Tips for Cooking Away from Home

This week my husband and I are on vacation in Utah with my sister and her in-laws.  The snow and cold temperatures in Utah are not to be believed (3 ft of snow this past week and a temperature of -2 degrees!).  While my sister and I are not avid skiers, our husbands enjoy it and so we have kept ourselves busy by exploring the neighboring towns throughout the day.  

Since we are part of a house of 14 people, teams of two have been assigned the task of cooking dinner for everyone on a designated night.  This of course got me thinking about the various details/challenges of cooking away from home.  Making a delicious meal is the goal, but what do you need to know in advance in order to set yourself up for culinary success while on vacation?  After spending a bit of time researching and thinking through my own game plan for cooking dinner, I have compiled a list of my favorite tips and strategies for cooking a delicious meal in almost any kitchen. 

Buy Disposable

For our assigned dinner night, my sister and I are going to make my favorite lasagna recipe.  Understandably, the home we are staying in is not equipped with a lasagna dish.  Instead of trying to amend the recipe/cooking times to fit one of the baking dishes on hand, we have purchased a disposable aluminum lasagna pan.  This way we can accommodate the recipe as specified for an added cost of under $4 and clean-up is now a breeze!

Substitute Appliances

For our cocktail hour, my sister and I have decided to make Ina Garten's Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta.  The recipe specifies using a food processor to make the whipped feta.   Unfortunately we do not have a food processor on hand, but we do have a blender. After about a minute of googling, I learned that you can indeed use a blender in lieu of a food processor for this recipe.  

Pack a few favorite small kitchen tools

This was actually a lesson learned for me on this trip when I found myself needing to run out to the store to purchase a few essential cooking tools.  Luckily I was able to find what I needed at World Market for a very affordable price, but in the future I will definitely plan ahead and pack those essential small kitchen tools in my suitcase to save money and the unnecessary time spent looking for the tools while on vacation.   Here are a few small kitchen tools that I have found most helpful to pack:

  • Microplane - to use for zesting citrus, grating hard cheeses, chocolate and spices
  • Garlic Press- fresh minced garlic is an aromatic and as such, it's an ingredient is found in a number of recipes.  Most likely, minced garlic will exist in at least one recipe during your trip, so pack a garlic press for added convenience.  
  • Peeler- not always a guarantee that you will find a vacation home equipped with a peeler

Take a little time to explore your local area

Food sold at national grocery store chains can vary significantly.  What you may be used to buying in your home grocery store could be totally different in a vacation spot.  For example - My grocery store back in DC always carries an  extensive collection of fresh herbs.  In contrast, upon visiting my grocery store's Park City counterpart, I was very surprised to find that their fresh herb selection was extremely limited (just oregano, mint and lime leaves).  My advice?  Do a little research to figure out which local food sources come highly recommended at your vacation destination.    

A Few Additional Tips:

  • Pack a portable spice kit (like this one)
  • Consider Altitude Changes- higher altitudes can cause moisture to evaporate quickly.  In addition, lower air pressure can cause foods to take longer to cook, so temperatures and cook times may need to be increased 

Whether you are assigned a night to cook for a group or merely looking to have healthier/budget friendly meals while on vacation, these cooking tips will certainly help you achieve culinary success in almost any kitchen.