As with any task, having the right supplies is vital for success. For the busy home cook like you, a well-stocked pantry can save you time and money. Nothing is more frustrating than to be in the middle of preparing dinner and find that you are missing a key ingredient. Your grocery budget can suffer if you don’t know what is in your pantry and you are constantly buying duplicate products. Let me share some helpful tips & tricks to building and maintaining an efficient pantry in your home!
A Room Of One’s Own
Not everyone has the luxury of having a dedicated room for a pantry. Many people, like myself, have a narrow closet for a pantry. If you live in an efficiency apartment, your pantry may only be a large cabinet. Whatever space serves as your pantry, use every inch to your advantage. Adjust your storage according to usage and number of people in your family.
How To Set Up Your Pantry
Adjustable shelving units are not that expensive and are indispensable for a working pantry. Place supplies that you use on a daily basis at eye level for easy retrieval. Ingredients for occasional use can be stored on higher shelves. Store heavier items on the bottom shelves for safety reasons.
Bulk staples like flour, sugar, grains, and cereal are best kept in clear storage containers. They stay air-tight while you can still see how much you have. I like to use shoe-box size plastic containers to corral items in small packages, like spice packs and mixes. They are stackable, which gives me more space. I also store some smaller items in square baskets to keep everything neat and accessible. Produce like potatoes and onions fit perfectly in storage bins on the bottom shelves.
Try to keep like things together with the labels facing forward so you don’t have to dig around to find what you need. I hung a small whiteboard on the back of my pantry door to write down things I need to replenish from the grocery store. At a glance, I can check it when I prepare my grocery list.
Essential Pantry Staples
Stocking your pantry is just like building a proper wardrobe. Buy basic supplies that are versatile for all your family’s cooking needs and build around them. If you don’t do a lot of gourmet cuisine, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy expensive and exotic ingredients that will go to waste.
Grains are just about always part of your meals. Keep a steady variety of flour, rice, oats, cornmeal, ancient grains, and pasta. Rice, grains, and pasta are easy to make and season for a delicious dish. Dried beans and other legumes are good to have on hand to create healthy meals. Consider buying these “dry goods” in bulk to save money. If you like to bake, you will need to keep sugar (granulated, powdered, brown), baking powder, baking soda and cream of tartar on hand.
Herbs & Spices
Even the fanciest dishes fall flat when they are not seasoned enough. Your herbs & spices collection is one of the most important tools in your culinary arsenal. Buy the freshest, best quality that fits into your budget. You might even consider growing your own commonly-used herbs, like parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and basil. If you have limited yard space, grow herbs in small pots on your kitchen counter. Snip and use them fresh or dry them for storage.
Use fresh herbs to create your own flavored vinegars. Use these vinegars to flavor dishes, make yummy pickled veggies, or delicate vinaigrettes. Balsamic vinegar gives dishes a sweet, woody depth of flavor that is delicious in savory and sweet dishes alike.
Consider a variety of herbs & spices for your pantry/spice cabinet. Most global cuisines use the same spices in different blends. Broaden your family’s multicultural experience and tastes with delicious seasoning. In addition to plain table salt, discover the difference that Kosher and sea salt can make in a dish. Once you use freshly-ground black pepper, the dusty version from a tin will never do. To learn more about common herbs & spices and their use, check out my tutorial Here
Oils & Shortening
While most recipes do fine with regular vegetable oil, you may want to experiment with seed oils (sunflower, safflower, etc.) for different flavor nuances. Some people prefer the subtle smokiness that lard gives food. For baking, I always keep a can of shortening in the pantry.
Set yourself up for success in the kitchen with a well-stocked pantry. It is easier to keep track of what you have and what you need to purchase. You won’t need to worry about running to the store for a missing ingredient again!