Right before Christmas, I told you what to add to your kitchen. Now Mark Bittman suggests things you can get rid of. My top ten:
1. Jar tomato sauce: takes five minutes of prep, 40 minutes of no-stir simmering, to make your own, which keeps for weeks: cheaper, better, and only a trivial amount of extra effort. Incidentally, for the fellow who asked: the large tomato cans referred to in that recipe are indeed 28 ounces. But I'm flirting with a switch to Pomi, which don't have that metallic taste. Home canned are best, of course, but not economical unless you grow your own or live in farm country.
2. Preground parmesan: forget the lack of fresh taste; the damn stuff clots and wastes half the jar. Try a microplane cheese grater and a block of fresh cheese from Costco or another warehouse club.
3. Bottled water: Distilled water has some uses for cleaning. Bottled water for drinking, however, is a total waste of space and money. It is tap water, just tap water you've paid someone to pour and transport. I repeat, most bottled water comes out of a municipal water system somewhere. If your tap water tastes funny, buy a Brita filter.
4. Mystery frozen things: They were on special 6 months ago. You got an amazing deal so you bought an extra pack and popped it in the freezer. Now you can't find a recipe for "mystery meat with a two-inch-thick crust of ice". Unless you have a deep freezer, the natural lifespan of frozen meat is six months. Throw it out. Then resolve not to buy and freeze anything you don't have an actual plan to consume. You will save money in the long run, and also, right now.
5. The crepe maker. The quesadilla maker. The margarita machine. The fondue pot. Used each of them twice, didn't you? If you haven't used an appliance or a pan in the last nine months, give it away, to a friend, relative, or goodwill. Exception: Christmas cookie cutters, ice cream machines that get heavy use three months out of the year, wedding gifts from immediate family. Do not let your fantasy kitchen take up more space than your real cooking.
6. Expensive cooking wine, "cooking" sherry: Anyone who tells you they detect a difference in the quality of wine used to cook is lying: the things that make expensive wine taste like expensive wine are denatured by heat, which is why you don't store your '62 Yquem in the closet next to the boiler. "Cooking" wines are a stupid waste in another direction: loaded with salt and priced higher per ounce than a decent table wine. Go to the liquor store and buy the cheapest bottle they'll sell you, dry or sweet as per the recipe.
7. Brownie mix: Brownies take ten minutes to make in one bowl: microwave the butter and chocolate together on low, then add the other ingredients, stir, and pour into a cooking plan. There is no excuse for wasting money on subpar baked goods.
8. Winter tomatoes, asparagus, etc: There are plenty of vegetables that it is fine to consume in winter, because they travel well (and inexpensively) from happier climes. Green beans, for example, or broccoli. But it is not worth it to pay the kind of money that is asked for crunchy, flavorless tomatoes, or something that tastes like a ghost of an artichoke. Better to dress up frozen (or, if you must, canned) during the winter months and save your money for a produce orgy come spring. You can make a spectacular, springy tasting soup by simmering frozen peas in a little broth with fresh tarragon, and stirring in buttermilk and fresh ground pepper at the end.
9. Bad frozen dinners: there are actually quite a number of things that are good frozen--I'm currently enjoying frozen onion soup from Costco, and I'm a big fan of the frozen pea. Frozen puff pastry sheets are a dinner-party life saver when your souffle dies. But how often do you actually enjoy a Swanson's salisbury steak that you could have produced in five extra minutes with a packet of Knorr onion soup mix and a cheap bottle of red wine? (Mix the onion soup mix into the hamburger. Shape. Pour a little wine mixed with soy sauce over the steak and broil until the outside is crispy brown).
10. Potato buds: With the Rotato on the market, there's just. no. reason. Use the rotato to peel some actual, cheap potatoes (kids love this). Cut into 1-inch chunks. Simmer until tender in skim milk, whole milk, or cream, depending on the condition of your budget and waistline. Especially delicious if you throw a clove of garlic or two into the pan. Then pour off half the milk and all of the garlic, and mash. Took you five minutes of prep time, and saved you infinite taste bud agony.
My biggest new years resolution for the kitchen, and one I commend to readers, is not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good in your endeavors. If you can't whip up crepe suzettes, that doesn't mean you have to resort to box brownies; try baked apples or use frozen puff pastry sheets and fruit to make a quick strudel. If you are worried about animal welfare, but can't give up meat, or afford the humane stuff, try having one or two vegan meals a week, or splurge on pastured beef once in a while. If you're too tired to cook, try to find a recipe that takes an extra five minutes and one dish over heating a frozen dinner, like simmering chicken breasts in barbeque sauce for half an hour (or sticking them in a 400 oven in a baking dish with same for 50-60 minutes). If you're too tired to spend five minutes cooking, you're too tired to eat. And better to have a good tuna sandwich that tastes like a tuna sandwich should than a frozen "pizza" that could just as easily be the plastic one from the store display.
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