Being a perpetual traveler means staying in exotic locales in luxury hotels and eating in the best restaurants in the world.
It also means borrowing the spare room or couch of family, friends and even, sometimes, strangers.
I’ve spent much of my summer being a house guest in various cities in the US and Canada, and I’m about to do some more as I go down under to visit friends and family in Auckland and Canberra.
Being a house guest can be a bit tricky. You need to find the right balance of spending time with your hosts and giving them space to live their lives. You want to make things easy for them, so you’re on the constant lookout for kids to distract, a dishwasher to empty, or a treat to bring home.
Cooking for your hosts is another way to thank them and help make their lives easier. If you can pull off a dinner in a kitchen that is not your own, you will be a welcomed house guest. Sadly for my hosts, that isn’t me. Breakfast and dessert are more my speed.
But the first and last dishes of the day are good things to tackle, because you’re less likely to be in the way in the kitchen. Given that, I’ve got two recipes to share with you today.
Breakfast: TravelEater’s Grandma’s Pancakes (for approx 4 people)
There are very few kitchens in the developed and expat worlds that will not have the ingredients and equipment to pull off these pancakes. And, regardless of your skill in the kitchen, these are pretty hard to mess up.
These are old-fashioned pancakes, the way, well, grandma used to make them. They take about 15 to 20 minutes from start to finish (more if you have to search for stuff, quietly, in the kitchen while your hosts sleep).
1 ¼ cup flour (ideally measured with a dry measure)
2 tbsp white sugar
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
3 tbsp melted butter
1 ¼ cup milk
Frozen or fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, etc.), if desired
In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together. In a small bowl, stir the egg a bit with a fork.
Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Stir the milk and melted butter together. Don’t worry if the butter clumps up a bit due to the cold milk. Add the egg and stir.
Slowly stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture. Add the berries, if you’re using them. Blend only until just mixed.
Heat a frying pan, preferably non-stick, on medium-high. It is hot enough when a bit of sprinkled water splatters. Add a pat of butter and once it melts, spoon on your pancake batter. When the batter starts to bubble (a minute or two), flip each pancake and finish cooking.
You can keep the pancakes on a plate in a 100-degree oven while you cook the rest of the batter. Or be a full-on chef and stand at the stove and serve your hosts fresh, hot pancakes as they’re ready.
Lovely things to accompany your pancakes, depending on availability: maple syrup, honey, whipped cream, Nutella, fresh berries, treacle, or, if you must, corn syrup.
Dessert: Molten Chocolate Cakes (Serves 4)
There are many versions of this recipe. If memory serves, I adapted this one from the magazine Ikea used to publish.
Your hosts might not have everything for this dish – specifically the high quality chocolate or the ramekins in which to bake the cakes. But this provides you with a nice little gift for them, no?
Ramekins can be found in most kitchen supply shops, and even some big grocery stores. They should cost only a few dollars each (the cheapies work just as well as those from Le Creuset).
Buy the best quality dark chocolate you can find (it may be called “couverture”), such as Callebaut, Cacao Berry, Scharffen Berger, or Valrhona, with at least 70 percent cocoa content.
This dish takes about 10 to 15 minutes to prepare, and about 8 minutes to bake. You can do some, but not all, of the preparation before dinner. The recipe halves or doubles easily depending on the number you’re feeding.
½ cup butter (preferably unsalted)
4 oz (120 g) best dark chocolate
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 egg yolks (room temperature)
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp flour
Non-stick cooking spray (e.g. Pam)
Melt the chocolate and butter together over very low heat, stirring frequently. If you don’t trust the stove, use a double boiler to ensure the chocolate doesn’t burn (Double boiler: put a few inches of water in a pot, bring it to a simmer. Place a smaller pot in the larger one and melt the chocolate and butter in the smaller pot. Don’t let the water in the big pot boil). Once melted, let the chocolate cool slightly.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar and pinch of salt for a few minutes until light and thick (by hand is fine, use the biggest whisk in the kitchen). Give it another minute of whisking just before you combine it with the other ingredients.
Leave the next steps until you are ready to bake. Preheat the oven to 450 F (230 C).
Pour the egg mixture into the chocolate. Sprinkle the flour over and stir until just combined – do not over-mix.
Spray four ramekins with non-stick spray (Don’t have the spray? Butter the dishes and sprinkle in a bit of flour, then tip out the excess flour). Divide the batter between the ramekins.
Put them on a cookie sheet (to catch any drips and make them easier to remove from the oven). Bake at 450 F (230 C) for 6 to 11 minutes. Watch them carefully. The time varies significantly with each oven.
The cakes are done when the tops just start to crack a little. Jiggle the tray a bit; if you see the batter move, they’re not done yet. If you’re nervous, poke one with a skewer or knife – the cakes are done when the tester pushed into the outside edge comes out clean but the batter is still liquid in the center. You want them gooey – molten – in the middle.
Serve them immediately. If you are adventurous, tip the cakes out of the ramekins onto a plate (sometimes they come out beautifully, sometimes they stick). Or just plop the ramekin onto a plate and serve (although you really do need to eat them immediately as they will continue to cook; ramekins hold their heat). Warn people not to touch the ramekins too!
Wash up tip: Soak the ramekins in water before you put them in the dishwasher or handwash them. You’ve baked that chocolate on there at a pretty high heat!