Book and Recipes by Cheri Sicard
Before you can say "summer vacation", my college student will be heading back to campus. This year she will live in her own apartment and that means cooking for herself. I will be sending her off with The Complete Idiot's Guide to Easy Freezer Meals because the entire concept of cooking once and freezing portions makes such good sense. And, duh-- the book explains it all --- in E-Z steps!
The first chapter, Freezing 101, is a must read. While I don't consider myself a bumbling idiot around the kitchen, I learned a lot of useful facts from the introduction. Did you know that unbaked fruit pies are best if you freeze the crust and filling separately, then thaw and bake? That's to prevent the bottom crust from becoming soggy. And, paper wrappers help absorb excess moisture, so when dealing with expensive food like fine cuts of meat, wrap in freezer paper and then in foil or plastic.
To convince Laura that larger recipes are worth the extra effort, I chose to try one of her favorites: Macaroni and Cheese. Just so happened that I needed to take a dish for a group meal, so the timing was perfect. I prepared the Baked Macaroni and Cheese recipe and found the author's suggested prep time, initial cook time and reheat time to be accurate. The process was simple, except one step did require 15 minutes of simmering. The end result- scrumptious. This dish was truly a meal; very thick and heavy as opposed to boxed Mac and Cheese that's thin, watery and artificially orange. I especially loved the bread crumb topping, something I don't usually add but was definitely a plus when served at a buffet.
The recipes in the book cover the gamut: from breakfast to dinner, soup to dessert. Ms. Sicard includes some traditional favorites as well as others with modern and diverse flavors. I plan to try the Tandoori-Style Chicken and Shepherd's Pie- which uses store bought Real Mashed Potatoes instead of the time intensive homemade.
The print size is large, so no strain on the eyes. Cool Tips and Cold Facts- little factoids in the text- are crammed with helpful hints. I also found the book stays open on the counter, no need to hold down the edges.
If I have any criticism, it is the absence of calorie and nutritional information. Otherwise I feel Cheri Sicard, the author, did a fabulous job of convincing me that I need to use my freezer for more creative, money-saving meals rather than just storage of vegetables and meats.
Maybe I'll whip up a whole weeks worth of meals and then simply "thaw" out. Sounds ideal during this hot summer weather.
BAKED MACARONI AND CHEESE
Courtesy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Easy Freezer Meals
Yield: 9 cups
16 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
6 TBSP. unsalted butter
4 TBSP flour
1 TBSP dry mustard powder
4 cups whole or reduced-fat milk
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. paprika
4 ounces cream cheese
5 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Initial cook time: 20 minutes
Reheat time: 1 hour
1. Add a bit of salt to a large pot of water and bring to boil over high heat. Add macaroni, cook for about 4 minutes or until flexible but still very al dente. Drain.
2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard powder, and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk.
3. Stir in onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and remove bay leaf.
4. Stir in cream cheese and half of the shredded cheddar cheese, and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in cooked macaroni.
5. Spray freezer-to-oven baking dishes that meet your portion needs with cooking spray. Dividee half the macaroni mixture between the prepared baking dishes. Sprinkle with half of the remaining cheddar cheese. Top with remaining pasta followed by a sprinkling of the remaining cheese. Each dish should be about 3/4 full.
6. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add panko breadcrumbs and stir to coat. Sprinkle buttered breadcrumbs over tops of the baking dishes. Cool completely, cover tightly with foil, label and freeze.
To reheat from freezer:
Bake frozen dish in a 375 degree oven for about an hour or until filling is bubbly, top is lightly browned, and dish is heated through. Smaller dishes will take less time.
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