Introduction: Hassle-Free, Make-Ahead Meals
I love to cook and bake. But like anything else, when I HAVE to cook or bake the fun quickly fades. Make-ahead meals are a great way to harness your love of cooking and baking when you have the time to actually enjoy it. Plus, you end up with a freezer full of ready-to-go meals waiting to save the day when you have a busy week or when company drops in unexpectedly.
My sneaky kitchen skill is to make food when I actually want to be making food - so I can enjoy being in the kitchen without resenting my time spent there.
In this tutorial, I will explain three hassle-free dishes you can make and then freeze for up to 3-4 months:
- A breakfast or appetizer - Banana Bread
- Prep time: 5 minutes
- Bake time: 1 hour
- Prep time: 30 minutes
- Bake time: 1 hour
- Prep time: 10 minutes
- Bake time: 10 minutes
These trusty dishes are staples in my house and can feed a small family for days or a houseful of guests during a weekend stay. Either way, these make-ahead classics allow you to spend time entertaining or being with your family instead of being a hostage to your stove.
Step 1: Banana Bread - Gather Your Ingredients and Supplies
- 3 ripe bananas*
- 3 cups Bisquick
- 1/2 cup milk (I have tried this with whole, low-fat and skim milk with the same results.)
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- Crisco / Butter (just enough to grease the bread pan)
* See the banana pictures above for an idea of how ripe you want your banana to be. If it has gotten black or is seeping a weird goo, it's probably past it's prime. Shoot for bananas that look like the middle bunch in the picture above.
- Measuring cups
- Medium mixing bowl
- Butter knife
- Bread Pan
Step 2: Add and Mix the Ingredients for the Banana Bread
While the rest of this banana bread recipe allows you just dump in all the ingredients and mix, it is important to start by mashing the bananas or it will be difficult to get out all the banana lumps later.
Peel the bananas and put them in the mixing bowl. With a fork, mash them until they are relatively uniform in consistency (no large lumps).
You'll want to preheat your oven at this point (to 325 degrees F) since your batter will be done and ready to bake in a matter of a few minutes.
Next, add the eggs, sugar, milk and Bisquick to the mashed bananas. When measuring the Bisquick, make sure not to pack the powder into the mixing cup. Instead measure it like you would measure flour, by pouring the powder into the mixing cup and leveling it with a butter knife.
Mix with a spatula until all ingredients are uniformly combined, as shown in the images.
Step 3: Baking and Serving Your Make-ahead Bread
Before pouring the batter into the pan, make sure to grease the pan with Crisco or butter (by smearing a light film on the bottom and walls of the pan) to help the bread slide out of the pan once complete.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour.
Your bread is done baking when it is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
If you have the willpower to wait to eat your fresh bread, wait until it has cooled and wrap it completely in foil. This bread can then be stored in the freezer for up to 3-4 months and will still taste fresh and moist when you thaw it. Pull the bread out of the freezer a day in advance of serving to allow it to thaw. Or, if you want to eat this bread and haven't had time to let it thaw sufficiently, microwave slightly-frozen slices for ~10 seconds per slice before serving.
Step 4: Lasagna - Gather Your Ingredients and Supplies
Lasagna at our house is a "kitchen sink" sort of recipe - meaning you can throw pretty much whatever you want into it, depending on who you are serving it to. The recipe below is made for my family and small kiddos, so I try to make it replicate pizza as much as possible.
- 1 box lasagna noodles
- 1 jar (~24 oz) tomato sauce (your choice of flavor)
- 2 bags (8 oz) shredded cheese (any Italian variety will work here: Pizza, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Italian Blend, etc.)
- 1 bag (5 oz) pepperoni (I use turkey pepperoni since it is slightly "healthier," and any difference in flavor from original pepperoni is masked by all the other ingredients.)
- 1 lb ground beef or turkey
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
For other ideas of what else you may want to include in your make-ahead lasagna, check out the recipes below:
- frying pan
- large pot (for boiling water / lasagna noodles)
- 9" x 13" pan
- large mixing spoon
- small spoon
Step 5: Cook Ingredients for the Lasagna
For the recipe I have used, there are only two ingredients that need to be cooked before you can begin layering and assembling the lasagna: the noodles and the meat.
Begin by boiling water in a large pot. While the lasagna package may give you an exact amount of water and pot size, I generally just find the largest clean pot I have and fill it 2/3 full with water and have never had a problem having my noodles cook well.
While waiting for the water to boil, begin cooking the meat in a pan, seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. The meat is finished when no pink is seen throughout (see image).
When the water begins to boil, gently place the noodles in the water. Bring the water to a low boil. I generally only cook the noodles until they easily change shape and are no longer stiff at all (about 5 minutes) since they will cook more when the lasagna is later baked. Turn off the stove but leave the noodles in the water when you have finished cooking them. (Draining the water causes the noodles to stick to one another.)
Step 6: Assemble and Bake the Lasagna
Now comes the fun part: layering up the lasagna.
You can pretty much layer this however you want, but I recommend starting by spreading a thin layer of tomato sauce over the bottom surface of the pan to avoid having noodles stick and burn. Then, layer your ingredients, starting with three noodles, as seen in the images above. While there is no required order, I try to make sure I have at least some sauce and cheese between each layer of noodles. Also, I generally end with a generous layer of cheese on the top.
Note: I almost always have one noodle rip into two pieces. Have no fear. Just lay the pieces next to one another (as seen in the image above) and no one will know your secret.
When you have finished assembling the layers, cover the top tightly with foil and then place a lid on the pan. This double protection helps prevent freezer burn if you are planning to leave your dish in the freezer for more than a week or two (or up to 3-4 months).
When you are ready to cook this dish, defrost it overnight in the refrigerator and then bake at 350 degrees F for about an hour (or until you can hear the tomato sauce sizzling/boiling slightly when you open the oven).
Step 7: Baking Powder Biscuits - Gather Your Ingredients and Supplies
This is a classic, no-fuss recipe from my grandmother that we have used for everything from strawberry shortcake to the top of a chicken casserole. The basic biscuit dough recipe is as follows:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 5 Tbsp Crisco
- 2/3 cup milk
- medium mixing bowl
- two butter knives
- mixing spoon
- baking sheet
Step 8: Mixing the Ingredients
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
Begin by mixing the flour, sugar, baking powder* and salt in a small bowl.
*Note: Most baking powder canisters have a foil seal across the top. Fold that in half to make a great flat edge to level off your measuring spoons with (see picture above).
Cut the Crisco into the mixture until a consistent crumby texture has been achieved.
Slowly mix in the milk until a soft dough has been formed. The dough above is a firm dough good for free-shaped drop biscuits. For biscuits you want to roll or shape, add slightly more milk.
Step 9: Baking and Serving the Baking Powder Biscuits
Drop the dough onto a baking sheet in 2 inch balls with 2 inches between each. This recipe will make approximately 8 biscuits, but can vary a bit depending on how large you choose to make them. Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges start brown slightly and the bottom of the biscuit has begun to brown (see image above). Remove from the baking sheet right away to avoid over baking the bottom of the biscuits.
Once cooled, store biscuits in an airtight Ziploc bag and place in the freezer. Biscuits can be removed as needed for use and will keep for up to 3-4 months. To thaw, leave the biscuit at room temperature for 15 minutes.
These biscuits have been a staple in my family as a shortcake biscuit. I always have these on hand in my freezer so that whenever we get a crop of fresh fruit (peaches, strawberries. etc), we can thaw a few for shortcake.
To prepare shortcake: slice and butter the biscuit in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave each buttered biscuit for 30 seconds - just until the biscuit is warm and the butter has melted. Pile on the sliced, fresh fruit mixed with a bit of sugar and enjoy!
Step 10: Other Make-Ahead Ideas
Make-ahead food is a great way to use up in-season ingredients or prepare for weekend visitors you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying your company.
The following links offer many more suggestions for foods you can prepare ahead of time:
Happy (and I actually mean "happy" with these ideas) Meal Making!
Participated in the
Kitchen Skills Challenge