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Queen of the Freezer

(by Andrea Santo Felcone)

If you were to peer inside my mother’s refrigerator, you might grow concerned. In that largely hollow expanse, you’d find a light bulb glaring over a few sprigs of parsley—as if the parsley was being interrogated for some wrongdoing. But if you looked in her freezer, you would be overwhelmed by an abundance of frozen food. And by frozen food, I’m not referring to that scene in the movie Mother where Debbie Reynolds is scraping an inch-thick layer of ice off the top of an ancient tub of sherbet (the “protective ice,” as she calls it). No, my mother’s freezer is always fully-stocked with homemade gourmet meals.


My mother is the Queen of Freezer Cooking.


It started decades ago when she discovered Helen Quat’s absolutely charming cookbook The Wonderful World of Freezer Cooking. Of all the cookbooks my mother owns—and there are many—this one has had a lasting effect. Helen’s motto: A host should enjoy her own party. To this end, Helen developed recipes that would freeze well and retain gourmet quality. Everything could be made weeks in advance, frozen, then heated the day of the party.


Once my mother found this book, there was no going back. When The Wonderful World of Freezer Cooking was splayed open, like a butterflied chicken, we knew we were in for something special—in a few days (or weeks). Sure, my sister and I were the only kids opening our Bionic Woman lunchboxes to reveal “Hot-filled Cheese Turnovers”—flaky delights of cream cheese and chive-filled dough, but it was worth the odd looks from our peers.


If lunch was made special by “freezer cooking,” you can imagine what holiday dinners were like. I loved watching my mother prepare “Turban of Sole Stuffed with Salmon Mousse” and “Cream Puffs with Chocolate-Mint Sauce.” But my favorite part of Helen’s cookbook was her prepping timeline. While the “slow thawing” started in the refrigerator the evening before the party, Helen recommended taking in a movie.


On the day of the party, while the food heated, Helen made time for “a good soak in the tub.” (There were even illustrations.) Helen’s cookbook, and my mother’s adaptations, set an example of the importance of planning, prioritizing, and organizing. To this day, I try to remember that large tasks, broken down into smaller components, are not as daunting—whether the subject is cooking, or something else. And for that lesson, I’m indebted to my mother, a brilliant cook, and her endearing and beloved “freezer cookbook.”

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Andrea Santo Felcone lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. She is the founder of Fearless Dragon Writers, where she teaches the joys of writing to children. She is also a theater reviewer and frequent blogger at Motherhood Later, a website for midlife parents.

Hot Filled Cheese Turnovers

(adapted from The Wonderful World of Freezer Cooking)


Dough:

4 1/2 c. flour

1/4 t. salt

2 c. vegetable shortening

1/2 c. vinegar

3/4 c. water

1 egg


Filling:

2 c. (1 lb.) cream cheese, softened

2 c. (1 lb.) chive cream cheese, softened

1 oz. anchovy paste

5 T. heavy cream


3 T. melted butter


Mix flour and salt.

Cut in shortening.

Add vinegar and water gradually, and mix in with a fork.

Beat egg lightly, and stir into dough.

Turn out on wax paper, and press into a ball.

Chill in refrigerator overnight.

Combine all ingredients for filling, and mix thoroughly.

Cut dough into 4 sections.

Roll dough out 1 section at a time to 1/8” thickness.

Cut into 2 1/2-in. circles, using a glass or cookie cutter.

Place 1 t. of filling on half of each piece.

Fold over remaining half.

Moisten edges with water, and press together with tines of a fork.

Brush with melted butter.

Preheat oven to 425 F. and bake for 20 minutes.

Alternatively, freeze on flat tray, and pack in a plastic bag or container.

Makes about 80.


Cream Puffs

(adapted from The Wonderful World of Freezer Cooking)


1 c. water

1/2 c. butter

1 t. sugar

1/2 t. salt

1 c. flour, sifted

5 eggs

1/2 t. milk


Heat water in saucepan.

Add butter and melt.

Add sugar and salt, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and add flour all at once.

Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, over low heat, until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball.

Transfer to mixing bowl.

Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, until thick dough is formed.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place rounded teaspoonfuls of batter on an ungreased baking sheet, 2 inches apart.

Beat 1 egg with milk, and brush tops of puffs.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to 300 F, without opening oven door, and bake for 25 minutes more.

When cool, cut a slit in one side of each puff and fill with ice cream.

Filled puffs can frozen on a flat tray or cookie sheet.

When firm, pack in freezer bags or container, and store in freezer.

When ready to serve, thaw at room temperature. Ice cream-filled puffs will take 1/2 hour.

Makes about 32.

Serve with chocolate mint sauce.


Chocolate Mint Sauce


2 boxes (7 oz. each) chocolate-covered thin mints

1/2 c. water

1/3 c. evaporated milk


Melt mints in water over medium heat.

Stir in milk.

Heat until blended.

Pour into freezer containers and freeze.

Defrost in refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for 6 hours.

Serve cold.

Makes 2 cups.