How to plan a week of holiday cooking for your rental home

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This story is a collaboration with By the wayWashington Post Destinations.

For home cooks, vacation homes are full of booby traps. Dull knives that make cutting onions into cubes. Skewed and scorched pots. Old electric cookers with inconsistent or small burners. If you cook from home, you may feel unwell even before you consider shopping in unfamiliar terrain.

I see myself as a confident, competent chef, spicy from years of failure in the stove tops and occasional sunken eyebrows. So I was amazed at how much anxiety I felt about shopping for food when I was planning an external business trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The house was about 45 minutes away from the nearest supermarket, and I wanted to prepare at least four dinners, so it made the most sense to pack most of the groceries before the long drive. This scenario pops up every time I rent a cabin or a beach house with friends, which makes up most of the vacations I’ve taken in the late 20’s and early 30’s.

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After a few days of annoyance, I decided to make a plan. With a little extra research, preparation work and assistance from YouTube, I put together a menu of meals that turned out to be exciting, yet manageable. I’ve taken what I’ve learned over a decade of group trips to help you save yourself the stress of the middle of the summer season.

Here are six tips for planning a week of cooking on vacation.

BYO spices and condiments

Do not assume that the host’s cupboard has anything to offer beyond a generic salt-and-pepper set or an open bag of lumpy sugar. You can hit the jackpot with a full spice rack, but if you opt for smoked Spanish peppers or garam masala to complete a recipe, you should bring them from home.

Bottles of ketchup, mustard or olive oil may be available when you arrive, but how do you think they got there? The last juice left them after buying a new bottle when they only needed a quarter cup. I’m less nervous than most – in my family, expiration dates were considered suggestions, not rules – but if it’s shelf stable, it’s likely to survive a long car ride, even mayonnaise. When in doubt, use your nose.

Here’s how long the spices in your fridge and pantry should last

Top up with carbs and starch

Dry goods are an obvious staple for the traveling chef. If you are with a group, it is also easy to cook a pot of pasta with a simple tomato sauce. I have made a giant portion of spaghetti on so many of these trips that my friends now expect it from me. Just because I enjoy San Marzano tomatoes and packages of minced meat, pork and veal, does not mean you should. Dump a jar of your favorite marinade into the pot and call it a day. I like Newman’s own sockarooni sauce; it’s packed with sweet and sour vegetables (plus it’s fun to say Sockarooni).

You will also have sliced ​​bread for a ubiquitous lunch with toppings; cereal or oatmeal for breakfast; and a baguette, Italian bread or ciabatta that you will use to make garlic bread, and win the love of your housemates with very little extra effort.

Recipe: Triple garlic bread

Plan around hardy vegetables

I have never encountered a tomato that I did not accidentally get bruised, but brassicas can take a good deal of stepping on the commute from the store to the car for rent. Although I consider group trips to be an open season for consuming potato chips, it’s nice to toss in some cucumbers, baby carrots and celery to add nutritional value to the pasture.

On my Outer Banks trip, I gravitated toward broccoli, a mild and sweet star I burned hard for a thick sandwich recipe I picked up from YouTube. Grocery store hummus or artichoke dip would make any creation more interesting. I went through making a homemade spread of confit garlic and Calabrian chili beforehand, following the instructions for adding sliced ​​salami, pickled banana peppers, mayonnaise and American cheese – one I switched to piles of ricotta, because I knew it would work easier for my milk sensitive partner.

I may be snobbish about prayers; I will go with effort rather than convenience almost every time, soaking and simmering for hours. But you are on vacation to enjoy yourself, do not tend to pray. If you accept a shortcut, you can spend time with the people you came to see. Avoiding long-cooked meals will prevent you from cursing yourself in the dark outside while trying to cook while your friends inside are too nice to ask why dinner is not ready at 22.00

While in North Carolina, I gave myself permission to purchase ready-made bags of the Maiya Kamal brand’s daily valley, saving myself the hassle of making lentils. Dumping the bag in a small pan gave me an instant complement to a batch of aloo ko achar – a quick-pickled Nepalese salad containing parboiled potatoes, cucumber, Sichuan pepper and roasted, ground sesame seeds.

Nicoise salad is another option that allows canned ingredients to do the heavy lifting. I like to buy glasses of tuna fillet in olive oil from brands like Tonnino or Ortiz, and then hit the olive bar hard. Capers are a welcome addition here as well.

Recipe: Salad Nicoise With Mango Dressing

Choose an ambitious cooking dish

This was a holiday that mixed our everyday routine with a lot of new scenery, so I wanted one of my home dinners to feel special. Enter “Italian American,” a cookbook full of red sauce dishes from Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli, the owners of Don Angie in Manhattan’s West Village.

Before we left, I made a batch of scarpariello, a sweet, sour and spicy braise of chicken thighs and ground Italian sausage you roll into small, simple meatballs. Poblano pepper, rice vinegar and sriracha reflected the book’s traditional tweaking point of view. Eating the sauce with cherry-pepper-lake taught me a new cooking hack.

Cooling the sauce overnight before storing it in Pyrex for the journey made it develop a depth of flavor, and serving it with penne boiled a la minute was a simple matter. The same effect will apply to any braise – for example, a simple pot roast, or a batch of collards you can pair with a box of cornbread mixture.

Recipe: Spicy chicken and sausage

… Because the party that went before you probably did not, and your new habitat can be very smoky – or simply dangerous – if you do not. I think of a cabin trip when I proudly packed steaks from Farmer’s Daughter in Capon Bridge, W.Va., which are worth a stop for the world-class cheeseburger alone. I paid a premium for the meat and went through the trouble of drying steaks overnight in the fridge, then charred them in a 3-foot fireball as a spark as I left the greasy gas grill unattended.