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Posts Tagged ‘pantry’

by Sarah Steimer

The wild and wonderful world of my nonperishables, cooking tools and various kitchen odds and ends.

So Caitlin had some killer before and after photos for her refrigerator post, but I have no “before” pictures.  I got to start entirely from scratch because I recently moved to a new neighborhood in Chicago! But trust me, this was quite the challenge. My previous pantry looked nothing like this at all, so it took some serious brainstorming to get everything in place.

Unlike refrigerators, pantries are a lot more apt to vary from home to home, so I’ll try to avoid too many tips that are unique to a certain style of kitchen closet.

I look so much more organized than I feel.

Let’s start with the foodstuffs.

  1. As best illustrated by my oils and vinegars corner, try to keep like items grouped together. This is just a simple trick so when you reach out aimlessly with your hand, you at least have some general direction to head in. Using this same thought process, remember that accessibility comes first: Don’t worry about organizing by height, organize by how often you use the item.
  2. Save those extra shoe boxes or baskets! We all have lots of items in our pantries that are half-used and and wrapped in rubber bands or twisties. There is no easy way to stack or file these. Toss them into a box or basket so you can avoid a loose clutter that falls every time you reach for something. You can also store your extra twist ties and rubber bands for the next half-used bag of chocolate chips.
  3. Stack your cans! Canned goods are so great. They take forever to expire and they can be stacked up like (slightly less stable) Legos.
  4. Remember those container tips? Here’s where it really comes together. Storing you bulk ingredients in a few nice jars truly saves space and makes your pantry look crisp.

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Next up: Let’s accept that sometimes we need to add a little something to make storage easier. The shelves that already exist in your pantry just don’t always cut it. So add some shelves, some cubby holes or a few hooks.

I don't love Ikea all the time, but their quaint (and cheap) little cubby options are just what you need every now and again.

  1. My pantry already had hooks in it, but it would definitely be worth adding some yourself if you have the room. These certainly aren’t all of my pots and pans, but they are the ones I grab the most often. The rest I keep under the sink. On the opposite side of my pantry (see the smaller picture below) I also have a coat hook where I hang my apron and oven mitts. You want to have easy access to those mitts when you need to grab a hot pan FAST.
  2. It’s so easy to find a nice, solid pitcher or other ceramic container at a thrift store – or a new container for cheap as well. You want to be able to see what cooking tools you have without having to root around for them. I have another similar pitcher next to my workspace in the kitchen for the tools I use most often. I keep my knives in a drawer, though. You don’t want sharp objects in anything that could be tipped over.

    Special thanks to Anna for the oven mitts and hot pads and to my mom for the apron.

  3. I haven’t quite mastered my spice center, as it is not as visible as I would like. But I do try to keep the spices I use the most up front and at eye level or a little below. You don’t want spices above your head as they usually come in glass containers.
  4. This is my dishtowel, napkin and other assorted cloth center. Don’t store you towels with food or cookware. Keep them separate so they remain sanitary.

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Last, but not least, we have the bulkier items. When I started this guide I made a point to look around at other websites’ organization guides. Well, I don’t know where they keep their cooking appliances, but I don’t have a special hidden spot, I have space on the floor. Because I don’t own a house, I can be pretty sure that I’ll be moving again one day, so I don’t really like to throw away the boxes my appliances come in. It really makes moving a LOT easier when you keep those boxes. And guess what – it makes storage easier, too. If you look back at my top picture, I keep most of my appliances that I don’t use as often on the top, hard-to-reach shelf.

Get a microwave cart! They offer great extra storage.

  1. Keep your snacks in a nice basket. Not only does it organize them away from the rest of your food, but it can be easily picked up and carted off to your guests in the living room. Or it just makes it easier for you to hide it from your roommate or yourself.
  2. Some like to store their bakeware (cookie sheets, muffin tins, etc.) in the oven or in the oven’s separate broiler. Mine fit pretty cozily under the microwave. I guess this isn’t really a tip, is it…
  3. I have large appliances and no lovely spot on the counter to store them. Well, keep it in the box, on the floor. No one will judge you, I promise. Keep the items you use the most on top of their boxes if you want to access them faster. If the sight of the boxes really bother you, try sectioning them off behind a colorful curtain.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

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by Sarah Steimer

A guide on containers in the kitchen can get pretty broad, so I'm focusing on some of the best containers to use for scratch ingredients. From left: all-purpose flour, coriander, dill, dried chilis and ground coffee.

One of the best things about a modern grocery store is that almost all food comes in its own nice, neat container that is pre-labeled and sealed. So why take the time to move your ingredients from their convenient packaging to an entirely different container? Well, I can think of a few reasons: Visual appeal, freshness and reuse.

One common thread you’ll find for most of my tips is that I’ve chosen glass containers. This is for a number of reasons, but most importantly for health. There has been a lot of publicity in recent years regarding bisphenol A, or BPA. This chemical is found in plastics and is banned in some cases in various countries and a few states, particularly for its use in baby bottles and other child-related items. The FDA very recently decided not to ban the chemical’s use in the U.S.

There’s no conclusive evidence of BPA’s effects on the human body, but it has been shown to act like the sex hormone estrogen and lead to adverse developmental effects in animal models such as mice.

I haven’t made a full switch to glass, as many of my leftovers find themselves in plastic containers. I’m trying to start with food items that spend the longest amount of time in one container: Scratch ingredients such as flour, coffee and spices.

Visual appeal: I love seeing my containers all lined up and ready to go in the pantry. They look far more inviting in uniform jars instead of haphazardly squished in the bags they came in.

So maybe visual appeal is the weakest argument for choosing new containers – but it’s valid nonetheless!

Many people like to keep their flour and sugar containers out on the counter or, if you’re like me, you may have an open pantry that just about anyone can peek into. If you take the time to make sure your dish towels match you kitchen’s decor, why not make sure your containers do as well?

There are lots of stores that sell attractive and cheap bulk food containers. My jars are from World Market, but the Container Store and Ikea also have great options. If your kitchen has a retro look, try using old-school Ball jars. If you have a specific color scheme you can find matching lids for your containers.

This can even be taken a step further with a little customization. I took the easy route with my labels (also from World Market), but I’ve seen some really cool ideas for painting labels jars or printing custom decals in cool fonts.

Freshness: Most containers that food is packed in do not guarantee freshness, so it's important to keep that in mind when deciding what food items could use a new container.

Buying in bulk is great, but storing all those items in the bags you shoveled them into at the store isn’t so wonderful. Many bulk items such as spices, flours and nuts/dried fruit will store much better in an air-tight container.

Some of the best containers to keep food fresh in have a rubber seal at the closure point. The lids usually pop on or have clamp lids (such as the ones shown). These sorts of containers are especially helpful for spices that you want to access quickly without shuffling through little zip-lock containers.

Coffee is a great example of an item that should be in a well-sealed container for freshness, and it’s also another argument for using glass. If you guy your coffee by the bag, it’s pretty obvious that it won’t stay fresh because it’s nearly impossible to reseal a bag once it’s open. Keeping coffee in a tin or plastic container can also change the way the coffee tastes. A well-sealed, glass container is the route to go for fresh coffee – just make sure that if you use clear glass that it does not receive any direct sunlight.

Don’t pass up containers that seal well but maybe are not the ideal material. Use these to store smaller containers! In the picture above, I used an old Teavana tin that has a good seal on it, which is meant for keeping for tea fresh. Instead, reused it for my extra packages of spices. This takes us right to the next tip…

Reuse: Plastic containers are more commonly reused, mainly because most food is sold this way. When you have the option, plan ahead and choose the glass jar of mayo instead of the plastic jar.

A chance to recycle is alway welcome, so I like to keep a lookout for glass containers that can be reused.

In the picture above, I show two really great examples of glass containers that can be saved for something else: a canning jar and a simple glass jar with a screw-on lid. I love getting homemade preserves, which usually come in containers with a metal band and a rubber ring to seal the product, making them perfect for keeping other items fresh.

As with any container you reuse, make sure to wash it well. It sort of goes without saying, but the most important part is to get into any of those nooks and crannies in the lids with a brush so you don’t contaminate the next food item.

Some of the best items to store in these reused jars are leftover canned goods. In the picture above, I used a canning jar to hold extra chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. This is usually sold in a can that cannot be resealed after use, and I certainly didn’t want to throw away perfectly good food.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

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