Simple recipes, quick preparation and fun, flavorful food should be the order of the day when you're vacationing.
DULUTH, Minn. -- Summer getaways to the cabin shouldn't leave cooks working as hard in the kitchen as they do at home.
Casual, quick and easy -- that's what "lake food" is all about. It's culinary shortcuts, impromptu meals and feeding a lot of hungry people with minimum fuss.
"People shouldn't get so stressed out about making fancy meals," said Teresa Marrone of Minneapolis, author of "The Seasonal Cabin Cookbook." "They should spend as much time outdoors as possible. People don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and I don't think other people expect it. If people are stopping over, they're just as happy with meatballs and dip. Food tastes better at the cabin anyway."
After 30 years of annual treks to his family cabin in Minocqua, Wis., Jerry Minnich turned his cabin recipe file into the "North Woods Cottage Cookbook."
"I got the idea when we were all taking turns at the cottage," said Minnich, who lives in Madison, Wis. "You should have recipes that are fast and easy, that don't call for a lot of things you can't find up here, and that all can do."
Lake food, he says, is basic cooking with common utensils, an oven, pots and pans on the stove, and running water. It's using ingredients available at the small local grocery store. Preparation time is minimal so people can be outside enjoying themselves. It uses fresh local produce sold at roadside stands. And it doesn't require fancy appliances that most cabins don't have.
Keep it simple
At the cabin, cooking shortcuts -- prepared sauces, pre-made piecrusts, soup mixes, bottled dressing, muffin mixes and other conveniences -- are acceptable. Impromptu meals, such as one-meal dishes using what you have on hand, are common.
"Cottage food should be light," Minnich said. "It should be comfort food rather than exotic ethnic foods. It should be fun food because you go to a cottage to have fun."
Prepare the first night's meal in advance, Minnich and Marrone advise. Think chili or stew.
"It's nice that first night to have something that just needs heating," said Marrone, who is building a cabin after years of renting them.
"It's hard to prepare a meal if you're not even unpacked yet," Minnich explained.
At least partial meal preparation can be done at home, such as chopping vegetables, browning the hamburger and layering the lasagna. Dry ingredients and spices can be mixed at home and brought to the cabin in a plastic bag or container.
Both Minnich and Marrone caution against preparing more than a day or two days' worth of meals ahead of time. Remember cooler space is limited and so is refrigerator space at the cabin.
"A lot of things really need to stay cold," Marrone said. "You may make a huge batch of potato salad, but you're asking for trouble if you don't properly refrigerate it on the way to the cabin."
For regular visits to the cabin or longer stays, both cookbook authors suggest stocking a cabin with the basics including flour, coffee, canned soups, canned broth and vinegar. Don't transport perishable items, such as milk, eggs, bread and butter; buy those at the local grocery.
"It's important to have a good idea what you're going to eat so you don't bring too much food or not enough," Marrone said.
Marrone suggests choosing foods with multiple uses. Salsa, for example, can be a dip, top eggs, or be used in Mexican rice, burritos and nachos. Canned beans can be mashed for a dip or used in chili or a three-bean salad. A bag of carrots travels well and can be eaten raw, cooked or used in salads. Shredded cheese has myriad uses.
Then there's Bisquick.
"You can do wonders with a box of Bisquick," Marrone said. "You can make pancakes, muffins, pies -- you can make your own crust."
Because weather is unpredictable, be flexible with meals, Marrone says. If it rains, make Sloppy Joes instead of grilling hamburgers by simply browning the meat with a few seasonings and ketchup or canned soup.
Rainy days are also a good time to get children involved in the kitchen.
"My favorite is to make pizza. Kids love making their own pizza," Minnich said.
Another idea is to make "Fish Tanks" by preparing "Berry Blue" Jell-O and pouring it into clear drinking glasses. Kids then stir in three or four gummy fish candy into each glass and chill until firm. The edible result looks like fish in a fish bowl.
Feeding a lot of people can be a challenge at the lake. Minnich suggests doubling or tripling recipes for Sloppy Joes, chili or beef stew.
Marrone suggests a sandwich buffet, especially if there's a deli in town that can provide most of the ingredients. A choice of breads, thinly sliced meats, cheeses, condiments, pickles and a couple of salads or side dishes should suffice, along with paper plates and plastic forks.
For a crowd at breakfast, Marrone suggests a waffle bar with a couple of different types of jams and bacon. Even frozen toaster waffles will work.
"That kind of stuff is fun; less work for the cook," she said. "You don't have to worry about plating up a lot of stuff for a crowd."
This tasty marinade can be used for pork or chicken and results in juicy and tender grilled meat. It's from "The Seasonal Cabin Cookbook" by Teresa Marrone.
2 to 3 pounds chicken wings
1/4 cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried, optional
Place wings in a large, nonaluminum baking dish or in a large plastic zipper bag. Add all but 1/2 cup marinade; reserve this separately in the refrigerator to use for basting the wings while cooking. Cover dish or seal bag, turn to coat the wings and refrigerate 3 to 5 hours, turning wings occasionally. Do not use the marinade in which you place the raw meat; throw it away when you're ready to cook.
To cook in the oven: Place wings on rack of broiler pan and bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, turning wings and brushing with the reserved marinade every 5 or 10 minutes. Wings should be golden brown and cooked through. For crispier wings, broil wings for about 10 minutes after the baking time, turning and brushing frequently with marinade.
To cook on the grill: Place wings on grate of medium-hot grill. Cover grill and cook 20 to 25 minutes, turning wings and brushing with the reserved marinade every 5 or 10 minutes. Wings should be nicely browned and cooked through. If wings are getting too browned before they are cooked through, move to cooler area of grill and continue cooking.
Yield: 8 appetizer servings or 4 main-dish servings.
Take-along ingredients
This potato salad recipe, from "The Seasonal Cabin Cookbook," means bringing a few extras to the cabin, especially feta cheese and pepperoncini peppers, which are hard to find in smaller grocery stores. But, Marrone says, this tasty salad is worth it.
2 pounds red potatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 medium cucumber
1/2 cup pitted, sliced kalamata olives or other black olives
1/2 cup diced red or green bell pepper
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced into quarter-rings
4 or 5 pepperoncini peppers, cores and stems discarded, chopped coarsely; optional
1 cup crumbled feta cheese (4 ounces)
Cook potatoes until tender. While the potatoes are cooking, combine oil, vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl; whisk well. Slice cucumber into 4 lengthwise quarters; scrape away and discard seeds and pulpy seed core. Cut cucumbers into 1/4-inch dice; set aside. When potatoes are tender, drain and refresh with cold water until cool. Cut into 3/4-inch cubes. Add to the mixing bowl with the dressing (give the dressing another quick whisk if it has separated); stir gently to coat potatoes with dressing. Add diced cucumber and remaining ingredients; toss gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled; serve cold. Serves 8.
Traveling salad
You can see variations of this broccoli salad at deli counters, but it doesn't keep well enough to transport to the cabin. This version, from "The Seasonal Cabin Cookbook," travels better because it has less salt. Unlike the deli versions, the broccoli is blanched (better for eating than totally raw) and dried cranberries are substituted for raisins to give it a tangy flavor.
8 cups fresh small broccoli florets (about 1 pound)
8 ounces bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces ( 1/2 cup purchased precooked crumbled bacon can be substituted)
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced, then cut into quarters
3/4 cup roasted, salted sunflower nuts
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 to 3/4 cup coarsely shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)
1 cup mayonnaise (reduced-fat mayo is fine, but don't use Miracle Whip)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
Heat a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil. Add broccoli; when water returns to boiling, cook 30 seconds, then drain immediately and shower with cold water until completely cool (if you can, plunge the broccoli into a pot of ice water after draining and rinsing). Drain the broccoli very well in a colander for 15 minutes.
While the broccoli cools, combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl; set aside. Cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, stirring frequently. Drain well, discarding bacon drippings. Combine cooked bacon, onion, sunflower nuts and dried cranberries in a very large bowl. When the broccoli has drained well, add to the bacon mixture and combine gently with your hands or a wooden spoon. Add the cheese and dressing, stirring gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour before serving.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Catch of the day
Preparing fresh fish from the lake is easy with this recipe from "North Woods Cottage Cookbook" by Jerry Minnich. It works well for nearly any fish, he says.
1 freshly caught trout, about a pound (or fillet of larger fish)
Sprinkling of garlic salt or to taste
Sprinkling of Old Bay Seasoning or to taste
Sprinkling of seasoned salt or to taste
Sprinkling of lemon pepper or to taste
1/4 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons butter
Mix together the dry seasonings and then mix them with the chopped onions. Coat the fish well with this mixture. Place each trout or fillet on a sheet of aluminum foil, pat with butter and close foil tightly. Bake in 400-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or on outdoor grill. Serves 2.
All's well that...
Use this recipe to make quick pies with the blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries or sour cherries sold at roadside fruit stands. The recipe is from "North Woods Cottage Cookbook."
3 cups fresh berries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
2 unbaked pie crusts (8-inch)
Press one of the piecrusts into an 8-inch pie pan. Clean the berries. Combine sugar and flour and blend carefully into berries. Fill the piecrust, dot with butter and cover with second crust. Crimp edges and poke ventilation holes. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 425 degrees. (Double the amount of sugar if using gooseberries and sour cherries).

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