The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 18, 2012

Make Ahead Dinners

Karen Freeman

TARBORO — I spent most of Sunday cooking. I love to cook so that is not a hardship. in this case, I was cooking ahead. Cooking ahead is a great way to save time, money and effort.

If you don’t really like to cook, it’s a great way to cook only once or twice a week. If you stay on the go a lot, cook most of the week’s meals at once and refrigerate or freeze them for later use. When you prepare a meal, it isn’t that difficult to prepare twice the amount that you need and freeze half. The next time that you’re in a hurry or just don’t feel like cooking, pull something out of the freezer, add a salad and bread and abracadabra, you have dinner.

The first recipe is Roman-Style Chicken. Don’t let the ingredient list throw you. It’s mostly spices. The recipe calls for 4 breast halves and 2 thighs. However, you can substitute any parts of the chicken that you want. You can also use bacon instead of Prosciutto. I haven’t had much luck with finding Prosciutto locally. If anyone knows where to buy any, please let me know.

The second recipe is Potatoes and Onions. It’s a simple recipe however, the addition of the Rosemary gives it a very distinctive taste. If you use fresh Rosemary instead of dried, remember to chop it finely and throw away the stems since it’s so woody.

The third recipe is a quick but delicious Stroganoff. It’s easy to prepare and it freezes well. When you make this one, make two. You’ll want it again soon!

There are lots of dishes that you can prepare in advance and then use later. When you plan your meals this week, ask yourself if it’s something that will freeze. If the answer is yes, double the recipe and freeze half for those times when you are busy.

Roman-Style Chicken

4 Skinless Chicken Breast Halves, with ribs

2 Skinless Chicken Thighs, with bones

1/2 Teaspoon Salt, Plus 1 Teaspoon

1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper, plus 1 teaspoon

1/4 Cup Olive Oil

1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced

1 Yellow Bell Pepper, sliced

3 Ounces Prosciutto, chopped (may substitute bacon)

2 Cloves Garlic, chopped

1 (15-Ounce) Can Diced Tomatoes

1/2 Cup White Wine

1 Tablespoon Fresh Thyme Leaves

1 Teaspoon Fresh Oregano Leaves

1/2 Cup Chicken Stock

2 Tablespoons Capers

1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Flat-Leaf Parsley Leaves

Season the chicken with 1/2-teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. In a heavy, large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, cook the chicken until browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Keeping the same pan over medium heat, add the peppers and prosciutto and cook until the peppers have browned and the prosciutto is crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, and herbs. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pan, add the stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.

If serving immediately, add the capers and the parsley. Stir to combine and serve. If making ahead of time, transfer the chicken and sauce to a storage container, cool, and refrigerate. The next day, reheat the chicken to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the capers and the parsley and serve.

Potatoes and Onions

2 Lbs New Potatoes (White, Red, Or Yukon Gold), scrubbed and halved

1 Pound Onions, peeled

1/4 Cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

2 Teaspoons Dried Rosemary

1 Teaspoon Salt

1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss together all of the ingredients. Spread the mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until the potatoes and onions are golden brown and cooked through, about 40 minutes. Serve immediately or cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, reheating the next day in a preheated 400 degrees F oven for 10-15 minutes.

Fifteen-Minute Stroganoff

1 Pound Round Steak

2/3 Cup Water

3 Ounces Canned Mushrooms

1 Envelope Onion Soup Mix

1 Cup Sour Cream

2 Tablespoons Flour

Egg Noodles, Cooked And Drained

Cut the meat into thin strips and brown in the shortening. Add the water and mushrooms. Stir in the onion soup mix.  Heat to boiling. Blend sour cream and flour, and add to hot mixture. Let thicken. Serve over noodles.

NOTE: To make ahead, prepare completely; let cool and freeze. On serving day, make fresh noodles and heat sauce. Sauce will separate somewhat, but vigorous stirring brings it right back!

Did you Know?

Some foods do not produce quality products after they have been frozen. There is not a safety concern, only quality deterioration:

Foods that DON’T freeze well:

Cheese in blocks (Crumbles)

Cooked egg white (Rubbery)

Cream pies (Watery with soggy crusts)

Creamed cottage cheese (Separates and becomes mushy)

Custards (Watery)

Egg Yolk (Without sugar/salt becomes gummy)

Gravy (Fat may separate, whisk when reheating)

Green onions & any high water content raw vegetable (Watery & limp, okay for cooking use)

Jelly on bread (May soak into bread)

Lettuce (Becomes limp)

Mayonnaise (Separates)

Milk (Some separation, unless skim)

Milk sauces (May separate)

Potatoes, raw (Texture may change, may darken)

Radishes (Poor texture, pithy)

Sour cream (Separates)

Tomatoes, raw (Watery and limp)

Whole egg (Without sugar/sale becomes gummy)

Yogurt (Separation after freezing)

Moisture loss (freezer burn): Moisture loss, or ice crystals evaporating from the surface area of a product, produces freezer burn. Freezer burn appears as a fuzzy, grayish white spot on the food surface. Freezer burn is not harmful, but it causes off-flavors and dries out and toughens food. Packaging food in moisture/vapor-proof containers or wrapping and storing food for the recommended length of time will help prevent freezer burn. Covering fruit with syrup and cooked meat with gravy or sauce helps prevent freezer burn in these products.