A reader named Julie Ann e-mailed me this week with a request for a blog topic. Here is what she had to say:
“I’m 8 mos. pregnant and expecting my first child within the next 3 – 6 weeks, so I would really like to go ahead and prepare some good meals that we can freeze and eat after he is born. Likewise, there have been many times in the past that I have wanted to prepare something for a new mother, ill neighbor, grieving family, etc. and I can’t ever find anything more exciting or original than the usual lasagnas, chili, and soups.
I’m guessing/hoping that you and your many culinary-gifted readers might be able to provide some good advice and recipes.”
I had to laugh a little when I read “the usual lasagnas, chili and soups,” because I know I’m guilty of falling back on those ideas when I want to make a dish for someone. Another standard of mine is a chicken noodle casserole. While nothing is wrong with any of those tasty dishes, I can see how, if everyone is thinking the same way, a family could end up with 5 lasagnas and 5 pots of soup. So it is a good idea to try and think of some more unusual dishes to comfort an exhausted, ill or grieving family.
Part of the problem is that we don’t always know a family’s food preferences, so I think we tend toward dishes that most everybody likes. But I don’t think Miss Manners would mind if you called a person in advance and tried to get a sense of what they like to eat. If she does mind, who cares? This is 2010.
We’ve been talking a lot about Crock Pot recipes here this winter, and although my kitchen project kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm for cooking this week, I think Crock Pot meals are a good solution to this problem. You could just transfer the food to a casserole dish or parcel it out into individual servings in plastic storage containers and take it over to the family. Many Crock Pot meals freeze well.
Meatloaf freezes well, as do stuffed peppers or meatballs, which could be delivered with crusty rolls and sliced cheese so the family can make subs. Manicotti or stuffed shells can be prepared and frozen, then delivered with a jar of good pasta sauce. How about a homemade pizza? Another idea is to make a huge batch of sauce, such as espagnole or veloute. Those freeze very well and can be jazzed up in a number of ways to make different dishes. And why not throw something together that could be quickly grilled by the family, such as kebabs?
I found a dish in a little book called “Pumpkin Butternut & Squash: 30 Sweet and Savory Recipes” by Elsa Petersen-Schepelern that looks ultra-comforting. I’m not sure how well it would freeze, but it still looks so wonderfully warm, gently spicy and fortified with yummy ingredients that I had to share. It’s called Spicy Butternut Curry with Chicken and Spinach. Look for that recipe below, and please let us know if you have another idea for Julie Ann! Have a great weekend.
Spicy Butternut Curry with Chicken and Spinach
2 Tbsp. sunflower or peanut oil
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds
1 lb. butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 onions, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 inch of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated (for some reason, this is optional)
1 pinch ground turmeric
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch slices
1 lb. tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 large package fresh spinach (about 1 lb.)
Pinch of ground cumin or garam masala (found in Indian stores)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet or wok, add mustard seeds and stir-fry until they pop. Add half the butternut or pumpkin and all of the onions and stir-fry gently until the onions are softened and translucent. Add garlic, ginger, salt and pepper and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the turmeric and stir-fry for 1 minute more.
2. Add chicken and stir-fry until sealed on all sides, then add tomatoes and remaining butternut or pumpkin. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until tender.
3. Add cream, bring to a boil and simmer, stirring, until thickened — the cream will first boil with large bubbles, then small. Remove from heat at this point or the cream will curdle. Add spinach and garam masala or cumin, cover with a lid and steam for 2 minutes or until the leaves wilt, then stir everything together well. Serve with steamed basmati rice and/or naan bread.