The Easiest Way to Update Your Pantry

And the things you have to toss from it.

January 04, 2020
Nice Kitchen hutch with baking ingredients on display in glass jars - alchemy style


Nice Kitchen hutch with baking ingredients on display in glass jars - alchemy style

Photo by: nedjelly


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Forget spring cleaning. The time to clean your pantry is now.

For some of us, holiday entertaining left pantries barer than if the Grinch had passed through. For others, early January is the time to toss cookies and sugary treats in pursuit of resolutions-driven New Year’s virtue. Whatever the reason, January is a good month to check expiration dates and commit to better game plans for the oils, nut butters, sauces and seasonings you have on hand. (It’s my personal resolution to be better about that this year.)

First, take stock of what you have and toss anything that has expired or passed its prime. As a hint for what to toss, only two things in your pantry are good indefinitely: salt and vanilla extract.

This cool infographic breaks down the lifespan of most common pantry items. As you sort through and discard items, note how much you’ve used of various spices, herbs and oils. Buy smaller sizes of the less-used ones — economy sizes are only economical if you use them up. Not sure about what you might have had for too long? These are some of the usual best-by suspects.

Then, once you replenish, be better about tracking when you buy and open things. I keep a sharpie in a kitchen drawer to note the dates our oils and nut butters are opened directly on the bottles and jars. Yes, it absolutely looks like I’m leaving coded messages in every cupboard, but let’s be real. I’m not on track to win awards for a picture-perfect pantry. Plus, who has the brain space to remember exactly when you bought that tahini? Feeling extra motivated with your sharpie? Note the use-by date based on when you open it to save future you the hassle of math.

Once you’ve tossed the old and replenished with the new, reward yourself with a few new additions. Our favorite food trends for 2020 include pantry must-haves like chefs’ beloved 'bacon of the sea' and a long-beloved Mexican seasoning. Shop a local sundry shop and try better, more interesting versions of your go-tos.

Voila. Your pantry is updated. Now, to start cooking from it. On that front, here are a few ideas for what to make:

Soups are an easy, rewarding way to use the beans, broths and canned vegetables you have on hand. On the Food Network Kitchen app, Ellie Krieger prepared a Tuscan vegetable soup relying on a can of canellini beans, chicken broth, canned tomatoes and assorted additional herbs and vegetables. This black bean soup relies on the Instant Pot to turn a pile of dried beans into a healthy, satisfying dinner, bolstered by pantry spices.

Pastas are another go-to. Ree's Pantry Pasta is a brilliantly nuanced dish that taps jarred pesto, artichoke hearts, olives and tomatoes for plenty of flavor. Rigatoni Pie is a favorite update to the usual pasta dinner, relying on dried pasta and two cans of tomatoes.

And when preparing vegetables, look to the pantry for flavor enhancements. This sauteed chard gets the bulk of its flavor from sesame oil, plus garlic and shallot. Tahini is the secret to better sauce for boiled spinach.

Here are more ideas on pantry-raid recipes for every occasion. Case — and cupboard — closed.

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