Cooking On Vacation: Don't Forget The Chef's Knife!

My mother-in-law tells a story about a good friend and avid cook who lugged pie weights in his suitcase down to a rented Caribbean house for a vacation.

(He also instituted a no talking til 11 a.m. rule — a man after my own heart — but that's a topic for another post.)

Now that we're in the thick of the summer travel season, I'm wondering how far food loving cooks will go to make sure they don't go without in the kitchen on vacation.

The house we rented at the beach last month (and for many years before that) comes with a spacious but horridly equipped kitchen. The mouth of the plastic blender is so warped it looks like singing lips. The serrated bread knife barely cuts butter, and the hard plastic cutting board sounds like glass when a blade whacks down. One coil burner on the stove resembles a popped jack-in-the-box spring.

To ease the pain of cooking in a poorly stocked kitchen, my dad typically packs knives (since we drive), one good frying pan, a microplane, a few potted herbs like basil and mint, and an arsenal of spices and sauces, including Sriracha and Mae Ploy. My parents usually stop at one of Durham's great bakeries to stock up on good bread, which we'll freeze and enjoy over the next two weeks.

I might squeeze in a blender and decent cutting board next year.

Some kitchen voids you can't be prepared for. Joe Yonan, Washington Post food editor, recently found himself in a rented Paris apartment, cooking sans oven. No getting around that no matter how big your suitcase is.

What are your "don't-leave-home-without-it" kitchen items? What's the craziest thing you've crammed into a suitcase in the name of good cooking?


from twitter said...

nhleblanc @metrocurean A blender, sea salt, russian vodka and smoked freeze-packed salmon. Was one hell of a weekend!

Jen in Virginia said...

I make a brisket for the 22 members of our family beach rental each summer. I bring TWO LeCruset pans and prepare my spice rub at home and bring it with me every year. Bringing a knife is probably a good idea too - I'll proabably add it to the car this year. Luckily there is a good butcher near by where I can get a full brisket.

Todd Post said...

So very true. We had a kitchen where we were staying in Hilton Head and it was supposed to have a stocked kitchen. Your description of a "serrated bread knife barely cuts butter" as the main knife was exactly how I would have described the one we got and while the appliances were in good repair, there was only a frying pan and a stock pot with nothing in between. A call to the front desk got us a better variety of pots, but they only had another "serrated bread knife [that] barely cuts butter" still in its sleeve in stock. Also never thought about how I was going to devein the locally bought shrimp for making shrimp and grits, but I was luckily able to find one at another store. I learned my lesson in that most vacation kitchens are set up for microwave cooking, Shake n' Bake, or Hamburger Helper convenience foods...not serious cooking.

Amanda said...

Jen - Brisket for 22 certainly sounds like it needs special equipment. Fun tradition.

Todd - You're right about most vacation homes being set up for shake n bake. Apparently, some people's idea of vacation does NOT involve cooking ... =) I've had people say to me, 'You cook on vacation?'

Washington Cube said...

You wouldn't believe. I have shipped knives and pans to where I am going. My coffee. A coffee filtration cup. Rare spices and salts are packed as well. I have bought garlic presses, grating planes, and all sorts of gee gaws to leave at places where I know I'll be returning. Rental spaces are usually full of burnt out pans that have lost their non-stick surfaces, wobbly handles, and knives that are so dull and couldn't cut a bubble.

I have ripped cutlery drawers apart to reorganize (hiding the useless stuff until I leave,) reorganizing the pan cupboards, ditto on plates and cups. Tossed stale spices and bought new as needed. I even once bought a tall kitchen stool. I have blogged things I've cooked on vacations: an orange roasted chicken. Lobster rolls.

I rarely eat out at restaurants when I travel. I try to stay where there is a kitchen(ette) and I find going to the local markets/greengrocers/street markets is a wonderful way to become incorporated into the neighborhood.

Tony said...

Perfect timing! I've got a disaster of my own to share! You can follow the link for the full story but we expected a half-way decent grill we could work with. What we ended up with was something quite different!

/Although the knife at the house we just rented was actually decent, because no one has ever used it! ;)

Amanda said...

Wash Cube - You sound just like my family, including the reorganizing!

Tony - That's too funny. Good idea to bail for the oven. I grilled 8 pizzas one night at the beach. Luckily, my family rented three houses on the same street (lots of people) and one had a good charcoal grill so we'd do all the grilling under that house to avoid the other scary grills.

Ramona Padovano said...

My secret is to buy a cheap "pill dispenser" and fill the different compartments with staple herbs and spices, such as oregano, tarragon, marjoram etc. Although not fresh, these dried aromatics and flavorings help me to be open to most local and seasonal ingredients that I come across when away.
My 6 quart braiser usually comes along too! I can do just about anything if I have that thing.
Gosh, you know you're a foodie when you look forward to cooking on vacation..

Pensacola Beach rentals said...

Why have you rented that house for so many years if the kitchen is sub par?

Amanda said...

Ramona - love the pill dispenser tip.

Pensacola ad - Because we love the beach there and the view from the house is stunning. Small sacrifice.

dining set said...

Every time I make my vacation plan. I always make sure that I listed my cooking book and other recipe and especially my knife. It is a necessary thing to bring.

Dining Table Sets Gal said...

When I'm in a vacation, I'll always bring with me some food and recipe for the family. They always say your a girl scout. We own a Dining Table ecommerce site and are always looking for great content to help inspire. Thanks.

oval mirrors Gal said...

Vacation is not a vacation if there are no great food. ~ Wall Mirrors

large wall mirrors said...

Me always brought to me rice cooker, a knife and a blender when I'm travelling and plus the powder pepper.