Before I get to my top 10 tips for a well stocked pantry, I’d like to share a little history with you…
Over the years, my ideas of what it meant to have a well stocked pantry have changed dramatically. First and foremost, I used just think of the pantry as the cupboard or closet in my kitchen but since then my idea of pantry has spread to include my fridge, my freezer, a shelf on my counter top, and even two under counter cabinets in my laundry room.
And the second change of heart came when I reevaluated exactly what I was going to store in my pantry. I used to be an amazing hoarder of canned goods and powdered milk. (I still can’t believe I drank powdered milk!) I do still have my fare share of canned goods…something for my husband and son to turn to in an emergency when I’m sick…but for the most part I focus more on stocking up on frozen foods. I find them such a godsend.
My fascination with frozen foods might sound a bit funny coming from someone who purports to prepare fresh meals (remember…keep it simple…keep it fresh) but I must confess that I do find frozen foods quite fresh. After all, in the case of many frozen foods, they were harvested – or caught – and flash frozen quite quickly upon leaving their natural habitat.
Nigella Lawson agrees!
I felt a bit exonerated by my claim of frozen foods being fresh when I heard cookbook author Nigella Lawson expound upon her love of frozen peas. She explained that they were in fact quite fresh as compared to fresh peas at the grocery store explaining that the fresh peas had spend time in travel and might have lost some of their freshness during their journey coupled with the time that they sat at the grocers. Yes – I liked that. And I love my frozen peas.
Moving on from my love of frozen foods I certainly still embrace quite a few fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and more but I also rely on a pantry well stocked with dry goods. With the right goodies tucked away, you really can create a fantastic meal in minutes.
Before we take a peak at what’s in my pantry I want to share that everyone’s pantry is different because everyone’s tastes are different. What I share here is simply a guide – an outline – to get you started. So pick and choose what looks good to you and what you think will work best for you. What I’ve tried to do here is provide suggestions that best suit the way so many of us cook today…or want to cook…simple, fresh…and fast.
It’s time to purge the pantry
Here are my top 10 tips for keeping a well stocked pantry followed by my top 10 pantry items…and more:
1. Purge! – First things first…before you add anything new look through what you have and get rid of all expired food. Now look over all your pantry storage places and make a plan for how to organize your supplies. (Most often used things at eye level, etc.)
2. Stock Up – by two, even three, of most things and assign them a permanent location in your pantry (which can include the fridge, freezer, etc.). This way when your supply starts to dwindle, you can spot it easily.
3. The All Important Grocery List – Keep a running grocery list and post it up in an easily visible place. Write down what you need the minute you think of it.
4. Like with Like and First in First Out – When you add new items put them behind/underneath the older items so you develop a first in/first out policy to maintain freshness.
5. Buy Whole Chickens – Yes…boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be quick to defrost and easy to prepare but they are also expensive (and in my opinion – tasteless). With a whole chicken you will be able to make multiple meals that can see you through a hectic week when you have a little or no time to cook.
6. Store It Right! – Store potatoes and onions in cloth bags (muslin) and in a wire basket or on a wire shelf to allow for ventilation which will preserve their freshness.
7. Don’t Pre-Wash Produce – Store fresh produce as is…do not wash, cut and chop it then store it. I know it seems counter intuitive to preparing quick and easy meals but your produce will stay fresher and more nutritious if you wash and cut it right before you use it. It doesn’t take that long to do and the payoff in the taste will make all the difference to the fresh taste of your meal.
8. Cook rice in large batches and freeze it – This is so easy to do and will give you the foundations of a good meal without having to wait 45 minutes for the rice to cook. If you have the space and the budget for it, think about adding a rice cooker to your kitchen. It will become your best friend.
9. Cook Certain Meats Very Rare – such a London Broil. Slice it, then freeze it one pound portions. When you use it to prepare a meal it will cook up perfectly to medium rare (or medium, if you prefer) and will not be the least bit overcooked (often a problem when re-heating meat).
10. Don’t Over Buy! It’s great to have one or two extra of most things (they serve as great place holders to keep your pantry organized – see #2 above) but few folks need 10 of everything (unless you have a boat load of boys and men in the house!). You’ll just overspend and then wind up throwing things out when they expire before being used (see #1 above).
OK, Let’s peak into the pantry
So let’s peak into a well stocked pantry’s Top 10 items…
Top 10 Pantry Items:
1. Extra virgin first cold-pressed olive oil
2. Apple cider vinegar & rice wine vinegar
3. Uncle Ben’s white rice (They don’t pay me to say this – it’s just my favorite)
7. Canned beans as well as dry split-peas and lentils (I love the little french lentils!)
8. Canned tomatoes & tomato paste
9. Canned fish – salmon, sardines, mackerel & anchovies
10. Pure vanilla extract
Top 10 Refrigerator Items:
2. Whole milk & cream
3. Cheeses and cold cuts – assorted
8. Ginger (you can also keep this in the freezer if you don’t use it regularly)
9. Lemons & limes
Top 10 Freezer Items:
2. Frozen vegetable – peas (of course!), corn, bell peppers, onions
3. Frozen fruit (berries are best)
4. Whole Chicken*
5. Bone-in turkey breast*
6. Bone-in thick cut pork chops*
7. T-bone steaks* – or other bone-in red meat
8. Ground Beef or Turkey
9. Soup bones (beef shanks, beef marrow & knuckle, chicken backs (and feet!), etc.)
10. Shrimp – cleaned prawns and small salad shrimp
*You might be wondering why I buy so much meat “bone-in”. Well, first and foremost I find the bone imparts lots of flavor to the meat. And second, meat on the bone is more nutritious. To learn more about this, be sure to check out Dr. Catherine Shanahan’s blog about the Four Pillars of Good Health.
Top 10 Counter Top Items (I have these in jars, canister, etc. right on my counter top for easy access):
1. Grey Celtic Sea Salt (coarse and fine ground) &Peppercorns
2. House seasoning
3. Garlic cloves
4. Flour (baking power & baking soda)
5. Granulated sugar (white or sucanat)
6. Bread (If you don’t eat it up quickly, stash it in the fridge.)
9. Italian seasoning
10. Herbs de Provence
These are just my Top 10 lists but there’s lots more you can add. In my case, luxuries include really good chocolate and Alaskan sockeye salmon! But if you’ve got at least some of the above on hand, you’ll be able to pull together a quick and fresh tasting dinner.
And if you like to add a little Asian flair to your kitchen (I do since my husband is of Asian ancestry), these pantry staples can always create the beginnings of some lovely California rolls:
Rice wine vinegar
Gomasio – a mixture of sesame seeds and sea salt
A note about shopping lists
In closing, I want to mention my method of compiling a shopping list which is key to keeping a well stocked pantry. You can read here about the actual shopping list I like best – the physical paper list – but more important is that I keep a running list (as mentioned in #3 of my 10 Tips for Stocking the Pantry). It’s up on my fridge where I can quickly write things down as I realize I need them. It also very visible to allow my family to add things they may want or need. When I get ready to head out to the grocery store, I grab my list and off I go. No need to take stock of what I need, etc., it’s already on my list.
Oh…and I wanted to mention that in a future post, I’ll do a review of all the latest shopping list apps available for smart phones. But for now I’m sticking with my paper list because I love adding them to my Kitchen Journal.
So that’s all for now…but be sure to watch for future posts where I’ll update any new finds I discover for our pantries so that we can continue to create delicious meals that will keep bringing our families back to the dinner table for more.
So that’s it for now but be sure to check out my other blog posts in my “Top 10″ series:
Wishing you a wonderful day and a happy kitchen life too!