Comfort Food

11 Dinners Even My Brother Can Cook on His Ski Vacation

January 29, 2018

The best cooking questions I get are from my brother, via an out-of-the-blue phone call. "What's the difference between a scallion and a shallot?" "What's a bomb [yes, bomb] but easy fish recipe?" And recently, "What are some good, easy (see a pattern here?) dinners that my friends and I can make in our Airbnb kitchen when we get off the slopes at 5 and want food on the table by 6:30?"

There's a lot to ponder here. My brother is a pretty basic cook. The thought of riffing on a recipe or "just throwing something together" is not so much an option. This is not a (not)recipe situation (sorry, Food52). He's chained to the list of ingredients. Substitutions are not in his arsenal.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

With that in mind, I collected a list of recipes that fall into the following criteria:

  • Dinner needs to be ready in under 2 hours.
  • Dinner's ingredient list mustn't include obscure or hard-to-find components. I've made assumptions here on what I expect to be available at a basic grocery store in the mountains of Colorado.
  • Dinner should involve minimal spices. I am going to suggest that my brother pack plastic baggies of the following spices in his carry-on. (Just his luck! I gave him a custom starter spice collection this Christmas): cumin, chili powder, cayenne, dried thyme, dried oregano, and dried basil. Otherwise, they should be available at the grocery store (or if you're lucky, in your Airbnb!). It's not ideal to have to buy whole jars of new spices, but you can always take them back home and use them.
  • Dinner should require only the most basic of kitchen tools. An Airbnb kitchen is always a crap-shoot, so I've kept to the following: a (1) (likely very dull) knife, (1) pot, (1) skillet, (1) baking sheet, and (1) casserole dish. If your kitchen doesn't have any of these, then... good luck. Just kidding. Get creative! Once I tried to make an aioli in the woods of Massachusetts by filling up a used water bottle with the egg yolks, the oil, and some pebbles and shook it as hard as I could for as long as I could. It didn't work.

There are a few ingredients (grapeseed oil, sherry vinegar) that pop up in my chosen recipes that might be a roadblock. I've noted substitutions in those cases and other tips for the uninitiated in the kitchen.

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If you're a seasoned cook, the suggestions may seem very basic to you. But this ain't your mama's cooking. It's your brother's.

This recipe requires a bit of chopping, so enlist a few people to help (if there are enough knives). One person can take the onion, one the the garlic, and one the green pepper. The vinegar and sugar are optional (so if your Airbnb kitchen doesn't have them, don't use them). And a universal note on oil: In most cases where the oil is for cooking, not dressing, feel free to use vegetable or canola oil, because it's cheap.

Helloooooo, did you know you can make lasagna in a skillet? I didn't. Well, now I do.

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Top Comment:
“I appreciate the thought of delicious dinners while cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen.”
— Sweet A.

If you can’t find no-boil noodles you can substitute regular lasagna noodles—you’ll just have to cook them first. Keep them very al dente—with a little bite, which might seem underdone to you—because they’ll continue to cook in the sauce. You can also omit the sausage for vegetarians.

Hey, this is vegan! Because someone on the trip might be vegan.

This calls for a poblano pepper, which might be hard to come by in your ski village. Omit it and use more green pepper, or if there's a jalapeño, add one of those, too.

Can't find enchilada sauce? You can make a super easy one with tomato paste, stock, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and flour. Boom. Or I totally won't tell if you use jarred taco sauce instead. Or use a jar of green salsa for green enchiladas.

When you suggest this, someone might go "Ew." Haters gonna hate. After they taste this, there will be no "Ew." Grab a loaf of crusty bread, or serve it with rice.

The only potential snag here is you do need to use olive oil.

So, yes, I know, summer squash and eggplant are likely not in season. But your grocery may still have them. (And don't make a pesto unless you feel like it—you can find a jarred version). If your grocery only carries seasonal veggies, use potato, sweet potato or butternut squash instead. Pretty much any vegetable goes with chicken. If you go that route, I wouldn't use the pesto. You'll survive without it. And if there aren't bone-in chicken thighs at the store, you have my permission to use chicken legs.

No brainer: tacos! Use cayenne instead of the ancho chile or chipotle powder. Plain old white vinegar subs in just fine for cider vinegar. And if tacos aren't tacos to you without cheese, then by all means, add some cheese.

Leave out the coriander—I'll look the other way.

Potato skins can count as dinner. Words that might scare you: grapeseed oil (as previously stated, use any oil you want), fingerling potatoes (Get regular russets instead. Then they'll be dinner-sized!), and white wine vinegar (white vinegar will do). You can absolutely buy a blue cheese dressing, though, to go with these.

If you can't find fennel, roast a sheet pan of cut up potatoes (oil, salt, pepper, at 400°F for 45 minutes). Or use neither and serve over pasta tossed with butter.

Shakshuka? What? It's really good spicy tomato sauce with runny eggs that you can sop up with bread. Harissa may be hard to come by. Pick your favorite hot sauce instead and use a heavy hand. I also really like to add feta, so you should, too (talking to my brother).

It has lettuce on top, so it's well-rounded. You don't have to make the cilantro dressing (but it's really good). If you do decide to make it, you'll likely be without a food processor. Not to worry. Chop the garlic as fine as you can get it (or smush it with the edge of the knife blade) and stir everything together. If you forgo the dressing altogether, dollop on plain sour cream and sprinkle with chopped cilantro if you can find it.

There you go, little bro. Venture forth knowing that I'm only a phone call away.

Do you have ideas for how to adapt these dishes to make them even easier? What are your stand-bys when you're cooking in a less-than-well-equipped rental kitchen? Let me know.

This post originally ran in January 2017. We're promoting it again because it's ski vacation time.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Olivia Bloom

Written by: Olivia Bloom

Has a soft spot for string cheese.


Sweet A. February 3, 2019
So helpful! I was literally planning an upcoming airbnb trip with these same criteria. Many thanks for the recipes and for including non-dairy dishes. I appreciate the thought of delicious dinners while cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen.
Riley M. February 24, 2018
This was a very fun and interesting read Olivia! Thanks for the tasty recipes. Having a toaster around can help even the most helpless cooks fix up a good meal. You can check out some over here
Riley M. February 24, 2018
This was a very fun and interesting read Olivia! Thanks for the tasty recipes. Having a rice cooker around can help even the most helpless cooks. You can check out some over here
Annette G. January 30, 2018
Cannot tell you how much I love these recipes and so happy I found them!!
drbabs January 30, 2018
When I stay in an Airbnb and know I'm going to be cooking, I throw one of these into my carry-on. Never cook with a dull knife again..
Leandra B. January 23, 2017
Thanks for this!

I recently spent a week in Aspen on a ski vacation and took over cooking. I was cooking for 4, not a huge crowd thankfully. They included
-Me, vegetarian and mostly dairy free
-My brother who is easy to please
-My mom who raises her eyebrows at things like bonito flakes but always tries (and likes) what I cook
-My cousin who is picky (no eggplant, mushrooms, squash, beans, nut allergy, loves meat)

Tough crowd...
I like cooking dishes that are a main and several sides so people can pick and choose what they want. I made the following meals to please everyone
Day 1: Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce, pre-cooked italian sausage with peppers and onions and roasted broccoli
Day 2: Chickpea and sweet potato curry with brown rice and a green salad
Day 3: Rotisserie chicken (all done!) with roasted veggies (including potatoes for the picky cousin), braised kale
Day 4: Vegetable minestrone soup (onion, garlic, carrot, broth, grain, can of tomatoes, whatever green veggie), and toasts (make your own, but included cold cuts, cheese, avocado, hard boiled eggs)
Olivia B. January 23, 2017
Wow, hats off to you for taking that on! All great ideas—I wanted to include a curry but tripped up on finding one that required very minimal spices. And man, I love a good rotisserie chicken.
Leandra B. January 23, 2017
Thai curry paste and coconut milk! Garlic, ginger and onion sauteed first certainly adds depth but for some palates the paste and coconut milk is enough...