Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pantry Staples ...

There was an interesting article in last week's dining section of the New York Times that I had been planning to discuss before my internet connection went down. Written by Mark Bittman, and entitled "Fresh Start for the New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen", the article highlights the need for a well-stocked pantry and presents his list of "In" and "Out" pantry items ... meaning those that are must-haves and those that we might consider doing without or making ourselves.

Its certainly timely. With the economic crisis continuing to deepen, I suspect that more and more of us will be dining at home with greater frequency. I found the article quite thought provoking and, frankly, a bit controversial. While I agree with most of his suggestions - I'm going to have to take issue with a few of them.

Prepared bread crumbs for instance. According to Mark, they're OUT. Personally, I'm not so sure. Do I know how to make my own bread crumbs? Of course, I've done so many times. Am I going to forsake prepared bread crumbs completely? Nope. Sure, homemade anything is better than processed anything, but on the other hand ... we really don't eat much bread. I'd have to go buy a loaf in order to make the crumbs and that just seems silly. I do make exceptions when I have the need for whole wheat bread crumbs, as I did in this eggplant parm recipe, and make my own - but I like the convenience of knowing the pre-made crumbs are there at the ready in my baking cabinet. What about you?

Canned stock is another area where Mark and I differ. Again, I can and do make my own stock from time to time; but much like the bread crumbs, I like the ease of the canned variety. Heck, 90% of my recipes call for canned broth in some form or another. It would be nice to have the kind of time at my disposal to make large quantities of chicken or vegetable stock - the reality is I simply do not. The canned stock will continue to reside in my pantry, thank you very much.

I wholeheartedly agree with his urging of the use of real Parmesan cheese, rather than canned; and real lemons as opposed to bottled lemon juice. And he's spot on with his advice to cull your spice collection periodically. You can't create much in the way of culinary greatness if your spices have all the flavor of a pile of saw dust. January seems like the perfect time to give your pantry an update and the majority of his tips are well worth adopting.

When you've got a moment, click the link and take a gander at the article. I'd like to hear your thoughts. Do dried beans, canned stock, frozen pie crusts and "minute" rice have a place in your pantry? Or are you more likely to make your own stock and boil your own beans? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!


Sass said...

Well, I don't know how YOU get by with all that processed stuff, but ME...well, all homemade all the way, all the time.

I mean, duh.

Okay, wow. I'll stop that now. I try really hard to do some things homemade, but frankly there are some ready to fix things in my cabinets. With three kids and a hectic life, that's just the way it is.

I also have kale. Lots and lots of kale. I think it's getting thrown out. Please don't cry. ;)

pixelgal said...

I just got through using some ready made breadcrumbs in the meatloaf I'm making and wouldn't be without them. Among the things I never do is make pizza (for obvious reasons you who know New Haven) or my own stock or crumbs. I feel the taste difference isn't worth the extra time and effort. And the rest I definitely do...real lemons and parmesan since I have such a great Italian deli near me. They grind the cheese while you wait and give you the rind for any soup you're making. Yuummmmm. My spices are another story..but maybe this year I'll go through them!

Anonymous said...

Agreed-dried parsley/basil and lemon juice in a bottle are not worth the fuss. We don't really have those in our kitchens anyways. Oh, and premade marinades can go too, because really, nothing beats fresh. But canned stocks, spray oils, canned beans, canned tomatoes, maybe a box of Uncle Ben's? lol It's hard to deny convenience for convenience sake! And we also agree that with today's economy, not everyone can go buy all fresh spices or $6-$14 maple syrups on a regular basis. Everyone's kitchen is different!

Michele said...

I find articles like Mark Bittman's very interesting. Yet I get so tired of people telling me that what I cook with is wrong or not in fashion. Of course we would all love to cook with only the freshest ingredients. Nothing frozen or canned, fresh stocks and fresh bread crumbs. But I doubt that the people who write these type of articles live on the same income as me or have the same insane work schedule. There are days that I have the means of making a fresh stock, but not the time or the energy. I agree with a lot of what he says, but I'm damned tired of people telling me what to do in my kitchen. :-) My mini rant is over now. I've never used bottled lemon juice or canned beans and I buy spices in small amounts...so I guess I'm trendy after all.

Anonymous said...

I'm a user of canned broth and stock. When I make chicken soup, I boil the chicken in chicken broth along with the carrots, onions and parsnip. And when I make pot roast, I add beef broth to the pan when I put the roast in the oven. You can not believe the yummy difference this makes in the the chicken soup and the roast. Also, I brown the chicken before I put the broth in it and roast beef the same way. I don't use bread crumbs enough to warrant buying them so if I need them I make them. I totally agree with the article wrt spices. They should be culled every so often. They just don't keep very well. CindyV.

Jeanie said...

Breadcrumbs are dried bread. D-R-I-E-D. Not fresh! So I'm keeping the carton in my pantry.

Spices tho...I didn't realize they went bad or lost their flavor. I use them up regularly so maybe I've not had the chance to notice a bad dill weed. Thank God I have you Diva, because mom never told be about that!

I wonder what Mark would think about all the jello in my pantry?

Anonymous said...

Diva, I agree on the bread crumbs and the stock (cubes, not canned). Unless you have a large kitchen (lots of mouths to feed) and a six ring stove (miniumum) then its not viable to have a stock pot bubbling away all day, although it is ideal, I love the thought of throwing everything into the stock pot, vegie peelings, chicken carcasses, you name it.


Dana McCauley said...

Your comment on bread crumbs is very funny. Yesterday I was on Toronto's Breakfast Television, a show I'm on often, and the host Dina was totally down that you had to make fresh breadcrumbs for the turkey dish I was demonstrating.

She's a great cook and lover of food but she said she wanted to buy the crumbs already prepared. So, Mark may want breadcrumbs to be out but I think real people disagree.

The Diva on a Diet said...

Thank you all so much for such great comments. I had hoped you'd find the article as provocative as I did ... and it looks like you have. Splendid!

I think we're all basically on the same page here ... there's fantasy and reality. And the reality is that we don't always have time to make our own stock and such.

Still, I do agree with a lot of his tips and am 100% on board with using fresh herbs, lemons, cheese, etc.

Sass - you're not fooling me! LOL and ;) I'm sorry about the kale. :(

Pixelgal - yes, attack that spice cabinet. There might be some things in there as old as I am! LOL

Duo - Its good to know that I'm not alone in sticking with the canned stock, etc. And you're right about the costly ingredients too.

Michele - I know what you mean about growing weary of being told what and how to cook. It does get old. I think we're both in reality. ;)

Cindy - I'm totally down with the parsnips. Love 'em and wouldn't consider roasting anything without them. They're lovely in soup stock too. Yum!

Jeanie - he'd think you're gearing up for a snow storm ... so long as you've got the TP and leather jackets to go with! ;)

Argentum - I agree, it is nice to throw all those wonderful things into the stock pot ... when you have the time, of course. I suppose I should make it a point to do so more often ... but that is *not* a resolution. LOL

Dana - how funny, and timely, about the breadcrumbs and your TV host! I don't know why it is that making bread crumbs bums people out so. Its not like its difficult ... I guess it just seems more taxing that it really is.

In my case, I'm really serious about not having the bread in the house. Funny, but not.