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Big batch cooking: food for the freezer

penne and cheese; chicken green curry

ChardPenneCheese3

One of the difficulties with being a home cook is that it takes time, and on weeknights especially, time is at a premium. I often don’t get home until 7:30 or later; some nights the prospect of then chopping food, cooking and dishing up can be daunting enough to make me want to run out for empanadas instead. But that adds up. So when I had a few days off for the holidays, I decided to cook a few things to put in the freezer so Scott or I could reheat them for fairly quick dinners.

GratedCheeses3

I started by making mac and cheese — more accurately, penne and cheese, since you can use pretty much any tubular pasta for good results. The recipe I use comes from Martha Stewart’s Comfort Food, and it certainly is that. It’s not as simple as mixing powder from a box, but it’s so much better than the packaged stuff that it’s worth the effort. Anyway, it’s not that hard, though maybe I just have enough practice to have gotten good at it.

SaltNutmegPepperCayenne

I cooked a pound of dry pasta until it was not quite done — the noodles cook a bit more in the sauce while baking. I divided the cooked pasta into a few foil containers that I could put directly into the freezer later. While the pasta cooked, I grated cheese: about 4 1/2 cups of cheddar and 1 1/4 cups of Parmesan (Martha’s recipe calls for Gruyere or Romano but Parmesan works as well). I also measured out 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne, then grated what looked like 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.

PenneNCheeseToBake2

I heated 5 1/2 cups of milk until it was not quite bubbling. In a large pan I melted 6 tablespoons of butter, then added half a cup of flour and whisked it together for 1 minute to form a roux. I poured in the warm milk and whisked and cooked the mixture until it was bubbling and had thickened a fair bit, then removed the pan from the heat and added the spices and most of the two cheeses, whisking until the cheese was melted and the mixture smooth. I poured it into the pans with the pasta and sprinkled the remaining cheese on top, and put them into a 375-degree oven for half an hour.

PenneNCheese

You’re supposed to let the cooked pasta cool 5 minutes before serving. I let ours cool a bit longer, because once I’d gotten the pasta into the oven I started working on the chicken green curry and it took more time than I’d intended. I chopped up chicken breast, onions, zucchini, red potatoes and mushrooms; I lightly cooked the chicken pieces in some olive oil, then added the onions and mushrooms. Then I added a can of light coconut milk and stirred in a couple of tablespoons of green curry paste (from a jar, not my own, though that will be on my list to do). You’re also supposed to add some fish sauce, but I didn’t have any and couldn’t find any at my regular supermarket, so I improvised a substitution: soy sauce plus a little Worcestershire sauce and some salt. Not perfect, but close enough for my purposes. I added the rest of the vegetables and another can of coconut milk, though in hindsight I think I should have stuck with one can and just added a small amount of broth or water. The final curry was good but more liquidy than I intended. I brought the mixture to a simmer and let it cook for about half an hour.

AddingCurryPasteToPan

We had one of the containers of penne and cheese for dinner, with some braised red chard. I froze the rest of the food when it was cool: six meals into the freezer. Not too bad for one long evening’s work.

CurryReadyToFreeze

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