You’re breaking my heart, Bittman.

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you’ll know I like New York Times writer Mark Bittman enough to try and cook as many foods as possible from his “101 Simple Meals” article. However, this new article on what he deems IN or OUT for this year is, well, really pissing me off.

Here’s the list of what he deems OUT:
Packaged bread crumbs or croutons.
Bouillon cubes or powder, or canned stock.
Aerosol oil.
Bottled salad dressing and marinades.
Bottled lemon juice.
Spices older than a year.
Dried parsley and basil.
Canned beans.
Imitation vanilla.
Grated imitation “Parmesan” (any other pre-grated cheese).
Canned peas (and most other canned vegetables).
Tomato paste in a can.
Premade pie crusts.
Cheap balsamic or flavored vinegars.
Minute Rice or boil-in-a-bag grains.
“Pancake” syrup.

Here’s why people actually buy these these supposed horrors:

Time. The canned beans one chaps my ass especially. I’m no stranger to cooking dry beans. It’s time-consuming and always a gamble as to how they’ll come out. Have you ever cooked chickpeas from scratch? It takes at least two hours — after an overnight soak. I don’t generally start planning dinner 24 hours beforehand; do you? The same goes for the sneer at boil-in-a-bag grains. Parboiled brown rice (you know, one of those whole grains we’re all supposed to be getting more of?) is done in 10 minutes, compared to 45-55 minutes for brown rice cooked from raw. And no, parboiled rice does not lose any of its nutrition along the way.

Money. In lieu of buying bottled lemon juice, he advocates buying lemons “six at a time.” Look, I love lemons as much as the next cook, but here in my neighborhood Key Food, lemons are 99¢ a throw. At that price, it’s no longer an ingredient; it’s a condiment, to be used sparingly. I can’t say I’d buy it, but I can certainly understand the appeal of 32 ounces of bottled lemon for the price of two fresh lemons. The same stands for vanilla. Vanilla beans: around $10. Imitation vanilla extract: $2.79.

I think what really bothers me the most is that I just… expected more from Mark Bittman. The entire piece has a sanctimonious and intimidating tone. I feel uncomfortable reading it and I already buy most of these things already — I can’t imagine how someone less comfortable in a kitchen would feel reading this, knowing their kitchen is tainted with “cheap balsamic” or a stray can of corn.

Actually, I take it back. I can imagine how they’d feel. They’d feel like Mark Bittman: kind of an ass.

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14 thoughts on “You’re breaking my heart, Bittman.

  1. I also agree with you. What a wanker. Not only do many of his suggestions overlook reference to cost but also a lot of his ideas require a lot of space. For example: I would love to buy a £100 wheel of parm once a year but where do I put it?
    I had also made a comment about the recommendation of anchovy but realized that it is the european anchovy that is a threatened species, not the north american one.

  2. The only thing I can remotely agree with is the pancake syrup – BUT I can completely understand someone not wanting to shell out $6 for a small bottle of maple syrup.

    I’m glad Mr. Bittman is in possession of the resources (time, money, ample refrigerator/pantry space) that spare him from such as canned stock and bottled lemon juice. I wonder how those of us who fall short of his skewed version of what is/isn’t acceptable will carry on?

    An afterthought: As far as the balsamic vinegar: what constitutes “cheap?” His idea of cheap might very well be my definition of expensive.

  3. I use canned tomato paste. I never need more than a tablespoon or 2, so I scoop out the remaing paste with a Tablespoon, and throw it in the freezer (on a plate lined with wax paper or plastic wrap). Then after hardened I place in plastic bags , ready to use as needed. I have also done fresh lemon and lime juice in ice cube trays, and I keep my ginger there too. peeled frozen ginger is a breeze to grate on a microplaner. Right now, I am looking for methods of pre-cooking and freezing dried beans.

  4. Well, I actually agree with most of Bittman’s list. It’s all about flavor, and I follow it as closely as I can afford. So, yeah, fresh lemon is a condiment. I buy vanilla beans on eBay (for $20 — including shipping — you and your best friends can buy enough for a year or two; the ones I bought last time were fresh enough to tie in knots!).

    I’m surprised Bittman has reversed himself on the canned beans; the bean recipes in his cookbooks are liberally strewn with the phrase “canned is fine.” Canned tomatoes and paste, too. But no other canned vegetables — eww. Frozen is another story.

    Three items I disagree with on account of flavor:

    canned beans as abovedried basil and pre-grated Parmesan are way better than no basil or Parmesan at all.Not-from-scratch stock. I’m just not happy with my stock-making abilities. I use Better Than Bouillon soup bases. Read the ingredients: the first one is always chicken/beef/mushroom whatever the variety is. True, salt is high on the list, but BTB is more flavorful than any bouillon cube I’ve ever tried. More varieties, too. Expensive, but a little goes a long way.

    Word on the tomato paste, btw.

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