Kitchen Daily 9/28/13

Being a mom means always having to think on your feet, especially when your son or daughter brings friends home without warning. If you find you're often feeding unexpected visitors, it's best to plan ahead by having a few things in the freezer to pull out for last-minute occasions.

If your family dinner suddenly includes a study buddy or playmate, don't fret. A frozen casserole can be popped in the oven and baked to perfection in no time. If your kids and their friends just need a snack, you can also store cookie dough in the freezer and make fresh-baked treats in minutes.

When it comes to casseroles, you can freeze them uncooked or cooked. If you're freezing them cooked, just be sure to let them cool completely before wrapping and sticking them in the freezer. If your casserole has a topping, don't add it before you freeze the dish. Instead, save it for the cooking process, and add during the last 10-20 minutes of the bake time. This will ensure that your topping doesn't get soggy.

Thawing the casserole overnight in the refrigerator is the best way to make sure it's warmed through and not overcooked on the edges, but you won't have the time to do this for unexpected guests. You can absolutely bake frozen casseroles, but they should be covered with aluminum foil throughout the cooking process, and you may need to add an extra 45 minutes or more to the total cooking time. You can remove the aluminum foil during the last 15 minutes of baking to allow the top to brown.

An instant-read thermometer will come in extra handy here. Use it to make sure that the center of the casserole is 160ºF and you're good to go. Casseroles have a freezer shelf-life of about 3 months. After that, they will start to lose their flavor and may not be safe to eat. If you don't have many extra baking dishes, you can freeze the casserole in the pan, but leave extra foil hanging off the sides. Once the casserole is frozen, pop it out of the dish and wrap with the excess foil. When you're ready to bake, just unwrap and place the frozen "brick" in back in the original dish. This will save you freezer space and free up your bakeware.

Frozen cookie dough is another way to provide a comforting snack for a surprise guest. All you have to do is make a batch of dough; scoop portions onto a lined baking sheet; and freeze overnight. Once they're solid, place the frozen portions in a freezer bag or freezer-safe container, removing as much air as you can. Your dough balls should last up to 3 months in the freezer, and when you're ready to serve, just add 1-2 minutes to the baking time.

If you store them properly, you can have casseroles and cookies that will taste just like you made them on the spot. Use these easy tips and you'll never be caught without something to serve.

Tags: Dinner, Casserole

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