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.

PART 2-COOKING AHEAD TO SURVIVE BUSY DAYS

I hope you had a nice week. Did you look at your favorite recipes and gather them up to use for your first menu? Let’s continue where we left off. When cooking anything, anytime, it is imperative to remember basic food safety rules.
1- Cold food must be kept below 40 degrees and hot food must be kept above 140 degrees. Clean any countertops and food mats before you begin preparing anything. Keep your work are uncluttered. Clutter leads to accidents. Do not cross contaminate, keep meats on a tray on the lowest shelves of your refrigerator, with vegetables and other items above the meat.
2- Never thaw food on the countertop. Thaw it in the refrigerator, which helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.  That means you will need to plan ahead and allow adequate time for thawing.
3 -Putting food in the microwave to thaw it does a serious “no no” to the quality to most meals.
4- Go through all the recipes and make a grocery list from each item from each recipe.
You will see after you list all the items you will have some of these items in your home pantry. Those items you want to highlight, so you don’t accidently purchase something you don’t need. But make sure you pantry items are fresh. Check those spices to ensure their freshness, and look at that flour if it hasn’t been purchased recently and/or kept in the refrigerator.  And the same thing for OILS.  Left out of the refrigerator at room temperature, any oil will go rancid.  Smell them to determine if they are useable.  (And while your at it, the same goes for your perfume.  It will also go rancid because most perfumes have some type oil in them..)
Before you go to the store to do your shopping, make sure you have adequate room in your refrigerator and freezer to store the amount of food you will be bringing home. And be sure you have some sort of shallow tub and a large bag of ice to keep prep’d items cold as you need them.

Another important trick to notice and note while making your grocery list is — if you are buying (example) 5 onions, note it this way:

5 onions —
2 minced –  example  recipe #1
1 sliced into rings   #3
1 chopped  #4
1 large dice  #5

The reason you are doing that is you will know when you start doing your prep that you need to mince 2 onions, slice one into rings, chop 1 and cut one into large dice. It will save you time later and you won’t have to re-read each of your recipes to figure out how to process the vegetables you are buying. You can even go as far as numbering each recipe and writing a number to coincide with the recipe on the container that holds the ingredients for that recipe. Remember you will be doing all your prep before you begin to cook.

If you shop at the same grocery store all the time, you will have some idea of the layout of the store. Try to list your items to coincide with the isles of the store. That way you are not bouncing from one side of the store to the other. List all the produce together, all the meat together, and as close as possible, list canned goods etc., by isle starting at the door you enter in finishing nearest the checkout stand. Put all the frozen food together, all the dairy together. These two will be the last two sections you will stop at.
If it is a really hot day (as it has been where I live, it just seems to melt me right down to my shoes everytime I go outside) I suggest taking one or two coolers and buying a small extra bag of ice and putting some in the two coolers for the frozen items and dairy  and  a cooler for the meat. Remember to keep meats and produce/dairy separate.

Salisbury Steak with Mushrooms and Madeira Sauce
Serves 4

4 Slices bacon, cooked, drained, chopped
2 Slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 Cup milk
1 3/4 # Ground beef
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce – low sodium
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 # Mushrooms, brushed clean, sliced thinly
5 tsp Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour (or other fine rice flour)
1 cup beef broth, low sodium
5 Tbsp Madeira wine
1/4 Cup Chives, minced, set aside for garnish

Dice bacon, cook, drain and set aside. Reserve bacon fat. Add butter to the skillet and heat to medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute about 4 minutes. Add half the beef stock to the flour (add the stock to the flour, not the flour to the stock or you will have lumps) and make a slurry.
After the mushrooms have browned and released their liquid, add the stock/rice flour slurry and whisk to thicken and also release the “fond” from the bottom of the skillet. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the remaining stock and the Madeira and cook until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning.

Add meat to a mixing bowl. Remove crusts from bread, soak in milk until soft. Squeeze out excess milk, crumble with hands, add to the meat along with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and mix until thoroughly combined. Shape into 4 oblong patties about 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick. Remove them and cool them down in the refrigerator.

To freeze, place the cool patties in your container, pour the mushroom sauce over the top. Garnish with the chives. Lay plastic wrap directly on top of the entire meal. Then either wrap in foil, or if you have a lid, place the lid on. Add the label.

Heating directions: Thaw in refrigerator. Remove lid and plastic wrap. Heat in preheated oven at 350 for 45 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes covered with foil.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
SERVES 4

4             White baking potatoes, peeled, washed, cut into medium dice
3             Cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp      Sea salt
1/4         Cup fresh parsley, washed, leaves minced
5 Tbsp.  Butter
5 Tbsp.  Herb and garlic flavored cream cheese spread (such as Rondelle)
Place a stock pot with water on to boil.  Make sure you have enough water to double the amount of potatoes you are going to fix.  Add salt.  Add the potatoes and the garlic to the cold water.  Bring to a medium boil and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes.  Check at 12 minutes.  Do not boil the potatoes rapidly as it will cause them to fall apart and become waterlogged.  You want them to be cooked but not dissolve in the water.  Drain them when they are done, return them to the hot stock pot, and return to the burner which you have turned off.  Let them dry out for about 10 minutes.   If you have a food mill or ricer, rice them into a large bowl, including the garlic.  If not, a hand masher or electric mixer can be used.  But take care not to over-process the potatoes, as it will cause the potatoes to become gummy.  Add all the other ingredients ad one time.  Gently stir in the cheese, butter, salt, pepper and parsley.  Let the potatoes cool, place in container.  Put plastic wrap on top of the potatoes, then add lid or foil,  and label.

Reheat:  Remove plastic, recover with foil.  Preheat oven to 350.  Heat in oven on baking sheet at 350 for 30 – 45 minutes, depending on how many servings you have fix and if you have brought the potatoes to room temp. before you put them into the oven.

When you reheat the potatoes, fluff them by raking a fork back and forth across them, don’t over mix them with a spoon.  It will make them gummy.  If they seem dry,  at this point, it is fine to add cream, milk or reduced stock.

If you choose to add a couple of your recipes and pick a day to cook before next week, let’s briefly discuss a game plan.  Let’s just do a quick once over…

Make your grocery list by isle, and include each recipe.  That will save time.
Purchase or designate freezer containers with lids, square is best.
Plan your menu so multiple heat sources can be used at the same time.
Do all your preparation first before you start to cook.
Keep cold food items cold.
Start items that take the longest cooking time first.  Save items that don’t have to be cooked, just some sort of prep., for last.
Undercook – if it is completely cooked when you freeze it, it will be over cooked at dinner time.
Make sure everything gets labeled.
If there is an additional item you will need to purchase before the meal can be served  NOTE it in large writing beside the item on your menu.

Next week I will finish the recipes and then we will talk about shortcut to getting this all cooked in one day.

Until then, happy cooking.  And remember if you are cooking something your family really likes, make 2,  just undercook one.  And freeze  one.  Label it.