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How to crate a pantry with space for everything

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A pantry is a cook's prop closet. With planning, the meal maker can always have something special tucked away to dazzle the audience, whether that's a large gathering or just a few sleepy-eyed youngsters. Cereals, spices, fine oils, sauces and sweet surprises can become part of the repertoire.

There are no rules today for the size or shape of that stash of food staples, snacks, linens and party platters. A pantry can be a row of baskets, a freestanding cabinet, built-in custom shelves or even a separate room.

The idea is to have a plan for keeping up with everything. A well-stocked pantry can make the work of the most humble cook more sparkly. Suddenly, the cook can have dried fruits, chilies, extracts and imported chocolates within easy reach. Holidays, potlucks and treats for movie night in your jammies might never be the same.

Here's how:

• Keep your work area small. Don't be afraid to improvise. Vertical space and shelves are less expensive than drawers and baskets.

• If you've got a large space, you've likely got space for wine storage, chafing dishes, platters, glasses and small appliances. Stick to the basics in a small space. Dry goods and canned foods are among those.

• Keep your work area concise, so you won't have far to walk from prep area to pantry. The stove, sink and food storage areas should be within a tight triangle.

• Store heavy items on lower shelves. Use top shelves for paper products, linens and things less likely to harm you.

•Most shelves should be no deeper than 10 inches. Smaller items get lost or forgotten when stored on deep shelves.

• Include a basket or drawer for healthy snacks if you have children in the home. They'll know the foods stored there have your OK.

• Store cookie sheets and platters vertically. You'll waste time getting to them if they're stacked.

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