What should I cook as a houseguest?
March 24, 2011 4:36 AM   Subscribe

Good meals to cook as a houseguest?

I'm traveling through europe and asia, and staying in lots of friend's and friends-of friend's homes and apartments. I'd like to do something nice to say thanks, like cooking a nice meal for my hosts. I'm not a horrible (basic) cook but usually cook really basic stuff or go out to eat on my own. So, I'm looking for recipes suggestions that aren't horribly complex, taste great, and can be made with ingredients that are fairly readily available.

posted by btkuhn to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Buy wine. It's a lot easier for everyone and definitely better if you aren't a better cook than your hosts.

Failing that, Go for something that doesn't involve a lot of washing up. Unless you're in Italy, something like a good spaghetti bolognaise would work.

If you're looking for something really good and unusual, you could cure some salmon. It's pretty mess free, very good and works equally well in Asia and Europe (providing you can find the salmon). Or you could pot some meat. The recipe linked has rabbit and pig's trotter, but honestly the meat can be anything and there is no need for a pig's trotter. A basic potted meat recipe can use a very limited range of fairly available ingredients (meat, spice, butter, lemon, pepper, salt).
posted by MuffinMan at 4:50 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, don't cook for people unless you're good at it. If you're going to buy things (food) you should also check to see if they have diet considerations (lactose/gluten intolerant, teetotaller, vegetarian/vegan, etc)
posted by beerbajay at 5:01 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I traveled through Europe and couchsurfed the whole time. I must have cooked the same meal twenty different ways. Here's my recipe:

Local vegetables - as much as you need
Frozen vegetables from a grocery store if need be
Curry powder
(Eggs, optional unless you are feeling fancy)
Stewed tomatoes from a can

Saute up all of the vegetables according to what makes sense. If you have spinach, put it in last. Onions and garlic, first. Add the peas and tomatoes last. Bring to a boil and add about two tablespoons curry powder then you're done.

While that's all going on cook 1/2 - 1 cup couscous depending on how many people you have.

If you have eggs just hard boil them, cut them up, and put them in with the tomatoey vegetables.

That's it. Voila. We usually let people take their couscous and vegetable mix separately so they could decide how much they wanted of each. Have the curry powder nearby so you can season as needed.

With a bottle of red wine it's fantastic.

Bonus: no meat, no dairy, easy to refrigerate (or not) and have the next day for breakfast.
posted by amicamentis at 5:05 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think a nice risotto with some good parmesan would work well. It's easy to make, tastes like heaven, and uses few ingredients that can be varied according to what's available. And as a bonus, you can drink the white wine that's left over.
posted by coraline at 5:13 AM on March 24, 2011

Something that's easy to make once you've done it a few times, can involve various local ingredients or just dry pantry stock, seems a little fancy but is comforting, but takes a lot of time at the stove that maybe your hosts don't have to spend, is risotto. You have to have the right kind of rice but it should be easy enough to find anywhere in Europe, at least. You can do all sorts of different kinds of risotto for various dietary requirements and if there's something in season it's easy to add it in. You don't have to use dairy to make it creamy if the rice is good and you've done it right, and this technique is particularly important if you're doing a seafood risotto.

My favorite risotto involves onion, mint, green peas, and chicken stock with parmesan and butter. Second after that is garlic, dried mushroom and anchovy, which is a dairy-free variety - I just use olive oil, and everything in it is a pantry ingredient.
posted by Mizu at 5:17 AM on March 24, 2011

This pasta with tomato cream sauce feels fancy but is super simple.
posted by knile at 5:32 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd try to suss out their preference first. I host friends all the time and I frankly would prefer to either be taken out to dinner or to receive a well chosen bottle of wine, chocolates, etc. Something consumable that requires no work. To me, cooking is something that can be fun, but isn't the most exciting thing to do with houseguests. I know others who feel the same way. Then again, some love it. So check it out before going to the supermarche.
posted by telomere at 5:34 AM on March 24, 2011

Where it's possible, cook something that's distinct and unique to your home cuisine. It doesn't have to be fancy or famous, but something that's "American-style" or "Dutch-style" or wherever you're from is fun and a way of sharing a bit of your culture with your hosts.

My Dutch friend made us stamppot when she came to visit. (Complete with sausage that may or may not have entered the country legally, which I understand is also very Dutch as they are picky about their sausages.) I've done Chicago-style hotdogs and bratwursts with home-made fixin's. Not fancy, and hardly something I eat more than twice a year because I'm fond of my arteries, but lots of fun, and nobody's allowed to have ketchup. :) Everyone gets a kick out of learning a little about what's unique where I'm from.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:42 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, see if you can't cook something from your part of the world. I stayed with friends for a summer in London and made Mexican food one night. It took a trip to one of the few Mexican groceries in the whole of the UK and a lot of make-do, but was a decent success (especially with an ex-pat friend who joined us and who was also from California).
posted by elsietheeel at 6:09 AM on March 24, 2011

One thing to remember is that many (most?) kitchens here in Asia don't have ovens, unless it's in a more upper class, or expat apartment complex. Choose your menu accordingly.
posted by hasna at 6:26 AM on March 24, 2011

If your strength is going out to eat, then fall back on that... and take them out.
posted by hermitosis at 7:19 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your profile mentions UNC, which means North Carolina right?, CORNBREAD. It is fantastically easy to bring the right pre-made mix with you, fantastically easy to cook, involves only a bowl/spoon/whatever pot with sides your hosts have, is deliciously representative of southern cooking, and most people outside the US haven't had it.

CORNBREAD is what you are looking for. Make a kilo of mix, bring it with you, and leave some with your hosts if they like it. If you are worried about customs then the only ingredients you will have trouble finding are the cornmeal and shortening which you can bring packaged

I would also be careful about relying on finding meat, its always much more expensive that in the states wherever you go and its often impossible to find cuts we are used to, or anything involving frying as many places (particularly Europe) will have small poorly ventilated efficiency kitchens not suited to it.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:38 AM on March 24, 2011

Bring in takeout food, or take your hosts out to eat. Flowers and wine are also nice. If you really want to cook, learn to make breakfast. If you came to my house and made any combination of bacon/sausage, eggs, toast/jam, grilled tomatoes, oatmeal, pancakes, coffee and juice, you would totally be asked back. or not allowed to leave.
posted by theora55 at 8:15 AM on March 24, 2011

I second the idea of making something special to where you're from. Chocolate chip cookies are not so common outside of the USA, and you can get most of the ingredients locally. Bring your own brown sugar, though; it can be hard to find in other countries and is essential to the flavor. Might want to have baking soda too. We made cookies last time we were in Poland and everyone loved 'em.
posted by echo target at 8:16 AM on March 24, 2011

American pancakes and American cookies - you can't really get these in Europe. I recommend chocolate chips for both!

They'll be a bit different than you're used to because of the specifics of the flour/water etc, but they should still be pretty special. Also they're easy. Practice at home first!
posted by Salamandrous at 8:44 AM on March 24, 2011

On first sight: some kind of pasta with tomato sauce would probably be a good idea. I use black pepper, oregano, basil, and a little bit of thyme, and chili flakes. Experiment until you get it right. You could even make a little spice mix jar and bring it with you!

On second sight, this really really depends on the dietary preferences of your hosts. Me, I'd be happy if my houseguest went out and bought a really good cut of steak and cooked it for me, with some salad/vegetables to go with it. Others (vegetarians/vegans/people with over-zealous smoke detectors) would be offended by that. On the other hand, I wouldn't eat most of the things mentioned in this thread because they rely heavily on carbs (including the pasta). I also don't drink, so wine presents are wasted on me. I would find it really annoying if someone made cornbread in my kitchen - I would feel pressured to eat some of it even though I don't usually eat carby stuff. Just asking me would be a bit annoying, I think, because I'd be pressured to say yes because it's such a nice offer and would seem really rude to refuse my guest.

Maybe I'm a bit stuck up, but I think I'd also not really enjoy a friend/stranger cooking in my kitchen. I'd have to stand by and explain where everything is, and then clean up stuff the way I like it, because the house guest just wouldn't know where to put stuff!

So, pasta with tomato sauce if you're staying with laid-back people without complicated dietary preferences. If you're not so sure about that, take your hosts out for dinner. Don't rely on your hosts for restaurant suggestions, though - check out quype and take them to a place they haven't been to yet!
posted by The Toad at 8:58 AM on March 24, 2011

Try focusing on things that will make the house smell good and make them happy for having you in it. Chicken Piccata is always good, what with the lemon and garlic and the braising.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:24 AM on March 24, 2011

I'd rather you baked or bought me something than cooked me dinner.
Good items to buy which look fancy but still aren't very expensive are: nice jam, foreign crackers or cookies, artisanal pasta, French butter, spiced sugar or salt.

All of these things are available at most grocery stores but they aren't things that people usually buy for themselves and that is the point. Get them something they will use but wouldn't ordinarily pay more for.
posted by rmless at 11:18 AM on March 24, 2011

Hmm, if you're a friend of a friend I may put you up for a few nights but I may not want to come home from work, have you cook food for me (which I may not like despite your best intentions and efforts) and feel obliged to spend the whole evening with you. This is from somebodz who wants to be left alone for a while when coming home - I'm sure you are a lovely person and I'd enjoy your company...so if you wanted to do something nice for me I'd be much happier if you brought me some pretty flowers, a nice (can be inexpensive if you know what you're doing) bottle of wine, some grown up chocolates (safer if you don't know your wines), some nice jam, alcoholic fruit, nice cured meats or some nice cheese.

If you're my friend and I actually want to spend time with you and I have time, e.g. at the weekend and you feel like you must cook make it breakfast or brunch of some kind, or go down the road and get some nice breakfast things.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:24 AM on March 26, 2011

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