One way to reduce holiday stress is to prepare some of the food ahead of time and freeze it. From casseroles to cookies, you can have a large portion of your holiday food ready before the actual day arrives.
“But some things freeze better than others,” said Tammy Roberts, University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist. “Things that may not have the quality you would be proud to serve include meringue, cream or custard pie fillings, mayonnaise, sour cream, and vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and celery,” Roberts said. Uncooked potatoes and cooked pasta don’t often freeze well on their own but you can get great results with these foods in a casserole, she added.
Roberts offered the following tips for quality home-frozen foods:
Foods that will be reheated should be slightly undercooked before freezing. This helps avoid overcooking the end product.
Cool foods quickly before freezing by putting them in the refrigerator or setting the prepared casserole in a pan of ice water. A hot glass baking dish can crack or break when placed in ice water, so use caution.
Wrap your food well. Air shortens shelf life and can affect color, flavor and texture.
Cheese or crumb toppings on casseroles can become soggy or dry in the freezing process. Add these when reheating the dish.
It can be hard to find information about how long it takes to reheat a frozen dish such as a casserole. Roberts says to use the oven setting at which the dish was originally cooked, and to start with just less than twice the original cooking time. For example, if the original cooking time was 30 minutes, start with about 50 minutes, but be sure to check often at the end of that time. A good clue that a casserole is thoroughly reheated is that the edges are bubbling and the center is hot.
The MU Extension guide “Quality for Keeps: Freezing Home-Prepared Foods” is available for free download at extension.missouri.edu/p/GH1505.
For more food and nutrition information from MU Extension, including feature articles, answers to frequently asked questions and learning opportunities, go to www.missourifamilies.org/nutrition.