Money saving tips 2: Stock your pantry smartly

I found this Money saving tips from Sandra Lee from Food Network on their website. I’ll introduce some of them from time to time, and expand with my own optimization tips. Today’s tip is to stock your pantry smartly.

Sandra’s Tip: Buy staples in bulk to save money and stock your pantry smartly.

  • Keeping a few key items on hand like seasonings, baking mix, condiments and lean protein will ensure that a tasty meal is just a mixing spoon away.

Kitchen Wizard Tips on stocking your pantry:

One of the biggest keys for optimizing your cooking efforts is to have a well-stocked pantry. Your ideal pantry really depends on your eating and cooking habits, ethnic background etc.  Since I’m Japanese, and I love to eat a variety of foods from around the world, my pantry consists of many things that many people may not even have heard of.  Yet there are things that every kitchen should have, such as eggs, milk, bread, onions, carrots and potatoes.

Here are the things that I believe should be in everyone’s pantry.  By having a well stocked pantry (and a willingness to deviate from a recipe when you need to), you should be able to eliminate unnecessary trips to grocery store – which saves you a ton of time, not just money.

You may want to tweak it based on your eating habits and add the quantity you need and print it out… Post it on your fridge, mark it when something is running out, and grab it with you when you go grocery shopping so that you won’t miss anything.


  1. Kosher salt or sea salt
  2. Black pepper, chili flakes, curry powder and bay leaves
  3. Soy sauce (especially if you cook a lot of Asian dishes)
  4. Vinegar – wine, Balsamic and/or rice vinegar (especially for Asian dishes)
  5. Oil – extra virgin olive oil, canola, sesame oil (if you cook a lot of Asian dishes)
  6. Wine – red, dry white and/or sake (for cooking.  Don’t buy “cooking wine”.)
  7. Sugar or honey
  8. Canned tomatoes
  9. Canned tuna in olive oil
  10. Canned beans (Chickpea, canellini or black beans)
  11. Rice
  12. Pasta
  13. Bread
  14. Flour
  15. Canned stock or bouillon cubes
  16. Nuts, seeds (Sesame seeds, for Asian dishes)
  17. Dried fruits (especially raisins)


  1. Eggs
  2. Butter
  3. Milk, cream, yogurt
  4. Cold cuts, meat, seafood, tofu
  5. Onions, green onions (especially if you cook a lot of Asian dishes)
  6. Carrots
  7. Celery
  8. Potatoes
  9. Lettuce
  10. Some kind of green vegetables
  11. Mushrooms
  12. Garlic
  13. Ginger (especially if you cook a lot of Asian dishes)
  14. Lemon
  15. Apples
  16. Banana
  17. Parmiggiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, Gruyere
  18. Mustard
  19. Mayonnaise


  1. Chicken tenders or breast
  2. Individually portioned ground meat and/or uncooked sausage
  3. Seafood – shrimps, scallops, seafood mix
  4. Corn
  5. Green peas
  6. Mixed berries

With this list alone, you are equipped to whip up dozens of different variety of dishes. By adding other fresh ingredients, and tweak the recipe with what you have on hand rather than what’s it’s called for, your options are infinite.

What are your favorite pantry items you can’t live without?  What kind of ethnic item do you recommend and why? Please share with us.

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Storage – Labeling: Masking tape and a waterproof pen

Have you ever wondered “What is this?  Do I need to use it soon?” when you opened your fridge?

I have…  I’ve always had many containers of leftovers, tried to figure out what they were, and more so, how old they were and if we needed to eat them soon or … if it would be better to throw it away.

One of the key secrets of Kitchen Wizardry is storage strategy, in particular, packaging and labeling.  Since we have been talking about the kitchen tool box, let’s talk about labeling first.

This guessing game was a huge waste of time. First of all, if the container is not see-through, I had no clue what was inside.  Clear containers are definitely helpful, yet very often, they required me to open to confirm what they really were, and often I even had to taste, ending  up eating that chopped cilantro I don’t like by mistake, thinking it’s parsley.

Of course the worst thing was figuring out when I made it.

I used to have a great memory, especially when it came to food, yet I can’t quite remember exactly how many days ago I made something, especially since I tend to make so many different things, it gets confusing!  I often asked for my husband’s help just like many other things, but he doesn’t cook, so his memory is even more vague.

Once I started doing this Kitchen Wizardry thing, I started to have even more containers and bags (and many raw pre-chopped things) so I couldn’t rely on my fading memory any more.

So, I started to label everything.  A long time ago, watching Martha Stewart labeling her linen closet shelves with P-Touch, such as “Bath Towels”, I thought “Oh, my God!  It’s too much! I would never do that!” 

But now I know Martha knew better. When everything is labeled, it’s much easier to find things… especially in the fridge and freezer.  (Now I’ve never seen Martha labeling things in her fridge on her shows or magazines.  But it doesn’t mean that she didn’t teach about it… I just don’t have time to watch her shows any longer.)

Since I’m more into practicality and efficiency than perfect aesthetics, all I use is good old masking tape and a water-proof pen. (Sharpie Ultra Fine.) It’s much more clear than a regular pen, yet fine enough to write in small letters, even on very small, 3 oz containers.  Masking tape is great.  It sticks well to any surface, and can be removed easily.  After dinner, I make all the labels for the leftovers, cut them and stick on each container.  That’s it. (I use regular scissors, not my kitchen shears for this task.)

Most of the time I just write what it is (recipe name, or how it’s prepared, like “sautéed zucchini with lemon zest” and the date I made it , that’s it.  When I make individual size packages of leftover ground meat, rice, etc, then I also add volume.  In that case, a label looks like “Steamed brown rice, 5/4/09, 125g. (I grew up in Japan, so metric system is always easier for me…  Use whatever easiest for you to figure out the amount, such as 1/2 C, 4 oz, or 1/4 lbs…)

Make sure to face all the labels to the front, so that you know exactly what everything is, and how soon you need to consume them (or if they are past-prime) at a glance.

If you have anything that needs to be used quickly, put it at eye-level or at least where it’s easiest to find.  Because it’s out of sight sight, out of mind happens really quickly in the fridge, and actually it should be called “out of sight, out of date.”

You can pretty much use the same labeling system for freezer too. Yet for freezing, there are a few tricks you need to follow to make your life easier, not the other way around…  We’ll talk about it on our next post.

I found this system easy to follow and fun – even to an organizationally challenged person like me. And I found we eat what we have on hand, in the right order, helping us spend less time in the kitchen.

Ask Kitchen Wizard: To freeze, or not to freeze, that is the question…

One of the questions I hear often is,

 What does not work well when frozen for later use? What about fresh herbs? Have you had success freezing them for later use, and if so how?”

That’s a good question. You may find the following helpful. They list the shelf lives of many produce and pantry items as well as how to keep them.

I would use them just as a guide line though. You’ll find some of the information on somewhat contradictory, and other experts have different opinion. (Ex. Shelf life of bean sprouts on I find it much shorter than 1 week.) The bottom line is, it depends on your expectations and how you freeze….

As a rule of thumb, I normally freeze either sautéed or blanched vegetables, not not too many fresh produce. And avoid freezing things that contains potatoes or cream.

Herb freezes well, yet loses texture and smell/flavor, I personally don’t freeze fresh herbs, except parsley. I remove all the leaves, put in a small Ziploc bag, and when I need it, I take some out and chop them (or you can chop them first and freeze.) I find it perfectly fine especially when I need it in cooked dishes.  I freeze the stems for making stock.

For things like basil, I recommend making it into a pesto. Then you can keep it a lot longer, and you can even freeze it. (you can mix other herb with basil.) Make sure to use small container – I love baby food jars — so that you can finish one relatively quickly.

To keep herbs longer in the fridge, (and this works well for shiso leaves and zucchini flowers too), try wrapping them with a moist paper towel and keeping them in a plastic bag. I found this keeps tender herbs fresh a lot longer.

At a class on herbs and spices at Whole Foods last night, the teacher swore by Debbie Meyer’s bag. One participant agreed her strawberries stayed fresh for 2 weeks. The reviews on the web…. People either loves it or hate it.
More reviews on Amazon too.

Her advice I liked is that herbs are inter-changeable, so experiment throwing herbs in different dishes.

I will experiment with some fresh herbs in the other Mrs.. Meyer’s bag and , and let you know this Mrs.. Meyer’s verdict. (although I didn’t change my last name, my husband’s last name is Meyer, so technically, I’m Mrs.. Meyer, too.)