Meals To Freeze Now and Eat Later
When you think of meals that freeze well, you usually think of casseroles. While the origin of the word “casserole” is French, this dish has been an American dinner time staple since the 1950s. Most casseroles use a standard list of ingredients: meat, poultry, or fish and vegetables incorporated in a soup (typically canned) or sauce, and topped with grated cheese or bread crumbs. The ingredient list may seem mundane, but it offers a surprising amount of versatility. Most home cooks view this ingredient list as a template, experimenting with specific items they have on hand for each of the categories.
The following two casserole recipes were provided by Executive Chef Pat Hoffman of Duke’s Mayonnaise. Not only are they freezer-friendly, they also have short ingredient lists and a quick prep time:
Hot Chicken Salad Almond Casserole
3 cups chicken, cooked and cubed
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup Duke’s Light Mayonnaise
1 can cream of chicken soup
¼ cup slivered toasted almonds
2 cups crushed tortilla cups, crushed
1 cup low fat cheddar cheese, shredded
Combine all of the ingredients, except the tortilla chips and cheese. Place in a sprayed casserole dish and top with chips and cheese. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Green Chili Rice Casserole
2 cups white rice, cooked
1 cup (Monterey) Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup of Duke’s Salad Dressing
2 – 4oz cans of green chilis
½ cup light sour cream
Combine all ingredients except half of the cheese. Pour the mix into a sprayed 9×13 pan and top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Chef Hoffman had a few tips to keep in mind that will help you the best flavor and maximize the efficiency of casserole cooking:
Never abandon the top of your casserole — add a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or some dried seasonings.
Use a baking dish that is deep enough to allow the center of the casserole to stay soft while the outside gets crispy — if all you have is a shallow dish, make sure to cut the bake time.
Make two casseroles and freeze the second before or after cooking.
Be prepared — buy extra chicken or turkey breast next time you shop so you’re never caught without it. Try keeping pre-cooked chicken strips in the freezer — just thaw, chop, and you’re ready to go.
Soup is another dish that makes a great freezer meal; just thaw and heat, add a crusty bread and a side salad, and dinner is served. Keep in mind that soup must be ccompletely cooled before you freeze it. You can put the cooled mixture it in a plastic freezer bag, and lay it flat in your freezer if space is an issue. Or, you can place it in a vcapor-proof, moisture-proof container that will prevent leakage.
The following two soup recipes appear courtesy of Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds, co-authors of the new book, 300 Sensational Soups (Robert Rose Inc., 2008):
Sausage Soup with Green and Butter Beans
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 lbs spicy sausage or kielbasa, crumbled or cut into bite-sized chunks
1 tsp dried oregano
1 large potato, peeled and diced
8 cups beef stock
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15.5 oz can butter beans, drained
1 bay leaf
2 cups frozen green beans
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced
1. Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat and add the butter. When the butter sizzles add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes or until it begins to soften. Add the carrot and celery and sauté for another 2 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic, sausage and oregano and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or until the sausage begins to color slightly.
2. Add the potato, stock, tomatoes, butter beans and bay leaf to the pot and bring the soup to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer the soup, partially covered for about 30 minutes or until the sausage and vegetables are cooked through. If the surface of the soup looks greasy, skim some of the fat with a large spoon and discard it. Stir in the parsley.
3. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper and ladle into heated soup bowls. Garnish with Parmesan curls.
The Day After Thanksgiving Turkey Soup
1 turkey carcass, skin and fat removed
12 cups chicken stock
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 large onions, diced
2 parsnips, trimmed and sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced, optional
2 bay leaves
2 tsp dried thyme
4 cups cooked diced turkey
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup minced flat leaf parsley
1. Into a large soup pot, add the turkey, stock, carrot, onion, parsnip, potato if using, bay and thyme. If the turkey isn’t covered, add more water to cover. Bring the pot to a simmer over medium heat, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours.
2. Remove the turkey bones and let cool. Pick the bones clean of the meat and add it back to the soup along with the diced turkey and peas. Taste the soup for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Ladle the soup into heated bowls and garnish with the parsley.
If you haven’t tried making freezer meals, you’re missing out on a great technique. Not only does it make it easier to put weeknight meals on the table, but it also allows you to take advantage of sales and buying in bulk. However, the most important reason to make freezer meals, is that when a crisis hits, and time is tight, you can still give your family a nutritious meal, instead of a high-salt, high-fat content fast food one.