Use that freezer — casserole season is upon us


Linda Conway Eriksson - Contributing Columnist



I look at appliances the way some women look at fur coats, serious diamonds and recurring spa treatments.

It’s the same way a farmer looks at a brand new John Deere tractor, or a horse lover sees a very promising 2-year-old thoroughbred. A beautiful, practical appliance makes my pulse race.

Our first refrigerator, which predated me in the household, left us more than 20 years ago, and not a moment too soon. When we removed the carcass, there was a deep brown stain on the white vinyl floor and a definite scorched smell.

The fridge that replaced it was deep and narrow, with the freezer on one side and refrigerator space on the other. It sometimes took a contortionist to fit larger things inside. The main consideration was ease of replacement. It fit into the same hole the old one vacated.

A year or so ago, when we replaced the replacement fridge, we went about it in a more studied way. We actually chose the new one from lots of models in an appliance store. It fit into “the space” with only a minimum of carpentry help.

I had secretly (it wasn’t actually much of a secret) pined for one like it for years: wide, rather than deep, double doors on top that swing back all the way to open, with two drawers on the lower half. The freezer’s in the bottom drawer. It’s a foodie’s dream.

Our current refrigerator has a waist-high drawer for fruit, deli meat, little containers of yogurt and jam, all the things one reaches for daily. It allows us to find snacks and sandwich-makings without opening the whole refrigerator portion. When opened, the double doors on the top half reveal the rest of this divine appliance, complete with a well-lit inside and shelves of varying heights. Its doors have roomy built-in nooks and crannies that hold the myriad bottles and jars that most cooks accumulate — olives, barbecue sauce, and the like.

The freezer has a deep bin for large packages and two shallow sliding shelves that hold the small things that go into most freezers, burrow deep, and re-emerge two years later, all frosty and impossible to identify (without the label, which fell off 10 months ago).

Food keeps longer, the electric bill is somewhat lower, and I can see the contents so nothing gets lost and forgotten. I can’t imagine wanting or needing another type or design. I will replace this one only if it dies in place. This appliance has cured my sub-zero envy forever.

I find that I am cooking ahead more and dividing big batches into portions, which makes putting meals on the table easier and quicker.

Here’s a big batch meal that I like to keep on hand for the evening rush. It heats while I set the table, prepare sides and catch the evening news on TV. This one’s lower-fat, reasonably priced and delicious.

CURRIED CHICKEN THIGHS

3 teaspoons canola oil, divided

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed

1 large onion, sliced

2 tablespoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

6 tablespoons flour

1 14-ounce can chicken broth

1 cup low-fat milk

1 10-ounce bag frozen peas (2 cups)

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar

2 tablespoons butter

4 slices whole wheat bread, crusts removed, cut into 1-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch or 2 smaller baking dishes with cooking spray.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add half the chicken to the pan and cook until browned on both sides and just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to the prepared baking dish(es). Repeat with the remaining chicken.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and onion to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until softened and light brown, 4-5 minutes. Add curry powder, ginger, and pepper. Cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat. Add broth and milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in peas, mayonnaise and lemon juice (or vinegar). Pour the sauce over the chicken.

Wash and dry the pan. Melt butter in the pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in bread cubes. Toss to coat. Arrange the bread on top of the casserole.

Bake the casserole until it is bubbling and the croutons are golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

If making ahead: After sauce is poured over chicken mixture, cover and refrigerate for up to one day or freeze for up to one month. If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator for two days before baking. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then bake at 400 degrees for about 1 hour.

Serves eight.

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Linda Conway Eriksson

Contributing Columnist

Linda Conway Eriksson can be reached at ieatatmoms@gmail.com.

Linda Conway Eriksson can be reached at ieatatmoms@gmail.com.