Way Cool!


Have you ever thought about what happens to food when you freeze it? Have you ever wondered why some foods don’t look or feel the same once they’ve been defrosted? Have you ever asked if there was a way to make this work for you instead of against you?

This is one of my favorite food-science factoids.

Did you ever have to look at things like cork or onion under a microscope? Meat, vegetables, breads and cakes–everything is made up of thousands of little cells and each cell contains at least a little bit of water.

If you’ve ever put a bottle or can of soda in the freezer to chill and forgotten about it, you know first-hand how frozen liquids take up more space than in their non-solid state. Not only does it take up extra space, ice has sharp edges that poke through delicate cell walls that get in their way.

Which is why, when you defrost some frozen vegetables before cooking them, the formerly perky produce seems a bit deflated and mushy: the ice melted and the cells couldn’t hold in the moisture with their now-perforated walls.

Ways to work around this:

  • Cook frozen foods without defrosting them–the shock of heat will turn the ice to steam as the cell walls solidify during the cooking process
  • Pre-cook food before freezing to shore-up the cell walls (and eliminate some of the moisture, depending on the food) before the ice has a chance to do it’s thing

Way that this can be beneficial:

  • Freezing fruits for smoothies and sauces means part of your work is already done for you, the fruit will break down quicker and you’re recipe can be completed sooner
  • Dense baked goods (like pound cake) actually undergo an amazing transformation in the freezer as the ice action helps break down the heavier textures into a more delicate finished object
  • Release the oils in citrus zest for future use

A couple weeks ago I was making fruit salad and rather than throwing the orange peels away, I trimmed off the pith (the white spongy stuff with a bitter taste) from the zest (the colored rind packed with oils). Rather than chop or grate it then, I left it in large pieces, about 2 inches long by 1 inch wide, and stored it in a freezer bag in the freezer.

Last week I decided to make some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and added some of the reserved orange zest to the mix. Not only was it nice to have the zest on hand, the frozen zest was a breeze to chop and smelled absolutely divine. In the finished cookies you definitely tasted the orange flavor, even though only a tablespoon of zest when into 3 dozen cookies and that’s when it hit me:

When the water in the orange peel froze and then melted, the oils in the cells were given free reign to mix and mingle with the rest of the batter, spreading that flavor all around.

Even though freezing has always been a great way to store foods for long periods of time without spoiling, I’m liking the more immediate ways the freezer can be of help in the kitchen!

Nice Ice!


As the weather heats up, it’s only natural to be thinking about ways of keeping cool. Maybe that’s why ice seems to be a very popular topic (because there’s no such thing as coincidence!).

I loved shaped ice cubes. They’re fun. I started with a set of flexible square cube molds just for something a little different and then, on my first trip to IKEA, found some great cube trays in the shape of wine bottles (though I’ve never actually used them yet). But the folks at Fred Flare are taking ice cube novelty to new heights! Amuse your guests, or just yourself, with frozen smiles, a fossiliced pair, ice invaders, or–my personal favorite–the gin & titonic ice cube trays.

Novelty aside, ice can be very serious business. Both the current Food Network Magazine and Imbibe have ice on the brain. The former has this to say about choosing the ice for cocktails:

No ice for: precisely mixed cocktails, like martinis and Manhattans.
Crushed ice for: concentrated drinks that need some watering down, like mint juleps or swizzles.
Small cubes for: light, refreshing drinks, like gin and tonics and mojitos.
Large cubes for: strong, boozy drinks, like Negronis and straight-up liquor.

–Food Network Magazine, June/July 2009, p.139

And speaking of the mint julep, Imbibe has a great article about Chirst McMillian of Bar UnCommon in New Orleans, Louisiana, and their website features a Q&A with the same about the classic Mint Julep.

Imbibe: What about the actual practicalities of your idea of the perfect Mint Julep? For instance: crushed ice or cracked ice?
CM: I hand-crush my ice. I have a Lewis bag and a large mallet. While I have access to a crushed-ice machine at work, if I had to leave the bar every time I needed to go get crushed ice, it would be a disruption to service, and if I kept crushed ice in the well, it would slush up and become wet. And the coldness and dryness of the ice at the inception of the drink is really one of the key elements of its success. Like people say with everything else, “fresh is better.” From the moment you crush it and take it out of its cold environment, ice is going to start to dilute and melt down. I don’t know if you’d call it cracked or crushed. I’d call it crushed. I pound the shit out of it with that mallet.