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Cooking Ahead of Time...Posted by Donna Hudson
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"Gourmet 101" - Tips & Techniques
There are just a few principles needed to
master the technique of cooking ahead, and
once you know them, you'll have faster,
better-tasting, healthier and safer meals to
show for it.

The biggest boon to food preparation ahead
is the freezer.  Everything freezes from the
point of view of food safety, but there's a lot
of variation in palatability.
For best flavor and texture, don't freeze the following foods in your home freezer:
  • Milk products: they'll curdle.

  • Boiled eggs:  the whites get watery.

  • Custards: they'll lose texture, get lumpy.  

  • Mayonnaise: it may separate.

  • Most foods that you fry at home: (except french fries and onions) they can
    get an unattractive "warmed-over" taste.  It's actually the fats turning slightly
    rancid.

  • Cooked potatoes: they darken and get an unattractive texture. (If you're
    going to freeze stew, add cooked potatoes later on when you're reheating
    the stew.)  

  • Fresh greens, celery, and carrots: they get limp.

  • Fresh tomatoes:  their high water content causes them to collapse when
    thawed. (However, you can freeze tomatoes if you're going to use them in a
    cooked form, such as in a pasta sauce.)

  • Gravy: the fat will separate out and puddle.  (If you must freeze gravy, cut
    way back on the fat when you're making the gravy, and stir constantly when
    you're reheating it so as to keep the fat from separating.)

  • Heavily spiced foods: most herbs, salts, onions, fade away, but garlic and
    cloves will seem more intense.   Pepper has a tendency to turn bitter. Curry
    takes on a musty flavor.  

  • Synthetic flavors: use real vanilla rather than synthetic because synthetic
    vanilla can have an off-flavor after freezing.

  • Highly salted foods: salt tends to attract moisture and uneven freezing may
    result because salt slows down the freezing process.

Even if you're freezing food for only a couple of days, be careful of packaging. Air
that's in the package will affect the color, flavor and texture.  The container should
be air tight, or the food will get freezer burn and lose nutritional value, and
palatability.

It's critical to have a both your refrigerator and freezer cold enough.  The best
indicator of a good freezer temperature is brick-hard ice cream. If ice cream
stored in your freezer is soft, turn the control to a colder setting.  As for the
refrigerator, check the drinking temperature of milk.  If it's very cold, you've
probably hit 40 degrees, which is what you're aiming for.  If the milk isn't cold
enough, or if it sours too quickly, move the control to a colder setting.

Here's a great tip if you're freezing chicken in a polyethylene bag:  lower the bag,
with the chicken in it, into a pan of water to force out the air.  Be sure the bag
opening is above water.  Press entire surface area of bag to squeeze out air
bubbles.  Twist end of bag and fold over.  Secure with fastener and label.

Here's a convenient way to freeze casseroles for later use that Joy Schrage from
Whirlpool Corporation told me:

  • Line the casserole dish with foil, leaving 2" collar all around.

  • Add casserole ingredients and bake.

  • Cool and freeze in uncovered casserole

  • When frozen, lift casserole and foil out in one piece

  • Cover with foil or place in a polyethylene freezer bag. Press air out, then
    seal tightly, label, date and freeze. Place in a polyethylene freezer bag.

  • To thaw, take frozen casserole out of bag and foil, and place in the
    casserole dish it was originally baked in.

This type of freezing frees the casserole dish for other uses while the  casserole
is in the freezer.

Homemade "TV" dinners:  Place leftovers in serving portions on sectioned plastic
trays.  Cover, chill, tightly with plastic wrap and seal.  Then wrap entire tray in foil.  
Label, date and freeze.  To reheat, remove foil, puncture plastic wrap to make
steam vents, and heat dinner in microwave.

To keep chicken pieces from sticking together in your freezer so that you can take
out just the quantity you want without prying several pieces apart or thawing more
than you need, do the following:

  • Spread pieces in a single layer on a cookie sheet

  • Place unwrapped in freezer

  • Once frozen, remove chicken pieces from cookie sheet, and store in
    polyethylene freezer bag

  • Place bag in freezer, label and date

Freezing tip - use freezing tape to seal freezer wrap or suitable plastic wrap.  
Freezer tape is made with a special adhesive designed to stick at low
temperatures.

Whole birds to be roasted should be thawed before cooking.  Broilers, and birds
to be cooked by other methods can start being cooked when thawed enough for
pieces to separate.  

If you'll follow the suggestions above, you'll find that most of the foods you cook
can be prepared ahead of time and if necessary, frozen.  This means that, with
the exception of fried foods, just about all the recipes in this book can be
considered cook-ahead foods.  

So, whether you're cooking for a party, for the week's meals, for houseguests, or
for yourself, enjoy the recipes that follow and all the others in this book as well.
Have you ever tried to
cook frozen French
fries without
preheating...
more
Have you ever tried to
cook frozen French
fries without
preheating...
more
JANUARY 2010 EDITION - Updated Weekly