You Won't Believe How Much You Can Save With an Ice Cube Tray

by Max Wong on 1 May 2014 4 comments

People are surprised that I had the ice machine in my very swanky freezer removed. But I needed the extra space for ice cube trays.

Why have an ice machine that only freezes water, when I can freeze so many other things in an ice cube tray?

Ice cube trays are powerful kitchen tools for the home cook. They speed up prep, reduce food waste, and make portion control a cinch. I have NINE different types of frozen cubes stored in my freezer right now, but that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of what can be frozen.

1. Aloe Vera

I make my own aloe vera gel. Although aloe vera has antifungal and antibacterial properties, it is plant matter, so like most fruits and vegetables, it only lasts about a week in the refrigerator before it goes bad. To preserve my aloe vera harvest, I freeze the gel in ice cube trays. In addition to giving my homemade first aid a longer shelf life, the frozen aloe cubes provide soothing and instant relief for cuts and sunburns. Also, if you use aloe vera gel as a smoothie ingredient (aloe's good for a variety of digestive ailments), this is a great way to always get a precise measurement, without having to break out the measuring spoons.

2. Black Coffee

For some reason, I always make too much coffee. Since I buy the expensive stuff, I hate to waste the leftover, lukewarm, half cup left in the bottom of the French press every day. Instead of pouring it down the drain, I pour it into an ice cube tray. I use my coffee cubes to make coffee granitas for my afternoon coffee break. Coffee cubes are also the perfect cubes to serve with iced coffee or even Bailey's Irish Cream, as they won't water down the drinks.

3. Tea

Okay, this isn't currently in my freezer, but it's a regular visitor. Tea cubes are great with iced tea for the same reason why coffee cubes are perfect for iced coffee — they don't dilute the beverage.

4. Lemon Juice

It's currently lemon season in my neck of the woods, so I am madly juicing and freezing the lemon juice for use in recipes for the rest of the year. Lemon juice cubes are also perfect for making a personal lemonade or a single Arnold Palmer.

5. Tomato Paste

Even the smallest tin is always too much. Is it just me? Or does tomato paste get moldy at a supersonic rate in everyone's refrigerator? Yes, I know. Tomato paste is cheap. But guess what? So are ice cube trays. Why waste good food? Basically, any condiment that is approaching its expiration date can be frozen. (Just remember to write yourself a note, so you know just how old that mango mustard glaze is.)

6. Buttermilk

Buttermilk is one of those things that I never use the whole carton of, so it made me ecstatic to discover I can freeze buttermilk in an ice tray.

7. Chicken or Vegetable Broth

Since I am usually cooking for two, broth cubes are an easy and inexpensive way to add flavor to rice, pasta, or a stir-fry.

8. Herb Cubes

Herbs are some of the most expensive things on my shopping list, so what doesn't get used immediately gets chopped up, added to olive oil, and frozen into herb cubes. My favorite herbs to freeze are basil because it makes for speedy Italian meals, and thyme, because I use it on everything. (I also freeze mint in water to make flavored ice cubes for iced tea and lemonade.)

9. Wine

I don't drink, so my boozy friends always bring a ton of wine to my dinner parties because they don't trust my judgment. I used to feel terrible about dumping the leftover, half-full bottles of wine down the drain. Then I realized that even though I don't drink it, I do occasionally cook with wine. I'm sure whatever my friends are drinking is way better than the ripple I'd buy at the store. I get a better meal and never have to spring for cooking sherry.

10. Champagne

My brother-in-law is a professional party planner. He freezes leftover champagne to use in orange juice for frugal mimosas, and in salad dressing instead of vinegar. His notoriously delicious salmon is poached in flat champagne.

11. Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Another ice cube tray tip from my brother-in-law is to use them to make chocolate dipped strawberries. Instead of dipping each strawberry in chocolate, he puts strawberries into heart shaped ice cube trays and pours chocolate over the top! The strawberries come out of the mold looking like fancy chocolate truffles. He doesn't have to mess around with waxed paper, chocolate drips, and how to fit a cookie sheet into the freezer. It's genius.

12. (Emergency) Cookie Dough

My ice cube trays hold about two tablespoons of… whatever. Two tablespoons is the exact amount of dough I use for most of my cookie recipes. I first freeze the dough in an ice cube tray, then I pop the frozen blobs into a zip bag for storage. Whenever I want fresh-baked cookies, I can choose to just bake a few at a time, or an entire whole batch.

13. Garbage Disposal Cleaner

Once I'm done juicing lemons, I chop up the peels and freeze them in white vinegar. Whenever the garbage disposal gets stinky, I grind up a lemon-vinegar cube to deodorize it.

14. Paint

In kindergarten I learned color theory (along with how ice is made), by making ice cube paint. Although this messy project was designed to teach kids hand-eye coordination, it's a great way to show how to mix red, yellow, and blue to make a huge array of colors. My kindergarten class used food coloring. I prefer to use Crayola Washable Paints for this project because the colors are much more vibrant, and the dye much less permanent.

To make the paint cubes, put the paint or the food coloring in the bottom of the ice cube tray, then top with water. After freezing the paint cubes for about 20 minutes, I add wooden handles (salvaged coffee stirrers from the trash bucket at my local coffee shop or leftover popsicle sticks), and then freeze the paint cubes until they are solid. Pro Tip: To remove the paint cubes from the tray, let them thaw ever so slightly, then pop them out of the tray from the bottom like a regular ice cube, so you don't end up accidentally ripping the handles out.

15. Eggs

There are so many things that I bake that call for just the egg yolks or just the egg whites. I freeze the unused part of the egg in an ice cube tray so I can remember how many egg yolks/whites I have to use for other recipes. I just thaw them before using.

16. Baby Food

Make baby-sized portions of homemade baby food in a jiffy. Just grind up the kid's favorite fresh or frozen vegetable and freeze it in an ice cube tray. For on-the-go baby food, just pop a cube or two into a travel container. (See also: 4 Ways Breast-feeding Saves Money)

17. Cat Food

My cat Pinky has to eat medicated cat food for his kidneys. He thinks this food is revolting. To make the medicated food more palatable, I mix the medicated food with a super fatty Post Surgery cat food that he loves. Both types of specialty cat food cost roughly $4,675,293 per can. To keep the custom blend fresh…yes, I have cat food popsicles in my freezer. To use, I just sporp out a lump of cat food into his dish for each meal.

What do you freeze in your ice cube trays? Please share your genius in the comments section.

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Guest's picture
Nancy

I freeze most of these same things in ice cube trays, plus more--coconut milk, salsa, canned chopped green chilies. Once frozen, the cubes of whatever can be popped out and stored in freezer bags, freeing the tray for the next use. This way, I don't need many trays. Tomato paste freezes fine in 1-tablespoon dollops on waxed paper; then they can be plucked off into a freezer bag.

Max Wong's picture

Hi Nancy--

Oooh...coconut milk is a good one! I like trays over bags because I can fit more trays in my freezer than bags.

Guest's picture

I don't think I've ever seen so many different ways to use an ice cube tray. I don't think I'd want to have the herb cubes after the cat food has been in there.

Max Wong's picture

Hi William-

Ha! My cat popsicle tray is a different color to avoid cross-contamination.