Cook For Your Freezer Now To Save Time Later

IN THE KITCHEN

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With the arrival of Veterans Day Saturday, we are looking at hectic times as we move closer to the holidays.

To relieve some of the accompanying stress, try doing some double-batch or freezer cooking over the next couple of weekends. That way, when time is at a premium with Thanksgiving, shopping, holiday programs and more, all you have to do is pull something out of the freezer to thaw, pop it in the oven or microwave to heat, add a salad based on the pre-cut packaged greens and you're done and ready to run again.

A couple of weeks ago I shared my chili recipe. This doubles well and if you make an extra batch of cornbread to go with it, you have an easy warm supper.

Another way to make the most of a freezer during the busy days ahead:

Prepared spaghetti sauces are frequently on sale, so buy in bulk, brown up some hamburger or ground turkey, add a couple of jars of sauce, season to taste and you have another easy meal by just throwing some pasta in boiling water while the sauce warms.

In my collection of cookbooks I have one called "The Complete Book of Home Freezing." It was originally published in 1953 and has a second publishing date of 1966, so even the most recent version is 40 years old. While our tools for freezing, including the freezers themselves, have been improved in the intervening years since the book was last published, the recipes and basic tips still work.

Here are the guidelines for preparing casseroles in order to freeze them and use later:

Line casserole dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil, leaving enough excess to fold over the top when the food is frozen. Make the dish then freeze. When the food is solidly frozen, remove it from the casserole dish and wrap excess foil around it, label and store.

The one additional step I would take would be to put the foil-wrapped frozen casserole in a sealing, plastic freezer bag for extra protection against freezer burn.

There are two different steps in the book for defrosting and reheating. One is to take it out of the foil and put it in the original casserole dish, then let it thaw for about an hour then bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1-1/4 hours. Then other is to remove the foil, place the food in the casserole dish and let it completely thaw (about 8 hours) in the refrigerator, then heat until bubbling.

Here is a recipe that makes two casseroles, each with enough to serve six people. So you could make this one Sunday, have the dish for supper and freeze the second for later in the holiday season.

Chicken Divan

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup flour

2 cups hot chicken broth

3 cups hot milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 cups grated Cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste

2 bunches of fresh broccoli cooked

8 cooked chicken breasts, sliced, or 1/2 cooked turkey breast, sliced

In large saucepan melt butter, then stir in flour. Add broth and milk and cook over moderate heat, stirring briskly until sauce is smooth and thickened. Stir in 3/4 cup of cream. Mix remaining cream with cornstarch and stir into other ingredients in saucepan. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Add cheese and stir until melted, season to taste.

Arrange the cooked broccoli in the bottoms of two shallow baking dishes. Cover broccoli with a layer of the sliced chicken. Pour half of sauce over each layered casserole.

For the freezer casserole, allow to cool, then wrap, label and freeze.

To finish the dish, top with:

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated cheese

Paprika

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

As for defrosting and finishing the frozen casserole:

Remove from freezer an hour before baking. Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Raise oven temperature to 350 degrees and finish dish as directed above, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes more or until sauce is bubbling.

Any favorite casserole dish can work in a similar manner -- just double the recipe, freeze one and serve the other, or freeze both and order takeout.

The point of freezer cooking is to help make a plan that will keep everyone's holiday spirits high by relieving some of the stress of having to cook on top of everything that needs to get done to celebrate.

(The book, "The Complete Book of Home Freezing," was written by Ann Serane and published by Doubleday.)

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