Thursday, December 15, 2011

Great 'Make-Ahead' Dishes

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't always want to cook. Sometimes I'm just lazy, but sometimes I just don't have time to make something good. I do, however, always want to eat. One thing that really helps is making a meal ahead of time. That way, you can just pull it out, warm it up and then you're done! But are there a lot of meals that work well this way? What are some good things we can make ahead of time for those busy (or lazy!) days? Here are a few easy make-ahead meals I've found.

One of the easiest things to do is just slap together a sandwich when we want something quick. However, we don't all like cold cuts or have time for PB&J. If this is you, here is the recipe for a chicken salad that can be saved and used on a sandwich or eaten on its own.

2 cups cooked white meat chicken, diced
1 cup green peppers, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
¼ tsp tarragon, dried
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ low fat yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste

All you have to do is put the ingredients in a bowl, mix in the yogurt and mayo, and you're done! You can change the ingredients to suit your taste if you'd like. For instance, I have used diced apples in the place of the peppers and sliced grapes in the place of the tomatoes. This turns out really good and can be kept in the refrigerator for three days if stored properly. I don't recommend freezing it because of the mayo and yogurt.

For those Italian food fans, lasagna freezes well. Stouffer's has been doing it for years, so it can't be too bad! Here is a basic recipe.

1 pound ground beef (some people use turkey or minced chicken)
2 eggs
1 32-oz jar pasta sauce
32 ounces ricotta cheese (cottage cheese will do as well)
3 cups mozzarella cheese, 3 cups
½ parmesan cheese, grated
9 lasagna noodles
½ cup water
Dried parsley flakes, 2 tsp
salt and ground pepper to taste

The thing that takes me the longest when making lasagna or stuffed shells is the preparation. Having everything together beforehand saves a lot of time!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the beef/turkey/chicken and simmer in the sauce for 5 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, put together the cheeses, eggs, salt, pepper, an parsley. Take a 9x13 inch baking dish and spread about ¾ cup of the sauce/meat mixture in the bottom. Lay down 3 uncooked noodles, ¼ cup sauce and 1 ¾ cup of the cheese mixture. Repeat the layers two more times, making sure you have enough noodles left to put on the top. Then, put in the rest of the sauce and cheeses. Put ½ cup water around the edges of the pan and cover with tin foil. The water serves to cook the noodles while the mixture is baking. Bake for 45 minutes, remove the cover and put it back in the oven for 10 more minutes. Most pastas will last in the freezer for two weeks to a month or so when covered in tin foil. Before serving, use the same cook time and temperature.

These are just a couple of recipes that you can make ahead of time for those days when you don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Like I said above, the most time-consuming parts of most recipes is the preparation, so being able to cut that out can save you a lot of time.

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