Since You Asked: Fill freezer with easy meals

An upcoming medical procedure likely will prevent me from cooking for a few months. Because I'm a single person and can't impose too long on family and friends, I want to stock my freezer with some meals. Do you have any tips for making this easier?

— Sharon K., Medford

For this question, we consulted the new cookbook "Southern Living Fix It & Freeze It/Heat It & Eat It: A Quick-Cook Guide to Over 200 Make-Ahead Dishes."

First off, when cooking large batches to divide into individual servings, maintain food safety with immediate cooling. Pour soups or stews into a metal bowl over an ice bath (a larger bowl filled halfway with ice water). Place other foods in shallow, wide containers and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool.

In general, store foods in small quantities — no more than 1 quart — so they freeze quickly and allow you to defrost only what you need. Soups and stews take up less space in the freezer when stored in resealable bags that can lie flat. Use a permanent marker to label each container with the name of the dish, the date frozen and reheating instructions.

For casseroles, line a baking dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil, leaving 2 to 3 inches overhanging sides. Fill with prepared recipe, then cover and freeze for two to three hours or until firm.

Using foil as handles, lift frozen casserole from dish. Depending on your eating habits, cut frozen casserole into squares, remove foil and package portions in freezer bags. Or freeze entire, 9-inch-square casseroles, still in the foil, in 1-gallon freezer bags.

To reheat a whole casserole, remove foil and return casserole to original dish. Cover and let thaw in the refrigerator (24 to 48 hours), then let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature and bake as directed.

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