One of my favorite culinary books is "Culinary Artistry" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. Not only does it talk about cooking as a craft and trade, it gives hints and tips on what flavors blend well together. Plus, it gives a list of ripe foods for every season.
In the last chapter, the authors ask popular, well-known chefs about their favorite ingredients to use in the kitchen. Every chef had a variety of different answers. I can't help but to think what my most useful ingredients would be. Thus, here is my top 10 favorite ingredients:
1) Sea salt: My #1 seasoning agent for all types of foods. Plus "sea salt" (versus iodized or kosher) contains trace minerals your body needs!
2) Olive oil: Good, basic, all-natural olive oil. Not only to saute and sear with, but to make salad dressings and dips. Avoid, "light" olive oil, it lacks flavor. I like to buy olive oil in dark bottles to protect the oil from the light.
3) Sesame oil: My second favorite oil because of the nice "seed-like" flavor. Great for all my asian dishes I cook!
4) Quinoa: A great gluten-free, complete protein grain. I love it because it cooks fast and you can add a variety of flavors and veggies to it. Feeling sweet? Cook quinoa in soy milk and add cinnamon, nutmeg, nuts, and raisins for a nice, light dessert.
5) Eggs: Eggs are a healthly, high protein, inexpensive ingredient. Not only do I bake cakes and cookies with eggs, I make veggie scrambles and "toad-in-a-hole" with fresh eggs.
6) Vanilla extract: Real vanilla extract adds and improves flavor to all baked goods. Think of it as your "salt" in the sweet world. Adding 1 tsp to any sweet recipe will improve its flavor.
7) Onions: Sweet, red, white, green, etc. I love them all because they are cheap, add TONS of flavor, and can be used in any savory recipe. Do you hate 'em because they make your cry? That is 100% natural and OK, plus it means the onion will have a strong flavor. Make sure your knife is always sharp when you cut onions.
8) Garlic: Just like onions, garlic is cheap and adds flavor to almost as dish you cook. I love adding garlic to a recipe that does not even call for it. Do you hate peeling and mincing garlic? Yup, I do, too. Buying pre-peeled garlic is ok, and next time you chop garlic, chop enough for the next week, store it in a plastic container, so you will not have to busy out your cutting board on a daily basis.
9) Vinegars: It is hard to pick just one: rice wine, balsamic, red wine, etc. But I LOVE the tart and sharpness it adds to sauces, dressings, and marinades. Most people will only need 2 types of vinegars in their house hold. I recommend buying one and testing out new recipes with it! Go to an oil-vinegar store to try out new vinegars and blends. Balsamic vinegar is the most popular.
10) Agave nectar: My choice when it comes to sweetening foods. It has a suttle sweetness versus the sharpness of white, refined sugar. Also, since it is vegan, I love baking healthly treats with it, too.
There you have it: my top 10 favorite cooking ingredients to use in the kitchen. What is yours???