Cooking Q and A: Safe storage and preparation of Christmas dinner

Q: Can mashed potatoes be frozen?

A: After researching and trying several methods of freezing mashed potatoes, Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, created these directions. She found this procedure is the easiest and most flexible and can be used with any amount of mashed potatoes.

Directions for freezing (recommended freezer storage time: 1 month):

  1. Prepare mashed potatoes using your favorite recipe. (One easy method is listed at the end of these directions.) TIP: Mash the potatoes so they’re not chunky as chunks can become mealy when frozen and then thawed.

  2. Refrigerate mashed potatoes in a shallow pan in the refrigerator until cool.

  3. To make individual servings: Use one of these methods and freeze portions until firm enough to retain their shape – about 1 to 2 hours. Then transfer to a re-sealable freezer bag and press out the air.

• Use ice cream scoop to scoop serving-sized portions on a baking sheet.

• Freeze in a muffin tin. You may find it easiest to “pop” the frozen potatoes mounds from a silicone muffin tin.

• Freeze in stand-alone silicone cupcake baking cups. Place on a baking sheet until frozen. For larger single portions, try freezing in silicone egg poachers.

  1. To freeze a larger batch of potatoes: Freeze in a freezer bag in the amount you wish to serve. Flatten the freezer bag and press out the air. Spread out in your freezer in single layers on a flat surface until frozen. Then, stack together.

• If you’re freezing only a few portions, consider using a small baking sheet that is sized for use in a toaster oven.

• Label the freezer bag with the name, date prepared and amount of the item. It may be easiest to write this on the bag before you add the potatoes.

Directions for reheating:

  1. Thaw freezer bags for about 24 hours in the refrigerator. Thaw individual servings in some type of covered container in refrigerator or defrost mashed potatoes in your microwave, following manufacturer’s directions. If the freezer bag manufacturer doesn’t provide specific instructions for microwave defrosting, transfer the food to a microwave-safe container to defrost. Cook foods defrosted in the microwave immediately after defrosting.

  2. Depending on the amount of potatoes, microwave them in about 30 second to 1 1/2 minute increments, in a covered container, stirring them at the end of each time segment. For example, microwave an individual serving for about 30 seconds at a time and a family-sized portion for a longer time.

Be careful when removing a lid or plastic wrap from a hot microwaved item. Hot steam escaping from the container as the covering is lifted could cause a burn. If covering the microwave container with plastic wrap, vent the wrap at a corner or side of the dish; leave at least an inch of air space between the food and the wrap covering the dish. Foods high in fat or sugar should not come into contact with plastic wrap as they may cause the wrap to melt.

The potatoes may look runny at first, but their texture and consistency comes back after you heat and stir them.

Use an instant-read thermometer as an easy way to determine when your potatoes have heated sufficiently. They should be reheated to at least 165 degrees.

Here’s directions for making quick, creamy mashed potatoes using a potato ricer:

  1. Wash outside skins of potatoes under clean, running water. Rub briskly — scrubbing with a clean brush or hands — to remove dirt and surface microorganisms. Don’t use soap or detergent.

  2. Before baking, pierce washed potatoes with a fork to allow steam to escape as they are heated. Bake potatoes in your microwave according to the directions that come with your microwave. For best results, choose uniform-size potatoes so they bake at the same rate.

  3. Cut baked potatoes horizontally into 2 to 3 sections, depending on the length of the potato. Lift and move potatoes with tongs to prevent burning your fingers.

  4. Place sections with the cut end down, one at a time, in the ricer.

  5. Press down on ricer to push the potato through the holes, leaving the skin behind.

  6. Remove the skin and repeat for each section.

  7. Mix in desired amount of butter or margarine. Add milk until mashed potatoes reach the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  8. If mashed potatoes have cooled more than you like, reheat them briefly in the microwave.

Q: Can I cook a turkey the day before serving it?

A: Yes, you can. Follow these directions if you plan to roast your turkey a day

before your meal:

• Follow safe procedures for thawing and roasting your turkey.

• When the turkey is fully cooked, wait about 20 minutes after removing it from the oven to allow the juices to distribute.

• Slice breast meat. Legs and wings may be left whole. Shingle (slightly overlap) a single layer of the carved turkey and place turkey in metal containers. Limit depth to less than 2 inches. Metal containers cool faster than glass-type pans.

• Pour a little broth over the turkey to prevent drying. Then refrigerate, loosely covered. You can place loosely covered foods in the refrigerator while still warm; cover tightly when food is completely cooled.

• Gretta Irwin from the Iowa Turkey Federation suggests on the day of your meal, combine approximately 1 1/2 cups of pan drippings (that have been refrigerated) or reduced-sodium chicken broth with 1/4 cup warm water, white wine or apple juice. Pour over turkey to prevent drying. Cover the pan with an ovenproof lid or aluminum foil and reheat thoroughly in a 350-degree oven until hot and steaming throughout (165 degrees) until ready to serve.

• Either freeze leftover turkey or plan to eat cooked turkey within 3 to 4 days of the day it was originally prepared. Once removed from the oven, turkey should not set at room temperature longer than 2 hours total. For best safety and quality, avoid reheating and cooling turkey multiple times.

• If you make your gravy the day before, refrigerate it in a shallow container. Bring gravy to a rolling boil when reheating it. Eat the gravy within 1 to 2 days of original preparation date.

If you’re planning to travel and bring the turkey, it’s safest and easiest to travel with it pre-cooked and cold. Carry it in an insulated cooler with lots of ice or frozen gel-packs to keep the cooler temperature below 40 degrees. Then reheat the turkey at your final destination.