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The (More) Perfect Pantry: What's out, what's in (Recipe: vegetable enchiladas)


Last week I was talking to my BFF Joyce, who's been my BFF for 37 years, since before anyone used BFF, or IM, or a PDA or even a PC.

We are the kind of best friends forever who can admit to each other their worst sins, deepest fears, mortifying humiliations, unimaginable frustrations, and the occasional politically incorrect thought or George Clooney fantasy.

For the past few months, Joyce has been cleaning out her apartment. Cat-shredded furniture? Gone. Books so old the pages have fused together? Gone. Clothes that don't fit, phones that don't ring, cassettes for a long-abandoned tape player? Gone.

Old spices, older canned beans, mysterious frozen things in her pantry? Gone, gone, gone.

Yes, I confessed, I need to do that, too.

With the Table of Condiments That Periodically Go Bad in one hand, and this food storage chart in the other, and a flashlight in my third hand, and a copy of The Perfect Pantry database (hmm... is that geeky?) in my fourth hand, I set out to do a bit of pantry tune-up. The time had come to dig into the nooks and crannies of my spice rack, storage shelves, fridge and freezer.

The time had come to set some things free.

[I'm often asked about what's included in The Perfect Pantry. Each item must pass this test: it must be used as an ingredient; it must be something I use more than once; it must be either used in more than one way, or used in one way over and over again. So, while I always have Fresca, for example, you won't read about it here, but you might read about orange or pomegranate juice, because I use it in cooking.]

First, I packed for donation to our town's food pantry assorted jams, jellies, mustards, pasta, and other non-perishable souvenirs we've purchased but haven't managed to use in the past year.

Next, I looked for duplicates, and triplicates, and five-plicates (how much instant couscous do we need at one time, really?) and packed the extras for the food pantry, too.

I set aside all of the spices that are more than a year old, to test them for potency. Any spice in a jar so dusty that I can't see what's inside will likely be a candidate for the compost pile. I hope the deer and rabbits who feast on the composting table scraps appreciate a bit of seasoning with their food.

No surprise, but I found some items that no longer meet the test for inclusion in The Perfect Pantry. I'd kept them in my pantry, thinking I would use them more often, or more creatively.

These still have a place in the kitchen, but in a supporting or occasional role:

Now there's room for some new things, like:

  • Fino sherry
  • Aji amarillo peppers
  • Sweetened condensed milk

Best of all, I discovered, lurking in the recesses of the pantry, some ingredients that inspired me anew:

  • Mexican chocolate: in chocolate pudding, maybe?
  • Curry powder: a potato salad calls to me.
  • Five-spice powder: a noodle salad calls to me.
  • Frozen fruit: 'tis the season for fruit soups.
  • Sherry vinegar: some panzanella variations?
  • Chickpeas: I want to learn to love them. Truly love them.

The inventory in my more perfect pantry today stands at a slimmed-down 226 items.

Have you looked through your cupboards, spice rack, fridge and freezer lately?

What's out? What's in? What's new?

Vegetable enchiladas

Adapted from the Stonewall Kitchen web site, this recipe will use the last of the Maple-Chipotle Grille Sauce in my pantry. If you don't have this, use your favorite sweet barbecue sauce. Serves 8.


1 tsp canola oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups zucchini, diced
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 can (4 oz) green chiles, diced
1 tsp ground cumin
1-1/2 cups fresh corn kernels
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or this time saver from the supermarket)
1 bottle Maple Chipotle Grille Sauce (or 11 oz sweet barbecue sauce of your choice)
8 (8") flour tortillas, warmed for 10 seconds in the microwave until flexible


Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 1 minute. Then add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds. Add zucchini and bell pepper, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Stir in 1 cup corn, plus the canned chiles and cumin.

Spread 1/2 cup Maple Chipotle Grille Sauce in the bottom of a 13"x9"x2" baking dish. Mix another half cup of sauce into the vegetables. Place generous 1/3 cup vegetable filling in the center of a tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese and roll to enclose the filling. Place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Cover enchiladas with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup corn and remaining shredded cheese. Bake until heated through and cheese is melted, 30-45 minutes. Serve hot.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Roasted halibut tacos with mango salsa
Smoky chipotle balsamic salad dressing

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I have a couple new favorites:
Chili Lime seasoning
Lime and Kalmata flavored olive oils from pasolivo olive oil company in Paso Robles.

I love to purge the old as well and "refresh" with new fresher seasonings and spices - what I am starting to do is to make my own secret rubs and creations... Now that has been great fun.


This entry made me realize that while I can be a ruthless culler of un- or underused items in every other area of my life, getting rid of things I am no longer or just never got around to using in the kitchen makes me oddly sad. They are always purchased with such enthusiasm. But it's the right thing to do. Every time I find myself not motivated to cook, I reorg the pantry and realize I didn't want to cook because everything was too cluttered to make it efficient.

If you still have that curry powder come fall/winter, there is an unexpectedly delicious kale recipe on Epicurious that uses it. I am not a kale (or, actually generally veggie) fan, but this recipe was one of those where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.


You're a stronger person than me, Lydia. Things can lurk in my pantry or fridge forever. Regarding loving chickpeas, here's a quick dish I threw together based on something I'd seen at Toni's Daily Bread Journal. It not only helped me "get" chickpeas, it showed me a new way to use couscous:


My pantry is too small to tolerate any malingering ingredients-- they either work for a living or they are sent to reform school.

But my refrigerator... oi! I noticed last week that we have FIVE different jars of various types of olives in there. FOUR jars of different flavors of preserves. A container of candied grapefruit peel I made MONTHS ago. THREE containers of sweet pickles.

And on it goes. I've instituted a rule now, but find it rather difficult to enforce. Typical conversation:

Me: "Can you pick up a nice loaf of bread on your way home? I think we should have cheese and wine tonight and clear out those little bits and pieces of cheese."

Jack: Okay, I'll pick up some olive, too."

Me: "We have a lot of olives."

Jack: "The kind I like with cheese?"

Me: "All kinds."

Jack: "I'll pick up some more just in case."

Yesterday, I was watching some TV called "America's messiest home" or something and I was itching to do just this- take stock of the things in my own home!
What's out in my kitchen- mayo. I use it so rarely that it really makes no sense to keep a jar on hand.

I had to do a similar clean up for my cupboards recently due to a moth problem, so I have nothing errant left. Alas, I also threw out my favorite nori seaweed that I use for an impromptu lunch of tunafish seasoned with chili paste, soya and mayo, with rice.

The frozen artichokes could make a great dip - puree it with spinach, olive oil, Parmesan and lemon juice. It's a lot cheaper than buying artichoke pesto in the little 4 ounce plastic containters.

New in my pantry is a move from the ever-present Kikoman soy sauce to Marukin Low Salt Soy Sauce, manufactured in Marukin Prefecture, Japan. I love the ingredient list, (Water, Soybeans, Wheat & Sea Salt) and the flavor is far deeper and richer than the old stand by.

I've also returned to a love for dehydrated onions (or onion flakes) in dishes that need a massive onion punch, as the flavor is so much more intense.

I've been lurking on your blog and love it! Today's entry came at a perfect time for me. We recently moved into a new condo and while I was packing my old kitchen I ruthlessly cleaned my fridge and quite a bit of my pantry. I just had a kitchen closet built into a pantry in my new kitchen and am getting ready to fill up the new space. I'm also going to clean out my spice drawer - it's the one area that I didn't clean when we moved. I'm going to print out the charts you linked to and hang them in the pantry. Thanks for a great entry and the inspiration to finish cleaning and start restocking.

Thanks -- I immediately went to the refrigerator and threw out that bottle of Thai fish sauce with the cap that kept falling off.

Oh, gosh, I'm groaning on the inside just thinking about all the cleaning up and out I should be doing. Don't know if I have the stamina.

Funny about the Fresca, though. I haven't seen that soft drink for a long time.
Maybe you could make a version of 7-Up cake with it...

Lydia - I'm almost out of battery and wi-fi time, but wanted to give you a quick shout out and say hello! I miss reading your blog daily and loved catching up (briefly) with this post!

Yes this is completely geeky, a pantry table of contents/food storage chart...and I love it. Now we are all going to be rummaging through our cupboards "detailing" them too. And doesn't everyone have indecent G Clooney fantasies?

Oh I love when I clean out the pantry and find a hidden gem that I forgot about!
I love that you have a table of condiments....I need one too.

You have been peeking inside my head! I told you about the chicken enchilada with mole sauce, but I didn't mention it was served with two other chicken enchiladas that had different sauces, making me wish the enchiladas all had different fillings and now you show me a killer filling that would have been perfect with their salsa verde, sigh.

Three years ago we movee, with much agonized tossing (lots of compost!). In the new refrigerator, the top shelf was designated for 'his' condiments -- mustard, sauces, olives and on and on. Of course the shelf spilled over long ago and finding anything is iffy. Yesterday I cleaned the lower shelves, managed to get rid of the worst of it -- and why is there still no room? We have to eat more, I guess.
For the artichokes, Artichoke Ricotta Pie, in The Tao of Cooking, by Sally Pasley -- with dill and phyllo crust.

Groan. Now you've totally reminded me that I NEED to do this soon. Thanks for the nudge! Who knows what is lurking in there. I'll tell you right now what is out: stale bran, very old tapioca pearls, and some hominy that I know I'll never use.

Cathy, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I love to think of my pantry as a kind of laboratory where I can experiment and mix and match. Sounds like you do, too!

Leslie, thanks for stopping by. I'll always keep curry powder in my pantry, in part because I don't know enough about mixing my own. This year I've promised myself I would focus on dark leafy greens, so the kale recipe is one I will definitely try.

Terry, this is just the encouragement I need. I will learn to love chickpeas. I will, I will.

Ann, in your house, I would be Jack! Which, of course, is how my pantry got a bit over the top in the first place.

Nupur, mayo (or more specifically Miracle Whip...) is a must in my pantry, even though I have all of the ingredients to make it from scratch. It's cathartic for me to do the cleaning out every now and then.

Julia, nori is a staple in my pantry, but I've been through the moth situation and have had to throw away all grains, etc. and start fresh. As for the frozen artichoke hearts, they'll still show up in the pantry from time to time.

Jerry, I'm definitely going to look for that soy sauce at my Asian grocery. I made the switch to low sodium soy sauce years ago, and except for a shot of dark soy here and there, I use the low-sodium as my everyday soy.

Paula, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I love starting a pantry from scratch! I had the opportunity to do that when we moved into our Rhode Island house. Oh, the fun of placing a huge order from Penzeys, and making major shopping trips to the Asian and Latino grocery stores.

Mae, you go girl!

Karen, I admit I'm a Fresca mainliner. Thank goodness it's sugar-free.

Sandie, hi there! I'm so glad you're enjoying your vacation, and that you stopped by here to say hello.

Callipygia, when you get your database done, you're going to be amazed at how many ingredients are in your pantry. (and yes, we all have Clooney fantasies...)

Peabody, there is always something that seems to work its way to the back of the refrigerator shelf, the bottom of the freezer, the dark part of the cupboard. I've found some very strange things hiding in my pantry!

Neil, okay, next time we must coordinate these things!!

Susan, it is one of Murphy's laws (I think) that the pantry will never be quite large enough for everything you want to keep in it. Thanks for the artichoke recipe; I do have a box or two in the freezer, and I'm looking for ways to use them up.

Aimee, donate that hominy to your favorite food pantry -- or do a search on this site, as I've run a couple of hominy recipes in the past. The best thing about cleaning out the pantry is that you make room for new ingredients! It's a vicious cycle....

I have to go through my freezer, because there´s stuff there that has been knocking around for a while. I´m ever hopeful that nothing goes truly bad, but it´s good to be careful.

I like your scientific approach. I just tend to toss in a mad effort to make more room for the new stuff! Althought mold is always a good signal. I assume everything is older than I think -- I didn't buy it "just yesterday."

I have a case of Fresca in my basement. Someone brought it over for a party and we don't like it. Do you want it? I'll trade it for tips on making artichokes. My first attempt will be for dinner tomorrow night.

37 years of friendship is amazing and an inspiration Lydia! You two are such special individuals and I hope your friendship endures another 37 more years!

We need to do some more inventory control of our pantry. You've inspired us again to do so.
Once you make room for the sweetened condensed milk, you must make some Viet iced coffee in a traditional coffee dripper. If you can't find it, I'll send you a couple. They are just fantastic and I have a very, very, special recipe to share too!

I know I should clean my pantry. I really do. It just kills me to have to throw things out...which is silly since keeping it but never using it as it only gets older and more stale doesn't fix anything...one of these days. I did however work through the freezer recently, so there's hope!

How fun (well not all the clean out) I've finally started using a bottle of their blueberry Chipotle sauce and we're really loving it. And I'm thinking it might just be great with some enchiladas like these. Very good Lydia.

Lobstersquad, I'll admit to a few cases of freezer burn -- how do things get so buried in the freezer???

TW, it's my extension of "if you haven't worn it for a year, give it away" -- I find that during the winter my pantry gets more and more chaotic, and then I clean it out, organize, and start the chaos again.

Cheryl, I'd trade for Fresca in a heartbeat!

WORC, that's so sweet -- in 37 more years, both my BFF and I will be antiques. But I'd like to think we'll be friends in heaven, where we'll have much more time to sit around and chat! Now you're going to send me to the depths of the pantry -- I know we have a Vietnamese coffee cup somewhere -- we bought it at the market in Hoi An when we visited Vietnam in the late 1990s. Wonder where it is....

Mike, think of cleaning out as making room for new things. That's what motivates me.

MyKitchen, I haven't tried the blueberry chipotle sauce yet. But you're right, it would be great with these enchiladas. Enjoy!

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