Improv Cooking: When Your Vacation Kitchen Lacks Tools

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

You’ve been invited to a friend’s home for the weekend and promised to cook a welcome dinner in exchange for your host’s hospitality. You’ve picked up all the ingredients on the way and planned the menu, only to realize upon arrival that the kitchen lacks everything you need. Been there? I have! Here are a few tips to survive the forced experience in cooking improv.

If you’re like me, you like to measure ingredients. And you also like to cook to impress. Which is why I panicked after promising to bake some elaborate cupcakes at a friend’s home in Florida. The surprise? The kitchen lacked tools of all sorts — there wasn’t a measuring cup, spoon, wisk or baking tin to be found. I fumbled my way around using a few tricks and, despite the less-than-precise measurements, the cupcakes turned out great. Follow these tips in case you’re faced with the same dilemma:

Measuring Cups: Visualize your favorite measuring cup and try to find a teacup, glass or yogurt container that is roughly the same size. If the item is labeled by size (soup cans, etc), even better! I used a muffin tin (which I purchased with the cupcake ingredients) to measure a level approximate cup of flour.

Measuring Spoons: You’re in luck here — use a regular spoon! Again, it’s best to visualize what a tablespoon or teaspoon usually looks like in your own kitchen. Some chefs swear by measuring these amounts by the palm-full — pour a tablespoon of flour into your palm to get an idea of what it looks like for you.

Zesters and Graters: Chop away! Peel citrus as close to the surface as possible (avoiding the white pith) and mince until it resembles zest. If you’re faced with a block of cheese to grate, slice and dice it.

Spatulas and Tongs: It’s tough to flip a pancake without a nice spatula, but a cake server or a wide knife should do the trick. Use two forks or spoons together to create makeshift tongs.

When all else fails, try to work with recipes with ratios — this way you can set your own measurements based on what you have. And, of course, try to steer clear of complicated cooking — you’re on vacation!

What are your improvisational tips when cooking with limited tools?

(Image: Lee Valley)