When I told my husband about this post I was writing about ice cube trays, he raised an eyebrow and looked at me like I’d lost my marbles. I mean – I (admittedly) am not the best example of normal, but these ideas are actually pretty genius, I swear.
It all started a number of years ago when I began making my own homemade bone broth on a regular, consistent basis.
It was around the time that we started our real food journey in 2008, but it really ramped up when we did the GAPS Diet for a while in 2010 (broth is a daily part of your diet on GAPS). I would typically freeze my homemade broth in large mason jars.
Unfortunately, despite trying all of the tips and tricks out there to keep the jars from breaking in the freezer (leaving head room, keeping lids loose, storing them in difference places in the freezer, etc.) I was left with broken jars and inedible bone broth far too often. I was super frustrated to see my liquid gold go to waste.
Then, one day I was reading online about intentionally making your broth more concentrated, and having it take up less room in your fridge or freezer. It reminded me of artificial bouillon cubes in the store which are super convenient, but not made from real food ingredients.
Dehydrating my broth and making my own bouillon cubes sounds like way too much work… so I thought, “Why not use an ice cube tray to make my own frozen version of bouillon cubes?!” Yep. Lightbulb moment! I make my broth highly concentrated by letting the liquid reduce by at least two thirds of normal, then pour my broth in jars and stick them in the fridge until they’re cooled, and then when I get a spare moment, I do the ice cube tray thing.
Now, I have no more broken jars, I use way less space in my freezer, and best of all: I always have homemade broth on hand to use in recipes, accessible in minutes!
To make a pot of soup, for example, I just grab 4-5 cubes from my freezer and throw them into a pot of water heating on the stovetop. I LOVE being able to do that.
Once I conquered that brilliant little hack, I realized that an ice cube tray can be great for more than just ice cubes!
Here are the 18 genius ideas I’ve gathered for how to use an ice cube tray in a real-food kitchen (and a few non-edible ideas, too):
1. Homemade bone broth
As I explain above, this is one of the very best real-food kitchen hacks that I have discovered. It is seriously life-changing, and I totally feel a small sense of victory every time I grab a couple of broth cubes from the freezer now.
Image via Flickr CC, Christine Wisnieski
2. Leftover meat drippings or gravy
This idea seems totally similar to doing broth cubes, right? I’m including it here anyway because it took me a full year after doing broth cubes to clue in that leftover meat drippings and leftover gravy from a meal didn’t have to go to waste either. Simply freeze those leftovers in an ice cube tray and toss them in with your next batch of soup or stew.
3. Paint palette
Despite the mess, I love letting my kids paint. It does my creative heart good to see them taking pride in their work and painting beautiful fridge-worthy works of art! One simple way to help keep the mess contained is to use an ice cube tray as a paint palette. The colours don’t get all mixed up quite as easily as when you use a plate!
4. Lemon and vinegar for the garbage disposal
Give your garbage disposal something fresh to crunch up to help clean and deodorize them. An ice cube tray is perfect for making an arsenal of these little pucks. You could also totally throw them in to a bucket of hot water for other cleaning purposes as needed.
Image via Flickr CC, Libby
5. Homemade condiments or salad dressings
We all know that homemade salad dressings and condiments are better for us, and often taste better too (homemade salad dressing will blow your mind if you’ve never tried it), but thanks to their lack of nasty chemicals and yucky other unpronounceable shelf-stabilizing/preserving/colouring/etc. ingredients, they go bad faster than their store-bought counterparts.
The solution? Freeze some in an ice cube tray. How amazing would it be to grab a couple of cubes of homemade salad dressing made with fresh ingredients whenever you feel like it? Just put them in a bowl a few hours before your meal, and toss your salad with the thawed result. Oil and vinegar based dressings would work especially well, but I’m planning to try my fave creamy poppyseed recipe soon!
6. Herbs in EVOO or water
I am forever buying fresh herbs at the store, and then letting them die a slow and painful death in my fridge. I have the best of intentions… but, well, ya know how it goes. They also usually come in pre-made bunches, which means I can’t buy just three tablespoons for my guacamole. I mean – so inconsiderate of the grocery store, right? (First world problems.)
Next time, instead of letting them wilt in your produce drawer, just chop up your extras and put them in an ice cube tray. Fill the tray with extra-virgin olive oil or water. (I like to use water because EVOO is actually not the best for cooking due to its low smoke point. You could use avocado oil or coconut oil, if you’d like!)
Believe it or not – leftover wine is not always an oxymoron. I had a particular bottle of white wine in my fridge recently that we didn’t care for, after trying it. I poured the remainder into an ice cube tray, and now I have wine cubes on hand for cooking! I love cooking with wine – it adds such a great depth of flavour to so many dishes.
Just note that the wine cubes freeze in a somewhat slushy state and they melt super fast, so don’t take the cubes for a 15-minute photo shoot. You know, because that’s a totally normal thing to do.
8. Leftover tomato paste or sauce
In my ideal world, I grow and harvest hundreds of pounds of tomatoes each summer, then can them in glass jars in various states so that all of my paste and sauce needs are adequately covered without a trace of BPA to be had.
Unfortunately, however, I still reside in reality, and my kitchen cupboards regularly hold canned tomato paste and sauce. When I open a can for any given recipe, I inevitably have a wee bit leftover, especially for tomato paste! It would be a shame to let it go to waste, so just pop it into a couple of ice cube slots, and store the cubes in the freezer until next time!
9. Leftover fruit for smoothies
I don’t know about your kids, but mine have this interesting little habit of starting a piece of fruit and then claiming that they are stuffed so full they couldn’t possibly finish the last two bites of banana, or slice of apple. The little weirdos. I love my kids, but they are weird.
Wasting fresh fruit gets expensive fast, so just pop those random bits and pieces into an ice cube tray to freeze for your next smoothie-making session! You can also freeze other smoothie ingredients, like spinach and kale, or other smoothie-friendly veggies (just make sure to do a quick google search to see if it’s a good one for smoothies. Don’t assume anything. And for the love of all that is green and delicious – DON’T put celery in a smoothie. Just… don’t.)
10. Aloe vera
This is one of my absolute favourites on the list. I’m a fair-skinned, blue-eyed, redhead with Irish ancestry. I’ve never tanned in my life.
Random side note: I was super excited when I thought I had a teensy bit of a sandal tan after living in Tanzania for three months, but it sadly washed off in the Nile River during a four-hour white water rafting adventure, including being dumped twice. Who knew the rapids were strong enough to wash off a tan?! (Errr… perhaps it was not a tan in the first place, but a result of having no running water and bathing with a bucket for 3 months… bah humbug.)
Anyway… yes, I don’t tan, I burn. Me and sunburns are on verrry familiar terms. I once had a third degree burn on my nose from the sun. I’m basically a pale sun-magnet lobster, which leads me to… aloe vera cubes!
SO BRILLIANT. Check out this tutorial to make your own aloe vera gel. Freeze the gel, and you have instant cold, medicinal sunburn relief available in your freezer all summer long.
Image via Flickr CC, Tess Watson
11. Almond milk
I love to make my own almond milk, but since I don’t add preservatives, it goes bad within just a couple of days. In order to not let it go to waste, just freeze it in ice cube trays. This is also super convenient to throw into a bowl of oatmeal to help cool it down for kids. Of course you can also do coconut milk (don’t waste the extras after opening a can), or even regular cow/goat milk.
12. Coffee cubes or chai
Freeze the remaining coffee from your pot in cubes to throw into your homemade iced coffee this summer. That way you’ll avoid the watered down coffee taste that you get when you use regular ice cubes! Of course, chai would be great, too, for your homemade iced chai. Mmmmm, chai.
There are tons of great dessert recipes out there that recommend keeping them in the freezer, especially ones involving coconut oil (the amazing superfood) because of its propensity to melt so easily. One such recipe is my homemade peanut butter cups, which would be absolutely perfect in an ice cube tray.
14. Punch bowl decor
When I throw a party, I love to make homemade punch using my mom’s recipe. I love to dress it up a little with some floating orange slices and fancy ice cubes. Just drop a berry in each cube, fill with water, and freeze! Mint leaves, berries, or even small lemon or orange slice wedges in the cubes all look lovely.
15. Cookie dough
This 20-minute Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookie recipe is dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that freezing the dough does little to stop me from going into a baking and eating frenzy and downing a whole batch in 24 hours. Just being honest, here, people.
Now, for you folks with a teensy bit more self-control than me, I hear it’s a brilliant idea to freeze your cookie dough in individual portions so you can bake/eat just a couple at a time. How quaint. If you are able to make the batch last longer than 4 days, I salute you. And I question your tastebuds’ sanity. Nevertheless… moving on to number sixteen.
16. Homemade granola bar bites
Small children often can’t eat a whole granola bar, so why not make them cube-sized? It’s also a fab idea to have a bunch on hand in the freezer to grab-n-go when needed. Ice cube trays, to the rescue, again! Here’s my healthy homemade granola bar recipe, posted two years ago, and still one of my most popular posts. They’re chewy, yummy, and super easy.
Image via Flickr CC, MealMakeoverMoms
17. Snack tray for toddlers
I have been a long-time fan of using a muffin tin to serve snacks to my kids, as I talked about in this post. Those things are magical, I’m telling you. But for the toddler crowd? An ice cube tray serves the same purpose, in a smaller format. Genius and simple hacks for the win!
18. Leftover icing
When we make our favourite icing, there’s inevitably just a bit left over. Enough for, say, a dozen medium cupcakes lightly iced.
Why yes, I have had a lot of experience in this matter. I’m pretty much a cupcake/icing eating expert. I’m always open to expanding my knowledge, too, because I’m a life-long learner like that.
Anyway, as I was saying – when you make my favourite Angel Feather Icing (which is fluffy and sweet, reminiscent of marshmallow fluff), you can freeze it for later. Woohoo!
What have you used an ice cube tray for lately?
I use an ice cube tray to organize my jewelry. I don’t have much, but somehow I could never find the matching earring when I needed it. Now 2 pairs share a cube spot, and none ever get lost. 🙂
BRILLIANT! I love that so much. I have a little ceramic half-dozen “egg tray” that I use for earrings. Similar idea, but I would love the full 12 spots. So smart. 🙂
I have to tell you I have s bed ridden person in my home. Can’t eat meat. So I’ve been doing this with tomato gravy and brown gravy for him. I also use the little silicon bone trays and put chicken broth in it for my dog. She loves this. Thank you for your ideas
I love freezing almond milk in ice cube tray. Add to vitamin with a can of coconut milk, stevia and flavoring to have ice cream.
Great ideas for using the ice cube tray!
I used mine for perfect servings of baby food! Poor husband had many a applesauce captain and coke!
Have you tried using the freezer mason jars? Ever since I stopped using the curved mason jars and started using the straight sided mason jars I have only broken one jar. And I’ve made probably 20 pots of broth (with at least 2 jars per pot). I imagine that the extra cooking to condense the broth may actually make it less nutritious. Just like with regular oils, you don’t want to overcook them.
I process greens like spinach or kale in the food processor and then freeze them in ice cube trays. Pop it in your morning smoothie for extra fibre plus a vegetable serving!
Last summer I grew heaps of celery, and didn’t use it quick enough. It was about to go to seed, so I picked it all, juiced it and poured the juice into ice cubes. I would throw a couple of cubes into casserole or stir fry for a subtle celery flavour, without having to buy it when it wasn’t in season!