Get your kitchen in order by purging your pantry, restocking your shelves and filling your freezer with some home-made meals
The complete guide to organising your kitchen
If you’ve spent a portion of the summer travelling, be it intermittently or on one long trip, your kitchen may well be feeling – and looking – a little neglected. Now is the time to set about rectifying the situation; show your shelves some love and brush away the culinary cobwebs – both literally and metaphorically.
While we can’t promise that a post-summer spring clean will be a thrilling experience, it will set you up for the weeks ahead. While you’re at it, take stock of the ingredients in your kitchen cupboard, and lay the foundations for a few future meals. Who knows, you may even find the whole process therapeutic.
First up, it’s time to purge your pantry of unwanted items. Remove everything from the shelves and cupboards, and conduct a thorough assessment: throw away any items that have expired or gone bad (think flour infested with pesky black weevils or spices that have long since lost their pungency). Make a list of the products that need replenishing, and take note of any ingredients that may be expiring soon.
Now the big clean can finally commence. Scrub, spray, polish and dry the shelves and surfaces, but also wipe down individual containers, jars, tubs and bottles – sticky ingredients such as honey, oil and syrup are particularly susceptible to leaks, drips and spills, so require attention.
When it comes to refilling those shelves, it pays to think strategically. Group similar items such as spices and different types of sugar and flour together, but also differentiate between the ingredients that are staples in your cooking arsenal and those non-essential extras that are nonetheless nice to have around (such as truffle oil, smoking chips and seaweed salt). Make sure those regularly used items are the easiest to spot in your cupboards, and within easy reach. If you find yourself with duplicate ingredients (three jars of cumin seeds, packet upon packet of dried pasta), return them to the cupboards in the order they need to be used up, so that you’re essentially placing the newest at the back.
While you’re in the zone, give the contents of your fridge and freezer a once over. Following the same principle, discard out-of-date items or those that look or smell past their best and then set about restocking. Frozen fruit and vegetables are the obvious freezer standbys, but it’s well worth adding a sliced loaf or portioned baguette, as well butter and a carton or two of milk, just to ensure that you’re never caught short of the basics.
There’s something wonder-fully reassuring about knowing that your freezer is a veritable treasure trove of wholesome, home-made dinners. If you’ve got time before the busy back-to-school season kicks off, it’s well worth embarking on a bit of a cooking marathon – we have provided some suggestions.
Essentials for every kitchen cupboard
The contents of your kitchen shelves are of course to be determined by personal preference and cooking style. That said, there are a few backbone items that will really help you on your way.
Salt both enhances and brings out the true flavour of sweet and savoury ingredients, and for that reason alone, is a cooking staple like no other. You certainly don’t need to use a lot of it, but season your food thoughtfully as you cook (rather than just at the end of the process), and you really will taste the difference.
Good-quality extra virgin olive oil is perfect for dressing salads and drizzling over dishes before serving, but using it for cooking is simply a waste, as it burns easily and turns acrid. For all-purpose cooking and frying, take your pick from light olive oil, groundnut or rapeseed oil, which all have a relatively neutral flavour and can withstand high temperatures. Note that all oils are perishable, and should be stored in a place away from direct light and heat.
Wholegrain rice, couscous, quinoa and bulghur wheat are real pantry workhorses: versatile, easy to cook, inexpensive and ideal for bulking out a main dish or acting as a substantial accompaniment. If stored in airtight containers, they should keep fresh for at least six months.
When it comes to indis-pensible ingredients, it doesn’t get much better than tinned tomatoes. Use them to make curries, chilli con carne, stews, gratins, salsas, sauces and more. Adding a few grains of sugar when heating the tomatoes helps to balance the acidity and masks the slightly metallic taste.
Dried or tinned beans, chickpeas and lentils
Beans such as butter, cannellini and haricot, as well as chickpeas and lentils, are all fantastic thrifty meal bases, full of protein and fibre, and as an added bonus, are relatively cheap to buy. They’re particularly adept at making meals go further, and, when drained and roughly crushed, are a great alternative to mashed potato.
Dried pasta and noodles
There’s a reason pasta meals are considered midweek staples for many people. Choose whichever type of pasta you like best, but, we find that packets of spaghetti and penne are particularly handy to have around. Noodles, meanwhile, are perfect for adding to stir-fries and broths, or serving cold in Asian-style salads. For these, just drain, toss with sesame oil and leave to cool.
The spices that you select to furnish your shelves with will very much depend upon the cuisine you cook most often. As a starting point, mild curry powder, chilli flakes, whole coriander, cumin, black pepper and cinnamon sticks are all fantastic for adding an instant injection of flavour. Remember that whole spices ground into small batches, as and when you need them, tend to last longer than pre-powdered packs.