PCA 2020

Shower Me with Food

This week I hosted a freezer shower for my friend Edith, who is due with her second child in two weeks. We all figured out on the first go-round that when there’s a new baby on the scene, food is the most welcome gift of all. And when you’re on your second or third and have all the Robeez and Bumbos you need, a freezer shower is ideal. The idea is to usher your guests into the kitchen (they’ll gravitate there anyway) to help prepare meals for the new mom to pack up and take home.

Pesto ChickenBut it occurred to me that an impending baby need not be a factor; such an event is perfect for multitaskers like me, solving two of my dilemmas at once - getting to visit with friends and putting healthy, homemade dinners on the table. I’ve always enjoyed the social aspect of cooking, which has largely disappeared as mealtimes turn into harried affairs in a society pressed for time and constantly pressured by the convenience food industry. Getting together to cook is a great way to get a visit in and at the same time, take care of a task that needs to be done anyway – it’s a big reason those prep-your-own-meal places, which are based on the same concept, are becoming so popular. Why not start a cooking club and alternate kitchens once a month?

Almost anything can be frozen, but anything liquidy – soups, stews, braises, casseroles – do well in the freezer, as they tend to insulate themselves. (As for what not to freeze, potatoes tend to get watery.) Because you don’t want all your casserole dishes to be occupied in the freezer, those aluminum takeout containers are a great idea, and are 3 for $1 at the Dollar Giant. You can seal them up and then write reheating instructions on the white lid.

Baked Penne with Sausage and Spinach

This recipe doubles easily, and can be divided among any number of containers of any shape and size.

2 mild or hot Italian sausages, squeezed out of their casings
1 onion, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 28 oz. (540 mL) can diced tomatoes (undrained)
1/2 can tomato paste
1/4 cup pesto (out of a jar)
3 cups penne, rigatoni or rotini pasta
1/2 a 10 oz. bag ready-to-use spinach leaves
6 oz. mozzarella cheese, cubed (about 1 ½ cups)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, cook the sausage, onion and garlic over medium-high heat, breaking up the meat until the sausage is cooked through. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the pesto and some salt & pepper.

Cook the pasta until al dente, drain it well and toss it with the spinach (coarsely tear the spinach up with your hands as you add it), mozzarella and about half the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Stir in the hot tomato sauce, which will slightly wilt the spinach. Divide among baking dishes or aluminum containers (it should be enough to fill one 9”x13” pan) and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.

Cool completely before covering and transferring to the freezer for up to 3 months.

Baking instructions:

Bake from frozen or put it in the fridge to thaw for up to 24 hours. When you’re ready to eat, preheat the oven to 350°F and bake until warmed through and the cheeses melt, about 30 minutes.

Here's another great candidate for a make ahead and freeze dinner: it doubles really well, so you can cook once, eat twice. It would make an amazing bring-to-work lunch too, frozen in individual Tupperware: by the time lunchtime comes, it should have thawed sufficiently to pop in the microwave and heat up. A complete lunch in a bowl.

Chicken & White Bean Stew with Pesto  

Here's another great candidate for a make ahead and freeze dinner: it doubles really well, and would make an amazing bring-to-work lunch, frozen in individual Tupperware: by the time lunchtime comes, it should have thawed sufficiently to pop in the microwave.

Canola or olive oil
1 big onion, chopped
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs or turkey, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 big cloves of garlic, crushed
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 19 oz. (540 mL) can white kidney beans, drained
1 can chicken broth
a few drops Tabasco sauce
¼ cup (or a couple big spoonfuls) pesto (I use the jarred stuff)
Salt & pepper

Heat a drizzle of oil in a large pot set over medium heat. Cook the onion and chicken pieces for about 5 minutes, until the onions are starting to brown and the chicken is opaque. Add the carrots, celery and red pepper and cook for a few more minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and cumin and cook for another minute.

Add the beans, chicken broth, Tabasco sauce and some salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Stir in the pesto and serve, or cool down and freeze. Serves 4-6.

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