Cucumber Stackers & Packing Kitchen Essentials

Cucumber StackersYes, I am sharing a recipe of sorts, but that isn’t what this blog post is really about.  This blog post is about two things: The magic of what you can come up with when faced with limited kitchen utensils, and what you should pack so that you at least have those few limited kitchen utensils.

Before the movers packed up our house in IL, I needed to separate out the items that I didn’t mind being without, and those I really wanted to bring along to our rental apartment in South Carolina.  We had planned on staying there until our house was done being built, which should happen sometime around Christmas.  The apartment was furnished with the basics.  In the kitchen, this included a full set of dishes, glasses, and flatware, a knife set in a block on the counter, a can opener, a basic set of pots and pans, one large plastic colander, a toaster, coffee maker, a set of plastic mixing bowls, and several other random, everyday items that although cheaply made, would serve their purpose.  Often these are the same items in your run of the mill hotel kitchenette or home/condo rental.  I wanted to mention my situation as we are full into vacation season and there is a good chance that you will be faced with my same dilemma.  The only exception is for those of you flying to your destination.  I do not recommend you take your Santoku chefs knife with you in your carry on.  They may frown on that.

I realize that ‘kitchen essentials’ is a broad term, as everyone had a different view of what those are.  Some people can’t live without a garlic press or George Foreman Grill.  I am not one of those people.  I do, however, like to have items that can be used as multipurpose tools as much as possible.  My Kitchen Aid mixer, while one of my favorite and most used appliances, was hard to justify packing for our temporary rental home, being large, awkward, and heavier than all three of my children combined.  I knew that space would be a factor so I was brutal and sparing during the selection process.  Sorry, favorite wooden cutting board I got at a garage sale in college and have brought with me through 9 homes and 6 states.  I can’t cut meat on you so you don’t fit the whole ‘multipurpose’ requirement.  Into the box with the popover pans you go.  Vegetable peeler?  Nope.  A plain old pairing knife will do fine, thank you.

So what did come along?  A group of items that I quite simply use on a regular enough basis that I can’t be without them.  And ooooooh boy were my choices tested.  Little did I know, I would be moving out of our little rental apartment and into a little-and oh so empty-rental home mere days after arriving.  Turns out there was a crazy man living below us who liked to pound on our door and scream obscenities at us when we did wild things like laundry at noon on a Tuesday.  Very uncool with three small children.  Sooooo…I unpacked, with the unfailing help of my Mother-In-Law (who also bravely yelled at said Crazy Man to, and I quote, “Watch your language!  There are children present in this apartment!!” :) and then the following day, repacked again.  The majority of our household goods are in storage, but our clothing and all items we would have need for for the next 6 months are with us.  We threw our belongings in our truck and hauled them to a rental house that, by the grace of God, we discovered was immediately available.  The bummer?  It was completely empty.  Noth.  Ing.  No dishes.  No colander.  No can opener.  And the microwave was broken.  Boo.

So what, you ask, have I been cooking and cooking with these last three weeks?
In no particular order, and with very bad photography as I was packing well past midnight and it was obviously dark, here are the items I make sure are ALWAYS in my kitchen.
IMG_1027Up first, my microplane.  Not the utensil you were expecting?  Let me explain.

I use my microplane almost daily, especially in the summer.  I cook and bake with fresh citrus and fresh ginger so often during the warmer months, I really didn’t want to leave it behind.  Of all the items, this is the one I could have skipped, but it takes up almost no space, so into the laundry basket of necessities it went.

Honorable Mention: The stone pot that it is leaning against is actually an old fashioned bread pan.  I got it from my Aunt years ago and it does indeed make a great loaf of bread.  These days, it stands on our bookshelves as a decorative piece and we use it to hold our loose change.  Making it to the bank to cash all the coins inside did NOT happen in the last frantic days before the move so it ended up coming with us.  Is it weird that I am comforted by that familiar sight in the midst of all kinds of moving chaos?
IMG_1026My blender and slow cooker.  My blender was a no brainer, due to the fact that we eat smoothies almost daily.  In addition, I use it to make no cook sauces like this one (pesto too) and refreshing drinks, like these margaritas.  The slow cooker was a last minute decision which I am SO glad I made.  I moved to South Carolina, a state known for sun and sand and heat.  I wanted to make sure I had access to an appliance that wouldn’t heat the whole house during our summer of acclimation.  :)  It is getting a TON of use, which you will see more evidence of as the weeks continue.
IMG_1025Yes, this is a lime green rubber scraper and really ugly spatula.  Before you judge, hear me out.

The green one is silicone so I can use it with hot pans to stir scrambled eggs, toss sautéed shrimp, and stir sauces or soups etc, without melting it.  The fact that is it just a great bowl scraper is nice, as well as the slight bowl that allows me to scoop, divide, and serve using one utensil.  The nasty looking 1.99$ spatula on the right I have had since I got it at the dollar store in college some 16 years ago.  Why do I still have it, you ask?  It is the thinnest spatula I have ever found.  And let me tell ya, I have been looking!  It gets under the edge of a cookie, pancake, fillet of fish, or slice of fruit with no problem.  The edge is uber skinny and for some reason, every time I try to replace it, all the new ones are super thick and squash my pancakes instead of sliding underneath them to flip.  It is discolored and half melted and stands out like a sore thumb in the utensil bucket on my counter, but I can’t seem to part with it.  It also makes a great scepter when your kids are reenacting the movie The Princess Diaries.
IMG_1023No, I did not bring my whole knife block, but I did bring my favorite 6 inch Santoku Chefs knife.  I use it for everything and wrapped in a thick towel, it was one of the first things I packed to come with me.  It is the perfect size and weight for my small hands and I use it to chop, slice, mince, carve, and a myriad of other things.  Not pictured is a super sharp pairing knife that is a tiny bit bigger than average and has a nice tight guard that fits over the blade.  It also happens to be neon green and I am always tossing it into our picnic basket.  I packed it as well because the color makes it easy to find in a bag full of random things and the guard keeps it safe from my searching fingers.  It is small enough to peel potatoes, scrape carrots, and cut up an apple but large enough to cut sandwiches in half for little hands, slice small amounts of meat, and divide a loaf of bread.  It has become an invaluable traveling tool (again, not on an airplane) with children.  This knife is similar to what I have.
IMG_1022Of course, I brought along two restaurant grade, half sheet pans, and a large plastic cutting board.  The sheet pans are for roasting, baking, toasting, and broiling.  The cutting board is indestructible and just big enough to handle any job, but not so huge that it is a nuisance to tuck in a small kitchen.
IMG_1330Lastly, I made sure to add all my older kitchen towels.  They are super soft, but well worn and can be used as actual towels or rags.  I have a lot of them I need to replace so I just figured I would wear them out entirely until the house was built and then finally buckle down and purchase some new ones to go with my new kitchen.  Pot holders are obvious.  I brought my dark ones because they hide stains better and are a bit thicker.  I use them as trivets too.

Also not pictured: an 8 inch, nonstick saute pan, a 10 inch high sided fry pan that is oven proof, and a 1 quart glass measuring cup.

So thats it!  I have NOTHING else in my kitchen!  It has been a rough few weeks and after a quick trip to Target, we nabbed disposable silverware, bowls and plates and I did grab a can opener.  Other than that, I have been VERY creative.  If you are driving to your own rental place for vacation this summer, think about these items and what you can get the most use out of if you will be cooking your own food.  There is nothing worse than getting somewhere, only to find out there are no pots and pans or that the only knife is good for only slicing bananas.

Speaking of creative, I felt like my kids and I were consuming WAY too many bread products, as they are easy snacks when you have little to cook with.  In the interest of cleaning out what limited items were in the fridge before spoiling, I made these for lunch a few days last week.  So fun, the kids helped build them, and we goofed around with the ingredients based on what we had available.  Not much of a recipe, but a neat idea for the summer!
Cucumber StackersCucumber StackersOne Year Ago: Classic Potato Salad & Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters
Two Years Ago: Yogurt Salads
Three Years Ago: Rum Raisin Rice Pudding & Garden Salsa & Guacamole

Cucumber Stackers
Inspired by my leftovers.

sliced cucumbers-I like the thin skins of English cucumbers but use whatever you want
sliced tomatoes
sliced cheese
ranch (optional)
whatever else you think would be good

We just stacked and ate.  I had some pre-grated carrot leftover from making this salad and used that too, but it was harder to eat that way.  The kids didn’t mind though!  What would you put in your stackers?