April 20, 2018
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Ready-made by you: Fix it, freeze it, heat it, eat it

By Sharon K. Ghag, The Modesto Bee

You can’t make this stuff up.

The meat-eater goes to college and falls for a vegetarian. Now he’s extolling the virtues of leafy greens and whole grains.

That’s fine, but what to do when he decides to bring his significant other home during break to a house where meals are centered on meat?

The last thing you want is to make a bad impression with a mediocre meal, so testing recipes ahead of time is key when entertaining important guests. As you’re making new dishes, cook half and freeze the rest for cooking and enjoying later. These ready-made dishes tucked safely away in the freezer can become lifesavers during the weekday crunch and when hosting unexpected overnight guests.

“Southern Living Fix It & Freeze It/Heat It & Eat It: A Quick-Cook Guide to Over 200 Make-Ahead Dishes,” by the editors of Southern Living magazine (Oxmoor House, $19.95), shows what to freeze (casseroles, soups, stews, chili and meatloaf), how to freeze it and for how long to ensure maximum quality.

Here are highlights from the book on cooling and storing dishes:

To chill soup or stew quickly, pour it into a metal bowl and set in an ice bath — a larger bowl filled halfway with ice water. Pour into containers and freeze.

Place food in a shallow, wide container and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool.

Store soups and stews in freezer bags, which can be placed flat and freeze quickly.

Store foods in small servings, no more than 1 quart, so they freeze quickly. This also allows you to defrost only what you need.

For casseroles, line the bottom and sides of a casserole dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil, allowing 2 to 3 inches to extend over sides; fill with prepared recipe.

Cover and freeze two to three hours or until firm. Lift the frozen casserole from the dish, using the foil sides as handles, and freeze in a labeled zip-top plastic freezer bag. You’ll need an extra-large, 2-gallon bag for 13-by-9-inch baking dishes, and a 1-gallon bag for 9-inch square baking dishes.

To serve, remove the foil from the frozen casserole, then return casserole to the original baking dish; cover and let thaw in the refrigerator (allow 24 to 48 hours). Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature, and bake as directed.

Baked goods can be frozen in a single layer in a jelly-roll pan until firm, and then transferred to an airtight container or zip-top plastic freezer bag,

Use a permanent marker to label each container with the name of the dish, volume or weight if you’ve measured it, and the date you put it in the freezer. Include baking or reheating instructions. It’s easier to write on plastic freezer bags before you freeze them.

Freezing guidelines

There’s a wealth of information in “Southern Living Fix It & Freeze It/Heat It & Eat It: A Quick-Cook Guide to Over 200 Make-Ahead Dishes.” Here are guidelines on freezing:


Bacon, raw, 1 month

Sausage, raw, 1-2 months

Ham, fully cooked, 1-2 months

Luncheon meats, unopened, 1-2 months

Cooked meats, casseroles, 2-3 months

Cooked soups/stews, 2-3 months

Ground beef, veal, lamb, pork, 3-4 months

Chops, 4 months

Roasts, 4 months

Steaks, 6 months


Yogurt, 1-2 months

Ice cream, 2 months

Buttermilk, 3 months

Milk, 3 months

Cream, half-and-half, 4 months

Cheese, hard, unopened, 6 months

Cheese, soft, unopened, 6 months

Butter 6-9 months


Ground chicken, turkey, 3-4 months

Cooked, plain, 4 months

Cooked poultry, casseroles, 4-6 months

Cooked, covered with broth, gravy, 6 months

Chicken or turkey, pieces, 9 months

Chicken or turkey, whole, 12 months

Fruit and Vegetables

Vegetables, purchased frozen, 8 months

Juices, unopened, 8-12 months

Fruit juice concentrates, 12 months

Vegetables, home-frozen, 10 months

Fish and Shellfish

Fish, fatty, 2-3 months

Live clams, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, 2-3 months

Shellfish, cooked, 3 months

Shrimp, scallops, shucked clams, mussels, oysters, 3-6 months

Fish, cooked, 4-6 months

Fish, lean, 6 months

Breads and Desserts

Pie, baked, 1 month

Cake, angel food, chiffon, sponge, 2 months

Cheesecake, 1-2 months

Quick bread, baked, 2-3 months

Yeast bread and rolls, 3-6 months

Cake, yellow or pound, 1-3 months

Cookies, baked, 1-3 months

Red Mole Enchiladas

Serves 8

12 to 15 mild to medium dried chilies (New Mexico, pasilla, guajillo, ancho), toasted in a dry skillet, soaked and cleaned

2 cups assorted nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts)

¼ cup tahini

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 large onion, chopped

1 head garlic, peeled

4 plum tomatoes, cored

2 thick slices white bread, stale is fine

1 quart vegetable stock, plus more as needed

¼ cup oil

Salt and pepper

3 to 4 large bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground allspice

2 teaspoons anise seeds

16 or more large corn tortillas

3 or 4 pounds spaghetti or butternut squash, cooked and mixed with 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 teaspoon chili powder, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon ground coriander and ½ teaspoon salt

2 cups Monterey jack cheese

Chopped onion, cilantro for garnish

Put the chilies, nuts, tahini, cocoa powder, onion, garlic, tomatoes and bread in a blender with just enough stock to get the machine running. Work in batches as necessary.

Put ¼ cup oil in a large, deep pot over medium heat. Add the pureed mixture and all of the spices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan, until mixture begins to color and become fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is deeply colored, softened and nearly dry, 15 to 20 minutes.

Turn the heat back up to medium high and slowly stir in the remaining stock. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat so the sauce barely bubbles. Cook, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid as needed, for an hour or so, until the sauce is thick and smooth.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Mole may be refrigerated for three days. Remove bay leaves and cinnamon stick and warm sauce when ready to assemble enchiladas.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spoon a thin layer of sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Put ½ inch of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the tortillas, one at a time, until soft and pliable, about 10 seconds. Add more oil as needed. Drain tortillas on paper towels.

Add 2 to 3 tablespoons butternut or spaghetti squash and a sprinkling of Monterey jack cheese in the center of each tortilla. Roll and place in the prepared dish with mole, seam side down.

Cover with more mole and bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with onion and cilantro before serving.

Note: Roast chilies in a dry skillet over medium heat until they begin to release their aroma. Then cover the toasted chilies in hot water until they’re soft and pliable.

To cook spaghetti squash, coat with oil and roast in a 375-degree oven for 40 minutes, or until skin can easily be pierced with a fork. Scrap squash flesh out with a fork. Butternut squash can be peeled and diced into chunks, tossed with oil and then roasted until tender, about 40 minutes.

The texture and crunch of cooked spaghetti squash makes it an ideal filling.

The sauce for this recipe is from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Recipes for Great Food,” by Mark Bittman (Wiley, $35).

Squash and Spinach Lasagna

Serves 8


5 pounds butternut squash, peeled and seeded

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

2¼ pounds spinach, washed

3 tablespoons butter

Generous grating of nutmeg

8 to 12 lasagna noodles

4 ounces Parmesan cheese

Canned spaghetti or pizza sauce

Bechamel sauce:

6 cups whole milk

10 peppercorns

½ onion

1 bay leaf

⅔ cup butter

⅔ cup all-purpose flour

Grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and slice the squash. Cut into chunks, put into a roasting pan, drizzle on the oil and season. Toss and roast until tender and slightly charred, about 40 minutes.

For the bechamel sauce, put the milk in a saucepan with the peppercorns, onion and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and leave for 45 minutes to infuse. Strain.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and add the flour. Over a low heat, stir for 2 minutes or more. Remove from heat. Gradually add the milk, beating well after each addition and adding more only when completely smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring, until thick. Reduce the heat and cook for four minutes, then season well, adding the nutmeg.

Put the spinach in a saucepan with the water that clings to it after washing. Cover and put pan over medium heat. Wait for 4 minutes, turn spinach. Squeeze out the water, chop the spinach and put spinach in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon butter. Heat gently, tossing, add nutmeg.

Use the remaining butter to grease a 1½-quart gratin dish. Add a layer of squash, then a layer of spaghetti or pizza sauce. Lay lasagna noodles on top, cutting so they don’t overlap. Add a layer of bechamel sauce, half the spinach and half the cheese. Now put in another layer of lasagna and the remaining spinach. Add a layer of squash, a layer of red sauce and a final layer of bechamel. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

This recipe is adapted from “Plenty,” by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $29.95).

Red Lentil Dhal

Serves 4

1¾ cups red lentils

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1 white onion, finely diced

1½ inches ginger, peeled, grated

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 red chile, seeded, chopped

3 teaspoons curry powder

4 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

Pinch of chile powder

1 tablespoon tomato puree

2 sticks cinnamon (or 1, if large)

1⅔-2 cups vegetable stock or water

Sea salt

Juice of 1 lemon, a bunch of mint and cilantro, chopped

Rinse the red lentils, place in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then drain in a fine sieve, rinse with cold water and drain again.

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the cumin and mustard seeds and stand back — as they hit the hot oil they will sputter and spit. Cook for 30 seconds. Add the onion. (This will reduce the temperature in the pan immediately; be careful not to burn the seeds or the dhal will be bitter.) Cook over medium heat until softened. Add the ginger, garlic, chile, curry powder, cumin, turmeric and chile powder and fry for 3 minutes. Add the tomato puree and fry for 1 minute.

Add the lentils, cinnamon and stock and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until the lentils are tender and the dhal has thickened. (Add a little water if too thick.) Remove from the heat, season with sea salt and add the lemon juice to taste. Let cool a little before adding the herbs (otherwise they will discolor). Serve warm.

This recipe is from “The Modern Vegetarian: Food Adventures for the Contemporary Palate,” by Maria Elia (Kyle Books, $19.95).

Heart-Stuffed Shells in a Bechamel Sauce

Serves 4

18 jumbo pasta shells (about half a 12-ounce box)

1 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large onion, diced

12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry

¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup finely grated Romano cheese

½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt, plus for pasta pot

Freshly ground black pepper


4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

1 clove garlic, minced

½ cup ricotta cheese

2 tablespoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.

Cook shells according to package directions and toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Melt butter in a heavy 12-inch skillet and cook until nutty and brown, stirring occasionally to keep the solids moving. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, then the onion, and cook until lightly brown and caramelized, for about 7 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts and cook them until they are softened a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates.

Remove pan from heat and cool slightly; transfer artichoke mixture to a food processor, add both cheeses and the remaining ingredients and pulse until well-chopped but still coarse.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the milk slowly while whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add garlic and bring sauce to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the ricotta, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Adjust seasoning.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour 2 cups of sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place 1 tablespoon artichoke filling in each cooked shell and nest each pasta shell in the sauce seam side up. Dollop a spoonful of sauce over each shell. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 more minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

This recipe is from “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook,” by Deb Perelman (Knopf, $35).

©2013 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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