PART 3 COOKING AHEAD FOR BUSY DAYS

Hope your holiday was enjoyable. The weather finally decided to cooperate and let us out of the house towards the end of the three days. It was so hot at first it was just not “outside” weather as far as I was concerned. But finally we got some rain and it cooled down and turned into a beautiful last two days. Very nice.

I hope you had time to look at your menu planning. Here are the last few recipes for the menu I suggested for to you:

TORTILLA CRUSTED FISH
Serves 4

2 #        Alaskan Halibut , boneless, skinless
2           Eggs, beaten with 2 tbsp. water
1           Cup all-purpose flour
4           Cups tortilla chips, crushed in a plastic bag

Cut the Halibut (or other firm white fish) into strips. Lightly dust each strip in the flour. Spank off any excess flour. Then dip in the egg mixture. Then dip in the tortilla chip crumbs. Lay the fish strips on a parchment lined baking sheet and place in the freezer until frozen.
Once frozen, package, layering with clean parchment paper between each layer of fish in a container. Top with plastic wrap, and a lid or foil. Label and freeze.
To prepare: Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 – 12 minutes, until fish flakes easily with a fork. May also be fried in a skillet coated with vegetable oil. about the same amount of time.

BROCCOLI, RICE AND CHEESE CASSEROLE
SERVES 4

3 1/4             Tbsp. White or yellow onion, minced
3/8                Cup butter, melted
8                    Ounces frozen broccoli, broken apart enough to mix
3/4                Cup Minute rice, not cooked
8 5/8             Can Cream of celery soup, condensed
4                    Tbsp water
1/4                Cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4                Cup Condensed milk

Blend ingredients together, add to container.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Either add lid or foil.  Label.  Baking instructions- Bake at 350 degrees appx. 45 minutes, until bubbly and rice is cooked.

CHEESE STUFFED SHELLS WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATO AND BASIL
CREAM SAUCE
SERVES 4

1            Tbsp. olive oil
1            Red bell pepper, diced
2            Cloves garlic, minced
1            Tbsp. flour
1            Pint Half and Half, warm
1            Cup basil, fresh, minced
4            Tbsp. Sun-dried tomatoes, drained, minced
1            Tsp. salt and pepper
1/2        Tbsp. Roux (see below)
12          Jumbo Pasta Shells, cooked, drained
2            Cups Ricotta cheese
4            Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
1/4        Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1            Egg, beaten

Cook the shells in salted water 2/3 the required amount of time, drain and set aside on parchment paper.

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the diced red pepper, and cook until the pepper is tender.  Add the garlic, then stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.  Whisk in the heated half and half, 1/2 cup of the basl, the sun-dried tomatoes, half the salt and pepper.  Cook and whisk over medium heat until the mixture thickens and comes to a simmer.  Add the roux and continue to simmer gently for 5 minutes longer.

Mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, half the Parmesan, the remaining basil, egg, remaining salt and pepper.  Fill the shells with this mixture.

Place the filled shells in your container, pour the sauce over the top.  Sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese.  Cover with plastic wrap, foil or lid.  Label and freeze.  Reheating instructions – Remove plastic cover, re-cover with foil, and bake in preheated 350 degree oven about 30 – 40 minutes, until hot and internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

ROUX
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour

Heat butter over medium high heat. Add flour all at once whisking vigorously. When mixture thins and starts to bubble, reduce heat to low and whisk slowly.  Cook until you smell a toasty aroma then cook 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally.Roux can be used immediately to thicken a liquid that is at or below room temperature. To thicken a hot liquid, allow roux to cool to room temperature, or refrigerate.Tightly wrapped, roux can be refrigerated for up to a month. Simply break off pieces and use as needed.(Adapted from FoodTV.com)

 

BREADSTICKS
SERVES 4

1        Package oven ready pre-baked breadsticks 8 or more to
             a package
1        Package of pre-cooked bacon, with at least as many slices as
you have breadsticks.
2        Cups brown sugar, or as needed

Spread brown sugar out onto a piece of parchment paper. Microwave the bacon wrapped in a paper towel on low for 30 seconds just until soft.  After letting the bacon cool enough that it won’t melt the brown sugar,  press one side of the bacon into the brown sugar.   Wrap the bacon in a spiral fashion stretching it end on the bottom side of the bread sticks.
Secure with a toothpick if necessary.  Wrap, cool and freeze.  Place in plastic bag, label.  To prepare, unwrap, place on baking rack in preheated 375 degree oven, and cook for about 20 minutes, until bacon crisps up, but doesn’t burn.  Let cool a few minutes, then serve.  (May add 1 tsp.of chili powder to the brown sugar if desired.)

Variations:  Add 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1 package breadsticks.  Mix softened butter and cheese, then brush each breadstick.  Wrap and proceed as directed on breadstick package.  You may also use a baguette, cutting it horizontally, and spread the butter,cheese mixture over both halves and place the halves buttered sides together; then slice diagonally into 4 pieces.  Wrap each piece in plastic wrap, then foil and place in a ziplock bag.  Label and place in freezer.  Cook as instructed above after opening each of the four pieces and placing on a baking sheet.

BREAKFAST TORTILLAS
12 tortillas

1 1/2           #Breakfast sausage, such as Hillshire Farms, bulk package type
12                16 inch flour tortillas
1                  # Frozen hash browns, shredded type
3                  Tbsp. Olive Oil
12                Eggs, large, beaten with 6 Tbsp. water
12                Ounces Cheddar cheese, grated
Optional–
4                  Ounces your favorite salsa
8                  Ounces canned green chilies, diced, chopped,drained

Fry the sausage in a large skillet.  Remove to large bowl.  Add the oil and potatoes and fry until any moisture from potatoes is gone.  If using salsa and green chilies, add them to the potatoes.  Remove to bowl with sausage.
Scramble the eggs in a separate skillet to keep them light and fluffy.  Set aside to cool.
Briefly warm the tortillas in the microwave on low for 1 -2 minutes wrapped in a clean cloth towel.  Lay a tortilla on a work surface, add 1/12 of the meat/hash brown mixture to the shell, then top with 1/12 of the egg mixture.  Sprinkle with 1/12 of the cheese mixture.  Fold both sides in, then the bottom up halfway and roll into a burrito.  Wrap in foil and label, then freeze.  To cook, loosen foil, place in microwave on half power and microwave for 1 – 3 minutes, depending on your microwave.  You may choose to lightly wrap tortilla in a lightly dampened paper towel to prevent tortilla from becoming tough, it depends on your microwave.  They may also be baked wrapped in foil.

I hope you enjoyed these last three weeks of recipes.  I also hope you have decided to dedicate a day to “cooking ahead” and have looked at your favorite recipes, or maybe have been exploring options of new recipes that you want to try.  Just remember, you will be rewarded with time spent at the table with your family enjoying a meal that you prepared and the best part will be when you aren’t running all over the kitchen trying to get dinner on the table after a crazy busy day.  You will have a great meal waiting for you in the refrigerator, all you have to do is finish cooking it.

Until next time, cook something you love, for someone you love.  And pray for our world, we sure need a lot of love and prayer right now.  Pray for all the children who are suffering, and so desperately need food and love, I do wish I could bring them to my table to eat.  Let’s feed one another and show love that way.  Food is so much better than violence.

COOKING AHEAD TO SURVIVE BUSY DAYS

I think of all the classes I have taught over the years the one’s that have been the most popular and the most well attended have been the ones that were themed on cooking ahead or bulk cooking. With school starting and everyone with busy schedules, it gets difficult sometimes to find time to prepare dinner and then get everyone around the dinner table to share a meal. But we all know that those precious times of sharing the family meal provides an avenue of communication that can’t be replaced. So for those of you having a difficult time scheduling the shopping, preparation and meals, I hope these next few weeks will help you find a way to spend that irreplaceable quality time with your family and not go through drive thru to do it.

The first step is to decide what you actually need to accomplish. Do you need help at breakfast, with lunch, with dinner, or with all of these. What does an average meal consist of for your family? A protein, a vegetable, a salad and a desert? What types of protein will your family eat? Most families have favorites. Whether it’s casseroles, BBQ, your favorite recipe that you’ve fixed a million times and they eat every last bite of it every time. Those are the recipes you want to pull out first, and start to build your menu around. From those base recipes, I will try to help you find some others that have been popular over the years and are family friendly.  In future blogs, we will talk about recipes that more palate specific to individual likes rather than across the board.

Then the next thing to work on is make a menu based on how many nights (days, lunch’s, breakfasts,) you will be trying to prepare food for. This is all going to have to be based on freezer space but also on how much time you realistically have to cook the items.  So plan accordingly. If you only have a small overhead freezer on your refrigerator, clean it out, get rid of the things you have in bags that are “surprise” leftovers, (yes, we all have them-the things we are sure we will remember what they are, and that we don’t need to label, and after a month get pushed to the back and forgotten, only to be discovered, and they become the “OH MY GOSH, WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?” surprise leftovers. We are all guilty of it.

I am going to show you a sample 5 day menu. I say 5 days because most families have activities at least 2 nights, or just enjoy eating away from home a couple nights a week or will clean up leftovers.
Notice that there are numbers and notes after each main item, we will discuss this below.

 MONDAY –            CHICKEN TENDERS —–#1-Bread, freeze, but will not cook until dinner

                                   HASH BROWN CASSEROLE —–#2-Combine, will not cook until dinner

TUESDAY               BAR-B-QUE PORK SANDWICHES ——#3-Pressure cooker, crockpot or oven
                                  BAKED BEANS——#4-Partially prepare (onions) and finish at dinner
WEDNESDAY       SALISBURY STEAKS——#5-Stovetop
                                  MASHED POTATOES—–#6–Stovetop
THURSDAY           FISH FINGERS——#7-Bread, freeze, but will not cook until dinner
                                  BROCCOLI RICE CASSEROLE—–#8-Stovetop, oven at dinner

FRIDAY                   STUFFED SHELLS—–#9-Stovetop, finish in oven at dinner                                    
                                  BREAD STICKS—–#10-Prep.only, no cooking until dinner
BREAKFAST BURRITOS – #11-Stovetop— 
Let’s take a minute and look at the above menu.  Let’s assume starting from the top to the bottom these are numbered one through 10  and the Burritos are a stand alone but numbered  recipe 11.  One thing to try to accomplish when you plan a menu is taking advantage of more than one heat source, meaning something cooking on the  stove top, items that can be fixed partially and not cooked at all but are prepared so that you have a very quick preparation on the day you set aside for your cooking, and that you will  finish the item with minimal effort at the selected dinner time.  We need items that will be cooking in oven, items that can cook in the crockpot, items that can cook in the pressure cooker.  That way you can have more than one entrée being prepared at a time.
Look at which items take the longest to cook.  Which items have multiple steps, such as #9, the shells have to be par-boiled before
you can begin to stuff them.  The pot must be put on to boil the water, which will take some time.  Each recipe has steps, and by analyzing these steps, you can make the cooking day go much faster.  Each week for the next 5 weeks, I will put up a couple  recipes from the above menu and we will discuss how to prepare it, how to analyze it, what steps to take to execute the recipe in as short a length of time as possible.  Then on the last week, we will discuss how to put it all together, making a grocery list, and then hopefully you will have substituted some of the above with your favorite recipes, and you will be ready to spend a day in the kitchen that will give you many free nights in the future. You will have to convert them to the number of servings appropriate for your family.
Italian Style Breaded Chicken Tenderloins   #1
Serves 4
1# Chicken Tenderloins, rinsed, patted dry
2 Cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 Cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, fine ground
1 Cup Regular Flour
3 Eggs, beaten 3 tbsp. water
Other items you will need, parchment paper, baking sheet, freezer bags, plastic wrap, 4 shallow pans, 1 fork
Rinse and pat dry the chicken tenderloins.  If they have a tendon on one end, cut it off.  Combine the grated cheese and the flavored bread crumbs in one of the shallow pans (if you cannot find flavored bread crumbs, make your own by adding your favorite Italian Seasoning mix to plain bread crumbs).  Place the regular all purpose flour in one of the pans.  Crack the eggs and place them in one of the pans, then beat them with 3 tbsp. water.  Place the pans in a line with the all purpose flour closest to you, then egg wash, then bread crumb mix.  Then have a prepared baking sheet lined with parchment paper at the end.  Dip each chicken tender first in the flour, spanking any excess flour off with your hand, then into the egg,coating well, lift up and let it drain, then into the bread crumbs.  Press down to help the crumbs adhere to the chicken tenders.  Lay them out on the baking sheet, and continue until you are finished.  Cover lightly with a top layer of parchment.  Wrap all around with plastic wrap, and freeze overnight until firm.  Once firm, remove from baking sheet and carefully place in a plastic bag separating layers by parchment paper or put in a square container with a tight fitting lid, and also separate with layers of parchment paper.  Label.
Hash Brown Casserole  #2
Serves 4-6
Bake in preheated oven on 375 for 45 minutes, cover last 30
1 Package Frozen Shredded Hash Brown Potatoes
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 onion finely chopped
1/4 cup parsley, fresh, washed, minced
5 3/8 oz. can Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
1/4 Cheddar Cheese, grated
1/2 Cup Sour cream
1/2 tsp. salt
Topping: 3/4 corn flakes, 2 tbsp butter melted,  2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
non-stick spray
4×8 casserole dish
Mix hash browns, sour cream, 4 tbsp. melted butter, shredded cheddar cheese, minced parsley, soup and onions together.  Spray a 4×8 casserole dish with non-stick spray.  Pour mixture into casserole dish.
Melt remaining 2 tbsp. butter,  add cornflakes and remaining 2 tbsp parsley.  Mix well, remove from pan and cool.  Place topping in a plastic bag to cool.
Place plastic wrap directly on top of the casserole so no air can penetrate it.  Add bag of topping.  Cover with foil or a lid. Label.
Barbecue Pork or Beef  #3
Serves 4
Reheat oven or microwave on low heat cycle
2 Pounds Beef Chuck Roast or Pork Roast
Salt and pepper to taste.
Dry BBQ rub is desired.
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Onion, cubed
16 oz. Your favorite BarBQue Sauce
1 Pressure Cooker
or 1 Roaster and your oven
Trim the roast and cut into 4 inch cubes if using a pressure cooker.  If using a roaster, cut the meat into 2 inch cubes.    Heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown he meat cubes, taking care not to crown the pan.  Do as many as your skillet will hold but leave ample room for the meat to fry.  If you over crowd it the meat will steam, not brown.  Remove the browned meat as you go and add them to the roaster or pressure cooker.  If using a roaster, preheat the oven to 300.  Add enough stock to come about half way up on the meat.  This will prevent the meat from drying out during cooking.  Add the cubed onion.  Lay a piece of parchment paper that has been cut to fit the inside diameter of the roaster right down on top of the meat.  Cover and bake in the oven until meat is very tender, about 60 minutes.  Check for tenderness.  Remove the meat and the onion (discard the onion) and from the stock at the end of the cooking time.  Put the stock on the stovetop, bring it to a boil, and reduce it down to about a 1/2 cup or less.  Shred the meat with two forks, cool.  Add the BBQ sauce to the reduced stock and cool.  Mix the stock and meat together. Containerize, placing plastic wrap directly down on the meat so there will be not air contact.  Label.
If you are using a pressure cooker, follow the manufacturers directions, mine on high pressure, will cook in about 20 minutes.  The process for reducing the stock is the same,  And from there on it is the same.
BAKED BEANS #4
Serves 4
Bake on 400 when serving until hot
2 16 oz. cans baked beans
1 Onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 sliced bacon, diced
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 cup your favorite Barbecue Sauce
1 tsp. yellow mustard
Add all ingredients together.  Place in container.  Cover with plastic wrap directly on the beans.  Then either place a lid on the beans, or cover with foil.  Label.
There are two of the five days to look at.  If you find recipes of yours for any of the five days and want to replace or change something, feel free to do so.  Next week we will finish the other three days recipes and then start working on the grocery list and the best way to tackle preparation of these this in one day.  In the mean time, if you are cooking something for an evening meal that you think will freeze well, why not make two.  Don’t completely cook it.  And be sure to add the layer of plastic wrap to help prevent freezer burn.  AND LABEL IT.
Talk to you next week.  Happy cooking.  By the way, had a wonderful lunch at Jasper’s Restaurant this week.  What a great host and Chef Jasper is.  He treated myself and my guest Francesca Scilla from Italy to a wonderful lunch.  He and his staff and food are simply the best.  If you haven’t treated yourself to Jasper’s yet you just don’t know what you are missing.