Pantry confusion? Feel no shame, it’s common. Go ahead and take everything out. Clean the shelves. Pour the several bags or boxes of pasta into one, marry the bottles of vanilla and toss your old and expired stuff. It feels so good to start clean. Before you restock the shelves, are you sure your pantry is setting you up to be successful? Are you positive that all those foods actually belong on a shelf and not in the fridge? What should you be keeping on hand for meals in minutes? Allow me to clear up the confusion.
Put your whole wheat flour in a zip-close bag in the freezer. The same with your flax meal and cornmeal; those have oils in them that go rancid quickly. Stick with the small bags and not the bulk size because the savings aren’t savings if you have to throw it out. If your large containers of nuts, shredded coconut or nut butters are unopened and in airtight containers, you get to store them in your pantry. Once you open them up, though, they go to the fridge. Air is the beginning of the end for nuts and protein-rich foods, and refrigeration slows that process. I know it sounds obvious, but if the label says to refrigerate after opening, do it (yes, that means soy sauce, ketchup and chocolate syrup).
A well-stocked pantry can feed an army of friends who drop in at the last minute (as long as they bring the wine). Keep an airtight container of your favorite ancient grain, quinoa, spelt or the like to use as the foundation for your pantry feast. There should always be beans; canned chickpeas, black beans and cannellini beans require just a rinse and quick splash of vinegar and crack of pepper to start the party. If you have an extra 20 minutes to simmer some lentils in stewed tomatoes, you will look like a rock star. If you are a savvy shopper, there are olives, artichokes canned in water, roasted red peppers and anchovies, sardines or tuna (bought on sale) to accent your creation. Other favorite ingredients are tubes of pesto, salsa, jalapenos and vegetable stock (to go with your arborio rice for polenta, remember?). No more pasta and jarred tomato sauce for you, my friend.
You don’t just want ingredients in your pantry. You are busy and need those grab-and-go items to toss in your bag for snacks and sustenance. You cannot go wrong with dried seaweed (takes the place of potato chips and is an excellent wrap for your sandwich ingredients). Vacuum-sealed individual packets of olives, nuts, nut butters, dried fruit and seeds are also allowed in there, but do yourself a favor and have a bin to contain them. Those suckers can run loose and wind up stuck behind your honey bear. Tea bags are a no-brainer to grab and go to prevent the temptation of the coffee or soda you may crave at 3 p.m. You can be creative, and as long as you’re getting hot water for your tea, pull an individual packet of unsweetened oatmeal as well.
Think of it this way, cleaning your pantry is better than cleaning your sock drawer. Inspired eating doesn’t usually come from cozy feet, but it may come from the aged balsamic you forgot about.
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