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Saturday, July 06, 2013

Make-ahead meals for tired, confused, busy people.

I try to keep a container of this casserole, cut into serving-size squares and sealed in saran wrap or zip-lock bags, in the freezer. One could label them to know which batch they come from, but my son (for whom I make them) just dips into the box and microwaves one. They are devised to have a lot of protein. You could certainly make them vegetarian too if you wanted. They use what you have in the house and are never the same twice.

1. Use a lasagna pan. Mine holds 12 cups. Find a big bowl and memorize where 12 cups will fill it to. You'll keep dumping stuff in the bowl till you get to your high-water mark.

If you get overenthusiastic as I often do, designate an overflow cooking container.

2. When you're ready to start, put a lot of hot soapy water in the sink. You will wash every bowl and pot as soon as you're done with it in order to make this as easy as possible.

3. Butter your lasagna pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Squares consist of bulk items:

A starch (noodles, rice, potatoes)
Cooked meat (optional)
Vegetables - cooked or frozen (if frozen you don't have to cook them)

and wet stuff:

white sauce
cheese (cottage, feta, mozzarella, parmesan, cheddar, etc)
milk or buttermilk if it's not goozly enough

As an example, this morning I made a "Squares" mixture with:

10 ounces egg noodles (5-1/2 cups after cooked al dente - probably a little much)
3 chicken breasts (4-1/2 cups cubed/diced after poaching)
1 cup frozen corn
1 lb frozen spinach.

I dumped all those things in my bowl, saw it was a little too full but ok, and added wet stuff:

1-1/2 cups white sauce (recipe below) (I wished I'd made more)
7 eggs
1-1/2 cups cheddar
1/2 cup mozzarella

Stir and assess. It is almost never too soupy, but if it's too dry the squares don't hold together well. So I added (for goozly factor)

1-1/2 cup buttermilk

You could season it, I don't bother. Pack it into your lasagna pan, put more cheese on top if you like. It will cook at 350 till it's a little bubbly and browned. Meanwhile, wash those pots!

When it's cooked, let it cool a while. Eat some for dinner and cut the rest up right away and put the portions in bags (or wrap in saran wrap) in the freezer. You might want to label them with drafting tape so you know what you're getting later.

White sauce

1-1/2 tablespoons butter
2 ts. salt
3 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups buttermilk or milk or cream

melt the butter, stir in the salt pepper and flour and stir till a tiny bit brown. Add the milk gradually, stirring. Use as above.


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