1. Cumin: This is my favorite spice in the whole world. My husband actually banned me from placing additional cumin in our food for 2010. I have to sneak it in our food now. You should have seen his face when I brought home a 1 pound bag that I got at the Mexican grocery store. Oooh he was heated. I put cumin in everything, spaghetti sauce, curry, it's part of my fried chicken spice combo. The smoky earthy flavor that it adds to dishes is incredible. I'd wear it as perfume if I could figure out how to make it.
2. Curry Powder: Now I specifically use Whole Foods Muchi Yellow Curry. I find that alot of curry powders have a overwhelming sweetness to them, that I am not a fan of. I prefer a bit of umami in my curries. I have been using this specific curry powder for over 5 years and it has never done me wrong.
3. Dark and White Chocolate: I only use dark chocolate and if it ain't dark then it's white. Chocolate isn't just for baking, when you take a journey into some of the great Mexican and South American fare, chocolate is used in a lot of the savory dishes. My husband likes to sneak into my stash, so very often I have to hide my chocolate in crazy places that I end forgetting where I put them. It is a staple in my pantry because you never know when you might want to make some Oatmeal, Almond, Dark Chocolate and Flaxseed Cookies or just a Mole for the enchiladas.
4.Chicken Stock: I'm not going to elaborate on this one because this is kind of a gimme. You should always have chicken stock in the pantry and if you don't then you should have the ingredients to make it. I am a big fan of making your own stock and storing it. Every Thanksgiving I make a turkey stock. Taking the entire leftover carcass of the turkey and simmering it down with a mirepoix and herbs for hours.
5. "Good" Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Beans: I would say most people have this item in their pantry, but most don't have good vanilla extract. The typical extracts that are on the shelves are "imitation" vanilla extract and offer a really weak flavor to baked goods. I stress that buying real vanilla extract will make an extreme difference in flavor for your baking needs. As well, I always have vanilla beans in the pantry. I made homemade ice cream for some friends and they complemented me on how it was the best vanilla ice cream they ever had. Well, I chalk that up to the vanilla beans that I scraped into the ice cream. Such an amazing flavor. I love to cook with vanilla whenever I have the opportunity and add it to recipes that don't call for it.
6.Arborio Rice: Now for me this is my "I don't know what to cook for dinner, so we are going to have risotto" go to. Some might feel that risotto is too labor intensive, but for me it's not. Adding hot stock every couple of minutes and letting it do it's thing allows me to have a couple of sips of wine while I talked to Ian or Isaac or pour through a magazine. With multiple ingredient combinations, you can make a great risotto with whatever veggies you have in the frig or garden.
7. Chili Flakes and Peppers: I'm Southern, so I like the heat. Especially in my food. Chilies are another staple that, like cumin, I try to add to everything. I never drink hot cocoa with out it. Try it. Take one dried red chili and crack into simmering milk. Add your dark chocolate pieces or cocoa powder and stir. It is an amazing pop of heat on the back of your throat that just lingers so slightly. Paired with the creaminess of the dark chocolate....don't even get me started.
8. Brown Sugar: Simple staple that most of us have, but again has so many applications outside of baking (from cocktail sauce to Caribbean soups) that I always have a three bags of some form of brown sugar in the pantry. Dark Brown, Golden Brown and the infamous Panocha...for those that speak Spanish this one always makes me laugh. I don't know how they get away with it at the grocery store.
9. Herbs De Provance: This is a new one to my pantry. I am still learning it's many applications. I recently used it in a shrimp stock for a catering and people went nuts over it. So I get braver each time to use it in more and more recipes that I create. When shopping I like to look for jars that have a heavier mix of lavender in them, which tend to be more expensive, but totally worth it in my opinion.
10.Onions and Garlic: In my kitchen there might not be milk, or coffee because of my laziness to go to the store, but there will always be onions. They are universal. Those that cook understand. They are the foundation for 90% of the dishes that I create. It's like salt to pork, onions and garlic to N'Gina.