Chef Mel Alafaci teaches us how to spring clean our pantry. Time to sniff your nuts and spices.

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Chef Mel Alafaci Pantry Clean
📷 Anne S

It’s time to get that amazing feeling back. That feeling when you know you are in control of your life, your destiny…your pantry. You can deny it all you want, but you know deep down in your heart that being organised makes you feel lighter, brighter, and generally happier.

Chef Mel Alafaci steered towards being practical when managing her pantry. A busy house with two starving teenagers, a husband that takes his lunch to work, and often have work meetings in her gorgeous new kitchen, so Chef Mel likes to be prepared. “To do this, I have split my pantry into categories, using easy-to-see containers, so I know at a glance what I need to top up on the next shopping trip. I also prefer to shop once a fortnight for the big stuff and hit the markets or the local fruit and veg for fresh produce as I need it. My fridge is an extension of the pantry, so it’s just as important to keep that clean and organised and make sure you know what’s in there”, says Mel.

This is NOT a pointless chore, this is an opportunity to get some order back in your life, so if you embrace it, you can really have so much fun.

Before you start:

  • Choose a day when you have no interruptions and start with a jolly good cup of coffee or tea to get you in the mood. You’re going to need a few hours.
  • Pop the music on, get into that activewear, and clear the kitchen bench AND the dining room table because you are going to need space.
  • Wheel the big wheelie bin close to the kitchen door, it’s going to make it easier later for the clean-up when you’re tired.
  • If you can rope in a willing assistant, even better.
  • How to increase the shelf life of pantry items and save thousands every year

If you’re buying nuts, grains, rice and flours and you just aren’t using them before their sell-by date, I recommend increasing the shelf life by storing them in the freezer rather than the pantry. Stored in the freezer you’ll get months instead of weeks, years instead of months. Just don’t forget you put them there, and generally they can be used directly out the freezer when the time comes and put back after use. This is perfect for bulk nuts, flour and rice. You’ll save a fortune.

Old spice is not welcome in the pantry. Check the sell-by date, as this could be the reason your cooking is not tasting that sexy anymore. If something smells old and rancid, believe it. You owe it to yourself to throw it in the compost and get some new fresh stuff. Having nutmeg from 1992 is not sexy. Spices that have lost their personality and flavour can ruin, rather than enhance, your cooking. Recently I did a call out on social media and one follower told me she found spices from 1997, and another follower found spices from the year her child was born in 2010. She admitted to the spices moving houses several times.

Another follower said: “My Mum has one from 1985. Her response was, ‘it’s just a guide, the use by date.’”

So now it’s time to sniff your nuts…and your spices and your oils and decide what stays and what goes. There is nothing more confronting than a stale pine nut or macadamia nut in a salad or a stir fry BUT they do have a short shelf life because of the high oil content, so store them in the fridge or the freezer and then you can take your time using them. Make a list of what you will need to buy to replace the old stuff.

Oils should be purchased in SMALL amounts. Rancid olive oil in a salad dressing is dismal and using oils that you have had for years is going to make your cooking taste terrible.

We need to learn about ‘fake fresh’. This is a skill I was taught as a chef. When you have stale crackers, water biscuits, corn chips, grissini, or biscuits because ‘someone’ left the packet open, you can save them, provided they still SMELL fresh. You don’t always have to throw them out, this can be life-changing indeed! Nothing worse than a soggy cracker on a cheeseboard, and you know it. To FAKE FRESH these items, you can preheat your oven to about 200c and pop them in a single layer on a baking sheet for about 4-8 minutes but watch closely so you don’t burn them. This should freshen them up and they will go crunchy when they cool down. This will save you hundreds every year.

Containers are a massive investment. “My husband nearly fainted when I told him how much I had just spent on our new ‘system’ but it’s a worthwhile spend, in my opinion, it really does help extend the shelf life of the food and helps you create when it’s time to cook”, comments Chef Mel.

Get organised – nothing looks and feels better than a clean, organised pantry to get you in the mood to do some real cooking.

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