Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Humble Ice Cube Tray -- Your Money-Saving Secret Weapon

I haven't used an ice cube tray for ice in years. My fridge makes all the ice we need so I don't bother. That said, if you took a peek into my freezer (watch out for falling frozen chicken -- sometimes my freezer is sort of like a booby trap), you'd most likely see at least one ice cube tray in there.

Ice cube trays are a great money-saving tool. I use them all the time for saving leftovers. Here are a few ways I use an ice cube tray to save money:

Homemade baby food. When my second baby was new to solid foods, I made his baby food (nothing fancy, just steam and puree. Seriously. It's that easy.) and froze it in ice cube trays. I would just store the cubes of baby food in a plastic freezer bag.When he was ready to eat, I would just warm up the frozen cubes of baby food -- I did this by either by a quick zap in the microwave, by mixing it into hot oatmeal (that cooled it to the perfect temperature) or I would thaw it in a glass bowl over a boiling water. (If you'd like to try making baby food but feel a little wary about doing it yourself, this book helped me feel a lot more confident about the process.)

Tomato paste. I hardly ever use the whole can (even if it is one of those tiny ones) of tomato paste, so I put the leftovers in an ice cube tray. Each square in the ice cube tray equals about 1-2 tablespoons. (Word to the wise: tomato paste in a tube is awesome, then you don't even need to bother with the ice cube trays.)

- Herbs. Herbs can be preserved in a number of different ways, but when you're dealing with moisture-dense herbs like mint, chives, tarragon, or basil, freezing is the best method. One way I've preserved basil with an ice cube tray is to pulse about a half-cup of basil leaves with a 1/4 cup of olive oil in a food processor; once it forms a paste, I pour it into the ice cube trays, freeze it, and then store the cubes in a plastic freezer bag. When you're ready to use them, simply pop the cubes into whatever soup, sauce, or dish you're making.  I've also seen this method of freezing cut-up herbs in olive oil, but I haven't tried it yet.

- Applesauce. I canned a bunch of applesauce this past fall. We don't really eat applesauce by the dish at our house, but I often use it in recipes as a sweetener (like in this waffle recipe - yum!). As a result, most of the time I'm only using a few tablespoons here and there. If I'm not careful, a jar of applesauce can sit in the fridge too long and get moldy. Totally depressing -- especially with all the work that went into picking the apples, cutting them up, cooking them, mashing them, and processing it in jars (whew!).  To remedy this, I put a tablespoon of applesauce into each square of the ice cube tray and freeze it. Once they're frozen, I pop them out and put them in a plastic freezer bag. Whenever I need applesauce for a recipe, I just get the amount of tablespoon-sized cubes I need, thaw them in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds, and they're good to go.

-Pumpkin puree. I've been experimenting with paleo pancake recipes and some of them call for just a couple tablespoons of pumpkin puree. I just freeze the rest in the ice cube tray and store it in a plastic freezer bag (see a pattern yet?).

- Chicken stock. I freeze my homemade stock in glass jars (totally safe -- just leave room for the liquid to expand when it freezes). When I've made a batch of stock and poured it all into jars, there's often a little bit left in the bottom of the pot. Instead of only partially filling a jar (and having it take up more space in my freezer), I pour the rest into an ice cube tray. This is great for quick batches of soup or for de-glazing pans.

- Chicken treats. Sometime during October, after we'd gutted a bunch of pumpkins, I made chicken treats. I put the mixture (pumpkin guts and seeds, oatmeal, some molasses) into a couple trays and froze them. I fed these treats to the ladies all winter and they got so excited whenever I tossed them into the coop.   I also love this idea of making mint ice cubes for keeping chickens cool in the summer.

- Leftover smoothies.  Sometimes I can go kind of nuts when making a smoothie (especially since I got a Vitamix blender recently). I'll just get carried away while acting like a gourmet chef, throwing all kinds of fruit in there, pouring in various milks and/or juices, adding pinches of spices, nuts, coconut, or flaxmeal to the mix. I'm not really that good at making smoothies yet (recipes are welcome) and I'm definitely not good at eyeing portions. So if I've made a huge smoothie and I've drank all I can possibly can, I just freeze the rest in an ice cube tray. Next time I make a smoothie, I just pop a few of those cubes into the mix.

- Disposal freshener. From time to time, when my sink is getting smelly, I'll freeze some vinegar in an ice cube tray. Once it's frozen, I toss a few cubes into the disposal and turn it on. Works like a charm.

There are so many other ways to use the ice cube tray to curb food waste. Out of curiosity, I did a quick search for ice cube tray uses and was surprised by the uses I hadn't tried (like freezing egg whites in an ice cube tray -- who knew? This link has a lot of great ideas).

I'm sure there are some of you out there who are thinking, "Why go to all that trouble to just save a few tablespoons here and there. Does it really make a difference?"  It makes me think of my other favorite money-saving kitchen tool: the rubber spatula. Sure, scraping the last bits of food from the jar with a rubber spatula or pouring the last bit of stock into a ice cube tray doesn't seem like a big deal, but it does make a difference. Doing these seemingly small actions cultivates a certain mindset, an attitude about how you use approach food and your resources. Frugality is about stretching things just a little further -- and the little things eventually add up.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, Little House Fridayand Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

1 comment:

StrivingSimply said...

We freeze baby food that way, too. It's so much better than jars of unknown ingredients!

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