Food & Drink

Cleaning up your kitchen? Here’s how to use up those cans

If you’re tackling your cabinets for spring cleaning season, here are a few ways to use up those cans.
If you’re tackling your cabinets for spring cleaning season, here are a few ways to use up those cans. Observer files

It’s time to take stock of all those stocks. And broths. And canned vegetables. And vinegars and old spices and that one container of cream of tartar you’ve had for years. It’s time to administer a little spring cleaning to your kitchen, and get rid of those dust-gathering culprits.

Here is a run-down of the most common kitchen standbys, the ones likely to be left there for too long, the ones you should get rid of now, before they go bad. But instead of tossing them in the trash, work them into one of these recipes.


In every pantry I have ever had, there’s an unopened bag of rice lingering in the back corner. Usually, that’s fine, because rice has a very long shelf life. If stored in a sealed package in a dark, cool place, rice can last for years. Brown rice is a bit different – it has more oil, which can cause it to spoil quicker.

However, rice (and most pantry grains) is susceptible to bugs and critters, which can work their way into unsealed containers. If your rice isn’t stored properly and it has been in your cupboard for longer than you can recall, check for bugs before consuming it. A good way to do this is to pour the rice into a strainer (one with small enough holes that it won’t slip through) and comb through it with your fingers.

Turn your rice into … Spring Pea Risotto.

Stock or broth

Leftover chicken, vegetable or beef broth or stock can be used in myriad ways. If you have a surplus, pay attention to the use-by date and try to use it by then. It won’t last forever. If you have some in an opened container in your refrigerator, use it up within 10 days.

For those sort of situations, where there’s just a bit of stock or broth hanging around in your refrigerator, put it to good use by making a pan sauce the next time you cook meat in a skillet. After you cook the meat, remove it from the skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Add a pat of butter and whisk it together with all of the leftover bits of meat from the pan. Start drizzling stock or broth into the skillet, continuing to whisk until you have a thinnish sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and serve over the meat. Another quick way to get rid of stock or broth is to use it instead of water to cook couscous or quinoa. Simply boil 1 part grain to 2 parts liquid in a saucepan until liquid is absorbed.

Turn your stock or broth into … Braised Chicken Thighs With Tomato and Garlic.

Cream of tartar and other spices

In general, we keep spices on our shelves longer than we’re supposed to. While most spices don’t show the classic signs of going bad after two, three, even 10 years, they lose their flavor and effectiveness sooner than you think. To ensure you’re getting the most out of your spices, replace them every six to 12 months, especially preground spices. Cinnamon sticks and other whole spices will last a bit longer. For optimal storage, keep spice containers out of direct heat or sunlight and make sure they are closed tightly.

Certain ones, like cream of tartar, linger longer than others, because they are often bought for one recipe and then forgotten.

Sold near baking powder and baking soda in the grocery store, cream of tartar is potassium bitartrate, which actually occurs as an acidic by-product during winemaking. The fine, white powder often is used in meringue to help the beaten egg whites retain their structure, and in caramels and icings to prevent sugar from hardening. It also can be used to create baking powder, which helps baked goods rise: Mix 2 parts cream of tartar with 1 part each baking soda and cornstarch.

Turn your cream of tartar into … Meringue Cookie Bites.

Canned items

Canned vegetables will last through the apocalypse. But unless you are a Doomsday Prepper, there is no need to keep these cans around until the world ends. They are taking up valuable space, and you bought them for a reason, right? It’s time to put them to good use.

Canned vegetables get a bad rap for being less nutritious than their fresh counterparts, but that’s not always true. If you’re not keen on canned veggies because of their muted and sometimes tinny flavor, work them into a casserole or soup.

Turn your canned items into …Ribollita.


The problem with vinegar is that it is too often sold in quantities far larger than what a recipe calls for. That’s how we end up with bottles of four kinds lining our refrigerator doors. Vinegar’s shelf life varies depending on the type of vinegar and how you’re storing it. White vinegar lasts the longest, opened or unopened, whereas red wine vinegars and apple cider vinegars tend to spoil quicker, and must be stored in the refrigerator once they’re opened. Unopened, these can last for a while on the shelf.

One of the best ways to use up flavored vinegars is to pickle something. Onions pickle particularly well, but almost any vegetable benefits from being soaked in a sugar-vinegar solution. Simply slice your preferred vegetable (about 1 cup) thin, then place in a bowl and top with 1/2 cup vinegar (red wine and apple work best) and 1 tablespoon sugar. Stir, season with salt and pepper, and let marinate for at least an hour.

Turn your red wine vinegar into … Chimichurri Sauce.

Spring Pea Risotto

From Everyday Food, April 2004. The best kind of rice to use for risotto is arborio, because it is a short-grain rice that cooks quickly using this particular method. But this recipe will work well enough with any kind of rice. Long-grain rice might need to cook a bit longer and may need a bit more broth.

29 ounces reduced-sodium chicken broth

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1 to 2 large zucchini (1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat broth and 2 1/2 cups water in a small saucepan over low heat; keep warm. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add zucchini; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until zucchini is golden, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer zucchini to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onion; cook until soft, 5 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Raise heat to medium. Add rice; cook, stirring, until translucent around edges, about 3 minutes. Add wine; cook until absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Cook, adding 1 cup hot broth at a time (stir until almost all liquid is absorbed before adding more), until rice is tender, 25 to 30 minutes total.

Add zucchini and peas; cook until peas are bright green, 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining tablespoon butter and Parmesan. Serve, topped with more cheese.

Yield: 6 servings.

Braised Chicken Thighs With Tomato and Garlic

From Stock or broth is ideal for braising meats, or letting them cook for a while at a low temperature. Here, we'll use it to create a tomato-y broth for chicken thighs to rest in.

8 chicken thighs on the bone, skin on


2 teaspoons olive oil

6 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

20 ounces canned chopped tomatoes

1 cup chicken stock

2 sprigs thyme

Orzo or rice for serving

Pat the chicken thighs dry. Season them liberally on all sides with salt. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saute pan with high sides over medium heat. Brown the chicken thighs on both sides in two batches, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and keep warm. Pour off all but about a tablespoon of fat in the pan.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until you can smell it, about a minute. (Don’t let it burn.) Add the canned tomatoes, chicken stock and a large pinch of salt, and turn the heat up until the liquid comes to a simmer, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon as they loosen. Add the thyme and then nestle the chicken thighs, skin-side up, in the sauce.

Partially cover the pan and turn down the heat so that the sauce is simmering gently. Cook for about 30 minutes, until the chicken is tender.

If the sauce is thin, transfer the chicken to a clean plate and keep warm while you turn up the heat for a few minutes so that the sauce simmers and thickens a bit. Don’t let it cook down too much – you want this to be pretty saucy.

Return the chicken to the sauce and heat through before serving over orzo or rice.

Yield: 4 servings.

Meringue Cookie Bites

From Turning meringue, the dessert made from whipped egg whites and sugar, into a cookie makes for a light treat. The cream of tartar is essential in the four-ingredient base recipe, which allows for easy flavor customization.

3 egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup fine white sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla, optional

1 tablespoon rum or rum flavoring, optional

2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder, optional

1 tablespoon cocoa powder, optional

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft, bubbly peaks form. The peaks will still flop over; they’re like bubble bath still. Turn the mixers to high and add the sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time. Add the salt. Beat until the texture is glossy and tacky, with peaks that stand straight up. You can leave the meringues as is or add flavorings. For Vanilla Rum Meringues, add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon rum or rum flavoring. For Mocha Meringues, add 2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder and 1 tablespoon cocoa powder.

Add mixture to a pastry bag or a large zip-top bag with the corner snipped off, and pipe 2-inch-wide rounds onto parchment-covered baking sheets. The parchment is essential; these will stick like crazy. Bake for about 2 hours then turn off the oven and let them cool. They should be completely dry with no chewiness inside.

Yield: About 60 (2-inch) meringues.


From The New York Times. This is a Tuscan-inspired soup, made with vegetables and beans then topped with bread and cheese. You can add more canned vegetables if you are trying to get rid of them; green beans, carrots or peas would be a good choice. This also is a good way to get rid of broth or stock.

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 small onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt and ground black pepper

2 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans

1 (15-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes

4 cups vegetable stock or water

1 fresh rosemary sprig

1 fresh thyme sprig

1 pound chopped kale or escarole

4 large, thick slices whole-grain bread, toasted

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add onion, carrot, celery and garlic; sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Drain the beans; if they’re canned, rinse them as well. Add them to the pot along with the tomatoes and their juices and the stock, rosemary and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so the soup bubbles steadily; cover and cook, stirring once or twice to break up the tomatoes, until the flavors meld, 15 to 20 minutes.

Fish out and discard rosemary and thyme stems, if you like, and stir in kale. Taste and adjust seasoning. Lay bread slices on top of the stew so they cover the top and overlap as little as possible. Scatter red onion slices over the top, drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Put the pot in the oven and bake until the bread, onions and cheese are browned and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. (If your pot fits under the broiler, you can also brown the top there.) Divide the soup and bread among 4 bowls and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Chimichurri Sauce

From Bon Appétit. A green sauce from Argentina, chimichurri is made with herbs and garlic, but its base is typically red wine vinegar and olive oil. It’s a classic example of simple ingredients coming together in just the right way to make something exquisite.

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more

3 or 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced

1 shallot, finely chopped

1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro

1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, garlic and shallot in a medium bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, parsley and oregano. Using a fork, whisk in oil. Remove 1 / 2cup chimichurri to a small bowl, season with salt to taste and reserve as sauce. Put meat in a glass, stainless steel or ceramic dish. Toss with remaining marinade. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Remove meat from marinade, pat dry and grill.

Spoon reserved sauce over grilled meat.

Yield: About 2 cups.