Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to avoid stress for the cook

By David Burton
University Extension

Family gatherings--whether for a reunion or for a holiday like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Christmas or Thanksgiving --are meant to be happy times, but can be stressful for the cook.

According to Tammy Roberts, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension, one way to avoid last minute stress is to prepare some of the food ahead of time and freeze it.

“When the family gathers you will be cool, calm and collected because of your forethought,” said Roberts. “From casseroles to cookies, you can have a large portion of your holiday meal prepared before the celebration.”

Some things freeze better than others.

“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 like lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and celery,” said Roberts. “Uncooked potatoes and cooked pasta don’t freeze well on their own, but you can get great results with these foods in a casserole.”

Getting a good quality end product requires careful handling from preparation to table.

Foods that will be re-heated before serving should be slightly undercooked before freezing to help avoid overcooking.

Roberts also recommends cooling foods quickly before freezing. This can be done in the refrigerator or by setting the prepared casserole in a pan of ice water.

“Be sure to wrap your food well. Air shortens shelf life and can impact color, flavor and texture in undesirable ways,” said Roberts.

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.
As a rule of thumb, use the oven setting at which the dish was originally cooked. Start with less than double 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 it often at the end of that time.

“A good clue that the casserole is thoroughly reheated is that the edges are bubbling and the center is hot,” said Roberts.

University of Missouri Extension has a guide sheet on this topic entitled, “Quality for Keeps: Freezing Home-Prepared Foods.” It can be found at the nearest MU Extension or online at extension.missouri.edu.

“This guide sheet provides information on how to freeze baked products and doughs, main dishes and combination foods, soups and sauces, fruit and vegetable dishes and desserts and sweets,” said Roberts.

For more information on nutrition issues, go online to http://extension.missouri.edu or contact one of the two nutrition and health education specialists working in the Ozarks: Tammy Roberts, (417) 682-3579 or Dr. Pam Duitsman, (417) 866-3039.

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