Monday, October 04, 2010

Fall Kitchen Preparation, Part 3

Williams-Sonoma Baker's Spice Kit

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 tonight - the pantry.

I plan to have a pen and paper ready to inventory my foods before I put them back in the pantry. With the busy holiday season (and our predicted snowy winter) 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.


  • Need to spend any time grooming pets tonight? All three of mine need to be brushed.

  • 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 pumpkin bread 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!


French General Label Stickers

I don't want to be too anal retentive about my pantry, but I've fallen into the habit of using labels and stickers on some of my canned and boxed foods. Most food should already come labeled with an expiration date, but some things don't. 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.

Try pre-writing a few labels (not too many so you don't waste some) marked October 2010. Then you can easily stick them onto your boxed and canned food as you unpack them from your grocery bags.


Remove everything from your pantry and any food out of your other cupboards. Wash down the cupboards, and put in new fresh shelf paper if needed. Wipe dust off of cans with a dust rag.

Examine your cans for "Best By" dates. Discard any food you know you won't eat, or anything that's too old. (Throw them away, don't donate nasty or old food to food banks!)

Consolidate foods if you can - I have two storage tubs, each half full, of basmati rice. Time to pour the rice from one into the other, then rinse, dry and use the tub for something else.

Arrange the food back into the pantry the way you prefer it. Quickly 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 should be abel to budget that in twice a year. Don't forget to inventory your salt and pepper, too. Do you have kosher salt and sea salt as well as regular iodized salt?


Bellagio Raspberry Parfait Hot Cocoa, on Amazon

Be sure to familiarize yourself with your teas, coffees and hot chocolate mixes you might 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.

If your pantry or beverage storage area is crowded, you'll want to get rid of old items. And you might consolidate down from several boxes, cans or packages into one box whenever possible.

Teas also get less tasty with age, so be firm with yourself and throw out ones you know you've had a long time and nobody ever chooses them. I am going to throw out a Vanilla Chai tea that nobody here ever drinks.

If you actually find you don't have very much tea, coffee and hot chocolate, add these to your grocery list for the week.


Amy's Curried Lentil Soup

Look over your canned and boxed soups, boxed mac and cheese mixes, and other "emergency" easy-to-make type foods. Be thoughtful and careful while you take inventory of these. 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.
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 or dessert maker, check over your supplies of flour, sugars, cake mixes, muffin mixes, scones, brownies, bread machine mixes, raisins, shortening, chocolate chips, oatmeal, etc. 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 delicious 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 to spend in 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.

I expect my pantry cleaning to take just about an hour. Afterwards, I'll do my baking and cook myself a nice dinner.

LOVELY WEBSITES: French Fridays with Dorie

I love this concept! It's an online cooking group centered around author Dorie Greenspan's latest book. Members of the group will cook the recipe of the week, then share a picture of the results on their blogs. (They are asked not to post the actual recipes so as not to "share" the entire book online). On October 1st, they all made gougeres, and on October 8 participants will attempt "Gerald's Mustard Tart." I like that this group is run by an individual ( Laurie Woodward) and not just by the marketing arm of Greenspan's publisher.

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