The Well-Stocked Pantry

Heather's Walk-in Dream PantryIn just about every good cookbook you’ll find – usually in the introduction – a section entitled, “Staple Ingredients”, “Pantry” or simply, “Staples”.  In short, it’s the list of ingredients cooks should have on hand at all times.  For some cookbooks, like “Indian in 6” it includes ingredients you wouldn’t usually find in my pantry (until about a year ago), but are absolutely necessary to make a decent curry.  And in “1,000 Vegetarian Recipes” the ingredients are more, well, vegetarian.

When I watch cooking shows, my favorites are always those that take place in the cook’s home.  Why?  Because I like to peek into their pantries.  Ina Garten organizes her dry ingredients in large glass jars.  Martha stores everything in neatly labeled tins.  Their pantries are efficient and well-kept.  I’ve found that keeping my pantry organized makes my cooking experience much more enjoyable because I spend less time searching for ingredients and more time creating food.

When we moved into our house over a year ago, the final selling point for me was the pantry.  It’s a full walk-in measuring 10×6 with floor to ceiling shelving and it’s basically the pinnacle of my pantry dreams.  I’ve spent so much time cooking out of tiny kitchens with so little storage space, (one cupboard for all of my spices, oils and baking products?  Inconceivable!)  that walking into my pantry every morning is like a dream come true.

I’ve organized the shelves according to ingredient type and/or purpose.  The top and bottommost shelves are reserved for appliances (mixers, blenders, food processor and crock pot on the bottom) and the “liquor cabinet”.  (Luckily, Madison isn’t old enough to be curious, but I’m sure in years to come I’ll have to move it.)  Serving pieces and partyware occupy the top shelf, (ice bucket, beverage tub, pitchers, carafes, cupcake and cake carriers, etc.)  I don’t use these items everyday, but they’re still in view so I don’t forget I have them.

I’ve placed all of the ingredients I use a lot on the easiest to reach shelves.  So the oils are grouped together next to the baking supplies.  On the shelf below are all of the canned goods, boxed baking mixes, grains and pastas.  Below that is the cereal, dried fruits and nuts, “cellar vegetables” (onions, potatoes, etc.), snacks and crackers.

I also have a shelf for what I call overflow – items we never seem to have enough of, like peanut butter, ketchup, olive oil and spaghetti sauce.  So when that stuff is on sale I stock up and store it in that section.

Like I said before, I didn’t always have the luxury of a walk-in pantry.  The kitchen in one of my favorite apartments was – no joke – smaller than the pantry I have now.  I ended up raiding the shelving section at IKEA and installing floor to ceiling storage so that I had enough room for pots, pans, spices, oils and other staple ingredients.  I still had to keep the glassware and dinnerware on another shelving unit in the dining room and the serving pieces in the linen closet.  (I’m pretty sure IKEA laid claim to roughly half of my disposable income between 1999 and 2003.)

About a year ago I created my “dream pantry list” and then promptly set to fulfilling it.  It was kind of like completing a collection or designing a room – something that took time, almost six months, but was enjoyable to do.  I guess you can say I took the old Girl Scout mantra to heart – I’m prepared for anything Julia, Ina, Irma or Martha might throw at me.

Here is my list:

Oils – canola oil*, olive oil*, grapeseed oil, sesame oil

Vinegars – rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, cider vinegar*, white vinegar, balsamic vinegar*

Canned Goods – chickpeas, red kidney beans, black beans, cannellini beans, refried beans, chili bean mix, pineapple*, mango, whole peeled plum tomatoes*, diced peeled plum tomatoes, coconut milk, evaporated milk, corn*, tomato paste*, tomato sauce*, diced green chilis*, chopped olives, sliced olives*, whole olives

Condiments – ketchup*, mayonnaise*, pickle relish, soy sauce*, Tabasco sauce, salsa*, Worcheshire sauce*, spicy brown mustard, Dijon mustard*, yellow mustard, chutney, jam* (preferably 2-3 flavors)

Baking – flour*, sugar*, brown sugar*, confectioner’s sugar*, baking powder*, baking soda*, cornstarch*, cornmeal, baking mixes – cake, muffin, scone, dessert, dry cocoa*, chocolate chips, shortening*, molasses, maple syrup*, light corn syrup, dark corn syrup

Grains – barley, brown rice*, couscous, jasmine or basmati rice*, lentils, millet, pasta* (at least 4 types – long and short noodle variety), quinoa, white rice, wild rice*

Dried Fruit and Nuts – almonds*, pistachios, pecans, cashews, peanuts*, pine nuts*, walnuts*, raisins*, dried apricots, dried cranberries*

Miscellaneous – BBQ marinades, BBQ sauce, beef bullion*, brandy, bread crumbs*, capers, chicken broth, chicken bullion*, cocktail crackers, garlic*, graham crackers*, honey*, oatmeal*, peanut butter*, Ritz crackers, roasted red peppers*, rum (light and dark), saltine crackers*, sherry, sun dried tomatoes, Tahini, vegetable bullion, Wheat Thins

Spices – allspice*, basil, bay leaves*, cardamom, chili powder, cinnamon*, cloves*, coriander seed, cream of tarter, cumin*, curry powder*, dry mustard, garam masala, garlic powder, ginger*, marjoram, oregano*, paprika*, pepper*, peppercorns, red pepper, saffron, salt*, sesame seeds, tarragon, thyme*, tumeric, almond extract, lemon extract, vanilla extract*

*denotes Super Staple (a must-have)

2 comments on “The Well-Stocked Pantry

  1. Christa
    March 29, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    One of the best gifts I got for my wedding was the recipe book that included recipes from the guests at my shower (you’re in there! Greek Salad) and one of those “recipes” was a list of things I should keep in my pantry and freezer at all times from my cousin Wendy, who has more cooking knowledge and natural hospitality in her little finger than I will ever have (for example, keep a decent frozen pizza in the freezer all the time–you never know when you’ll need to feed some extra dinner guests!). Plus she gave me her recipe for homemade bubble liquid. Very handy!

    PS–Ina G is on my shit list. 1) Really, you don’t have time to cook a meal with a dying kid? 2) Are you so insulated in the Hamptons that you don’t think it will come out and make you look like a heartless wench? Heard of Twitter and TMZ? What was she (and presumably her handlers) thinking?

    • Heather
      March 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

      Ha! That’s so funny that I put my Greek Salad recipe in the cookbook. I think that’s the only thing I confidently knew how to make at that point.

      As for Ina, I agree. She’s slipped off the pedestal a bit….

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