Vacation cooking

Last week we were in Park City for Spring Break.  We rented a house with our friends and try to keep costs down a little by cooking in.  The tricky part about cooking in rental houses is you never know what kind of kitchen supplies/utensils you will have and you don’t want to buy a whole bunch of stuff that you will need to throw away.  (Samantha had a great vocabulary word in her homework – equipage.  It was in an article about tea and the increasing popularity of tea drinking in England pre-Revolutionary War.  The article described the interest in the silver service, china cups, etc. – the equipage of tea drinking.  The definition I found indicates that it is an archaic word meaning “the equipment for a particular purpose”.  Keith and I were joking that we would have to check the kitchen equipage before we planned our meals.  Fortunately, it was sufficient for our needs.)

I tried to keep it to meals with just a few ingredients – all of which will be familiar to my blog followers.  We ate in 4 nights as follows:

  • Boursin chicken, oven roasted potatoes and salad in a bag – the Boursin chicken is only 3 ingredients (bone-in chicken with Boursin cheese and a little olive oil), I bought the Little Potato company potatoes with the seasoning packet and a delicious salad in a bag with walnuts, craisins, cheddar cheese and apple dijon vinaigrette.  Simple to fix, simple to cleanup and minimum items to purchase at the store
  • Grilled rosemary and garlic shrimp with pine nut cous cous and grilled asparagus – I marinated the shrimp in rosemary, garlic and olive oil (I did breakdown and buy a small bottle of olive oil), everyone loved the cous cous and the grilled asparagus just needed a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.  I did also buy a package of wooden skewers for the grilling but they were not very expensive.
  • Salmon dijon with instant risotto and steamed broccoli – I already had mayonnaise and Dijon mustard for lunches so just bought a small bottle of horseradish and some panic.  The risotto mix is excellent and broccoli is always delicious.
  • Grilled lamb chops with horseradish mashed potatoes and salad in a bag – we bought a small bottle of Worcestershire to marinate the lamb chops and Keith used some of the leftover horseradish in the mashed potatoes

Definitely saved some money by eating in and none of these required much in the way of equipage!





Cooking in someone else’s kitchen

For the birthday party I knew that I would be cooking a lot of food and that some of it would not be in my kitchen.  I also knew that we would be tight on time and that although you can get to Easton easily from Oxford, I didn’t want to be missing key ingredients or equipment.  As you can gather from blog, I’m used to planning but for the party I needed to take it to the next level.

I started with my usual list of what I was going to make.  I then made a spreadsheet.  I added a column for ingredients and listed each ingredient that I needed for each recipe.  I used that to make my grocery list (I bought all of the food here in Baltimore.)  I then added a column for equipment needed for preparation (for example, I didn’t think my mother-in-law had a zester so I took mine to zest the lime for the tuna tartar.)  I then added a column for serving (for example, we took our tasting spoons to serve the tuna and our parfait glasses to serve the gazpacho.)  Because we do a lot of entertaining, we have a lot of stuff.  We also took a set of ceramic labels that you can use to identify food on a buffet.  (I like people to know what they are eating.)

I also took my favorite knife and cutting board, my apron and some really good dish towels.  Additionally I figured out which things could easily be made at home and taken along in a cooler (the gazpacho, the bruschetta toppings, the sauces for the beef, etc.)  We got everything done with time to spare, I had everything I needed (from both an ingredient and an equipment standpoint) and everyone loved the food.

A bit of planning goes a long way!

Party time!

My in-laws both turn 80 this year (my mother-in-law in July and my father-in-law in November.)  They wanted a joint birthday party so Keith and I catered the food and my sister-in-law and her husband took care of the bar.  I wanted the food to be nice and knew that some of the preparation would be done in their kitchen (although it is well-equipped, it is always harder to cook in someone else’s kitchen.)

This was my menu:

Passed hors’doevres 

  • Crab salad in cucumber cups
  • Tuna tartar in tasting spoons
  • Bacon avocado cherry tomatoes

On the table

  • Beef tenderloin with two sauces (mustard horseradish and basil parmesan mayonnaise)
  • Gazpacho (served in parfait tasting glasses we got at Pier One years ago)
  • Bruschetta with three toppings (shrimp, tomato and spinach)
  • Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
  • Deviled eggs topped with caviar

For dessert we had cake from Graul’s (two cakes so they could each have their preferred) served with the amazing homemade ice cream from Victor’s Highland Creamery in Oxford where they live.  It’s always interesting to see what is popular with different crowds.  The crab salad and bacon avocado tomatoes were slightly more popular than the tuna.  Everyone loved the beef (it’s hard not to like tenderloin) and everybody always loves deviled eggs.  Somebody commented that they never make them because they are too labor intensive but I know that whenever I serve them people gobble them up.  (Often with the remark “I haven’t had deviled eggs in years.”)  The asparagus was also demolished.

Here are the recipes:

Crab salad in cucumber cups

  • 2 seedless cucumbers sliced about 3/4 inch thick
  • 1 pound of crabmeat (lump or jumbo)
  • 3 – 4 TB mayonnaise
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp celery salt
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Scoop the flesh out of the center of the cucumbers with a spoon making sure not to go all the way through the cucumber.  (This can be done ahead with cucumber cups stored in the fridge until party time)  Gently combine crabmeat with mayo, lemon juice, celery salt and Worcestershire.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Spoon a dollop of crab salad into the cucumber cups and serve.

Tuna Tartar
  • 1 lb fresh tuna, chopped finely
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp wasabi powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 5 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper with seeds removed, minced
  • 1 1/2 avocados, chopped

Place tuna in a bowl.  Whisk together olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, wasabi, soy sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper.  Pour over tuna.   Stir in  scallions, jalapeno and avocado.  Refrigerate for a few hours until ready to serve.

Bacon stuffed cherry tomatoes

  • cherry tomatoes (I did about 50)
  • 1 lb bacon, cooked to crisp
  • 2 avocados
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 TB mayonnaise

With a sharp knife, cut a small slice off the bottom of the tomatoes so they will stand up flat.  (I made these for a family reunion in June and thought I could skip that step but it’s important – otherwise they roll around on the serving platter.)  Scoop out enough tomato from the top to make a little cup without cutting all the way through the tomato.

Crumble bacon in a bowl.  Add in chopped avocado and squeeze lemon juice over.  Stir in mayonnaise.  (Refrigerate until ready to serve.)  Scoop some of the bacon avocado mixture into each tomato and serve.  Labor intensive but delicious.

Beef Tenderloin 

We always used to cook tenderloin at high heat until we discovered this slow-roasted technique.  Meat is moist and tender.

  • 1 beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • coarsely ground pepper.

Preheat oven to 275.  Brush filet with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Check temperature – when a thermometer registers 125, your meat is rare.  If you want medium rare, cook to 135.  Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil.  Let rest for about 20 minutes and then carve and serve with sauce of your choice.  Every time we make the beef this way, people say it is the best they have ever had.

Mustard Horseradish sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 3 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 TB whole-grain mustard
  • 1 TB horseradish
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Whisk together to combine.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.


  • 4 cups tomato juice
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chooopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 TB white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp tarragon
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 parsley, chopped
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 large tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in a blender and process to your liking.  Refrigerate.  Serve.  This was easy to make ahead and bring ready to go.

Bruschetta Toasts

  • 1 loaf of French bread (I used two since I made all three toppings)
  • olive oil
Slice bread into 1/4 inch slices on diagonal to make longer slices.  Brush with olive oil.  Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes until crisp.  Cool before topping.  (Toasts can be made ahead and stored in baggies – just make sure they are cool before bagging.)
Tomato topping
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 3 oz ricotta salata or feta cheese, diced
  • 2 TB chives, minced
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Heat oil over low to medium heat in a small saucepan.  Cook shallots, stirring until soft.  Add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.  Toss tomato mixture with cheese, chives and balsamic vinegar.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  To serve, top toasts with 1 – 2 tsps of mixture (depending upon size of toasts.)
Spinach topping
  • 2 bags baby spinach
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese
Saute garlic in medium saucepan over medium heat for about 1 minute.  Add spinach in two batches and stir until wilted (about 5 minutes.)  Drain liquid and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in mozzarella cheese.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Spoon onto toasts.
Shrimp topping
  • 1/2 lb cooked shrimp, roughly chopped
  • 2 – 3 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 TB chopped parsley

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to assemble – up to overnight.  Spoon onto toasts.

Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto

  • asparagus
  • cream cheese (slightly softened)
  • proscuitto (thinly sliced)

Blanch asparagus by dropping into boiling water for about two minutes and then running under cold water.  Refrigerate.

Cut prosciutto slices into smaller pieces.  Spread with cream cheese and roll asparagus spears in it.  This is a bit labor intensive but worth it.  I had them ready to go and then refrigerated with a damp paper towel over them.  I’ll also confess that I’m not good at managing the quantities.  I bought a bunch of asparagus and a pound of proscuitto.  We ran out of asparagus and the big platter of them was decimated.

Deviled eggs
  • eggs
  • Worcestershire
  • dry mustard
  • cayenne pepper
  • paprika
  • mayonnaise
Place eggs in a pot just big enough to hold them and add water to cover.  Bring to a rapid boil, turn off heat and cover for 17 minutes.  Remove from heat and add cold water and ice cubes to stop cooking.  Chill eggs in refrigerator.  Peel eggs and cut in half.  Put yolks in a bowl and mash with a fork.  Add Worcestershire sauce, mustard, paprika and mayonnaise.  For the party I cooked 60 eggs.  I have no idea what quantities I used of anything else – I just put in a bunch of everything, stirred it, tasted it and then added a little more.  Everyone loved them.  You can top with a small amount of caviar to make them look a bit more elegant.   Refrigerate until ready to serve.  (When you fill them and refrigerate you usually end up smashing them when you cover them.  I’ve discovered it is easier to put the whites in a baggie and the filling in a bowl and then fill them when I’m ready to go.
Sadly we were so busy that I never got a chance to take a picture!