One of my greatest cooking role models was my grandmother. She was a fancy cook – not just a good cook – a fancy cook. Jars or bottles of anything were never allowed on the table; food was always plated and served beautifully; and nothing graced her table without a garnish. And by “garnish” I do not mean a sprig of parsley. Oh, no. I mean a radish perfectly carved into a rose or a yellow squash made to look like a little penguin. Being such a fancy cook required an arsenal of gadgets. Those roses didn’t carve themselves, people! Her kitchen was full of uni-taskers* – awesome, amazing uni-taskers that blew my mind as a kid. When I started cooking, I was immediately drawn to those great gadgets that, while perhaps unnecessary, reminded me of my grandmother and were just so very cool!
*Uni-taskers: Tools that only do one thing but take up lots of space. See: Alton Brown, celebrity chef and leader of the Uni-tasker Opposition.
I have a small kitchen with limited space so super awesome gadgets are pretty much out of the question. Plus, more importantly, it seems to be the unassuming seemingly boring tools that really get me excited. My grapefruit spoons, for example: crucial for eating grapefruit yet also perfect for removing the seeds and ribs of hot chilies. Melon baller: perfect for scooping out the flesh of a melon, but also great for coring an apple or removing the seeds and ribs of chilies (wow, a lot of things are good for this task!).
But there is one thing in my kitchen that I could not live without. One thing that makes my life immensely easier and saves me some money. My ice cube trays. Oh, how I love them… and not for making ice.
I, like a lot of people, make my own baby food. And I, like a lot of people, put my baby food into ice cube trays and then pop those perfectly portioned cubes into storage containers for quick and easy meals for Sweet D.
That’s so obvious, Michelle! Every mama knows that! Duh! *Snore*
Don’t leave me yet! What else are those ice cube trays good for? So many things. Just like with baby food, put these things in your ice cube trays, pop out the cubes when frozen, and store in containers or freezer bags.
- Stock– Whether you make your own stock or buy it in the store, sometimes you just need a small portion. A splash of stock is great for deglazing a pan (scraping off the delicious brown bits from the bottom to add flavor to your dish). Making a small portion of rice, quinoa, or other whole grain? Toss a few stock cubes in with the water to give it some extra flavor. If you buy a box of stock and don’t use it all, pour the leftovers into your ice cube trays for those times when you just need a little bit.
- Tomato paste – Please, someone tell me why they make tomato paste in cans when recipes almost never call for more than a tablespoon or two. Please explain this! I used to find myself wasting tomato paste like crazy! Now I scoop the leftover tomato paste into my ice cube trays and save for future dishes. I assume that one cube is about a tablespoon or so… you could measure out your portions if you want, but I don’t think it is really necessary. Just toss a cube into sauces or stews for that extra rich tomato flavor.
- Pesto –When I need herbs for a dish, I rarely need to use the entire bunch I just paid for at the market. Take the left over herbs (basil, parsley, mint, cilantro… anything you like!) and toss into your food processor or blender with some garlic, nuts (any kind will do! I like cashews in my pestos. Nut allergy in your house? Leave them out!), salt, pepper, and olive oil. Give it a whir and taste. When you’re happy with it, divide it into your ice cube trays. Next time you need a quick pasta sauce or topping for chicken, grab a few pesto cubes. Badabing badaboom. Easy peasy.
- Chipotles – I am kind of obsessed with these guys. They are really spicy, so go easy for the kiddos. I just love the smokiness. They come whole in can with adobo, a smoky spicy vinegary sauce. If you use them in a recipe, you usually only need one or two because they are so hot. Again, I hate to waste them! I like to put a couple with some adobo into each spot in my ice cube tray. Perfect for future dishes! Pop a cube in with a chicken marinade of lime juice, cilantro, cumin, and olive oil. If the kiddos don’t like spice, you can easily make one marinade with and one without chipotles. Chipotles, lime, honey, and olive oil make for amazing chicken wings! Or mix with a little Greek yogurt for a healthy and flavorful shmear on a sandwich or wrap.
- Roasted garlic – Mmm… roasted garlic. Sweet and savory. Take a whole head of garlic and cut the top off just to expose the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil. Wrap tightly in foil (either the individual heads or put a bunch in a baking dish and cover the dish). Roast at 425 for about 45 minutes. When the cloves are golden and squishy, it is done. Squeeze the cloves out and divide into portions in your ice cube tray. You probably don’t need whole cubes of this, but you can decide. Fill the trays as high as you want. Next time you make pasta, mashed potatoes, soup, chicken, steak – just about anything! – you can quickly add a little roasted garlic.
- Cookie dough – Sometimes you want to make dozens of cookies, but sometimes you want to make just a few. Next time you make or buy cookie dough, put some into your ice cube trays. When you want to make just a few cookies, grab a few cubes and bake as usual. They might take a bit longer because they’re frozen, but they will still be ooey gooey and delicious.
- Baby food – I know we already talked about this one. Sure, it is great for meals for Sweet D… but I’ve also been known to throw a cube of blueberries or maybe some butternut squash and apples into some oatmeal for my own breakfast.
There are tons of possibilities! Think about those things that you only use a small amount of at a time. Put it into your ice cube trays for easy and convenient ways to add flavors to your dishes. What do you like to put in your ice cube trays?
[About the photo: I left the other less exciting baby food out. I also have cubes of peas, green beans, broccoli, and peas+carrots. And taking that photo reminded me that I need more roasted garlic… and cookies.]