This is a list from which meals are made. Keep most of these items on-hand and I PROMISE you will rarely be at a loss for what to cook. Five minute meals, 30 minute feasts, lavish dinner parties all start HERE. I also cannot stress enough the importance of high quality products. Please see my "shop" page for harder to find ingredients.
oils: olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed, canola, coconut, toasted sesame
vinegars: red wine, balsamic, cider (Braggs with the Mother), rice wine, sherry
sugars: white granulated, raw, confectioners, brown (dark and light), superfine
pasta: spaghetti, linguine, penne, orzo, tagliatelle, etc.
rice: arborio, basmati, black, brown, short grain (sushi rice), jasmine
mustards: dijon, whole grain
thick cut rolled oats
salt: kosher, coarse sea
I personally have a thing for small batch flavored salts NEVER to be confused with gross garlic salt. I recently picked up some really interesting black and white truffle salts at Sugarpill in Seattle which are so yummy on eggs. I also tried and LOVED Falksalt's Wild Mushroom Sea Salt that I found at the great shop Cured in Boulder. SO good when seasoning roasted chicken.
flour: all-purpose, whole wheat, bread
grains: farro, quinoa, couscous, cornmeal
legumes: black beans, chickpeas, lentils, navy beans
nuts: almonds, walnuts, pinenuts, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts, etc.
panko bread crumbs
capers, olives, sriracha
tuna in olive oil
good-quality organic chicken, beef and vegetable broths such as Pacific (not the canned versions please)
canned tomatoes, such as San Marzano
I love Muir Glen's organic fire-roasted tomatoes. They are especially good in a pinch when making a lovely smoky quick tomato soup.
raisins, currants, dried cranberries, dried cherries...try to seek out great quality here without added sugar
honey, molasses, pure maple syrup (no place for Aunt J)
semi and bittersweet chocolate, high quality cocoa powder
baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch
vanilla beans and good extract. I'm not talking McCormicks here. (see post on how to make your own vanilla extract if you don't already)
black peppercorns, variety of dried chillies, whole nutmeg, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin (ground and seeds) cinnamon (ground and sticks), tumeric, cayenne, ancho and chipolte powders, ground ginger, whole cardamom, whole (or broken) star anise, smoked, sweet and hot paprika, basic curry powders such as garam masala and madras, celery seeds, mustard seeds, saffron, crushed red pepper.
This list will vary wildly based on your personal preferences. I can't say enough about high quality spices. I am fortunate to live in a town with an excellent spice shop where they grind all of their own spices, make their own mixes, etc. If you live somewhere far flung and don't have access to great resources, there are plenty of online options available such as Savory Spice Shop and Kalustyan's. It is really important to rotate your spices on a regular basis to assure freshness. Buy the highest quality and smallest quantity you will use.
basic Asian pantry:
coconut milk (such as Chaokoh), fish sauce (Three Crabs or RED BOAT), mirin, soy sauce, red and green curry paste, black and white sesame seeds, pickled ginger, wasabi powder
If and when possible, all dairy should preferrably be organic and/or the highest quality available:
milk, heavy cream, sour cream, strained yogurt
chunk of parmesan cheese
aged cheddar or some other semi-hard cheese
great quality thick-cut bacon