Monday, July 2, 2007

Keeping a Well Stocked Pantry

A great way to assure that you’ll get the most use out of your kitchen and enjoy the results enough to keep coming back is to have a well-stocked pantry. It’s easy to make a list of great broad spectrum items that will allow you to cook quick, delicious, and healthy meals without significant effort. Our opinions of what some of those ingredients are might differ, however. For example, we love Spanish food, so we always have sweet and smoked paprika, Spanish chorizo, and a lot of garlic on hand, but you might have different preferences. Depending on your tastes, you can add or eliminate items to give yourself a well-rounded pantry that’s ready for anything.

Pantry Staples – Some of these are a question of preference, but it’s a good starting point. Personally, I use all of the following frequently, and since they have a long shelf life, I’m inclined to have them on hand all the time.

Virgin olive oil (extra virgin can be much stronger in flavor), balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, maple syrup, broth (chicken and/or vegetable), canned garbanzo beans, canned cannelloni beans (aka white kidney beans), canned black beans, Tomatoes (chopped, pureed, paste), canned tuna and/or salmon, rice (long & short grain), quinoa, cous cous, lentils, pasta (sauce clings better to textured pasta), dried mushrooms, mustard (regular & dijon), peanut butter & jam (for those emergency snacks), dried fruits (personal preference…apricot, raisin, cranberry), nuts, vermouth, red wine, sherry

Baking Pantry Staples – I love to bake. As a result, I have a huge stash of different flours and sugars. But if you really want the basics that will keep you productive, here’s a good start.

All purpose flour, sugar (granulated, dark, and powdered), baking powder (lasts for about a year), baking soda (lasts forever), pure vanilla extract, unsweetened cocoa powder, chocolate chips (assuming you like chocolate…as I assume everyone likes chocolate :-)

Other Pantry Staples – Now these are very much a question of preference. You might not care for these, but consider what flavors you do like and remember that if you maintain a pantry well-stocked with flavors that you truly enjoy, you can replicate recipes in your own home that make you enjoy food.

Soy sauce, clam juice, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, black bean sauce, toasted sesame oil, fish sauce, ponzu sauce, curry paste, marsala wine, anchovies (I detest them, but my husband loves them, and they do melt away in dishes while adding some saltiness), capers in salt (less acrid than in vinegar; keeps well in the pantry)

Dried Herbs & Spices – Dried herbs & spices lose flavor after 6 months. For better flavor, you can replace ground spices every 6 months, or get whole spices and grind as needed. You can use a coffee grinder or mortar & pestle to grind small spices like fennel, cumin, and coriander, as well as cinnamon sticks. A microplane grater also works well for nutmeg or smaller amounts of cinnamon. If you use a coffee grinder, you can clean it buy grinding up some uncooked rice.
If you don’t have much space to keep spices, or if you just want to have a small portion of a herb or spice on hand, fill a small zip top bag with it and label.

Kosher Salt, peppercorns (in a grinder), whole coriander, whole cumin, whole rosemary, whole fennel, whole nutmeg, cinnamon stick & ground, dried mustard, saffron strands (ground tends to be cheaper, but tends to be less pure), Paprika (smoked & sweet), dried thyme, dried oregano, dried sage, bay leaves

Refrigerator Staples – Some of these items might seem unnecessary, but it depends on your preferences. Plain yogurt and whipping cream are great if you bake, but might be a waste otherwise.

Milk, eggs, plain yogurt, butter (we prefer salted; can be used in baking, just reduce/eliminate adding salt separately), cheese, whipping cream (for baking & desserts), chorizo (lasts well and great in many dishes; we prefer Spanish), chunk parmesan cheese, bacon or proscuitto, fresh ginger (for Asian meals), pesto

Freezer Staples – The freezer is wonderful for home cooking. If you make a large batch of pesto (much better than store bought and quick and easy with a food processor), freeze small portions in small zip top bags and defrost as needed. If you open a can of tomato paste, instead of tossing the unused portion, put the rest in a zip top bag, flatten out, and freeze. When you need more, just break off a chunk. Or make an extra large meal today and freeze the rest for future easy meals (great for soups, stews, casseroles).

Fruit (smoothies, pies, stewed fruit), peas (better than fresh because the sugar breaks down very quickly and frozen peas are frozen just after picking), bread (freeze a loaf, toasts perfectly as needed), bread crumbs, pie crust (great for pie or quiche).

Basic Produce – These are the basics that keep me in business. I feel at a loss if I’m ever out of any of the following. Sure there are other things I like to have around, but when it comes down to it, these are the fundamentals that make flavor and substance possible.

Potato (my husband’s Irish), lemon, garlic, onion, tomato, celery, carrot, bell pepper, lettuce, bananas (green ones get ripe quickly in warm weather), fresh herbs


Anonymous said...

...ok wow... YOU have a lot of time on your hands...Thanks for the pantry tips I can make a grocery list!

MetaMommy said...

Oh LuvlyLady, I just never sleep. Glad to be of service :-)