May 18, 2012

A Well Stocked Pantry

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When I was in my early 20's and living on my own, I didn't mind going to the grocery.  It was relatively easy because I wasn't cooking for a family. After I got married and started cooking for two, then three and as many as 23 on holidays, grocery shopping became a chore.  Like most chores, I don't care for this one either!  To make the best of the situation, I got in the habit of planning a weeks worth of meals and going to the grocery once a week. The advantages of this are twofold.

One, I'm not constantly running to the grocery to pick up a forgotten ingredient.  Two, when my day doesn't turn out as planned, I can easily alter the menu and still have dinner on the table for my family.  By keeping a variety of nonperishable ingredients on hand that can be used alone or combined with fresh, refrigerated or frozen food, I can prepare an impromptu meal.  These pantry items can be grouped into categories.


This includes three kinds of flour -- all-purpose, bread, Wondra -- and sugar  -- granulated, brown, confectioners -- plus other dry ingredients necessary for baking cakes, cookies and breads.


Spices have a short shelf life, about 6 months, so I only keep spices on hand that I use on a regular basis.  I try to buy small bottles unless they're spices I use regularly or are only sold in large sizes.


I always keep apple juice, pineapple juice and tea bags on hand.  We drink the juices plus I use them in other recipes.  The apple juice is used in baked apples; the pineapple juice goes in fruit tea.  


Unlike beverages, these liquids aren't for drinking.  They are sometimes used alone, like barbecue sauce, but are usually combined with other ingredients.


This category consists of evaporated, sweetened condensed and nonfat dry milk powder.  Each one is used for a different purpose.  Evaporated milk is good for gravy and sauces while sweetened condensed milk is used in desserts.  Dry milk powder can be combined with water to make milk, but I keep it on hand for one reason:  macaroni and cheese.


I keep canned chicken, salmon, tuna and hash plus a jar of dried beef in the pantry.  The chicken is great in chicken pot pie and the salmon makes delicious baked salmon patties.


Most of the canned fruit I keep on hand is eaten as a side dish or snack. The mandarin oranges and crushed pineapple are also used in congealed salads.  The pie fillings can be used for dessert, but the apple pie filling is also a key ingredient in a pork chop and apple entree.


Most of the canned vegetables are heated and served as a side dish, but I keep two of them on hand for specific dishes.  The mixed vegetables are for chicken pot pie while the whole beans are used for green bean bundles.


Most of the soups are used in other dishes, but tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches have been known to appear on the dinner table on busy days.  The chili is good heated in the microwave for a quick and easy lunch.

Pasta, Rice and Grains:

I keep a variety of pasta -- spaghetti, ziti, macaroni and egg noodles -- on hand for casseroles.  The egg noodles can be combined with other pantry ingredients for a quick and easy microwave tuna casserole.  The oatmeal is used more for chocolate oatmeal cookies than for breakfast, while grits are served at breakfast and occasionally dinner.  Rice is a quick, easy and inexpensive side dish, but is also good for casseroles and other main dishes.


These are ingredients that don't really fit in any other category, but are helpful to keep on hand.  Cooking spray is a must when you do a lot of cooking.  I never make Jell-O per se, but use it for fruit and congealed salads.

Everything Else:

I keep bread mixes on hand for times I want to serve cornbread or muffins with a meal.  The Bisquick is good for sausage balls and pancakes. Sometimes I use the stuffing mix as a side dish, but most of the time I use it for easy pork chops and apples or stuffed breast of turkey.  I use Hamburger Helper on nights when I have ground beef, but don't have time to make Meat Loaf or Salisbury Steak.

When your plans fall apart faster than an ice cube in boiling water, don't turn to take out or delivery for dinner.  Turn to Plan B:  a well stocked pantry!

© Margaret's Morsels

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