Planning quick, simple meals that the whole family will enjoy is tough enough at home. On a self-catering holiday, however, there are a bunch of additional obstacles to producing stress-free, universally appreciated dinners.
First up, the empty cupboard syndrome. This is where the owners or rental company fear that leaving even a pot of salt in the larder would somehow be in breach of health and safety law so have stripped the cupboard bare. Your welcome pack, for which you have paid an additional 150€ contains nothing that could be reasonably cobbled together to make a meal (unless of course you are prepared to eat pasta tossed in local honey). So if you arrive late, or there is no restaurant close by, the first night you will end up starving hungry, nursing between you the single bottle of barely drinkable local wine from the hamper while dipping grissini into jam. You will then, despite your best intentions to get all the shopping done in one go, spend the rest of the week running back and forth from the supermarket to pick up store cupboard essentials, which you will inevitably feel guilty about binning at the end of the holiday in their barely used state.
Then there is the issue of the unfamiliar kitchen, with its woefully underpowered oven, its fridge that has two settings – too warm or too cold – and don’t even get me started on those blunt kitchen knives. ‘How do these people survive without a grater?’ you ask yourself, while trying to peel a carrot with a dinner knife. And God-forbid if you hear your other half say: ‘Hon, there doesn’t appear to be a bottle opener.’
And let’s not forget what I will call, for the purposes of this post, the grudge factor – that niggling resentment that usually kicks in around day four, when you find your head once again in the dishwasher or sweating over a pan, while the rest of the family can be heard frolicking around in the pool. Is this a holiday, you ask yourself, or just the same old shit with a nicer view?
But hang on just a moment. (And this is precisely the little talking to I had to give myself on this year’s holiday in Spain.) What on earth are you complaining about, you horribly spoilt thing? Wasn’t it you who decided you preferred self-catering to hotel holidays because you have the freedom to cook and eat what and when you want; because you get very quickly fed up with scooby snack-sized hotel lunches, of fancy dinner dishes that have the word ‘foam’ in their description, with the 10€ that you drop every time you or the kids want even a soft drink and let’s not forget the constant worry that they are being too noisy around the pool? Take a massive chill pill, why don’t you? Better still take that (very) chilled bottle of rosé out of the fridge (easily opened by one of three corkscrews you found in a drawer next to a knife sharpener), take in the view…
… relish the sound of the kids having unencumbered fun and enjoy these two weeks that you having been so looking forward to for the other fifty. Then make this holiday chicken. No store cupboard required.
Holiday chicken with easy oven potatoes
Self-catering holidays make me realise just how dependent I am on my larder at home. I usually end up buying a mini store cupboard anyway, including olive oil, wine vinegar, dijon mustard and a few ground spices such as cinnamon, cumin and paprika because these things are no more expensive than that one hotel drink and can make cooking and eating more interesting. However, there are a handful of simple dishes that I roll out on holiday which require no cupboard ingredients (except oil and seasoning) but instead a handful of fresh items that are easy to get hold of: a traybake say with roasted onions, peppers, garlic and potatoes with some (skin on) chicken breasts or thighs plonked on top halfway through cooking, or the same but with squash, fennel and pork chops, or a child-friendly bacon and pepper or chicken pasta bake.
I have made the following chicken dish on every holiday we’ve had over the past five years because, although a tad old school, it can be ready in 30 minutes and its five ingredients are readily available in the Mediterranean (which is where we tend to holiday), regardless of which country.
- 4 skinless and boneless chicken breasts
- 12 slices of air dried ham (e.g. Parma or Serrano)
- 1 ball of buffalo mozzarella
- 8 fresh basil leaves or a jar of shop bought pesto
- Olive oil
- Preheat oven to 200°C (fan).
- Using a sharp knife make a pocket in the thickest part of each chicken breast, taking care not to cut through to the other side and open out.
- Slice the mozzarella into eight, season the slices well with salt and pepper, then stuff each pocket with two slices of cheese and two basil leaves or a teaspoon of pesto.
- Lay three slices of ham per breast vertically on a board, overlapping each slice slightly. Place the chicken breast horizontally on the ham and roll up as tightly as possible.
- Heat a little oil in a frying pan and brown the breasts, in batches if necessary, on the seam side first (this will help to seal the ham) and then on the top side.
- Place on a lightly oiled baking tray and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until cooked through. Serve with pesto pasta and a rocket, avocado and parmesan salad, or with these easy garlic and rosemary oven sautées.
Easy oven potatoes
Allow 1 medium potato per person, rinse and chop into 3cm chunks (no need to peel). Place in a tray, drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, throw in 3 cloves of garlic which you have bashed under the flat blade of a knife (again no need to peel), 3 sprigs of rosemary (which if you are in the Med is probably growing near you) and a generous amount of seasoning. Toss together and roast in a 200°C oven for 45 mins to 1 hour until golden and crispy.