I vacation from cooking by doing more cooking. Call me crazy, but after a month of meticulously timing, weighing, and measuring, it’s refreshing to get in the kitchen and cook with abandon. So, when my family got together to rent a house on Hanalei Bay for a week, I eagerly volunteered to take charge on the food front.
We pulled up to a gem of a beach house with a sleek kitchens spiffed out with a commercial-grade stove, sparkling counters, and gorgeous wood floors. The cook in me was psyched as this kitchen was the homecoming queen to my plain-Jane, workhorse kitchen; but what it boasted in looks, it lacked in substance as I opened the cabinet to find nothing but a lonely salt and a pepper shaker set. Not that I was expecting a rental to have shelves and shelves of spices and oils, but something beyond petrified pepper flakes would have been nice.
It turns out all that recipe development caused a sort of food sensory overload, so I relished in the challenge of cooking from a bare cupboard. Doing so caused me to go back to basics and practice restraint. At its most basic, a good dish is a balance of sweet, savory, salty, and sour, woven together with aromatics and oils; so armed with soy, balsamic, honey, and canola oil, I was more or less set. In the end, we whipped up a week’s worth of meals with flavors ranging from Hawaiian to Italian and French to Thai and I’m happy to say we never had to resort to the petrified pepper flakes. Lucky for me, my family is up for adventure and was down to try anything our cooking crew dreamed up from honey and coconut milk-braised carrots to tangerine-balsamic grilled pork loin and shoyu chicken tacos to chipotle and porter marinated flank steak.
So next time you’re faced with a Mother Hubbard’s cupboard of a pantry, take it not as a bane but as a boon and a chance to shake up the ordinary. Either that or consider traveling with an emergency kit of your must-have spices and condiments so you’re set no matter where you land.
Photo via Derrick Coetzee on flickr