How to Stay Sane Organizing Your Kitchen! Part Two in a Kitchen Organization Series– The Pantry

Create a kitchen where you can cook and prepare meals without stress or anxiety! Stock your pantry with lots of no-fail staples and more!

So here we are back in the kitchen!  This happens to be one of my favorite rooms in the house.  I have always loved cooking and entertaining for friends and family.  My kitchen is a place of comfort, good food and lots of laughter.  Even when my oldest daughter was studying abroad, my house was home to her friends who would always stop over and sit down to dinner with us.

My intension is to help you create a kitchen that helps you enjoy spending time there without the least bit of stress or anxiety.   Even if you don’t like to cook you still might get great satisfaction from brewing your morning coffee and getting a small bite for breakfast.  Why not take the stress out of your morning routine and start the day off on a positive note!

You will find that you eventually begin to enjoy your kitchen more and more because you have tackled the chaos and set up a comfortable flow.   If you haven’t had the opportunity to read part one in this series about kitchen organization then please refer back to my previous blog entitled, "Help! My New Home Has a Fabulous Kitchen and I Don’t Know How to Cook! Part One in a Two Part Series on Kitchen Organization."

All the nuts and bolts of getting your kitchen into shape are discussed in that article.

Now, let’s get that pantry organized and well stocked!

Start with removing everything from the pantry.  Wipe down the shelves so that you are working with a clean environment.  Take a look at your supply of baskets (either wicker or plastic) and bring those out.  If you need to purchase a fresh supply then by all means do so before re-stocking the shelves.  Today’s dollar stores carry a variety of both plastic and wicker baskets that are priced just right and suitable for just this purpose.

Before we begin to stock the shelves take a moment to review your lifestyle.  Are you a gourmet cook or a short order cook?  Do you find yourself taking the kids from one after school activity to another without having the benefit of a sit down meal?  Do you prepare your kids lunches or lunch for yourself and your partner?  Are you solo and enjoy making your own lunch?  There are many people who fine with grabbing a quick lunch at a local fast food restaurant.  There are also many people who have restricted diets (gluten free, diabetic, high or low carbs, low glycemic, etc.) who much prefer to prepare their own lunches and dinner

Here is a helpful list of staples that do well in all kitchens:
Canned or boxed kitchen broth
Canned goods such as corn, black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans (chic peas), white beans
Canned corn, diced tomatoes, canned yams
Canned evaporated milk
Clam juice, canned clams
Jarred salsa
Boxed cake mixes, boxed pudding mixes
Assortment of chocolate chips (milk chocolate, semi-sweet, dark, etc.)
White or unbleached flour, self-rising flour
Extra virgin olive oil
Vegetable Oil (I prefer safflower or sunflower as opposed to soy which is actually not a vegetable—check the label on your vegetable oil and you will be surprised)
White, brown and powered sugar
Assortment of pasta (including gluten free if needed)
Salt, pepper and assortment of spices
Grated Cheese
Assortment of vinegars
Canned shrimp
Powdered chicken stock
Jar of cappers (optional according to taste)
Dry buttermilk powder
Dutch processed chocolate powder (no sugar)
Jar(s) of red maraschino cherries
Jar of roasted peppers, artichoke hearts
Jar tomato sauce
Peanut butter
Grape jelly (and other varieties)
Canned soups
Mustards (sweet, spicy brown, golden, horseradish)
Soy sauce
Steak sauce
Worsteshire Sauce
Cereal assortments
Napkins and paper towels

Vegetable items to include:  garlic, onions and potatoes

Food storage or wrapping items:  aluminum foil, plastic wrap, waxed paper, parchment paper, assortment of plastic baggies, small paper lunch bags

For on-the-go sport moms and dads:  Include bottled water, bagged or boxed juice, granola bars, chips, dried fruit and nut snacks, power bars

So let’s begin with the canned foods.  Place all beans in one section, vegetables in another, etc.  Add a section for condiments and another for cereals.  Group all of your sugars together (make sure you have an additional sugar bowl near your coffee maker station).   Now grab your baskets and fill them with the smaller items such pudding, spices, (there are also some great spice organizers out there), etc.  You can even put onions and potatoes into these baskets.  Remember to use the potatoes within a week or two otherwise they start to form nubs and get soft and old.  Now you can also make up a basket that you transport to your vehicle (van or car trunk) and fill it with all of the on-the-go foods for easy handling.  Keep it filled on a regular basis and it will save time and energy when you are hurried moving from one event to another.  Make sure your paper goods such as napkins and paper towels are stored together for easy grab and go.

Make a special section dedicated to food storage items so that you have everything you need for a quick clean up or for prepping foods.  A few FYIs that might be useful:  I use waxed paper to cool cookies when they are fresh out of the oven.  I also use it to line the counter when rolling out pie dough so that I can easily transfer the pie crust to the pie plate.  I use parchment paper for lining baking pans, baking fish with vegetables, and lining fudge pans.  Small plastic sandwich bags come in handy for make ahead sandwiches or to store single serving lunches. I make my own varieties of stuffed bread and then after it has finished baking and has cooled down I slice it into individual servings and place into a sandwich bag and freeze.  When my kids need to grab a quick lunch to take to school or work they just throw it into their bag.  It defrosts just in time for lunch and they simply place it into the microwave—heat and eat!

For those of you who don’t have pantries you can follow the same formula when creating a space in your cupboards for your grocery items.  Use a baker’s rack and place baskets with onions, potatoes or to store your on-the-go items. 

It’s all about keeping your kitchen organized and ergonomic.  You might even find that since your space is a bit more structured your inclination to cook comes alive!  Since it’s a good idea to keep the above items stocked in your kitchen at all times you will never be caught without “no food” in the house blues.  In fact, for your added enjoyment (you just gotta love my love for cooking!) I have included two easy recipes that please any appetite!

Quick Microwave Tomato Sauce
2 small cans of diced tomatoes with juices
2 cup garlic cloves
2 – 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of cappers
½ teaspoon of sugar
2 teaspoons of powdered chicken stock (not chicken bullion)
Fresh or dried oregano, sage and basil to taste
Pepper to taste (you can even spice it up and use hot pepper flakes to taste)
A splash of wine (optional)

Place uncovered into a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave on high for 10 minutes.  Stir.  Microwave another 10 minutes.  Stir.  Microwave an additional 10 minutes and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  At this point you can blend with a hand blender (leave some chunks) or serve as is.  Blend in one or two tablespoons of grated cheese such as Parmesan or Romano and toss with your favorite pasta.  Serve up with some garlic bread or bread sticks and a salad.  Quick, easy and fast!

Mexican Pizza
1 large round pizza dough packaged or frozen and thawed (I usually make my own dough in a bread maker)
Store bought salsa from a jar or container
Pepper Jack Cheese

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.  Place a few tablespoons of salsa on pizza dough.  Top with fresh or dried cilantro (coriander is the dried form of cilantro), and then cheese.  Pop it into the oven for 10 minutes check the pizza and cook for an additional 7 to 10 minutes until bubbly and crisp brown edges appear. 

I hope you enjoy these two quick dishes and have many happy memories in your newly organized kitchen!

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