Can Mark Bittman Clean Out My Cabinets?

12-07 pantry 3

Photo Courtesy of la fatina on flickr, under the Creative Commons license.

As I said on Monday, one of my Domestic Resolutions for 2009 is to clean out and organize our unruly kitchen cabinets. So imagine my fortune to see that Mark Bittman wrote a whole article on this very subject yesterday!

Bittman has a number of suggestions for cleaning out your cabinets. But how realistic are they for a time-strapped blogger? Let’s see, shall we?

Suggestion: Throw out Packaged bread crumbs or croutons and make your own.

I really don’t use breadcrumbs regularly, so I don’t see the point of making my own. I will make my own fresh bread crumbs, but I make those on an as-needed basis.

Suggestion: Throw out your canned stock and bouillon cubes, and make your own stock instead.

Um, so I’ve tried to do the whole “make your own stock and freeze it” thing, and I’ve done it once or twice. But when I make stock it means I can’t leave the house all day because I don’t want to leave the stove on unattended, and it takes forever (forever!) to defrost the stock when Ineed it. A nice suggestion, but I think I’ll still use boxes of stock from the grocery store (Kitchen Basics is my preferred brand).

Suggestion: Throw out your spray oil. Use regular olive oil instead.

I don’t have spray oil.

Suggestion: Throw out your bottles salad dressing and marinades. Make your ow instead.

I always just make my own salad dressings, which is pretty rare these days since Wonktheplank is not a salad dressing fan. Ditto for marinades. Although I will admit to having a bottle enchilada sauce in the fridge.

Suggestion: Throw out your bottled lemon juice. Buy lemons instead.

I always use fresh lemons! Although Wonktheplank gets mad at me when I let them go bad (which is more often that I’d like to admit).

Suggestion: Throw out bottled spices more than a year old. Replace with new spices.

I know that I’m supposed to do this, but I can’t afford to replace all my bottled spices every year.

Suggestion: Throw out your dried basil and parlsey. Get fresh parsley instead.

I love fresh basil, but I don’t use fresh parsley that much. Maybe I’ll try this one.

Suggestion: Throw out your canned beans, and use dried beans instead.

I try to do this already, but there are times when you really don’t have the time to soak beans overnight (and the “quick soak” has never worked for me).

Suggestion: Throw out your imitation vanilla. Use vanilla beans instead.

People use imitation vanilla?

Suggestion: Throw out your pre-grated imitation Parmesan. Use real Parmigiano-Reggiano instead.

We have the pre-grated stuff for pasta emergencies, but unless it’s absolutely necessary, we always use the real stuff.

Suggestion: Throw out your canned peas. Use frozen instead.

I’ve never eaten a canned pea that I know of. I actually never make peas because I thought Wonktheplank didn’t like them, but I recently found out that he does. Maybe frozen peas will be added to our weeknight menus.

Suggestion: Throw out your canned tomato paste. Get tomato paste in a tube instead.

I never seem to have tomato paste in stock in either form. But maybe I’ll pick up a tube of paste the next time I make tomato sauce.

Suggestion: Throw out your pre-made pie crust. Make a graham cracker crust instead.

Is pie crust all that hard to make? Once you’ve done it a couple of times I think it’s a snap. I’d rather just make some extra dough the next time I make a pie crust and stick it in the freezer.

Suggestion: Throw out your cheap balsamic and flavored vinegars. Get sherry vinegar instead.

My God, I have lots of cheap vinegar in the house, but I’d rather use them up than throw them out. I’ve never tried sherry vinegar—maybe now is the time.

Suggestion: Throw out your minute rice and boil-in-a-bag grains. Buy real grains.

We don’t have any of this stuff.

Suggestion: Throw out your pancake syrup. Get real maple syrup instead.

Fake syrup was a sacrilege in my house growing up. I can’t imagine not having the real thing.

So there you go. A lot of these don’t apply to me (canned peas, minute rice), or just aren’t feasible (throwing out all my bottled spices). But I may try to pick up a tube of tomato paste or a bottle of sherry vinegar the next time I’m at the market.



  1. We think it’s funny that almost all the “shortcut” suggestions are things that you turn your nose up at…we bet Bonnie agrees.

  2. moderndomestic said

    I know! I know . . . I’m way too much like my mother. And Martha Stewart–I bet she’d turn up her nose too.

  3. jitterbean said

    I hope by “throw out” he means “donate to a food bank,” assuming it’s unopened.

    I definitely need to go the tubed tomato paste route, because I NEVER use a whole can in one recipe and I generally just throw the rest out, because I don’t use it enough that it will still be good next time I need it.

    Overall, though, I’m not sure how this is an “organize your panty” article so much as a “upgrade the food you eat and work harder to make it” article. Also funny to acknowledge there are no fresh foods this time of year and then say to use fresh basil… It’s way out of season.

  4. bittman said

    Um, no mention of long-cooked stock:
    OUT Bouillon cubes or powder, or canned stock.
    IN Simmer a carrot, a celery stalk, and a half-onion in a couple of cups of water for ten minutes and you’re better off; if you have any chicken scraps, even a half hour of cooking with those same vegetables will give you something ten times better than any canned stock.

  5. Rebecca said

    I appreciate the sentiment of cleaning out the cabinet but I agree with another commentator: throw out? Why not use it and then don’t buy it again. My pantry problem is that I have about 4 bottles of BBQ sauce (Which my husband uses instead of salad dressing- yes I know it’s weird), I have tons of random spice rubs, and marinades that people give as gifts. I just need to use them! I think a good way to accomplish this is to take everything out and make an inventory. I’ll tape it to the inside of my cupboard and then I’ll know what is in there before I head to the store to buy yet another bottle of BBQ sauce.

  6. moderndomestic said

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the comment. You’re right – I mischaracterized your original article. But I still don’t know if I can really produce all the stock that I use in a week on my own. Celery and carrots are usually aren’t things that I just have lying around, since I only buy groceries once a week (due to my lack of a car and budgeting), and I plan out all my meals in advance. And if I have produce lying around, chances are that it’s already gone bad. But I might just try this the next time I have some non-rotting produce in the fridge.



  7. moderndomestic said

    Rebecca – I also have that problem! This is how I ended up with two bottles of allspice, which, unless I go on a big gingerbread kick, I just won’t use up in a year’s time. And yes, I think the most economical strategy is to use up what you have and then replace it. At least Captain O’Biden puts something on his salad – Wonktheplank is a strict no-salad dressing kind of guy.

    Aiko – so I don’t mind doing something that’s going to take more time if I feel like I get a better result than “convenience food,” which is why I like to make my own mayonnaise and salad dressing. Plus, once you do it you realize that it takes two seconds, and I really enjoy the process of making the food (it’s fun and therapeutic). But there are also only so many hours in the day, and I just don’t have the time to make everything from scratch that I’d like. Like bread. And stock. And ice cream. And countless other items.

  8. Bonnie said

    I do enjoy making my own chicken stock and I freeze it in quart canning jars, which I can do since I have a large stand alone freezer. If you fill a sink with very hot water, these defrost in no time. I also keep some boxes on hand for emergencies. I prefer Swanson’s organic. It makes such a difference in the end product to use the home made stocks vs. the Swanson. I would suggest people w/smaller freezers go to the freezer bag method which take up a lot less space.
    Besides pure maple syrup in our home, there was NEVER a bottle of salad dressing (unless Grandpa was visiting) or lemon juice (under any circumstances). And, most important, always a variety of salt choices which I see you’ve emulated quite well!

  9. Alice said

    Stock can be really easy to make like this: Everytime you cook a vegetable and trim off ends and ugly bits, throw them in a ziploc bag (washed, of course) and keep it in your freezer. Keep adding to it until the next time you cook a whole bird. Then when you’re pulling off the rest of the usable meat, take all the scraps and bones and throw then in a pot with the veggie scraps and some pepper and boil them while you do the dishes. Then it’ll be done by the time you’re done cleaning up the kitchen.

  10. moderndomestic said

    Alice – that’s such a good idea of keeping vegetable bits in the freezer! I already do that with chicken bones and carcasses, but I hadn’t thought of the vegetables too.

  11. […] I heard this story, I was happy to learn that I wasn’t the only one who had suffered from the Bittman Pantry article. Only I fell pray to the […]

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