Saturday 3 December 2016

Delicious homemade frozen meals

Making fresh dinners every day would be great, but there isn't always time. Don't beat yourself up - let it go and think frozen

Katy McGuinness

Published 14/08/2015 | 02:30

Pea and mint soup.
Pea and mint soup.
Butternut squash and spinach lasagne.
Pulled pork sandwich.

We all want to eat nutritious home-cooked food, but when time is tight it's easy to give in and reach for a supermarket ready-meal or order an expensive takeaway. If you have a freezer, it's worth trying to get ahead, by cooking in batches, so that there's always a homemade meal ready to go. A well-stocked freezer is a terrific aid to stress-reduction.

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We all want to eat nutritious home-cooked food, but when time is tight it's easy to give in and reach for a supermarket ready-meal or order an expensive takeaway. If you have a freezer, it's worth trying to get ahead, by cooking in batches, so that there's always a homemade meal ready to go. A well-stocked freezer is a terrific aid to stress-reduction.

The recipes here all freeze very well, so use these quantities to make, for example, six individual portions of soup, two lasagnes for four, or two batches of pulled pork for six.

Generally stews and curries work very well in the freezer, as do soups, moussaka, and variations on the theme of lasagne. A basic tomato sauce, such as the one in the recipe for the butternut and spinach lasagna, is worth making in very large quantities, as you'll find umpteen uses for it from a pasta sauce to a topping for baked potatoes.

The time it takes to double or treble up on a recipe is nothing compared to cooking the same dish twice from scratch, when you take the shopping and prep time into account.

Batch cooking does take a bit of organisation, though, in terms of freezer containers. Those Pyrex dishes with plastic lids are brilliant, and make the whole process very easy. Do remember to label and date everything that you put into the freezer, because with the best will in the world it can all end up looking the same.

Finally, before you go shopping check your cupboards to see what you already have, so that you don't end up with duplicates of ingredients that you don't use very often.

Pea and Mint Soup

Serves 6

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1.75 litres vegetable or chicken stock

800g frozen peas

25g fresh mint, leaves only

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the celery, onion and garlic, and sautée for 5 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the stock and peas to the vegetables, stir and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat, season and add the mint leaves. Blend or blitz until smooth. Can be served hot or chilled, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagne

Serves 8

1.5kg butternut squash

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

780g spinach, washed

1 knob butter, plus extra for greasing

1 whole nutmeg

6 fresh lasagne sheets

300g Parmesan, grated

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 x 400g cans tomatoes

1 tsp sugar

900ml crème fraiche

3 finely chopped anchovies (optional)

Heat oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas 6. Peel and de-seed the squash, and cut into bite-sized cubes. Toss with 2 tablespoons of oil, season, and roast in the oven until tender and slightly charred at the edges, about 40 mins.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. In a pan, soften the onion in 1 tbsp oil for 5 mins, then add the celery and garlic and cook for 1 min more.

Add the tomatoes and sugar, then leave to simmer, uncovered, for 30 mins, stirring occasionally. Season to taste.

Put the wet spinach in a saucepan, cover and put over a medium heat until wilted. When it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water. Chop and put in a pan with the butter. Heat gently, then season with salt, pepper and plenty of nutmeg.

In a bowl, combine the crème fraiche with the anchovies and 200g of the Parmesan, and season.

Butter a baking dish and assemble the lasagne in the following layers: half of the butternut, half of the tomato sauce, 2 lasagne sheets, half the crème fraiche mixture, all the spinach, 50g cheese, 2 lasagne sheets, half the butternut, half the tomato sauce, 2 lasagne sheets, half the crème fraiche mixture and the last 50g of Parmesan. Bake for 40 mins, until the lasagne is golden and bubbling.

Note: If you are freezing the lasagne, omit the final 50g of cheese before freezing, defrost thoroughly before re-heating, and add the cheese just before you pop it into the oven.

Pulled Pork

Serves at least 12 depending on the size of the shoulder

1 shoulder of pork

For the marinade:

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 tbsp olive oil

1 whole bulb of garlic, cloves separated and crushed (skin on)

25g fresh thyme, crushed in your hand

20g fresh rosemary, crushed in your hand

1 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 x 330ml bottle beer

Put the pork into an oven tray. Score the skin with a sharp knife.

Combine the ingredients for the marinade and rub it all over the meat, and into the slits in the skin. Leave to marinate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 240°C/220°C Fan/Gas 9. Put the pork into the oven for 20 minutes or until nicely coloured.

Then cover the meat in foil and reduce the temperature to 140°C/120°C Fan/Gas 1 for about 8 hours to slow roast until tender and falling off the bone. De-fat the sauce, shred the meat and mix with the sauce. Serve in crusty rolls with coleslaw.

Irish Independent

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