As the Jewish Holidays approach, my phone starts to ring and my inbox overflows with emails from people who are panicking about preparing for the upcoming holidays. The number one question on everyone’s lips is “Does it freeze?” The second question is “How far in advance can I make this?”
Here are some helpful guidelines to help you with your holiday preparations. And be sure to save this column for future use as a reference guide!
Chicken soup freezes well, as do most soups. Flash-freeze your matzo balls on a cookie sheet in a single layer, then transfer them to resealable bags, seal tightly and freeze. Cooked noodles also freeze well when stored in resealable plastic bags. They will defrost when you reheat them slowly in the hot soup.
Roast brisket, veal or other meats will freeze very well, but if you don’t want to freeze them, you can make them a few days ahead and keep them tightly covered in the refrigerator. See my scrumptious recipe for Cranberry Brisket with Caramelized Onions (below) from my latest book Norene’s Healthy Kitchen: Eat YOUR Way to Good Health (Whitecap $34.95), which includes terrific tips to make preparation easier.
Chicken and turkey freeze extremely well and so do meatballs and cabbage rolls. However, don’t stuff chicken, turkey or roast veal if you plan to freeze it.
Frozen gefilte fish balls will become watery when thawed. My mother taught me her secret to freezing gefilte fish which I am now sharing with you: Just simmer the thawed fish balls for about 15 minutes in enough water to cover, then drain well. Your gefilte fish will taste freshly cooked!
Side dishes like knishes, kugels, latkes, mock kishka, couscous and kasha all freeze well but vegetable salads are best prepared shortly before serving.
Honey cakes freeze very well and will stay moist and tender for several days when stored at room temperature if you wrap them well. Sponge, chiffon, carrot and chocolate cakes also freeze well. Apple pie or other fruit pies freeze well if you assemble them and freeze them unbaked – just be sure to double-wrap them well first. They can be baked without defrosting by unwrapping them and placing them in the oven right from the freezer.
Apple cake might get a little soggy when thawed, so a good trick is to place it in the oven, uncovered, at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes to evaporate any excess moisture. Same thing applies to fruit crisps.
Home-made challahs can be made in advance and frozen. One of my friends makes a big batch of medium-sized challahs and freezes them for the whole month of holidays.
Cookies of all kinds (chocolate chip, mandelbroit, biscotti) and squares freeze well and even taste good straight from the freezer!
In my latest book, Norene’s Healthy Kitchen (Whitecap Books), I made sure to provide do-ahead advice for each and every recipe, how long it could be prepared in advance, how long it could be frozen.
NORENE’S STORAGE AND FREEZER GUIDE:
- Cold Facts: Make sure soups (or any cooked foods) are completely cooled before you transfer them to freezer-safe containers. Leave 2 inches at the top to allow for expansion. Cover and freeze. Square containers take up less space than round ones.
- It’s in the Bag! Not enough freezer containers? Remove frozen soup from the container(s) and transfer to resealable freezer bag(s). A quick trick is to place the container in hot water briefly – the soup will slide right out.
- Hot Stock Tip: If soup is frozen, there’s no need to defrost it first, before heating it up. One cup of soup or broth takes 4 minutes on HIGH power to defrost in the microwave. Then microwave it 2 to 3 minutes longer on HIGH to heat it up, stirring occasionally for even heating. (Or defrost it in a large saucepan or soup pot on the stovetop on low heat, stirring often.)
- Store it Right: Most soups keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and will freeze for up to 4 months.
- Chilling News: Store raw lean fish such as whitefish, tilapia or sole in the coldest part of the refrigerator (40 degrees F) for 2 to 3 days, or freeze for up to 6 months at 0 degrees F. Fatty fish such as salmon can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, or freeze for 2 to 3 months at 0 degrees F.
- Frosty Facts: To defrost raw fish quickly, unwrap it and place on a microsafe plate. Allow 4 to 5 minutes per pound on “defrost” setting (30% power), turning the fish over at half time. A few ice crystals should still remain; these will disappear after the fish stands at room temperature for a few minutes.
- Chill Out! You can also thaw the still-wrapped fish under cold running water, or thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. Don’t thaw fish at room temperature. Never refreeze fish after defrosting: once it has been cooked, it can then be frozen.
- Store it Right: Cooked fish keeps for up to 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. It can usually be frozen for 2 months if well-wrapped to prevent freezer burn.
- Hot Tip: Crumb coatings will get soggy when defrosted because of the high water content of fish, so reheat uncovered to crisp them up.
MEAT & CHICKEN:
- Thaw it Right: Ground meat, roasts and brisket will take approximately 6 hours per pound to thaw in the refrigerator. Never thaw them on the counter. You can also defrost them in the microwave – check your manual for times. Once it has thawed, cook ground meat and poultry as soon as possible.
- Store it Right: Store raw chicken as soon as possible after purchase. Store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days or freeze it. Chicken cooked in a sauce keeps for up to 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. Chicken without a sauce keeps for up to 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. Cooked ground poultry keeps for up to 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator. Reheat to 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer, until piping hot. Refrigerate or freeze cooked chicken as soon as possible after cooking or serving it.
- Frozen Assets: Raw chicken can be frozen 6 to 9 months – wrap it very well to prevent freezer burn. Frozen chicken takes 6 hours per pound to thaw in the refrigerator. You can also defrost it in the microwave – check your manual for times. Don’t thaw it on the counter. Once thawed, cook it as soon as possible.
- Freeze with Ease: Cooked poultry freezes very well, but for best texture and flavor, use it within 4 months.
LET’S TALK TURKEY:
- Unfreeze with Ease: If turkey is frozen, defrost it in its original plastic wrapper in the refrigerator. Place it on a tray or in a large bowl to catch any drippings and prevent cross-contamination. Calculate 5 lb per day – a 10 lb (4.5 kg) turkey will take about 2 days to defrost. Thaw it completely to ensure it cooks evenly.
- Water Works: To thaw frozen turkey in cold water, immerse it completely in its original wrapper, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. Allow 1 hour per lb (2 hours per kg).
- Store it Right: Refrigerate or freeze cooked turkey as soon as possible. Cooked turkey keeps for up to 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator, or will freeze for up to 4 months. Use cooked turkey in soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, stir-fries, or shepherd’s pie. Or combine the turkey with vegetables and pasta or grains for a quick meal. They’ll gobble it up!
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While writing this article, I spoke with Jamie Geller of Monsey, NY. She is the author of QUICK & KOSHER: Recipes From The Bride Who Knew Nothing (Feldheim Publishers; November 2007, $34.99). A former TV producer for HBO, Jamie came into marriage and kosher cooking without knowing a spatula from a saucepan. She admits that before she was married, she had never turned on the oven in her apartment – instead she used it as a storage place for her clothing!
Determined to master cooking yet short on time, she was dismayed to find that most cookbooks consider an hour of preparation time “quick,” and presumed more culinary skill than many people have. So Jamie decided to compile a collection of quick and easy recipes with step-by-step instructions that would require no more than 15 minutes to prepare – recipes that would deliver scrumptious, eye-catching, satisfying meals to impress her family and friends.
QUICK & KOSHER is the result of her quest, with more than 160 recipes and 120 full-color photos that will prove invaluable not only to culinary novices but also experienced cooks who love Kosher food. Most recipes require less than 10 minutes before they are popped into the oven, set atop the stove or served directly to your hungry, eager guests!
Here are some of her favorite recipes from her terrific cookbook that Jamie shared with me for your holiday celebrations. She chose recipes that can be made in advance and frozen so you can be “the hostess with the mostest!”
Jamie wrote, “Challah Kugel is my very first real success! Thanks to Grandma Martha’s patience, I have now mastered her famous recipe – most probably because I made her stay on the phone and walk me through each step “holding my hand” and offering much needed emotional support.
I bake this kugel in our family-heirloom, grease-stained, metal loaf pan. To my surprise, it even comes out great (with the quantities doubled) in a 9 x 13-inch disposable pan! It’s a dish made from leftovers, yet a novelty at the table. And it freezes beautifully, too! What could be better?
Norene Gilletz is a cookbook author, cooking teacher and food consultant based in Toronto, Canada. Her latest book is NORENE’S HEALTHY KITCHEN: Eat YOUR Way to Good Health (Whitecap). For information about her cookbooks, cooking demonstrations and culinary services, call 416-226-2466 or visit her website at http://www.gourmania.com
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.