ARTICLES BY NORENE GILLETZ  
Freeze With Ease For Your Holiday Celebrations

by Norene Gilletz

This article first appeared on 4 September 2008 on www.ou.org

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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 re-sealable bags, seal tightly and freeze. Cooked noodles also freeze well when stored in re-sealable 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:

SOUPS:

* 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.

FISH:

* 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 www.gourmania.com.

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NORENE'S CRANBERRY BRISKET WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS
Source: Norene’s Healthy Kitchen by Norene Gilletz (Whitecap Books)

This dish is excellent for a large crowd, making it perfect for any of the major Jewish holidays. Be sure to check out the variations below. This brisket is tender and tasty—it’s sure to become a family favorite.

2 large onions, sliced
1 beef brisket (41/2 to 5 lb/2 kg), well-trimmed
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup whole cranberry sauce
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup water

1. Spray a large roasting pan with cooking spray. Spread the onions in the bottom of the pan and place the brisket on top. Season both sides of the brisket with garlic, salt, and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the cranberry sauce and tomato sauce. Mix well; spread over the brisket. Pour the water around and underneath the brisket and cover the pan tightly with foil. (If desired, marinate for an hour at room temperature or up to 48 hours in the refrigerator.)

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Cook the brisket, covered, about 4 hours or until the meat is fork-tender and the onions are caramelized. (Calculate 45 minutes per pound as your cooking time.) For the last hour of cooking, slightly loosen the foil and baste the meat occasionally.

3. When done, remove the pan from the oven and cool completely. Cover the pan and refrigerate over night. Remove the congealed fat from the surface. Slice the brisket thinly across the grain, trimming away the fat. Reheat the slices in the pan gravy for 25 to 30 minutes in a covered casserole at 350 degrees F.

Yield: 12 servings. Keeps for up to 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator; reheats well. Freezes well for up to 4 months.

264 calories per serving, 12.2 g carbohydrate, 0.9 g fiber, 35 g protein, 7.4 g fat (2.8 g saturated), 73 mg cholesterol, 116 mg sodium, 353 mg potassium, 3 mg iron, 25 mg calcium

CRANBERRY VEAL BRISKET: Instead of beef, use a veal brisket. Cooking time will be the same. If desired, have the butcher cut a pocket in the roast; insert your favorite stuffing into the pocket and increase the cooking time by 1/2 hour. (Do not freeze the stuffed roast.)

Variations
* Replace the onions with 1 package of dried onion soup mix and omit the salt. Rub the soup mix, garlic, and pepper evenly over the brisket. Instead of water, use dry red wine, diet ginger ale, or cola.

* Barbecue or chili sauce can be used instead of tomato sauce.

Chef’s Secrets
* Flat or Fat? Beef brisket is divided into two sections. The flat cut has less fat and is usually more expensive than the point, which is much fattier and also more flavorful. A double brisket has a thick layer of fat between the two sections.

* Ask your butcher to trim the brisket well. Cook it a day in advance so you can remove the congealed fat before slicing and reheating.

* Double Brisket? Don’t double the time! If your brisket is very large (8 to 10 lb), cut it crosswise into two smaller briskets (4 to 5 lb each). Cook them in a large roaster for 3 to 4 hours, until fork-tender.

* Overnight Method: Cook, tightly covered, in a 225 degrees F oven for 7 to 8 hours. (Put the brisket into the oven just before going to bed and remove it first thing in the morning.)

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JAMIE'S CHALLAH KUGEL
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Chill Time: none

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large loaves day-old or stale water challah, crusts removed and cubed as for croutons
2 Tbsp Osem Consommé Mix
1/8 tsp coarse black pepper
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp seasoned bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Place oil in a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan and place in oven.

3. Place cubed challah in a colander and wet it quickly and lightly; put your fingers under the running water to lighten the flow, moving the colander so none of the bread gets too wet. Sprinkle with just enough water to dampen challah; do not drench it. Squeeze out excess water. Challah should look and feel like wet rags.

4. In a large bowl, gently fold together challah, consommé mix, pepper, eggs, baking powder and bread crumbs. Don't over mix, but evenly disperse ingredients. The mixture should still be lumpy.

5. Remove loaf pan from oven and pour challah mixture into loaf pan.

6. Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes until top is golden to dark brown and crunchy.

7. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Tips:

* Water challah is essential to this dish's success: Do not use egg challah.

* If you don't have enough leftover scraps, you can fake stale old bread. Just bake slices of fresh bread on a cookie sheet for approximately 30 minutes at about 200 degrees F. If the heat is too high your bread will toast, which is exactly what you don't want. The goal is to just suck the moisture out of it.

* * * * *

CARROT MUFFINS

Jamie told me she likes to serve these muffins warm as a side dish.

Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Chill Time: none

1/2 (10-ounce) package shredded carrots
1 (4-ounce) jar carrot baby food
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 tsp lemon juice
3/4 cup canola oil
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Line cupcake tins with paper holders.

3. In a large bowl, place all ingredients and mix well to combine.

4. Spoon mixture evenly into cupcake holders and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

5. Allow to cool slightly and serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: About 12 muffins. Freezes well.

Tip:
* For a lower-calorie version, substitute applesauce for some or all of the oil and use egg substitute in place of the eggs.

* * * * *

CRAN-APPLE CRUNCH KUGEL

Nobody will suspect you didn't spend half an hour peeling and slicing apples! The fresh, tart cranberries will totally throw them off, and they're the perfect balance to the super-sweet pie filling.

Prep Time: 4 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Chill Time: none

1 (21-ounce) can apple pie filling
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup margarine, cut into chunks
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch round baking dish or deep pie plate with non-stick baking spray.

2. Place apple pie filling and cranberries in prepared dish, mix to combine and smooth into an even layer.

3. In a small bowl, mix together sugars, flour, margarine and cinnamon until crumbly. Sprinkle over apple-cranberry mixture.

4. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until crumbles are golden brown. This is best served right out of the baking dish.

Yield: 8 servings. Freezes well.

* * * * *

HONEY CHICKEN

Despite its name, this chicken is not too sweet. The olive oil, soy sauce, garlic and pepper temper the honey perfectly.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Chill Time: none

1 chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds, cut into 8 pieces
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Rinse chicken, pat dry and place in prepared pan.

3. In a small bowl, mix together honey, soy sauce, olive oil, garlic powder and pepper and pour over chicken.

4. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees F for 1 hour until slightly browned.

Yield: 4 servings. Multiplies well for a crowd. Freezes well.

Suggested Wine:
Hagafen 2004 Estate Bottled Napa Valley Pinot Noir. The mix of savory and sweet in this dish calls for a wine of good body and complementary flavors. The spicy jam flavors of this Pinot will match wonderfully.

   

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