Stocking the Pantry

No matter how long or how short of a time you have been keeping house, stocking the pantry always seems to be a challenge.  After all, these are the items that can get expensive as you work to purchase spices, condiments, and a few extras to keep on hand for emergency.
While I buy groceries weekly, I always have enough necessities on hand that will allow me to change up dinner plans, adjust for unexpected (but always welcomed) guests, or if I’m running short on time, allow for me to wait a few days before I have to go to the grocery.  This is where you can really benefit from using coupons and price matching at the grocery store.  Your cabinet doesn’t have to be overflowing with staples, just the basics for creating quick and easy dishes.  The idea is to be prepared for anything that could happen.  If you have stocked up on some basics, you will be able to whip up a meal quickly.  I try to keep these items on hand at all times to use along side what I have planned on my menu.  You don’t purchase these every time you buy groceries, but gradually build your supply, then replace as necessary.
 

Here is a list of my pantry necessities:

*Pastas (all shapes, sizes and even grains), perfect for a quick dinner accompaniment or even main course

*Rice; brown, white and wild.  Couscous also fits into this category.

*Canned tomatoes, tomato sauce & paste, and tomato juice; for making pasta or pizza sauce

*Beans (Navy, Pinto, Black & Garbanzo); dried & canned. For soups or even a salad topper.

*Assorted stocks (Chicken, beef, vegetable); perfect for making soups or sauces

*Assorted nuts (Pecans, Walnuts, Almonds); can be toasted or eaten as a snack.

*Sugar (Brown, White & Powdered)

*Cornmeal (plain & self-rising)

*Flour (whole wheat, plain & self rising)

*Cornstarch

*Evaporated & Sweetened Condensed milk

*Baking chocolate or chocolate chips (white, milk, semi-sweet) for an easy dessert

*Baking powder & Baking Soda

*Panko (Japanese Bread Crumbs)

*Vanilla or other flavored extracts

*Peanut Butter/Nutella

*Assorted Crackers (a party pack from Costco is perfect to keep on hand)

*Olive Oil, Canola Oil, Truffle Oil (definitely a splurge, but so luscious!)


*Vinegars (Balsamic, Apple Cider, Red Wine, or Rice); perfect for making a salad dressing

*Dijon, Whole grain, & Spicy English Mustards

*Assorted salts (sea, kosher, maybe add a Hawaiian or Black sea salt)

*Section of peppercorns; try a colored mix, each has a different flavor.

*A good mix of herbs and spices.  I prefer using fresh, but dried spices will serve many needs.

*White & Red wine (good quality, but inexpensive for cooking)

*Tea & Coffee (decaf & regular)

Stocking the refrigerator is a little different.  You want to use your ingredients fresh, so keeping all of these always on hand can be a challenge.  I find myself using the following ingredients weekly in a variety of ways, so I always want them in my refrigerator..

Here are my necessities for the refrigerator:

*Salad ingredients (fresh lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, etc..).

*Favorite condiments (soy sauce, hot sauce, jams or jellies)

*Fresh fruit; including lemons, limes & seasonal berries

*a dozen eggs

*Bacon

*Potatoes

*Onions (red, sweet, green, & shallots)

*Milk & Butter

*Assortment of drinks (bottled water, soda, tea)

*An assortment of cheeses, including cream cheese (cheddar, feta, blue, Parmesan, brie); some cheese  keeps better than others, so check out your family’s favorites and keep them fresh.

*Whipping cream

And for the Freezer:


*Packaged vegetables

*Whole chickens; from soup to salad to a main course you can do so much with a chicken.

*Homemade stocks (Beef, chicken, seafood)

*Puff pastry for quick and easy appetizers or an adventurous beef wellington.

*Rolls or other favorite bread

*Soups, Stews or chili; over make a recipe from time to time and put some up for a quick meal later on.

*Ice

*Frozen appetizers (sausage rolls, mini quiches, etc)

A couple of suggestions (that work well for me); if you choose to keep wine on hand for cooking, the small bottles that are usually sold in four-packs are perfect for recipes.  Also, don’t be afraid to keep pre-made sauces on hand for meal accents.
I love this foundation sauce for a meal accompaniment when I have fixed a London broil or chicken breast.  I found this at Fresh market, but I believe Publix might carry it.
Compared to some lists, this may seem rather sparse, but look at what you can create from just these ingredients:  a fabulous salad with homemade vinaigrette, any number soups or stews, a delightful pasta dish fit for company, breakfast sandwiches, and even homemade ice cream.  Always keeping your spices and baking products stocked will help with any meal you have planned.
Use a tiered storage system to help organize your spices (Bed, bath Beyond have several varieties that start at $10.  I keep my spices in alphabetical order, for easy access.  If you choose to do this, be sure to instruct your teenage daughters to replace them correctly or you might wind up with cinnamon in you spaghetti sauce instead of basil!
A note of importance in keeping your kitchen stocked; keep up with expiration dates.  If any of your dairy products or mayonnaise is expired, just throw it out.  As for spices,  if you can get a good strong smell of the spice you are using, it’s not even flavoring your meal.  If your baking soda or powder is expired, breads or cakes will not rise.  Using expired products or products that have not been properly stored after opening can really make you sick.  This is especially so for things like milk, cheese, mayo, etc… If you have purchased meats and cannot use them within two days of purchasing, freeze them.  They will keep two-three months (often longer) in the freezer.
I hope you find this list useful.  If you are prepared with your staples, preparing meals will go so much easier and can actually be fun!
Tell me, what is your one item you must have in your kitchen?

What’s for Supper?

There is no worse feeling than to walk into the kitchen to cook supper, only to open and shut the cabinet or refrigerator door several times and not have any idea as to what to prepare.  Nothing turns my evenings into chaos quicker than to not have a clue what I am fixing for supper.

(manystars.com)
Preparing dinner shouldn’t be stressful.

Over the years I have tried several meal planning websites, menu planning for a month, and the always dangerous “fly by the seat of my pants” methods for getting supper on the table.  Between an enormous amount of food waste to dollars spent in restaurants with no plans, I knew something had to be done!  By no means have I perfected the dinner hour, but I have made progress in solving our own dilemma regarding “What’s for Supper?”  It’s nothing fancy, and it may not work for everyone, but when you are juggling four kids and their extra-curricular activities and a husband who travels for work 50% of the time, this solution has really helped my issues.What is it?

Simple enough, I buy groceries one week at a time.  Yep, it’s that simple.  For the most part I don’t grocery store hop to get all I need, I have a destination and off I go.  Occasionally I do pop into Whole Foods or Fresh Market to grab few few specials or fresh veggies.  This usually works well for us (unless the stupid Beagle decides to eat Friday’s dinner plans because I sat down to chill after shopping with my kids instead of putting up groceries.)

Honestly, this plan only works well if you are organized and good at scheduling.  I keep a planner/journal in my purse at all times.  In it is a complete schedule of family activities:  Audley’s business trips, extra-curricular activities, youth group activities, field trips, times, and locations of all that is going on in our lives.  I also keep my to-do list in the planner, and this is where my menu for each day is written as well.  You can invest in a good planner for about $20, although I have seen planners go as high as $150!  I try to be organized, but prefer to do it cheaply.  I purchase mine when the kiddos get their planners for school, so the year goes August to August and the entire family is lined up the same.

Mom Agenda from Swoozies.

Before you can menu plan and shop accordingly, do an inventory of your cabinets and refrigerator.  See what you have, write it down and make use of it!  If you garden and can, be sure to count these items as well.  I discovered before we moved that I had enough food stashed away that I didn’t have to make a trip to the store for the last two weeks we lived in our home!  And here I thought we were starving every week when I went to the store!

Four days before our move all of the ingredients were stashed away to make this delicious creamy tomato sauce to top  mushroom ravioli.
BBQ chicken (a combo of three nearly empty bottles of sauce) and veggies, just two days before we moved.

After you have completed your inventory, make a list of your family’s favorite meals.  Finally, make a list of recipe ideas you have collected from magazines, books or blogs.  This will be those things you have always wanted to try, but not really made the time for, like RuthAnn’s Hillbilly Spaghetti Pie, Pioneer Woman’s Braised Beef Brisket, or even my favorite Cornbread Salad. You want to hang onto all three of these lists; stick them in your planner for reference.

Menu planning one week at a time is a 30/45-minute project or less after you get started.  I like to do it on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning after the kiddos have gone to school.  Sales paper in hand, or internet ads pulled up (from multiple destinations), I jot down the items that are on sale that really appeal to my family.  I am by no means an extreme couponer, but I do use them and match adds.

Using those items, I check my lists and see what ingredients I already have, what appeals to the family, and what makes my own heart sing.  If it is something we had recently, I turn to my cookbooks or recent magazines where I might have marked a recipe or two for inspiration.  I keep a little notebook in the kitchen where I write down anything we keep in stock that I have run out of which I add a list of what I need creating my menu and grocery list for a week.  If there are several great sales and you can fit it into your budget, add a little extra to stock up on or plan a meal or two for the following week.

Writing it down in my planner just as if I were writing down an appointment, allows me to see what I have prepared in the past few weeks so that I am not meal repeating.  It also allows me to coordinate meals to fit activities.  For example, if Madeline has a home track meet on Tuesday, it means we may not eat until 8:30.  For that night we will have something that I can make in the crock-pot, it might be a good night for bacon egg and cheese sandwiches, or I might pack a picnic basket for us to enjoy while sitting at the stadium.  By already knowing the plans for the day, I can plan my meal accordingly.

But, plans do change.  You may get stuck in traffic, something may not thaw out properly, or you may have simply run out of hours in your day.  You can still be prepared for this.  Allow for one to two extra meals in your budget a couple of times a month.  This might include ingredients for homemade pizzas, jarlsburg or brie cheese for a totally amazing grilled cheese sandwich, or fresh vegetables for a filling salad.  I also try to keep a few extra’s on-hand for the days when we have unexpected company, but I’ll get into that more with a stock the pantry list my next post.

If you need inspiration for meals, check out your favorite magazines or the internet for resources.  Pampered Chef offers many quick recipes on their site.  One of my favorite places to find inspiration is the Williams-Sonoma website.  Not only can you find a menu planner here, but ideas for quick and easy recipes.  And seriously, you would be amazed at how inspired you can get reading the latest issue of Southern Living while waiting on track practice to end!  Step out of your box and be creative.  It’ll make everyone look forward to mealtime!Like I mentioned earlier, different things work for different people.  I just find it so much easier and less stressful to shop one week at a time.

What works for you?

 

Kitchen Matters

When you love to cook and entertain, having a well organized kitchen is so important.  It was fun unpacking our kitchen when we moved in because it gave me an opportunity to organize my dishes as well my pantry and refrigerator.  Nothing like a clean slate to start with!
“A place for everything and everything in its place”
Mrs Beeton (The Book of Household Management)
With our oldest daughter engaged to be married and looking to set up her own home, she often comes to me for advice and ideas.  As trivial as it may seem, I love spending time with her talking about these things, because quite honestly it is important.
When you look around at all the restaurant popping up, the freezer section in the grocery store getting larger, and nights getting later for so many, kitchens are becoming more of a showpiece and less of a gathering space.  I also know Home ec is no longer taught in schools like it was when my mom was growing up.  In one generation we have lost the art of homemaking, more specifically, lost the art of cooking for the family.  People are scared of the kitchen, or unwilling to make the time to make it a special place to be. And let’s face it, eating out is expensive!
It’s really time we all got back to the kitchen!
The kitchen is an important part of our home, the busiest room in the house without a doubt!  Not only do we gather with the family for meals, but it is also a place where my kids have a snack and do their homework each day, where we entertain our friends, where I spend a little extra time with my children talking about their days. Relationships are built here and love is shared.
 {It is the epicenter of our home.}
 
You don’t have to have the most modern and expensive kitchen to make it a special place.  Your kitchen is a reflection of you and your life.  Mine is a casual and comfortable galley style kitchen.  Not modern by any means, but practical for our needs without a doubt.
I want to be in my kitchen.  I want to cook, even after a late night with sports.
Over the next few weeks, I want to share with you a few ways I have made my kitchen a practical place to work and spend time.  If you are setting up your own kitchen for the first time, I hope to share with you some advice to help you get started.  If you are established in your kitchen, but not quite organized, I hope to offer you suggestions for getting it together and make your time spent in the kitchen even more fun.
Isn’t this more intimate and welcoming than dining with 100 strangers?
A few things I would like to cover include a little about decor, what you do and don’t need, stocking the refrigerator and pantry, casual entertaining, menus, and clever storage ideas.
If you have something you would like for me to cover, by all means, share it!  I would love to cover topics that you would find beneficial. 
 
What role does the kitchen play in your life?
 

Holiday Entertaining Timeline

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?  After all it’s just over two weeks away!
 
Well, I am not ready either, but with all the adventure and excitement that comes with the holiday season, I am ready to get my act together.  Last week I shared one of my secrets for an organized and budgeted holiday in the kitchen; buying a few extras for your pantry here and there as you are out grocery shopping in October and the early part of November.  It sure helps balance the price of the season.  With most all of our plans in place now, I find myself really excited about the upcoming celebrations! Now is the perfect time to pull dinners and parties together.
Another secret to stress-free entertaining during the holidays is to use a timeline to help you stay organized and even on schedule.  This works especially well for large events like Thanksgiving dinner or a Christmas  Open House.  By following a timeline, you can have most of the prep work completed which will give you more free time to visit with family and friends the day of your event.  It will also give you plenty of time to pull together one fabulous event that everyone will think you hired it out!
We all would love to visit more wouldn’t we?
So here is my easy timeline for event planning…….
1 to 2 weeks before the event:

*Select the food you will be preparing.  There are several wonderful magazines out just for the holiday season (Southern Lady & Celebrate the Season are two of my favorites) filled with easy recipes to make your party success.  Websites like Life & Style with Colin Cowie is filled with unique ideas as well.  Also include family favorites and your “go-to” recipe for any party.

 

*Make your grocery list and decide what equipment you will need to prepare the meal.

*Also, this is a good time to make sure that you have all the dishes you need for your guests.  It’s rather awkward and even chaotic to set the table on Thanksgiving and realize that you forgot Aunt Sally and her husband.

 

The week before your event:
*Start buying your food, purchasing the things that will remain fresh until you are ready to use them.  If you have already added extra flour, sugar, eggs, and other heavily used necessities to your pantry by shopping early, this grocery bill won’t be as high as you would expect.
Now, that takes away a lot of stress!!
 
*Make sure you have a menu hanging visibly in your kitchen and your recipes organized for easy access.  This is when I love those little annoying magnets that stick on the refrigerator!
*Play with table settings.  Make sure you have ample room for your guests.  Sometimes it requires two tables.  Sometimes it works better to turn your table into a buffet and go with casual dining to accommodate  everyone.  If you are blessed with teen-age daughters, let them express some of their creativity in table settings.  Setting the table is a very grown-up affair for them, but it will bring some youth in the design for you.
A Beautiful buffet from notjustrockets.com
Martha Stewart always has beautiful suggestions for the table on her website!
I love the mini-pumkin filled vases found at weddings.com
Two to Three days before your event:
*Complete your grocery shopping.

*Make any dips, sauces, chutneys, etc that you have planned.  These can be sealed and placed in the refrigerator, perfectly chilled for appetizers and your meal.

*Thaw out your meat/poultry in the refrigerator; if you have ordered your main course fresh, go pick it up two days before.

*Go ahead and make your pie crusts and place in your pie dishes.  Cover and keep chilled as well.

*Lay out the items you intend to serve food in with the proper serving-ware.  Using sticky notes, label what will go in each dish.  This will keep you focused and allow others to help you in the kitchen without too many questions the day of your event.

*Bake your cakes. Do not ice and wrap securely in Saran Wrap and refrigerate.

*Clean the house and threaten your kids if they mess it up.

The day before:
*Marinate the meat dish, if needed.

*Assemble the cornbread dressing or stuffing and place in a dish ready to bake; do not bake.  COver & place in the refrigerator.

*Chop or peel any vegetables that you are planning to use.  This is when those plastic Gladware containers really come in handy!  Chop, cover and store.

*Bake your pies, cover and store appropriately.  This is a good time to whip up some heavy cream to top those pies with as well.

*Ice your cakes and cover.  I use a cake stand with a top.

*Refrigerate wines that need chilling, make tea, and prepare the coffee pot.

*Set the table.

The big day has arrived:
*Bake the dressing.  Set it aside and reheat just before serving.

*Prepare your main dish/meat and put it in the oven, allowing for the proper time to cook.  If you plan to stuff a turkey, don’t stuff it until just before baking.

*If your pies were refrigerated, remove up to two hours before the meal.

*If you are setting up a table of appetizers, set it up about an hour before guests arrive.

*While the oven is full of your main dish, cook your vegetables.

*While your meat is resting to be carved, reheat your dressing and prepare your gravy.

Greet your guests with a beautiful smile and enjoy your day!