New Year, New Pantry: Why keeping a stash of exciting things in the pantry will help you beat cooking fatigue in the year ahead.
Posted by Jane De Graaff on January 16, 2012.
If you store them well, a selection of pantry-helpers could make your kitchen year ahead that little bit less stressful.
January; the tail end of the silly season. We’re finishing up the last of the Christmas ham, mince tarts, final bottles of champagne and left over pudding. It’s been a blowout and one that most people look forward to all year long. But truth be told, some of us feel a little overdosed on the rich, extravagant and festive at this time of the year and might even be looking forward to getting back to a simpler dinner, an easier cooking style and sigh with relief once the pressure is off. It might be all holiday cooking now, but there will come a time once everyone is back at school, work and into routine that meal times and planning big dinners become less of a focus and more of a ‘must do’ to fill bellies and nourish loved ones.
So as we empty the fridges of Christmas and New Year fare it’s worth noting that the new year is a great time to refresh the pantry, maybe add some previously untried spice mixes and quick-fixes for the year ahead- so that when you don't feel like cooking, you've got a little extra inspiration up your sleeve.
- Salts, spices
Now is the time to sort through those unmarked packets and mystery powders that accumulate in dark corners of the pantry. It’s time to do away with old-spice and stock up on fresh blends that are well packaged and easily stored so that they keep their potency for the year ahead.
The quality of the spices that you start with is, of course, extremely important, but there’s no point in buying the best of you don’t think about storing them well. The aromas and distinctive flavours of spices are found in the volatile oils of their cell structures. These oils are destroyed by heat, light and moisture, causing them to oxidise and lose potency. So buy them in smaller amounts (to be replaced often), and keep them out of direct sunlight and away from moisture (think steaming pots and pans etc). Doubling up on spices that are past their best is not the answer, just buy them in smaller quantities.
The same goes for salt- keep it well away from moisture and if you’re going to keep it in that attractive salt cellar on the counter, only put out a little at a time so that you don’t have it accumulating moisture over long periods.
- Curries, pastes, marinades, dressings, mayonnaise and sauces
Nothing can make that last minute dash for a satisfying dinner more stress-free than a good quality pre-prepared dressing, sauce or marinade. Sure everyone likes to say ‘I made it myself’, but the reality is that there are days when we just don’t have the room, time or energy to start from scratch. For times like these it’s as well to have a few carefully chosen helpers in the pantry, so you’re not left high and dry when a good meal is probably what you are most in need of- after all, a quality curry beats baked beans on toast any day, and takes about the same amount of preparation.
When opening a new paste, marinade, sauce or other jarred item, make sure you pay attention to the storage instructions. If it says refrigerate after opening, don’t put it on a shelf in the pantry. If it says store away from light, don’t leave it on a convenient shelf. This will ensure that when you go to use these excellent products again that they will be at their most potent, giving you the result you are after.
Equally important, just because a tasty jar can keep for a long time in the fridge, doesn’t mean that it should be kept as long as possible. As with all good quality ingredients they will begin to oxidise and react to the air once they are opened- so using them as quickly as possible is always recommended for best effect.
- Oils and vinegars
Finally, one of the best handy-helpers to pull you out of a sticky-spot for mid-year meals is a selection of top quality oils and vinegars; because quality in these areas can cover a multitude of other sins.
When all else is in question, nothing makes a simple and perfect salad dressing like a splash of olive oil and vinegar. The quality of both can lift a simple leafy salad from the uninspiring to the simply delightful- depending entirely on what sort of oil and vinegar you have to hand. The tangy notes of a cold pressed, extra virgin oil can add both creamy and green notes, while the zing of vinegar can range from fruity cherry notes, to spicy and sweet vanilla or cinnamon depending on the type you use. Aged balsamic can act as a marinade or glaze for meat, as well as double as a dip with crusty bread.
But as with all quality pantry ingredients, oils and vinegars must be stored well (away from light and heat) and according to instructions to keep them in tip-top condition.
And if you make sure you’ve got a good mixture of these quick-fixes in your pantry, stored well and ready to inspire you when your kitchen mojo is lagging, you’ll have a happy and tasty new year.
Here’s to a delicious 2012.