We like to combine two of our passions — cooking and traveling. Since we bought a car a little over a year ago, we’ve been planning on making use of it on weekend getaways, in the region and into neighboring regions, at self-catering cottages, or, where possible.
But what are the bare necessities for that happen? Here are some things we’d rather not cook without, and/or experiences thus far have told us not to expect. We’ve assembled a kit we can throw into the trunk of our car. It’s mostly multi-use items, avoiding our most-prized kitchen implements where possible. Having a check list like this helps avoid leaving little treasures for the host or next guest.
Basic knives. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.I need at least a big chopper and a little parer wherever we’re cooking. I bought a heavy metal chopping knife (for bony stuff and frozen stuff) out of necessity while in France last year, and before that I found some ceramics (for boneless stuff, peeling, slicing, etc.) that were on special at a supermarket nearby, so I scooped them up. Ceramics are not supposed to need much sharpening, if ever, but the tradeoff for that is that they are more brittle and less tolerant to being dropped or flexed. The knife at the rental property will certainly make you pine for your own at home! Ours came with a nice sheath, which just screams “take us with you on your road trip!” 1
Skinny plastic cutting board(s)
Ideally you’re doing all your cutting on a wooden cutting board. Plastic surfaces dull metal knife blades more quickly. But they’re super-easy to pack and if you’ve got your ceramics with you, why not? Bonus: they are assuredly cleaner than anything you might find awaiting you.
They have many uses besides as a cutting surface:
- knead dough on them (for the traveling baker)
- shovel your minced aromatics into the pan with them
- use them for emergency placemats
- let hand-washed dishes dry on them
Plastic wrap, sandwich bags, cheap food storage containers
You’re going to be cooking, and you’re going to create leftovers. Leftovers need lids. Well, guess what: Ferienwohnungen don’t come with Tupperware or even knock-offs for your use. Bring along some cheap alternatives.
Bottle opener / corkscrew
Try a local wine, wherever you go. But you don’t want to have to resort to this method, do you?
By the way, empty that wine bottle early in your trip so you can bake yourself a nice vacation pie and use the bottle to roll out the crust.
Cheapo garlic press
We’re pressing our garlic less and less often these days, and instead just smashing the clove with the flat side of the knife and mincing the smashed bits. It helps to have super-sharp knives for this method — else smashed bits of smashed bits of garlic are flung around your workspace. However, the smash-mince method for garlic — or anything else — sounds like a terrible idea for those extra-brittle, unforgiving ceramic knives. Consider a cheapo garlic press for your mobile kitchen if you’re not bringing a wide, flat metal knife suitable for smashing.
We stayed in a flat in a rather posh neighborhood of London recently, and the owner billed it as a “gourmet kitchen.” It was better-equipped than most, but still lacked an oven mitt, hot pad, or any of those things you need to make effective use of the oven. Fortunately, we had an abundance of towels, but had I known, I might have thrown an oven mitt into our suitcase. This item is essential for future road trips.
Matches or a butane lighter for lighting stubborn gas stoves
You might get a gas stove and/or oven for holiday use. It might also be of your grandparents’ vintage. Even the ones that are supposed to be modern and light with the push of a button often just don’t. Bring along matches or a butane lighter (the kind with a long stem) to make sure you can light it.
Small jars of essential herbs
If you don’t bring these things with you, upon arrival at your temporary new home, they’ll likely be the first things you seek out at the local supermarché, iper-la-grande-i, or Supermarkt. And then you’ll have extras, because you assuredly don’t need more of them back at your home kitchen.
You might actually find salt and pepper have been provided. Usually it’s the 1kg bottle of salt with a trick closure (surprise, it’s still open!), and the ground pepper canister is from Duran Duran’s heyday, and feels sticky to the touch. Eww.
Cheapo measuring spoons
Leave your good ones at home, but acquire a set of at least these three:
You’ll be able to eyeball everything else. Maybe one of those one-spoon-does-all jobbies is a good idea here; you know the kind — the volume of the spoon adjusts with a slider.
Small plastic bottle of olive oil and salad dressing packets
You need the oil to roast vegetables, sweat onions, make garlic butter for that still-warm baguette you just brought in from the bakery. Get a small plastic bottle of it for traveling, and refill it from your main stash at home before every trip. Plus, those packets of dried salad dressing mix don’t work without it.
The French Press method is your friend here. It’s pretty universal: you’ll need ground coffee and hot water. Grind up as much coffee as you’ll need for each day of your trip and stash it in a plastic bag before you depart. Hopefully your away-kitchen will include a water boiler, but even if it doesn’t, a pan in which to boil water will do. Your preferred milks and sugars may not fit the local customs (ever tried looking for “cream” in the U.K. or Mexico?), so consider bringing along a non-perishable stash of those, too.
Should you happen to get a cottage equipped with not-too-terribly old non-stick cookware, you may be dismayed to find only metal utensils in the drawer or rack. Bring a utilitarian wooden spoon and spatula so that at least you’re not contributing to the non-stick cookware’s scuffing. The utensils provided, if any, are likely to be
- put away dirty
Stainless steel pan
If you’re unlucky, all you might find in your temporary kitchen is non-stick-wear in scary condition. You’ll be glad you thought to pack one basic stainless steel pain in which to fry, boil, or sautée most of your stuff.
Generic baking dish
Some of the simplest recipes while on the road require a baking dish. Even though most cottage kitchens are equipped with an oven, not all of them provide a vessel in which to bake.
What can’t you travel with out?
Obviously, you can’t — and shouldn’t try to — bring your entire kitchen with you when you set out upon a road trip. As long as you’ve got the room in your vehicle to transport a few essentials, you won’t have to divert as much time or money from enjoying the new surroundings to getting settled in the temporary kitchen.
What did we forget? Let us know in the comments.