What many people do not know is that ice cube trays can be used for so much more than just freezing water, and are actually one of the most useful tools that you will have in your kitchen especially when it comes to saving money. In addition to using the trays to freeze perfectly sized portions of fresh curry paste or pesto, you can also use them to preserve fresh herbs, as well as home-made sauces.
Many people steer clear of making their own curry pastes because of the quantity of special ingredients that you need to buy. As you probably know, you always end up with far too much paste. However, by whipping up a fresh batch of curry paste and then storing it in individual portions in an ice cube tray, not only will your curries taste so much better, but the blocks of paste will store in the freezer for months.
For a traditional Thai green curry paste, mix the following ingredients in a food processor, before using what you need and freezing the rest: 4 – 6 de-seeded roughly chopped green chillies, 2 roughly chopped shallots, 5cm cube of grated fresh ginger, 2 crushed garlic cloves, a small bunch of fresh coriander (including the stalks and roots, as these are extremely flavoursome), the zest and juice of 1 lime, 8 kaffir lime leaves, 1tbsp coriander seeds, 1tsp ground cumin, 1tsp crushed black pepper, 2tsp fish sauce, 3tbsp olive oil. If you are able to purchase galangal, also add a 2.5cm cube that has been roughly chopped.
Whizz it up, keep a 1tbsp or so to one side for your dinner tonight and then freeze the rest into individual ice cube portions. Each ice cube would be enough paste for 2 people so if you’re cooking for your family and there’s 4 of you, well pop 2 cubes into a pan at the start of the recipe.
Whether or not you have basil plants at home, or buy the herb fresh from the supermarket, it is likely that you will always have more than you know what to do with. The next time this happens, try making some pesto, and freezing it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, which should take about 2 hours, you have the option of emptying the trays into a resealable plastic bag, so that you can use the ice cube tray for something else. When you are ready to cook with your frozen blocks of pesto, simply use 1 cube per person, heating them up in a pan before stirring it through cooked pasta, topping with grated parmesan cheese. You could even use them to brush over grilled meats, for a delicious infusion of flavours.
Although the pesto is a great way to use up extra basil, there are also some clever ways that you can use an ice cube tray to preserve other herbs. Many people preserve their herbs by storing them in the freezer, but the best way to retain the flavour of the herbs, as well as prevent browning and freezer burn, is to freeze them in olive oil. Harder herbs, such as oregano, sage and rosemary, are usually better suited to this method than softer herbs, which includes basil, mint and dill.
Choose fresh, firm herbs, packing them into each well in the ice cube tray to about 2/3 full. You can do mixtures of herbs, as well as some blocks containing just one herb. Pour extra virgin olive oil, or melted unsalted butter, over each well, before covering with cling film and freezing overnight. The frozen herb blocks are perfect to use in stews, roasts and soups, giving them a fresh burst of flavour.
As summer approaches, many people will be swapping their hot cups of coffee for iced coffees. The next time you are pouring yourself a cup of freshly brewed coffee, pour the leftover liquid into ice cube trays and leave to cool before placing them in the freezer. When you decide that you want an iced coffee, use the frozen coffee rather than ice cubes, saving your coffee from turning into a watery mess as it starts to melt. You can also freeze cubes of milk, which you can add to your coffee instead of ice, or frozen chocolate milk to jazz up a glass of plain milk.
Caramelised onions are a delicious addition to many meals, but although their sweet, nutty flavour is much-loved, the process of caramelising the onions can be too time consuming for a quick weeknight meal. They are, however, a great ingredient to prepare in bulk, as caramelising six onions does not take much more than caramelising one onion.
To caramelise onions, heat oil over a low heat, before adding sliced onions and a generous pinch of salt. Let them cook slowly for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are soft and slightly golden, add a couple of tablespoons of sugar and balsamic vinegar, which will start the caramelisation process. Stir occasionally, and cook until the onions are sticky, before portioning out into ice cube trays, packing them into each well. The next time that you are making a stew or a soup, or even just want a filling for an omelet, burger or sandwich, add a block or two of the frozen caramelised onions for a sweet and tangy boost of flavour.
Leftover wine is a problem that many of us may not have, but, on the rare occasion that it does happen, try freezing the wine in ice cube trays rather than throwing it out. Not only will the frozen wine cubes give you a great reason to make sangria, but you can also use them to cook with in many dishes. Other fresh juices can also be frozen, so if there is one that you frequently use when cooking, such as lime juice or pineapple juice, it may be worth freshly squeezing and freezing a batch for future use.
For those of you who love trying out new cocktail recipes at home, ice cube trays are a great tool to use. To make deliciously unique pina coladas, fill each well in an ice cube tray with alternating layers of coconut milk and pineapple juice. It works best if you allow each layer to freeze before adding the next layer, but for those of you who are pressed for time, you can just add both liquids into each well. Once frozen, prepare a glass with rum, muddle pineapple and coconut milk, before adding your striped cubes.
You could also freeze thinly sliced mint leaves with fresh lime juice and a dash of agave. Serve these frozen cubes with rum, mint, sparkling water and muddled limes, for an extra-refreshing mojito.
Bacon fat is another common ingredient that often ends up being thrown out. Rather than throwing out the fat after cooking your next fry-up, freeze these drippings in ice cube trays. You can warm up these frozen cube to drizzle over salads and sauteed greens, or even over popcorn! To fry up some delicious bacon flavoured potatoes, use 2 or 3 cubes for extra flavour.
Whatever it is that you end up freezing, it is usually best to pop out the frozen cubes once they are ready, and store them in your freezer in plastic containers or resealable plastic bags. This will not only take up less space, but will also mean that you can store them for longer, as you won’t be in a hurry to get your ice cube trays back. Don’t forget to label each bag or container with what the cubes are, as once your freezer starts filling up with bags of different cubes, it can be hard to remember which is which. Use the ice cube flavour pot ideas as inspiration for coming up with your own delicious sauces, broths and herb or spice mixes that you can freeze, as this will make the process of cooking significantly faster and much more simple.