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Do-Ahead Cooking Strategies

Do-Ahead Cooking Strategies

Make weeknight meals a pleasure with home-cooked dinners frozen ahead for the coming week.

Start Fresh

Start with fresh, high-quality foods for do-ahead meals.

Cool Cooked Foods

Follow these guidelines for cooling do-ahead dishes:

  • Cool cooked food quickly (to about 100°F.) before freezing to retain the best quality and flavor. This is especially true of soups, stews and sauces, because you want to minimize ice crystal formation (which makes food mushy when thawed).
  • Cooling times for hot foods of food. Stir the dish every 15 minutes during the cool-down period.
  • Don’t add hot food to a freezer —the freezer has to work harder, you create extra moisture, and the heat can partially thaw already-frozen foods.
  • Refrigerate hot food uncovered in a shallow container.
  • Transfer warm food from the cooking pan to a large, shallow pan set in a sink full of ice.
  • Refrigerate perishable foods that include meat, eggs, dairy products, fruits or vegetables until ready to freeze.

Freezer Packaging

These freezer tips will get you good results for your do-ahead foods:

  • Use airtight, moisture- and vapor-proof containers and materials (such as heavy-duty plastic bags) specifically designed for freezer temperatures of 0°F and below.
  • Pack food containers tightly to almost full. Allow about 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch headspace for expansion during freezing (especially important for chunky soups, stews and sauces).
  • When headspace is more than 1/4-inch, place aluminum foil (the quick-release variety) or plastic wrap directly on top of the food before covering to protect from “freezer burn” discoloration. Remove wrapping before baking or heating (loosen with a wet towel).
  • To shrink-wrap foods packaged in freezer bags, press out as much air as possible before sealing. Close the bag, leaving a 1/2-inch opening. Then use either of these air-sealing methods:

1) Insert drinking straw in opening and suck out any remaining air until the bag shrinks around the food. Quickly slip out straw and seal the bag completely.

Or

2) Submerge filled bag in a container of water, pushing air out of the bag, and then seal the bag.

  • Maintain ideal freezer temperature and efficiency by not freezing more food than about 1/10 of the capacity of the freezer at one time. Set freezer thermostat to -10°F to speed freezing; once food is frozen (usually 24 hours), reset temperature to 0°F.

When freezing several food packages at once, place in a single layer in the coldest part of the freezer, leaving space for air circulation. Once solidly frozen, packages can be stacked.

  • To quick-freeze foods, arrange separately in a single layer on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Freeze uncovered (or covered with an inverted pan as a lid) until solid (12 to 24 hours) and then repackage.

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