Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tip of the Month: Make Use of Your Ice Cube Trays

I've gotten a few emails requesting that I share some of my favorite kitchen tips on my blog, so I thought I'd start writing a monthly "tip post", in addition to sharing recipes. I'm certainly not an expert or a professional when it comes to cooking and baking - and I rely heavily on others more experienced than me when I need help or advice in the kitchen. In an attempt to pay it forward, I'm more than happy to share the ideas I've come across that have found their place in my cooking routines. If you have any kitchen tips, I'd love to hear about them - send me an email, or simply leave a comment on the blog.

I used to hate recipes that called for tomato paste. Inevitably, recipes call for 1-2 tablespoons, and even those tiny little cans hold more than 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. The leftover paste would always languish in a plastic container in the back of my refrigerator until I completely forgot I had it...and eventually found it again, looking... less than fresh. Well, I no longer loathe tomato paste, thanks to my trusty ice cube tray! My ice cube tray is one my best friends in the kitchen - I can freeze all kinds of leftover ingredients in small portions, then simply thaw when I'm ready to use them. Freezing that leftover tomato paste, buttermilk, or vegetable broth instead of tossing it or letting it sit in your refrigerator (as I was prone to do) can eliminate a fair amount of wasted food and save money...the next time you need 1/4 cup of buttermilk, you won't have to go buy a new carton!

Dariush is not a big fan of my ice cube tray trick. I tend to freeze ingredients and then leave them in there, so we don't have any trays to make ice. I would caution against doing this - apparently it irritates people when they go to the freezer for ice and come out with coconut milk. Ideally, you should freeze your ingredients in the tray, then transfer them to a plastic container or bag (labeled, of course). The standard ice cube tray holds about 2 tablespoons of liquid per slot, or 1 tablespoon of thicker, more solid ingredients (like tomato paste). If you want to be exact, measure your ingredients as you're putting them in the trays. That way you'll know how many cubes you need to thaw the next time you make a recipe that calls for, say, 1/2 cup of chicken broth. Of course, if it's an ingredient that you often use in larger amounts, ice cube-sized portions may not be practical - but you can always freeze in larger containers, too.

Not all ingredients freeze well: through trial and error, I've come up with a list of items I've had success in freezing: you can find the list here. Some ingredients freeze well only in certain situations: wine, for example, freezes beautifully if you plan to thaw it and use it for cooking, but thawing it and using it for drinking probably wouldn't be as successful. Homemade sauces fit into this plan, too - make some pesto ice cubes, then add a couple to your next bowl of soup to perk it up a bit!

...Now, who would like to come over and organize all my "ingredient cubes" for me? There's a drink with coconut milk ice cubes with your name on it...


LeLe said...

hee-hee-hee!hilarious! hang in there dariush!

Donna/Doxy/LyricFox said...

I was at the dollar store several months ago and they had very cheap 3 packs of ice cube trays. And they were in blue (I have white for my ice). I picked up a couple of 3 packs and now anytime I (or hubby) sees blue trays in the freezer, we don't grab them for ice. I just use them anytime I'm freezing small quantities of chicken stock, OJ, etc.

Makes a world of difference to my iced coffee. :)

Elisabeth said...

Lele, I thought you'd get a kick out of of all people know I'm not so easy to live with sometimes. :)

Donna, I like the idea of the different colored trays - I think I'm going to pick some up this weekend!

Erika W. said...

Chipotle chiles are my nemesis, so that's what I freeze in ice cube trays. I put a whole can in my food processor and give them a whir, then freeze the glop in ice cube shapes. I use one cube when a recipe calls for 2 chiles, and it's already chopped and ready to go.

Elisabeth said...

Erika, I do the same with chipotle chiles...I've never tried chopping them up prior to freezing, though - that's a really good idea!