I have a favorite ancho/pasilla chili sauce which unfortunately requires a certain amount of tedious work that keeps me from indulging as often as I’d like. It’s not a fast sauce – you first have to cook the ingredients, then puree them, then cook them even more to bring the flavors into balance (it’s bitter before the last cooking). But the tediousness of it makes it a perfect candidate for split preparation: do the first half of the work in a big batch, and then do the second half as needed, when needed.
A month or so back, I made a double recipe of that lovely sauce. But I didn’t do the final round of cooking. I put it, mid-recipe, into ice cube trays. Once frozen, the cubes of sauce were dumped into ziploc freezer bags and stashed.
Now whenever I want delicious homemade sauce for a Mexican dish, I pull a few cubes out of the freezer and toss them in my crockpot over the chicken I’m stewing, or in the oven over the chicken I’m baking. They melt and finish cooking with the chicken, and I get a delicious, flavorful meal that would have normally taken a lot longer and a lot more dirty pans. Figuring this out has saved me from the lure of quick, store-bought sauces out of a jar. (Yes, Trader Joe’s Simmering Sauce, I’m talking about you.) I know exactly what’s in my sauce, I have the quiet contentment that comes from knowing I made it myself, and it didn’t cost me two bucks or more a pop.
Being able to portion out the cubes is a perfect tactic for someone who eats alone. Just take what you need and save the rest for later. It’s also nice simply for someone who doesn’t want to do a lot of prep every night when they come home from work. Get all the flavor of the long preparation, but much quicker and with less hassle. Take the half hour you saved and spend it with the newspaper, your pet, or your mate.
It doesn’t always have to be sauce (or the ubiquitous fresh herbs) that you put in your ice cube trays. I recently froze a carafe of coffee that didn’t get finished at one of my previous dinner parties. I don’t drink coffee, I’d merely had it on hand for the guests, but I couldn’t bear to throw it all out. I froze it, same as above, and plan to put it in the blender with a little milk and sugar syrup to make iced coffee drinks for a future summer event. The point is to be mindful – can you do something now that would make your life better later? Can you save something that would otherwise be wasted?
I love to think about and do things like this; it economizes your time, improves the quality of your daily meals, stretches your money, and minimizes waste. Plus you get to feel clever!
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