Kitchen Hacks

Cooking with Cubes

Those trays in your freezer can help you make more than cold drinks

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In my kitchen, the tools are half the fun. I have a potato peeler shaped like a monkey, a butter knife with a clay piece of toast as its handle, and a scrubber that’s attached to the back of a porcupine.

It’s part of a broader home decor philosophy, too. The first thing I bought for my new apartment, as soon as my roommate and I signed the lease about a year ago, was a metal octopus.

I went into Anthropologie to look for some trendy hand-towels or juice glasses or something that, having previously moved straight from a dorm to a furnished and fully-stocked house, I might need.

I already had a couple such items in tow when I reached the octopus, displayed on a shelf with coathooks and doorknobs. It had to be mine. Being an Anthropologie product, it was not budget-friendly. So naturally I put back all the other stuff.

The octopus hung proudly on a hook in my drywall until recently, when I was chastised by the landlord’s safety personnel for obstructing what turned out to be the hook for our fire extinguisher. Oops.

My favorite household items, all rooms inclusive, are my rubber ice cube trays: one shapes the ice into spaceships, the other into replicas of Grandpa’s dentures.

Even if you have boring rhomboid trays, though, frozen liquids are a top-shelf kitchen hack. With all the below variations, once the cubes are frozen, you can transfer them to a plastic freezer bag to free up your trays. In the mean time, you might want to label them, lest you end up with beef broth in your lemonade.

Freeze chicken (or beef, or veggie) stock so you always have some on hand for braising meat or fluffing up a risotto. An average cube = about an ounce, or 2 tablespoons. To thaw, either dunk the plastic bag in a bowl of warm water or zap cubes in the microwave.

If you don’t drain a whole bottle of wine, freeze the rest. It won’t be good for drinking anymore, but will work just fine as a dinner ingredient. No need to thaw first if it’s going directly into a hot pan. Toss a few cubes of red wine into any red pasta sauce or stew.

Make a batch of homemade pesto and freeze. For a simple basil pesto, blend 1/4 cup pine nuts, 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 1/2 cup hard grated cheese (like Parmesan), and 1/2 cup olive oil, plus a clove or a sprinkle of garlic, in a food processor or blender. Some pros advocate leaving out the Parm until thawing time, but that depends on how discerning your taste buds are. I freeze the cheese and it tastes fine to me. When it’s mealtime, toss with pasta, spread on crackers, or drizzle over meat and potatoes.

If you use a recipe that calls for only egg whites or yolks and you don’t have an immediate use for the extra part, freeze it. You can also freeze whole eggs if you know you won’t use them before they go bad–just whisk thoroughly before pouring into trays. Be extra careful with the labeling here as these have the most potential to masquerade as drinkable liquids.

Frozen fruit juices are handy, too. If you find yourself with an unused lemon, for example–maybe a recipe called just for the grated peel – freeze the juice instead of tossing it out. Then use it in recipes or as a chiller for soda or cocktails.

Rather than dumping out (or gulping down and then twitching all day) the remainder of a brewed pot of coffee, freeze it. You could use these cubes in desserts or even as part of a marinade or barbecue sauce, or just toss them into your next cup of coffee to make an iced version without diluting the taste.

Illustration by Claire Jelly.

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