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Not every recipe you want to prepare is suited for cooking ahead and freezing. Certain individual ingredients do not freeze well (actually, they freeze fine, it is the yucky mess that comes out of the freezer that is the problem). Some recipes don't work as well when frozen then cooked or reheated.
When you're wondering about foods that freeze well, take a stroll down the frozen foods aisle at your local grocery store. Look at the packaged foods to see the kinds of meals they have put together. Just look, don't buy. You can make much better and tastier food than will come out of any cardboard carton.
You will notice pastas, meats, vegetables, rice, beans, cobblers, pies, cakes, cookies, pancakes and all kinds of other things. All of these items freeze well and can save time by cooking them ahead.
You won't find many items with cream, custard, lettuce, high-fat sauces or mayonnaise. However, even these items can sometimes be successfully frozen if cooked first.
Of course casseroles remain the quintessential Cooking Ahead cuisine.
When you think "casserole" you can think about more than tuna hot dish (though there is nothing wrong with that either). Lasagna is, basically, a casserole. You probably have other dishes in your repertoire that are casseroles.
An easy way to get ahead in the cooking game is to make two casseroles instead of one. Or, if you are downsizing meal time, split one casserole recipe into two dishes.
We have included an American Lasagna recipe that splits easily, freezes great and is a crowd pleaser. (Plus Kurt's mom wants one of her recipes on the Internet.)
Most casserole recipes work best if you freeze them before cooking. To be safe, you should use frozen casseroles within two to four weeks of preparation. When you cook them, allow 1 1/2 more times the normal cooking time.
You do not have to stick to casseroles in your Cooking Ahead plan. You can prepare side dishes and entrees that you like. Soups are another favorite (the subject of a future column).
Be careful, however, with the seasoning of foods you will freeze. Salt becomes less prominent, but garlic and onion become stronger. Flavors can do strange things when freezing, so you may need to make adjustments as you work with your favorite recipes.
Next time...Freezing helpful ingredients.
After browning and draining beef, add spices and tomato products. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.
Spray a 9x13 pan with vegetable spray. Alternate between layers of cooked lasagna noodles, Swiss cheese, cottage cheese and meat sauce.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.