Off the Menu with Dara can be heard every Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon on News Radio 830 WCCO! See all of Mpls. St.Paul Magazine’s Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s Top 5 lists here!
A listener asked last week about the very best do-ahead meals to freeze. I am an evangelist on the importance of these things—make giant batches on the weekend, eat some and freeze a few quarts, and in a month you will be in a groove where you can have almost instant home-cooked food every night for dinner. Even when you only have 20 minutes between when you walk in the door and when people need to eat! Generally, I think the best do-ahead recipes are the ones that reheat to look exactly like they looked when you served them: Chili is a terrific do-ahead meal, while a roast Cornish Game Hen is not. What are the very best do-ahead meals? These!
I’m of the opinion that chicken-pot pie is one of life’s perfect foods; so creamy, so subtle, so mild. We don’t usually think of it these days as something you can have without the crust, the lid, the pastry though—but chicken pot pie is basically the more complicated version of creamed-chicken. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with creamed-chicken, because that is a really easy recipe worth knowing. Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey’s version from the 1960’s is as good as it gets, and once you have the basic version you can go with whatever variation you like—add pearl onions cooked with thyme, add corn, add loads of green peas, carrots, celery, whatever you like. But here’s the magic; it reheats really well, so if you make a mega-batch of creamed chicken you can turn it into any sort of chicken pot pie you want in the moment.
If you’re freaked out by the way back machine, Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman), has a great, easy chicken pot pie walk-through with lots of pictures—just know to freeze it you’re going to have to make double or triple batches and deal with crust as you go. Speaking of crust, refrigerated biscuits in a can can work as a topping. Phyllo dough works. Puff pastry works. Or just serve with a slab of toast, it’s a week-night after all.
Moroccan Tagine Stew
Long cooking lamb and prunes together with North African spices makes the best stew—it tastes dinner party worthy, and is as easy as any basic crock-pot stew recipe should be. Serve it with a deep dark red wine—maybe a Zinfandel?—for a nice and fancy but good and easy weeknight dinner.
Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala
This recipe is a life-changer—creamy, spicy, and it freezes so well. I like to make big batches of basmati or brown rice and freeze those as well—now your freezer is full of an all-microwave Tuesday night dinner you can be proud of.
You could make a different Texas chili every week for the rest of winter and have a really good year. Aside from the obvious things to like about Texas chili—so meaty! So spicy!—I also like that you can come up with a zillion fresh ways to serve it. In tacos, on a bed of polenta or buckwheat, over mac-and-cheese, in enchiladas, as nachos—I could go on for hours. That versatility it what makes it one of the best do-ahead, fill the freezer dishes of all time.
Meatballs Cooked in Sauce
There are two groups of people when it comes to Italian meatball cookery—those who believe proper meatballs must be fryed in a pan in oil, and sane people. No seriously. I grew up among people who cook raw meatballs directly in the tomato sauce, and I will forever believe that’s the way to do it. If you are a pan-fryer, that’s fine, I still love you and will come to your house for dinner. But I’m never going to do it your way myself. Here’s why: If you cook the meatballs in sauce they can then be perfectly preserved in sauce when you freeze them! That’s all. We do this every six weeks in my house, and there’s no better weekday-panic-after-choir-practice-dinner for an eight-year-old than a meatball heated up in sauce in a cup. If you eat it straight off the fork that’s called a meatball-lolipop, and it’s not fancy, but it is great.