Many families have adopted the smart practice of cooking a lot on the weekends so that they eliminate the hassle of meal planning during the busier weekdays. Planning ahead saves you time and money, and helps avoid too many last minute fast food meals! The question that often comes up from this practice is how the meals should be stored. For example, if making a large pot of soup, should it be left to cool on the counter prior to refrigerating or should it be refrigerated immediately? The fact is that both practices can be risky.
Letting foods cool at room temperature for more than two hours exposes foods to the “danger zone” of temperatures which ranges between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In that environment, bacteria can multiply rapidly. Even when placing large pots in the refrigerator it may take up to eight hours to cool the food below 40 degrees because of the size of the pot and the time it takes for the contents to absorb the cool air. This is much too long for safety concerns, and it could also put the other food in your refrigerator at an unsafe temperature!
With the goal of bringing foods to cool as quickly as possible, the best option is to put hot, cooked foods into shallow containers (not more than 2 inches deep) and refrigerate immediately. I use my cake/baking pans- a 9x13 will hold quite a bit, and has a lot of surface area to let the food cool quickly. For a smaller portion an 8x8 pan would work well too. A potholder placed under the container will prevent heat from cracking interior refrigerator shelves. If cooking foods such as a roast, large ham, or turkey, the meat should be sliced or cut into small portions and refrigerated immediately in a small container (or the baking pans for large portions).
When storing leftovers in the refrigerator, most experts recommend that they be discarded after three or four days. For longer storage, consider placing cooked foods in the freezer. Label the contents with the date that the food is being frozen. For best quality, use within 3 to 4 months. When using frozen leftovers, it is a good idea to thaw them first by placing them in the refrigerator overnight. Never leave food out at room temperature to thaw. Reheat the leftovers until they are 165 degrees or steaming hot.
Adapted from: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Leftovers_and_Food_Safety.pdf
Here is one of my favorite recipes that freezes well (remember I grew up in NM!). You can bake it before or after you freeze it, but the tortillas will hold up better if you freeze it unbaked, and then thaw it in the fridge for a day or two, and then bake it before you are ready to serve. We often make these with turkey after the holidays, and it’s also great with ground beef!
Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Casserole
3 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 c. roasted, peeled, and chopped green chile (frozen works fine, canned won’t be as good because of its vinegary flavor)
1-26 oz. can cream of chicken soup
milk (use soup can to measure)
2 c. shredded cheese
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 clove of garlic, chopped
10-15 corn tortillas, torn into quarters
1/4 t. garlic salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray your 9x13 glass casserole dish with cooking spray. In a large saucepan, heat up 1 big 26 oz. can or 2 reg. size cans of either cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup. Add in that same amount of milk (use the soup cans to measure) and 2 c. green chile (you can use frozen green chile to save yourself the work, but canned green chile just isn’t as good). You could use less green chile if you don’t like spicy enchiladas, but if you use mild chile you can get the flavor without the heat. Add 1/2 cup chopped onion and 1 clove of chopped garlic to the sauce (you can brown them first in a couple of tablespoons of butter if you are an overachiever).
Stir and bring to a boil. Remove it from the heat.
Starting with the tortillas, layer tortillas, chicken, and cheese until you use everything up. Make sure to cover the top with a layer of cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes or until the casserole begins to pull away from the side of the pan and sauce is bubbling in the middle.