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The potential of ice cube trays

"Ice-cube trays are your new best friend." Alice Zaslovsky

That's one of the many throw away lines of tips and foodie information that you will find in Alice Zaslovsky's new book The Joy of Better Cooking - which I shall talk about more generally some other time. Yesterday though I decided that I might be able to build something around that. And indeed I can, although admitting that it's actually all been done before by many, many people on the net. So what I have done is sort of compile a list, because, yes indeed it could be your new best friend, in so many ways, and not just for cooking.

One of the reasons I started on this is that I currently have four egg whites sitting in my fridge and I'm not going to do anything with them anytime soon, but I can't quite bring myself to throw them out. I do know, however, that I should freeze them. It's a standard thing to do with ice trays. It will give me time to think about what I could do with them. The danger being - and this applies to everything that follows - that it will go into the freezer and be instantly forgotten.

Perhaps the first thing to note about any of the following freezing ideas is that you freeze in the ice cube tray - and there are so many shapes and sizes to choose from these days - and then, when frozen, you remove them from the tray and bag them, taking care to note on the bag, the quantity of each item - e.g. 1 egg white.

First a list of things you probably know about:

Wine - when you've got just a bit of wine left in the bottle freeze it in cubes to add to things for that extra bit of flavour. Mind you you could just freeze wine in a larger container. Think about how much wine you are likely to need for future use and choose an appropriate sized container, bearing in mind that some ice-cube trays have pretty large holes. They won't freeze hard because of the alcohol, but enough to preserve it. I must admit I hadn't thought of freezing wine and might well take this suggestion up. I try not to drink during the week - just at the weekend, but sometimes the whole bottle has not been consumed by Sunday evening and so the weekend extends into the week. Of course I could cook something with the leftovers then and there, but that's not always possible or I'm not always in the mood for doing that. So freezing it would be a good idea.

Pretty things in water - this is a page from last month's Coles Magazine which I was going to include in an oddments post but never did. Why? Because it was pretty. What you do is you put pretty things like raspberries, herbs, cucumber, flowers (edible ones), sometimes alone, sometimes combined and then add them to glasses or jugs of water or sparkling water - or fruit juice I guess. Even a sparkling wine perhaps. Others suggested freezing fruit juice. Why would you do that? Surely you just drink fruit juice. Good for icy poles I suppose but otherwise?

Milk and cream - good idea. We don't use a lot of milk so it often goes off eventually. Cream not so much, but sometimes, so yes this is a good idea. Particularly for the milk I think.

Stock - I'm sure you all know about that one. I do freeze stock but since I generally use rather more than an ice-cube's worth I freeze it in larger containers, so I'm not sure about this one. I suppose they would be a bit like a stock cube.

Coffee- I'm putting this one in because everyone thought it was a good idea for making iced coffee. But when do you ever have leftover coffee? Maybe if you've made a big plunger's worth and it's not all drunk.

Chocolate - now we might be getting somewhere with this I guess. The link is to a French website called Le Pétrin (Trouble), translated into English by Google. Melt your chocolate and then drop the cubes into creamy milk for an iced chocolate. Ice-cream could be added I guess.

Bacon drippings - yes to this too. Currently I collect fat of any kind that is leftover from a roast or something similar and store in the fridge, so I end up with a mix of different fats - a kind of dripping - the sort of thing we used to spread on toast as kids. But yes freezing small quantities in an ice-cube tray might be a better way to go. After all you only need a small amount of fat to kick-start your gourmet dinner sometimes. And it would keep the different flavours separate.

Spinach - This is good if you can be bothered I think. Any kind of greens can be done I guess. I'm also guessing a large-sized ice-cube tray. Most of the people suggesting this were into green smoothies which are truly not for me, but I can see that if, for example you grow your own silver beet and you have a glut and have had enough silver beet for a while it might be a good idea to cook it, shred it and freeze it. I sometimes buy frozen spinach from Aldi which comes in little cubes which are good for adding to things for a little bit of extra oomph - a pasta sauce for example. I don't think you would do it as a special project though would you? No this is for gluts.

Herbs in oil - I knew about freezing herbs in water, but it seems that freezing them in oil is better:

"Preserving herbs in oil reduces some of the browning and freezer burn that herbs can get in the freezer." Kitchn

Kitchn also recommended that you stick to freezing the stiffer herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano as the more delicate ones were best added fresh at the end of cooking. And you need to pack your little cube with the herbs before pouring in the oil. Using the harder herbs means that you can add them with the oil at the start of your cook up.

Pesto - I'm including this one because virtually all the sites that I visited included this. My first reaction was why? But I guess it does make sense. When you make (or buy) pesto you usually Have a largish jar - more than you need at one time. Then if you don't use the rest of it soon it does loose its freshness and eventually it will even go off, even if you do store it under oil in the fridge. So maybe it would be a good idea to freeze the unused portion. I might give that a go. The same principle would apply to any other similar sauce or condiment. Lots of people recommended it for tomato sauce although I think I would freeze that in a larger container.

Grated ginger and garlic - together or separately. Maybe. Especially ginger perhaps. You can never just buy a small piece of fresh ginger and then what to do with the bit you don't use? I have learnt that if you put it in a jar of water it will keep much longer in the fridge, but I can't really believe that is super good. So grating the whole piece and freezing it in an ice-cube tray is, I think, a really good idea. Next time I buy some I shall do this. Because you do only use a little at a time.

Cookie dough - now I don't make cookies but I know lots of people do. The idea of this is to restrict the number of cookies you actually cook when you make a batch of dough. Put the leftovers into an ice-cube tray, freeze, bag, then bake from frozen when you want another batch.

Chocolate coated strawberries - a very popular suggestion, but again, why would you? It's not something we do all the time is it? It's usually something you would do for a party, so best to do them fresh. And besides I think strawberries go mushy when defrosted, and why would you want to eat a frozen strawberry? But maybe this is just me.

Then were a whole lot of other suggestions which were much more advanced and included things like chocolate covered cheesecake. If you are interested in such things just cruise the net, but I picked out three that are just remotely worth considering or just a bit over the top.

Blueberry martini jello shots - NYC

Jello to we non Americans is jelly. So yes these are blueberries set in jelly (and vodka) and then frozen. As the writer says:

"The possibilities seem endless. I’m thinking mojito shots, lychee saketini shots, sangria shots…. So next time you’re a BBQ guest, and no one likes pie, make these jello shots. Vodka + Gelatin = SCORE!

Do you suck them, add to something or refreeze and drink?

Yoghurt and pomegranate bites - May I Have That Recipe - These are really bites of frozen yoghurt - or ice-cream I suppose. And you could just freeze it in a large container as frozen yoghurt. The possibilities of what you actually freeze are endless. I mean any ice-cream or frozen yoghurt recipe can be adapted to being frozen in ice-cube trays of any shape. Maybe it would be fun for kids. Not sure about this one, however pretty.

Cheesecake pops - Delish This is really the same thing taken a step further by sticking in a stick so that you can suck it. And here you have a cheesecake mixture rather than ice-cream or frozen yoghurt but of course it would work with them too.

Before we leave the food thing - because I also have a few non-food uses for ice-cube trays that I thought worth mentioning - let me give you this, possibly brilliant idea. A way to form ravioli. What you do is you drape your sheet of pasta over an ice-cube tray, plop your filling into the holes of the tray, moisten the edges and the bits in between, pop another sheet on top; press down between each cube, cut between and remove. You probably would have to grease the tray I think, because otherwise it would all stick, although nobody seems to think you do. A pretty nifty idea though. Worth a try.

However you can do more than foodie things with ice-cube trays. Starting with remotely foodie things.

Seed trays. - And I might try this because I bought a few seeds lately. When I have sowed them directly into the ground I get too many plants coming up in the same spot and then when I try to spread them out they all die. I am the worst gardener in the world after all. But here you use an ice-cube tray - make a hole in the bottom for drainage, fill with your seed raising mix, put in your seeds and away you go. Mind you if the seeds are tiny you might not do much better than sowing them directly into the garden. You could start them indoors this way though.

Seed bombs - This is especially for you English people who are into flower meadows. The idea is to end up with little packages of seeds that you then throw into your garden - or maybe even a meadow. The suggestion was that they make great gifts.

There seem to be a couple of methods for this:

"Blend water-soaked newspaper into a pulp, add seeds of your choice, strain through a tea towel then pack the papery seed pulp into the ice cube trays. Leave them to dry out completely, then use! Experiment with different shaped trays for extra cute bombs!" or:

"Mix two parts potting soil with five parts pottery clay and one part water. Add seeds and press the mixture into the cells. Dry for one to two days and store in a shady place before sowing."

Finally, below are a few other ideas gleaned from here and there - nothing to do with food: Organising things like: toddler lunches, those irritating little bits and pieces on your desk and lying around the house; jewellery - well anything you can think of really. Careful not to knock them over though.

Three more: Make a display case for small collectibles; an artist's palette; freeze aloe vera - perhaps with some lavender essence or oil, for soothing ice cold blocks when you get sunburn. Maybe the artist's palette, but I don't know about the others. Why not just spread some aloe vera on your skin?

Such a versatile little thing that we don't ever think about though - the ice-cube tray. They were invented way back in 1933 by Guy Tinkham out of flexible stainless steel. They've come a long way since then. I wonder when we started thinking about all the weird and wonderful things you can do with them. TikTok has some pretty dreadful ones which I won't even mention here.

"Ice cube trays are the new muffin tins." Delish


A footnote to mashed potato from the Guardian newsletter. This is a Swedish dish called Labskovs in which meat is braised/stewed with various things including potatoes and parsnips until everything is falling apart and then it's all mashed together. A bit like the meals I mashed together on my plate when I was a child, and a bit like a Shepherd's pie but all mashed together. Mashed though, not puréed. Isn't it fascinating how different cultures do similar but very different things with the same ingredients?

And just to demonstrate one of the ways that crushed potatoes can be done - crushed or smashed being the new way of doing mashed potatoes - here is Nigel Slater's Potato, camembert and dill dish. Looks yummy although I would use a different cheese. He says you can use anything semi-soft and grateable.


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