Think-ahead cooking

The freezer is a great way to preserve foods, especially when they’re in season. The beauty of this preservation method is that the flavor isn’t altered when the food is stored properly.

I’m often asked for tips or tricks to making the time spent in the kitchen more efficient. Though I love to cook, sometimes neither time nor energy are on my side. But with a little forethought, your freezer provides several easy ways to save time and effort when preparing meals.

Make double (or triple, or more).  This is now a habit of mine.  If a dish freezes well—soup, lasagna, meatloaf, enchiladas—I’ll make more than needed for that meal and freeze the rest. This way I’ve set myself up with a ready-made meal for one of those nights when cooking isn’t an option.

Apply this method to a single ingredient as well, such as roasted vegetables. Roasting squash for example is time consuming. Why not buy more than you need, roast all at once, then freeze the extra for later use?—a simple side dish, squash soup, squash ravioli, or pumpkin pie.

Another time consuming vegetable is beets, because of the fussiness of removing the skins. Cooked beets freeze very well, however, so do it once, and reap the benefits for two or three meals. In fact, since the oven is already preheated, you could roast beets and the squash at the same time.

Dough is another item that doesn’t at all mind the freezer. Whether cookie dough or pizza dough, consider making more than you need that day and keep the excess in the freezer.

If you’re making a meal that requires rice, quinoa, or pasta, instead of preparing just the needed amount, make more. All can be frozen, though be sure to cook pasta to al dente (slightly chewy) or it will become mushing during the thawing and reheating process. You also might consider turning the leftover pasta or grain into a salad or side dish with a totally different flavor.

Save prep time  I also use the freeze-for-later approach to chopping vegetables. If I need one onion but chop three, I’ll save myself the trouble next time. One of my favorite time savers is to prepare and freeze soup starter packets—that is, the vegetable base used for nearly all soups. Usually it consists of two parts diced onion to one part diced celery and one part diced carrot. This combination is known as mirepoix. Days, weeks or months later, these pre-chopped packets make starting a pot of soup so simple.

Reduce waste.  Utilizing the freezer is a great option if something is close to expiring. Over-ripe bananas are perfect for banana bread but if baking isn’t on the agenda that day, just peel the browning bananas and freeze them. When you’re ready to bake, simply thaw in a bowl and mash. I also like to freeze bananas whole to add to smoothies. No thawing required.

Fresh herbs that are starting to brown can be frozen in oil in an ice cube tray. Or you can make herb butter to freeze in portions. Simply mince the herbs and mix them into room temperature butter. Scoop out portions (one ice cream scoop is handy) on a plate or sheet, chill in the fridge for a few minutes, then pop them into a bag for the freezer. Both herb butter and oil can be used for soup, sauces, or when cooking or grilling fish and meat.



City Pages file photo


A year ago, Bon Appetit’s associate food editor put her grandmother’s borscht soup into the magazine’s “greatest recipe of all time” category. Like many classic, old world dishes, this vegetable and beet soup has many variations. Some people like it with bacon. Others prefer it quite sweet. This recipe has an aromatic twist of clove and cinnamon. You might still find locally grown beets at the winter farmers market Saturday mornings, 212 River Dr., Wausau.

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup onion, small dice

1 cup carrot, small dice

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. dried dill

1 Tbsp. turmeric

¼ tsp. clove

¼ tsp. celery seed

¼ tsp. cinnamon

4 cups beef stock

2 cups potatoes, large dice

8 oz. tomato sauce

2 cups pre-roasted beets, large dice

½ cup shredded green cabbage

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Salt and pepper

     In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot, and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute or so.  Add spices, stock, potatoes.  Keep at a low boil until the potatoes are cooked through, 20-30 minutes depending on size.

     Add tomato sauce, beets, cabbage, and vinegar.  Simmer 10-15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with fresh dill, and serve topped with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if desired.

     To roast beets: Wash well, then wrap each loosely in foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 425° for about 45 minutes, or until slightly soft. When cooled, rub or use a paring knife to remove skins. Note: The roasting temperature doesn’t have to be exact. So if you’re baking something else at 375° throw in the beets, but just keep them in longer.