Stocking the pantry saves time and money—two non-renewable resources. When we moved from our Chicago apartment to our Wisconsin farm over a decade ago, we traded convenience for countryside. No more runs to the store for a missing ingredient. We’ve learned to have the staples on hand to do anything from feeding a round of Inn Serendipity B&B guests to whipping up crust for an impromptu pizza night. But a well-stocked pantry is an important element wherever you may call home, whether it’s in the city, suburbs or at the end of a country lane. As we write about in our new cookbook championing homemade and homegrown, Farmstead Chef, the pantry serves as the inspirational hub of your kitchen.

Our faltering economy continues to push many of us to become even more “do-it-ourselves,” to become more frugal and self-sufficient. This motivation plus a little knowledge goes a long way in cooking more at home through a loaded pantry by increasing the quality of our staple ingredients, making homemade equivalents of processed foods and having the things on hand to whip up meals quickly. Here are some easy tips to get started in pantry management:

1. Buy High-Use items in Bulk
Identify what you use in large quantities and consider buying those in bulk. We take advantage of the great perk to Willy Street Co-op Owners that we can order a full bag or container of anything in the bulk aisle and typically get an additional ten percent off. The key is to only do this for high-volume items. For us, it’s all about baking supplies: Heartland Mills Organic Unbleached Flour, Wholesome Sweeteners Sugar Cane and Tierra Farms Dark Chocolate Chips (we made a lot of Winter Squash Spice Chocolate Chip cookies).

2. Eat up
The corollary to “buy in bulk:” make sure you use it. We might save money buying a full one-pound bag of bay leaves, but we know we’ll only use a handful for a few fall soup recipes. Herbs and spices lose their flavor with time, and we’re better off buying just what we can use in about one year.

Every winter we “eat through” our pantry, finishing off grains, rice, canned food and other oddities we accumulated over the past year. This both saves money and motivates us to get creative with those random cups of quinoa or couscous leftover from other recipes.

One winter we realized we had accumulated in our pantry a big plastic bag filled with red and white peppermint candies acquired at restaurants. Perhaps not high in nutritional value, but when we said we “eat through” the pantry every winter we play hardcore: if we have it, we need to use it. These peppermints resulted in one of our now favorite cookie recipes, Peppermint Biscotti, featured in Farmstead Chef. We share the recipe below for others with lurking post-holiday candy canes in their pantry.

3. Invest in Proper Storage
The challenge in purchasing bulk is having a place to conveniently store the item once it comes out of the bulk bag. Invest in accessible, quality storage containers for the bulk items you use most often. Look for containers made from a high-grade, durable material with a tight-fitting lid. With so many options available online and at retailers, you can purchase the exact size you need to fit into a nook or cabinet in your kitchen. While some of these containers may seem pricey, investing in something that makes your kitchen routines easier and stores your items properly will quickly prove its worth. We had some dead space under a kitchen shelf that evolved into perfect storage for our flour and sugar when we found sturdy plastic bins that are just the right size to slide under that shelf.

Recycled glass containers are easy, frugal storage containers. Wide-mouth canning jars make it a cinch to access the ingredients and see what’s inside and how much you have left.

4. Creatively Substitute
Think out of your recipe box and experiment with substitutions using items you already have on hand in your pantry. No buttermilk? Use 1 cup of any kind of milk, remove 1 tablespoon milk and add 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice. Let it stand 5 minutes until it curdles.

Some easy pantry substitutions include (see Farmstead Chef for more ideas):
•    Don’t have: 1 ounce unsweetened baking chocolate
    Use instead: 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa plus 1 tablespoon melted butter
•    Don’t have: 1 cup cake flour
    Use instead: 1 cup all-purpose flour, take out 2 tablespoons of the flour and add 2 tablespoons cornstarch

5. Organize
The key to pantry management is restocking before you run out of something. We keep a Post-It inside our kitchen cabinet when we notice we’re running low on something, which turns into a handy shopping stock-up list for our next Co-op stock-up trip.

Organization also applies to how you keep your items stored on the shelves. Grouping like items together helps to quickly find things, such as canned goods, baking supplies, spices and rice.
A well-stocked pantry represents a core philosophy behind Farmstead Chef. You don’t need to be a trained chef to make delicious and nutritious meals for you and your family. With some seasonal, local and farm fresh ingredients (or items put by for the winter) and some core pantry staples, your kitchen is your portal to eating well without breaking the bank.

Peppermint Biscotti
Excerpted from Farmstead Chef (farmsteadchef.com) by Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko. Farmstead Chef serves up recipes for homegrown and homemade cooking for the kitchen gardener, urban homesteader and home cook in all of us.
Ingredients:

  • 3/4 c. butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp. peppermint extract
  • 3 1/4 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 c. crushed peppermint candy, divided
  • White chocolate bark for frosting

Directions: In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in extract. Separately, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in 1 c. peppermint candy. Gradually add flour/candy mixture to creamed mixture, beating until blended (dough will be stiff). Divide dough in half. On a baking sheet, roll each portion into a 12-inch by 2 1/2-inch rectangle. Bake at 350º for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Carefully remove to wire rack. Cool 15 minutes. On cutting board, cut at an angle into 1/2 inch slices. Place cut side down on baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until firm. For frosting, melt chocolate. Drizzle chocolate over cookie in a swirled design. Yield: 3 dozen biscotti.

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