Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Fall Kitchen Organization Part 3

Purple Celosia, for my front steps

Today is our last really big push to organize our kitchens for the upcoming fall months. (I still have a couple minor kitchen projects coming up this week though). I saved the biggest project for today - the pantry. This probably should be a weekend project, but I'm busy this weekend with birthday parties and visiting relatives.

I am going to be sure to have a pen and paper ready to inventory my foods before I put them back in the pantry. With the busy holiday season coming up, I want to be very prepared. I don't want to waste money at the store buying supplies I already have enough of at home, too.


- As you begin pulling things out of your pantry to sort, grab something you KNOW you've had around a few months, and bake it for your family. We shouldn't pig out on desserts all the time, but the occasional mid-week treat as a surprise is delightful. Perhaps you have a scone mix you haven't made time to bake yet, or a box of brownies, or in my case a box of lemon poppyseed muffin mix. It will only take you a few minutes to get the mix ready to go and the oven preheated, and you can enjoy smelling the goodies bake while you finish the pantry.


Time to get our pantries organized, food sorted and grocery list created!

One organizing tip I've found very helpful is picking up some Hot Hues label stickers next time you're at Target. They come in a few different shapes - round, rectangular, square - and are very colorful. A pack of 40 or more blank labels costs less than $2. Try pre-writing a few labels (not too many so you don't waste some) marked October 2009, and then slap them onto your boxed and canned food right when you bring it home from the grocery store, before they make it into the cupboards.

Most food should already come with an expiration date, but some things don't, so I like to label them. It's also easier for my aging eyes to see the dates on the stickers than the little tiny Best By date on some products. I started labeling my canned food whenever I bought food up at my family's lake house. I'd write the month and the year we purchased it, and it made it easier to use up or discard food before it went bad. I personally am not the most organized person and do a shameful amount of impulse purchases at the grocery store, then never cook the food, so this system has really helped me keep on top of which foods have been around a long time.

Remove everything from your pantry and any food out of other cupboards. Wash down the cupboards, wash dust off of cans, and discard any food you know you won't eat or anything looking old. Right now I am going to have to admit I am not baking bread as often as I thought, and get rid of some three year old specialty flour I have in a plastic tub. I also have more than one container of half-full jasmine rice - these should be consolidated into the same plastic tub too.

Sort the food back into the pantry the way you prefer it to be. Write down the food and quantity as you put each item back into the pantry and cupboards. You'll use this info as you stock up your pantry for the upcoming holidays, festivals and house guests.

Pay special attention to your spice collection. Spices DO get old quite quickly, much more quickly than you'd think. While they won't poison you, they won't taste as good as fresher spices. Chefs would tell us to not use herbs out of jars, but sometimes we have to. They'd also tell us to get rid of spices every 3 months, but I tend to go with the 6 month rule instead. Discard spices you bought once for one recipe, spices you bought on impulse but didn't actually cook with, and spices looking old and cruddy. Open and smell and taste them if it helps you decide which to keep and which to get rid of. What about your paprika - did you buy a huge container, only to find out you only use it for deviled eggs, and you only make those twice a year?

If you've gotten rid of any extremely important spices that you know you'll use frequently, put them on your grocery list for this week. If you are brave enough, toss out ALL your spices and start over with fresh ones. You can get newer, fresher spices at Trader Joe's for $1.50 a jar. It's affordable enough you can do that twice a year. Don't forget to inventory your salt and pepper, too. Do you have kosher salt as well as regular iodized salt?

Be sure to familiarize yourself with what teas, coffees and hot chocolate mixes you have on hand. We'll all be drinking lots of these in the upcoming months, I imagine, and we'll need them to serve to guests. You'll want to get rid of old ones or consolidate down from several boxes/cans/packages into one whenever possible. Teas also get less tasty with age, so be firm with yourself and throw out ones you know are old or you know you've had a long time because they are "too weird" and nobody wants them. I am going to throw out a Vanilla Chai tea that nobody here ever drinks.

My personal challenge to overcome is trying to be the perfect hostess. I attempt to have such a huge selection of tea on hand that any guest who comes over will have something they like. In reality, I end up with a huge, overflowing cupboard of tea. Then my guests only want Earl Grey or decaf English Breakfast; we drink Earl Grey or Blackcurrant in the morning, Chamomile at night, Jasmine if we're having Thai or Chinese food, lemon if we're sick and peppermint if our tummies hurt. So why do I have 12 other boxes of tea? If you actually find you don't have very much tea, coffee and hot chocolate, add these to your grocery list for the week.

Look over your canned and boxed soups, boxed mac and cheese mixes, and other "emergency" easy-to-make type foods. Be extra careful when inventorying them. You could end up having soup a few nights in a row this cold winter, so just having two or three cans on hand probably won't do it. Consider stocking chili for heartier meals, and have plenty of pasta and rice on hand.

Imagine Foods' Portobello Mushroom Soup

Do you have foods you can make if the power goes out? Do you have food on hand when guests unexpectedly arrive late at night and you need to cook supper in half an hour? Make sure you have at least one box of Kraft macaroni and cheese - great comfort food for kids and sick people.

If you are at all a baker/dessert maker, check over your supplies of flour, sugars, cake mixes, muffin mixes, scones, brownies, bread machine mixes, raisins, chocolate chips, oatmeal, etc., to be sure you have enough for the upcoming months and for guests.

After replacing your foods in your cabinets, sit down with something yummy you just baked and a comforting hot drink. Look over your inventory list. Use this to plan your grocery shopping for the next week. If you need to buy too much for one week, make a list for next paycheck too and split the groceries between them. If you've read through any cooking magazines or cookbooks this weekend, you might have an idea of the kinds of foods you'll be serving over the next month. Pick your recipes and figure out which ingredients for them you'll need to add to your grocery list.

LOVELY BLOGS: A Southern Daydreamer

This is a delightful blog by a lady who is a fantastic gardener (you can often see gorgeous pics of her garden on this blog) and who runs interesting things on her blog such as the Summer Reading Challenge and "Outdoor Wednesdays" where participants share photos they took outside their houses (such as on their porches or lawns).

LOVELY TV: The Next Iron Chef

I have Tivo, so when I fast forwarded over ads for "The Next Iron Chef" I thought they were just ads for the existing show, Iron Chef America, and ignored them. Today I just realized these are ads for a new show sort of like "The Next Food Network Star" crossed with "Top Chef" crossed with "Iron Chef America." Fun!

I really enjoyed the episode I watched except for the extremely gross things they were cooking (grasshoppers, unlaid eggs, chicken feet). That was difficult for my lifelong vegetarian self to watch without feeling slightly ill. Still, the show is fascinating and I think I'll be back to watch next week, queasy stomach and all.

The Next Iron Chef

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