Tuesday, June 28, 2011

tips for successful make-ahead meals

this weekend my mom left me a cookbook she used when my brother and I were kids to help her get through the week. The book emphasized making a bunch of casseroles at once and freezing them for an easy dinner at a later date (and here I am thinking that my ideas are somewhat original. ha!). I haven't had a chance to study any of the specific recipes yet, but in reading the introductory chapters, I was reminded of some guidelines that I want to pass along to you to help you plan your own make-ahead menus:

  • slightly undercook rice or pasta for make-ahead meals and store sauces separately. When you combine and reheat, the starch will finish cooking. This is also good because during freezing or refrigerating, the starch absorbs the sauce so that the saucy texture is diminished in the meal and the pasta or rice becomes bloated and soggy.
  • bread or cheese toppings on casseroles can also become soggy when stored in the fridge or freezer. Store separately and add during the reheating process.
  • freezing a large dish that will last two consecutive nights is not recommended as repeated heating and cooling encourages bacteria growth. it's better to store separate portions that will be eaten in one sitting. 
  • a good way to ease into being a make-ahead mommy is to simply double a favorite recipe and freeze half for later. Do this a few times and you'll have the beginnings of a freezer stockpile! Frozen meals should be used within eight weeks. Keep a list on the front of the fridge with use-by dates and incorporate the frozen meals into your weekly meal plan on busy nights. 
  • both freezing and microwaving can affect the strength of seasoning. Microwaving decreases garlic flavor while freezing increases it. Saltiness increases during microwaving but decreases in freezing. Pepper can turn bitter and increase in flavor during freezing. Herbs tend to weaken. Here are a few suggestions to overcome the seasoning problem:
    • for a non-layered casserole, measure and add seasonings to thawed dish just before reheating and serving
    • for a layered casserole, make the dish as directed and adjust the seasoning to taste the next time (don't forget to write the adjustments in your cookbook! mine are covered with notes to myself!!)
The above tips are taken from "Casseroles: Meals in Minutes" by Sue Gregg. 

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