There’s a reason that cottagers love barbecue season, and it’s not just because everything tastes better with a little char. Barbecuing is the rare cooking technique that’s simple and tastes great, but it’s actually possible to cook all sorts of delicious and simple things sans grill if you master a few new skills.
With all the other activities the cottage offers, it can be easy to fall into a cooking rut and make the same meals over and over. But the best thing about the culinary arts is that there’s always something more to learn. With a few new tricks, you can bring your kitchen game to the next gastronomic level. To help, here are five skills that will make your meals pop—and they require nothing more than a simple cottage kitchen.
Roasting red peppers
Add roasted red peppers to a meal, and people may ask you what the special occasion is. These soft and slightly tangy garnishes elevate any meal to the next level. But there’s something that many people don’t know about roasted red peppers, and that is that they’re actually incredibly easy to make. They take a little time to roast, but in terms of work, they’re simpler than a grilled cheese sandwich. Here’s how you get the red-pepper goodness: First, heat your oven to 450 degrees. While it’s warming, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, then lay the whole red peppers on their sides on the foil. Roast them for 20 minutes, then turn them and roast for another 20. You know they’re ready to take out when they look a little charred and have collapsed in on themselves a bit. Once they’re out, wait for them to cool (or run them under hot water), and cut them in half. Remove the stem, seeds, and skin (it should slide right off), then cut into small slices. These peppers will taste great on salads and sandwiches, on pizza, in soup, and just about anywhere else. They’re so good, you may just end up eating them plain.
Pickling is an all-day venture, not something to be done on the fly. But if you’re making a meal that needs a little tang, quick pickling is your friend. Lots of high-end chefs throw a quick pickle into their dishes to bring them to the next level. You can quick-pickle cucumbers for a more traditional crunch, or you can pickle anything from cabbage to onions to radishes for a more unique bite. The first step is to slice the vegetable you’re pickling thin, then put the results in a jar—the faster you want it to be ready, the thinner you should slice. Next, boil equal parts water and vinegar—let’s say a cup each. To this, add sugar to taste (anywhere from one to four tablespoons), and salt (two tablespoons). You can also add spices and herbs for flavour. Some common choices are mustard seeds, garlic, and dill. After these have simmered for a minute, take the liquid off the heat, and pour it over the vegetables in the jar. Let the pickles sit anywhere from four hours to a day, and voila: a flavourful, acidic garnish.
Cooking oysters on the fire
Cooking on an open fire is a standard cottage activity—think hot dogs or s’mores—but have you ever considered cooking oysters in the fire pit? If not, you’re missing out. Oysters are always best when cooked simply, and the smokiness of a fire complements their natural saltiness, creating a flavour profile derived entirely from the elements. The first step in making great oysters is to buy them fresh, and from a reliable source. Try to purchase from a local seller who knows how to treat them safely and keep them fresh. Next, start a hot fire with some good, glowing embers. Put the oysters into the ash for about ten minutes, or until they open (most will, and you can pop the rest open yourself). Pull them out of the flames, and you’re done! For extra flavour, melt some butter in a pan, letting it sizzle and brown a bit. Drizzle it over the oysters and enjoy.
When you go to high-end restaurants, do you admire the beautiful glass-bottled oils filled with herbs and spices? Well, as it turns out, infusing oils with other flavours is incredibly easy. Just get a good-quality cooking oil (olive oil is always a safe bet), and choose your flavours. You can make citrus-infused oil with lemon or orange zest, or a spicy one with chile flakes, or an aromatic oil with garlic, shallots, or lemongrass. Put the oil in a frying pan with your added flavours and heat it gently—not so much that it simmers or bubbles. As it gently warms, the essence of your add-ons will seep into the oil. After twenty minutes, remove the oil from the heat, let it cool, and re-bottle it. You now have your own beautiful, flavourful oil, which you can use to make dressings or drizzle over just about anything to add another flavour dimension.
Make your own fresh, soft cheese
If you have a dish that needs some soft, creamy cheese, you might want to make your own on the stovetop. Sounds like that would take hours? Surprise: you’ll be done in 15 minutes! Making your own cheese is an old-world skill that most of us have forgotten—but it’s a trick many high-end chefs keep up their sleeves. To make it, heat a gallon of whole milk (add a little cream if you want it fattier) in a pot on the stove to about 200°F, to the point where it’s getting foamy but not yet boiling. Next, add 1/3 of a cup of an acid (we recommend plain white vinegar or lemon juice), and a teaspoon of salt. Mix the ingredients together gently, and you’ll see the milk starting to curdle and separate. Remove it from the heat and let it sit for about ten minutes. Then strain out the solids and let them drain. Use the cheese as a topper on soup, or wherever you’d normally use a store-bought soft cheese like ricotta. And the leftover liquid (the whey) can even be used in baking in the place of water. Make your own cheese, and you’ll never spend $10 on a tub of curds again.