Friday, December 04, 2015

Winter Kitchen Reset Part 4: The Pantry

Stacking Pantry Basket, from The Container Store

Tonight is another push to organize our kitchens for the upcoming holiday month. I plan to work on my pantry tonight, but I suspect it's a bigger project than I anticipated. I'm hoping to get it done in under two hours so I can relax with television or a book later.

I plan to have a pen and paper ready to inventory my foods before I put them back in the pantry. This sounds a little OCD or anal retentive, but 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. Nor do I want to neglect to buy something important, like white sugar or a gingerbread mix.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

Duff Elf Prints Cookies, on Amazon

  • Need to spend any time grooming pets tonight? All three of mine need to be brushed. They're shedding like crazy, which confuses me since it's getting colder. You'd think they'd need to keep as much fur around as possible!
  • Do you use felt pads on the legs of your chairs or barstools? If so, do you need to wipe them to get rid of hair? Mine tend to collect lots of dust and pet hair every week.
  • Need to do any Christmas shopping or wrapping this weekend? I try not to fall behind in the wrapping.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Pantry

Kitchen Wrap Organizer, on Amazon

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

LABELS:

I don't want to be too obsessive/compulsive about my pantry, but I've fallen into the habit of using labels and stickers on some of my canned, canistered and boxed foods. Most food should already come labeled with an expiration date, but some things don't. It's also easier for my poor aging eyes to see the dates on the stickers than the little tiny Best By date on some products.

PANTRY SORTING:

Black and White Kitchen Shelf Paper, on Amazon

Remove everything from your pantry and also take 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.

Let's examine our 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!)

If you can, try to consolidate foods. I somehow have two storage canisters, each half full, of jasmine rice. Time to pour the rice from one into the other, then rinse, dry and use the second 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.

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 apple caramel cupcake mix. It will only take you a few minutes to get the mix stirred and the oven preheated, and you can enjoy smelling the goodies bake while you finish the pantry.

SPICES:

Wall Mountable Spice Rack, on Amazon

Let's pay special attention to our spice collections. Spices do get old, but not super quickly. Still, it's good to use fresh herbs and spices whenever possible for maximum flavor. Chefs would tell us to not use herbs out of jars, but sometimes we have to. Let's discard spices we bought once to make just one particular recipe, spices we bought on impulse but didn't actually cook with, and spices looking old and discolored. 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 just $1.50 a jar (usually). It's affordable enough you should be able 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?

HOT DRINKS:

Ghiradelli Hot Cocoa Mix, on Amazon

Let's be sure to familiarize ourselves with the teas, coffees and hot chocolate mixes we might have on hand. Maybe you also stock hot cider mix? We'll all be drinking lots of hot beverages in the upcoming months, I imagine, and we'll need them to serve to guests as well. I don't personally drink coffee, but I have both regular and decaf on hand for my guests.

If your pantry or beverage storage area is crowded, you'll want to get rid of old drink mixes and any weird teas or coffees that you don't ever actually end up using or serving. Also, we might consolidate down from several boxes, cans or packages into one box whenever possible.

Holiday Tea, from Harney & Sons, on Amazon

Coffees and teas also get less tasty with age, so be firm with yourself and throw out packages you know you've had a long time where nobody ever chooses to imbibe them. I am going to throw out a cranberry green 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.

EMERGENCY FOODS:

Kraft Mac and Cheese, on Amazon

I always try to keep some "emergency" type kid-friendly and comfort food items in the house. You never quite know when someone is going to drop off a niece or nephew, or a teenage neighbor locks themself out of the house after school (it's happened soo many times, giggle!) I always want to have a way to make a quick and easy pasta or soup in case I'm out of bread for sandwiches.

Let's look over our canned and boxed soups, boxed mac and cheese mixes, and other "emergency" easy-to-make type foods. We should be thoughtful and careful while we take inventory of these. I was thinking about the very real possibility that I could end up having soup a few nights in a row this cold winter. Sometimes I don't feel like going out, and though I work at home at a computer, I can be too exhausted to cook at the end of the day. 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. <>BAKING SUPPLIES:

Krusteaz Sugar Cookie Mix, on Amazon

If you are a baking enthusiast or dessert maker, check over your supplies of flour, sugars, shortening, cake mixes, muffin mixes, scone mixes, brownie mixes, bread machine mixes, raisins, chocolate chips, oatmeal, etc. (If you bake from scratch more than from mixes, you'll adjust your shopping list accordingly!) Be sure you have enough supplies for the upcoming month - dinner parties, festivities, gifts, etc.

FINISHING UP:

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 too many items to pay for 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 under two hours. Afterwards, I'll do a little baking and cook my household a (hopefully) nice dinner.

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Brown Butter Hazelnut Doughnuts (Tutti Dolci)

Chai Spice Bundt Cake (Bake or Break)

Chicken Spinach Meatball Soup with Broth and Rice (Joy the Baker)

Eggnog and Almond Scones (Hungry Girl Por Vida)

Roly Poly Santa Cake (Hungry Happenings)


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