Bittman’s Pantry Upgrades

Early this year, Mark Bittman had an article in the New York Times about small changes he recommends for kitchen and pantry to emphasize real food and streamline your cooking process.  As I read it, I noticed that Bee and I had made many of the changes already.  For some reason this article stuck with me, probably because I myself had witnessed the positive impact of these small changes.  You can read the article here.  Below is a condensed version with some comments:


1.  OUT: packaged bread crumbs; IN: Toast your own.

Bee and I have done this a few times recently.  It’s not only a great way to use stale bread, and quick and easy in the oven, but as Bittman notes, the home-toasted version is “incomparably delicious”.

2.  OUT: bouillon cubes or powder, or canned stock; IN: Make your own

Bee should do a post about this.  He’s been making our stock for the last couple years.  It’s a great way to use the unneeded parts of vegetables from daily cooking, it makes the apartment smell glorious, and freezes and thaws easily for soups, curries, etc.  It’s an easy change to make, and SO worth the small amount of effort.

3.  OUT: aerosol oil, like Pam; IN: “Get some good olive oil and a hand-pumped sprayer or even simpler, a brush.”

We made this change JUST before this article came out, which made me laugh.  We have a hand pump that works just fine, without too much effort to refill or pump to get its pressure every so often.  Plus, there are many times when the spray isn’t even needed –a little drizzle of oil in the pan works just as well.

4.  OUT: bottled salad dressing and marinades; IN: make your own

I am a very recent convert to this one, and I swear I will never go back.  I’ll post my favorite simple dressing recipe soon. YUM!  Plus, as Bittman notes, these are “the biggest rip-offs imaginable”.  Gotcha.

5.  OUT: bottled lemon juice; IN: lemons.

We have a citrus squeezer we got around the time of the wedding that we use for any lemon or lime juice in recipes or dressing.  Bittman notes that even this “junk” isn’t necessary: “Squeeze from one hand into the other and let your fingers filter out the pips”.  True.  We’ve done this, too.  And best of all, using real citrus allows you to use the zest, vital in so many dressings and marinades.  Seriously –why buy the bottle?

6.  OUT: spices older than a year; IN: fresh spices

We could be better about this.  We have a whole large shelf in our kitchen devoted to our spices.  But in the past couple years we have been growing our own herbs, and plan to do this even more extensively down at the house.  And Bee has been grinding cumin from seeds; all are infinitely better than dried herbs and spices.  Fresh is always so much better.  And we DO need to dump some of our old spices.

7.  OUT: dried parsley and basil: IN: fresh herbs

See above.  But note that Bittman calls the dried versions “worthless”.  I think he’s right.  He also advises making pesto with any picked that is about to spoil.  Also a great strategy.

8.  OUT: canned beans; IN: dried beans

I am not the bean fan that my husband is, so much so that when I see him soaking dried beans, I get nervous.  (I’ll tell you that the reasons have to do with fermentation and leave it at that.)  But I can still assert that this mode is still the best.  We do buy canned refried beans.

9.  OUT: imitation vanilla; IN: vanilla beans

Not a change we have made very often.  For some recipes, yes.  But I did recently buy a little thing of vanilla extract for a batch of cookies a couple months ago.  Bittman notes, “If you slice a pod in half and simmer it with some leftover rice and any kind of milk (dairy, coconut, almond…), you’ll never go back to extract.”  Duly noted.

10.  OUT: grated imitation “Parmesan”; IN: real Parmigiano-Reggiano

Absolutely true.  Bittman says “beware the green cylinder, or any other pre-grated cheese for that matter”.  We made this change  a couple years ago and I’m never going back.  Yet another from this list that is not only healthier, more flavorful, and also cheaper!

11.  OUT: canned peas; IN: frozen peas (and most other canned vegetables, come to think of it)

Word.  I can’t even remember the last time we had anything other than canned tomatoes in our house.  These come in handy for tomato sauces for pasta and lasagna, especially in the winter, when even Bee won’t buy tomatoes from the grocery.

12.  OUT:  tomato paste in a can; IN: tomato paste in a tube

This is so smart, and a change we need to make.  In fact, I’ve been keeping my eye out since I read this a few months ago for a good tube.  We hardly ever use paste, but there are definitely times when it’s the glue a lasanga or sauce needs.  We usually buy a small can and try to use it all, but this can be tough.  The tube is so much smarter.

13.  OUT: premade pie crusts; IN: homemade of one sort or another

We almost never make pie, so this one feels moot.  But knowing my husband, I’m sure our next pie will have a homemade crust.

14.  OUT: cheap balsamic or flavored vinegars; IN: sherry vinegar

I mostly hate vinegar, but I am coming around.  Maybe this tip will help.  Bee can probably attest to the value of this change better than I could.

15.  OUT: minute rice or boil-in-a-bag grains; IN: genuine grains

We’ve been in this mode for years.  Yet another “you’ll never go back” type of change.  Bittman suggests stocking up on many different types –we also have many in our pantry.  Especially with our rice maker, this is a no-brainer, and is so much more nutritious and whole than any minute or bag rice.

16: OUT: “pancake” syrup; IN: real maple syrup

Bee is on board with this one.  I am not.  I prefer the junk; I get the sugar-free stuff, but still.  Maybe I’ll come around.  Maybe not.

Again, for some reason I liked this article well enough to remember it many months after its publication.  Probably because I knew firsthand how many of them were positive changes.  No processed chemicals, retention of nutrients, low sodium, better tasting, and cheaper!  Why the heck not?


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2 Responses to Bittman’s Pantry Upgrades

  1. Megan G says:

    Whole Foods has a pretty reliable stock of tomato paste in a tube, but I have been seeing it here and there at the Jewel. If need be, I will ship paste tubes to you out in the boonies. 🙂

    Just the other day I was watching youtube videos of people’s salad dressing recipes. I was torn between “Oh my god I hope no one sees me doing this” and “hey…how come I’m not doing this?”

    • John-Patrick says:

      I’ve seen tomato paste in a tube at Whole Foods and Trotters to Go. I actually like the cans in some ways because it forces to me to get creative with tomato paste or seek out some other uses. I heard freezing the stuff in the can and then cutting off chunks when needed is a good option too. Thanks for the Jewels tip. We’ll have to check out youtube. I’ve used youtube for a few recipes, but tend to overlook it.

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