Food hacks: how to elevate cruddy college food

You don’t need to be Guy Fieri to take your tastebuds to Flavour Town.

Running between classes, lengthy commutes and a tight budget can make creating wholesome meals a challenge. Sometimes, when we’re out of options, we settle for cheap packets of sodium glutamate to fill us up. But with a bit of creativity and some basic cooking skills, anyone can ‘hack’ their food to maximum potential.

We took five popular student foods to Chef Paul Huang, the executive chef of TRSM, to pick his brain on food hacks – upgrading typical, mundane, student food to taste wildly better. We also asked Ryerson students to share their favourite food hack recipes and secrets to flavour bliss.

Food hacker. (Created by Ammi Parmar)

Instant Ramen

Cost: $0.50- $2.00 per package

Student Hack: “Sesame oil is always awesome. Fresh veggies boiled in chicken broth rather than just water. Adding only half of the packet of the prepared seasoning to the broth. Adding the ramen noodles just before sitting down to eat so that they’re al dente. I sometimes like my food complex, and turning something not healthy into [a] healthier [version].”

Jessie Zus, third-year Media Production

Chef Huang hack: “It’s a convenience food, when you’re go-go-go. I don’t put the powdered stuff inside. I use the noodles as is. I blanc them, cook them in water, to omit all the ingredients in the package. If you want to make it taste better, add a can of tuna, maybe a little soya, salt, something like that, maybe a drizzle of sesame oil, to make it more exoctic.”

Food hacking 101 for student favourites: macaroni, eggs, ramen, avocado and rice. (Photo by Isabella Perrone)

Eggs

Cost: $2.39 for half dozen, brown eggs

Student Hack: “Every morning, I eat scrambled eggs. I always put Nandos hot sauce on it, which I get from Costco, as that’s where you can buy it the cheapest. It tastes amazing.”

Ryan Pedro, Business Management

Chef Huang Hack: “That’s an easy one. You can do fried eggs, boiled eggs, you can do steamed eggs, like a pudding. You can use a little bit of chicken or vegetable stock with the eggs together, and it becomes like a custard. It’s easy. Two parts egg and one part liquid. You whisk it together with some salt and just steam it. I think you can use a microwave to do it.”

Kraft Dinner

Cost: $1.00 per box

Student Hack: “I hear adding ketchup is the secret to great KD. But the real secret is not to use the little noodles in the box, but to use spaghetti instead. Spaghetti and cheese together are amazing. Also using a sprinkling of real cheese over the powdered cheese is good too.”

Noah Boatman, second-year Biomedical Engineering

Chef Huang Hack: “I make a macaroni soup, like a chicken noodle soup with vegetable or chicken broth. But I’m sure a student doesn’t have time to do this. You can use some vegetable paste, which you can buy from the health food store. Maybe open a jar of bolognese sauce. When people think of macaroni, they think about macaroni and cheese. But they can’t get away from ‘macaroni and cheese’. You can make something else, using the same thing. Pasta is pasta.”

Rice and Beans

Cost: $3.49 per bag of white, powder boiled rice, $1.99 per 840 ml tin of beans

Student Hack: For the rice, I like to use a little butter and salt. For the beans, I use cumin, and stir in some more salt and add olive oil. I like foods that are savoury and a little oily.

Nazanin Ghelichi, Continuing Education, Environment and Urban Sustainability

Chef Huang Hack: “I do a lot of rice and beans here [at TRSM]. It’s Caribbean cuisine. We do it with jerk chicken. You can use a long grain rice, like basmati rice. I use a little saute onion, and put the rice together. Make sure you wash your rice. If you don’t wash your rice, you get a lot of starch.

Add a little bit of garlic, add a little bit of scotch bonnet pepper just to make it flavourful, for a little kick. Then take your can of beans and just pour it in to cook it. I like to use kidney beans as they’re more flavourful and colourful. There’s so many ways of cooking rice. You can steam the rice, cook the rice on top of the stove, bake the rice in the oven, like how Indian people use a Rinnai. A lot of chinese places steam rice instead of cooking by stovetop. Powder boiled rice is idiot proof because it’s already cooked, you’re just rehydrating it.”

Chef Paul Huang says ‘your eyes eat before your mouth’, so always focus on good presentation. (Photo by Isabella Perrone)

Avocado

Cost: $1.99 per fruit

Student Hack: I add salt and pepper to the avocado, then I mash it up with a can of tuna. It’s great, almost like a tuna salad.

Micayla Fasullo, first-year Media Production

Chef Huang Hack: “Avocado you really have to work on it. It is not cheap either. Avocado can do a lot of things: salads, guacamole. But if you make guacamole, you have chips, and that’s not healthy either. Just eating the avocado by itself as a fruit, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just squeeze over a little lime juice.  It’s nice and refreshing. You can cut up some avocado and put it in a sandwich. There’s no rule of thumb.”

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