Here’s the thing about cooking on vacation: You’re on vacation. Yes, cooking is a pleasure, but so is a nice nap on a deck chair. The perfect getaway allows you to fit both in.
We combined a little bit of make-ahead planning with some double-duty ingredients to build a menu of easy, straightforward meals that feed four deliciously and healthfully—from Friday night cocktails and dinner to Sunday brunch—without ever resorting to boring standbys like cereal, cold-cut sandwiches, and chips.
How do you get all this food to wherever you’re going? That’s the easy part: All the cold items you’ll need fit into a single large cooler. (Yes, we measured it.) Everything else fits in a grocery tote or two. And for the most part, you’ll use every ingredient you bring.
2 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
Cooler Packing 101
We’ve got a plan that will give you an entire weekend of meals with one cooler. If you’re following our plan to the letter, download our Cooler Packing List that outlines specifically what you’ll need to pack.
For general cooler packing, here are a few tips. Pack raw meats, fish, and produce sealed in plastic bags on the bottom. Next layer in produce, dairy, eggs, and perishable condiments. Save space by packing just what you think you’ll need for the weekend. And remember to fill the cooler all the way up; the ice will melt faster if it’s full of room-temperature air.
If you store your cooler in a hot garage, bring it inside the night before so you can start with a cooled-off vessel. Use solid ice or reusable gel-filled ice packs on the bottom, pack food, then fill in the gaps with bags of cubed ice. Once it’s packed and ready, stow in the trunk, away from light, and put a blanket or sleeping bag around it for extra insulation.
3 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
Bag the Rest
The rest of the items you’ll need for the weekend menu can fit easily into a large canvas bag. For the detailed list, download our Bag Packing List. Produce, boxed and canned groceries, bakery items and alcohol can travel unchilled in a bag. Just pack the bag as you would at the grocery store, with heavy items on the bottom and delicate breads and crackers on top.
4 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
Make-Ahead Recipe 1: Citrus Shortcake
Bake this lightly sweetened, sturdy cake-style shortcake in a square pan to use for both weekend desserts. You’ll only need 7 of the squares, so freeze the remaining 2 for another use (or go ahead and pack them; consider them secret snacks for the cook).
5 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
Make-Ahead Recipe 2: Spice Rub for Steaks
Save yourself having to pack tons of spice bottles by throwing together this rub ahead of time. Mix together 2 teaspoons espresso powder, 1 teaspoon garlic salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Store in an airtight container or bag and pack with your other non-chilled items.
6 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
Make-Ahead Recipe 3: Sweet Chipotle Snack Mix
Have this addictive mix on hand for nibbling all weekend (we also use some in a salad on Saturday). Ground chipotle pepper and chili spices combine with sugar to coat this three-part combo of pepitas (pumpkinseeds), almonds, and cashews. Make it ahead of time and bring with you in an airtight container. Warning: it won’t last long, so feel free to prepare a double batch.
7 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
Friday Dinner Drinks
A pitcher of slushy Honeydew-Kiwi Daiquiris is a great way to start the weekend. You’ll use about half of the melon for this recipe and the rest in Sunday’s fruit salad. If you don’t think your rental place will have a blender, whir these up before you leave town, and freeze overnight in a zip-top plastic freezer bag. Thaw for a few minutes before serving (knead the bag to break up big pieces). If you brought extra orange liqueur, add a splash to the mix for more flavor.
8 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
Kick things off with a barbecue sliders, grilled corn, and broccoli slaw. Shredded, grilled chicken thighs are dipped in Carolina-style barbecue sauce, a vinegar-based mix with mustard, a little honey, seasonings, and butter. Sides of grilled corn with honey butter (that complement the BBQ sauce perfectly) and creamy broccoli slaw round out the meal.
Get everyone involved with throwing dinner together. One person can shuck the corn and mix the slaw, another can man the grill, and another can assemble the sliders. Who’s on cleanup duty? We suggest you draw straws for that one.
Brandied Peach Shortcakes make good use of your made-ahead Citrus Shortcake and an “airline” bottle of brandy. Peaches are seared on the grill and then drenched in a brandy-honey butter sauce. Sounds like a sweet start to a weekend of fun.
10 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
After everyone has their leisurely morning coffee, a round of French toast and smoothies is in order. Sturdy ciabatta bread makes for great French toast; you’ll use the remaining bread for lunch. For the smoothies, pop the sliced peeled banana in the freezer Friday night so the next morning’s prep is quick and easy. The rest of the fruit gets tossed into a fruit salad on Sunday.
Fire up the grill and get that toasty bread smell wafting on the breeze. A light lunch is on the way. The make-ahead nut snack mix adds crunch and heat to the salad, pleasant foils to creamy goat cheese and sweet bell pepper. After grilling the veggies, reserve 2 bell pepper wedges and 2 eggplant slices for Sunday’s hash.
12 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
After a full day of fun, it’s time for a hearty plate of steak and potatoes. When buying for the weekend, keep in mind it’s a good idea to call ahead and order two flat-iron steaks, because there is only one flat-iron steak per steer. Flank or tri-tip steaks make fine substitutes. You’ll serve roughly two-thirds of the steak for dinner Saturday night and use the rest for Sunday brunch. Creamy fingerling potatoes will serve double duty for Sunday brunch and peppery arugula salad offers a refreshing bite to the plate.
That delicious Citrus Shortcake makes another appearance, this time layered in a simple trifle. Any summer berries will work here, and you can substitute other fruit liqueurs for the Grand Marnier. Reserve remaining liqueur for Sunday morning lattes.
14 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
Saturday Dinner Wine
Coffee flavor in food can be a fabulous pairing point for some red wines. Cabernet sauvignon and syrah often have dark espresso flavors lurking around the edges. For Saturday’s supper, though, you need a red with a little more bright acidity and juicy fruit than those two varieties bring on their own. Go for a blend of syrah and its common partner grenache: Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape-styled 2006 Le Cigare Volant (California, $32), with spicy, toasty, earthy notes on one side and bright red fruit on the other. —Sara Schneider
15 of 15Photos: Charles Masters & Randy Mayor
Poached eggs over Saturday night’s roasted potatoes are the perfect Sunday wake-up call. Just add lattes—iced and refreshing, with a little spike. Since the idea for this entire meal is to use up leftovers from the weekend vegetables, don’t worry if amounts don’t match precisely.