Every winter, I have the joy of working in a historic backcountry cabin that serves as an occasional seasonal warming hut. Skiiers and snowshoers, fresh from the trail, stop in for a warm place to eat their lunch and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. While the experience has helped me grow in many ways, perhaps the most surprising is how it has helped me become a more creative cook!
While cooking duties often fall to me, simply because I enjoy them, the grocery shopping is often done by someone else. At first I was frustrated by the surprise, but now I revel in it.
Cooking in another person’s kitchen awkward and daunting. Each of us have our own set points for what is normal in our pantries — and learning the layout of a new kitchen is always tricky. However, once you get the hang of it, the opportunity for creativity abounds!
Vacation rental kitchens are great for this. Random grains or spices left over from a previous tenant? Dried up feta? Strange condiment? All fodder for the most amazing meal (or at least an interesting creative experience).
Winter weekend cooking often comes with a general framework from the grocery shopper. Perhaps a chili, a stew, or a pasta. With a little of this and little of that left over from previous meals, or a forced substitute you’d never have made otherwise (Ginger instead of garlic in tzatziki? A new creation — ersatziki!). Once in a rental that saw plenty of turnover and left behind foodstuffs from other researchers, I found a can of tuna that reopened my eyes to its possibilities far beyond the tuna mac and cheese and sandwiches I’d been brought up with.
I’ve grown to learn that sometimes all creativity needs is a few restrictions or parameters. While I love a good recipe, these days I’m almost always starting with the contents of my pantry and refrigerator (especially now during CSA season!). You can get pretty far with a few pantry-based keywords in Google to find inspiration for how to use yet more kale and zucchini.
But I’ll admit, I’m curious what culinary adventures I’ll find in my next vacation rental or backcountry meal. Bring on the unpronounceable spices, unfamiliar vegetables, and items lost in the refrigerator tundra. I’m ready!
Now I’m curious about YOUR recent culinary adventures. What creative recipes have you invented using someone else’s pantry?