Practical and Delicious Cook-Ahead Meals Are Just a Cookbook Away

By Anna Dantoni –

make-it-aheadIna Garten’s new cookbook Make It Ahead, is going to make you a stress-free hostess and a culinary star in your part of the world. Conversational in tone, full of useful information and packed with delicious dishes for the oven and stovetop, this book is one of the most practical you can own. And you’ll use it often for make ahead meals for dinner parties, potluck suppers, big family holiday meals, and when you need to pull an emergency fancy dinner out of the freezer for unexpected but welcome guests.

Besides recipes (from appetizers and cocktails to desserts) Garten also offers  tips for what can and should not be cooked, refrigerated or frozen ahead of the time you want to serve the dish. For instance, she says: “Baked goods are particularly easy to make in advance. Cakes such as pound cakes that are moist and dense refrigerate very well (though you want to serve them at room temperature). While cakes that are light, such as sponge cakes, freeze well, it’s best to defrost them slowly overnight in the fridge.”


Some of the recipes in this book, such as the Moroccan Lamb Tagine are better if prepared ahead of time because the flavors develop and deepen as the dish sits in the refrigerator for a day. For each recipe, the author gives specific instructions about how long to make if before you want to serve, how to freeze and what to do when you take the dish out of cold storage. And, of course, all the recipes in the book can be made and served the same day. Those instructions are there too. And there are plenty of color photographs so you can see what the finished dish should ideally look like.


The recipe I’m including here for you is the Moroccan Lamb Tagine. Learn to do it right and it will become a staple of your dinner parties from now on. Since you need frenched lamb shanks (and small ones at that, from the front legs of the animal), you may need to call your local butcher ahead of time and pick them up the day you’re planning to cook. I did and I could practically hear what he said when he hung up the phone — “Just got a call from another one of those people who bought Ina’s book. Call the lamb supplier.”


Moroccan Lamb Tagine

(Serves six. Assemble this dish completely, refrigerate and bake before serving. This tagine would be lovely served over steamed couscous.)

Good olive oil

tagine6 small frenched lamb shanks (5-6 pounds total) that are from the front legs of the lambs.

3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large onions)

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 ½ teaspoons chili powder

1 ½ teaspoons ground turmeric

1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

1 cinnamon stick

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, such San Marzano

2 cups good chicken stock

2 tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed

4 (½-inch-thick) slices of lime

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pond Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled and 1-inch-diced

½ pound sweet potatoes, unpeeled and 1-inch-diced

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and 1-inch-diced

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a very large (12-13 inch) pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset. Pat the lamb shanks dry with paper towels. In batches, add the lamb shanks to the pot and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes on each side, until they are nicely browned. Transfer to a plate and brown the remaining shanks, adding a little more oil, if necessary. Transfer all the shanks to the plate and set aside. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more oil, if necessary. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for just 30 seconds. Add the chili powder, turmeric, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon and cook for one minute. Stir in the tomatoes and their liquid, the chicken stock, brown sugar, lime, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon pepper. Add the potatoes, butternut squash and sweet potatoes and bring to a boil. Place the lamb shanks in the pot, spooning some of the sauce and vegetables over the shanks. (They will not be completely submerged.) Cover the pot and bake for 3 hours, until the lambs shanks. Serve hot with steamed cousous. If making ahead, take the cooked tagine out of the oven and let it cool and then put in the refrigerator. Reheat the next day just before serving.


(Make It Ahead by Ina Garten. Clarkson Potter Publishers. $35.)



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