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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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/07/din...

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?

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  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

                                    ?

                                    yup

                                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:

                                  http://lollya.blogspot.com/2008/09/th...

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

                                  peace.

                                  1. re: lollya

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

                                    ~TDQ

                                    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?

                                        ~TDQ

                                        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.

                                        ~TDQ

                                        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."

                                            ~TDQ

                                          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.

                                              ~TDQ

                                              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!

                                                  ~TDQ

                                              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.

                                                    ~TDQ

                                                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

                                                    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?

                                                      ~TDQ

                                                      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!

                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                              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. :)
                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                  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.

                                                                                      Cay

                                                                              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.