You're entertaining this weekend, and time is pressing. That's when finding a casserole waiting in the freezer is like striking gold, penetrating Fort Knox or hitting the $1-million jackpot. Only better.
If you frequently entertain after a busy work week, dishes that have party potential will not only help keep your freezer stocked but will save time and energy when you need them most. Smart entertainers prepare a double batch of such a dish and freeze one for company, just in case.
Clive David, a planner of parties for the jet-set crowd, heartily encourages the practice. "I just don't understand why working people who entertain frequently don't keep at least one meal prepared in the freezer for such occasions," he said.
David's trick is to start a meal off grandly by doctoring up a plain chicken consomme always on hand in the freezer. Anything from a single baby spinach leaf to an edible (and pesticide-free) flower blossom will make this starter look like a million dollars. David also keeps on hand a party portion of poached or sauteed chicken breasts covered with a favorite cream sauce (his is Calvados-flavored). "All you have to do to round out the menu is add wild rice, fresh vegetables and a salad."
Another successful hostess relies on hearty main-dish soups or chili she's frozen to keep her party day running like clockwork. Her assessment: "There is nothing more wonderful than having a big pot of gumbo or chili on hand any time you need it." She adds some crusty bread and a big salad and trimmings for the chili--shredded cheese (kept in the freezer), sour cream, chopped onion and crackers. For dessert she serves an easy one--sliced strawberries mixed with bananas laced with Kirsch and dolloped with ice cream or whipped cream.
Sauces for Moisture
The dishes that experts say freeze best contain some sauce for moisture. Among them are meat-and-vegetable stews, meat pies, baked beans, chicken or turkey pies, fricassees of all kinds, chicken or turkey a la king, chop suey or chow mein, goulash and any soup or soup-type stews, such as gumbo. Spaghetti sauce kept on hand in portions you need for a party will supply toppings for a myriad of pastas that you can cook at the last minute. Spaghetti sauce is a good topping for appetizer or main-dish pizzas, as well.
Meat, fish or chicken (or turkey) loaves also freeze well according to experts, and they can be reheated in foil to serve with a plain cream sauce (to which you can add grated cheese, curry powder, mustard powder or paprika) or canned, chopped tomatoes enlivened with Italian spices.
And if you have a microwave oven, you might consider the airline approach: freezing foods in microwave-safe containers to make reheating fast and efficient. To reheat conventionally, you can thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or cook without thawing, but plan on adding more cooking time (about 40 minutes extra in a conventional oven) to compensate for lack of a thawing period.
Certain foods don't take to freezing. Cooked egg whites toughen in the freezer; raw tomatoes become soggy; greens wilt; gelatin, mayonnaise, sour cream and cottage cheese separate; light cream, yogurt and buttermilk lose texture; custards and puddings become watery and cooked potatoes (especially mature ones) become mushy. Any of these foods should be added separately during or after reheating the dish. Pastas and rice can be frozen, but it's best to undercook them to compensate for the additional cooking time during reheating. In fact, freezer experts advise that you not overcook any foods meant for freezing. Meats should be tender but still firm, and vegetables should be slightly underdone.
Soup to Nuts
If you plan ahead, you can, in fact, squeeze everything from soup to nuts from the freezer. Nuts freeze well up to a year. Canape breads or crackers spread with butter (butter prevents moist toppings from soaking into the bread) can be topped with meat, cheese and other butter mixtures for freezing. Freeze the canapes on baking sheets then package them in freezer containers by placing two pieces of freezer paper between the layers of canapes. These will keep up to two months. In fact, count on cleaning out or rotating foods in the freezer every two to three months to keep quality at peak performance. The suggested storage period for pies is two to four months; for baked breads and cakes, four to six months; for meats, stews and other prepared dishes, three to six months and for cookie dough, four to six months. Most foods deteriorate in texture and quality after a length of time in the freezer.
All kinds of plain or fancy cakes, cookies, brownies, breads and pies freeze splendidly. Most people keep ice cream on hand for dessert. For a party, a dish of ice cream can be dolled up with cut fresh or canned fruit, liqueurs, whipped cream, fudge or fruit sauces, with no effort at all. Pound cake kept in the freezer can be sliced and toasted to serve with a scoop of ice cream and hot fudge sauce or turned into a short cake or trifle with pudding mix and berries. Fruit salads that double as dessert also can be frozen by mixing canned or fresh fruits with a base of whipped cream or mixture of mayonnaise and cream cheese. And if you have room in the freezer, mousses in any flavor can be stored in individual souffle dishes for a glamorous finale to a freezer meal.