When I stayed home because I was sick during elementary school, my mother often made me a bowl of chicken noodle soup that contained not only the requisite broth, noodles, carrots and chicken, but a message that I was loved. In college when I was heartbroken (again), my roommate brought me blueberry whole wheat doughnuts from Gibson’s, and I often returned the favor; my dear husband knows that my ills can be cured by takeout Pad Thai. In all cases, the message is the same: somebody is thinking about you and wants you to feel cared for.
If we have any ties to humanity, there are times when someone we care about needs to be loved, supported and nurtured with food. Whether the occasion is a sad one such as a death, a serious illness or a breakup, or a happier but hectic time like the birth of a baby or a move to a new home, the gift of a homemade meal in the freezer is both kind and practical.
There are some rules for providing food to others in times when they need a hand. Some of these I have posted previously, but they bear repeating.
- If possible (particularly if the recipient is not a very close friend or family member) find someone close to the recipient who can organize all “cookers” and plan who will provide meals on what day, and make an effort to diversify the offerings so that the family doesn’t end up with three pans of lasagne. Find out if the family is deluged with food and needs everything frozen, or if they would prefer a meal delivered hot and ready to eat at meal-time. Ask whether they would like meals dropped in such a way that they don’t have to see anyone, or if they like to have the bearer of dinner stay and chat for a few minutes. You aren’t just taking food over; you are expressing your interest in and compassion towards a person or a family.
- If at all possible, check into preferences and restrictions of everyone for whom you are cooking. Chemotherapy patients often have changes in their sense of taste, and may have developed strong aversions or intolerances for certain foods. Breastfeeding mothers are limited in what they are able to eat. Is there a vegetarian? Do they eat fish? Do they like spicy foods? Are there kids in the house who would really like to have some homemade cookies around? You are not a short-order cook, but there is really very little point in delivering something that the family will not eat and enjoy.
- Create absolutely no work or thinking for the recipient. Send food in disposable containers unless you are frequently in their home and able to wash and retrieve dishes yourself. If you send a dish that is not already hot, include a label that explains what the meal is, along with instructions for re-heating. Do not include perishables (salads, for example) unless you are certain that the meal will be consumed within a day or two.
- Make double the recipe so that your family has a dinner, too. Of course you don’t have to do this, but why not?
- If you can’t cook, would rather not, or just plain think the food recipient would like it, go ahead and take them a pizza from Pizza Hut with breadsticks and a salad. Its the thought that counts, and particularly in households with kids, a pizza is rarely a bad thing.
Note: although the recipe on the “Cooking Light” website does not include the fact that this soup may be frozen and re-heated, the magazine version does. The best re-heating method would be to place the frozen soup in a saucepan or stockpot over low to medium low heat and stir occasionally. It could also be microwaved, if frozen in 2-3 serving containers. If you freeze the entire quantity, be sure that you freeze it in a container that will easily fit into a pot – its difficult to force a Ziploc-sized square of frozen soup into a standard pot. This recipe makes 8 fairly modest servings; double it if you would like to serve it at home, too. It would be nice to include a batch of commercially made and frozen biscuits in a resealable package so that the family can make as many biscuits as they want with their soup.
Although this is labelled as a “breakfast,” is makes a fine, light dinner or lunch and offers a welcome change from the usual suspects. The recipe as printed below makes two 6-8 serving pans. Its easily altered to accommodate different tastes, and if you think it isn’t enough food for your recipient, add a package of pork or turkey breakfast sausages which may also be frozen.
- 4 1/2 cups seasoned croutons
- 2 cups (8 oz.) shred cheddar
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped red pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped green pepper
- 1 4 1/2 oz jar sliced mushrooms (I omit these)
- 8 eggs
- 4 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 8 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled (you can also use turkey bacon or vegetarian bacon strips)
Sprinkle croutons, cheese, onion, peppers and mushrooms into two greased 8-inch square baking dishes. In a bowl, combine the eggs, milk, salt, mustard, and pepper. Slowly pour over vegetables, dividing between pans, and sprinkle each with bacon.
To bake and serve immediately: bake uncovered at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
To freeze and re-heat: cover and freeze for up to three months. To re-heat, thaw in refrigerator for 24-36 hours, remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake, uncovered at 350 for 50-6- minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
This is a great choice for families with kids; its not gourmet, but its not another casserole with weird things in it. Kids “get” pizza. Particularly if you are cooking for kids, add in a poke of frozen, homemade chocolate chip cookies and some individually packaged containers of applesauce, which have the half-life of uranium in the refrigerator. If the family has more sophisticated taste, by all means go upscale with Italian sausage, fresh herbs and the best rolls you can find. This recipe makes eight individual sandwiches which may be enough to split between your family and a recipient family, but I double it because these make great snacks or emergency meals. If you are going to keep some for home use, you may want to wrap them individually or in twos.
- 1 pound ground beef (or turkey or Italian sausage)
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 15-oz can of pizza sauce
- 1/4 can chopped, ripe olives
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 8 hoagie buns, sub buns or French rolls
- At least 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
Brown ground beef and onion over medium heat, and drain off fat. Stir in pizza sauce, olives, basil and oregano and cook for 10 minutes.
Cut 1/4 inch from the top of each roll and set pieces aside. Carefully hollow out the larger part of the roll, leaving a 1/4 inch shell. (I save the filling to make croutons). Sprinkle 2 or more tablespoons of cheese inside each shell, top with 1/2 cup sauce and divide remaining cheese over the sauce. Pres down with the back of a spoon to flatten and replace “tops.” Individually wrap hoagies in foil, in group of four.
To bake immediately: place wrapped sandwiches on baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, or until heated through.
To freeze and reheat: place foil-wrapped sandwiches on a baking sheet. Bake at375 for 60-70 minutes or until heated through.
Here are some other places to get inspiration and tips for meals that are freeze-able.