Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pantry of the Gods

I just moved for the 47,000th time in eight years. While transporting three tons of stuff to a bizarre, unfamiliar locale isn’t exactly my idea of a hootenanny, it’s giving me the opportunity to once again restock my pantry. Whee!

Having a well-stocked pantry doesn’t mean owning an actual pantry, which is a realization that most people have around 2nd grade, but only came to me in apartment #5,233. Instead, it means:

  • Always having a few basic, inexpensive, long-lasting goods that will provide the foundation of millions of meals to come,

  • Saving precious dough by buying necessities on sale,

  • No last-minute runs to the supermarket because you’ve run out of sugar (again),

  • Never saying, “There’s nothing to eat at home, dagnammit.”

  • Impressing the hell out of your parents, who will thank the good lord that they’ve raised such a prepared, forward-thinking child.
Since there are roughly half a million Plan Your Pantry guides, all aimed at folks of varying socio-economic classes, let’s start with a few good ones for perusal:

  • Like the magazine itself, the Real Simple pantry is geared toward middle-class couples with kids, but they’re the undisputed high priests of organization, so it’s worth a look.

  • Reluctant Gourmet has a good example of a list that’s crazy thorough, but maybe a bit too expansive/expensive for the average bear. I’m not sure how many folks need to keep clam juice and dried currants in the house. If you do, more power to you.
Though these pantries differ pretty widely, there are a few foods they have in common (rice, beans, etc.). To make life easier, I comped all their contents (minus the Chinese, Japanese, and Italian lists from AllRecipe) into one Master List, then sorted the foods to see which appeared most often.

The following appeared at least three times, which means it’s probably a good idea to have them available:

Beans: White, Black, Kidney
Broths & Stocks
Canned Tomatoes (whole peeled)
Dried Fruit
Dried Mushrooms
Herbs & Spices: Basil, Red Pepper, Chili Powder, Paprika, Oregano, Black Pepper
Lentils and/or Split Peas
Olive Oil
Soy Sauce
Worcestershire Sauce

If you’re going for an even better-stocked pantry, each of the following appeared in two lists:

Bread Crumbs
Coconut Milk
Corn Meal
Corn Starch
Egg Noodles
Garlic (fresh)
Herbs & Spices: Bay Leaves, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Thyme
Hot Sauce
Pasta Sauce
Peanut Butter
Sugar: Brown, White
Vanilla Extract

Personally, I would switch sugar, flour, cinnamon, garlic, and OH MY GOD SALT with lentils, dried mushrooms, dried fruits, Worcestershire sauce, and chiles, while banishing mayonnaise to an unmarked galaxy. If you use honey during teatime or hot sauce on everything, go ahead and stick those up in List #1, too. It’s all about personal preference, baby.

When stocking your new, fabulous pantry with all this new, fabulous stuff, there are three things (some would say “tips”) to keep in mind:

  • Though most (me) use the word “pantry” to refer to dry goods, lots of people/publications expand it to include key frozen foods and vital refrigerator items, as well. Eggs, milk, unsalted butter, frozen meat, and frozen fruit are always a plus to have around, and make for colossally healthy meals.

  • Don’t be afraid of stocking oils, pestos, and other higher-fat items. Used in moderation, they can lend flavor and substance to food without making it a triple bypass bomb.

  • When you see any pantry items on sale, it’s always a good idea to stock up, especially if you use something freakishly often. When penne’s priced at two-for-a-dollar, I buy enough to last until I retire.
Remember, folks: your pantry is your friend. Fill it with food and it will treat you better.

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Mom2fur said...

A well-stocked pantry (and freezer) is a godsend on days when you really would rather not face the grocery. I've been couponing and stockpiling for about 2 years now. Nothing like reaching for a 99 cent jar of mayo in my pantry...when it would cost me over $3 to buy it off-sale. Most of what I buy each week is fresh stuff, like milk or bread or eggs. Or salad. The other day, though, I didn't realize I was out of vegetables of any kind. We have fruit, so that worked, but I really like to alternate. So I bought a lot of frozen vegetables. Fortunately, they were on sale. (I hate the canned stuff.) But I have to keep in mind what I have 'on hand,' so I can stockpile at the lowest prices instead of getting 'stuck.'

You are right...your pantry is your friend!

Mom2fur said...

PS...why unsalted butter? It has no flavor. Well, I guess it's great for cooking. I buy it for baking, too. But not to put on toast, LOL!
As far as oils and triple bypass...stick to canola for cooking. It is the best of all the oils as far as having the least of whatever nasty stuff clogs your arteries. Olive oil is great for salads (I guess you can cook with it, too, although it burns easily) and helps raise your HDL (good) cholesterol.

Amy said...

I'm kinda surprised that Lentils made it on to 3 lists. And here I thought I was weird for keeping them around!

It seems like a good list to use for a housewarming basket hwen my younger cousins move into their first apartments. Though I'd make your changes re: sugar, salt, cinnamon, etc.

Kris said...

Mom2fur - I think a lot of baking recipes call for unsalted butter, so you can control the salt content a little better. Not positive about that, though.

Amy - That housewarming idea is fantastic.

Thanks for reading, both of y'all. :)

boliyou said...

Great idea. Thanks for doing all the leg-work!

Hilda said...

Awesome list to reference. But, how did capers made it on the list? People actually use that thing?

Kris said...

Thanks, Hilda! I used to feel the same way about capers until I tried bacala for the first time. Now, I could snack on 'em for a week. Who knew?