Road Food Part One: Austrian Airlines and DO&CO

DH and I have been on the road for two weeks.

One one hand, it’s super fun to be out of the house for awhile. Seeing new places and exploring new cultures is really awesome. But on the other hand, those of us who often prefer our OWN restaurant (i.e. eating our own cooking), putting ourselves in the exclusive culinary care of a higher power can be fearsome!

The beginning of almost every trip I go on is always somehow a cluster f* of time-evaporation, bungled packing schemes, and “Oh gosh! I forgot my (fill in the blank)…” I never fail to fantasize that I will be all set to go and have 20 minutes to eat before I have to be out the door. Note I said…”fantasize.”

Which leads to the specific topic of this post: airplane food.

Austrian Air now allows passengers to pre-order specialty onboard meals. A company called DO&CO provides this service, and also handles food service to myriad high profile events including Formula 1. They just established a new hotel in Vienna’s first district that is describes itself as an “architecturally adventurous and sybaritic hotel experience in downtown Vienna.” While I wouldn’t describe the catering choices we experienced as “adventureous,” I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and consistency of what we got for our 15Euros per meal. 

On our short flights to and from Switzerland, I preordered a Caesar’s Salad, while DH ordered the authentic Wiener Schnitzel.

Image Here’s the Schnitzel…it really looked and tasted great!

Image  Here’s the Caesar Salad…

Each meal was served with a classic Viennese assortment of fresh, fragrant rolls that were both tasty and super warm, and the desserts that accompanied each were yummy and well-presented. The Caesar came with a sort of spongecake wafer topped by a multi-layered fan of sliced strawberries and creme fraiche.  The Schnitzel came with a sort of chocolate custard/mousse. I must admit waking up the next day thinking about those berries!

We pooled our rolls and used the ingredients of both meals to make little schnitzel-wiches. Why? Well, the biggest challenge the meal presented was the presentation of the salad. While all of the little dishes fit perfectly on the tray — totally engineered for complete modular assembly — I don’t think anyone ever tried to eat this meal on an economy class tray table. The problem? Cutting!

The romaine, as shown above, is served as entire leaves, rolled tightly, then cleverly wrapped with a thin slice of grilled zucchini. The chicken pieces, tomato slices, and hearty chunks of parm surround the crossed lettuce. Looks great but is totally annoying to cut every bite on a wobbly tray table. Without a stable surface or elbow room, I just gave up. We ended up tearing the undressed rolled leaves into the necessary sandwich-size bits and digging in. Washed down with lovely crisp Austrian Gruner Veltliner, our modification hit the spot AND occupied most of our 1hr15min flights to and from Switzerland. It’s food AND an activity!

Best thing? Was great to know that dinner (outbound) and lunch (inbound) were taken care of and that we did not need to mess with finding time on the front end of travel to eat. Nor did we have to fret that our hotel’s restaurant would be closed by the time we arrived. Thumbs up, Austrian! 

Note that domestically within the US, United Airlines has been offering onboard meals for purchase for at least 3 years now. The offerings are very consistent, yet often are only snacks depending on length of flight AND availability. Being able to pre-order a specific hot meal would sure be a welcome evolution. For awhile, Pour le France catering out of San Francisco provided onboard meals for purchase on United…I wonder what happened to stop this service. It was really nice, especially if one had tight connections between flights and no chance to eat before boarding. Anyone who travels for a living knows this story all too well!

Next post: Eating St. Gallen and Zurich!

 

 

Advertisements

Wild Alaskan Salmon with Ginger Soy Dressing and Orange Chili Pasta

I couldn’t believe it.

Wild. Alaskan. Sockeye. Salmon.

In Vienna, at the Spar.

I hadn’t had salmon since leaving Ashland 2 years ago — northwestern folks are snobby about our salmon — and I decided that even if this far-from-home filet didn’t work out, it was worth 5.99Euro for two filets to give it a shot.

Inspired by what I remember about making easy steamed salmon filets on the grill, this is what I made:

Serves 2; no leftovers

Ingredients

* 2 salmon filets (wild, Alaskan, Sockeye, YEAH!)

* 1 small orange, halved (zest first and set aside zest for pasta sauce)

* soy sauce

* fresh ginger root

* minced garlic

* sea salt

* pinch of brown or raw granulated sugar

* sesame oil

* vodka/orange/chili/cinnamon infusion** (see note below)

* linguine, fettucine, or other flat pasta

* light cream

* butter

* white wine

* tarragon

** vodka infusion: I made this out of a mini bottle of Absolute vodka, a cinnamon stick, orange zest, and 3 tiny but potent italian chilis (peperoncinos). I made it about 3 weeks before using it, storing it in the liquor cabinet (i.e. kitchen cabinet with liquor in it). Another Splendid Table recommendation about how to play with flavor parings, make gifts to share, and to stock your pantry with fast and easy ingredients…

Process:

Preheat oven to 350-ish farenheit (160-180 celcius)

In a shallow baking dish or other small oven-safe dish, place one rectangle of foil for each filet. Each rectangle should be big enough to make a self-contained packet/tent for the enclosed filet. Put a filet at the center of each rectangle and lift each of the the four sides around it to make a little bowl. Score each filet 2 or 3 times across the top to help it steam.

Dress the salmon: sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over each filet, then drizzle with an whisked blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, grated fresh ginger, minced garlic, and the vodka infusion. I wanted to have enough liquid in the packet to contribute to steaming the fish. It was about 2 tablespoons over each, focusing on covering the top. Sprinkle a pinch of sugar then place a thin slice of orange on top of each filet and seal the foil around each filet tightly. I just heard that if you wrap the pieces super tight, the liquid is prevented from adequately steaming the fish. Wrap loosely and seal tightly!

Put the dish with both packets into the oven and focus attention on pasta! Timing: I cooked the salmon for 15-20 minutes with the packets closed, and then an additional 10-15 minutes with the packets open. Most people like their salmon super juicy and tender, but we like ours pretty done. If you’re a juicy person doing this, I would just check them for done-ness after 15 minutes of steaming and skip the open baking. Another benefit to open baking for at least a little while is a carmelized crust that forms with the sugar and soy sauce! As long as your fish is cooked to the point of safety, you can experiment.

The Pasta…

The goal with this pasta was to create something that went with asian-style salmon, but that was still a pasta. I remembered reading something somewhere once (in hindsight it was probably La Cucina Italiana) about a pasta made with an orange cream sauce. Given the orange edge to the salmon dressing, I thought it might work here. Again, experimenting. I’m lucky that DH is picky, but also grateful to be fed at the end of a long day. He is also not a food snob like me, and is willing to accept most things as long as they hit the spot.

In the end, I was going for something light, gently creamy, yet non-competitive/conflicting with what I hoped was going to be a flavorful and fresh salmon treat. Serving over simple steamed rice (jasmine or brown) would have worked, but despite having gone an asian direction with the salmon dressing, I still had visions of creamy fettucine and big rich morsels of salmon dancing in my head. I never said my problems weren’t self-made, lol.

Sauce

* salt pasta water and set to boil.

* in a wok-ish pan, melt a pat of butter with a bit of sesame oil and let brown. Add in 1/3 cup light cream (to start), and whisk to combine. Add a generous spash of the vodka infusion and whisk again, reducing the heat and adding a bit more of the cream. Now for the remaining orange half: one solid squeeze over the evolving sauce then stir in the orange zest. Keep stirring and bubbling it away until the pasta water is boiling and ready for the pasta. Timing: My pasta was 10-minute pasta, so I reduced the heat on the sauce to a very light simmer at this point, put the pasta in the boiling water, then went back to the oven.

Open foil packets and turn heat up to 400f/200c. NOTE: If you are a juicy salmon person (per above), I would still advocate opening the packets to get a little brownness and crust going before serving. Just turn the heat in the oven off when you think you’re really close to done and monitor as the pasta finishes.

Use the remaining pasta time to taste and stir the sauce now and then, adjust seasonings (I added tarragon, salt, and white pepper), clean up, set the table, light the candles, and update Facebook status. If sauce is thickening too much, add a spash of pasta water and whisk.

Serving: drain pasta and assess the volume of sauce to pasta. If there is an awful lot of sauce and you are going for something light, take some of it out of the pan and set it aside. Then, add the pasta to the sauce in the wok pan on stove; stir to combine and coat the pasta completely. Need more sauce? Add it now. Plate the pasta slightly off-center and place each filet so that it’s half on/half off the pasta, leaning on it in a way so that you can see the grain of the fish and the caramel-y crust but you also don’t lose the top view of the orange slice. Drizzle any remaining dressing from the foil packets back over the fish to shine it up.

Result: Unusual but delicious! We found the pasta sauce to be delicate and complimentary, with a subtle spice from the chilis and fragrance from the cinnamon that went terrifically with the ginger soy flavors in the salmon dressing. The fish was outstanding. We ate every bite and can’t wait to come back to this restaurant, haha.

Other variations: this could be done with a mediterranean flair, using olive oil, rosemary, and lemon on the fish and going for a feta, olive, sundried tomato pasta/couscous. You could also go really roman and do artichoke heart/asparagus risotto with fresh green peas and a simple lemon steamed salmon.

Beverages: crisp white wine and/or sparkling water.

Yum!

Coconut Curry with Chicken & Veggies

DH and I are trying to be good.

After the turn of the year, we decided to improve our diet and exercise plans. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, a veritable cornucopia of epicurian goodness, variety, quality, availability, sustainability, ad nauseum, it has been a surprise to discover that “that kind of food” here in Vienna is elusive. Eating cheaply, beautifully, and health-fully is more work than it used to be!

Here, we have delicious schnitzel (chicken, pork, veal), lovely clear broths, endless variations on the dumpling, potatoes (roasted, baked, pureed, salad-ified), and pumpkin (seeds, flesh, oil, pesto). And, oh yes, pastries, cakes, cookies, and confections galore.

But the delightful ease of an organic grocery store filled with seasonal and not-so-seasonal choices for things that I used to completely take for granted (like romaine lettuce, baby greens, chilis, corn tortillas, chicken sausage, italian sausage)…this is not to be found here in the same way. Viva la difference, right? Well. Yes. But.

When it’s dinnertime 7 days a week, one must have go-tos. And when the go-tos are 100% different, it takes awhile to rebuild the repertoire. Unfortunately, the grocery stores are filled with uniform, pre-packaged and heavily processed foods. It’s much easier to buy things in a box than to try to track down the ingredients to make them from scratch. And the processed factor of the boxed thiings is frustrating.

In our quest to “be good” I’m trolling the web, learning to make Austrian basics with a PNW twist, and listening to Lynn Rosetto Kaspar’s Splendid Table on a regular basis.

This fresh, easy dish was inspired by the high volume of curry recipes in Jamie Oliver‘s “Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals,” a birthday gift from my Austrian sister-in-law. This version of the book is published in the UK and after years of reading American food rags like “Food and Wine” and “Martha Stewart Living,” I find it one step closer to what’s available here and one step further away from “meat, starch, sugar.” Reading all that curry-talk and being reminded of the flavor pairings got me thinking…

2 servings, no leftovers — portions allow for small seconds, yet no feeling of “OMG, I need the couch.”

Ingredients:

* veggies: I went to the fridge and found sweet bell peppers, mushrooms, a fresh hot chili, yellow onion. One could think ahead and get a selection of more traditionally Asian or Indian veggies like bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, edamame, eggplant, etc.. Simply working “from the fridge” was fine for me here.

* chicken breast: chopped into small bite-size pieces. I used one breast for 2 people. Protein choices could be anything from nothing to salmon to beef to shrimps to tofu…you’ll just need to adjust your cooking technique to accomodate the differences in how the protein cooks in the liquid.

* light coconut milk (one small can)

* nonfat, plain yogurt (2 tablespoons)

* green curry paste (1 tablespoon)

* salt & pepper to taste

* something to make it a little sweet (I used a partial packet of Splenda, but a teaspoon of regular sugar would be fine; whisking in a sweet chili sauce would do double duty and allow you to eliminate the hot fresh chili)

* fresh limes for garnish

* 1/2 cup jasmine basmati rice (could be brown rice, couscous, quinoa, noodles)

Process:

1.) Start cooking rice and/or starch

2.) Prep ingredients (new discipline for me that eases clean-up, makes the cooking faster, and allows me to make the most of a very tiny kitchen): Chop all veggies and chicken…chicken needs to be kept separate from veggies for food safety and timing reasons.   If you are using fresh hot chilis, you might want to touch a chopped piece to your finger and then to your tongue to test its heat. If you feel a sharp burn, be sure to back off whether you include all of the chili pieces in your dish. You can make things hotter on the fly, but it’s hard to make them more mild after the fact! Whisk two tablespoons of nonfat yogurt into coco milk and set aside. Don’t forget to wash your hands with hot water and soap if you touched the chili and it was hot.

3.) Precook veggies: heat olive oil in wok-ish pan on stove. I choose to work with this kind of pan for this kind of dish because I want high sides for the saute process and the bowl (rather than flat) bottom for the sauce. Saute the veggies all together until they are almost how you will want them in the finished dish. I say “almost” because you will take them out to cook the sauce and meat and then add them back in later for a few minutes. You don’t want mush. Put them back in their prep bowl and set aside. They don’t need to stay hot. NOTE: This is also a time when you will get an indicator about the heat of your chili/s — if you start coughing from the oils in the air above your pan or near the stove, you know you’ve got something with some heat behind it. If your eyes burn and you still cough when you get away from the stove, you should either totally start over with your veggie mix, or at least get a bunch of those chilis OUT!

4.) Sauce: Add coco/yogurt mixture to pan and boil. The pan will already be hot from cooking the veggies, so this might happen really fast. You want to cook the milk a little bit, so reduce the heat and calm things down so it has a few moments to cook without browning. Whisk a tablespoon (+/-) of curry paste into the milk. One of the recipes I read online suggested 1/3 cup for 4 servings. I was only making 2 servings and wasn’t sure how intense to make it. So, I think it was about 1/3 of a small jar of the paste. Experiment! Once blended, heat back to boil (if only simmering) and let the sauce play for a couple of minutes. I think of it as time for the curry paste to “cook” but am not sure this is necessary. When I tasted at this stage, it seemed a little raw and unblended. This evolved by the end (15 mins later).

5.) Poach the meat: instead of stir frying/browning the chicken first, adding the chicken to the sauce poaches it and keeps it tender. A Splendid Table interview with Michael Ruhlman about poaching everything from shrimp and scallops to salmon and chicken with emulsified butter shed all doubts from my mind about whether this kind of approach to cooking meat works. Reduce the heat so that the sauce is gently bubbly but no longer boiling and cook the chicken until it’s no longer pink.

6.) Add the veggies: pop them back in the sauce pan once the chicken is cooked through (it’s easier to see the done-ness of the chicken without the veggies in the way) and simmer together while the rice finishes cooking. Set the table, light some candles, stir as needed. Add a little water if it’s thickening too quickly. Would white wine also work instead? Not sure if it would confuse the flavors, but I will try it next time. Salt a bit, pepper a bit, put on lip gloss, set out serving platters.

7.) Fluff your rice in the pan and let the grains air a little bit to ensure they are not too wet and smushy. Check the sauce and do a little taste test for seasoning levels. Adjust as needed, remembering that the flavor of the rice will be a factor and that if you garnish with a lime, it will also tang things up. I was going for spicy, creamy, fragrant, and a little sweet.

8) Serve! I served this dish on a single white rectagular serving platter, adding the rice in a low, uniform mound along the platter, then slowly pouring the curry sauce on top, taking care to center the pour in the middle. This lets the juicier liquid soak through the rice and then pool beneath it — reduces the chances of taking a scoop and getting only rice! It also looks terrific because the veggies and chicken are all presented on top. I wedged a lime and set the wedges to the four corners of the platter. Squeeze a wedge over the top after serving.

Accompaniments

I had two concerns with this dish: 1.) what if it’s too hot?, and 2.) what if it’s too bland? To back myself up, I also made a very simple “green on green” leaf salad that featured a yogurt/orange juice/chopped avocado salsa on a bed of chopped romaine. I served this on a rectangle plate that matches the one used for the curry. The yogurt and citrus part of the salsa, I hoped, would offset any fire-mouth syndrome the curry might have caused. And the avodado would be satisfying if the curry was bland or just “didn’t turn out.” As it was, the curry’s heat built but didn’t escalate. It was perfect with the basmati rice and the squeeze of lime. DH says that above average spiciness is perfect for controling how fast he eats! The salad ended up being a simple complement with ideal flavor pairings that didn’t compete with or undermine the curry.

Salsa/dressing: 1 tablespoon nonfat, plain yogurt; solid squeeze from 1/2 small orange; pinch of sea salt; 1/2 small avocado, chopped. Whisk yogurt, salt, and orange juice. Add chopped avocado and stir to coat the avocado. The acid in the orange juice breaks down the avocado a bit so that it becomes softer and more creamy. Learned from Boudro’s in San Antonio, this is also a reason to use orange juice when you make guacamole — no need to mash the avos. Keeps them chunky and fresh tasting while still being pasty enough to sit nicely on a chip! Serve over the top of salad greens…every bite is “dressed” by the salsa, and best of all…there’s no oil involved to add calories.

Beverage: sparkling water, crisp white wine (dry and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc would be good), or a cold pilsner/lager.

Yum!

Peanut Patriotism

Peanut butter is hard to find in Vienna. Natural peanut butter (or variations thereof) is impossible to find. No matter what kind you find, it is also expensive. Like ridiculous expensive. When DH and I married a few months ago, my mom wanted to give us a “kitchen machine” for a wedding gift. AWESOME. So, we got the Kenwood Cooking Chef. In the US it’s only available through Williams-Sonoma. I ordered ours through Amazon.de, as Kenwood is a UK company and distributes freely throughout Europe. This, my friends, is the ticket to truly scrumptious and CHEAP peanut butter with zero additives, no preservatives, no sugar, no nuttin’ but nuts.

Ya got three steps to this process:

1.) Buy the peanuts: look for organic if you can find them; here in Vienna, we have a wonderful outdoor market (the Naschmarkt) where I suspect that I will be able to find some really interesting and cool peanuts from North Africa, Greece, or Turkey. When I get around to it, haha. For now, I’m buying 400g bags of in-shell peanuts at the regular grocer — it takes 1.5 to make enough goodness to fill my 16oz American peanut butter jar.

2.) Shell the peanuts: warning…it really does take a long time to do this step. If you could find peanuts in a large quantity that were pre-shelled, this would be ideal. I haven’t found them yet, but I look every chance I get! Come up with a meditation, do it while the kids are playing and need supervision but not intervention, have some friends over…just do it.

3.) Grind them up in the food-processor: Cuisinart, Cooking Chef, blender…it doesn’t matter as long as you have the wattage to achieve a great grind. With the Cooking Chef, it takes me about 3.5 minutes of pulsing to get what I want. important: Keep going. After the first 90 seconds or so, you may get discouraged and think that you need to add liquid. The peanuts will simply be chopped up and not be creamy in the least. BUT…Keep going. At about 2 or 2.5 minutes, the peanuts will begin to release their natural oils, which will smooth it all out. It’s magic.

Living in the US, I never gravitated toward peanut butter. It was sticky, gave me peanut-breath, and had a lot of calories. Even the high protein content wasn’t enough for me to be willing to be an addict. Here in Vienna, however, it has become a touchstone of my American-ness and a link to my motherland.

Yum!