HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Bittman's In/Out Pantry List for the New Year

Today's New York Times (January 7) has an article by Mark Bittman where he gives advice on what to toss/keep in your pantry. A lot of it seems obvious to me (no parmesan cheese in green tubes, use reggiano freshly grated instead) but might be good advice for people just learning to cook or trying to improve their cooking.

The article, which is called "Fresh Start for a New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen" is at this link:


Overall I think his ideas are good. I have two quibbles over his recommendations on canned beans and tomato paste. I know freshly cooked beans are preferable but I could never tossed canned beans from my pantry(except for emergencies as he says). And I'm puzzled by Bittman saying cooks feel "guilty" opening a can of tomato paste because they only need a tablespoon or two. Is he saying he tosses the rest of the can? I just freeze or use what's left.

What do fellow Chowhounders think of the list? What other ideas do you have for upgrading your pantry supplies?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I agree with most of the list. I have never bought bottled salad dressing in my life, and I almost always use dried beans. My problem is the spices. I know they are better fresh but the idea of going through all my spices and tossing everything that's more than a few months old is daunting! I know I should, but I'm not organized enough to know how old they all are. Plus it would be very expensive to replace them all constantly.

    75 Replies
    1. re: NYCkaren

      Spices are tricky things. In fact I disagree with Bittman here, I wouldn't go through my cabinet and throw out spices unless I look at it and say "wow I forgot about that it's 4 or 5 years old." Spices that are more than a year old aren't bad by ANY stretch of the imagination and they can very easily be brought back from the dead by toasting. If I look in there and see some peppercorns that I haven't ground yet do you think I'm going to throw them away because they are 13 months old? Hell no. Even things like cumin and paprika are wholeheartedly acceptable - in fact even the "freshest" spices in the bottle can benefit from a little dry pan toasting before use, and that's exactly what I would recommend. Instead of tossing 7 or 8 bottles of spice at an average of $3 each, try to use them more right now so you can get rid of them and buy fresh stuff.

      Don't use canned beans? Look Bittman, you're a great writer, I adoringly read your articles week after week... I have some of your cookbooks, but even your TV show companion of recent, Mario Batali, says canned beans are one of the best canned products available. Canned beans aren't economical? Cook a pound of beans a week so "you’ll always have them around"? That sounds like a huge waste of money and space to me Bittman. Get your NYT head out of your ass and give us some real advice.

      1. re: HaagenDazs

        If he was from Oklahoma or Texas then he'd know that Ranch Style Beans in a can are some mighty fine eatin'.

        1. re: HaagenDazs

          I disagree. Late last year I started buying bulk dried beans instead of cooked, and he's right. They are cheaper. They taste MUCH better than canned. There's more variety. They take up less space.

          I store mine in big glass jars with rubber gaskets and wire bales on the counter, freeing up cupboard space for cans, and keeping the beans in sight and therefore in mind. That way I'm only storing (and paying for) the beans, not the liquid they're canned in, plus the can.

          And soaking takes only a minute to start - I just dump the beans in a sauce pan and fill with water, cover then let them sit on the stove all day or overnight. Next day, just simmer them for an hour and drain, then store in the fridge.

          With beans always on hand, they get tossed into things and often eaten by themselves - garbanzos with salt, pepper and olive oil are great. Puree them and add tahini, etc, for a quick hummus. Puree them and add to brothy soups for thickener. Black beans can be quickly added to quinoa with tomatoes and olives for a salad, or thrown into soup, or added to chilequiles, or tacos, or what have you. The beans always end up gone by week's end, and this is a painless, cheap way to add fiber to my diet.

          In fact, I'm chuffed that so many things I already do are on this list - the dried mushrooms, dried fruit, nuts (I keep walnuts, pecans, pignoles, almonds and sometimes hazelnuts in the freezer). I also freeze homemade breadcrumbs, plus chicken, turkey and beef stock. I threw out the bullion cubes and almost never use store-bought stock - it's worse than plain water. I'm phasing out the bottled lemon juice, too. Now there's a bowl of lemons on my table instead.

          I agree that it's hard to throw out expensive spices, but I know I should. Some of that stuff has been with me for over five years.

          1. re: avgolemona

            I just wanted to add to all your excellent comment that, IMO, the *texture* of cooked dried beans is SO much better than that of canned.

            1. re: avgolemona

              I'm not disagreeing that there are some good things about dried beans including variety and quality, I'm only saying that canned beans are a great alternative and to suggest that you get rid of canned beans altogether and cook a bunch of dried beans once per week simply so you have them on hand and might use them? ...It's ridiculous.

              How long can people keep this up? Let's say you soak and cook a pound of beans a week for a year. We'll estimate the cost of a 1 pound bag at $1.20 versus a can of beans that run about $0.90. Obviously that's 52 pounds of dried beans. OK I'll be nice, let's say you skip 2 weeks of beans - I'll knock it down to 50 pounds. Beans are good for you, but in America I would be willing to bet lots of money that if a regular household soaked and cooked 1 pound of beans per week they would not all get eaten every week. So there's wasted time, effort, money, water, and storage space. Now bring in a can of beans. I'll maybe go through a can of beans once every month, depending on what's in season and what we're eating. And I do have space in my pantry for a whopping 3 or 4 cans of beans to be stored...

              So we come down to price. You can do the math but we're talking minuscule amounts of cash here. I'm not exactly rich but even I can afford to spend $0.89 on a can of beans that I use once a month. If he's so concerned with price maybe he should recommend reviving some of those $3.00+ dried spices in a dry pan instead of throwing them away after 12 months.

              Maybe his idea of pantry space is skewed because of life in a tiny NY City apartment but most of the nation doesn't live that way.

              Like I said above, I like to read Bittman but some of the ideas here are simply not practical.

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                It's true about tiny New York kitchens. I would never buy a can of beans unless I were planning to cook them right away. No room to store them. Whereas I can wedge a bag of beans in somewhere.

                No one is going to agree with every one of Bittman's recommendations. But it's cool that it was the most e-mailed NYT story. At least people are thinking about this stuff.

                1. re: NYCkaren

                  Wow NYCkaren, that's a great visual, and explanation. Never would have occurred to me (and I won't even get into what's in *my* pantry; definately stuff I have no precise plans for at the moment!)

                  1. re: NYCkaren

                    See, when I lived in Manhattan, I hoarded cans of chickpeas. When we moved, we had to serve massive amounts of hummus to get rid of all the chickpeas.

                    For me, canned beans are a convenience food, and they're nutritious and tasty as well. If I'm doing a special weekend dish, I might buy and soak the dried beans, but for my harried weekday cooking, canned are the way to go.

                  2. re: HaagenDazs

                    I'll let you know how this works....I read another thread recommending dry beans for price and flavor, so I bought a bag of kidney beans this week. I loathe Bittman and would have been ornery enough not to had I known he suggested them. Overnight I made pot roast with a large volume of sweet/sour brisket-like gravy. I trimmed off the roasted fat cap from the bottom round and added it to the water when I re-used the dutch oven (I left the caramelized bits of fond that remained), dumping in a half pound of soaked beans with some onion and other seasonings. They are cooking now - I haven't decided what to do with them. Not chili, since they will have their own flavor. Maybe some sort of refried dish - not a fan of Tex-Mex in general. The idea of red beans and rice has never appealed to me, but maybe it would if I doctored it up with some meat and other veg. I like beans but only use them for bean salad, baked beans, chili(mine is very mild, with ground beef, beans, and bell pepper), and soup. I certainly would never use a pound a week, but with dry you can soak and cook whatever amount you want, which IS an advantage over canned. When I make a 5-bean salad, I use half-cans of black and garbanzo beans and have to freeze the remainder. I certainly won't be cooking dry beans on a regular basis if I wind up having to devote precious freezer space to them.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      I know what you mean about not using a pound of cooked dry beans in a week. Last Sunday I made a pot 'o pinto beans thinking I'd use them as a side for dinner. Those dang beans are with me still.... I've used some of them every night in one reincarnation or another. Tonight I'm going to use some of them in a tomato/pasta sauce... tomorrow I'll throw the remainder out. And to think the original recipe called for Two lbs.! I halved the recipe and now have the other package in the pantry. It's staying there for a long time!

                    2. re: HaagenDazs

                      Could some here reply to
                      "I don't see how drying, soaking, cooking, and then freezing (for an indefinite length of time, he says) beans will give you a better end product than canned beans. Don't like 'em too much, so I don't use 'em, but I'm curious why one method of processing is called superior to the other."
                      (Question from a previous post, still curious.)

                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                        You're comparing apples and oranges - dried beans sufficient to cook one pound a week for a year vs. one can of beans for a month.

                        Dried beans sufficient to make say, a cup of cooked beans take up less space than the same amount of canned beans, period. Always.

                        You don't HAVE to cook a pound a week. You don't HAVE to buy 50 pounds at a time and store them. He's not talking about the "regular" household (whatever that is) but about people who are interested in cooking good food - and presumably, who like beans. It's pretty universally agreed that dried beans taste better and have better texture, and while I can't verify this because there are no canned beans in my house, I'm willing to bet there's more in the can than just beans and water - lke added sodium. Then there's the additional issue of shipping the can and throwing away or recycling the can, if you want to pick nits.

                        Furthermore, the cost difference is not minuscule, it's rather dramatic. You could get four cups of cooked beans from a package of dried beans for under 60 cents (that's 15 cents per cup), and you get only one cup for 90 cents to $1.50 for canned beans. Dried beans are always going to be cheaper, especially from the bulk bins, because you are not paying for water, processing, added ingredients and the can.

                        Obviously someone will have to pry your canned beans from your cold dead fingers, and that's fine. Please don't take it so personally. But don't discount the experiences of those who prefer doing the dried bean thing as ridiculous, either.

                        I'm interested in cooking and eating good and healthful food, and to me that means avoiding processed food whenever possible. You're interested in convenience. Isn't it great that we have a choice?

                        1. re: avgolemona

                          "But don't discount the experiences of those who prefer doing the dried bean thing as ridiculous, either.

                          I'm interested in cooking and eating good and healthful food, and to me that means avoiding processed food whenever possible. You're interested in convenience. Isn't it great that we have a choice?"

                          First - I didn't say I prefer canned over dried, I only said canned are a VERY good alternative.

                          Second - me and Mario Batali will be enjoying our processed yet convenient beans in our dunce corner.

                        2. re: HaagenDazs

                          While we're talking about cooking beans vs. opening a can, let us please not forget that these things don't cook themselves. Two hours of cooking = two hours of MY gas getting burned, or MY electricity being used, not to mention the several hours of MY time spent buying, picking over, soaking, seasoning and cooking. I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this, and have concluded that it's the mess of beans on the stove that's the extravagance, not the three or four dollars I'd pay for the same amount of canned beans. And for some applications (such as salads), canned ones are better.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            Will - I thought of that too. There is a cost to cooking the beans. My guess is, like most things, it is more energy efficient for the factory to cook many cans at once than it is for a homeowner to cook one pot at a time. I must say I was very impressed that avgolemona can cook her beans in one hour! Mine have always taken much longer than that.

                            1. re: lupaglupa

                              What can I say? Maybe my saucepan is magic. (edit) Actually I suspect it could be because I'm using locally grown beans. I did not know Colorado was a big bean producer until I started looking into growing my own, which I might do next summer.

                              Seriously though - maybe two minutes to put the beans in a pan and cover with water. Eight or 12 or 24 hours later, drain, add more water and put on to simmer - another two minutes. After one hour (or whatever it takes) drain and refrigerate - another two minutes. Six minutes total work. Yeah, that's extravagant. Shame on my profligate ways. You'd think I nothing else to do with my valuable time but cook beans. (eyeroll) Six minutes! Imagine wasting so much time!

                              As for energy usage, using your own gas or electricity to cook beans is still cheaper and more efficient and environmentally sound than paying for the energy expended to process and ship canned beans.

                              Look, if you don't want to give up canned beans, I don't care. There are good reasons not to, though I haven't seen very many.

                              It's all the spurious (ir)rationales people are throwing out that I object to.

                              1. re: avgolemona

                                I dont think we will ever agree on this but canned beans are a minimally processed product - they dont have additives other than salt and a cupboard convenience.
                                Ive burned up pots of legumes that I have forgotten while cooking more often than I can count. And many mass market dried beans (the cheap ones) as well as chickpeas and kidneys tend to take much longer than an hour to cook. Plus, pests get into them, frequently.
                                There's a case to be made for both.

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  "Ive burned up pots of legumes that I have forgotten while cooking more often than I can count."

                                  Timers. My stove has one, but you can also buy them.

                                  1. re: avgolemona

                                    right, I have plenty of timers in the kitchen but I have to fit my cooking into odd moments - going upstairs to bed or out for a walk and forgetting to turn off the chickpeas or black beans, say, I started is something that has happened.

                                  2. re: jen kalb

                                    check those labels for SUGAR or HFCS



                                2. re: lupaglupa

                                  ...and if they don't, you're gonna be sorry!

                                  I think freshly-dried beans, like some I've gotten at farmer's markets, do cook up much more quickly and evenly. But I got a huge bag of dried cannelini, NOT cheap, and they had to have been at least a year old when I bought them. The last batch I made had to be simmered in four-hour stretches over three days, and they were still only just tender enough in the middle to eat. I wound up throwing about two pounds of them out.

                                3. re: Will Owen

                                  This is for Will and Jen - I used to be a canned bean user, but have converted and that is because of Rick Bayless' crockpot method. Basically you put your beans in (after rinsing and sorting) pour boiling water over them and turn on. It shortens the length of cooking (the beans vary) and it's great for adding dried chipotles and cardamom pods to (the savory, not sweet version).

                                  Then it's easily popped into the fridge - then set back in the crockpot to heat again. I use them up in many ways...I did a blog entry on this recently, if you're interested check it out here:


                                  hope this helps for those that want the dried beans with a little more convenience and a lot less burning!


                                  1. re: lollya

                                    Hey, I'm going to try this, thank you! No overnight soaking prior to putting everything in the crock-pot?


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      no, dear friend in mpls...just make sure the water is boiling (we use the electric kettle for it) good luck!

                                      1. re: lollya

                                        Excellent, thank you. Hey, speaking of beans, did you ever figure out your chickpea recipe?


                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          haven't been back to it yet, i'm thinking the one poster had it right with the putting them in a ziplock. i think i'll use a mix of garam masala and curry on them.

                                    2. re: lollya

                                      A pressure cooker is faster and more efficient than a slow cooker. That said, I still will buy canned beans when cooking for the 2 of us. 1 lb. dried beans rehydrated and cooked lasts an eternity between 2 people and I do not have the freezer space to keep them.

                                      1. re: Candy

                                        True, but your pressure cooker has to be babysat, whereas a slow cooker can be almost completely ignored. AND you are still supposed to soak the beans overnight when you're using your pressure cooker.


                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          you can use the quick soak method when using a pressure cooker - it works just fine. the main issue with beans is freshness - if they are not fresh - as they often are, from the supermarket or after hanging around on my shelf for months or years - cooking, by whatever method takes a while.

                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                            I'm not sure I know about the quick soak method. What is that?

                                            I hate to be a hater when it comes to pressure cooking, but I honestly don't find them as fast & efficient as everyone says they are. I know the time under pressure is usually insignificant, but I the amount of time it takes to come up to pressure and come down from pressure to be very frustrating. I know you can use quick release, but nearly all of the recipes I encounter call for you to wait for the item to come down from pressure naturally.

                                            I know it's faster than using a conventional cooking method, not by the 2/3rds I always hear as the "rule of thumb", but, really only by about 1/3. As my husband says, "It's fast, but it ain't no microwave."


                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            Not all beans need to be pre-soaked for a pressure cooker. Some of the larger sized beans benefit in a small bit of time saving. For instance, pinto beans soaked cook in 7 minutes and unsoaked in 22 minutes. Split peas need no pre soak and cook in 7 minutes as do lentils. Not much baby sitting to do there.

                                            1. re: Candy

                                              True, true!

                                              It just seems most of the beans I want to cook need to be soaked the night before. Maybe I need to make a little cheat sheet of which ones don't need to be soaked and ear-mark those for pressure cooking. Sadly, though, I've recently decided I hate lentils. Too bad, as they are pretty darn low-maintenance.


                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                by quick soak, I mean bringing them to a boil, allowing them to boil a cpl minutes, skimming and then turn the heat off and leave them covered for maybe an hour. You can then drain off the soaking water , add fresh water to cover and cook normally,

                                                1. re: jen kalb

                                                  I did not know that. Great tip, thank you!


                                              2. re: Candy

                                                I thought you weren't supposed to cook split peas in a pressure cooker? Don't they make it explode? My grandmother had a split pea pressure cooker disaster years ago.

                                                1. re: AmyH

                                                  You can cook split peas in a pressure cooker but you need to not use a pressure release valve (it needs to cool naturally) and you need to clean all the parts carefully afterwards.

                                                  But it works great- in fact I made split pea soup in 30 minutes yesterday (10 minutes cook time and about 20 minutes to cool).

                                                  1. re: Chris VR

                                                    I usually manage split pea soup in my pressure cooker 15 mins. prep to table

                                              3. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                I remember a near explosion in my kitchen when I was just a babe, because my mother didn't know that the skins from previously-dried lima beans, cooking in her pressure cooker, had clogged the outlet and the dang thing nearly blew her to hell and high water!

                                                1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                                  The new pressure cookers are a different animal from what our mothers and grandmothers had. They have been reworked and designed and are practically fool proof, notice the modifier practically. Someone will always find a way to screw up. If you follow the directions faithfully there will be no problems.

                                                  I had to walk my niece in Atlanta through the first use of her new electronic pressure cooker on Tues. She wanted to make pot roast and there was no instruction for that. I had not used the electronic Fagor before but we got it done. She called me yesterday afternoon raving about the pot roast. Sje said it was a crappy cheap cut of beef and it was the best pot roast she had ever made and claimed to be a pressure cooker convert.

                                                  1. re: Candy

                                                    Actually, I recently bought an electronic Fagor 3-in-1 and the pressure cooker instructions specifically say not to cook split peas. There is a list of other things not to cook, too. I think barley and rhubarb are on there, but I can't remember what else.

                                                  2. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                                    I'm not really worried about pressure cooker safety. Thankfully, I feel at least that comfortable with my pressure cooker. I have a newer model and the instructions that came with it seem pretty clear to me.


                                                2. re: Candy

                                                  You don't HAVE to rehydrate and cook a whole pound at a time. I'm one person, so I soak and cook one cup of dried beans at a time. One cup dried = three cups cooked, takes up very little space in the refrigerator, and gets used in a week.

                                                  1. re: Candy

                                                    i've tried them both ways and prefer the texture of the crockpot (actually the only thing i use it for - shhh)

                                                    but i have pressure cooked, which i'm not vibing on a ton, things seem to get mooshy.

                                                  2. re: lollya


                                                    I tried the Bayless crockpot method for dried beans, and I'm hooked! It's so much easier than having to keep an eye on the stovetop for two hours. I have a question, though. My slow cooker has 'low' and 'high' settings. Which would you use? Is it only a matter of timing, or do you think it would affect the finished texture?

                                                    I put it on the high setting for my pintos. I transferred them to tupperware after an hour and a half of cooking, but I think they were done well before that. Some bacon, onions, cumin, Mexican oregano and garlic. Yum. Thank you lollya and Rick Bayless. Gonna hafta stock up on dried beans.

                                                    1. re: Agent Orange

                                                      hi agent o!
                                                      i'm so glad it worked out for you as well as it has for me. i tend to be a go with the flow kinda kid. since each crockpot cooks at a little different temp, i would say learn how yours works best for you...it'll take a few times and of course it does depend on the bean...for instance, the adzuki bean takes much longer - which surprised me than a black or pinto bean did.

                                                      after i put in the boiling water i cook on high, i haven't noticed a difference from cooking on high/low for the texture yet, but i think it depends what your timing is....

                                                      tonight i made black beans ion high in about 1.5 hours. i love that they hold their shape. :) i tend to throw in cardamom pods, dried chipotles and bay leaves for the initial seasonings...then use throughout the weeks...it's awesome to put it back on easily, add tomatoes, onions etc and make some great veggie chili... :)

                                                      1. re: lollya

                                                        Thanks for the reply lollya.

                                                        I tried the low setting this week before I went to a 2.5 hour long class. When I got home they were just right. The texture was pretty much the same as on the high setting, so I think I'll use whichever's more convenient in the future. Next up are black beans, chickpeas, and field peas.

                                                        Cardamom AND chipotles with black beans; who knew? I'll have to try that someday when I can afford cardamom pods.

                                                  3. re: Will Owen

                                                    Hee Will. You should be a lawyer. I always think, "How much would someone pay me to cook these beans" and at my billing rate, the can is a BARGAIN.

                                                  4. re: HaagenDazs

                                                    Well said HD, and impressive that you actually took the time and effort to do the math to make your point. The beans were one of the few things that leapt off the page at me as more than "a bit much."

                                                3. re: HaagenDazs

                                                  Well, I'm not going to throw out all my spices but, inspired by Bittman, I will toss a few of them this weekend and replace them. Some of them are a bit stale.

                                                  1. re: NYCkaren

                                                    I have some oldish ones too, but when I go to use them, I smell, then scrunch them between my fingers, and use more than called for if I think it is needed.

                                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                                      MMRuth--what does the scrunching do? Is there a texture you're looking for?


                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        I always do this too, with dried herbs like oregano and thyme. I remember reading in some cookbook many years ago that crushing the herb by rubbing it between your palms releases more flavor. Don't know if it's true but it's become an automatic habit.

                                                        1. re: BobB

                                                          Makes your hands smell nice, too! Hey, we take our pleasures where we can find them...

                                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                                            Will, we are starting to think too much alike (see my post just below).


                                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                                              ....nothing like a quick rub of fresh rosemary on the wrists before starting out a tough day!

                                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                            As far as I know, it breaks down the "walls" that separate cells inside the herb and helps release the aromatics. Sort of similar to what heat can do. Though I hope a chemist can correct me if that's an oversimplification/misconception.

                                                            1. re: razkolnikov

                                                              Less to do with breaking down cell walls, and more to do with, as you mention, releasing and starting to volatilize aromatics and flavorful oils.

                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                It also makes your hands smell really good!

                                                          3. re: MMRuth

                                                            I think dried oregano is immune to this rule. I have about 1/3rd of a large jar left that I bought in the late 1970s (and 7 moves ago) and it's STILL pungent. Used some just last week and still only needed a pinch to flavor the dish.

                                                      2. re: NYCkaren

                                                        I agree - I can't imagine tossing all my spices! Some are ancient though and should go. My DH has some horrid old Mrs Dash that he will not let me toss - they predate our marraige so they're at least 13 years old. I won't use them - he won't toss them (or use them since he rarely cooks). We call them the heirloom spices.

                                                        I buy most of my spices from our local food coop and only get what I need for the next 3-4 months. That keps them fresh.

                                                        1. re: NYCkaren

                                                          the list is fairly obvious. However I think that the people who use bottled commercial dressings and parmesan cheese in the green can are not going to be persuaded.

                                                          I use both dried and canned beans. You have to stay on top of dried beans - they do get infestations, as well as drying out so can be a waste if they are not used promptly. I think both products have their place as pantry staples - especially canned chickpeas, for hummus and indian and moroccan dishes.

                                                          Not all spices need to be "replaced" as frequently as he says - ground spices are not good if they hang around for many years , but some whole spices will last quite long. I agree that if they smell dusty their time has come. The prospect of rebuying all those little, expensive bottles is daunting - I tend to shop for spices at Indian stores - even though the quantities in their smallest size bag can be large, the freshness and price is very good so that stuff like ground coriander and cumin, say, can be replaced readily when it gets less fragrant.

                                                          Vanilla - I just disagree. If you are a baker, you need a good quality commercial extract. the whole beans are interesting and sometimes wonderful but a bit of a pain - I just used some in a poached pear dish and the seeds were too small to be strained out and created a dirty look.

                                                          the tube vs can of tomato paste is an old idea - I agree, freezing leftovers is the way to go and much cheaper than buying the tubes.

                                                          I like fresh basil as much as the next person, grow it, buy it etc. but its expensive and it doesnt keep well in the refrig. I just bought a jar of dried basil - think it and other dried herbs (not parsley tho) have a place in the pantry. These do get old and need replacing frequently, however.

                                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                                            Since I began ordering spices from the Spice House on line, this is far more practical than you might think. I buy the smallest amount of each spice, dump out the old jars, and refill with the fresh spices. Spices in the supermarket are ridiculously expensive. You are paying for the jar, really, so if you only replace the spices and not the jars, it is much, much cheaper. Obviously, I do not replace spices that are unground like nutmeg and cardamom, but leafy spices like oregano and tarragon, and sweet spices like cinnamon and ginger are so, so much better fresh. It made a huge difference in my baking this year.

                                                            1. re: roxlet

                                                              Don't you love the Spice House, roxlet? That's where I get most of mine, too. Things that I go through quickly (Telicherry peppercorns, for one thing) I buy in larger quantities, but for most things, I get the 1/2 oz. refill or one ounce at a time, at the most. And every month when I order, because I'm ordering this way, I make it a point to try out two or three things I haven't cooked with before. Keeps things interesting and educational. I *love* their curries and being able to have several types of Cinnamon, so I can use the one I think is best suited to the dish. Love the heat in SH's Vietnamese Cinnamon!

                                                              1. re: Steady Habits

                                                                Yes, I do love the Spice House, though I do wish they had on-line payment. It seems so last century somehow. I do so little with actual mail these days, that I have to make a special trip to go to the post office or find a post box. But their prices can't be beat, and everything is super fresh. The spices are ground to order, as I am sure you know, so everything smells so intense when you get that box in the mail. I think it's a great way to buy spices, and I would never buy them in the supermarket again unless I had a "spice emergency!"

                                                                1. re: roxlet

                                                                  i bought some stuff from them online in december - just used a cc on their website.

                                                                  1. re: mortini

                                                                    I think there are two similarly named places. One is The Spice House and the other is Spice House, if I am not mistaken...

                                                                    1. re: roxlet

                                                                      ah, 'spice house international' in NY vs 'the spice house' in IL.

                                                            2. re: jen kalb

                                                              "people who use bottled commercial dressings and parmesan cheese in the green can"

                                                              For some reason I don't quite understand myself (since I usually like to indulge in good cheeses), I have a strange preference for the "parmesan" in the green can for plain egg noodles. I pour a LOT of it onto wide egg noodles, top it with just a little butter and nothing else. I prefer the real deal, freshly grated from a block, for all other dishes, but for this one dish, I VOLUNTARILY reach for the green can over the real block of cheese. There, I said it ... now I go hang my head in shame ...

                                                              1. re: razkolnikov

                                                                It's probably a nostalgia thing. Maybe your Nana gave it to you when you were a baby. Just don't kill the landlady.

                                                                1. re: roxlet

                                                                  Nope, never had it growing up.

                                                                  The more pertinent question though: what's that landlady got to do with it? (clearly I'm missing a movie reference here...)

                                                                  1. re: razkolnikov

                                                                    Crime and Punishment -- book, not movie reference, a play on your name. Sorry, lame joke.

                                                                    1. re: roxlet

                                                                      Haha, no, not at all. It's just that I can't BELIEVE I didn't get it! I guess I always thought of her more as a pawnbroker than landlady, though I know she's both.

                                                              2. re: jen kalb

                                                                When you come in to a large amount of fresh basil, put it in the food processor with a bit of olive oil and then into ice cube trays, and once frozen, into ziploc freezer bags, for "fresh" basil in the winter.

                                                              3. re: NYCkaren

                                                                If you live in NYC, Karen, buy in small quantities at Kalyustan or Sahadi's. Kalyustan is more expensive, but has literally hundreds of spices in three or four different sizes.

                                                                Write the date on the label. I put the labels on the jar tops.

                                                                1. re: Fleur

                                                                  I do go to Kalustyan's whenever I can find an excuse to be in that neighborhood, and I love to shop for spices there. But it's not cheap.

                                                              4. Though the list has its merits (can't argue with his advice on imitation vanilla or pancake syrup), I agree some of these suggestions are pretty obvious unless someone is just learning to cook. I also didn't' completely follow his logic--imitation vanilla is out (OK), but then the alternative is to use vanilla beans. That's nice, but I don't see what's wrong with pure vanilla extract, which he seems to be against. Maybe he's just saying vanilla beans are that much better? I'm with you on the canned beans. I love them, but am the only one in the house who does. It would be highly impractical to cook beans then throw them out when canned beans work just fine. The tube of tomato paste is a nice idea when you just need to add a bit to a sauce--we have both the cans and the tube. I would just repackage any open can and reuse as you suggest (same as cracking open a can of chiles in adobo!). The tiniest Ziploc cup/containers are very handy in this case! Parmigiano-Reggiano is tasty, but so are Pecorino Romano (which we almost always have on hand) or Piave...P-R isn't the only cheese in town! ;) I also don't understand the issue with lemon juice or lime...we stock both. Though there are certain dishes that call for fresh juice, there are plenty of times a squirt of ReaLemon fits the bill. And I will never get rid of my canned/boxed stock. Some of us just don't have the time to make our own. I'm not denying how terrific homemade stock can be--just acknowledging the fact that many people don't have that kind of time (or room in the fridge) to make everything by hand, store it and use it before it expires! In fact, my go-to soup when I'm feeling crappy is to boil chicken broth (I like Emeril's or College Inn), with or without sauteed fresh garlic in oil and crushed red pepper, lemon or lime juice (from the bottle) and pastina. Also delicious with freshly squeezed fruit, of course, but certainly plenty yummy either way. Wishing you continued happy eating/cooking from your pantry--I'm right there with you. ;)

                                                                9 Replies
                                                                1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                  Several years ago Cooks Illustrated had an article rating vanillas and admitted their own shock at concluding that in baking, imitation extract is indistinguishable from standard supermarket and premium vanillas. So I tried it in oatmeal cookies and to me there was an obvious difference, not in a good way. I don't think my palate is exceptional, so it goes to show that personal tastes vary.

                                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                                    When it comes to gadgets, knives, pans, appliances...CI is an excellent source. Not so for their grocery item taste comparisions, which I disagree with on such a regular basis.

                                                                    1. re: Caralien

                                                                      I agree. In addition, there are different kinds of vanilla, and they can taste quite different. For example, I hate Tahitian vanilla.

                                                                    2. re: greygarious

                                                                      I think you're right; they really do. I do not like imitation vanilla. Because of that, and because I do often notice what is to me a superior flavor when I buy what my spice purveyors identify as the premier variety in a given spice, I decided I should upgrade from McCormick's (real, not imitation) vanilla. So, for about a year, I spent the extra money and bought things like Niesen Massey, etc., but I never liked it's flavor, either "straight up" or in the final product as much as I do McCormick. Go figure. I know many, or even most, foodies don't agree with me, but there it is...my true confession. Never the imitation, though.

                                                                      1. re: greygarious

                                                                        Cook's revisited the vanilla issue in their latest issue. They like real vanilla extract for custards/puddings. But they find imitation acceptable for everything else. They also have a Best buy imitation vanilla( Gold Medal Brand). Never heard or seen it.

                                                                        1. re: Calipoutine

                                                                          I've lately been buying Mexican bourbon vanilla extract at TJ's and have found it quite good. I don't know if Mexican is considered good or inferior or what, but it tastes very good to me. It's also cheapish.

                                                                          1. re: oakjoan

                                                                            My girlfriend brought me some of that. I like it quite a bit.

                                                                      2. re: kattyeyes

                                                                        Actually, broth is one thing I find it hard to compromise on. The real, homemade version is SO much better than the canned/boed stuff that it's not funny. Half the reason I cook chicken is so I can make broth. Right now my freezer is full of homemade chicken, beef and duck stock.

                                                                        1. re: JonParker

                                                                          I agree that homemade stock is best, but have never gotten to the point of storing it in teeny amounts. Sometimes when I make soup I go overboard on the add-ins and find myself needing to add more liquid to my homemade stock - this is when the commercial stuff is a Godsend, and when its salt concentration is okay, because I don't salt my stock. if I want to boost flavor of a sauce or some other soup, I use Better Than Bouillon or the Trader Joe's liquid base in the condiment-packet packaging. Both are pretty good, especially the TJ's, and it's usually exactly the right amount. Comparing labels, the TJ's is the more natural of the two.

                                                                      3. Sometimes that man just makes me laugh..... Having said that, I read his blog and have made a few of his recipes; some were successful, some weren't.

                                                                        Any home cook who takes cooking seriously will have most of the pantry items he lists. I take issue with his assessment that dry parsley and dry basil are useless. While I always have fresh parsley (and cilantro) in the fridge, each September I dry whatever's left of the basil in my garden and use it till it's gone. If the dry leaves are crumbled just as you are adding them to your recipe the fragrance is released and the herb does it's job.

                                                                        The next thing is his dismissal of a can of tomato paste....If I only need a tablespoon of paste for a recipe I use Heinz ketchup. If Martin Yan can, so can I.

                                                                        I agree with you that canned beans do have their place in the pantry. Right now I have 2 cans of black beans, 1 of chickpeas and 1 of red kidney. Plus a package of dry pinto beans...my new fave.

                                                                        For some reason I've hung on to a box of Bisquick mix. For the life of me I cannot remember why it's there. The date has expired...it's going out with the rubbish tomorrow.

                                                                        15 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Gio

                                                                          When i buy parsley i get 2 or 3 bunches. I dice it up fine and drop it into a ziplock freezer bag. When i need a pinch or two i open the freezer, toss it in my pasta or whatever and keep moving. It works great, IMHO.

                                                                          1. re: baldwinwood

                                                                            I do the same thing with parsley and cilantro. It stays fine in a ziplock snack size bag in the feezer.

                                                                            The part of the article that talked about vanilla seemed bizarre to me. It;s not like there are two options for vanilla- actual beans and the fake stuff. What's wrong with pure vanilla extract? I usually buy it from Costco- it's really cheap and it's pretty good.

                                                                            And canned beans are a lifesaver. Pop open a can and that's all you need to do, no soaking, no boiling, no waiting. Sure dried beans might be cheaper, but I work and go to school so no time to cook them. In my local ShopRite, canned beans and chick peas go on sale really cheap once or twice a year. I buy a few cases and leave them in the pantry.

                                                                            1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                              Oh this is such a great tip. I got tons of parsley and cilantro in my CSA box and could never use it fast enough. I wish I'd read this tip 6 months ago. Well, there's always next year!


                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                If you really get tons and are lazy, you can chop it in the food processor. Not the purist way, but it works when you've got tons and tons of hebrs.

                                                                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                  Good to know. Sometimes, it's better not to be a purist if the alternative is letting it go to waste. :)

                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                    Yup- and it's also good for when cilantro isn't really necessary for the dish. My husband loves cilantro, but I don't, so I usually stir some of my frozen stash into his chili.

                                                                            2. re: baldwinwood

                                                                              Amazingly good info baldwinwood. I'd never have thought of freezing parsley or cilantro. thank you.

                                                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                My mother (now late 80s) froze parsley for years, to put on her version of pizza. Its better than dried but a pale shade of the fine flavor of fresh, or even better fresh picked. Im working on getting a permanent plot of this established (parsley is a biennial herb) Parsley is one herb that I want to keep around fresh all year round.

                                                                                I buy costco roast chickens frequently, and the carcasses are a quick and easy source of good broth for the freezer.

                                                                                1. re: jen kalb

                                                                                  Agree! Parsley is on our weekly shopping list, even though we often toss leftovers on Saturday. We cut off the stems and stick them in a glass of water in the fridge, and they stay fresh all week. If I put parsley in my freezer it would die a slow and ignominious death. Prefer a quick death -- into the trash Saturday afternoon.

                                                                                  1. re: roxlet

                                                                                    And for those who cook with fresh parsley AND have guinea pigs, the cavies LOVE parsely stems, and it has lots of the needed Vitamin C!

                                                                                    1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                                      Shrinkrap, I finally got around to this thread and yours made me laugh! I too have a herd of cavies and just fed them a banquet of parsley, cilantro and dill(pickle-scented cavies) stems. I will use stems otherwise....but the pigs are soooo appreciative!

                                                                                      I find having cavies makes me very aware of the fresh foods I am buying and how the left-behind trimmings can be repurposed. Symbiosis.


                                                                              2. re: baldwinwood

                                                                                What a great idea! I'm going to do that tomorrow. I've always wondered... do you strip the leaves or include the stems too? thanks.

                                                                                1. re: knitterbetty

                                                                                  I strip the leaves and separate the stems for stocks. The stems are in a ziplock bag w/ carrott, zucchini and parsnip peels.
                                                                                  If you look in my garage freeze, you'll find; ziplock bags of shrimp shells. Two bags of lobster shells and the left over bones from NYEs dinner(standing rib roast). Also chicken fat from roasted chicken(the best in chicken liver). Looks like this weekend might produce some stock.
                                                                                  On a side note; we also keep ice pops for kids in there, you should see some of the looks on their parents faces when they grab one....."Who the hell freezes lobster shells!?!??" Its pretty funny!

                                                                                  Happy i could offer a little help.

                                                                                2. re: baldwinwood

                                                                                  I agree with the frozen pasely, though one bunch at a time is plenty for me. As my mother does I chop the parsley up and keep it in a small plastic deli container in the freezer. So easy to remove and use.

                                                                              3. I I truly love cooking- I do. But (regrettably) I also have a job and don't have time or money to cook everything from scratch. I agree with the notes on cheese and oil. I also agree that fresh herbs are far superior to dried herbs but fronting the cost of buying fresh herbs, or for that matter throwing out and replacing the dried herbs annually, is impossible for anyone on a budget. I have tried making my own vanilla extract and it was easy and cost effective so perhaps I can half agree on that point. Just a few thoughts.

                                                                                1. I've long done most everything suggested. Although I mainly use dried beans, also having canned on hand is a good thing. As to tomato paste, we don't get any here in cans or tubes - jars only and the stuff stays good in the jar in the ref for as long as necessary. Getting rid of my Latin American lime squeezer and using my hands would be asinine. I use a lot of limes in Latin and Asian cooking.

                                                                                  1. I really liked his list, though I need canned beans because sometimes I decide to make bean dishes at the last minute and don't have time to soak. But then the canned beans I get here are really good.

                                                                                    I'm also guilty of using powdered/cubed stock. Not ready to give that up yet.

                                                                                    Meanwhile, did you check out the Asian chicken noodle soup recipes in the same issue? They look great. I'm making those soon!

                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Kagey

                                                                                      "But then the canned beans I get here are really good. "

                                                                                      You say it like you live in a place that has exclusive access to "special" canned beans! ;-) Canned beans from anywhere are really good. They're just about impossible to screw up unless you just get a bad batch that is full of broken beans. There are slightly different ingredients (amount of salt for instance) in different cans from different brands, but they are all just about the same and they are of good quality. That's why Bittman saying that canned beans aren't any good is just absolute nonsense.

                                                                                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                                                        HaagenDazs: I disagree completely with you statement about the "good quality" of canned beans. I've been burned several times by some cannelini beans in a glass jar that have the texture of watery mush (and they're expensive). They are okay if you puree them and use as a spread, but they certainly are NOT all of "good quality". There are also kidney beans I've had that seem as if they've been undercooked and are still not soft. There are also lots of canned beans that are broken or that have some mush in them.

                                                                                        I buy most of my beans from Rancho Gordo here in California. That way I'm sure they are very fresh and haven't been sitting in a bin for 2 years.

                                                                                        The difference is spectacular.

                                                                                        1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                                                          I may be ultra sensitive, but I've had some lousy canned beans. Since I moved to England, though, I've found that most of the supermarket brands (Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Tesco) I've tried have been really good--that is, the beans don't taste like tin or have loads of salt in them. And they have good texture--not too firm or mushy.

                                                                                          1. re: Kagey

                                                                                            Interesting - obviously they are processed differently in different parts of the world.

                                                                                      2. Overall an interesting list, but with a clear northern/northeastern bias. Frozen shrimp? Hell no, not when I can get 'em at the farmer's market, year-round, fresh from the farmer.

                                                                                        I agree about the canned beans, though: it is too cheap and easy to cook dried & then freeze for your spur-of-the-moment needs. What I'm not ready to give up is the spray oil: I use it all the time in baking--oiling bowls or rising containers, spritzing the top of a loaf so plastic wrap won't stick to it, etc. The pump-spray olive oil bottles don't spray finely enough for me.

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                                                          Cooking then freezing might be worth a try, but my freezer is literally the size of a shoebox! That's another reason I don't do a lot of homemade stock. I do some, but it's hard to store!

                                                                                          1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                                                            I use spray oil almost exclusively on my waffle maker, but a brush and regular oil just don't do the same trick.

                                                                                            What I love is the spray bakers stuff. I'm sure it's processed up the wazoo but it makes cake baking a snap and releases like a dream.

                                                                                            1. re: Amuse Bouches

                                                                                              I so agree about the baking spray! Haven't had a can of Pam or the like in my kitchen in a decade or more, but I wouldn't do without the baking spray. Don't care how processed it is, it works so well.

                                                                                          2. I've made most of the changes over the years already, but won't give up my Tahitian Bourbon Vanilla (which he omits as existing for some odd reason) or somewhat older spices.

                                                                                            It seems like his "out" list mimics the list of the post "What did your Mom always have on hand, that you NEVER do?"

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: Caralien

                                                                                              Hmmm - maybe Mark's trolling Chowhound for ideas ;)

                                                                                            2. What? No panko on hand? that is a packaged crumb that I want ready and available. Canned beans...don't think you'll find me without some Keuner's black beans with cumin and spices on hand. I've got too many uses for them. I don't have them often but I love B&M Baked Beans, ditto canned cannelini. I don't have freezer space for storing beans I've reconstituted and cooked. Stock, I love the ease and variety of Kitchen Basics Stocks. They are pure, no gums or other additives, just stock. Cheap balsamic. i had to make a balsamic reduction recently for a sauce. It called for 2 cups reduced to 1/4 C. I'm not going to do that to a $60+ bottle of balsamic. Some of those ideas are just silly.

                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Candy

                                                                                                Clearly some of the ideas are based on the assumption that everyone has unlimited amounts of cash. I wish I were rich enough to buy good-quality balsamic vinegar. That's not going to happen.

                                                                                                1. re: NYCkaren

                                                                                                  You don't need to be rich for that - just reduce some of the cheaper stuff and you're good to go. Bittman was out of line writing some of these suggestions.

                                                                                                2. re: Candy

                                                                                                  Candy: Brava for mentioning panko! I just ran out last week and bought some today. What a difference on fried fish! They're also good as a coating on fritters of various types. A GREAT product....THANK YOU JAPAN!!

                                                                                                  1. re: Candy

                                                                                                    Candy, as usual we are in agreement on lots of stuff here. Not only is panko irreplaceable, if you live as I do in a place swarming with Asian markets you can get big bags of it for really cheap. I do in fact save bread heels and trimmings, but that's mostly for stuffings. Yes on the beans (as recorded elsewhere on this thread), boxes of shelf-stable broths and stock, adequate-but-cheap balsamic. I would also add tubes of good anchovy paste - opening a whole can for one lousy anchovy invites waste, and you either have to fiddle with those tiny bones or just accept them.

                                                                                                    1. re: Candy

                                                                                                      you reminded me., Candy -
                                                                                                      Dried bread crumbs are a great resource when you can get them cheap from italian bakeries - panko too of course. No need for all the fussy steps with fresh bread.
                                                                                                      balsamic? yes its overused, but there is a whole world of interesting vinegars as well as good balsamics and saba out there as well as valid uses for inexpensive balsamic - and I dislike sherry vinegar for some reason Even fine restaurants in Emilia Romagna use commercial balsamic on salads, in sparing quantities.
                                                                                                      boullion cubes are a nice product to toss in from time to time - I use the italian STAR brand - Ive gotten over buying the bland canned stock though
                                                                                                      I have a big jar of anchovies out of a big italian can in my frig- put them down under olive oil and pull out as many as I need at a time, works fine, better than fussing with little cans or the tube.

                                                                                                    2. I also disagree with some of them. Part of the reason is that because of Trader Joe's, canned beans, vanilla extract, fresh parmesan are affordable and good quality. I have to admit I also resort to their boxed chicken broth and frozen pie crusts, particularly for when my kids want to make pies. I don't think they have "inferior fats" but I'm not sure. I wouldn't use bouillon cubes or powder, but Trader Joe's and other gourmet stores sell these little tubes of chicken extract that are way better than the cubes.
                                                                                                      Agree that I would never buy bottled salad dressing or dried parsley.

                                                                                                      1. WAIT A MINUTE! Why are hounds responding to Bittman?? Sure he 's a good guy and knows what hes doing and knows more than a lot of us ... but not all that much more than most of us! He's not talking to us! He's talking to another population in the US.

                                                                                                        18 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                          Oh, he may not be talking to you, but he most certainly is talking to me. :)

                                                                                                          1. I have Kraft parm cheese "green can" in my fridge (my husband considers it comfort food). I also have a wedge of real parm cheese in my fridge.

                                                                                                          2. I have "salad dressing" in my fridge--I like Annie's Shitake and Sesame. I honestly LIKE it.

                                                                                                          3. My spices, well, they are at least very organized (and dated, but for some, dated is "unknown"), as I was inspired to do by this post, also launched by a Bittman discussion http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5739...

                                                                                                          4. Vanilla extract--pish posh, I have a whole little section of my cupboard devoted to extracts. And I'm not afraid to use them.

                                                                                                          5. Bouillon cubes hiding in the deep recesses of my cupboard (not on a shelf I can reach) way way behind the boxes of Kitchen Basics stock, which I do resort to when I'm out of the homemade stuff. We don't have room in our freezer, so we can it.

                                                                                                          6. Aerosol oil-- does he mean Pam? Yeah, I use Pam when I want things to not stick.

                                                                                                          7. Lemons--have you seen the pathetic excuse for lemons they ship to Minnesota? We can't grow them here, ya know.

                                                                                                          Well, the list goes on (panko, premade pie crusts, canned beans,), but I'm sure you get the idea.


                                                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                            I'm with you on Pam. i have had several pump, refillable misters. No matter how carefully you clean them, the sprayer nozzle/head becomes rancid smelling and you have to buy a whole new sprayer. The parts are not sold separately.

                                                                                                            1. re: Candy

                                                                                                              Plant and some cosmetic sprayers also work with oils

                                                                                                              1. re: Caralien

                                                                                                                I'd just as soon buy a new can of Pam once or twice a year. I use Swiss diamond cookware so I don't need it for that, but for tonight's Laura Calder recipe with honey and chicken roasted at relatively high heat, I welcome the assist in the clean up of the Le Creuset it is roasting in. You know that is going to leave some crusty residue clean up.

                                                                                                                1. re: Candy

                                                                                                                  How was that chicken? Laura Calder is Canadian and they play her "french food at home" show multiple times a day. I think I've seen every episode at least 3x, but dont recall that chicken.

                                                                                                            2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                              But TDQ, you prove my point: you make informed Hound type choices for good reasons. You don't need someone telling you that there is an laternative to the green can - you already know and have an informed and experience based reason to have both green can and wedge from Italy. You don't have to answer to Bittman. The reasons you give for extgracts, sprayers, and lemons are just as good as his NYC reasons. Every bit as good!

                                                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                Oh, whew! Happy to help you prove your point! I was afraid I was going to have to forfeit my CH creds.


                                                                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                    No, it's true! I felt so ashamed/unchowhoundly (the same feeling you get when it dawns on you that you're a "fashion don't" because you're still wearing square toed shoes when everyone else knows pointy toes are in) when I read Bittman's list, since the contents of my pantry included several of the "out" items, so I did feel relieved to know that you don't think I'm being unchowhoundly. Until then, I felt like a "pantry don't".

                                                                                                                    It's not that I don't the know the difference between Kraft Parm Cheese in the green cylinder and a hunk of the real thing, it's just that I choose to have both on hand for my own reasons. And, as you point out, my reasons for what's in my pantry are every bit as good as his!


                                                                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                      Still think your list from 1 to 7 above is every bit as good as Bittman's. Has he ever tried Annie's Shitake and Sesame dressing oir Minnesota winter lemons?

                                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                          i love reading the two of your posts (not just in this thread either) got some wit there. i think a lot of this depends on time and recipe as well. i'm likely to use lemon in a bottle in a soup, where i would choose fresh lemon over pasta. i buy mostly dried beans for weekend prep for weekly meals, but keep a few on hand in case i just am craving rice and beans on a weeknight.

                                                                                                                          i also am finding this thread pretty to be a bit snotty which totally makes me wanna scoot. come on guys, keep it light. it's just a list from someone trying to help people cook better. that person is bittman. maybe he's not your guy to take advice from. it's like being a fan of Julia Childs and trying to bury Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee for their convenience cooking. It's just different. We all cook at different levels with different ingredients and views of what tastes good. Dang...steps off soapbox...

                                                                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                        TDQ: After Bittman made that stupid travel food show with Gwnwenennwthwth Paltrow and Batali, driving a different color Mercedes every day (Making SURE to show the hood ornament so we shouldn't forget to all rush out and buy one), he's lost stature in my pantheon of sources upon whom I rely.

                                                                                                                        I LOVED (and still LOVE) his books, but he's doing too much self-promotion.

                                                                                                                        I also do love his kitchen, too. It's tiny. There are photos of it at the NYT website.

                                                                                                                        1. re: oakjoan

                                                                                                                          It's so sad when our heroes fall from grace, isn't isn't. I shall go look at those NYT photos of his kitchen, though. My kitchen is palacial compared to his, and yet, I feel like I never have enough room. I could use some more space efficiency ideas! Thanks for the tip!


                                                                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                  gotta agree with you dairy queen. I make dinner from scratch 6 or 7 nights a week, and don't think Pam is a "dirty word", and don't "refresh" my spices every 12 months. I refuse to feel quilty about it! A lot of his "don'ts" are really silly (and my family has long said I have a "crush" on Mark, which I probably do)

                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                    Yeah, I have both the real Parm and the canned stuff too. And I happily use canned and cubed chicken broth. We use Pam on the grill, but only because the grill is insanely hard to clean without it. And I love canned beans - open a can, add lemon juice, olive oil and S&P and you have a delightful side dish (if black beans, I add cumin).

                                                                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                      DQ: trade ya some California lemons for some Minnesota ....?

                                                                                                                      1. re: toodie jane

                                                                                                                        Minnesota wild rice! ! Lake grown, hand harvested, hand parched. :)


                                                                                                                  2. You know how Princess Di said that there are 3 in her marriage, well, Mark Bittman is the 3rd in mine. My husband was thrilled to see I disagree with this article on several counts...
                                                                                                                    - I use powdered stock and will not give it up. I have limited freezer space and refuse to give up my frozen grated bread crumbs, chopped fresh dill, and frozen peas
                                                                                                                    - canned beans are magical. Some days I remember/have time to soak them, other I dont.
                                                                                                                    - I put my cilantro in a jar in the fridge with water in the bottom and cover it with a plastic bag. Last weeks. My parsley, I put in a vase, in the kitchen and cut accordingly. I don't know how long it lasts because I use it up first.
                                                                                                                    -I'm too poor/cheap to turn on the heat in the kitchen, so during winter, my frozen fingers aren't nimble enough to sieve out lemon seeds.

                                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: relizabeth

                                                                                                                      Geez where do you people live?! Are you surviving in a cabin in the woods? How is your kitchen not attached to the rest of your house? Or are you living in one of those old-timey houses where the kitchen is completely separated from the rest? In any case, if your fingers are so numb and stiff that you can't even pick out a lemon seed, then it's time to re-evaluate where you're spending money.

                                                                                                                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                                                                                        I have no heat in my kitchen, either. It was 36F in the cabinet under my kitchen sink not many days ago. It was so durn cold I bothered to measure. I could improve the situation by plugging in a space heater, but my kitchen is not an enclosed space, so the heat would likely float upstairs. I run my hands under the hot faucet if they are too frozen. It has become more of a problem as I grow older. If the stove has been on for awhile, it is not an issue (but probably your average person on this board would still notice that it was remarkably cold).

                                                                                                                        I live in an old house, that is why my kitchen is unheated. (Note: I am not the OP).

                                                                                                                        1. re: saltwater

                                                                                                                          So does the rest of your house have heat? For instance, how can one room of your house have areas that are 36 degrees (not good for your house by the way) and the other rooms still be comfortable?

                                                                                                                          Welcome to 2009. We have technology... and insulation. ;-)

                                                                                                                          1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                                                                                            As you surmise, the rest of the the house is heated. I'd guess the most likely fix would be to first fix any water issues the house has and then have holes bored in all the plaster every 18 inches (or whatever number it is) and have insulation blown in between the studs, then patch and repaint everything. The house is insulated in the attic, but not most of the walls, currently.

                                                                                                                            The kitchen itself runs in the sixties at counter level. It is inside the lower cabinets near the back that it can get so cold. Our conversation has made me curious if I could at least get the blown insulation in the kitchen and that would make all the difference. That would be worth doing, even if the holes never got patched.

                                                                                                                            1. re: saltwater

                                                                                                                              Well good luck to you! 36 under the cabinet obviously isn't far off from 32, and frozen pipes are bad enough outside your home, imagine if they were frozen and burst right there in your kitchen!

                                                                                                                              There are lots of new types of insulation so if you're serious be sure to do your research. Expanding foam is one that is highly efficient (Icynene foam).

                                                                                                                              1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                                                                                                Thanks! I'll check out the foam idea.

                                                                                                                    2. Need more to discuss? He's got an entry on his blog, with suggestions from commenters.


                                                                                                                      1. I don't see how drying, soaking, cooking, and then freezing (for an indefinite length of time, he says) beans will give you a better end product than canned beans. Don't like 'em too much, so I don't use 'em, but I'm curious why one method of processing is called superior to the other.

                                                                                                                        (B&M Baked are different--that's a *dish*, not just beans!)

                                                                                                                        1. I use fresh and dried spices, including basil and parsley, I do not through out spices that are 9-12 months old, I have canned beans in the cabinet and boxed stock as well. I also have a "file" of ziploc bags filed with frozen stocks in the freezer, chicken, turkey, beef, shrimp, duck, etc. I buy exactly three types of bottled dressings to use on salads, unapologetically. I also stock 4 kinds of vinegar to make my own dressings. I will buy cheap "parmesan" type cheese for certain things. I also buy great Pecorino Romano, Parm/regiano, grana padano, asiago, etc.

                                                                                                                          I think that Mark is doing his job, churning out articles for his deadlines, he is also doing what many food writers, taste makers, style gurus, and other life style talking heads do. They stand in their ivory towers and make pronouncements. If they didn't have in and out lists for us each year, how would we know that we are so far behind, unworthy, or just plain ignorant and in need of their guidance. If we don't feel inferior and in need of their wisdom, they would soon be out of a job.

                                                                                                                          My experience on Chowhound is that most of the folks here love to cook, know how to turn out a decent meal or two, or a hundred and have made informed choices about what they buy, stock, or cook with.

                                                                                                                          I, for one, do not need Bittman, or M.Stewart, or even the Sainted Julia Child to tell me what I can and cannot have in my pantry, fridge, or freezer. I will take their adivce for what it is worth and make my own choices. I know what works for my life.

                                                                                                                          1. Just saw that this is the most emailed article in the NYT today - interesting. I agree with a lot of his suggestions, though I'm just not a big fan of his, and there is always room for canned beans in my pantry.

                                                                                                                            1. Love Bittman, but I'm NOT tossing the chili powder.

                                                                                                                              1. I feel like a "n00b" here, but hope it's ok to say I liked the list. It reinforces most of what I do, And I'm glad to know just 30 mins will make a decent "stock". I keep bones from boned chicken breasts and wing tips in the freezer. I live in California and can grow leafy herbs, so I use basil in the summer and parsley in the winter, when they are easy to grown. I kegs canned beans for "emergencies" (like not planning) but I can tell the difference, at least in my favorite Black Beans from CI.I cannot stand "Real Lemon". I always have access to lemons and limes, and didn't realize how lucky I was (I knew I was lucky to have Meyer lemons and my garden, and the gardens of acquaintances).! I use a little net "bonnet" from a local hardware store to squeeze though and catch the seeds. I "know" about old spices, but I can live with my undated Penzy's,go through ground chipotle (OMG!) by the ounce, and toast and grind cumin and coriander seed when I'm so inclined. I don't think he's saying don't use real vanilla extract; He's just saying try the beans too. Don't know if it was mentioned but I always have at least a bit of salvageable ginger, and fresh garlic (along with cilantro, shallots and parsley, easy and good to grow in our "winter").

                                                                                                                                Hmm... I'm feeling fortunate to have these options..

                                                                                                                                P.S. Maybe "we" should tell him about panko....

                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                                                                                  seems like you ae in my camp. I missed the ground chili bit in print and on line. I order my dried chilis from Penderry's in Ft.. Worth. Always toast my cumin seed before grinding in my mortar, ..I don't care what cuisine I am cooking from, toasting cumin before hand grinding brings out a fuller and rounder flavor. I do buy Minute frozen Lemon Juice (and Lime which was dripped like a hot potato). It is 100% pure juice and is sometimes more economical aand time saving than the grocery store prices to buy an equivalent # of lemons.

                                                                                                                                  I often buy whole dried chilis from Penderry's, toast them in dry cast iron skillet, soak, reserving the water, ad blend to a paste and push through a strainer to separate the skins (can be bitter) and seeds to make a chili paste.

                                                                                                                                2. I'm with him 100% on the tomato paste. You almost never need more than a tablespoon or two at a time, and I can't count how many partial cans I've thrown out over the years. Now I just keep my trusty tube of POM in the fridge and I'm good to go.

                                                                                                                                  The rest of it's all pretty basic stuff any good cook knows already. Though having said that, I'm not about to toss out the three or four varieties of canned beans I keep in my cupboard - even though my wife keeps just as many types of dried ones alongside them.

                                                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                    Since 9 out of 10 recipes in my experience ask for something like 2 tablespoons of paste, I just scoop big heaping spoonfuls (by eye about 2T) onto a sheet of plastic wrap. I kind of roll it up and throw it in the freezer. When I need a helping, I unroll it enough to grab a lump and use it. Really simple.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: DGresh

                                                                                                                                      exactly what I do with tomato paste. Seems so simple.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                        I agree about freezing the tomato paste. It's not exactly rocket science, eh?

                                                                                                                                    2. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                      It's very easy, and much cheaper, to freeze one tablespoon blobs of leftover tomato paste. I wrap them in plastic wrap and put them in a ziploc bag in the freezer. Very easy to pull out a tablespoon or two. The same for chipotles in adobo.

                                                                                                                                      I'll also admit to buying Minute frozen lemon juice. It's good to have on hand when a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. I also use real lemons and limes, but usually when a recipe calls for a couple of tablespoons of the juice.

                                                                                                                                      And I think there's a place for canned beans and dried. Depends on the recipe and how much you need. I like to add 4 different kinds of beans to my veggie chili, and that's hard to do with the dried ones.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: AmyH

                                                                                                                                        I do that with chipotles in adobo too (I tend to use about 1/2 can at a time and have some tiny tupperware containers that hold the rest nicely), but given the availability of tomato paste in a tube I prefer it. Yes, it's a bit more expensive, but given how long a tube lasts me the difference in price is trivial. Convenience wins out.

                                                                                                                                        I'm not saying that wrapping and freezing small portions is any kind of major effort, I just like the absolute simplicity of "squeeze - replace cap - done!"

                                                                                                                                        1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                          For me, it's the FINDING said small portions that's the major effort!

                                                                                                                                    3. Well, last night I bit the bullet and cleaned out the spice cabinet. I am embarrassed to admit that there were some spices in there that have been moving around with me and my kitchen gear since about 1976. No, seriously.

                                                                                                                                      I threw out the old and took stock of what's left - finding two full jars of cardamom, which I rarely use, plus two enormous containers of cinnamon. I also washed out the glass bottles of old spice that came from some long-ago spice rack purchase for re-use.

                                                                                                                                      Now I have this question: what are your absolute must-have spices?

                                                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: avgolemona

                                                                                                                                        My mother, who is far more organized than I, writes the purchase date on each bottle of spices with a Sharpie, in case that helps when you restock.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: avgolemona

                                                                                                                                          <" what are your absolute must-have spices?">

                                                                                                                                          That has all the earmarks of a Brand New Thread....

                                                                                                                                          1. re: avgolemona

                                                                                                                                            the real question is, it seems to me, what are YOUR must-have spices. Since you just did your cleanout, you must know what you use and what you dont!

                                                                                                                                          2. Well...I liked the least, I agree with most of them. I don't eat beans so I can't say much for it.

                                                                                                                                            I disagreed with the bread crumbs, I don't want to make bread often so I can not just put stale bread in a food processor. And as much as I love homemade stock (can't deny it's way better) stock in a box is just so convenient for some flavor. Maybe when I finally get that pressure cooker I can quit the can.

                                                                                                                                            And some people are way to defensive about the spices...he's just saying, chuck them when they lose flavor. One year might be a bit short, whole spices usually still have their pungency for a few years...and dry herbs ARE bad, they really have little to no taste, and this was when I first bought them lol.

                                                                                                                                            I HATE PAM!!!! Just had to get out of my system, it's a morality thing with their advertisement...lol

                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                            1. re: AngelSanctuary

                                                                                                                                              Quick comment: I wouldn't use a pressure cooker for stock! If you're going to make your own, just gently simmer in an open pot.

                                                                                                                                              I used to be really good at making stock when I'd collected a lot of chicken bones in the freezer, or scraps of vegetables. It's so convenient to keep small portions in the freezer, but I've got out of the habit. Must start again!

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Kagey

                                                                                                                                                somewhere in my travels, I have seen plastic toothpaste tubes that are empty to strat with, probabkly for camping or such. Could these not be used to empty a can of tomato paste into, rather than the pricey stuff already in a tube?

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Danybear

                                                                                                                                                  Where I live, the tomato paste in a tube costs about £.20 or .25. That would make no sense to me.

                                                                                                                                            2. I generally don't like or use canned food, but I won't be giving up my Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans anytime soon (I must have them once or twice per year, don't know why), nor will I stop buying the jarred cannellini beans from Italy. My spices are all somewhere between 6 months and 4 years old, cost a good deal of money, and will serve their purpose until they are finished or I find versions that I like better. I've got a jar of saffron threads that has been open (with the lid tightly closed, of course) for about two years. There's no way I am throwing out approx. $15 worth of saffron when I only use it maybe 2x per year, and the next jar will sit around just as long.
                                                                                                                                              I do prefer homemade stock, but, with my tiny, crowded kitchen (and non-self-defrosting freezer), it is hardly practical for me to adopt a rule against Kitchen Basics, which I happen to like. It's much more convenient for me to use my freezer as a vodka museum, as discussed in another current thread :)
                                                                                                                                              However, I do insist on fresh basil and parsley. There is no substitute, as far as I am concerned. I have an irrational dislike for the dried versions, and have gone so far as to freeze the fresh herbs (my landlady in Italy taught me a cool way to keep basil fresh in the freezer all winter). The only dried green herb I will buy is imported oregano from Sicily or Greece. It is nothing like the typical oregano we have here and works wonders in just about any Mediterranean dish.
                                                                                                                                              The Italian tomato paste in the tube is a great thing, and the only one I use since I can measure what I need easily and store the rest for a long period of time. I love it, and have been using it exclusively for years.
                                                                                                                                              I buy my dried chili peppers whole and crumble them between my fingers as I use them- it gives much better flavor than buying the flake version. I usually have a whole dried branch of peperoncini nailed to my kitchen wall.

                                                                                                                                              I think frozen shrimp are watery and limp.

                                                                                                                                              I am not even going to comment on his tip about pignoli + raisins = Sicilian.

                                                                                                                                              7 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: vvvindaloo

                                                                                                                                                Aren't (almost) all shrimp previously frozen?

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                                                                                                  Just about - yep.

                                                                                                                                                  Unless you pull them straight off the boat yourself and you know how they've been handled prior to that (even on the boat), there's about a 95% chance your shrimp were at one time frozen.

                                                                                                                                                  VVV doesn't know that shrimp from the grocery store seafood case is merely defrosted, pre-frozen shrimp.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                                                                                                                    Or perhaps vindaloo lives on the lovely Gulf Coast, where fresh, never-frozen shrimp are available at bargain prices. I've never bought shrimp, defrosted or otherwise, in a grocery store in my life! Wild-caught, never frozen shrimp, 21-25 count, cost $4 a pound at the farmer's market, direct from the fishermen. I'd imagine a fair number of coastal dwellers have access to never-frozen as well. My fishing friends & neighbors face rising fuel costs and a terrible tide of cheap, inferior, pond-raised imported shrimp: if you have to buy frozen shrimp, insist on wild-caught, American produced.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: vvvindaloo

                                                                                                                                                  I'm with you on the fresh basil and parsley, and cilantro too. Those three herbs have practically ZERO flavor when dried, I can't believe they even sell them!

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: vvvindaloo

                                                                                                                                                    Ill bite - what is your landlady's tip on freezing basil?

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: jen kalb

                                                                                                                                                      She showed me two ways, actually, but I adopted only one. The way I do it is easier and quite common in Italy, I think: make sure you choose young, non-flowered basil and that it is very clean and completely dry. Pick off the leaves individually and place them on a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil in a single layer. Cover with a sheet of paper towel, and gently roll the whole thing (aluminum on the outside) to form a log. Save it in the freezer and use the leaves as you need them. My landlady actually kept the whole thing in a sealed airtight jar, but I don't bother. I just fold the ends of the foil really well. The other method does not require freezing: use the same process to choose and dry the leaves, but instead of layering in aluminum, you lay them in a single layer in a glass container (with a lid). Separate the layers of basil leaves by alternating them with a layer of salt (and plenty of it). When you have finished layering, pour a generous amount of olive oil over the top to form a seal. Cover and store in the fridge. Ideally, the salt will keep the basil from soaking through and the cold will cause the oil to solidify enough to protect from air.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: vvvindaloo

                                                                                                                                                        thanks much - Ive see the second - layer in salt - method recommended before, but not the first - Ill give it a try!!

                                                                                                                                                  2. Overall, I can't say this article was oh-so-eye-opening, and any chowhound worth that name probably already had most of those things in their pantry.

                                                                                                                                                    just sayin'.

                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                                      No, not eye-opening for most who frequent these boards. I actually got more good tips from these responses than from the Bittman piece, ( thanks everyone, especially the freezing herbs bits; why am I too lazy to do this? Have to start. I must add my mother also freezes whole tomatoes at the end of summer to use in sauce and soup during the winter - just don't drop one - it's like dropping a cue ball! ). I also thought the panko omission was huge.
                                                                                                                                                      I tend to think Hounds see Bittman in this context of more of a peer - "Here's what I keep in the pantry" and had a great time critiquing his picks!

                                                                                                                                                    2. Single mom, busy, working. Sometimes using dried beans is just not possible. However I do prefer cooking with them. I prefer and usually cook with everything fresh, but get real. Sometimes ... there just isn't time. Then I use short cuts. But I try to buy the best freshest short cut available. Canned beans absolutely keep. Even canned potatoes, they are great in a quick soup. If you drain and rinse them I find nothing wrong with them. Tomato paste in a tube and keep it in the fridge, maybe more expensive, but I don't know about you ... my freezer is not that big. Last forever, great invention. Potato flakes, I keep them as well in a closed container, I use them not for potatoes, but it makes a great thickener for sauces, gravies and soups.

                                                                                                                                                      Herbs I buy the small packages of everything and grow my own for the fresh ones. That way, You don't have a whole big bottle that will go bad.

                                                                                                                                                      Vanilla and some extracts last, baking soda and powder, yes they need to be replaced. I keep dried pasta no need to get rid of. Nuts are definitely in the freezer.

                                                                                                                                                      Otherwise most other things I go through quick enough. I try to buy what I most commonly use and other items I buy when I make my weekly list. I try to make a plan for the week, doesn't always work but close enough. I buy those speciality items for that week. I always keep just a few items (pasta, beans, tomatoes, broth, etc) on hand for a quick meal.

                                                                                                                                                      1. Buy your Tomato Paste in a tube...It is double concentrate, imported from Italy, costs less than $2 a tube, and lasts forever with absolutely no waste.

                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Fleur

                                                                                                                                                          The tomato paste in a tube that I've seen says "use within two weeks of opening"

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                                                                                            I have been using the imported Itaslian kind for many years. I don't usually refrigerate it; tomato paste has such a high acid content it really doesn't spoil., but I suppose you could. I wouldn't worry aboput spoilage, but if you are, and don't use it all with a month or so, throw it out.

                                                                                                                                                        2. I thought I read somewhere that throwing spices away after 6 months is kinda stupid because they're actually harvested only 1x a year. If you were to buy a new jar/bottle, its probably from the same crop.