.)

    Need ingredient substitutions? Try these.

  • For garlic: Substitute onion, scallions or shallots.
  • For shallots: Spanish onion or onion powder
  • For fresh tomatoes:tomato paste or canned diced tomatoes
  • For scallions: either basic onion or a fresh or dried herb like parsley, basil or chives
  • For fresh cilantro:ground coriander or dried parsley or basil
  • For fresh corn:frozen or canned corn, peas or edamame
  • For jasmine rice:any basic white rice or Arborio rice
  • For white wine: It can always be omitted, or a white wine vinegar can be used (use 1/4 of the amount of wine).
  • For eggs: Substitute the liquid that comes from soaking chickpeas. It's called aquafaba, and you can whip it by hand or in a stand mixer. "It whips up just like meringue," Freitag says.
  • For heavy cream: Try coconut milk, and for some recipes, you can even use vanilla ice cream! (That worked for Freitag's rice pudding recipe below.)
  • Looking for some simple, easy-to-prepare recipes? Here are a few.

    Freitag suggests these below from her cookbook, The Chef Next Door.See the list of substitutions above, should you need some.

    All-Round Mustard Sauce

    Chef Amanda Freitag's mustard sauce — shown here on a corned beef sandwich.
    / Courtesy of David Malosh
    Courtesy of David Malosh
    Chef Amanda Freitag's mustard sauce — shown here on a corned beef sandwich.

    Makes 2 cups

    5 shallots
    1/2 cup white wine
    3 cups heavy cream
    1/2 cup Dijon mustard
    1/4 cup grainy mustard
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


    Peel and thinly slice the shallots.

    Simmer shallots and white wine in a small saucepot until dry.

    Add heavy cream and reduce by half.

    Use a fine mesh strainer to strain out shallots. Return smooth cream to the pot over low heat.

    Add both mustards and whisk until smooth.

    Simmer on low for 5 minutes before serving.

    Corn And Black Bean Salad

    Makes 4 servings

    1 tablespoon canola oil
    5 ears corn
    1/4 tsp kosher salt
    1 cup cooked black beans
    1/2 cup tomatoes
    2 tablespoons sliced scallions
    1/4 cup chopped cilantro
    1/4 cup lime juice
    pinch of cayenne pepper
    1/2 cup grapeseed oil


    Cut kernels from cobs.

    Dice the tomatoes.

    Trim and slice the scallions.

    Chop the cilantro.

    Juice the limes.

    Heat the canola oil in a large, wide sauté pan. Add the corn kernels and sweat over medium-low heat. Season with salt.

    After a few minutes, once the corn is bright yellow, warmed through and tender, transfer into a large mixing bowl.

    Add the rest of the ingredients to the sautéed corn and mix well to combine.

    Allow the salad to sit for a couple of hours before serving.

    Rice Pudding

    Makes 4-6 servings

    1 cup jasmine rice
    10 cardamom pods, optional (or substitute 2 cinnamon sticks)
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    4 cups milk, plus 1/2 cup to finish
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1/4 cup heavy cream


    Add just enough water (approximately 2 cups) to cover the rice in a medium saucepot, and bring to a simmer, cooking until completely tender.

    Add cardamom, sugar, salt and 4 cups of milk to the cooked rice. Simmer over low heat, occasionally stirring to prevent the rice from sticking, until all the milk is absorbed, about 40 minutes.

    Finish the pudding by adding the remaining 1/2 cup milk, vanilla and cream.

    Transfer the pudding to a glass bowl, and chill in the refrigerator before serving.

    If you want to make individual servings, transfer the pudding into ceramic ramekins or glass dishes before placing in fridge.

    No matter in what container you store the pudding while cooling, make sure you place a piece of plastic wrap flush on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.

    Serve with whipped cream or a dusting of cinnamon.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
    Matt Kwong (he/him) is an editor with Morning Edition.