This is in the freezes beautifully section of my cookbook, and I wanted to bring something that freezes beatuifully. ~Annelle (Daryl Hannah) in Steel Magnolias
So I just signed up to make a meal for a friend dealing with a medical crisis with her daughter. Over the weekend, a high school classmate posted on FaceBook that one of her daughters had fallen out of her second-story bedroom window. After a terrifying trip to the ER, the family brought their daughter home, only to have to rush her back to the ER, suspicious of internal bleeding.
Luckily, a close friend of theirs has taken an active role in organizing dinners for the family, and I signed up for Tuesday. Here’s what I have to work with:
- The dinner audience: tired, anxious, terrified mom and dad, older sister (10-ish) and younger sister (6-ish)
- Food preferences according to the kids: peas, chicken, pasta are all things they like (separate of course :)), pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, salad, fruit salad, pancakes/eggs/bacon, hamburgers & fries, steak, porkchops.
So here’s what I’m thinking is a good meal to take over already cooked, still warm, and easily re-heatable (and still good):
- Roasted Lemon and Garlic Chicken: whole split chicken with extra drumsticks, with lemon and garlic stuffed under the skin for roasting
- Seasoned Bowtie Pasta: you don’t always have to put sauce on pasta; it’s really nice to enjoy it with some light seasoning like salt and pepper and herbs de provence with an olive oil drizzle. And I’ll include some mix-ins like a can of artichoke hearts, a jar of roasted red peppers, olives, and feta cheese, which would make a great lunch for the next day if there’s any leftover. And don’t be afraid to use gluten free pastas if someone in the family has an allergy.
- Loaded mashed potatoes: who doesn’t like this…homemade mashed potatoes mixed with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon
- Seasonal fruit salad: since it’s still winter-ish, I’ll do a plum, nectarine, pineapple, banana and raisin salad with a cinnamon-date balsamic creme-lemon dressing (on the side in case the kids don’t like it)
- Clemson Tiger Paw Sugar Cookies: my dessert specialty is sugar cookies, and I know this family is completely devoted to Clemson University (as are quite a few friends of mine)
And here’s what I think are the keys to preparing and taking a meal over for friend to enjoy at their leisure or in a stressful time:
- choose meats that are easy to keep or make moist during reheating–for the chicken, cover it with a damp paper towel and microwave for 2 minutes (direct from fridge)
- choose sides that are as good cold as they were warm–pasta salads, vegetable salads, fresh fruits–in case the family is just too tired to heat things up
- put sauces and mix-ins “on the side”–for two reasons: 1) you never know just what someone else likes (unless you cook for them alot) and 2) it gives them options for sprucing up any leftovers
- make enough servings for one night and maybe lunch the next day; avoid making “double” especially if you know someone is organizing meals for each night. The buildup of leftovers and dishes can be just as overwhelming as having to come home and cook for yourself
- use disposable containers. Aluminum pans or the Glad bakeable plastic pans are great. I also save the very nice take-out containers that my grandmother’s resort kitchen uses, as they are great for single meals and lunch packs as well as for keeping hot and cold dishes separate but not bulky.
- include reheating instructions, since you never know when they’ll get around to eating or will want to have leftovers for lunch the next day.
- and finally, don’t forget dessert and some beverages. If they haven’t been home long enough to cook, then there’s probably not fresh iced tea made or even lemonade much less a quick bite of sweet.
Leftover Suggestion: cut up leftover chicken, artichokes, red peppers, olives, and feta into bowtie pasta for a fabulous pasta salad lunch to take with you on Wednesday.
Other Meal Ideas:
The Casserole–this is such a classic primarily because it uses just one dish (avoiding the bulk in the fridge) and can be frozen until a later time. Also, pretty much any standard meal can be “casserolized”:
- Spaghetti, ziti, canneloni, lasagne
- Any stirfry over rice
- Jambalaya, Baked Shrimp/Chicken Creole
- Shepherd’s Pie
- Chicken Pot Pie
- Mexican chicken/pork and rice (with salsa and queso)
- Italian chicken/pork and rice (with marinara and parmesean)
- Cuban chicken/pork and rice (with black beans, corn, plantains, and sason seasoning)
- Indian chicken/pork and rice (with couscous, raisins, curry, and garam masala)
- Hawaian chicken/pork and rice (with some pineapple)
The Restaurant Gift Certificate–especially for a restaurant that has great curbside pick-up
The Holiday Meal–give them some real comfort food by making Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter dinner with classic trimmings
Soups and Stews–paired with a simple salad and bread, a soup or stew or chili is one of the simplest and most comforting meals folks can enjoy during a stressful time when they might not be very hungry but still needs nourishment; it is heated quickly, managed in one container in the fridge, and is easy to pair with a variety of sides.