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Cooking from a very modest supermarket: Inspire me!

Our vacation will take us to a rented house in a rural area with a small and not fancy supermarket as the only food shopping. (There is a farmers market, but it won't have much beyond corn and tomatoes, maybe zucchini or cukes.)

On past trips, we've cheerfully subsisted on Cheerios, tuna sandwiches, grilled cheese... But this time we're going for 2 weeks, which makes me want to think a little harder about the pleasures of the table, and I know there are things to cook and eat that I'm just not considering.

What are your favorite things to make using very basic ingredients? (I don't happen to like omelettes, but omelettes are the kind of thing I have in mind.)

Inspire me!

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  1. My 'fallback' option if I only have my local off license to buy from is spaghetti alla norma. All you need is spaghetti, an eggplant (or aubergine), olive oil, tin of tomatoes (or fresh or passata), basil, garlic, some red chilli (if you like some spice) and optional parmesan, pecorino or feta. They are all pretty much ingredients you should be able to buy at the most basics of shops.

    Or even more simple, spaghetti with good olive oil, lemon juice and a good parmesan or pecorino and basil.

    2 Replies
    1. re: pj26

      Great idea. I love pasta alla norma.

      1. re: pj26

        Check out Nancy Silverton's book: A Twist of the Wrist. If you bring a few well chosen jarred/canned items from home you can do very very well.

        These are not your normal jars/cans etc. These are specialty items. But it makes it easy


      2. Hopefully you will be able to make some key things ahead of time (unless you are flying).But, even if you are flying you can bring some essential dry ingredients and figure a small market will have things like ketchup, oil, vinegar, etc. Eggs (even better if they are fresh and local).

        Draw up a menu plan so you know what to bring from home.
        If corn and tomatoes are ready, there should also be zukes, cukes, and green beans. Maybe beets.
        Zucchini pancakes for breakfast. (will require shredding). The recipe I use takes a little like carrot cake with raisins and spices. Mix the dry ingredients ahead of time. Add the shredded zuke and eggs and wet ingredients when you are ready to cook. This is a great camping recipe. Serve with grilled sausage and bacon.

        Planning to try a grilled zucchini salad today.

        Cook a bunch of fresh green and/or yellow beans one night with enough for leftovers. 2nd day dress cold beans with a tomato-y french dressing (we prefer homemade). I also add very thin slices of onion and maybe some cherry tomatoes. Cold beans are good with a variety of dressings and you can add whatever flavors, ie feta cheese that you like.

        Fresh corn one night. Cook extra. Bring fixings for a corn, black bean, tomato salad. Again, with local store vinegar etc you just want to bring the right spices/herbs from home. You might have to skip fresh coriander. I put the dried ingredients in a small plastic bag and label.

        Our vacations also include homemade muffins and cookies. I make these at home. The simplest dessert is vanilla yogurt mixed with fresh berries. Hope you can get fresh blueberries, peaches or similar. Of course, small rural store might not have tubs of vanilla yogurt.

        We've gotten used to putting marinades on chicken, steaks, pork. Again, bring mixed dry ingredients in a labeled bag, add vinegar and oil at your vacation home. Consider kabobs with fresh tomatoes and peppers and onions. (Don't forget to bring kabob skewers from home.)

        Sounds like might also have the ingredients for taco salads.
        The big secret is 1. menu plans ahead of time so you can 2) bring pre-mixed and labeled dry ingredients from home.

        What I like about vacations with cooking facilities is the chance to visit local farmstands and markets for the local goodies.

        I also bring my favorite cutting board and knives.

        3 Replies
        1. re: dfrostnh

          Corn on the cob, pintos (any dried bean, really) and ham, cornbread mix, sliced tomatoes. Any combo of fresh veggies, simply and minimally prepared, make great meals to showcase what the area has to offer.Okra and tomatoes, sugar snaps and peppers,veggie burritos,broccoli with garlic and cashews, butterbeans with bacon and green onions, roasted beets, macaroni and cheese, corn fritters,gazpacho, cold berry or peach soup with pound cake croutons,fried chicken, shrimp and red beans and rice, all are easily prepared with minimal fuss and very widely available ingredients. Hope that helps, I've got plenty more : )

          1. re: shecrab

            Thanks for the great ideas. There really isn't much in the way of local veg, as it's not a great growing region and sparsely populated. (People may do more with home gardens.) But mmmm, broccoli with garlic and cashews! Love the sound of that.

          2. re: dfrostnh

            Not a great area for local farmstands and goodies, I'm afraid, and I know because I share your enthusiasm for visiting them when I travel! But I appreciate all your other suggestions. Corn, black bean, and tomato salad is a favorite.

          3. What do the locals eat?? Why not immerse yourselves in the local culture, customs and food ways??? Surely they don't subsist on Cheerios, tuna sandwiches, and grilled cheese. ~ Please don't tell me they are beneath you!!

            2 Replies
            1. re: Uncle Bob

              That's a very good suggestion Uncle Bob!

              1. re: pj26

                I didn't in any way mean to suggest that either the locals or the grilled cheese sandwiches are beneath me! But there just aren't always local foodways, so to speak. This is far northern NY state, it's mountainous and cool. Sparsely populated and not great for growing stuff.

                The locals subsist, as I think many people all over the country do, on what is for sale in their local supermarket. The market we can reach there is just very modest.

            2. I might consider some "theme" nights. A night of crepes for example. Start with savory and then move to dessert. The fillings can be anything you might find such as ham and cheese, orange and sugar. Bring some bulghar or quinoa with you and make a zucchini and tomato ragu.

              Another meal might be grilled chicken, zucchini cakes with a tomato sauce, and corn. And, if you have fresh tomatoes, gosh a grilled cheese with home made tomato soup is pretty darn good!

              As long as you have some basic vegetables, meat, flour and water, and maybe some decent milk and cheese, there are no end to the things that you can create that are both delicious and simple to make. [Simple doesn't mean fast though.]

              1 Reply
              1. re: smtucker

                Thanks. I know that a lot can be done with basics. I just can't always think of what!

              2. I've been stuck in a rural village (as in roads closed by large snowstorm) where there was little to choose from in terms of groceries and the locals at meat (boiled, fried, roast) and potato (boiled, mashed), but it doesn't mean that you can't find inspiration based on what's available. Just use your imagination.

                Chicken+potato+onion = roast chicken dinner, fried chicken with fries and onion rings, galatine with potato salad and onion confit, poule au pot, and poached chicken and stuffed marylands with potato galette among other things.

                Canned tuna (in oil) makes for the basis of a very nice Spanish orange salad or a ni├žoise.

                Corn, tomato, zucchini, cucumbers: roasted corn salsa, corn soup, cucumber soup, zucchini fritters, salads, gazpacho, accompaniments to some sort of protein, pan bagnat.

                Eggs: you can do a lot with eggs.

                Cheerios: "batter"

                3 Replies
                1. re: wattacetti

                  What are stuffed marylands? Cheerios batter? I'm intrigued!

                  1. re: Amy Mintzer

                    Marylands are the drumstick with the thigh still attached (and skin on). You can debone the thing fully or just take out the thigh bone and stuff the cavity before rolling/typing everything back together.

                    If you coarse crumble Cheerios, they can be used as a component to a more complicated batter (seasoned flour, egg, Cheerios+other stuff)

                2. Well, you should definitely buy those tomatoes and corn, and make this: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                  The most basic market witll have the rest of the ingredients; however, you should use whole wheat flour for the crust and you must drain the tomatoes (drink the juice so it isn't wasted.


                  Bring some smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton) with you and use it to season a frittata that you will make with some of the veggies from your market. Also use it to season boring chicken or steak.

                  1. Even though it's not a great growing area, you might want to check out localharvest.org, searching by ZIP Code. When visiting various parts of the country, I've found some pleasant surprises in the way of farmers' market, small farms that offer retail sales and so on. Who knew that Buckeye, Arizona had a goat farm that makes Chevre cheese in several different flavors?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mandycat

                      I think I've scoped out this particular corner of the world pretty thoroughly, but I'm delighted to know about localharvest.org, which is new to me. Thank you!

                    2. I never did see if you were driving ,,,if so I would fix three or four casserole type things/ meatloaf/etc and freeze them. Also produces great leftovers.
                      Stuffed potatoes is easy and delicous. Breakfast for dinner. Stuffed zuchinni or tomatoes.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: LaLa

                        Too late to cook ahead, but Stuffed potatoes is an excellent idea.

                      2. Tomatoes are in season for such a short time, I personally would really focus many meals around them, i.e. BLT's, gazpacho, tomato tarts, pasta with fresh tomato sauce, etc. Can you get fresh basil at the farmers market? I'd also cultivate friendships with local folks with gardens! :-)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: karenfinan

                          Tomatoes for breakfast lunch and dinner, as far as I'm concerned!

                        2. Will you have access to a grill? I've stayed in similar vacation locales - e.g. no olive oil at the local market - but there's always hamburgers, hotdogs and chicken. Chili, sloppy joes, lasagna can all be assembled from very basic market ingredients. Not fancy, but good. And there are worse things than frozen vegetables when the local selection of fresh ones is really meager.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: cookie monster

                            I've no objection to certain frozen veg. I've enjoyed hearing what people recommend we do with what's there! Thanks

                          2. Are you familiar with Dorie Greenspan's latest cookbook, around my French table? She has a number of really nice recipes that I think would fit your criteria. There are many recipes online, and a thread here at Chowhound ( google it, don't bother using the search function here.)

                            1. Do you want to spend your time cooking much? Personally I'd do a little no-nonsense cooking that can be pulled out of the fridge at the end of a fun filled day. A big bowl of macaroni salad, a three bean salad, sliced cucumbers and onions in a sweet/sour marinade, cabbage and apple salad, anything like that can be an easy side dish for a few days. Roasted chicken is so great, and you can turn leftovers into chicken salad or mix it with pasta for a takealong lunch.

                              And how about changing up the tuna sandwiches -- I've just switched to canned salmon, and mixed with chopped eggs to pad it out it makes a delicious sandwich. Just the same only different ;) Or dress up the grilled cheese with a slice of smoked turkey or ham and a nice tomato slice?

                              I couldn't share this recipe, I've lost it... but I used to do a vegetable bake that was so easy to throw together and used all that fresh produce you mentioned. You layered tomatoes, zucchini, corn in a casserole dish, and layered it with a ricotta-herb mixture (a little like lasagne), then topped it off with mozzarella. Yum, goes with anything, is so tasty even veggie haters eat it, and is even fantastic cold the next day. It shouldn't be hard to find a recipe for it. Zucchini tomato corn casserole might've been the name....

                              Don't forget breakfast for dinner! Fried eggs, hashbrowns, bacon. Baked french toast casserole thrown together hours before and just popped in the oven!

                              Will you have a slow cooker? Pulled pork is a cinch in one and it could feed your family for quite a few meals. We did an easy root beer pulled pork a couple weeks ago, oh boy was it yummy.

                              Oh what about cold Chinese noodle salad with chicken and peanut sauce? You can certainly adapt something like that to local ingredients (http://www.ourbestbites.com/2009/07/t... ). You could even do some Thai fresh spring rolls with local ingredients and a zingy dipping sauce if you brought along rice paper wrappers. Things like that are easy and adaptable but not humdrum.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: mlou72

                                All great. I could wing that vegetable bake. Do you remember if you pre-cooked the veg in nay way?

                              2. I recommend some Jamie Oliver recipes. His recipes use simple ingredients, that almost anyone can get, and they are absolutely wonderful. You may look at them, and be skeptical of how simple in procedure and ingredients they are, but the flavor inspires dreams. We have a pretty simple super market where we live, and we just use what we can find. Often, he instructs you to get tomatoes and potatoes in different colors, but it is FINE to just use regualr white potatoes and red cherry tomatoes, for example. Here are a few of my favorites:



                                These two are particularly amazing, but you should really read some of the recipes. Grea great food!

                                1 Reply
                                1. if you don't mind packing a few things, i'd take some quick-cooking grains like couscous, to which you can add any number of veg or proteins.

                                  stuffed twice baked potatoes are totally malleable... or do stuffed skins one night and serve mashed potatoes in another.

                                  risotto - maybe bring the rice. as simple or complex as the ingredients available allow.



                                  shepherd's pie

                                  (sweet) potato and bean burritos... or fajitas or tacos

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Emme

                                    Risotto is our most flexible and reliable family meal. Definitely bringing the arborio!

                                  2. Great food is what you make of it; not what it is made of.

                                    1. how modest is modest? I'm staying in a very rural area and the closest market is small but ifI search hard enough I usually find what I need (ok no wide rice noodle, tofu, miso, shallots, fresh seafood or duck) but I get by or make an occasional trip to a larger place, so pack the weird things you like that are shelf stable. the staples will be around. oh and browse the pickle aisle, and if there's a group rummage sale, swing by, occasionally someone will be selling their excess preserves.

                                      we used to vacation in upstate NY (Lake Keuka) and I still remember the sweet corn we'd buy from the stand down the road.

                                      1. Multiple meals with a roasted, or boiled whole chicken. Soup, salad, sandwiches, and casserole-style dishes (think lasagna, enchiladas). Similar with a roast of beef, or pork loin.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: letsindulge

                                          When I head to my cottage, I bring boxes of all the weird and wonderful items I'll never find in the small grocery store in town. I also bring a load of lemons and limes, shallots, herbs and unusual vegetation that will last a bit in the fridge. Lastly, I bring a bin of spices and spice blends. All this, combined with whatever I can find in the local store, can serve me well for a while.

                                          If you can, buy small herb plants that are ready to use. You can do wonderful meals with grilled or roasted meats or fish, if it's available, herbs, spices, citrus, plus potatoes, corn, tomatoes and whatever other fruits and vegetables you can find in the market.

                                          Yes, it means traveling with boxes of stuff and coolers, but it pays off big time to have most of what you might need to make whatever you wish. Assuming meat is readily available, you can make your own stocks from bones and scraps.

                                          Make dishes that adapt well to whatever is handy, like a Thai curry. You bring the coconut milk, fish sauce and curry paste, plus ginger, shallots and cilantro and jasmine rice. Everything else you'll find at the market. I keep kaffir lime leaves in the freezer for this reason, and often bring a few stalks of lemongrass from home. But, when it comes time to make the curry, the vegetables and meats will reflect whatever is in the fridge or at the store. Chopping aside, the curry comes together in less than half an hour and can last for two meals, provided you make lots.

                                          If you're into cooking, use the time to hone skills at making basic items, like yogurt, fresh ricotta, home baked breads, etc. Hot dogs and grilled cheeses are tasty when you feel like eating them, but there is absolutely no need to subsist on them when so many options exist, with a little creativity and advance thought to where your culinary whims might take you.