Stock Your Pantry Right!

Have you looked in your pantry lately? If it's full of jams you got as gifts and dusty cans of soup, then it's probably not working for you as well as it should.

The pantry is really the backbone of any kitchen. A well-stocked pantry can save you in any number of mealtime emergencies, like when the weather is too horrible for a quick trip to the store, or when you find yourself suddenly needing to stretch dinner for a few unexpected guests.

The Low-Fat Pantry

Many Americans are trying low-fat cooking, and their pantries reflect the change. There are a number of non-food items that are essential for low-fat cooking. At the top of anyone's list are nonstick cooking spray and an oil spray pump that lets you use your own oil. You should also have a sharp chef's knife and good, nonstick cookware.

Herbs and spices really help improve the flavor of food, and are a big help when cooking low-fat meals. Look beyond salt, pepper and oregano and try a new herb or spice each month.

Oil is essential to most cooks, and can be used in moderation in low-fat cooking. Try sunflower and canola oils for cooking, and roasted sesame-seed oil for flavor. Olive oil, especially extra virgin, should never be heated so always serve raw and at room temperature.

Canned goods no pantry can do without include beans for chili, canned tomatoes, pasta sauce and tuna.

Your baking shelf should include flour, brown and white sugar, baking powder, baking soda, oats, honey, corn syrup, vanilla extract, light peanut butter and baking spices. Also have on hand your favorite "baked-good additives" such as chocolate chips, raisins, shredded coconut and dried fruit.

Pantry Extras

To round out the pantry, stock your freezer with frozen vegetables, boneless and skinless chicken breasts, ground beef, and, of course, ice cream, sherbet or frozen yogurt. Replenish your fridge with regular trips to the grocery to pick up butter and margarine, eggs, milk, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, cereal and bread.

Use your pantry to store products you enjoy, such as sun-dried tomatoes in oil, 10 kinds of pasta, couscous and snacks. Other handy pantry items include tortillas, taco shells, salsa, mustard, ketchup and seasoning packets for tacos, chili and gravies. Families with young children often like to keep frozen pizza, pie shells, hot dogs and packages of chicken nuggets in stock. If you have a bread machine, keeping bread-machine mix on hand is a great back-up for the days you forget to pick up a loaf and are too tired even to dump the ingredients in the machine.

So take a look at that pantry shelf. Donate those old soups to a shelter Canned foods have a shelf life of at least two years from date of purchase and an "almost indefinite" shelf life at moderate temperatures, and all this will help you get started on a pantry that works for you.

For a working pantry:

  • Stock only products that you will use. If you never use vegetable shortening, you really don't have to have it on hand.
  • Replenish your supplies each time you go to the grocery. If you're just starting out, buy a few items each time, rather than all at once.
  • Have enough on hand to make a meal. It's nice to know that when it seems like there's nothing else in the kitchen, you can always make spaghetti!

Pantry Basics

  • ┬áChicken, beef and vegetable broths (great for adding flavor to rice and as a base for quick soups, stews and casseroles)
  • Canned fruits and vegetables, especially whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and beans
  • Jams and jellies (strawberry and grape for sandwiches, apple and apricot to glaze roasted meats and fruit tarts)
  • Condiments and sauces, including olive oil, vinegars (red wine, white wine and balsamic), soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and chocolate sauce
  • Herbs and spices, including salt, red and black peppers, oregano, rosemary, paprika, chili powder, cinnamon and thyme
  • Other staples such as white and brown rice, pasta in various shapes and sizes, corn starch (for thickening soups or sauces), coffee and tea

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