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How many times have you found a recipe, thinking it would be great to make for dinner that evening? Your plan: Stop by the store to pick up some meat to take home, then have dinner on the table in no time. But wait. You failed to read the part about marinating the meat for several hours before cooking it. Foiled again. Good planning is the key to most every recipe, and this is where freezer marinades come in handy.

It helps if you're the type who plans and makes meals on a lazy Sunday afternoon for the week ahead. It would be so nice if we could all be so organized. But the reality is that most of us are not. For freezer marinades, you must think at least 24 hours ahead, but you'll be glad you did. This is the kind of preparation that even the most disorganized cook can benefit from with just a little foresight and discipline. You'll freeze the meat in a delicious marinade a few days before, remove it from the freezer in plenty of time to safely thaw, and it'll be ready to cook when you get home from work. As the meat thaws, the marinade begins doing its job, breaking down the tough tissues in the meat, turning a would-be dry cut of beef, pork or chicken breast into a moist, tender sensation.

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Anne Braly

Marinades do wonders for cheap cuts of meat, making them flavorful and tenderizing them to some degree. Another key is letting the meat rest for 15 minutes or so before slicing it. This will also help render a more tender texture.

You can freeze most any meat in any marinade, and there are plenty of bottled marinades that work nicely. But pay attention to the ingredients. Store-bought marinades are usually high in sodium and sugar, and many contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), which many diners try to avoid.

But it's simple enough to make your own. Many recipes use ingredients most of us have on hand. This maple-mustard is one example. I always keep a bottle of maple syrup on hand. It's expensive, but most recipes don't call for much, including this marinade. Just be sure to refrigerate the syrup so it doesn't develop a nasty layer of mold on top. A little maple goes a long way in heightening the flavor of a pork loin. Once cooked, let it rest, slice thinly and serve with mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables.

Here's a tip for "recycling" your marinade: Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to simmer for about 10 minutes to kill any bacteria. Taste, and add a little more of the marinade ingredients, if needed, and serve it as a sauce for the meat.

Maple Mustard Make-and-Freeze Marinade

1 pork tenderloin

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Place pork in a resealable freezer bag. In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients, tasting as you go to adjust seasonings. Too sweet? Add more Dijon. Not sweet enough? Add a little more syrup. Pour marinade over pork in bag, and seal. Place in freezer until the day before cooking, then thaw in the refrigerator overnight and during the day while you're at work. Grill or roast in the oven in a cast-iron skillet at 425 degrees until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

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If your cabinets look anything like mine, they're loaded with glasses and other forms of dishware — plates, bowls, etc. By the time grandbabies come along, there's little space left for kid-friendly cups. Thank you Hydaway for making room. The new cups, made of a rubbery material with a wide base, will stay in place so rambunctious toddlers can't knock them over. And when it comes time to put them away, you can slide them in the side of your cabinet because they are collapsible. When collapsed, the cups are no more than 1 inch thick and 3 inches high, but when fully open, they'll hold up to 12 ounces of liquid. The cups are perfect to pack in a travel bag too, taking up little space, and they are durable enough to withstand the rough play of a toddler. They're really quite ingenious. Check them out on Amazon, where they're priced at $14.95 each. Hydaway also makes a 21-ounce size for grown-ups on the go ($21.95).

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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