A Cut Above: Make-Ahead Meals

Every month, discover new ideas to enjoy the simple but elegant pleasures of a delicious, easy-to-prepare meal.
A Cut Above: Make-Ahead MealsA cut Above

Busy or not, here we come. Every month “A Cut Above” serves up new recipes, cooking tips and ideas for dishes that are elegant in taste and presentation, yet simple enough to prepare and enjoy in a snap.

We have a lot of friends over for dinner, especially when we're testing recipes for our cookbooks. But, particularly in the dog days of summer, who wants to be standing in front of a hot stove when your guests arrive? That's why make-ahead meals can be a cook's best friend.

Just the other day, a dinner guest arrived at our door, a bottle of wine and flowers in tow. "What's cooking?" she asked, sniffing the air.

"Nothing," we said, as we went to the fridge and pulled out two salads.

Her face fell. "So, you're really not cooking?" she asked in disbelief.

It's an easy mistake. Of all people, food writers should have roasts in the oven, sautés on the stove, at least a casserole bubbling away somewhere, right? Well, even die-hard foodies appreciate a simple dinner, made in advance.

Problem is, make-ahead dinners can suffer from a certain boredom, often running short on taste. When a salad, for instance, sits in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, the chill relentlessly dulls its flavors. That's why it's important to use lots of fresh herbs and vegetables, nothing previously frozen. When making a dressing, use lemon juice instead of vinegar – it preserves its zip better in the cold storage. And judiciously use condiments that pack a punch and stand up to just about anything, like fish sauce from Southeast Asia.

So here are a couple of our favorite make-ahead salad recipes. But don't just take our word for it: Our "disappointed" dinner guest loved them too!

French Chicken and Potato Salad

Makes 8 servings

PointsPlus™ value per serving (1 1/2 cups): 6.
Here's a perfect make-ahead dish, a hearty salad that's a meal in a bowl. To save even more time, pick up a rotisserie chicken from your supermarket and use the white meat, discarding the skin.


  • 1 pound small red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 serving cooking spray
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 pound green beans
  • 2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces seedless green grapes, halved (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, add the potatoes, and cook until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon or strainer; set potatoes aside but maintain the water's boil.
  2. Meanwhile, spray the broiler rack with nonstick cooking spray; preheat the broiler. Broil the chicken breasts 5 inches from the heat, turning occasionally, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Add the green beans to the boiling water; blanch until crisp-tender (no more than 2 minutes), then drain in a colander set in the sink.

  4. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into bite-size chunks. Slice the potatoes into 1-inch chunks, cut the beans into 1-inch strips, and gently toss with the chicken. Add the celery and grapes.
  5. Whisk the lemon juice, broth, and mustard in a small bowl; whisk in the tarragon, salt, and pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil in a slow stream, whisking all the while, until the dressing turns creamy, about 1 minute. Toss the salad with this dressing, taking care not to break up the potatoes. If desired, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Yields 8 servings.

Wheat Berry and Shrimp Salad with Thai Vinaigrette

Makes 4 servings (but this recipe can easily be doubled).

PointsPlus value per serving (1 1/4 cups): 5
Fish sauce, a table condiment from Southeast Asia, is made from salted fish and aromatics. Quite pungent, it mellows wonderfully when combined with other ingredients. Look for it in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets.


  • 3/4 cup wheat berries, picked over for small stones
  • 6 ounces (about 12 medium-size) shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 medium seedless cucumber, peeled, halved and chopped
  • 6 small radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped


  1. Place the wheat berries in a medium pot, cover with 3 inches of water, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until tender, about 50 minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, rinse out the cooking pot, fill halfway with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp, reduce the heat, and simmer until the shrimp are pink and firm, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander set in the sink and refresh under cool water. Roughly chop the shrimp.
  3. To make the dressing, whisk the lime juice, fish sauce and brown sugar together in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves.
  4. Toss the wheat berries, shrimp, cucumber, radishes, basil and mint in a salad bowl. Pour the prepared dressing over the salad and toss to coat. If desired, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Yields 4 servings.

Planning ahead also helps when it comes to eating healthy at work. Read Practice Perfect Packing to learn how to brown-bag the healthiest lunch.

Subscriber Highlight: Remembering the ingredients in your favorite dishes is easy – just store the recipes in your Recipe Builder and they'll always be right at your fingertips.

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