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TIP OF THE DAY: Ice Cubes For Valentine’s Day…And More Uses For The Ice Cube Tray

Valentine Ice Cubes

Valentine Ice Cubes

Heart Ice Cubes

Flower Ice Cubes

Pesto Ice Cubes

Frozen Lemon Juice

[1] and [2] Red and pink layered ice cubes (photo courtesy Ocean Spray). [3] Add some pomegranate ice cubes (here’s how from Kelly Elko).[4] Flower ice cubes: small flowers make a big impression (here’s how from Martha Stewart). [5] More ways to use an ice cube tray: save pesto (photo courtesy P&G Every Day) or [6] lemon juice (photo courtesy Food Network).

 

These days, many people enjoy refrigerator-freezers with built-in ice makers.

But here’s a reason to hold on to those old-fashioned ice cube trays. In addition to party ice cubes, you can also use them to make granita—and much more, as you’ll see on the list below.

Because we’re days away from Valentine celebrations, how about some special ice? You can’t get these from a mechanical ice-cube maker!

RECIPE: LAYERED VALENTINE ICE CUBES

Ingredients Per Ice Cube Tray

  • 1 ice cube tray
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed (substitute frozen blueberries)
  • 1/3 cup Ocean Spray Blueberry Juice Cocktail
  • 1/2 cup Ocean Spray White Cranberry Juice Drink
  • 1/2 cup Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE 4 blueberries in each of 16 ice cube cups. Add about 1 teaspoon blueberry flavored juice. Freeze at least 1 hour or until solid.

    2. ADD 1/2 tablespoon white cranberry drink to each cup, atop the frozen blueberry layer. Freeze 1 hour of until solid.

    3. TOP with 1/2 tablespoon cranberry beverage. Freeze at least 1 hour or until solid.
     
    OTHER VALENTINE ICE CUBES

    Don’t have time or desire to layer ice cubes? These are much easier:

  • Aril ice cubes (photo #3): just water, pomegranate arils and a heart-shaped ice cube tray.
  • Berry ice cubes (photo #4): make them with water or pomegranate juice, in regular or heart-shaped trays.
  • Flower ice cubes (photo #5): Add small flowers to water. If you’re using them in drinks, be sure the flowers are organic (otherwise they have pesticides).
  • Plain red or pink hearts: Add red fruit juice or pink lemonade to heart or conventional ice cube trays.
  •  
    MORE USES FOR ICE CUBE TRAYS

    Certain foods are easier to pop out if you have silicone ice cube trays; others work better with a lever pull in an old-fashioned metal tray.

    Once whatever you’re making is frozen, you can transfer the cubes to a freezer bag for storage. Here are some ideas to try.

    Drinks

  • Chill beverages without diluting them. Make ice cubes with leftover coffee, tea, coconut milk, juice, etc. (freeze tomato juice for Bloody Mary’s).
  • Similarly, smoothies! Freeze fruits and vegetables to pop into the blender.
  • Make pretty ice cubes. Add berries, fruits, citrus peel, etc.
  • Deconstruct cocktails. For example, for a Piña Colada, try adding frozen pineapple juice and coconut cream cubes to a glass of rum.
  • Jell-O shots!
  •  
    Desserts & Snacks

  • Make dessert bites. An ice cube tray is great for making miniature desserts, from fancy (chocolate-covered cherries) to casual (mini Rice Krispies Treats).
  • On-a-stick. From frozen cheesecake to juice pops and yogurt pops, you can make something different on a stick every week.
  • Make your own Chunkys & PB cups: Melt your chocolate of choice, blend in nuts, seeds, raisins or other dried fruits; and set in the fridge. For peanut butter cups, layer melted chocolate and peanut butter and refrigerate until set.
  • Make chocolate squares. Fill the compartments partially, so you end up with bite-size chocolate tiles. Add whatever you like to flavor: spices, coconut, etc.
  •  
    Cooking

    For the first two: Once your cubes are frozen, pop them from the tray into a resealable freezer bag. For precise measures, determine in advance what the tray compartments hold.

  • Freeze extras and leftovers: From lemon juice and stock/broth to wine and bacon fat, you’ll have the perfect size to pop [frozen] into soups, stews and sauces.
  • Freeze herbs. Hard herbs like oregano, sage, thyme and rosemary defrost better than soft herbs like dill and basil. Pack the ice cube trays with 3/4 herbs and 1/4 olive oil. Toss a cube directly into the pan to season eggs, sauces, etc.
  • Freeze garlic and ginger. First, purée them before adding them to the compartments. This also works with pesto (as is—no additional work required).
  • Freeze buttermilk. Buttermilk is pricey, and a recipe often requires just a quarter or half a cup. Freeze the leftover buttermilk; you’ll need it again soon.
  • Make sushi. It’s hard for amateurs to hand-form nigiri rice beds. Fill the compartments with seasoned rice, pop them out and lay the fish or other toppings onto them.
  •  
    More Uses

    There are household uses, from homemade detergent cubes to starting seedlings. Just look online!

     

    HISTORY OF THE ICE CUBE TRAY

    Before the advent of the ice cube tray, ice for drinks and similar purposes was chipped from large blocks with an ice pick.

    An American physician, John Gorrie, built a refrigerator in 1844 to make ice to cool the air for his yellow fever patients. The refrigerator produced ice, which he hung from the ceiling in basins to cool the hot air.

    Some historians believed that Dr. Gorrie also invented the first ice cube tray in its current form. He is known to have given his patients iced drinks to cool them down.

  • The Domestic Electric Refrigerator, produced in 1914 by Fred Wolf, contained a simple ice cube tray.
  • By the 1920s and 1930s ice cube trays were commonplace in refrigerators.
  • The first flexible ice tray was launched in 1933, invented by Guy Tinkham. Silicone was still decades ahead; Tinkham’s tray stainless steel, with points that would eject the ice cubes.
  • The first rubber ice cube tray was launched by Lloyd Groff Copeman, also in 1933. Five years earlier, he had noticed that slush and ice flaked off his rubber boots, and set about designing different types of rubber trays.
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    Ice Cube Trivia

    You may have noted that commercially-made ice cubes are completely clear, while homemade cubes from the fridge are cloudy in the center.

     

    Metal Ice Cube Tray

    Popping Out Ice Cubes

    [6] The old-fashioned metal ice cube tray with a removable divider (photo courtesy West Elm). [7] Silicone trays make it easy to pop out the cubes.

     
    Cloudy ice cubes result when the water is high in dissolved solids. Commercial ice-makers use purified water, with cooling elements on the bottom. The cooling process allows any bubbles to be washed away from the top as the cubes grow larger.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Black Currant Juice & Ways To Use It

    Black currants have twice the antioxidants of blueberries, hitherto the uber-antioxidant fruit. They have four times the vitamin C of oranges and significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium and riboflavin.

    Should you be drinking currant juice? Of course, especially when it tastes so good, whether straight, in spritzers or as a mixer. You can also add a splash to herbal tea.

    The flavor is a bit grape-like, but currant juice is distinctive, bold, pleasantly tart and sophisticated. It’s the kind of juice wine drinkers would choose if they couldn’t drink wine anymore

    Why aren’t we all drinking currant juice? Growing black currants was banned for 100 years in the U.S. (more about that below); but now there is juice aplenty.

    NUTRITION CURRENCY FROM CURRANT C

    Currant C and Knudsen’s both sell black currant juice.

    Currant C’s all-natural product, sold in 16-ounce bottles, is not pasteurized and needs to be refrigerated. The juice is made from concentrate with filtered water, and a bit of pure cane sugar is added to offset the tartness. Each 16-ounce bottle of Currant C contains two servings, at 130 calories each.

    If you prefer a noncaloric sweetener or otherwise don’t want added sweetness, you can buy the concentrate. Knudsen’s 32-ounce bottle is unsweetened and shelf-stable.

    Currant C, a pioneer grower in New York State, sells individual bottles of black currant juice and the concentrate to make your own; plus dried currants, currant vinegar and currant seed oil, gift packages and more. Check out the full line of currant products.

    If you have a black currant bush at hand, it’s easy to make your own juice concentrate.

     
    WHAT ARE CURRANTS?

    Currants are berries that grow on a vine, The genus Ribes includes the edible currants (black currant, red currant, white currant), the gooseberry, and several hybrid varieties.

    The genus comprises some 150 known species of flowering plants that are native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The black currant genus and species is Ribes nigrum.

    Currants Versus Zante Currants/Raisins

    Since currants only began to be grown recently in the U.S., what are those things we’ve been calling currants?

    They are the so-called Zante Currants, which are actually raisins (dried grapes) that are not related to real currants.

    They diverge at the botanical order: they’re not even cousins.

  • Currants: order Saxifragaceae, family Grossulariaceae, Genus Ribes.
  • Grapes: order Vitales, family Vitaceae, Genus Vitis.
  • Grapes grow on vines and are sweet. Currants grow on bushes and are quite tart.
  • More importantly, raisins have little or none of the black currant antioxidants studied in the research.
  •  
    Zante currants are the dried form of an ancient Greek grape variety properly called the Black Corinth, Vitis vinifera, the smallest of the seedless grapes.

    They come from the third largest Ionian Island called Zakýnthos, which is often called Zante. The variety is named for Corinth, the Greek city where they were grown more than 2,000 years ago.

    The Cause Of The Confusion

    After the commercial cultivation of currants was outlawed in 1911, currants dropped off the culinary radar screen. In the 1920s, Greece began to export small dried seedless grapes, one-fourth the size of the average raisin, from the area of Corinth.

    On the arrival of the first shipment to the U.S., the Greek writing for the word “Corinth” was mistakenly translated at the pier into “currant.”

    Since the growing of real currants had been banned for quite a few years at that point, the name stuck. Generations of Americans have become accustomed to cooking and baking with “currants” (often labeled “Zante currants”) that are really tiny raisins.

    What About Red Currants?

    Red currants are true currants. They are more tart than black currants, so are less desirable for juice.

    But for baking and recipes where sugar is added, the two are interchangeable.

    Fresh red currants are popular garnishes, adding a touch of scarlet to everything from cocktails to desserts.

       

    Fresh Black Currants

    Red Currants

    Currant C Black Currant Juice

    Blackcurrant Jelly Recipe

    Zante Currants

    [1] Fresh-picked black currants (photo courtesy Currant C). [2] Red currants are more tart than black, so less desirable for juice. (photo courtesy Rose Vita | Morguefile). [3] Currant C, delicious black currant juice, needs no added sweetener. It can be bought as bulk concentrate, much more affordable per serving (photo courtesy Currant C). [4] Homemade blackcurrant jelly made from hand-picked wild currants (here’s the recipe from Made by Jayne). [5] Zante currants are not currants (photo courtesy Sun-Maid).

     

    Blackcurrant Jelly Recipe

    Blackcurrant Sorbet

    Blackcurrant Pavlova

    [6] Duck with blackcurrant sauce (here’s the recipe) from Table Of Zekki. [7] Blackcurrant sorbet (photo courtesy Salcombe Dairy). [8] Blackcurrant Pavlova (photo courtesy Kwestia Smaku; the recipe is in Polish).

     

    Forbidden In The U.S. For 100+ Years

    Black currants are extremely popular in Europe and, prior to 1911, were big in the U.S.

    In 1911, the commercial cultivation of currants in the U.S. was outlawed by an act of Congress—for its alleged part in spreading the disease, white pine blister rust, which threatened the U.S. timber industry.

    The ban was based on incomplete scientific knowledge of the disease. At the behest of New York State farmers in this century, scientists from Cornell University revisited the white pine disease issue and concluded that currants didn’t pose the threat to white pines that was once believed.

    Finally, it was shown that white pine blister rust did not jump from white pine to white pine, but from white pine to black currant bush to white pine.

    Until April 2003, black currants were “forbidden fruit” in the U.S. Then, following the Cornell studies, New York State* overturned the black currant farming ban, opening the door for New York Currants™—for eating, juice, jam, yogurt, tea and other applications.

    It’s also a boon for family farms, which now have an in-demand, non-commodity crop to revive sagging revenue. *The ban still stands today in several states.
     
     
    MORE WAYS TO USE CURRANT JUICE

  • Alcohol: Infuse into vodka, make liqueur.
  • Cocktails and cocktails.
  • Currant jam and jelly, available commercially and easy to make at home).
  • Desserts: compotes, crumbles, pies, puddings, saucess, sorbet and a general substitute for blueberries.
  • Dessert sauces.
  • Meat sauces for duck, game, goose, pâté, pork and sausages (red currants are a key ingredient in Cumberland Sauce but you can substitute black currants). For beef, check out this black currant sauce recipe. Coffee lovers: take a look at this coffee and black currant sauce Pork chop with black currant-coffee sauce (here’s the recipe from Splendid Table).
  • Raisin substitute. Substitute dried black currants for raisins or sultanas in any recipe.
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    EDITOR’S NOTE: BLACK CURRANT VS. BLACKCURRANT

    You will find black currant and red currant spelled as blackcurrant and redcurrant. But white currant is always spelled white currant.

    In the interest of consistency, we use the two words.

     

      

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    RECIPE: Sweet Green Juice For National Green Juice Day

    National Green Juice Day

    A sweet and green juice blend from Juicing Connection.

     

    January 26th is National Green Juice Day.

    Not everyone is a fan of blending kale and spinach, so here’s a green juice that takes a different direction: sweet and minty.

    Ingredients Per 8-Ounce Serving

  • 1 10-ounce cucumber
  • 2 cups chopped mint, loosely packed
  • 1/2 lime, freshly juiced
  • 1 apple
  • Optional garnish: cucumber spear
  • Optional: a splash of tequila, rum or vodka
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the ingredients in a blender and blend to the desired consistency.
     
     
    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CUCUMBERS.

     
    The Juicing Connection, which provided this recipe, wants you to know that this recipe has lots of:

  • Vitamin C, required for: Immunity, heart and cardiovascular health, development of sex hormones, stress management, health and repair of skin and effective wound healing.
  • Vitamin K, required for bone building and repair, teeth, blood circulation (fewer bruises), muscle cramps, varicose veins and blood clotting (it can also prevent heavy menstrual bleeding).
  •  
    One portion contains 38% DV of vitamin C and 66% DV of vitamin K, plus 31% DV of fiber.
     
      

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    FOOD FUN: Blooming Marshmallows For Your Hot Chocolate

    First there was blooming tea: a specially tied bundle of tea leaves and flower petals that opens into a flower when placed in hot water.

    Now, there’s the blooming marshmallow, from innovative pastry chef Dominique Ansel.

    Blossoming Hot Chocolate—more accurately, blossoming marshmallow—is a thin marshmallow, cut like a flower, and bunched up to resemble a closed flower bud. Some dabs of white chocolate keep the bud closed.

    When placed in a cup of hot chocolate, the chocolate melts and the bud expands into the flower.

    Check out the videos from Ansel, then the fan recipes (we like the poinsettia the best), in the videos below.

    Make plain versions (all white or tinted pink marshmallow) before you try more elaborate colorations.

    TIP: Ansel added a small chocolate truffle to the center of the flower. The flower itself is anchored in chocolate. We think that’s a lot of chocolate!

    Instead, we’d use a small pecan cookie ball (a pecan sandy), a ball of cookie dough, a piece of caramel hand-rolled into a ball, or a small hard candy ball (as in the photo at right).

     

    Blooming Marshmallows

    Drop the “bud” into hot chocolate and watch the “flower” open (photo courtesy Dominique Ansel).

     

    WATCH THE MARSHMALLOW “BLOOM”

    THE RECIPE

    PIPE BEAUTIFUL SNOWFLAKE MARSHMALLOWS

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Spiked Hot Chocolate

    Tomorrow, December 13th, is National Hot Chocolate Day, a drink that’s not just for kids.

    A few days ago we published an article on Christmas hot chocolate, to be enjoyed by all.

    But today’s recipes are for adults only. Turn your cup of hot chocolate into an adult drink with a touch of schnapps—or any spirit you prefer.

    And, if you like impromptu get-togethers, you can have an after-work hot chocolate cocktail party. You can even ask each participant to bring a favorite spirit.

    You can create pitchers of your favorite recipe(s) and microwave each cup (45-60 seconds at room temperature, test in advance) to order, before garnishing (we moved our microwave to the dining room buffet).
     
    WHAT TYPE OF LIQUOR GOES WITH HOT CHOCOLATE?

    Anything that goes with chocolate will work. That covers almost everything, except perhaps some very herbal liqueurs like Bénédictine. Start with whatever you have on hand:

  • Brandy or eau de vie
  • Gin, whiskey, etc.
  • Rum, regular or spiced
  • Vodka and tequila, regular or flavored (including hot chile)
  • Liqueur (anise, banana, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, coffee, hazelnut (or any nut), Irish cream, orange, peppermint, raspberry, vanilla, etc.)
  • Holiday-theme liqueur (e.g., cranberry, pumpkin)
  • Red wine (medium body, moderate tannins)
  •  
    In fact, you can gather your friends, ask everyone to bring a different flavor (whatever they have on hand) and party!
     
    HOW TO MAKE SPIKED HOT CHOCOLATE

    We’ve got recipes for your consideration below, but there really is no wrong.

    Here’s an easy template for an 8-ounce cup:

  • 5 ounces prepared hot chocolate
  • 2 ounces* spirits (e.g., 1.5 ounce vodka and .5 ounce liqueur)
  • Optional rim: crushed crystallized ginger, hot chocolate/cocoa drink mix (with sugar), sparkling sugar, spice mix (e.g. apple pie or pumpkin pie blend, sweet-and-spicy (e.g., sugar and cayenne, ground ancho or crushed chile flakes)
  • Garnish: foamed milk (i.e. cappuccino foam), holiday spices (cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise), matched to spirit (e.g., cinnamon stick with cinnamon liqueur), notched strawberry on rim, steamed milk (for a cappuccino-like topping), whipped cream or flavored whipped cream
  • Cookie side: for the holidays, serve a traditional Christmas cookie, gingerbread man or cutout, pfeffernusse, snickerdoodle or other favorite
  •  
    *You can add much more, if you want to turn the drink into a hot chocolate cocktail.

    Don’t see what you want below? There are countless spiked hot chocolate recipes online.
     
    RECIPE #1: BASIC, WITH FLAVORED VODKA/TEQUILA

    Ingredients Per Cup

  • 1.5 ounces flavored vanilla vodka
  • 5 ounces hot chocolate
  • Garnish: whipped cream and chocolate shavings or cinnamon, crushed star anise, nutmeg or other spice
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the spirits in a cup and add the hot chocolate. Stir, garnish and serve. How easy is that?
     
    RECIPE: CANDY CANE “MARTINI”

    Prepare as per Recipe #1, above.

    Ingredients

  • 1.5 ounces flavored vanilla vodka
  • 1 ounce crème de cacao
  • 1 ounce crème de menthe
  • 5 ounces hot chocolate
  • Garnish: whipped cream and crushed candy cane
  •    

    Spiked Hot Chocolate

    Hot Chocolate With Flavored Vodka

    White Hot Chocolate With Spiced Rum

    Grand Marnier Hot Chocolate

    [1] Irish cream liqueur and hot chocolate are a match made in heaven, here with a topping of steamed milk and cocoa mix (photo courtesy Polka Dot Bride). [2] Regular vodka is fine, but flavored vodka adds an extra layer of flavor (photo courtesy Smirnoff, which used its whipped cream-flavored vodka). [3] Don’t forget white chocolate, with spiced rum or RumChata, a rum-based cream liqueur (photo © Cheri Louglin Photography). [4] Grand Marnier hot chocolate (photo courtesy Sweatpants And Coffee).

     
    RECIPE: GRAND MARNIER/COINTREAU HOT CHOCOLATE or MARGARITA HOT CHOCOLATE

    Our second favorite, after Irish cream liqueur. Prepare as per Recipe #1, above.

    Ingredients Per Cup

  • 2 ounces Grand Marnier or Cointreau
  • 5 ounces hot chocolate
  • Garnish: whipped cream and grated orange zest or candied orange peel
  •  
    Variation: Margarita Hot Chocolate

  • 2 ounces Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 5 ounces hot chocolate
  •  

    Mexican Hot Chocolate With Tequila

    Chocolate Cocktail

    [5] Mexican hot chocolate with tequila, of course (photo courtesy Creative Culinary). [6] Try a matching rim. This one is a blend of cocoa drink powder and cayenne for Mexican hot chocolate (photo courtesy X Bar | Hyatt Regency | LA).

     

    RECIPE: CHOCOLATE GRASSHOPPER

    This one’s for you, Rajesh Koothrappali. Prepare as per Recipe #1.

    Ingredients

  • 2 ounces amaretto liqueur
  • 2 ounces crème de menthe
  • 5 ounces hot chocolate
  • Amaretto- or mint-infused whipped cream (recipe below)
  • Garnish: mint leaf
  •  
    LIQUEUR-FLAVORED WHIPPED CREAM.

    You can use any liqueur. To use an 80-proof spirit such as bourbon whipped cream, you can add 1-2 extra tablespoons of sugar for a sweeter whipped cream. (personally, we prefer it with less sugar).

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 ounces liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the ingredients and whip with beaters or use a whipped cream dispenser like iSi.

    Here are more flavored whipped cream recipes.
     

    FOOD 101:

    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOT COCOA & CHOCOLATE

    There is a difference between cocoa and hot chocolate. After you read it, you may prefer the latter (we do!).
     
    THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CORDIAL, FRUIT BRANDY, LIQUEUR, EAU DE VIE, LIQUEUR, SCHNAPPS

    While many people use these terms interchangeably, and they are all flavored spirits, there are differences in terms of sweetness and color—and in the case of fruit brandy, the base alcohol.

     

  • Liqueur (lih-CUR, the French pronunciation) is made by steeping fruits in alcohol after the fruit has been fermented; the result is then distilled. Liqueurs are typically sweeter and more syrupy than schnapps.
  • Schnapps (SHNOPS) is made by fermenting the fruit, herb or spice along with a base spirit, usually brandy; the product is then distilled. This process creates a stronger, often clear, distilled spirit similar to a lightly flavored vodka. “Schnapps” is German for “snap,” and in this context denotes both a clear brandy distilled from fermented fruits, plus a shot of that spirit. Classic schnapps have no added sugar, and are thus less sweet than liqueur. But note that some manufacturers add sugar to please the palates of American customers.
  • Eau de vie (OH-duh-VEE), French for “water of life,” this is unsweetened fruit brandy—i.e.,schnapps.
  • Cordial has a different meaning in the U.S. than in the U.K., where it is a non-alcoholic, sweet, syrupy drink. In the U.S, a cordial is a sweet, syrupy, alcoholic beverage: liqueur.
  •  
    In sum: If you want a less sweet, clear spirit, choose schnapps/eau de vie over liqueur. For something sweet and syrupy, go for a liqueur or cordial.
     
    Fruit Brandy Vs. Liqueur

  • Liqueur is sweeter, and typically made from a grain-based alcohol.
  • Fruit-flavored brandy is made from a grape-based alcohol. Be sure to buy one that is all natural, i.e., made with real fruit instead of flavored syrup. With a quality brand, the fruit is macerated in the alcohol, then filtered out prior to bottling.
  • There are a few Cognacs-based liqueurs such as Chambord (raspberry), Domaine De Canton (ginger) and Grand Marnier (orange). Cognac is a higher-quality brandy made according to the stringent standards of the Cognac commune of southwestern France.
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