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

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This story is a collaboration with by the waythe destination of the Washington Post.

For amateur cooks, the vacation rentals are booby-trapped. Blunt knives that make dicing an onion a delicate affair. Warped and burned pots. Old electric ranges with inconsistent or puny burners. When you’re not cooking at home, you might not feel settled even before you consider shopping in uncharted territory.

I see myself as a self-confident, competent chef, seasoned by years of stove failure and the occasional singed eyebrow. So I was surprised at how scared I was grocery shopping when planning a work trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The house was about 45 minutes from the nearest supermarket, and I wanted to cook at least four dinners, so it made the most sense to pack most of our groceries before our long drive. This scenario comes up every time I rent a cabin or beach house with friends, which accounts for most vacations I’ve taken in my late 20s and early 30s.

A week full of dishes to prepare in your holiday home this summer

After a few days of pondering, I decided to make a plan. With a little extra research, prep work, and the assistance of YouTube, I put together a menu of dishes that proved exciting but manageable. I’ve used what I’ve learned from a decade of group travel to take the stress out of the busy summer rental season.

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

BYO spices and condiments

Don’t assume your host’s cupboard stocks anything other than a generic salt-and-pepper set or an open bag of lumpy sugar. You could hit the jackpot with a full spice rack, but if you’re going for smoky Spanish peppers or garam masala to complete a recipe, better bring those from home.

Bottles of ketchup, mustard or olive oil might be on hand 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 durable, it’ll probably last a long drive, even mayonnaise. When in doubt, use your nose.

Here’s how long you want these condiments to last in your fridge and pantry

Load up on carbs and starches

Dry goods are an obvious staple for the traveling cook. If you’re in a group, cooking a pot of pasta with a simple tomato sauce is also a breeze. I’ve made a massive batch of spaghetti on so many of these trips that my friends are now expecting it of me. Just because I indulge in San Marzano tomatoes and packets of ground beef, pork, and veal doesn’t mean you should. Add a jar of your favorite marinara to the pot and call it a day. I like Newman’s own sockarooni sauce; It’s packed with sweet and sour veggies (and fun to say sockarooni).

You’ll also want sliced ​​bread for a ubiquitous lunch of cold cuts; muesli or oatmeal for breakfast; and a baguette, Italian bread, or ciabatta that you use to make garlic bread and win the affections of your roommates with very little extra effort.

Recipe: Triple Garlic Bread

Plan around hardy vegetables

I’ve never met a tomato that I didn’t accidentally bruise, but Brassicas can handle a good bit of crushing on the way from store to car to rental. While I view group travel as open season for eating potato chips, it’s nice to throw in some cucumbers, baby carrots, and celery to up the nutritional value of your pasture.

On my trip to the Outer Banks I was drawn to Broccolini, a bland and sweet star I searched hard for a thick sandwich recipe I pulled from YouTube. Grocery store hummus or artichoke dip would add interest to any creation. I prepared a homemade spread of confit garlic and Calabrian chiles ahead of time, and followed directions to layer sliced ​​salami, pickled banana peppers, mayonnaise, and American cheese — a swap I made for loads of ricotta because I knew it going would be easier for my milk sensitive partner.

I can be snobbish about beans; I’ll struggle over convenience almost every time, soaking and simmering for hours. But you’re on vacation to enjoy yourself, not to tend beans. If you accept a shortcut, you can spend time with the people you wanted to visit. Avoiding long cooking meals will prevent you from yelling at yourself outside in the dark while trying to grill while your friends inside are too nice to ask why dinner isn’t ready at 10pm

While in North Carolina, I gave myself permission to purchase pre-made pouches of Maiya Kamal brand everyday dal, which saved me the trouble of preparing lentils. Dumping the pouch into a small skillet gave me an instant addition to a serving of aloo ko achar — a quick-pickled Nepalese salad that includes parboiled potatoes, cucumber, Sichuan pepper, and toasted, ground sesame seeds.

Nicoise salad is another option that uses canned ingredients to do the heavy lifting. I like to buy tuna fillets in olive oil in jars from brands like Tonnino or Ortiz and then hit the olive bar hard. Again, capers are a welcome addition.

Recipe: Nicoise salad with mango dressing

Choose an ambitious make-ahead dish

This was a vacation of sorts that mixed our weekday routine with lots of new landscapes, so I wanted one of my dinners at home to feel special. Enter Italian American, a cookbook full of red sauce dishes by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli, owners of Don Angie in Manhattan’s West Village.

Before we left, I made a batch of Scarpariello, a sweet, sour, and tangy pot roast made with chicken thighs and ground Italian sausage that you roll into bite-sized, easy meatballs. Poblano peppers, rice vinegar and sriracha reflect the book’s traditional perspective. Flavoring the sauce with cherry pepper sauce taught me a new cooking trick.

Chilling the sauce overnight before storing it in Pyrex for travel allowed it to develop deep flavor and serving with a la minute cooked penne was a breeze. The same effect would apply to any pot roast — say a plain pot roast or batch of cabbage that you could pair with a box of cornbread mix.

Recipe: Spicy Chicken and Sausage

…Because the group that went before you probably didn’t, and your new habitat could get very smoky — or downright dangerous — if you don’t. I think of a cabin trip when I proudly bag steaks from The Farmer’s Daughter in Capon Bridge, W.Va., worth a stop for the world-class cheeseburger alone. I paid a premium for the meat and went to the trouble of dry-salting steaks in the fridge overnight, then promptly charred them in a 3-foot fireball that sparked when I briefly left the grease-laden gas grill unattended.