Cooking in a vacation rental
I had a surprise invite along with a group to Maui next week. We're going to try and keep our meals cheap by cooking at a questionably-stocked rental condo. What simple, few-ingredient recipes would you recommend for this kind of situation? I'd prefer to try cooking with whatever seafood is available in the area, but there are a couple picky eaters who might want more land-going protein.
If you're going to the Napili area, be aware that it is very upmarket. There is one supermarket in Napili (whose name I can't remember) associated with the Foodland chain where the prices are very high except for the weekly Foodland sale items. Adjoining Napili is Honokawai, the location of both Maui Fish Market (which sells both fresh fish and cooked fish items) and a Times Supermarket next door. There are many Chowhounders who just love Maui Fish Market. However, during my visit last year, I was shocked to see four types of fresh fish (ahi, mahimahi, opakapaka, and I forget the last) all being offered at the same price of $19.95 per lb. By walking across the parking lot to Times, a greater variety of fish at more reasonable prices will be available. For example, there was a $7.00 difference in the price of the mahi. Ostensibly the difference in price is because Maui Fish Market fish comes from waters off Maui and the fish from Times comes from all over the Pacific. Both places will tell you how to cook the fish if you ask.
Hawai'i is expensive in general, since most things have to be shipped in. There's a little local produce, but not much. I wasn't impressed by Times' seafood: as for price differences in various locations, remember you may need to factor in the cost of gas (and the inevitable traffic congestion) so going out of the way to a cheaper store may not be all that economical in the long run. Costco may have the best prices, but if you're staying in West Maui you're looking at an hour's drive each way - unless you stop by when you get off the plane.
Bring plastic bags: Maui banned them in grocery stores a couple of years ago, and they're useful for carrying wet swimsuits among other things. I bring a couple of those, plus a supply of ziploc bags for leftovers, lunches, emergency ice bags, etc. Don't expect the condo to have plastic wrap, foil or similar kitchen aids.
When packing for a vacation rental, my focus is on spices, condiments, and equipment. A bit of salt, a travel pepper grinder (available at pepper-passion.com), 5-6 kinds of herbs/spices/curry mixes packed into little Penzeys spice jars, some small jars of good olive oil and sherry vinegar and lime juice* and mustard and salt-packed capers. I also always take a good knife and a cutting board that won't dull the edge. If I've got the space (and I usually do), I also like to take a single good skillet. Making soup or rice or pasta can be done well enough in second rate cookware, but the difference between a good fry pan and a bad one is huge. A good corkscrew is a necessity for me, so I always bring one.
I also often pack a little bit of food: shallots, garlic, and a hunk of bacon from one of my preferred local purveyors. It travels well frozen, and a small quantity of good bacon can really make a vegetable dish sing. Might help keep the picky eaters happy, too. If I was going to expand on the food I take, first choice would go to a pound or two of Rancho Gordo beans. Very yummy in a simple dish with bacon, aromatic vegetables, and a touch of savory.
Once we arrive, I let the dinner plan be dictated by what's good and fresh. Whitefish meuniere is simple and delicious. Depending on the audience, curry can work very well, or a stir-fry with curry powder.
*Nellie and Joe's, of course. I don't think I'd pack that for hawaii, though -- good citrus should be plentiful.
a take on a chicken cacciatore would be simple and easy.
Take some chicken pieces (I like thighs and legs but if you picky eaters, breasts too - they just are prone to getting dry).
Toss with some peppers, chopped into chunks (multi color)
Onions chopped into chunks
Some herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano whatever you have)
a little chicken stock (if you don't have it a bit of water)
a little white wine
a splash of olive oil
through it all in a pot, bring it to simmer, lower and let it cook for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Easy - no fancy chopping so others can help assemble - you can brown off the chicken pieces if you want but on vacation with bad pots and pans . . . it will be fine without browning.
My other recommendation would be making fruit salsas (mango or pineapple, etc) - they are great, good on fish or chicken, leftovers with chips the next day - and you'll have access to great fruit! I'm jealous.
Like others have recommended, stop at Costco. See what's there, get what looks good, and keep it really simple.
Will you be cooking for everyone? Will there be communal meals? Will you be hanging out on site? Traveling around?
How will the meals be planned? Group protein, side dishes, etc? or will each person pick up stuff they can deal with on their own, yet eat together? maybe share a bit?
How large is the group? Can y'all walk the aisles of Costco and be spontaneous yet be able to make decisions?
Take that stuff into consideration, see what is available, what looks good, KISS. Keep it simple....
Your first stop should be at the Costco right by the airport to buy the staples you need because you're apt to find more expensive prices anywhere else you shop. Besides the fish noted below, Costco has the best prices on bread, cheese, the Maui or Kona coffee, breakfast cereal and pastries, a container of "Hawaiian style" potato salad, already-cut pineapple, fresh vegetables,etc. A foldable insulated bag may be a handy item to bring with you.
I think I'd go for good ingredients, and simple cooking techniques, more than outright recipes.
Fresh grilled or sauteed seafood with lemon butter, pan fried steak with sauteed onions and mushrooms. Marinate chunks of meat in olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, stick on skewers and grill or broil.
Baked potatoes with garlic butter, sauteed or grilled fresh vegetable medley with fresh basil or thyme, fresh garden salad, Greek salad, fresh bread with butter or garlic bread. Vegetable side dishes can be very simple - baked tomatoes, blanched/steamed green beans or broccoli, carrot salad, baked beets with butter, mashed squash, sauteed zucchini, etc.
Use canned chickpeas as the base of a salad, with olive oil garlic and lemon, chopped celery, onions and tomatoes, and fresh mint.
If you have sushi enthusiasts, pick up packages of poke at the grocery store. Yum! Or go for the Hawaiian classic, spam sushi.
For something a little more complicated - saute some onions and celery, toss in diced tomatoes, fresh basil, assorted seafood (shellfish, sliced squid, fish, etc) and some a glug of white wine, and have a lovely seafood stew. Serve with fresh bread to mop up the juices.
Or diced green pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and some red pepper flakes. Rub all over a cleaned whole fish, and bake until done.
Fresh tropical fruit with ice cream for dessert.
The key is to keep your purchased seasonings to a minimum. I'd pack sea salt, a compact pepper grinder with peppercorns, and some small packets of my favourite spices. Once there, I'd buy a small jar of good olive oil, a small bottle of red wine vinegar, a block of butter, fresh lemons and limes, maybe a small jar of dijon mustard. Aside from that, you can buy onions, garlic, ginger, cheese, fresh herbs and the like in the quantities you need. I'd probably get some soy sauce as well, based on my cooking style.
With that, you've got the ingredients for a variety of seasonings for meat, seafood and vegetables, you can make marinades and salad dressings from scratch with little effort.
For lunches, if you're also cooking those, you can get bread, lunch meat, cheese, olives, vegetables and dip, chips and hummus, fruit, cookies, etc. For breakfasts - pick up milk and cereal, or oatmeal, some Kona coffee, fruit, eggs, bacon, etc.
Note that the inter-island flights charge for all checked luggage, and if you're packing knives or liquid ingredients you can't take your luggage as carryon.
I've had no problems with dried herbs and salt in my checked luggage.
I've stayed at rental condos on different islands 8 or 9 times now. What you can expect: a kitchen with fridge and probably and electric range, a coffee maker, a rice cooker (every place had one, except for the condo that had 3 of them), basic plates, cups, glasses, utensils, a crappy set of knives, microwave and miscellaneous pots and pans. Most rental condo complexes have outdoor propane barbecues available for use.
I bring my salt, sugar, pepper, herbs and tea and buy rice, fish and whatever fruits or vegetables strike my fancy at the time. If you're in the Ka'anapali area, I recommend The Fish Market for seafood: I haven't been too impressed by the farmers' markets on Maui.
This isn't exactly what you're asking about, but since you're wanting to save money, make sure you hit the Costco right by the airport.
You'll find seafood such as ahi tuna, mahi mahi, ono, squid, wahoo, and whole lobsters that you won't find in the mainland Costcos. You'll also find USDA Prime grade beef for about half what you'll find it anywhere else (this, thankfully, you can find at Costcos on the mainland).