In summer and in winter—but especially in summer—there are those weekends best spent out of the city. We may not always be able to afford nice rentals or great B&B’s, but we can play the good guest when invited to a friend’s (or friend’s parents’) house for the weekend. One of the best parts of the two days away has got to be the cooking. Unless we’ve wound up in the most rustic little Catskill cottage, cooking in a house kitchen is a pleasant change of pace from the apartment galley kitchens we’re used to in the city. But the cooking challenges of a group getaway are many. There are a lot of mouths to feed. There are no bodegas on the corner. There’s more planning and less reliable equipment. There may not be a fully stocked pantry. There are expensive trips to the grocery store. And, perhaps worst of all, there are hungry friends, hovering around, who, in spite of varying levels of kitchen prowess, may want to “help” cook.
As cooks, there’s a part of us that wants to be the CEOs of the weekend’s meal plan. We want to eat well, spend some time stirring and sautéing, and perhaps cook some local ingredients. But we also don’t want to slave away during our two days of relaxation. And we certainly don’t want to spend a fortune. To have fun, our proprietary instincts must be diffused a little, our grip on the menus ever so slightly loosened. We’ve perfected a strategy, honed at weekends at friends’ houses during college and at summertime getaways in the three summers since we’ve graduated school. It’s not a plan to follow exactly, but it does have a couple crucial bullet points we’d like to elaborate on.
Cara and Phoebe are the Small Kitchen College co-founders.
Pack a Meal
Make a dish before you leave town. Pack it in good tupperware and stow it in a tote. This can be a baked chicken that keeps and reheats well, without requiring the oven to be on for hours upon arrival. Or grilled vegetables and pesto on baguette for a picnic in the car en route. It could be quickbread or muffins for breakfast. It could be cookies. But while sweets double as a hostess gift, they don’t necessarily count as a meal. When you bring a fully made meal, you prevent group decision-making and shopping. You can buy the ingredients at a store you’re used to and where you know where the bargains are. Plus, you’ve got your pantry and your tools to cook with. And no friends hanging around to distract you. People will be really happy to sit down to a whole meal, especially after a long trip.
Portable Recipes: Chicken Marbella (pictured); Ancho Chicken Sandwiches with Avocado and Chipotle Mayonnaise; “Forgotten” Chocolate Chip Cookie Squares
Delegate the Meat
We’re forward-thinking, modern women, but we’re able to admit the truth in some gender stereotypes. Which is why we say: Grill for dinner, and put the dudes in charge. They’ll shop, marinate the meat (which they’ve spent more money on than you would have), light up the barbecue, all with great enthusiasm and pride. The meat will be good, genuinely really good. This may not have been the case if you tried to delegate say, the salad. While the guys are grilling, everyone else can make sides: bread, corn, salad, pasta—whatever.
Guacamole is the most delicious summer snack food. Everyone likes it. We think we have the best recipe (find it below). Granted, if you make it in a group, you’ll find that everyone thinks that. But since you can’t mess up guacamole (with the exception of using unripe avocados…don’t do that), that’s an acceptable delusion. One guy Cara spent a weekend with sprinkled dried cumin in his guac. She was skeptical, but it was great. And the best part of guacamole is that it’s a unifier. It’s vegetarian, not unhealthful, and satisfying. All you need for completion are tortilla chips, and maybe some carrot sticks for dipping. You don’t need any other snacks around at all if you have enough chips and guacamole, though we do allow for a purchased salsa or two. This preserves focus at the grocery store, and it saves money.
Breakfast may be the best meal to take complete control of, especially if you’re an early riser—or are relegated to sleeping on the couch by the kitchen. No one cares exactly when it happens, and people tend to be much less picky about how it happens. You can spend a nice quiet 45 minutes in the kitchen before anyone gets up, which can be a nice pause in a weekend full of people, drinking, and fun.
Recipe: Breakfast Burrito Buffet; Yogurt Pancakes; Spinach Hash Browns
Find the Cleaner-Uppers
There’s not much worse than waking up after a night of boozing by the pool to find browning guacamole on the dishes that are scattered all over. In a given group, there will be people with high guilt reflexes. These are the people you need to locate. Make one tiny reference to the fact that you’ve done all the cooking and they’ll jump on the chance to clean. Suddenly, you’re no longer in charge. Bring in a few plates from the table, ask if you can do anything to help, but you’re no longer the one responsible. However, if it’s the host who gets stuck spearheading the clean-up, our morality says you do need to get back on the bandwagon, pick up a broom, and get moving.
2 cloves garlic, pushed through a press, or finely minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1 pint Guinness
4 pounds flank steak
In a large dish or bowl, combine the garlic, mustard, salt, and guiness. Stir to combine. Place the steak in the marinade and place, covered lightly, in the fridge for 1-2 hours (it may take this long for the guys to figure out how to use the grill). Grill to medium-rare. Slice and serve.