Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Homemade Fast Food

"Mise en place" is the french term for "putting in place."
Setting up all your pre-measured ingredients helps you stay
organized in the kitchen (and feels like a cooking show!)

Make ahead meals is the topic for our March cooking workshop here at The Hub. Soups, stews, pies and baked dishes work well to make ahead in large batches, and freeze for later use. Our workshop utilizes a set of core ingredients to build 3 dishes that differ in flavor, texture and presentation. Participants helped prepare the dishes, then packaged them up for freezing at home. Spending a few hours cooking ahead allows for convenient "fast food" meals, without sacrificing quality, nutrition and taste.

From a big pot of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) a batch of brown rice, plus a few other basic ingredients like fresh spinach, vegetable stock and canned tomatoes, we made Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie, Chickpea Spinach Soup and Chana Masala (served with Brown Rice). Each of these affordable dishes can serve as a complete meal, and they all taste great. 

Homemade vegetable broth is simple to make with veggie scraps
and lend rich flavor to soups and other dishes. photo credit: Ayana Brown

You could do something similar with another type of bean or meat, and different grain and vegetable choices. Another approach is to make several pans of one dish, such as enchiladas or lasagna, and freeze enough for several meals. 

Some things to consider for Make Ahead Freezer Meals:

·       Suitability There are a few items that don’t freeze well: lettuce, cucumbers, bean sprouts, raw potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. Egg based sauces like mayonnaise will separate and curdle when thawed. And many dairy products such as cream, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream and cottage cheese will sometimes go watery when thawed. However sour cream or cottage cheese in a dish that will be baked is usually fine.
·      Appeal. Will you want to eat this meal again? If you didn’t like the food the first time, you probably still won’t like it a few weeks later.

·       Timing. Make sure you set aside enough time to prepare the food, let it cool, and package it for the freezer. A few hours (or less) are all you need for most meals. Some people like to make a day out of it, and cook several different dishes, for a variety of choices.

photo credit: Ayana Brown

·      Space. How much space do you have in your freezer? This will determine how much food you can make ahead and store, and what kind of packaging you choose.
·       Containers.
Ziploc-type plastic bags bags Make sure and get out as much air as possible, and seal it tightly to avoid any spills or freezer burn (double bag for extra protection).  
Aluminum Foil Baking Pans or your own baking dishes. Look for these at dollar stores where you can often get a 3 pack for $1.
Plastic Tupperware or other plastic containers with sealed lids. These work well for soups. They can take up a lot of room in the freezer so consider space when using them.
photo credit: Ayana Brown

·      Serving Size. Unless you are freezing large portions for a family meal (for example, a lasagna or a pan of enchiladas), small serving sizes are usually easier to thaw and reheat.
·     Ease of Reheating. Choose meals that are easy to defrost and reheat. Pans that can go directly in the oven are perfect. For soups, let it thaw a bit in the container, then you can transfer it to a pot to heat up.
·       Label. Make sure to label and date all meals in the freezer. Place older frozen foods towards the front of the freezer so you are more likely to see them and eat them. Another idea is to make a list of all frozen meals and place this list on the outside of the freezer so you always know exactly what you have without having to search.

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