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Happiness is a full pantry

Sally Kilbridge
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
Legumes jars

In winter, there’s nothing like a well-stocked pantry to give you the warm fuzzies.

While preparing for a typical Steamboat Springs blizzard may not entail the kind of rush-to-the-store survival tactics as before the days of snow plows and DoorDash, there’s still something comforting about knowing the makings for a wonderful dinner are within arm’s reach.

All you need is a well-stocked pantry. 

Prep the pantry

Clearing out your shelves is time-intensive but thoroughly satisfying, and the only way to know if that tin of Italian tuna in olive oil is still where you hid it. Take everything out of the pantry, including racks and storage bins, which should be emptied and cleaned. Wipe down each shelf using a sponge and soapy water. (Feels better already, right?)

Next, assess your items. Toss anything that’s old, stale or expired. Take a damp paper towel to every container, eliminating the dribbles on your soy sauce and the sticky circle on the bottom of the honey bottle. 

Organize your goods

Before putting anything back on the shelves, divide your provisions into groups, and re-shelve them accordingly. Your goal is to be able to see everything and find items easily. Like things go with like things: Group grains with grains, oils with oils. You can also organize by zone, creating an area dedicated to breakfast items (cereals, granola, pancake mix) and to baking (flour, sugar, chocolate chips). 

Anything in a bag (dried fruit, granola, marshmallows) should find a home in a basket with similar items — for example, a basket with bags of lentils, rice and dried beans. Cans should be stacked on stepped risers; again, organize by type of food, such as soups and vegetables. Put spices in alphabetical order on a lazy Susan, risers or door rack and you’ll never hunt for the curry powder again. 

It takes 2: Easy olive oil/balsamic combos

With a bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, you have the savory start to dozens of dishes. Jessica McCleary — owner of Mountain Town Olive Oil, serving the Rocky Mountain West — chimes in on a few of her favorite pairings.

• 18-Year Traditional Balsamic Condimento with Tuscan Herb Olive Oil

Pour the dense balsamic into one dipping dish, the fragrant oil into another, and add a crispy baguette and you’ve got a simple, satisfying hors d’oeuvre. McCleary also uses the Tuscan olive oil for frying eggs, sautéing shrimp, and tossing into pasta.

• Blood Orange Olive Oil with Cranberry Pear White Balsamic Vinegar

Blend one part balsamic and two parts olive oil for a salad dressing that’s a mix of tart, sweet, fresh and fatty — particularly delicious on a spinach salad with pecans and goat cheese. McCleary bakes brownies and roasts beets in the blood orange oil as well.

• Neapolitan Herb Balsamic Vinegar with California Garlic Olive Oil

The zesty balsamic, flavored with rosemary, marjoram, thyme, garlic and sage, comes to life when paired with garlic-infused oil. Combined in equal parts, they’re an excellent poultry marinade or vegetable drizzle and add an extra layer of flavor.

Packaging takes up a lot of space — take individually wrapped items such as granola bars and instant oatmeal out of the box they came in and put in labeled bins to save lots of room. 

Items that you use frequently, such as oils, vinegars and hot sauces, should be on eye-level shelves. Save the top shelf for infrequently used pieces (cake stands) and bulky paper goods such as paper towels. Use your floor space for heavy groceries such as juice and soda bottles. 

Maintain order

Use the rule of rotation and get your household to practice it as well (good luck). Opened packages go in front, unopened in back. As you replace things, move old items to the front and put new items in back. 

Storing dried ingredients such as pasta and beans in glass jars looks nice and allows you to see when you’re running low. But it’s not for everyone. You need to be diligent about transferring goods from packages to jars after shopping; clipping unfamiliar cooking instructions from packages and placing them inside jars; and keeping the containers clean. And if you’re up for it, decant away. Here’s an easy way to keep bugs away: Drop a dried chili pepper or bay leaf into each jar. 

 Stay on top of what’s being emptied by keeping a notepad or a dry erase board on the inside of the door for grocery lists. 

Pantry temps should be below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 45% humidity. Plug in a small humidifier or use a product like Arm & Hammer Moisture Absorber. 

Keep it fresh(ish)

Go through your pantry twice a year and toss anything that’s past its expiration date. (There is some leeway here; you can almost always keep non-perishable pantry items for weeks, if not months, past the expiration date, as it indicates freshness, not safety.) 

Good for over 5 years

Canned goods (tuna, meat, beans, soup, most vegetables), vanilla extract, maple syrup, powdered milk, white rice, cornstarch, sugar, salt, all vinegars, hot sauce, honey

Good for up to 4 years

Salt-based sauces (soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, jarred bouillon), pickle relish 

Good for up to 2 years

Spices, ketchup, mustard, tomato sauce, vegetable and olive oils, Teriyaki sauce, chocolate chips, dried pasta, dried beans, acidic canned items such as tomatoes and fruit, baking soda

Good for up to 1 year (maybe more)

Flour, brown rice, oats, quinoa, popping corn, oil spray, baking powder, mustard, barbecue sauce, Sriracha, salsa, jams, pickles, and pancake, biscuit, and cake mixes

Good between 6 to 8 months

Cereal (unopened), juice boxes, croutons, crackers, 

Good for up to 3 months

Peanut butter, mayonnaise, breadcrumbs, cookies, marshmallows  


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