Posts Tagged 'Make Ahead Meal Recipes'



Roasted Chicken Breasts with Carrots and Onions

As you can probably tell by my post frequency lately, it’s been a crazy Christmas season thus far.  It’s been good craziness, don’t get me wrong – we’ve been hosting and attending parties, hanging out with friends, and I’ve been baking sugar cookies like a *madwoman*.  It’s been hard to find the motivation to make a big production in the kitchen for regular old dinner, though…  The “special” stuff has really taken over.  Thirty minutes of effort is about all I can manage these days.

That’s why I really loved my “accidental” make-ahead meal – Roasted Chicken Breasts with Carrots and Onions from the November 2004 issue of Everyday Food.  It was an accident because I fully intended to cook the meal the night I assembled it, but my chicken hadn’t thawed completely in the refrigerator.  (I HATE it when that happens!)  I suppose I could have thawed it some other way, but I decided to just assemble the meal according to the recipe, wrap it thoroughly in plastic wrap, and then stash it for the next night.

This meal was really easy, and it only took about 15 minutes to assemble.  First, I peeled and halved 1 pound of carrots and cut the halves into 1/2-inch chunks.  I peeled and quartered 6 garlic cloves and then cut 1 medium red onion into 1/2-inch wedges as well.

I lined a rimmed baking sheet with heavy-duty foil and placed 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves on the baking sheet.  I scattered the carrots, garlic, and onion around the chicken and seasoned everything generously with salt and pepper.  This is the point where I normally would have started roasting the meat and vegetables; instead, I wrapped the baking sheet with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator.

The next night, I quartered 3/4 cup of pitted prunes while I waited for my oven to preheat.  When the oven reached 450F, I roasted the chicken and vegetable mixture for 10  minutes.  Next, I pulled the baking sheet out of the oven, stirred the quartered prunes into the vegetable mixture, and roasted everything for an additional 20 minutes (until the chicken was cooked through).  I served the dish over couscous.

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Carrots and Onions

I actually really liked this recipe.  The chicken was flavorful and juicy, the garlic and red onion added a hint of “zip,” and I *loved* the sweetness of the dried prunes.  I had a moment of panic during the roasting time when I realized I hadn’t tossed the veggies with any olive oil; that’s pretty standard for this type of dish.  When I double-checked the recipe, though, I saw that it didn’t call for any oil.  Whew.  Thanks to generous seasoning, the flavor was still terrific.  Next time, I probably will cut my carrots a bit smaller, though; they were crisp-tender, but I usually like my roasted carrots to be pretty soft.

TIPS:  I don’t know why I’ve never cooked couscous in the microwave before, but it’s so ridiculously easy.  I just followed the package directions and brought the recommended amount of water to a boil in a microwave safe dish with a lid.  I stirred in the couscous, put the lid on, and it was ready to go (after I seasoned it, of course)  in 5 minutes.  Sides don’t get much quicker or easier.

Recipe link: Roasted Chicken Breasts with Carrots and Onions

High Altitude Update: Chicken Lasagna Alfredo

I made what may be my very favorite dish *ever* – Chicken Lasagna Alfredo from Pampered Chef’s Celebrate! – last night as a test for an upcoming dinner party.  It did require some minor adjustments (mostly on cooking time), so I thought I’d share for the benefit of any high-altitude readers.

I’ve pretty much abandoned the no-boil noodles since they burned me a few times with inconsistent results.  Last night, I used Barilla lasagna noodles and boiled them for 10 minutes.  (The package directions said 8 – 9 minutes and the recipe said to use the shortest cooking time, but it seems like my noodles have been needing an extra 2 – 3 minutes to cook since the boiling point of water is lower up here.)

I assembled the lasagna according to recipe directions, baked it initially (covered with foil) for 50 minutes instead of 45, and then browned it (uncovered) for 20 minutes instead of 15.  I probably could have actually browned it for 25 minutes (it didn’t actually get very brown), but I didn’t want to push my luck.  I let it sit for 15 minutes before cutting into it so the sauce could set a bit.

It turned out beautifully, almost better than it ever had before.  It was a bit saucier than usual, probably because I used pre-cooked noodles instead of no-boil noodles.  (The no-boil noodles would have absorbed some of the sauce to “cook.”)  It wasn’t runny, though, and it was so, so delicious.

I’m “high-altitude confident” on this one now. 🙂

NOTE:  You can actually assemble the lasagna 1 day ahead.  (So convenient!)  At sea level, increase the initial (covered) baking time from 45 minutes to 55 minutes for a refrigerated lasagna.  At approximately 5500 feet, I’ll increase the baking time from 50 minutes to 60 – 65 minutes.  The browning and setting times should be the same.

Original post: Chicken Lasagna Alfredo

Recipe link (slightly modified by poster): Chicken Lasagna Alfredo

Classic Meatloaf

Ahhh, meatloaf.  I dreaded it as a child (what was I thinking?), but I’ve come to enjoy it quite a bit as an adult.  It’s one of those dishes that can be dressed up for company with gorgeous side dishes or dressed down in a sandwich.  Plus, you can typically make it at least a few hours ahead, stash it in the refrigerator, and pull it out when you’re ready to bake it.

That last point is what really motivated me to try the Classic Meatloaf recipe from the October 2007 issue of Everyday Food, in combination with a great meat sale at King Soopers.  Dr. O’s arrival time in the evening is still pretty erratic, so this is one where I can get the “I’m coming home” call, pop it in the oven, and have dinner within an hour.  Plus, the recipe has a relatively short and simple ingredient list – white bread, milk, beef, pork, onion, garlic, an egg and some ketchup come together to form a hearty and flavorful loaf.

To make clean up easier later, I started by lining a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Next, I placed 3 torn-up slices of white bread in my food processor and pulsed until fine crumbs formed.  I transferred the crumbs to a small bowl and stirred in 1/3 cup of whole milk.  I set the crumbs aside for about 10 minutes, stirring them occasionally.

While the crumbs absorbed the milk, I combined 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef chuck, 1/2 pound of ground pork, 1/2 of a medium onion (grated), 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 egg, 1/4 cup of ketchup, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a large bowl.  I added the bread-milk mixture and stirred the ingredients together very gently with a fork.

This is a “free-form” meatloaf recipe, so I placed the meat mixture on the prepared baking sheet and formed it into a loaf that was about 9 inches long and 5 inches wide.  I baked the loaf at 400F until it reached 160F on my meat thermometer (55 minutes), brushing it twice with 1/4 cup of ketchup while it baked.  (That’s 1/4 cup of ketchup total, not 1/4 cup each time.)  I let the loaf rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving it.

This was a tasty meatloaf, but I almost think the best part about it was the *smell* while it was baking.  It took me a few minutes to put my finger on it, but it was the smell of roasting garlic and onions…  It was almost intoxicating.  The onion flavor of the loaf was strong; I liked it, but this might be a hard sell for kids.  Texture-wise, it was moist and meaty.  It held together well, but I think the gentle fork mixing resulted in a loaf that was more chunky than smooth.

All in all, I think this was a yummy dinner, but I’m not sure this recipe wins out over Kraft’s Favorite Meatloaf.  (I can’t even believe I’m putting a Kraft recipe over an Everyday Food recipe, but results are results!)  Meatloaf is great comfort food, though, and the temperature is dropping, so I’m sure I’ll have numerous opportunities to try more recipes this fall.  Stay tuned!

TIPS:  Definitely, definitely, definitely line your baking sheet with foil before you assemble the loaf.  The loaf ended up leaching quite a bit of fat because of the ground chuck and ground pork, so you’ll have quite a mess on your hands if you skip that step.

Recipe link: Classic Meatloaf

Baby Spinach Salad with Tuna

Since I’m temporarily at home while we get our new place put together, I’ve had a little more time to think about what I want to eat for lunch.  I decided to step away from the Lean Cuisine (a rare occasion, for better or for worse!) and try the Baby Spinach Salad with Tuna recipe from the May 2006 issue of Everyday Food.  If you leave out the red onion (which I did, since there are few things in this world worse than raw red onion breath), the assembly time for this recipe is about the length of time it would take to heat up a frozen entree anyway.  Plus, it’s totally portable if you want to assemble it the night before and take it to work (or wherever).

To make the dressing, I whisked together 2 tablespoons of plain, low-fat yogurt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a small bowl.  (Use a small airtight container or a resealable plastic bag if it’s a “to go” salad.)  I seasoned the dressing with salt and pepper and set it aside.

Next, I placed 3 cups of loosely-packed baby spinach and 1/2 cup of seedless red grapes (halved lengthwise) in a separate bowl.  To finish the salad, I drained 3 ounces of tuna, added it to the salad, and topped the salad with the dressing.  That was it!

This salad was a nice change of pace…  I loved the lemony dressing and the bit of sweetness from the grapes.  (I think red grapes tend to be less sweet than green; green might have been too much for the salad. Plus, we would miss out on the gorgeous color of the red grapes.)  To really make this sing, I would add drained oil-packed tuna instead of water-packed tuna and toasted pecans.  (Candied pecans might be even better.)  If you want to keep it light, though, stick with the original plan.

TIPS:  The recipe calls for 3 ounces of tuna, but I was only able to find 6-ounce tins.  Keep this in mind when you’re shopping for ingredients.  I ended up adding an extra bit of tuna to my salad, and then I made Miss Mia a *very* happy cat.

Recipe link: Baby Spinach Salad with Tuna

Update: Lemon-Horseradish Fish Cakes

We are absolutely CRAZY this week – work is winding down and we only have a few days left before the big trip. These days are what “cook half, freeze half” meals are made for, so I decided to dig the other half of the Lemon-Horseradish Fish Cakes out of the freezer.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised! Unfortunately, most dishes that are tossed in the freezer end up as mere shadows of the original preparation. The cracker crust was slightly less crisp (fresh crackers vs. frozen, I’m sure) and the horseradish flavor had a bit less zing. The fish cakes still had great texture and flavor, though, and they beat any other frozen fish recipe I’ve tasted by a mile.

In my original post, I mentioned that I would set my burner temperature squarely between medium and medium-high the next time I made these fish cakes. I did, and they were browned and cooked through perfectly with 5 minutes on each side.

I was able to put together an absolutely delicious meal of fish cakes, steamed peas (Birds Eye steamer bags are the best!), and take-and-bake bread in about 15 minutes. In a crunch, it doesn’t get any better than that!

p.s. We move into the full-fledged crazy phase of our fall transition this weekend. Over the next several weeks, I plan to post some recipes that I’ve cooked recently, along with an Australia update here and there. (Bill Granger has a restaurant in Sydney I want to try, and haven’t you always wondered what kangaroo steak tastes like? 🙂 ) I’ll be in my new kitchen in late September, ready to whip up all kinds of Halloween goodies. Please stay tuned!

Lemon-Horseradish Fish Cakes

There’s no better word than “infuriating” to describe my attempt to make Lemon-Horseradish Fish Cakes from the October 2006 issue of Everyday Food. Thankfully, the results were worth writing about! This is one of those recipes I’ve been meaning to make for months – and almost have made several times – but it just never seemed to happen. I’ve had crab cakes on the brain, though, and I had a box of saltines in the pantry I needed to use, so I thought now would be the perfect time.

First, I roasted the tilapia I would use to make the cakes. I brushed a rimmed baking sheet with 1/2 tablespoon of oil and placed 2 pounds (6 fillets) of tilapia on it. (The recipe suggested splitting the fish up between two baking sheets, but I was able to fit my fish on one – in a single layer, of course.) I roasted the fish until it was cooked through (about 12 minutes). I let it cool completely, patted it dry with paper towels, and then used a fork to flake the fish into small pieces.

While the fish cooked, I made cracker crumbs by grinding saltines in the food processor. The recipe said that 36 crackers should make 1 1/2 cups of crumbs, but I ended up having to use about 48 to yield 1 1/2 cups.

After I had my fish and cracker crumbs ready to go, I combined 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of light mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley, 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons of bottled white horseradish in a large bowl. I folded in the fish and 1/2 cup of cracker crumbs and then seasoned with salt and pepper. I put the rest of my cracker crumbs on a plate to dredge the fish cakes.

Here’s where things went terribly wrong.

I used a 1/4-cup measuring cup to portion out the fish mixture for the cakes. The mixture would kind of hold its shape on a plate, but it my hands, it was as good as liquid. I might as well have been trying to form and dredge cakes made of oatmeal. I figured the only way to make this work was to firm up the cakes somehow, so I portioned 16 mounds of mixture onto two plates and put the plates in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Thankfully, that did the trick! The cakes still weren’t “firm,” but they were in much better shape. They held up even better once I got a layer of cracker crumbs around the outside; I think it was almost like adding flour to a dough that was too moist or sticky. I managed to get all the cakes coated in cracker crumbs, and then half of them went onto a baking sheet and into the freezer.

I was ready to cook the other 8 cakes, so I heated 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. I placed all of the cakes in the skillet and cooked them until they were golden brown (about 5 minutes per side).

I was so frustrated by the time I finished cooking this meal that it was hard to imagine the taste could measure up to the effort I had made. I was wrong! The cracker crumbs formed this perfect, light, crunchy crust on the outside of the cakes and the fish inside was flavorful and moist. (I think the horseradish really kicked things up in the flavor department.) It was just the result I had hoped for. Even better, I have 8 of these babies waiting in the freezer for a quick and easy meal sometime in the next few weeks. This is definitely a case of recipe redemption!

TIPS: My cakes browned pretty quickly on the first side, so I ended up having to reduce the heat to halfway between medium and medium-high. Next time, I’ll probably just start cooking at that level of heat instead of at medium-high.

If you decide to freeze any of the cakes, place them on a baking sheet (after they’ve been coated in cracker crumbs) and freeze them until they’re firm. Wrap each one in plastic (this will ensure they don’t stick to each other when they thaw) and place them in freezer bags. Freeze them up to 3 months, and thaw them overnight in the refrigerator before cooking.

Recipe link: Lemon-Horseradish Fish Cakes

Classic Egg Salad

The quest to empty the pantry and refrigerator continues! I realized that I had a mostly full bottle of light mayonnaise hanging out in the refrigerator that was set to expire later this month. I’ve been craving egg salad lately (it’s one of those things people either love or hate, I think), so I thought that would be a perfect way to burn through some mayo. The last few times I’ve made egg salad I’ve used a “southern” recipe that calls for shallots and sweet pickle relish, but this time, I had my eye on the Classic Egg Salad recipe from the March/April 2003 issue of Everyday Food.

The recipe calls for 8 hard-cooked eggs, but it doesn’t specify *how* to hard-cook them. I decided to try Ina Garten’s way, which meant placing the eggs in a saucepan, covering them with 1 inch of water, bringing them to a boil, turning off the heat, leaving the pan on the burner (heat off) for 5 minutes, and then allowing the eggs to cool at room temperature. It took the eggs forever (about 45 minutes, actually) to cool, but the results were good (cooked yolks, no gray or green color issues).

My usual recipe calls for placing the eggs in a saucepan, covering them with 1 inch of water, bringing them to a boil, immediately removing them from the heat, covering them, and then letting them stand for 12 minutes. Then, I would rinse them under cold water to cool the eggs. This always worked just as well for me without the eternal cooling time.

Once I had my cooled hard-cooked eggs, I peeled them, placed them in a bowl, and coarsely chopped them with two knives. I added 1/2 cup of reduced-fat mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of chopped celery, 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, and about 4 dashes of hot-pepper sauce. I seasoned to taste with salt and pepper and stirred everything together to combine.

I ended up serving this on whole-wheat bread, but it’s great on a bed of lettuce as well. I think I may actually like this recipe better than my usual one. It’s uncomplicated and delicious – “classic” in every sense of the word. I would definitely make this one again.

TIPS: I thought the salad was terrific at room temperature right after I put it together, but feel free to chill it if you prefer cold salads. I refrigerated the leftovers and had another yummy sandwich for lunch the next day.

Recipe link: Classic Egg Salad




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