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Freeze Ahead Holiday Foods

Get Ready for the Holidays!

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Creamy Stuffed Shells

Creamy Stuffed Shells

Linda Larsen
Your freezer can be your best friend during the holidays. Scenario: your phone rings at 4 PM on a Saturday before Christmas. Friends from out of town are driving through and want to see you. Instead of panicking, you stroll over to your freezer and choose from several appetizers made weeks ahead. A few minutes of thawing and reheating in the microwave, and you have time to quickly vacuum the rugs, light the fire in the fireplace, and straighten the rooms. In half an hour, your friends come into your cozy warm house, smelling wonderful aromas, and are treated to a choice of appetizers with some nice white wine. Freeze ahead holiday foods will make this possible!

You can do this very easily with this selection of recipes that are easy to make and freeze and reheat beautifully. This is the time to stock up on holiday foods to make the season brighter. Many appetizers, entrees, cookies, salads, and breads freeze very well. You can adapt recipes slightly; cook soups 10-15 minutes less than the recipes call for, undercook pasta, and add potatoes and cheese during the reheating process. If you're feeling really ambitious, this week is also a good time to do some serious Once a Month Cooking to fill your freezer with weeks and weeks of entrees. Take a look at my first cookbook, Everything Meals for a Month. And be sure to look at Freezing Tips before you begin, as well as Foods to Freeze and Do Not Freeze.

To freeze foods safely, you need to make sure that your freezer temperature is zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Use a freezer thermometer to check the temperature. Foods that are to be frozen need to be cooled quickly to keep ice crystals as small as possible. Rather than freezing one large, deep casserole, divide it into two smaller, shallow casseroles, cool quickly in the refrigerator, then wrap tightly and freeze. Using packaging meant specifically for the freezer is important to avoid freezer burn. Freezer burn is actually dehydration; the food loses moisture when not properly wrapped. The food isn't unsafe to eat, just not appetizing. You can cut away small amounts of freezer burn if most of the food is unaffected.

To reheat foods, you can bake in the oven at 350 degrees, reheat on the stovetop on medium low heat, or cook in the microwave oven at 60-70% power. Foods generally need 1/3 to 1/2 more cooking or baking time than the original recipe called for. To reheat on the stovetop, add a few tablespoons of liquid to the frozen food and heat with the cover on, stirring occasionally. Baked goods can stand at room temperature, in the freezer wrapping, until thawed. You can thaw entrees, soups, and appetizers in the refrigerator (NEVER at room temperature) before reheating if you like.

And make sure to clearly mark each package with the recipe name, reheating instructions, and the date. Keep a running total of what's in your freezer and rotate foods often. I also choose this time of year to clean out my freezer and defrost it if necessary. Throw out anything that is more than one year old and anything that is not carefully wrapped. Then stock up on freezer wraps, containers, tapes, ziplock bags, and markers and let's start cooking!

Go to the next page for the wonderful recipes!

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