Between natural disasters (curse you Hurricane Sandy!) and threats of the end of days (I dang sure hope those Mayans aren’t correct), this is as good a time as any to make sure your pantry is fully stocked and ready for whatever. If nothing else, before the holidays get into full swing, all of you “house managers” out there should take the opportunity to do a quick inventory of your food pantry. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s found old boxes of pasta or dusty bottles of syrup mysteriously adhered to the back of the food cabinet and wondered if they were okay to eat.
To help you on your quest for perfect “pantry-dom” and general preparedness, I’ve compiled a list of items that you should always have on hand in your pantry along with an idea of how long those items should last.
*One special tip: When going through your food pantry to discard expired items, keep in mind that those dates often don’t have anything to do with food safety. For example, mustard, mayonnaise, and peanut butter, if stored properly, can often last for weeks after that “best by” date.
Pull up the keep it or toss it website StillTasty.com on your computer before beginning your pantry cleaning in order to get an idea of what you should actually throw away.
1.) Maple Syrup
Outside of maple syrup's obvious uses (like as a pancake topping or during a kinky night with the spouse) there are other ways to repurpose this awesome topping that you may not have thought of.
Maple syrup is great as a glaze on fish or chicken and it can turn any hearty dish into a wonderful sweet and savory meal.
Because of its high sugar content, maple syrup generally lasts forever. According to DoItYourself.com, even if the syrup gets a little moldy, you can skim the top, boil it, and place it in a fresh container as if it were as good as new. Sounds icky, but hey - times are tough.
2.) Canned Fruit
Contrary to popular belief, canned fruit is just as nutritious as the fresh picked kind. (You just have to watch out for all of those extra sugars and syrups those crazy manufacturers like to add.) It's actually the best way to eat fruit when your favorites aren't in season.
It's not at all hard to can your own fruit at home. Once you've stocked up, the fruit can last as long as one to two years in your pantry or two or three weeks after that sell-by date.
TIP: Even if the fruit has changed color a bit, it's more than likely still good to eat. Remember, that sell-by date is only a guideline. If stored properly, canned fruit can last well beyond that.
3.) Dried Beans... All Kinds
Keeping an assortment of dried beans in your pantry is a must when it comes to food storage. When cooked with rice, they make for a quick and easy meal in a pinch; and they can last for a couple of years in your pantry if stored properly.
4.) Peanut Butter
If you like the stuff, peanut butter is a must have item to keep in your pantry. In the occurrence of a natural disaster, peanut butter is an awesome protein packed snack choice that goes perfectly on crackers or whole wheat bread.
Unopened peanut butter lasts for about a year in the pantry. Once opened, it will last for up to four months in the pantry and up to eight months in the refrigerator.
TIP: The refrigerator is your best option once you've opened your peanut butter as it increases its shelf life and keeps the oils from separating. Of course, if the oils DO separate, its perfectly fine. Just give it a quick stir, and then chow down.
5.) Dried Pasta... All Kinds
If stored in an air tight container in a cool dry place, dried pasta can last for up to two years in your pantry. Even after that, your pasta is still edible. It may lose a bit of its taste, but a good sauce can cure anything.
Broth (or stock for my country folk) has tons of uses that go beyond soup making. It's great for sautéing veggies, or as an alternative to water when cooking rice. Freezing your broth in ice cube trays is the perfect way to keep it handy. You'll have the perfect portion whenever you need it. The cubes work just as effectively and can last for up to a year in your pantry.
7.) Canned Tomatoes
Don't believe what you've heard about canned tomatoes. The canned variety have more cancer fighting lipocene than their fresh picked counterparts. There are tons of ways you can use your canned tomatoes - from soups to homemade chilies you'll never be bored.
Homemade canned tomatoes can last for up to five years in your pantry.
8.) Dried Herbs
Who doesn't love snazzing up their meals with some good herbs and spices? Drying and storing your own herbs is pretty simple, and if stored properly, they can last up to three years in the pantry.
9) Dried Oatmeal
Dried oatmeal, if stored properly, can last up to three years in the pantry. It's, of course, a healthy nutritious breakfast, or cookie ingredient, (add some of that canned fruit for flavor) but the uses don't stop there. Oatmeal can even be used as an acne treatment or odor neutralizer. This makes oatmeal a valuable food staple that you should definitely keep handy.
Find an old bag of coffee in the back of your pantry? If it's still sealed, it's still good. If kept in an airtight container, coffee can last forever.
If you don't drink it yourself it's a good practice to keep some around for guest; and you'd be amazed at some of the uses for coffee that don't involve drinking.
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