Vacation House Cooking: 5 Dinner Menus You Can Make in Any Kitchen

Weeknight Menus From The Kitchn

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Making dinner in a strange kitchen is always a challenge, but it can be even more difficult in a vacation house. There's the additional pressure of preparing meals for a larger-than-normal group of extended family or friends, plus the fact that you were hoping to spend more time in a hammock with a good book than in front of the stove. To help you achieve all your napping, sunning and magazine-reading goals this summer, we've put together a 5-night dinner menu plan with meals that use simple ingredients — with lots of emphasis on fresh summer produce — and kitchen tools you'll find in even a modest vacation rental.

How To Cook Corn on the Cob

The Scene

You've rented a house for a week with your family or perhaps a group of friends. You want to cook and take advantage of all the gorgeous summer produce filling the local farmstands, but you're still on vacation. Dinner preparations should be uncomplicated and mostly hands-off, and should rely on the basic kitchen equipment you're likely to find in a summer rental. And the meals should be fun, appealing and tasty, incorporating classic summer flavors that everyone on the trip will appreciate.

Making It Happen

Start off with a bang on Day 1 with fall-off-the-bone tender ribs, cabbage slaw, and butter dips, a quick and homey variation on the usual biscuit. Ribs might seem like a big undertaking, but most of the cooking time is inactive, so you can relax during the several hours they spend in the oven. Finish the meal with the simple but sublime combination of ripe strawberries, sour cream (or crème fraîche) and brown sugar.

Follow up with that belly-busting meal with a lighter, vegetarian dinner on Day 2. A potato and chard Spanish tortilla comes together quickly in a skillet and the brown rice and grape salad can be assembled ahead of time and refrigerated, if needed. Ripe peaches need just ten minutes in the broiler to turn soft and caramelized, ready to be topped with vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.

On Day 3, crispy, juicy chicken milanese on a summery salad of corn, tomatoes and potatoes comes together in under an hour, but feels like a fancy dinner. After dinner, mix up the fudgy pudding cake and let it bake while you play a board game. It will be warm and ready to eat with a scoop of ice cream when everyone's had enough of Apples to Apples.

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Lemon Cream Icebox Cake

Everything is hands-off on Day 4, the only day that calls for a special piece of equipment: a hand mixer, to whip the butter and cream in the no-bake lemon cake. (If your rental doesn't have a mixer, make Butterscotch Pudding instead.) No-cook tomato sauce and a perfectly balanced balsamic vinaigrette don't take long to prepare and can be done hours in advance, leaving you with plenty of time for a sunset walk before dinner.

Celebrate your last day of vacation cooking on Day 5 with a meal everyone assembles themselves. Roast the shrimp, make the salsa, boil up some ears of sweet summer corn, and set out all the taco fixings. Done. Dessert is just as easy — cut up a cold, ripe watermelon and let everyone go at it. Seed-spitting at the table? You must be on vacation.

What are your favorite meals to cook while staying in a summer rental?

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