Saturday, July 3, 2010

Saturday Throwback: Pantry of the Gods

Every Saturday, we post a piece from the CHG archives. This one comes from July 2007, meaning it was one of our very first articles. My pantry's changed a lot since then, but it's still fun to revisit.

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 chilies, 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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wosnes said...

Another good pantry list appeared recently at Stonesoup:

One of the best pieces of advice I've read about stocking a pantry is to pay attention to what you use in cooking and what you like to eat -- then keep the basics on hand. I'm surprised at how much the contents of my pantry has shrunk over the last year or so, but I'm able to cook more with what I have.

Holly said...

How perfect that you just posted this! I just moved from Boston to Seattle, and shed all of the pantry staples I had been squirelling away for years.
Now that I'm settling in, I've found myself in this bizarre realm of having to buy every ingredient for a single recipe, rather than just one or two fresh items.

I'm starting out by shopping for standby recipes, to make sure I have those covered. And although I'm familiar with what I'm missing and what gets used, it's nice to look at these lists so I don't forget about obvious ones (crushed red chile flakes ended up being an "emergency" purchase).