By Ann Taylor Pittman

Menus you can cook in a kitchen that isn't yours.

Whether you're in a vacation rental or your Great Aunt Minnie's farmhouse, you can — and should — still have fun cooking festive holiday meals for your family. Just keep in mind the golden rule: Keep the menu simple. It will still be delicious and celebratory.

Photo by Meredith

You can assume you'll have basic kitchen equipment, including standard pots and pans, a mixer, spoons and whisks, can opener, wine bottle opener, cheese grater, and more, but there are a few things you should consider bringing with you to make cooking more comfortable:

  • Chef's knife: Most places won't have sharp knives, so bring your favorite all-purpose chef's knife from home. And, of course, if you're flying, make sure you pack it in your checked luggage.
  • Rasp-style grater: This isn't quite commonplace in many condo or home rentals, but it sure does come in handy for more than just citrus zest. Use it to grate garlic (quicker than mincing), make Parmesan "snow," easily tackle ginger, or grate nutmeg onto your eggnog.
  • Meat thermometer: You can't count on your kitchen-away-from-home having one. Your turkey (and your family) will thank you for remembering to bring this.
  • Your favorite salt: You can certainly cook a fantastic feast with regular table salt, but if you're accustomed to kosher, sea, or flaky salt, bring some with you.
  • Pepper mill: You don't have to pack your arm-length mill — you can pick up a small one found on the spice aisle. Having freshly ground black pepper will make your holiday meal infinitely tastier.

Thanksgiving

Even when you're away from home and cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen, you can still pull off a fantastic Turkey Day feast. The key is to go with recipes that call for standard cookware and to scale down the menu to fit your family.

Cranberry Stuffed Turkey Breasts | Photo by lutzflcat

Cranberry Stuffed Turkey Breasts (serves 10)
Though this recipe serves 10, you can easily cut it in half to serve a smaller crowd. This dish is great for a Thanksgiving away from home for several reasons. First, it cooks in a cast-iron (or other ovenproof) skillet, so you don't have to have a roasting pan. Also, it starts with a more manageable boneless, skinless turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. And, perhaps most fun of all, it combines turkey, stuffing, and cranberries in one easy-to-prepare dish.

Homemade Chicken Gravy (serves 8)
A bowl of savory gravy is a must for Thanksgiving, and this recipe lets you create a delicious one without any need for turkey pan drippings. It's the perfect touch to unite the stuffed turkey breast and mashed potatoes.

Chef John's Perfect Mashed Potatoes (serves 4)
You can't go wrong with a pot of classic mashed potatoes. It only requires a cutting board, knife, and saucepan. If your rental kitchen doesn't have a potato masher, you can mash the potatoes with a fork. You can easily double the recipe to serve more people.

Related: The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Make with Mashed Potatoes

Truly Delicious Brussels Sprouts (serves 4)
You'll probably have one oven, not two, so make sure you include stovetop dishes like this one and the mashed potatoes to keep the oven from getting overcrowded. This fresh, bright vegetable side cooks in a skillet in a flash and gets lots of flavor from very few ingredients. Double the recipe to serve a larger group, or to ensure leftovers.

Awesome and Easy Creamy Corn Casserole (serves 8)
This easy casserole is always a crowd pleaser and couldn't be easier to whip up. It cooks at the same oven temperature as the turkey and can even fit in the oven with it. If your rental kitchen doesn't have a casserole dish, you can just pick up a disposable aluminum foil pan at the grocery store.

Pumpkin Parfaits (serves 8)
Instead of trying to bake a pie in an unfamiliar kitchen, why not whip up these no-cook, make-ahead parfaits that give you the flavors of pumpkin pie in a fun, family-friendly format? If you don't have enough glasses for the parfaits, you can use plastic cups.

Related: Our Most Popular Thanksgiving Desserts

Christmas

You can easily spread Christmas cheer with a ho-ho-holiday meal that feels merry and bright. Start with a showstopper snack and move on to a fantastic meal at the table.

Photo: Kim's Cooking Now

Cream Cheese, Havarti, and Parmesan Herbed Christmas Tree (serves 20)
Set the mood with a Christmas tree–shaped cheese "ball" that will make everyone feel rather jolly. You can easily cut the recipe in half and make a smaller tree that still has just as big of an effect. Serve with sparkling wine or sparkling cider for a celebratory feel.

Spinach Pomegranate Salad (serves 4)
This red-and-green salad couldn't be more delicious or simpler to prepare. Bottled vinaigrette keeps prep at a minimum, and if you purchase pomegranate seeds (instead of a whole fruit), the salad nearly puts itself together.

Apricot Brown Sugar Ham (serves 16)
This recipe is great for cooking in a minimally stocked kitchen. The ham is wrapped in foil and cooks on rimmed baking sheet, so you don't need a roasting pan. Though the recipe calls for a 10-pound ham (which would give you great leftovers for breakfast biscuits or lunch sandwiches), it also tells you how to prepare a smaller ham.

Related:15 Tasty Ways for Using Up Leftover Ham

Awesome Broccoli-Cheese Casserole (serves 8)
This easy, family-friendly veggie casserole can go into the oven as soon as the ham comes out (the ham will be fine to hang out for an hour or so before serving; if you keep it wrapped, it will stay hot). It requires very little prep and can go into a disposable aluminum foil pan if your rental kitchen doesn't have a casserole dish.

Diane's Colcannon (serves 8)
Think of this dish as kicked-up mashed potatoes, with crisp bacon and sautéed cabbage and onion stirred in. It goes especially well with ham and feels a little more special than standard mashed potatoes.

Scottish Shortbread (serves 12)
Buttery shortbread cookies are a Christmas classic, and with just three ingredients, they're surprisingly simple to prepare. They don't require any cookie cutters or even a mixer (you can blend the butter into the flour with your hands, as you might do for biscuits). The dough is patted into a greased baking dish, or you can pat it into a 9-inch square on a baking sheet if the kitchen doesn't have a baking dish.

Related:10 Christmas Cookies That Won't Crumble in the Mail

Hanukkah

Make this Hanukkah the best one yet by planning a joyful feast on at least one of the eight days of the celebration. Be sure to pay homage to the miracle of the oil by enjoying foods cooked in or prepared with oil.

Potato Latkes I | Photo by Montana

Potato Latkes (serves 6)
A Hanukkah feast would not feel complete without a platter of crisp latkes. Your rental kitchen should have a cheese grater, which you can use to shred the potatoes. But if it doesn't, just pick up shredded hash brown potatoes (and skip step 1 of the recipe). The recipe calls to use cheesecloth for squeezing excess moisture from the potatoes, but you can also use layers of paper towels.

Arugula Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette (serves 6)
This dairy-free salad is tossed with an olive oil-based dressing made with fresh grapefruit and orange juice; you can just buy one of each fruit to make the dressing (and not be stuck with leftovers). With arugula and pear, it feels just right for the season.

Grandma's Brisket (serves 6)
This saucy brisket recipe comes together with just a handful of ingredients and cooks slowly till the meat is fall-apart tender. The recipe calls for a roasting pan, but you can use either a 13 x 9-inch baking dish or disposable aluminum foil pan.

Related: 10 Best Side Dishes for Brisket

Green Beans with Hazelnuts and Lemon (serves 8)
You can get a head start on this recipe by boiling the green beans and tossing with the seasonings a day ahead. Then reheat briefly in the microwave before serving.

Apricot Almond Rugalach (serves 24)
Gorgeous rugalach cookies are a Hanukkah classic, and this recipe doesn't even require a mixer for making the dough. You will need to roll the dough out, so reach for a wine bottle if the kitchen doesn't have a rolling pin.

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