The house might be upside down and the laundry a sight but I’ve been killing it in the kitchen this past week, despite a crappy cold that’s taken me out. The secret? It’s all about that base. And by that I mean having meals and snacks partially or fully cooked to pop out of the fridge or freezer and finish in minutes. Which is not usually how we roll, but what we’ll be doing more and more with Michael Smith’s latest book, Make Ahead Meals: Over 100 Easy Time-Saving Recipes.
I started with the Potluck Potatoes and Granola Bars (the recipes for both are below) and there so many others I can’t wait to try. Like the Beef Barley Kale Stew, the Chinese-Restaurant Chicken and the Dulce de Leche Coconut Squares. (Yum!) Tips for cooking ahead and storage are included with each recipe and the directions are easy to follow.
My 8-year-old likes to say she’s never met a potato she didn’t like, and these Potluck Potatoes with Parmesan Cream (aka scalloped potatoes) were no exception. I made the recipe one afternoon last week and we ate it for days (there’s a lot there!), storing it in the fridge and reheating slices in the microwave.
And the granola bars were a hit with both my guys and their friends, who all act like they haven’t eaten in days when they come home from school. (Ravenous, am I right?) When did I make them? Last Friday? They’ve been snacking on them and taking them to school in their lunches all week.
I made two batches, both without nuts and with a slightly different mix of fruits and seeds. My kids deemed the first batch too crunchy for all of the pumpkin seeds and didn’t care for the dried cranberries (mind you, they still ate them), so I used just a few tablespoons of pumpkin seeds in the second batch and swapped the cranberries for raisins, sliced apricots and chocolate chips. They think those ones are the bomb. And I’m happy knowing they’re eating something mostly nutritious.
Do you make meals ahead? What are your faves? I’d love to hear your tips for saving time in the kitchen.
And do try these recipes! It’s all about that base.
Recipes printed from Make Ahead Meals with permission from Penguin Random House Canada Ltd.
Potluck Potatoes with Parmesan Cream
This is one of my favourite go-to dishes for potluck. The essential scalloped potatoes. The crowd pleaser. Guaranteed, because this version is packed with aromatic garlic and oregano.
Make ahead is an essential part of any professional kitchen. Every restaurant chef knows they can bake a batch of classic potatoes gratiné like this, cool them thoroughly cut them into an array of fanciful shapes, and reheat them quickly to dress up the plate. At home that just means I make the full pan, serve half and save the other half for a few days downstream!
Makes a large pan, enough for 10 to 12 sides, easily doubled.
Today for Tomorrow: Prepare this dish in advance, read to pop in the oven when the time comes. Or fully cook this dish now and reheat anytime during the next several days.
1/2 cup (125 ml) of butter
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon (15 ml) of dried oregano
1/2 cup (125 ml) of all-purpose flour
4 cups (1 L) of milk
2 cups (500 ml) of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon (5 ml) of salt
10 to 12 large russet potatoes (5 pounds/2.25 kg or so), peeled and thinly sliced
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Turn on your convection fan if you have one. Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch (3.5 L) baking plan.
Toss the butter into a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. Swirl, melt and sizzle. Toss in the garlic and sauté until sizzling, fragrant and lightly golden, 30 seconds or so. Stir in the oregano and turn off the heat. Sprinkle in the flour and stir the works into a paste.
Return to medium heat and slowly pour in the milk, whisking the sauce as it heats and thickens. Briefly bring to a furious boil, then reduce the heat to a slow, steady simmer. Which in the Parmesan and salt. Remove from the heat.
Stir the potatoes into the sauce, coating them evenly. Transfer the to the baking pan, nudging them into an even layer. Bake for 90 minutes, then begin checking doneness every 10 minutes or so. Bake until the potatoes are tender throughout and golden brown and the sauce is bubbly, reduced and thickened, up to 2 hours in total.
Refrigerate: Tightly seal the prepared (but not baked) dish and refrigerate for us to 3 days. Or tightly seal leftovers and refrigerate within 30 minutes of cooking. Store for up to 6 days before reheating.
Freeze: Portion the baked dish, tightly seal and freeze for up to 30 days. Reheat straight from the freezer or thaw in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before reheating.
Need a little mid-morning or mid-afternoon boost? Skip the candy aisle and instead stir whole-grain goodness into a batch of these super-simple, super-tasty granola bars. Artfully wrap and tie individual bars for some added flair — and lovingly tuck a handwritten note inside.
Makes 16 granola bars, easily doubled in 2 pans.
Today for Tomorrow: Make the granola a few days in advance, ready to bake into bars when the time comes. Tightly seal in a zip-top bag. Make these granola bars ahead and enjoy for the next week or so.
2 cups (500 ml) of granola (there’s an easy recipe in the book)
2 cups (500 ml) of instant rolled oats
1 cup (250 ml) of brown sugar
1/2 cups (125 ml) of your favourite nuts, seeds or dried fruit
1/2 cup (125 ml) of water
1 teaspoon (5 ml) of cinnamon or your favourite baking spice
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Turn on your convention fan if you have one. Line an 8-inch (2 L) square baking pan with foil and spray with a light film of cooking spray.
Mix everything together in a large bowl, then evenly spread into the pan, pressing and compacting the mixture as firmly as possible. For best results, press and identical or slightly smaller pan inside and press down with all your weight. Bake until lightly browned and very firm to the touch, 20 minutes or so, then rest until cool. Remove from the pan, slice the bars and wrap individually in plastic wrap or bags.
Room temperature: Cool the granola bars, tightly seal in a zip-top bag and store for up to 10 days.
Freeze: Cool, tightly seal and freeze for up to a month.
Penguin Random House Canada Ltd. sent me a copy of Make Ahead Meals to review. All opinions and ideas are my own.