The Deep Freeze

One of the most frequent questions by readers is "Can I make it ahead and freeze it — and for how long?" My ambivalence towards freezing is evident in my answer as I hem and haw, and describe the possible consequences of flat and tasteless dishes.

I realize that the necessity of preparing ahead and storing for future use is a practical reality in most of our busy lives. Entertaining out-of-towners in the home, rather than at a restaurant, before a simcha can be a most enjoyable, personal and satisfying experience — if it can be executed with a minimum of anxiety.

I've been to multiple-day wedding and Bar Mitzvah weekends, where each night we dined at a different restaurant, never really getting quality time with friends or relatives, and by the time the actual event took place, it was anti-climactic at best.

Another solution is preparing food ahead of time, and then preserving it by freezing. I have developed what I call freezer-proof recipes that with a little know-how will yield food that is fresh tasting, exciting and flavorful.

And it will leave you plenty of time with your guests!

· Cook only with the freshest ingredients. The freezer won't make old-tasting foods taste new.

· Cool foods completely before placing in the freezer. This will eliminate the formation of ice crystals, which make foods soggy when defrosted.

· Use proper packaging for freezing: plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, heavy-duty aluminum foil or heavy-duty freezer wrap. If food is not wrapped properly, freezer burn can occur.

· Freezer temperature should be set at 0 degrees for maximum freezing time.

· Defrost the following dishes in the refrigerator, rather than at room temperature, to protect against decay.

· When freezing liquidy dishes, such as soups or stews, leave at least a one inch of space at the top of your container, as liquid expands.

Lamb Ragout with Artichokes and Brandied Dried Cherries

1 cup tart, dried cherries
1/2 cup brandy
3 lbs. cubed lamb shoulder
6 Tbsps. olive oil
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 package frozen artichoke hearts, quartered and thawed
salt and pepper
2 Tbsps. flour
2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup white wine
2 sprigs fresh parsley

In small bowl, soak cherries in brandy for 1 hour. Drain cherries, reserving brandy and set both aside.

Pat lamb dry.

In large pan, heat 3 tablespoon oil and brown lamb cubes. This may have to be done in two batches.

In a small saucepan, warm reserved brandy, ignite and pour over lamb. When the flames die down, remove lamb and reserve.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to same pan and sauté cherries, mushrooms and artichokes about 5 minutes. Remove and reserve.

Add 2 more tablespoons of oil, and blend in flour to make a roux.

Cook over low heat, stirring, about 2 minutes.

Raise heat and add the stock, wine and parsley. Stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil.

Return lamb to pan and simmer for about 1 hour until tender.

Add the reserved mushrooms, cherries and artichokes.

Taste for salt and pepper.

Serve with freshly cooked rice.

Serves 6 to 8.

To Freeze: Let ragout cool, then transfer to a freezer container with a tight-fitting lid. Freeze up to a month.

To Reheat: Let defrost in the refrigerator overnight and transfer to a heavy skillet. Simmer over medium heat, covered, until heated through. Correct seasonings.

Pea Soup With Shiitake Mushrooms

3 Tbsps. oil
2 leeks, white part only, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1/2 tsp. tarragon
2 Tbsps. chopped parsley
10 cups vegetable stock
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
salt and pepper

In large saucepan, heat oil.

Cook leeks, garlic, carrots, celery and mushrooms about 8 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.

Stir in tarragon and parsley.

Add the stock, bring to a boil and add split peas. Simmer, partially covered about 1 hour.

Purée half of the soup in food processor. Return to the pot and add the green peas. Taste for salt and pepper.

Serves 8 to 10.

To Freeze: Let the soup cool completely and transfer to freezer container, leaving at least one inch of space at the top. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the soup, and then cover with tight-fitting lid. Keep frozen for up to one month.

Chicken Fricassee With Garlic and Mushrooms

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups warm water
12 skinless, boneless chicken-breast halves
salt and pepper
3/4 cup flour
3 Tbsps. oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsps. chopped chives

Soak porcini mushrooms in water until soft.

Drain and reserve 1 cup of the water. Strain to remove grit. Set mushrooms and water aside.

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge it in flour.

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Cook chicken until browned on both sides. Remove and set aside.

Add garlic to the same skillet and cook about 2 minutes.

Return chicken to skillet.

Add the wine, stock, mushrooms and soaking liquid. Simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Serves 8 to 12.

To Freeze: With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and mushrooms to a freezer container. Cook sauce over high heat until thickened slightly. Pour over chicken. Cover with a tight-fitting lid; let cool before freezing.

To Reheat: Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat gently in a skillet and adjust seasonings. Serve chicken breasts napped with sauce and sprinkled with chives.

Mediterranean Beef Stew

2 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into 11/4-inch cubes
2 Tbsps. olive oil
2 onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine
1 can (28 oz.) tomatoes, chopped
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, cut into strips
salt and pepper

1/2 cup basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

In a large skillet, heat the oil.

Add the meat and cook, turning on all sides, until brown, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove to a plate.

Add the onions and cook until softened and golden, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook another minute.

Pour in the vermouth, bring to a boil and cook 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, vinegar and red pepper, and about 11/2 cups water. Bring to a boil and add the meat. Cover and simmer for 11/2 hours.

Add the olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

Simmer another 20 minutes, or until the meat is very tender. Taste for salt and pepper.

Serves 6 to 8.

To Freeze: Let stew cool and place in air-tight freezer container. Place a piece of plastic wrap over surface and seal with cover. Freeze for up to a month.

To Reheat: Let thaw in fridge and reheat gently. Sprinkle with basil before serving.



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