Make Ahead Meals

During this busy season, time is often short on weeknights. While we are spending time at home wrapping gifts or enjoying special times with our families, we can make meals on Saturday or Sunday to enjoy during the work week.

When looking for dishes to make ahead, chose items in a sauce or that actually require sitting time as a standard part of the recipe. Items such as casseroles, stews, and soups make wonderful choices.

Dishes that utilize time consuming items such as rice, potatoes, and thick cuts of beef make perfect make ahead dishes because they are items that you cannot easily make on a typical week night. Rice can easily be cooked a few days ahead and refreshed in boiling water to use in any of your favorite dishes.

Roast meats such as turkey, beef, pork roast, or chicken are also perfect for making on weekends. You can make twice as much as you need and use the leftovers in many casseroles and dishes. Leftover pasta, baked potatoes, and vegetables can also be used in casseroles and pot pies.

These recipes were created to be made from scratch to best utilize sitting time to either blend or enhance the flavor of the dishes. Herb mixtures and rich sauces mellow after sitting for a few days. Vegetables absorb flavors and meat becomes very tender and flavorful after sitting. Letting these dishes sit not only allows the flavor to improve, but lets you skim off any excessive fat that is in the dish.

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
Butternut Squash Gratin
Roast Garlic, Shallot, Pepper, and Potato Puree
Lamb Yam Stew
Wen's Moist Make Ahead Chicken
Oven Cooked Beef Brisket

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
is perfect to make ahead for several reasons. Unlike most salads, this attractive and tasty salad can be made entirely ahead of time without getting soggy or stale. This is one of my favorite salads and is perfect for family dinners or entertaining.

1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 pound mozzarella, diced
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
freshly ground black pepper
salt
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Place all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Seal tightly and refrigerate for at least overnight, and for up to four days. Salad is best after sitting at room temperature for an hour before serving, but can be eaten cold.

Butternut Squash Gratin
This dish is very easy to make, can be refrigerated for up to two days, and reheats beautifully. It is one of my favorite ways to make this winter staple.

3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Boil the squash in a large pot of salted water for 4-5 minutes, or until tender. Drain the cubes in a colander and place in a gratin dish. Mix in the olive oil, butter, and ground pepper. Mix half of the cheese into the squash and sprinkle the remaining on the top. Refrigerate. Bake at 425 minutes for 15 minutes until hot throughout and golden brown. Serve hot.

Roast Garlic, Shallot, Pepper, and Potato Puree
1 pound potatoes
5 large shallots
2 red peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bulb garlic
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt
white pepper
Place the potatoes in a large pot and boil in salted water for 20-25 minutes or until tender when pricked. Drain, let cool until you can handle them, and peel. While the potatoes are cooking, halve the peppers lengthwise. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the peppers, shallots and olive oil in a small bowl. Place the mixture on a baking sheet along with the unwrapped garlic bulb and bake in an oven heated to 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the shallots and garlic are soft. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Remove the skin from the shallots and garlic. Peel and seed the peppers. Place the peppers, shallots, and garlic in a food processor with the butter and process until smooth. Mash the potatoes with the cream in a large bowl and add the pepper mixture. Salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate. Bake at 375 degrees until warmed through and golden on top.

Lamb Yam Stew
While it is very difficult to get true yams in the United States, the tastier sweet potatoes with the deep rust color are commonly called yams. They are sweeter in taste than the lighter colored sweet potatoes and add a wonderful flavor and color to this stew. It is best made ahead of time to let the flavors develop and is a hearty dish to come home to. You can reheat it in the oven, stovetop, or microwave easily.

2 pounds lamb, cut into chunks (use any bones as well)
2 pounds yams peeled and cut into 3 inch chunks
1 pound white potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 carrot, thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups water
salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour

Place the lamb in a large dutch oven and cook over medium low heat for 20 minutes until the lamb is browned. Stir frequently to brown the lamb on all sides. Add the yams, potatoes, carrot, water, and spices. Turn the heat up and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Refrigerate for up to four days. Skim the fat off of the top of the stew and heat on the stove for 5 minutes. In a small skillet, melt the butter and mix in the flour. Cook until lightly browned. Add the flour and butter to the stew and mix well. Cook for 10 minutes more until warmed through and thickened.

Wen's Moist Make Ahead Chicken
I love chicken, especially chicken breast. It is a hard item to make ahead of time however since it can be dry when cooked in many traditional methods, particularly if it is refrigerated for several days. This method however produces a moist chicken breast, even after it sits for a few days. You can serve this chicken cold, or heat it up quickly in a microwave or pot as long as you keep it covered with water or a sauce while you are reheating it. This chicken is excellent with many sauces, but I have included my favorite way to serve it. The sauce can be made ahead or right before serving with great results.

2 pounds chicken breasts
1 small carrot, sliced
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery (with leaves) sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
3 sprigs or fresh tarragon
3/4 pound broccoli, chopped
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

Wash the chicken but leave the skin and bones attached. In a 5 quart pan with a tight fitting lid, place the carrot, onion, celery, garlic, and tarragon. Place enough water in the pan to cover the chicken by 3 inches. Bring the water to a brisk boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chicken, cover tightly, and let sit for 16-18 minutes. Cut the chicken and make sure that it is cooked through. If it is not cooked thoroughly, just place the chicken back in the water and recover for a few minutes more. Remove the chicken from the water and drain thoroughly, discarding the water and vegetables. The chicken can be refrigerated for several days at this point. Boil the broccoli for 5 minutes or until quick tender. Drain and quickly mix with the cheese. Serve immediately on top of the chicken or refrigerate and reheat briefly with the chicken.

Oven Cooked Beef Brisket
This meat is extremely tender and flavorful. It does take a long time to cook but is easy to prepare and cook on a weekend to eat later on in the week. All you need to do is reheat it and you have a hot home cooked meal in just minutes. The flavors are best after sitting for a few days. You can make this dish up to four days ahead of time.

2 1/2 cups apple juice
1/2 cup beef bouillon
1/4 cup olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
4 pounds beef brisket
1 large onion, diced
5 carrots, cut into chunks
1 small rutabaga, cleaned and chopped
1 pound potatoes, skinned and chopped
1/4 cup cornstarch

Place all of the ingredients except for the cornstarch in a large heavy oven proof dutch oven. Cover and let sit over night to marinate. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 3 hours or until tender. Refrigerate at least overnight. Skim off the fat from the dish. Reheat in the oven or on the stovetop until warmed through. Remove the brisket from the pan and place on a serving dish. Mix the cornstarch with 1/4 cup water and mix into the apple juice mixture. Cook for a few minutes more until thickened. Slice the brisket and pour the gravy and vegetables over it.

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