Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vacation Meal Planning: Making the Most of Your Vacation Rental's Kitchen

Last week, I spent a week at the beach with my family.  We stayed in an ocean-front condo with a kitchen.  Since the group included 10 people, including a toddler and an infant, eating out every night would have been nightmarish.  So, my sister and I planned meals for five nights and divvied up the grocery-buying and equipment-packing.  The results were pretty great, and we were greeted each evening with exclamations of "oh, yeah!" from my teenage cousin and his buddy.  It's nice to have an appreciative audience!

The backbone of our meal plan was the crock-pot.  My sister and I each brought one, and one night we actually ended up also using the one that came in the kitchen.  Only two nights were non-crock-pot meals.  Here's what we made:

Night One: Taco Salad

This is a family favorite and very easy: ground beef browned with taco seasoning, served on tortilla chips with lettuce, tomato, sour cream, salsa, cheese, onions, olives.  Doesn't get more simple than that.

Night Two: Barbecue

I think many people are surprised to find that you can make barbecue in a crock-pot, and I am sometimes hesitant to release that detail.  We come from a barbecue-cooking state, and regional lines are thickly drawn--everyone has an opinion on how barbecue should taste and how it should be prepared, and I am sure that many would be horrified at the thought of calling something that came out of a crock-pot "barbecue," but my family sure enjoys it!

It is ridiculously easy: pork tenderloin in the crock with about a cup of water and a drizzle of barbecue sauce (there's not much point in using a lot at this point).  Cook on low for about 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours, depending on the size.  Once it's done, it shreds easily with a fork, and then I pour the sauce on.  We like Sweet Baby Ray's, but again, to each their own!

We eat it on a bun with slaw: homemade also, and we like it simple--chopped cabbage, maybe a bit of carrot, mayonnaise (Duke's, if you please!) and salt and pepper.  We ate it that night with corn that my parents had picked up at a produce stand on their way down to the beach.

Night Three: Hawaiian Chicken with Fried Rice

This was a bit of a mash-up: I brought the Hawaiian Chicken recipe; my sister brought the fried rice recipe.  Both originally came from Pinterest.  The Hawaiian Chicken is a fantastic crock-pot recipe, and the only one that I prepped before we left home--it involves combining the ingredients (chicken breasts, pineapple chunks and juice, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and garlic) in a ziploc bag and freezing.  I doubled the recipe, dividing into two gallon-size bags, and freezing--the next morning they went into the bottom of the cooler.  The whole frozen thing is dumped out of the bag and into the crock-pot, and then shredded, similar to the barbecue.  My sister made the fried rice, a recipe that I hadn't tried before, but it was particularly tasty, and went well with the Hawaiian Chicken, despite the regional differences (not that either are particularly authentic to begin with!)

Recipe for Hawaiian Chicken
Recipe for Fried Rice

Night Four: Ham and Sweet Potatoes

This was my sister's recipe: sweet potatoes are placed in the bottom of the crock pot, topped with sliced ham, and covered with a brown sugar/ dry mustard mix.  We finished the meal off with squash from the produce stand.

Night Five: Spaghetti and Salad

Simple, easy, everyone can make spaghetti--noodles, sauce, and ground beef.  However, this one didn't actually work out for us.  We found out that the meat had been recalled, so we decided to forgo the meal and eat up the leftovers instead.

Although we enjoyed the nights we ate out, cooking in was pretty special.  My sister and I live several hours apart, so it was great getting to do something like cooking together.  We are very much in sync and the whole process of preparing meals in that little kitchen flowed seamlessly, and almost without the need to discuss it--we just did it.  There aren't many people with which that can happen!

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