Cook and freeze now to avoid holiday stress

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

One way to prevent holiday stress is to prepare some of the food ahead of time and freeze it. From casseroles to cookies, cooks can prepare a large portion of holiday food before the actual day arrives.

"However, some things freeze better than others," says Tammy Roberts, University of Missouri Extension nutrition specialist. "Things that may not have the quality you would be proud to serve include meringue, cream or custard pie fillings, mayonnaise, sour cream, and vegetables you would use for a salad such as lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and celery."

Uncooked potatoes and cooked pasta often don't freeze well on their own, but cooks can get great results with these foods in casseroles, she said.

Roberts offered the following tips for quality home-frozen foods:

* Foods that will be reheated before serving should be slightly undercooked before freezing. This helps ensure the end product won't be overcooked.

* Cool foods quickly before freezing. Do this in the refrigerator or by setting the prepared casserole in a pan of ice water. Use caution: a hot glass baking dish can crack or break when placed in ice water.

* Be sure to wrap food well. Air shortens shelf life and can affect color, flavor and texture.

* Cheese or crumb toppings on casseroles can become soggy or dry in the freezing process. Add these when the dish is being reheated to serve.

It is hard to find information about how long it takes to reheat a frozen dish such as a casserole. Roberts says to use the oven setting at which originally cooked the dish and start with just less than twice the original cooking time. For example, if the original cooking time was 30 minutes, start with about 50 minutes from the frozen state, but be sure to check often at the end of that time. A good clue that a casserole is thoroughly reheated is that the edges are bubbling and the center is hot.

The MU Extension guide sheet "Quality for Keeps: Freezing Home-Prepared Foods" (GH1505) is available for download at and from local MU Extension centers.

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