Camille Styles is known for her impeccable taste and popular blog, and now her new book "" will give her fans the chance to emulate her style in their own events. See an excerpt from her new book below, and learn how to keep your pantry stocked for your next get-together.
"My favorite kind of entertaining is the laid-back, no-fuss variety—inviting a few friends over for dinner, opening a bottle of wine while I put together a few simple but delicious dishes, and sitting down to enjoy the meal with my friends, feeling neither worn out nor frazzled. Creating such an easygoing atmosphere is the direct result of preparation on the front end, and the extra effort to get organized pays dividends come party time. One of the greatest tools a prepared hostess can have in her arsenal is a well-stocked pantry. It gives me peace of mind to know that if last-minute guests stop by for drinks or even dinner, I can rustle up something scrumptious. And if the idea of hosting a dinner party after a demanding workday makes you break out in hives, just imagine that your kitchen is so well stocked that all you need from the grocery store on the way home is a few salmon fillets and veggies for a salad. So what are the items I reach for constantly, the ones I could never live without in my kitchen? Garlic, olive oil, herbes de Provence—they're standbys that I reach for on an almost daily basis and that never let me down. But there's also a new guard rising up in my kitchen, ingredients like Maldon sea salt and fish sauce that are fairly recent yet equally essential additions to my pantry shelves. Here are a handful of the items that are fundamental to my cooking, both for multicourse dinner parties and weeknight family meals."
GARLIC: I don't think I could live without garlic's punchy, addictive flavor—it's a must-have in just about every type of cuisine from Italian to French to Vietnamese. Avoid buying the prechopped or prepeeled garlic— this is one time when it pays to go the fresh route, even if it requires a teensy bit more work.
LEMONS: Thank goodness for our Meyer lemon tree growing in the backyard, which saves me who-knows- how- much money at the grocery store! I use lemons to infuse pitchers of water, brighten up rich sauces, and garnish fish and poultry dishes. And the peel is a must-have for baked goods, salad dressings, and sprinkling over roasted veggies for a zesty finish.
SRIRACHA SAUCE: Its sweet and spicy flavor is the secret ingredient that gives so many of my dishes their kick. I use it in place of red pepper flakes when sautéing vegetables and mix a bit of it with mayo for a perfect quick aioli to spread on sandwiches or serve with steamed artichokes.
NUTS AND SEEDS: My mom always taught me to keep pecans, walnuts, and almonds in the freezer, which prevents them from spoiling so they're always at the ready for an impromptu batch of cookies or a satisfying snack. She also taught me that nuts are infinitely better when toasted—the gentle heat boosts flavor and adds a great crunch that takes them to a whole new level. My freezer shelves always include her mainstays, plus pistachios, hazelnuts, and Marcona almonds.
MALDON SEA SALT: If you ask me, Maldon deserves its own category separate from other salts. It's that good. A sprinkling of these large, gorgeous flakes over veggies (cooked or raw) takes them to an entirely different stratosphere.
HERBES DE PROVENCE: I usually have several varieties of dried herbs on hand, but this classic Provençal mixture, which includes fennel, basil, lavender, and thyme (among other things), is hands down my favorite for adding herbal flavor to soups, roasted meats, and sautéed vegetables.
EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL: You could stock loads of different oils in your pantry—coconut, canola, flaxseed, peanut, sesame, and sunflower are just a few of the most popular—or you could do what I do and use a good-quality, moderately priced extra-virgin olive oil for almost everything! Yes, every oil has its own slightly different flavor (and when I'm making an Asian stir-fry, nothing beats the nutty taste of sesame oil), but 99 percent of the time, extra-virgin olive just gets the job done, and more tastily than almost anything else.
BALSAMIC VINEGAR: I keep a little squeeze bottle of reduced balsamic in my pantry at all times to drizzle over salads and even complement sweet dishes, like strawberries with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (seriously, try it!). To make your own balsamic reduction, pour an inexpensive bottle of balsamic vinegar into a nonreactive metal pan over medium-high heat. Let it come to a boil, then reduce to low and let simmer for 30 minutes, until a spoon dipped into the vinegar gets lightly coated with a syrupy consistency. When it's almost as thick as honey, pull it off the heat—it'll thicken a bit more as it cools. It'll keep in the pantry for up to 1 month.
MAPLE SYRUP: So much more than a topping for pancakes and waffles, maple syrup is my go-to sweetener for just about everything from salad dressing to meat marinades to muffins. It adds a certain depth of flavor that gives it secret-ingredient status in my ingredient arsenal. My favorite way to roast vegetables? Just toss them with olive oil, kosher salt, herbs, and a little maple syrup, and roast at 400˚F for 30 minutes. I swear—butternut squash becomes like candy!
CERIGNOLA OLIVES: There's something about the meaty texture and briny flavor of Cerignolas that's just . . . mind blowing. I like all kinds of olives and often incorporate them into cheese plates or pasta dishes, but when I've got Cerignolas and a glass of Pinot Grigio in hand, I can easily polish off a bowl of these myself before dinner.
RED PEPPER FLAKES: I like a bit of kick in my dishes, especially when it's combined with other flavors to create that satisfying marriage of sweet and spicy. Try adding a pinch to broccoli or kale just before roasting or sprinkle on popcorn with a bit of sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Just remember: a little goes a long way.
DIJON MUSTARD: One of my very favorite salad dressings is made with 1 part Dijon, 1 part honey, 2 parts olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice. It's just about as good as it gets. Dijon is also a must-have ingredient for marinades and simple pan sauces to accompany meat or fish, and it's my favorite sandwich condiment. I love the brand Maille for its balanced flavor and creamy texture.
CHICKPEAS AND OTHER BEANS: I think high-quality canned beans that have been rinsed well are every bit as good as their dried counterparts, and they're infinitely quicker to prepare. Chickpeas are essential for making hummus, and I always have a variety of beans on hand for adding to soups, salads, chili, and last-minute appetizers.
RAW HONEY: We go through a lot of honey at our house. It's a healthier alternative to processed sugars and adds a balanced sweetness to smoothies, baked goods, and salad dressings. I love to serve it with sliced pears and blue cheese for the best three-ingredient appetizer, and a drizzle of honey over Greek yogurt and berries is my favorite way to start the day.
DRIED FRUIT: Aside from roasted almonds, dried fruit is my most frequent midday nibble. I love tossing dried cherries in salads, sweet apricots into bran muffins, and golden raisins into sautéed broccoli or kale (really, it's amazing!). The key is soaking them, which completely transforms a raisin into something so juicy and sweet that it's almost unrecognizable from its former dried-up self. Just cover any kind of dried fruit with warm water, orange juice, or even sweet wine, let it hang out for 20 minutes or so, then drain!
FRESH HERBS: Nothing does more to punch up the flavors of your cooking than using fresh herbs! I always keep three or four varieties on hand—winter pastas call for a few torn sage leaves; parsley adds a touch of brightness to roasted meats; and in Japanese or Thai dishes I might combine cilantro, mint, and basil and shower the entire thing with fresh, zesty flavor! If you have the inclination to grow fresh herbs at home, I can't recommend it highly enough. In the winter when my herbs are dormant, I pick up fresh herbs from the grocery store or farmers' market, then store by placing them in a couple inches of cold water in a glass and storing them on a middle shelf in my fridge.
CHEESE: It may not be a revolutionary idea, but there's no doubt that setting out a couple varieties of great cheeses with some wine is the perfect way to kick off a dinner party or sate guests' appetites during cocktail hour. I store at least a couple of fantastic cheeses in my fridge at all times—it goes a long way in helping me feel prepared for impromptu guests or even a cozy evening by the fire with just the three of us! To help cheese last as long as possible, wrap it in parchment paper (plastic wrap can impart flavors and chemicals into the cheese), label with the variety and date, and then place in the warmest part of your fridge, like the cheese or vegetable drawer.
EGGS: There are eggs . . . and there are organic, farm-fresh eggs with deep yellow yolks and a certain richness you just don't get from the supermarket variety. I pick up a dozen every weekend at the farmers' market, and on those nights when I can't think of what to make for dinner, a fluffy omelet with a sprinkling of cheddar and a few sautéed veggies always does the trick.
AVOCADOS: Avocados are like that enviable woman who seems to be able to do it all: they're creamy, delicious, incredibly good for you, and paired with a few halved cherry tomatoes and a liberal dose of sea salt, they can serve as a light meal on their own. In the mornings, I top toasted bread with a smear of avocado and squeeze of lemon juice; for lunch, I add a healthy dose of protein to all-veggie salads with a few big chunks; and at dinnertime, sliced avocados top soups, fill tacos, and become a rich sandwich condiment.
GUITTARD CHOCOLATE WAFERS: There are so many great chocolates for baking on the market now, but my mom recently made what we all pronounced to be "the best chocolate chip cookies in the history of the world," and the only thing we could credit it to was the inclusion of semisweet Guittard chocolate chips. Since then, I've been buying up these wafers, which are perfect for melting into a silky-smooth chocolate sauce or simply nibbling on as an after-dinner treat.