I need to confess something about my kitchen. Specifically, it's about my spice cabinet.
I have a jar of turmeric that dates back to 1989.
This is not a boast; I'm not trying to brag that I was into turmeric (a spice used in south Asian cuisine) way before you were. No, I'm coming clean about my very bad pantry habits. I bought a lot of turmeric back in the summer of 1989 with the idea of doing some Indian cooking. And though I have only used a few teaspoons over the years, I can't bring myself to toss it. You know, in case I need turmeric! This despite the fact that it is probably now just a pile of yellow dust that lost its zing during the Clinton administration.
And my turmeric is not alone. I tend to buy ingredients with the vague idea of making something, but without an actual plan in mind. Hence the presence on my shelves of mastic (a piney tree resin that's yummy in various Middle Eastern desserts, or so I'm told, since I never got around to using it) and star anise, which I keep thinking could be used, if not for flavor after all these years, at least decoratively.
On the upside, this pack-rat tendency does mean that I am apt to actually have the odd ingredient in any random recipe. (Orange flower water? You bet.) Unfortunately, I am just as likely to run out of more common items if I don't keep an eye on the cupboard.
So it's no surprise that I learned a lot from this month's "Off the Shelf" story, which launches our new series of food articles focusing on tactics and techniques. The first installment shows the right way to stock your kitchen. Follow our "perfect pantry system" and you can whip up a dinner at a moment's notice—a lifesaver when you're trying to get a meal on the table on a weeknight and have no time to run to the store.
Once you've got the basics down, you can add your own favorite staples to the mix. Need I say that might include a jar of turmeric?