For people who care about their food

My idea of self catering heaven (1)

My friend Paul of Kendal Cottages asked the question, “What would you look for in a self catering property?” I thought it would be interesting to approach it from a cook’s point of view. Mr ND and I have stayed in various self catering places over the years, some good and some bad. I like self catering because it gives you the option to eat in or out or even just have cheese on toast if that’s what you fancy at the time.

We had a week on a houseboat on the Canal du Midi in France. The galley was tiny but excellent. You don’t need a lot of space, just a few essentials. The French really do seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to cooking. We also stayed in a self catering place in Bugibba, Malta. (I can almost hear all the BE Malta people screaming, “Arrghh! Not Bugibba!” But we were going through our house nightmare at the time and booked a package deal just to escape for a week.) We also had a self catering villa for a couple of weeks in Barbados. That must have been a really memorable trip as we didn’t even write about it. LOL! (Or if we did, then I can’t find it.) And then there was the suite at lebua at State Tower, Bangkok that was the best hotel either of us have stayed in – ever! I would love to go back there. (Hint, hint.)

But let’s get back to the subject. “What would you look for in a self catering property?” I think we need to be realistic rather than idealistic here. There’s not much point in wishing for the latest, greatest American-style fridge, a Smeg cooker, and Henckels knives (about £50 each). So let’s make an inventory:

Cooker – preferably gas and ideally at least four rings. Six would be wonderful, two would be doable but not very nice. A dual fuel model would be the best, just like we have in the Not Delia kitchen. It has three gas burners, one electric ring, and an electric oven. The oven can also be used as a grill, although we don’t use that as we have a commercial salamander, but I wouldn’t expect to find that sort of thing in a self catering property.

Microwave – even just a cheap one would be a bonus. Microwaves are always handy for heating ready meals if you can’t be bothered to cook and don’t feel like eating out.

Fridge – You don’t need anything really big if you’re only there for a short while. I’d like if the fridge had at least a small freezer compartment. That would be handy and also useful for making ice cubes. An extra fridge for drinks would be great, but again, I think it would be too much to hope for.

Sink(s) – I like a double sink but I suppose I could get by with a single one. I wouldn’t like it very much, though.

Work space – You don’t need a lot of space. If space is limited in the property it needs to be well designed to make a handy work station. In terms of size I’d expect at least the equivalent of two standard-sized kitchen units (unless it’s on a tiny boat).

Knives – These are essential. You are very limited in what you can cook without decent knives. And good knives don’t have to be expensive. If it were my property, I would include a set of knives such as the one I raved about from Nisbets. Five knives and eight utensils all for £22.99. How can you go wrong with that? And by the way, mine has been in frequent use for several years.

Chopping board(s) – It wouldn’t really matter to me whether they’re plastic or wood. Ideally I’d like more than one so I could do more than one thing at a time without having to keep washing the board. I would be happy enough with two boards. One would be doable but not enjoyable.

Pots and pans – Cheap pans are a waste of money. You can’t cook properly with them and they wear out fast and need to be replaced constantly. Invest in a professional set; most come with a lifetime guarantee. My preference is for Meyer (made in Thailand, although I bought mine when we lived in London) and Bourgeat (made in France). Some Le Creuset kit would be wonderful but too much to hope for in a self catering property.

Crockery and cutlery – Just the usual plates, knives, forks, spoons, etc, would be fine. Personally, I’d go to IKEA and buy starter sets. They’re inexpensive and look nice. While you’re there, why not buy a few extras such as some oven-proof dishes?

Other things – I think I’ve already mentioned the essentials, but a few other things would be a bonus. It would change my experience and opinion of the place from good to great. These other things might include oven gloves, baking trays, wooden spoons, and even a few recipe books. But I’ve written enough here so I’ll save that for later…

Read My idea of self catering heaven (2)

4 Responses to “My idea of self catering heaven (1)”

  1. Kendal Cottages

    Hi ND… great post! In our case, we’re kind of stuck (unless we spend a lot of £s) with the kitchen we’ve got, as our first property is a riverside apartment that is already kitted out. It can sleep up to four people but we anticipate it might often be occupied by just a couple. Time will tell. Going through your list, here’s what we’re going to offer:

    Cooker – sorry, ours is electric – 4 rings. I need to check the exact spec but I think it’s one of those electric ones that heats up quickly, though (halogen or whatever). There’s an over and grill, too.

    Microwave – yep, it’s built in to the units.

    Fridge – standard-sized fridge, and separate freezer.

    Sink(s) – single sink. It’s a fairly small kitchen.

    Work space – reasonable amount of space plus a breakfast bar area if required.

    Knives – not yet purchased. I understand there’s a Morrissons near Leeds that’s selling a block with Sabatier knives for just £7.50 in the Jan sales. No such luck in our Morrissons, though. I’d like to make sure we get good knives – and a knife sharpener – but I also want to make sure they are dishwasher proof as the likelihood is that they’ll get put in there even if they’re not.

    Chopping board(s) – what would you feel about other types of board (eg. granite). It’s not something I’ve ever used before and I’m not sure if I’d be happy cutting on a surface like that. We use mostly plastic at home but they do stain with things like tomato so can look a bit ugly in a short space of time. Ditto wood sometimes. I guess it’s not that expensive to replace, mind.

    Pots and pans – we have Le Creuset at home. They’re great pans but I often find myself not using them because of their weight. Thanks for the mention of the other makes – I’ll keep an eye out.

    Crockery and cutlery – yes, will definitely look at IKEA. Can be handy for replacements in the event of inevitable breakages, too.

    Other things – plan to provide all the extras you mention, plus things like Yorkshire pudding tins, etc. We’re close to the Yorkshire Dales so it would be criminal not to. The property also has a dishwasher.

    Paul

  2. Not Delia

    Yeah, despite saying I was going to be realistic, I think I was being a bit idealistic too.

    Let’s go through some of the things you’ve mentioned.

    Cooker – lots of people swear by some of the more modern types of electric ones. It’s just that I’m a bit of a traditionalist and happen to prefer gas for the stove top. I also used to prefer a gas oven, but I’ve been converted now. The cooker you have sounds absolutely fine, so no worries there.

    Knives – you should be OK to put most knives in the dishwasher, as long as they don’t have wooden handles. We don’t put ours in the dishwasher in case the blades get damaged while the machine is doing its stuff. Now why didn’t I think of a dishwasher for the property? Easy answer. I don’t wash the dishes. I have a kitchen porter for that. 😉

    Sabatier for £7.50 sounds like an incredible bargain. I have a set of Sabatier. Very good knives but, quite honestly, I’m bored with them. I’m the kind of person who buys more knives than clothes. The same trousers will do me fine for ten years, but I’m always wanting new knives to play with.

    Chopping boards – much as I hate to say this – I’d go down the buy cheap, buy twice route. If you buy pro boards – wood or plastic – they’ll still look worn relatively quickly and it’s kinda like using stained sheets or raggedy old towels. It’s OK if it’s your own stuff but you don’t like to use stuff with other people’s markings on it. (Yuk!)

    I would buy a couple of cheapo white plastic housewifey looking things from your local supermarket and replace them as soon as they start to show a bit of wear and tear.

    Granite is ideal for pastry making, because it’s such a cool surface. I don’t own one and have never used one. I think it’s a kinda specialised piece of kit. I wouldn’t like to use one in the normal home cooking environment in case my hand slipped and I got a nasty cut (not great for your knives either). I would only use it for making pastry – of course, other people might have other ideas.

    You mentioned Yorkshire puddings – great idea! What could you do recipe-wise to make it easy for the guests? Maybe print out some web pages, put them into transparent sleeves, and into a loose-leaf folder.

  3. Mike Kingdom-Hockings

    When I see people cutting on glass or stone boards, it’s almost like chalk squeaking on the blackboard. I must ruin the edge on any decent knife, no matter how gently you cut.

    I’d agree that cheap wooden boards, replaced whenever someone lets them get blackened, are the solution – even for my own home.

    One thing I would not provide is a ceramic hob. All those ads showing them being wiped clean are a con – anything spilled gets cooked on and you have to leave the surface soaking in caustic detergent for a quarter of an hour to clean it.

    PS nobody mentioned storing wine…

  4. Not Delia

    Mostly we don’t store wine – we drink it. In a short term let you’re not going to need a wine cellar. Just a space in the fridge.

    Nice wine glasses might be good, though.

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