Building My Pantry

pantry.jpgI unleashed a rant against pantries last week, but despite my negative view, I know that a pantry of some sort is a kitchen necessity. If you feel grumpy about my extremist pantry perspective after last week, I'm here now to soothe your tender feelings with my own cupboards' tale.

It took me a couple of weeks to get my pantry system nailed down, to be honest. I'm out of practice. My pantry in Europe was practically nonexistent, especially during my time in Prague, as the space for it was limited by the number of cans I could stack on the kitchen floor without tripping. Having a whole two cupboards, plus a full-sized fridge and freezer, seems like the height of luxury now.

I started out shopping with the idea that I would only buy items I knew I would cook with in the coming week, plus anything I use regularly that I noticed was on sale for a great price. It worked out OK; I ended up with just enough to get by with for a week, plus a bunch of whole-wheat pasta for $1.50 a box.

It became a little trickier when I started visiting Costco. Except for a few fresh items, such as bananas and lettuce, nothing you buy at Costco will conceivably need to be replaced within a week. It's a place where it's easy to go overboard with pantry stocking.

On my first trip, I grabbed only fresh items and perishable lunch fixings, both categories I knew would not lead me astray. I knew I would want to start buying other items there regularly, but I felt unsure of whether the space cost would be worth the price savings.

I came back armed with a pocket notebook to make a price list. It took a couple of hours, sure, but now when I go to my regular grocery store, I know what to pass on and buy at Costco instead.

I proceeded to stock up on food that I knew for sure I would use every week and thus go through well before it expired, such as whole-wheat pasta (the price at Costco is terrific), light yogurt, and meats.

In the end, I did pretty well on stocking up. I've been "shopping" my freezer and cupboards for very basic meats and dry goods that I bought in bulk or on sale now for about a month. I don't have a wide variety of food on hand because I plan each week on going to the store.

Right now, if you checked my kitchen, you'd find a good stock of items we eat every week here: ground beef, poultry sausage, chicken breasts, whole-wheat flour, and brown rice in the freezer; pasta, canned tomatoes, beans, white flour, and sugars in the pantry.

One area I neglected to plan well for is condiments and spices. I wouldn't realize until I started planning to make a recipe that I didn't have, say, Worcestershire sauce or almond extract on hand. Since we end up using condiments and seasonings like soy sauce in non-"recipe" applications regularly, I should have taken the time to really think through how I hit up my spice pantry day to day.

Next week, I'll dissect what I learned from this pantry-building experience and provide a few general suggestions to help you plan your own pantry.

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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