Today’s strategy….Cook Big (and stay home)!

So this weekend I used one of my favorite strategies to make weeknight’s easier. Cook BIG~ or prepare way more than you need for a meal and freeze it!

If you don’t have a second freezer, I highly recommend it. You can find great deals on meats when they are on sale and freeze them for later use, buy bulk (for example a half a pig, or lamb which I did this year!) and also to freeze meals for future use!

Today was Sunday Sauce day. Sunday Sauce simmers for several hours on the stove and makes the house smell like heaven!

This is my 12 quart stockpot full of tomato sauce. As you can see, it’s almost full and this one big pot will make several meals. Today I breaded and fried up some chicken breast cutlets and made two pans of chicken Parmesan.
Chicken Parm!
Again, if I am making the mess of breading and pan frying, why make just one meal? We ate one pan tonight for dinner with a side of Barilla-Plus spaghetti and some greens and beans. The other pan will go in the freezer for a dinner in December. (It was on the master list so I can check that off!)

The rest of the sauce is packaged in freezer containers, some large for spaghetti dinners, and a couple of smaller ones for homemade pizza night.

Another tip, when we are in the thick of sports season and rarely eat at the same time, I will package individual servings in small gratin dishes. Everyone can then pick what they want from what’s in the freezer, heat and eat when they are available and clean up is a breeze since it is in one dish. I often do this for my clients!

I am planning a couple of “Cook Big” nights this week with some quick cooking soups and by using my crockpot. By next weekend I will have a nice selection of things in my freezer and there is nothing I love more than knowing I have something ready to go to feed the family!

Crispy Chicken Parmesan (Serves 8-10)
8-10 chicken breast cutlets
3 eggs
2 c. flour
2 c. Panko bread crumbs
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tb. Italian herb seasoning
salt and pepper
Canola or Peanut oil for pan frying
8 c. Marinara sauce (homemade or an all natural variety)
2 c. shredded Italian cheese
1/2 lb. Spaghetti, cooked

Set up a standard breading station. First tray: flour seasoned with 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper. Second tray: beat the eggs until smooth. Third tray: Panko, cheese, herb seasoning and 1 tsp. salt.
Heat oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until it ripples. There should be about 1/4″ of oil in the pan. Dip each of the cutlets into the flour, shake off excess. Dip in egg and completely coat it and then dip in the Panko. Place cutlets into the pan, 2-3 at a time, don’t crowd them, and cook 3 minutes or until nicely browned, and then flip for another 2 minutes. Remove cutlets to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Once all the cutlets are done assemble in the pan.
Spray the bottom of two 9×13 Pyrex dishes with cooking spray. Add about 2 cups of sauce to each, place 4-5 cutlets in each pan, overlapping slightly if needed. Top with cheese.
Preheat oven to 350ยบ and bake chicken for 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.
(If freezing, don’t bake. Freeze once assembled and then thaw in the fridge overnight and bake as directed.)

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Cook Whatcha Got Challenge Dinners #1 and #2

Our first challenge dinner was Monday, and yes I am posting today…Thursday. A visit from a lovely stomach bug de-railed the challenge for a few days, but I’m back in the kitchen and ready to tackle my pantry and freezer!

Monday was MLK day and my husband and kids were all home for the holiday. The kids all had basketball practice at different times during the day and I had promised my girls a shopping trip to use some gift cards that were burning holes in their animal print wallets so whatever dinner was had to be quick and easy to reheat for different meal times! Oh the joys of a busy household!

For Monday’s dinner I had some cooked chicken breast, a partial bag of Italian blend shredded cheese, and fresh basil. In my freezer was a small container of oven roasted tomatoes from the summer. It all came together in Chicken Parmesan Calzones!
I had the morning at home which gave me time to make some delicious whole wheat Italian bread dough. After an hour of rising time, it was beautiful!

I rolled the dough thinly, filled them sealed them and baked on my pizza stone. I cooled them quickly and put them into the fridge and everyone heated a calzone (or 2!) in the oven and helped themselves to a beautiful salad of Romaine, fennel and Navel oranges w/ an orange and shallot vinaigrette. It was quick and easy! there were a few calzones leftover that became the lunchbox envy of my kids friends!

Tonight’s challenge dinner had to be on the light side since I am just easing back into my kitchen. I have two partial boxes of Arborio rice in the pantry and that sounded so good today! In my freezer, I had a big bag of shrimp shells that I have been saving and adding to for awhile, as well as a bag of easy-peel uncooked shrimp and a partial bag of peas.

The recipe comes from a favorite cookbook of mine called ‘Risotto, More Than 120 Recipes for the Classic Rice Dish of Northern Italy’ by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman. I bought this cookbook many years ago, loved it, used it and decided I could find recipes online or from my imagination, and then I sold it at a book sale or garage sale four or five years ago. STUPID! Oh how I missed that cookbook, it was a great inspiration for ingredients and when teaching people how to make risotto it is a great primer! So when I was in Boston to meet Chef Jacques Pepin, and I saw a copy for sale, I bought myself a new copy! My husband thinks I have some sort of pathological need to acquire cookbooks, but this one is one I really love and I am so glad to have it back!

So back to tonight’s recipe. First, I made a shrimp broth using all the shrimp shells, some onion, celery and parsley that I simmered slowly for about 20 minutes. I strained it and kept it warm to make my risotto.
Meanwhile I peeled my bag of shrimp (saving the peels to start my new bag for next time!).

Risotto is actually very easy to make, it just takes some time and patience. You MUST use Italian rice (Arborio or Carnaroli), it has a higher starch content which is what makes risotto…well, risotto! You wouldn’t use risotto to make sushi, nor should you use sticky rice or long grain rice or brown rice for risotto. It just doesn’t work!

You begin by heating the brodo (broth)to a low simmer. It must be hot to add to your rice so it cooks uniformly! Then you prepare the soffritto, the aromatics like onion, leek, peppers, celery which change according to your recipe. For the shrimp risotto, the soffritto is just onion and garlic in some butter and olive oil. Saute until soft and add the Arborio rice (riso) and cook it for a minute or two in the soffritto to coat it and begin to cook it. And finally, adding the hot brodo to the pan 1/2 cup at a time ( I use a soup ladle), simmering and stirring often. The trick is to wait until the liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more broth. A true risotto takes about 18 minutes until the broth is absorbed. The ‘condimenti’ for tonight is shrimp and peas. Depending on your recipe the condimenti can be added at the beginning, middle or end of the recipe. In this case, the shrimp will go in about 12 minutes into the cooking time so it is just cooked through when the risotto is ready, and the thawed peas will go in about 2 minutes before it’s ready so that they are still vibrant green and have a good texture.

Depending on what you read, some authors suggest saving a small amount of broth until just before serving to insure creaminess, while others say to add a pat of very cold unsalted butter and some Parmesan cheese. I did both!

Ahh, this is comfort food at it’s best! All from my own pantry and freezer! We served this with a nice fresh salad and some rolls from the freezer that were reheated. It was a lovely dinner!

Take a minute to see what my chef friends are cooking for the challenge this week! Great ideas and recipes!