Alrighty y’all. Let’s get this thing started. (Cue ’90s deejay voice and theme music.) Today is the first installment of the practical kitchen series where we’re going to get back to basics in the kitchen and make cooking less stressful and more practical and fun. Are you in?! (read the intro to the project here)
Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the Sound of Music reference.) When you read you begin with A, B, C. When you cook you begin with dough, eggs, cheese. (Okay, I’ll stop now. The dough, eggs, cheese thing isn’t entirely true but I had to finish the song and I’m clearly not a lyricist.)
But we do start with ingredients. Which is where we’re going to start with this challenge. Sort of. You don’t need a pantry full of crazy awesome stuff to make delicious food; have a good standing stock of the basics and you’ll be shocked at what you can throw together without having to do grocery runs every two days.
How do you know what the basics are?
I have a list. But that’s step four. Let’s do ourselves a favor and start with step one.
1. Take it all out.
Take this week to clean out and refresh your pantry. I just did mine and found canned goods in there from probably when we first got married. I have no idea how they’ve lasted this long or made 5 moves but there they were. Yikes. Big yikes. If you have anything like that, toss it. Mostly because it’s expired but also because if you haven’t touched it in 8 years, you probably don’t need it ever. Take everything out.
2. Get it together.
As you clean things out, make mental notes of what you use most often-i.e. daily. (Flour? Pasta? Shortening? Cinnamon?) Put those items off in one group-you’ll come back to them. Group everything else by type: breakfast foods, pastas, sugars, sprinkles, vinegars, canned goods, etc.
3. Make it pretty.
Don’t just start throwing stuff back in cabinets. Here’s my process:
Put the daily items (or just everything) in clear containers (these are what I use and I love them) on the shelf at your eye level so it’s easiest to reach and every time you open the cabinet/pantry doors, you’ll see them and know when it’s time to restock. Work upwards and outwards-putting the least used/specialty items at the top/sides but still visible.
Keep everything one layer deep if you have the space. Make it functional. I’m never going to put the sea salt in its designated spot if I have to take out 5 other things to get to it.
Combine and consolidate what you can; put granola bars/snacks/etc in bins that are easily accessible for grab-and-go. Same with fresh produce. I put produce in the VERY front of the pantry in nice wire bins so I can keep an eye on it. No one wants a forgotten potato in the back of the cabinet. Gross. (Not that I’d know from experience)
Okay, good. You got it all clean and pretty. Now we can fill in the gaps. But you don’t have to run out and buy all of aisle six at the store. (This is the part where we actually talk about basic ingredients.) I’ve broken down my pantry stock based on what I deem as essentials (things I need to never run out of), conveniences (things I like having around and using but don’t really need for basic recipes), and specialty items (those extra yummy special treats or random-rare-Asian-spice-blend-I-got-one-time-from-my-cousin’s-friend’s-boyfriend’s-great-aunt).
Some of these “essentials” might leave you scratching your head–cookie dough? Sriracha? Yes. Those are things that my family uses daily and, to us, the pantry is lacking if we’re out. Sub out your family’s particular tastes for a couple of those sorts of things. But I will say having the cookies as a staple is incredibly helpful: when company’s coming or just need a post-nap treat, I pop a couple in the oven and voila! Instant kitchen bonus points.
I’ll write some follow-up posts for the rest of the month going through why I picked what spices I did and more specific product recommendations. I’d originally intended to go through all of that here and explain each of them but this post is already getting excessively long. So we’ll do a this in several parts and I’ll leave it up to you to ask questions and for clarification if anything doesn’t make sense. Or highlight something you think I’ve left out. Again, this is all based on what my family keeps on-hand, outside of my weekly meal plan list.
Post your organized pantries and family’s lists on social media (#culinapractica) so we can find a happy middle ground for everyone – I’d love to see what works (or doesn’t!) for your family.
Here’s what my pantry looks like most days (sorry – the lighting is absolutely terrible in there):