Thursday, 9 February 2012

Taming the pantry

I've never been much of a menu-planner. I tend to buy what's on special/in season, then just decide each day what I will cook, based on the ingredients we have. To make this cooking style work, I have always had a well-stocked pantry - full of ingredients to make a wide range of dishes (eg. on any given day, you would be almost guaranteed to find long grain rice, arborio rice and brown rice; penne, fettuccine and spaghetti; red lentils and yellow lentils; coconut milk, powdered milk, evaporated milk and UHT - just in case).

I also have a tendency to buy multiples of everything when they are on special & to have a spare of each open item, ready for when it runs out (eg. spare tomato sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, mayonnaise, flour, sugar - you get the idea!). Sometimes buying multiples (that are not on the shopping list) results in this:


Then, a few months ago, I realised how many mums actually menu plan for the week & shop accordingly (eg The Useful Box, The Organised Housewife, Passionate Homemaking). I thought it was a bit restrictive - especially since I prefer to experiment with food than to closely follow recipes. But I gave it a go & I have really found it useful. I have actually found we actually have more variety this way - as I can see on the calendar what meals we have had over the past few weeks & try to do different things (I can also keep track of how many red meat, white meat, fish & vego meals we eat, to ensure balance across the week). I still buy whatever is on special - sometimes I go with a few dinner options in mind, sometimes I make up the week's menu based on what we have.

Meal-planning calendar - on the fridge

But, with a menu written for the week, I really don't need to keep 8 tins of tomatoes "just in case", or 5 packets of lasange sheets! (I found Glorya's post about "Just in Case" helpful in thinking about this!) So now it's time to tame the pantry! Over the coming weeks, I want to menu plan based on the things in my pantry/freezer - using up all the excess stuff that has been lying around. I started tonight with a chicken & mushroom risotto* (using the arborio rice & stock that have been in the pantry for ages....).

Although my pantry shelves are already pretty organised (everything is categorised - eg all tinned vegies together, legumes together, sauces together, pasta together etc) I'm hoping that in a few weeks, my pantry shelves will be a lot emptier! Maybe I could even move some of the boxes off the floor! ;)

Pantry (9/2/12)

* This is the recipe I used as a base - with substantial modifications. I deleted the butter and halved the oil. I doubled the mushrooms and added frozen peas (maybe 1/2-1 cup). I substituted the thyme for about half a cup of fresh parsley. I substituted tasty cheese for the parmesan. I used sweet white wine instead of dry (because that's what was open - and I prefer drinking that while I am cooking...). I used chicken mince instead of thigh & I actually cooked it all in one pot - ie. I didn't fry the chicken & mushrooms separately before adding it to the rice mixture.

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