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Freezers are amazing pieces of technology, but they’re sadly underutilized. Most people just use them to make ice cubes and store frozen meals and meats. Those are all good uses (who doesn’t like cold drinks and buying meat in bulk?), but there’s so much more you could be doing with your freezer.
Here are a few things you should make a part of your kitchen routine to save time and money or make cooking a little bit easier.
Make Chicken Stock Cubes
If you’re like me, you buy a carton of chicken stock when you need some for a recipe, use about half of it, then stick the rest in the fridge.
And by the time you need it again, it has gone bad and you need to buy a new carton.
That’s why many cooking experts suggest freezing stock or broth in an ice cube tray. Storing it this way allows you to carefully control portion size, so you can toss in the whole tray if you’re making soup or just a cube or two if you need to add a bit of liquid to a dish. (I’ve also heard people recommend using a muffin tray to store bigger portions, but you might not have room for that in your freezer.)
And stock isn’t the only ingredient you can put in an ice cube tray – keeping a few cubes of wine can also come in handy for tossing into a dish that calls for it.
Freeze Cookie Dough
Nothing beats fresh-baked cookies, but it can be a pain to mix a new batch of cookie dough every time you want some. And while you can get a tube of cookie dough at the store, the taste is often inferior and the price usually isn’t as good as making the dough from scratch.
To get around this, I’ve always frozen my leftover homemade dough: Form the unused dough into balls as usual, but instead of putting them on a cookie sheet, lay them on a piece of plastic wrap and wrap them up tightly to avoid freezer burn. And you don’t even need to defrost them--just add another five to ten minutes to your baking time (you might need to experiment with the time a bit, depending on your oven and cookie recipe). It’s a great strategy for dinner parties, as it frees you from having to prepare dessert while everyone is still enjoying dinner.
Make Coffee Cubes
Nothing goes better with iced coffee than coffee ice.
Yes, we said coffee ice. Iced coffee enthusiasts know that on a hot day, melting ice can quickly water down your drink. Jeff Potter, author of "Cooking for Geeks," suggests freezing some coffee in an ice cube tray to chill your iced coffee without watering it down.
Just make sure you label your different trays to keep all the different cubes straight – you don’t want to drop a wine cube into your iced coffee, or serve a guest a chicken-flavored cocktail.
And note that the coffee cube method won’t work for liquor, most of which has an alcohol content that is too high to freeze in your typical freezer. While this means that you could just keep your booze in the freezer to keep it chilled, another option is whiskey stones, which are metal cubes that you chill in the freezer and then place in the glass to chill your drink without watering it down.
Make Almost-Bad Bananas Last Longer
When my bananas start to get overripe, I either throw them out or make them into banana bread. One is a waste of money, and the other will get you fat (if you do it on a regular basis, anyway).
Ruth Furman, a public relations professional who says she has lost more than 100 pounds in the past few years, says she has a healthier way to preserve your banana investment: Cut up the ripe banana into chunks, freeze them, and then use them instead of ice cubes to mix up protein shakes in the blender.
“I slice and freeze them just as they morph from firm to mushy,” she says. “Ideally, I separate them and freeze on a wax-paper- or parchment-paper-lined storage container. But when in a rush, I've been known to pop them in a freezer bag and slice the frozen chunks to put in the blender.”
Use Seasonal Vegetables in the ‘Wrong’ Season
With meat, the best way to save is to buy in bulk. With fruit and vegetables, it’s less about quantity than it is about timing. To get the best-tasting and least-expensive vegetables, do your best to purchase them when they’re in season.
“Double up on seasonal organic vegetable purchases throughout the summer and freeze them so that you have great ingredients all year round at the lowest price,” recommends Michelle Kobernick, founder of meal delivery service Gourmet Everyday Delivery. “These items usually cost more at the market once they need to be imported from other locations.”
Save Your Scraps
The freezer isn’t just for vegetables--it’s also for the bits and pieces you chop off of vegetables while preparing them. Yes, those unwanted bits and pieces can be useful if you gather enough of them.
“I have a shoebox in my freezer that I toss herb stems, onion chucks, celery stalks and ends of carrots in,” says Jay Ducote, who runs the food blog Bite and Booze. “Then whenever I want to make a stock I just pull everything out of there.”
And of course, once you’ve made your stock, you can freeze it in an ice cube tray.
Turn Grapes Into Fancy Cocktail Ingredients
Ducote keeps another unusual item in his freezer: grapes.
“Frozen grapes are awesome on a hot day--they don't get super hard, so the texture when eating them can be a lot of fun,” he explains. “You can also use the frozen grapes as ice cubes in a lemonade or you can muddle them with mint or basil in cocktails.”
What kind of cocktails? Ducote says he’ll use grapes in fruity cocktails as a variation on a springtime cocktail like the mint julep or in place of olives in a martini.
Chill Plates and Bowls
Cooking enthusiasts know that it’s often good practice to heat up plates and bowls in the oven before serving, so as to ensure that hot food stays hot. But as Jeff Potter points out, there’s no reason the opposite can’t hold true when serving cold food, especially in the summer.
“If I’m serving something cold in the summer, I’ll actually put the plates in the freezer first to chill them down,” he says. “If you’re serving ice cream, chill the bowl.”
He adds that if you’re making your own whipped cream, you should chill the mixing bowl in the freezer first to ensure that the cream whips more easily.
Prevent Rust in Steel Wool
Writer Emily Breder tells us that she likes to keep her steel wool in the freezer.
“I was raised by a gourmet chef and picked up a lot of tricks from her,” she says. “One is to store steel wool, for scrubbing pots, in the freezer instead of around the sink like most people do. It prevents rust for a really long time.”
It’s not entirely clear to us why this would work--maybe the low temperature simply slows down the oxidation that leads to rusting, or maybe it’s simply a matter of getting it away from the wet sink. Whatever the case, I’ve lost more than one steel wool pad to rust, so I’ll be trying this one out.
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