Elements of Food, Fix & Freeze, Uncategorized

Superbowl Sunday = Fix and Freeze Extravaganza

My husband and I look forward to Super Bowl Sunday as a day spent with amazing food, a few friends and the big game. (mostly food for me…!) However, this year was a little bit different. Life has been slightly crazy, my husband has been working around the clock and Super Bowl Sunday was no exception. We decided that this year we’d hibernate in our house with some simple snacks and the game in the background, allowing B to continue his work day from home. Now, i’m not really a football fan (REALLY!?) But, I do enjoy the star studded commercials and the always interesting half time show. I decided this was a perfect opportunity to stock the freezer with some goodies. I’m not sure what possessed me to make 4 different entrees, spending a total of 7 hours in the kitchen…but I did, and the outcome was several tasty items to last us several weeks if not months. I’ll be posting the recipes throughout the next couple weeks.

So, what’s in the freezer now?

  • Pesto Chicken Stuffed Jumbo Shells (Savory)
  • Swiss Macaroni and Cheese (Comfort)
  • Spinach Soup (So easy and healthy)
  • Chicken with garlic & herb marinade and spring veggies (Super healthy and tasty!)

I’ve come across a few blogs with make ahead ideas, serving as the inspiration for all of my fix and freeze adventures. Now, Pinterest has caught on. And if Pinterest thinks it’s a good idea…it MUST be 🙂 Lots to learn I tell you…! But really, you can take any of your favorite recipes and tweak them to be freezer safe and oven friendly and I’ll show you how.

We love mac and cheese in this house…and we’re not picky about which kind…it’s a lovely comfort food I like to have on hand for those nights when you just want to curl up on the couch with a How I Met Your Mother marathon and a glass of wine (or beer for my hubby) and a big bowl of cheesy mac. The best part about mac and cheese is that you can literally take any type of cheese, create a sauce and smother your favorite pasta and call it a day. The recipe I’m posting is inspired by the Swiss cheese fondue recipe my mother makes…and let me tell you, it’s fantastic. The only issue with her recipe is the 3 types of cheeses you need to make it. Let’s call this the budget version. I’m scrapping the fancy Gruyere, Appenzeller and Emmentaler and sticking with the basic Swiss. I buy a Swiss cheese from Lunds by Minnesota Creamery and it melts like a dream and has great flavor. In my opinion, if you use the right spices and herbs, you can get away with downgrading your cheese selection. No need to break the bank on mac and cheese 🙂

Swiss Mac & Cheese

  • 1.5 pounds shredded Swiss Cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons of corn starch
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1.5 cups of dry white wine (I use a Pinot Grigio for this)
  • 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
  • 1.5 Teaspoons of dry mustard
  • 1 pound of shells or elbow macaroni

*You will also need 2 8×8 Ovenware containers.

Directions

  1. In a large sauce pan, bring water to a boil for the pasta. Boil pasta for 3 minutes and remove from heat. You don’t want the pasta to be completely cooked. It will finish cooking in the oven. Spread the pasta onto a cookie sheet with sides to cool.
  2. Add the 2 tablespoons of corn starch to the shredded Swiss cheese and mix well. This prevents the cheese from clumping.
  3. In a large heavy bottomed (think Le Creuset) sauce pan, rub the bottom of the pan with the garlic clove. Add the white wine and lemon juice, and bring to a soft simmer.
  4. With a whisk, gradually add the cheese in small amounts, whisking until smooth. Continue until all the cheese is added and melted. Do not boil.
  5. Add in the fresh nutmeg and dry mustard. In a large bowl, combine the pasta and cheese sauce until well incorporated and divide between two 8×8 Ovenware or freezer/ovensafe containers and freeze.

Cooking Instructions

  • Defrost the mac and cheese in the microwave on low until defrosted, but not cooked. Preheat the oven to 375. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until hot and melted.
  • Top with breadcrumbs, chopped, cooked bacon or parsley. Enjoy!
Elements of Food, Fix & Freeze

Fix and Freeze Dish #2 Chicken and Wild Rice Bake

With chicken, wild rice, tart cherries and savory scallions, you can’t go wrong. This one dish dinner is a simple, convenient and comforting way to fill up on a chilly winter day. With a variety of flavors and textures mixed together, this fancied up casserole is family friendly, and freezer friendly. It’s healthy, reheats quickly and comes out perfectly! Wild rice takes a long time to cook, so make sure you account for at least an hour of cooking time for the rice. Again…no good photo for this one…I prepared this the same evening as the mac and cheese 🙂

Storage Containers: You will need two 8×8 Glad Ovenware containers. If you don’t have these, the mixture can be placed into any freezer safe containers, but Ovenware goes right from your freezer to the oven, and is reusable.

Chicken and Wild Rice Bake

Recipe: Michele Borboa

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of wild rice
  • 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup finely chopped dried fruit such as cherries, apricots or raisins
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of grated lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped scallions, both green and white parts
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup light sour cream

Directions

  • In a large pot over high heat, bring rice, broth and water to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot and cook rice according to package directions (about an hour to an hour and a half)
  • When the rice is fully cooked, drain any additional water from the pot and stir in the dried fruit, parsley, lemon juice and zest. Spread the rice mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet and cool completely.
  • In a large bowl, combine rice, chicken, scallions and tarragon. Add chicken mixture, cream of chicken soup and sour cream and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Divide mixture between two 8×8 Ovenware containers and freeze.

Reheating Instructions: Let casserole thaw in the fridge overnight. If you didn’t plan ahead and decide to have this for dinner last minute, simply defrost in the microwave for about 10 minutes until the mixture separates. Cover casserole with foil (plastic tops to the Ovenware are not oven safe) and bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10-15 minutes, until hot.

Elements of Food, Fix & Freeze

Fix and Freeze Dish #1 – Macaroni and Cheese

Well, my first fix and freeze adventure was a huge success! I started out the weekend on Saturday making two dishes and finished up on Monday with two more, for a total of 8 meals and several days worth of soup! Sadly, I’m going to have to try and keep your attention with my writing, as my slightly distracted and in a hurry hubby left me with the DSLR , and no memory card. The worst part? I was too busy cooking and photographing to realize the green blinking light telling me there was no memory card…it’s really not cool how it allows you to take a photo, even LOOK at it, and then it disappears…with no memory card. I think I’m allowed to plead clueless to this digital mistake, as my college photography courses were spent with film…the lost art. The photo is on the film. It doesn’t go anywhere. No matter what. Anyways. So step by step photos are a loss, but I do have some terribly awful iPhone photos of the finished product for 2 of my dishes. Next time, next time.

Let’s start out easy. The first dish I made was an incredibly simple, incredibly yummy macaroni and cheese. Now, this incredibly simple comfort staple, does have a lot of room for mistake. Yes, you can mess up one of life’s best culinary inventions by making it too bland, leaving you with a flavorless, goopy, disaster of a mess. So go ahead and tweak as you see necessary, I know I did.

Photo Courtesy of CooksCountry.com

Fix & Freeze Lesson One: When cooking a pasta dish to freeze, it’s important to NOT cook the pasta all the way through. Actually, you’re hardly going to cook it at all. This allows cooking time in the oven without the pasta expanding into a solid block of starchy noodles.

And now for the recipe. This recipe was adapted from Cooks Country. What is Cooks Country you ask? It’s the sister publication to Cooks Illustrated (my favorite…) with an emphasis on home style cooking…less of the crazy techniques and more easy, family friendly recipes. Hence, why they have an amazing make ahead recipe for mac and cheese!

Why this recipe works for freezing: We are increasing the sauce to pasta ratio so that there is an overload of sauce preventing the pasta from drying out during the freezing process. We are also undercooking the pasta by quite a bit. The sauce then finishes cooking the pasta when you pop it in the oven to perfection.

Make Ahead Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Meghan Erwin, Cooks Country

Ingredients

  • 4 slices of hearty white sandwich bread torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (I always double the garlic, so use 2, unless they are large cloves)
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of unsalted butter
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni ( I like Barilla’s elbows, they have little ridges on the elbows..a perfect trap for any sauce)
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1-2 teaspoons of dry mustard (use this to taste…I liked a little more, so I added a little more)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (same here…like it spicy? Then try a little more!)
  • 4 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (do NOT substitute milk in this recipe. The reason this recipe works is because of the fat content in cream. The proteins in milk will cause the sauce to curdle.)
  • 4 cups shredded colby cheese*
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese*

*A note on cheeses. You can essentially use whatever cheeses you love. If you want a fancy swiss fondue style mac and cheese, substitute in Emmentaller and Gruyere. If you like a super cheddary sauce, use 4 cups of mild cheddar in place of the colby.

Step 1: Process the topping. Pulse bread, parmesan, garlic and 2 tablespoons of butter in a food processor until coarsely ground. Divide crumb mixture between 2 zip-lock freezer bags and freeze.

Step 2: Cook Pasta: Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat in a dutch oven. Add 1 tablespoon salt and macaroni and cook until barely softened, about 3 minutes. Drain pasta and spread out onto a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Do not leave in a colander, it will stick together in one big clump. A note on rinsing pasta: Don’t do it. The starch left on the pasta help the sauces adhere to the noodles.

Step 3: Make the Sauce: Heat remaining butter, four, mustard and cayenne in the dutch oven over medium high heat, stirring constantly until golden and fragrant. About 2 minutes. (You are making a white sauce here) Slowly whisk in broth and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheeses, 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper until smooth.

Step 4: Stir cooled pasta into the sauce, breaking up any noodles that may have stuck together, until well combined. The mixture WILL BE SOUPY. It’s supposed to be, trust me. Divide the pasta into 2 8×8 Glad Ovenware containers and let cool to room temperature. (See terrible iPhone photo below…) Once cooled, cover, and freeze up to 2 months.

To Bake: Preheat oven to 375. Ovenware must be placed in an oven that has been preheated for 20 minutes. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Microwave the mac and cheese about 10-14 minutes until thawed and cheese starts to bubble around the sides, stirring half way through cooking. Remove plastic cover (not oven safe), cover with foil, and bake for 25 minutes in the oven. Remove the foil and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Continue to bake until crumbs are golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minute before serving.

Enjoy!

UPDATE! We tried this last night and it was DELICIOUS! I adjusted the cooking times above. It is very rich…you don’t need much to fill up! It was the perfect dish to serve my husband when he arrived home from his long business trip.

Fix & Freeze, Uncategorized

Once a Week Fix and Freeze Cooking

And so my adventure begins! The chest freezer arrived this past Tuesday as did my bulk pack of Glad Ovenware containers. All 18 of them. I guess I should have read that it was 6 packs of 3…not a total of 6. Gotta love Amazon. I guess I know what I’m doing this weekend! I’ve decided on 3 entree dishes to start out with, as well as a soup. The plan is to cook one day out of the week, probably Saturday or Sunday. But this first round may require some extra time…say, the entire weekend 🙂 So, what’s on the menu?

Creamy Cheddar Mac & Cheese

Chicken & Wild Rice Bake

Butternut Squash, Spinach & Chard Lasagna

Soup TBD…so many options, where do I even begin. Maybe a past favorite…Smoky Corn Chowder, Split Pea & Ham, Creamy Potato…all favorites of my hubby.

I’ll be starting these adventures tomorrow as well as explaining the process for make ahead cooking which requires more liquids, half cooked pastas, etc. as well as proper freezing methods and containers.

Stay Tuned…