Feb 23, 2006

Pear & sage-stuffed chicken breast with a hazelnut crust

Chickenhazelnut_1 I am back in London after a week in chilly Austria, which brought some highlights, but wasn't alltogether that relaxing. The most annoying thing, I guess, is that I didn't manage to get tables at the restaurants that I most wanted to visit - mostly due to the fact that it is carnival and therefore "Ballsaison" (ballroom dancing galore) and people seem to like a decent meal somewhere before hitting the dancefloor. Going to a ball certainly has many highlights, but food is usually not one of them - apart from goulash soup (an incarnation of the traditional Hungarian gulyas), a pair of Frankfurter sausages with a dry breadroll and a toasted ham & cheese sandwich, your options are limited and more often than not, you will be paying extortionate amounts for very basic food. I say this on the evening of Vienna's most famous of balls, the Opernball. If you have 215 Euros to spare for a single ticket and don't mind to be on a waiting list for years, do go and tell me about the food there. I'd like to think that it is more sophisticated than your usual fare, but it certainly won't come cheaper!
I had been planning to go to one of my favourite restaurants in Vienna (Gaumenspiel), but they were having a private event the evening I wanted to go and were closed for all the alternative dates I suggested. Angelika did manage to book a table for a leisurely Monday lunch at one of Austria's top tables (Restaurant Meinl am Graben, much coveted under the helmet of Christian Petz, but now with a new head chef), but it failed to impress. However, I made sure to have lunch at a real institution of the Viennese restaurant scene and will blog about it in due course.
And as I am doing more packing and unpacking, but am mainly occupied with dreading the move ahead, I can only unveil dishes I served up a while ago that haven't made it live yet. One of them is actually a Viennese dish, if somewhat bastardised: Backhendlsalat traditionally is a dish of potato salad with breaded chicken goujons. It's really something you're likely to encounter in any corner restaurant or coffee shop in Austria's capital and probably owes its popularity to being so predictable.
Before the advent of H5N1, I liked to play around with this dish a lot, trying different stuffings and coatings and varying the accompaniments all the time. Here, I used pear and sage for a stuffing and a crust of hazelnut breadcrumbs, which felt comfortably autumnal and refreshing at the same time. With a side of mashed potato (always a winner with me) and salad of lamb's lettuce and crispy bacon bits, this is a perfect fit for a lazy Sunday evening... I'll even turn a blind eye should you choose to down a can of beer with it!

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Feb 13, 2006

Zwiebelrostbraten: beef escalope with crispy onions

Zwiebelrostbraten With continental, or rather Central and Eastern European cuisine being the new kid on the restaurant scene ever since the new member states joined the EU and helped, largely, by the incredible success that seems to be The Wolseley, you might think that traditional Austrian food has become so mainstream that I'd be running out of dishes to write about. Much to the contrary! It just goes to prove that those dishes that I found myself growing a bit tired of during my childhood have now all reason to be dusted off and brought out into the spotlight. Even more so as said establishment, which offers a round-the-clock menu in the tradition of great Viennese coffee houses, does an eclectic mix of French bistro meets Austrian Kaffeehaus culture and sadly offers but the usual suspects. Hasn't everyone grown tried of the Wiener Schnitzel by now? (I'll actually have to go one day to see if their Wiener has what it takes!)
Diving deep into the memories of my childhood, or rather uncovering what are my husband's memories of his, as my family was never that big on meat, I made Zwiebelrostbraten the other day. This is a very special treat at my mother-in-law's, usually on the menu for big occasions like birthdays or long-overdue family gatherings. There are two ways of preparing this dish and which one people choose will largely depend on the quality of meat they bought. The lower the quality, the longer you'll have to cook the escalopes and this is usually done with the onions inside the gravy. But I like my onions nice and crisp, which is why I prefer the (Viennese) version where you deep-fry the onions and let them crisp up on some kitchen towel, so I always go for a rumpsteak or fillet, which I just need to flash-fry in the pan, then let warm through in the sauce for just a few minutes. Top with the crispy onion rings, serve with some fried potatoes... nothing for the cholesterol-conscious among you, but surely some great, hearty flavours that will have you hooked!

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Oct 26, 2005

Bauernbraten with freshly grated horseradish

Bauernschinken Austria celebrates its National Holiday today and since you can't see me wearing my Dirndl or hear me yodeling, it is only appropriate to post something revolving around Austrian food... Every once in a while my local Waitrose makes me very happy by sourcing Austrian products that aren't normally accessible to me since living in the UK. Last summer, they were selling Bernerwuerstel (sausages stuffed with cheese and wrapped with pancetta) which are delicious on the barbecue - made by no other than a butcher from my hometown. Oh joy! Unfortunately, they've discontinued them, seems like they're not fit for the Britsh palate?
A couple of months ago I found some Austrian bacon on display next to the Parma ham. Handl are a Tyrolian cold meats producer and their lean bacon is sold all over the country - even though you can still get better bacon by going to small butchers and farmers in the country, their quality is very reasonable. Waitrose have now added a special baked ham, sold in wafer-thin slices, from the same company to their selection of deli items, and I bought it recently when Austria was playing England in the World Cup qualifier. I had been wandering down the high-street, seeing crowds of people heading for the pub to see the kick-off, all dressed up in their England shirts and such... and although I don't really care about whether Austria qualifies or not, no matter what the sport or who the opponent, I couldn't help a very subtle feeling of patriotism when I picked up that pack of ham. I wouldn't normally watch the game either, but I was a bit peckish, so I grated some fresh horseradish Angelika had brought me from Austria and devoured it with the ham and some rye bread, sitting in front of the television.
Although the game wasn't as embarrassing for Austria as I would have expected it to be, they did lose, of course, despite my display of support - so in the evening, we celebrated the winning team with some good old English chicken pie... isn't it great when you're so removed from it all that you can celebrate no matter who comes out on top?

Jul 11, 2005

Wiener Schnitzel for Dummies

Schnitzelsemmel For the longest time I thought it was futile to write about the most Austrian of Austrian dishes... or what is commonly perceived to be an Austrian dish, as it apparently originates in Milan. I guess we're just very good at spotting talent and hyping it enough for everybody to believe we invented it - as is the case with goulash, apple strudel and many other dishes! Last weekend, though, when I was making these yummy breaded escalopes, it dawned on me that there are many things to say about the Schnitzel... and seeing that so many get it wrong, here's the dummies' guide to our beloved Wiener:

Tradwiener 1) Yes, that's right. For us, a Wiener is an escalope, not a sausage. We call the sausages Frankfurters.
2) Let not the Germans fool you: a Wiener Schnitzel is NEVER to be served with, let alone in sauce.
3) You want your Schnitzel crispy and crunchy. No soggy shoe sole swimming in a pool of ready-made sauce mix.
4) The thickness of the escalope is a matter of personal preference. After a heated argument over our very first Schnitzels when we had just moved in together, I convinced my (now) husband that thin is beautiful. He's now a devoted Schnitzel flattener and evenly batters them down to no more than 3 mm.
5) If you're a fan of the breadcrumb-coating (my brother used to eat the crust first, before devouring his escalope "naked"), you can make it thicker by either double-coating them or omitting the milk from the egg-mix or, like for tempura, using potato flour instead of plain flour.
6) When it comes to eating your Schnitzel, never, ever make the mistake of asking for ketchup with your Schnitzel. Here's where even my daughter gets it wrong - and you think things of this importance would be in our DNA...
Lemon 7) The only condiments allowed near a Schnitzel are lemon juice (to sparingly drizzle over - you want it to cut through the grease, but don't allow the breading to go soggy) and cranberry compote. If you want to avoid dropping pips on your meat, wrap the lemon in gauze for a "safety net"...
8) There's only one exception to the condiment rule: the Schnitzelsemmel! (see top picture). This Austrian version of a hamburger (some even eat it with ketchup and mayo, although I prefer my version with fresh tomato, mustard, salad and pickled chilli) is perfect for taking leftover Schnitzel to work the following day - and a great hang-over cure, too!
9) And finally, but most importantly: No matter how much (stingy) people might insist that you can make escalopes from pork, make no mistake: only a veal Schnitzel is a real Schnitzel!

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Jul 03, 2005

Euro-foodbloggers unite at the Henley Royal Regatta

Eurofoodbloggers(Fltr: Christina of Thorngrove Table, Anne of Anne's Food, yours truly the passionate cook, and the organisers of this wonderful event, Andrew of Spittoon and Jeanne, the CookSister!)
It's only our second meeting, and already we have converted the UK foodblogging event into a Euro-foodblogging event - the first meeting had already had quite an international atmosphere, with all but two foodbloggers originating from outside the UK (Australia via Ireland, Austria, Japan, Philippines and South Africa), but this time round, I actually convinced Anne, a fellow blogger from Stockholm, to spend her last weekend as a spinster on British territory. And since we've started this tradition, any other foodbloggers on the continent or indeed, elsewhere in this world, let us know if you're interested in joining the next event, to be announced soon!

If you've never been to events like Royal Ascot, Wimbledon, or the Royal Regatta at Henley, you don't know what you're missing... even if you're not invited to the Leander Club, which allows you to not only enjoy a sit-down lunch, but also to get incredibly close to the rowers' changing rooms - and those men in lycra never fail to attract!), Henley really is an institution - and a quintessentially British one, more importantly. Fancy dresses, funny hats and men's dinner jackets in incredibly bright colours (if you intend to join a rowing team, make sure the club's colours are flattering, there is some quite strange combinations out there) prevail and so do sipping Pimms or champagne and a riverside picnic. What is most impressive, though, is that it is such a civilised event, drawing a most pleasant crowd and serving up an inimitable atmosphere.
Bellinis_1Naturally, with five food/wine bloggers amongst us, our spread attracted the most attention and I swear we could have earned a lot of money selling our delicacies there had we not been too greedy... we started out with gorgeously refreshing bellinis (choice of strawberry, passion fruit and, my personal favourite, white peach) provided by Andrew, accompanied by some duck foie gras and truffle mousse on crackers which Christina had brought along (actually all the way from Bahrain). We also nibbled on some of my salmon roly-polies and seemed to give the crudites and dips a miss, obviously overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of the home-made food laid out on our blankets.
FetasquashquicheAnne had brought some herring and knaeckebrod from Sweden, Jeanne's masterpieces were the already quite famous pecorino & peppadew muffins and a feta & butternutsquash quiche, her friend Anthony provided a fantastic mackerel pate and Christina chipped in some dessert in the form of chilli-chocolate creams.
BaconasparagusquicheAfter ruining a most delicious chocolate & cherry cake by deciding to remove the stones before throwing them on, which made the cake far too moist and undercooked at the bottom, I feared it being photographed by everybody, thus publicly embarrassing me and putting an abrupt end to my foodblogging career... so it stayed home. But I did manage to bring the afore-mentioned salmon & cream cheese roly-polies and a round bread (pain cirque) stuffed with pastrami, watercress and a sauce of gherkins, capers, parsley, mayo and mustard - somehow a combination using the concept of my fig & parma ham muffuletta using the filling previously featured in my pastrami bagels.
Jaegerwecken I also made a bacon & asparagus quiche (see picture above and recipe below) which I had seen my friend Martina prepare the other day (although hers looked much prettier) and an Austrian speciality which celebrated its absolute height in the 70s, I believe: Jaegerwecken (read Jägerwecken) is a thick baguette, stuffed with ham, cheese, gherkins, parsley, cream cheese and boiled eggs, all chopped up. It seems to have come out of fashion a bit, but it's back high up on my list, as it's the perfect picnic food - stuff the night before, wrap in foil and slice on demand... make sure you bring a bread knife, though. I forgot mine and Andrew's managed to dig a hole into the plastic bag he was carrying and fell out somewhere between the Stewart's enclosure and Remenham Farm... so I ended up cutting 30 slices with a minuscule Swiss Army knife, which wasn't exactly an easy task!

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May 24, 2005

Threesome of curd dumplings on rhubarb & strawberry compote (Topfennockerl)

Topfennockerlrhubarbstrawberrycompote2This is another post that is long overdue... I'm finding it hard to keep up at the moment! Spring not only brings great food, somehow the whole world seems to wake up and after having been stuck at home during the winter, all if a sudden you've got more social engagements than you can actually handle. Well, at least that's what seems to happen to me. Time to be a little selfish now and catch up on some posting before I whizz off to New York at the end of the week!
We had a sweet little soirée at a friend's house a few weeks back, where we spoilt an interesting crowd of people with traditional Austrian food. Martina made some great spreads which we nibbled with a glass of Prosecco in hand while waiting for a German-Mexican couple arriving from Frankfurt and getting completely lost in the jungle that is Greater London.
Next up was our Schweinsbraten cook-off: a bit like that "Ready, steady, cook" show on television - with our children judging who does the best roast pork - although we refused to be judged, calling it a "friendly", rather than a cooking competition.
For dessert, I decided to make some curd dumplings in three variations - struggling a bit with the fact that even though you can buy curd here, the consistency is very different... much wetter than anything I would buy in Austria. But we managed, adding loads of semolina until we achieved a dough that was managable.
The three variations were plain dumplings rolled in poppy seeds, plain dumplings rolled in toasted almonds and an apple & cinnamon version rolled in toasted pecans, all served on Martina's delicious gingered rhubarb & strawberry compote Unfortunately, I didn't manage to take notes for the latter, but I shall try and make one myself very soon, so stay tuned!

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Apr 09, 2005

Erdäpfelgulasch (Potato goulash)

PotatogulyasIt's time for something traditionally Austrian again. I say Austrian and this is where the controversy begins. I have grown up thinking that our Gulasch was a decidedly Austrian dish. But this is the 21st century and the part of the former Austrian Empire where the gulyas originates now belongs to Hungary. Admittedly, we do have a tendency in Austria to claim things ours that actually aren't: Milka might be produced in Austria, but is really Swiss (and since Philip Morris/Kraft bought Suchard, the boundaries are even more blurred), Strudels and many other sweets are a Bohemian (read: Czech) invention, our Wiener Schnitzel is apparently a plagiarism as well and has its roots in Milan... but we insist on Hitler being German!
I guess we can be forgiven, acknowledging that the old Empire was very much a melting pot of nations and I think it's honourable, more than anything, that Austria has adopted these culinary gems and defends them with unparalleled fervour. But the controversy doesn't stop here either, because many people will say that the Erdaepfelgulasch I cooked up the other day is really not a goulash at all. To which I respond: in its birthplace, gulyas comes in many different guises - to start with, a real Hungarian gulyas is actually more like a soup (resembling the Austrian Gulaschsuppe) and what we call Gulasch in Austria (pieces of beef slow-cooked with heaps of onions in a paprika-laden sauce) also has various declinations in the East - the most prominent variation probably being the one originating in Szeged, which involves sauerkraut. The potato version could be a meat-free goulash, using vegetarian sausages - I like it because it's quick to make, economical, yet incredibly tasty. If you have a good source for your paprika (and I do, importing it straight from Hungary, where my father's friend's mother grows the stuff in her garden and smokes and dries it herself), this can be as spicy as a Thai or Indian curry or Mexican habanero chillies... so make sure to use this vital ingredient with caution!

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Mar 25, 2005

Truffled egg on spinach-potato mash

Spinachmashpoachedegg_3 Given that large parts of Austria are predominantly catholic, it is not surprising that the most important event in the lithurgical year should bring along an abundance of traditions. For me personally, Easter meant going to church on five consecutive days, starting with the Thursday before Easter - when I was still living at home, that is. Why exactly we call it "Green Thursday" isn't sufficiently defined - most Catholic traditions actually are Celtic rites... like burning incense throughout the house on certain days of the year to keep away evil spirits. One interpretation of the name is that it stems from the Old High German word "grinen - to bewail/to lament". To live up to its name, it is custom to eat something green on the day, usually creamed spinach with sautéed potatoes and a fried egg - which many children lament, as spinach is not their favourite ;-)
This year, I used the traditional ingredients, but prepared quite an unusual version of an old classic: a creamy potato mash interlaced with wilted spinach leaves, topped with a poached egg rolled in rye breadcrumbs and sprinkled with some truffle oil. The original recipe is taken from an issue of "wienerin kochen spezial", I did not have any fresh white truffle at hand (not surprisingly), so I used truffle oil instead - of course I couldn't be that indulging, it is still Lent, after all!

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Mar 10, 2005

Heringsschmaus - herring & apple salad

Heringsschmaus_1 This recipe comes somewhat belated... it is a traditional Austrian dish which is popular at the beginning of Lent. We take our "Fasching", ie the carnival season)
very seriously. For us, carnival starts way back in November, namely on the 11th of the 11th (month, aka November), at precisely 11.11 am (and 11 seconds, for the very pedantic). This rings in a season of costume parties and balls (some in traditional outfits, some to a given theme) lasting until Shrove Tuesday, after which we all fall into a solemn fast until Easter Sunday ;-).
In terms of traditions, there are too many to name here, but I will list the most wide-spread and a personal favourite of mine (to do with food, of course). Every town, or even more so little village, elects a Prince and a Princess who will head up the hustle and bustle of this merry season and who will preside over the main events taking place. Events such as the afore-mentioned balls or cabaret-style performances where aspiring comedians make fun of current local issues, invariably giving local politicians a proper beating, because during Fasching, anything goes. I must say that much as we'd like to believe that we're very tough on them and outspoken, this is nothing compared to any old comedy club here in the UK - the English truly beat any nation in sarcasm and black humour, hands down! I went to the Comedy Store in Picadilly just last week and the talent displayed by those stand-up comedians is simply without par!
A great favourite of mine is a tradition we have at (mainly children's) costume parties. The seasonal food is the "Faschingskrapfen", a mean doughnut filled with jam, usually apricot, or custard. (We nowadays get a great variety of more sophisticated flavours, like custard & pineapple, spiced apple, raspberry and chocolate, etc, but the plain ones are the most common). There can be no costume party without them and I cannot remember a single party where the organiser would not sneak a bogus doughnut in - filled with ketchup or mustard! Imagine the nasty surprise for whoever ended up with this "delicacy"! They would always get a little present as compensation, though, which was mostly worth biting the bullet for (or doughnut, as it were).
The last week before Lent plays host to the best parties and carinval processions on offer - and people party until they drop. The culmination of events takes place on Shrove Tuesday, no pancakes in sight, by the way, and it is not surprising that the following morning sees the worst hangovers in the year!
We like to think that the Heringsschmaus, offering a variety of dishes involving smoked or brined fish (it's Lent, so traditionally, meat wasn't allowed), is the best hang-over cure ever invented - very salty dishes, involving lots of sustenance in the form of mayo and pungent enough to either cure your stomach or drive you to empty it rather quickly, you can only come out a winner! The varieties of fish salads on offer is astonishing, every combination from red cabbage to beetroot is on offer. My favourite always used to be one with red onions and apple, so here's my attempt at recreating it...

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Jan 16, 2005

Kaiserschmarr'n - Emperor's pancakes

Kaiserschmarrn_1According to Plachutta's "Die gute Küche", where this recipe originates, there are hot etymological debates around this popular Austrian dish. "Kaiserschmarr'n" (with "Kaiserschmarren" and "Kaiserschmarrn" equally accepted) is composed of two words: "Kaiser", easy to translate, means "Emperor". As for the "Schmarr'n", the interpretation is much more difficult. It's a bit like "Gemütlichkeit" and "Lebensraum", words which have found their way into English dictionaries for the very reason that they cannot be translated, maybe because they're more of a concept than simply a word. Now, "Schmarr'n" could mean anything from "da**-it" ("So ein Schmarr'n!"), "bullsh**" or "rubbish" when somebody is talking nonsense and "crap" when something isn't working properly etc.
The story I like best is the one where Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. and his wife Elisabeth (commonly known as "Sisi" or "Sissy") are sitting at the dinner table. Apparently, the Empress was ever so conscious about her waistline, but still found it hard to resist sweets, and therefore insisted that any dessert served should be as light as possible - easy on the butter, the cream and the flour, basically. So when she was served Kaiserschmarr'n that night, she found it to be far too calorific and refused to eat it. Franz Joseph, probably growing impatient with his tantrum-throwing young wife, is reported to have said "now let me see what "Schmarr'n" (read: "rubbish") our Leopold (the chef) has cooked up again." and ate his own AND his wife's portion with delight. Thereafter, the dish was called "Kaiserschmarr'n" everywhere in the empire.
The recipe I have chosen is what Plachutta calls "leichte Masse" - this could mean that it is lighter (using far less flour and milk) or that it is easier: for starters, you don't need to turn the pancake, which is a major bonus I should think. I don't like the idea of food hanging from the ceiling or the lampshades and this is exactly where my pancakes would invariably end up if I had to flip them.
Another difference between Kaiserschmarr'n and an American or English pancake that it contains raisins (which are optional) and is torn into bite-sized pieces after being taken out of the oven. Normally served with a Zwetschkenröster (a delicious plum & apple stew laden with cinnamon), I had some gorgeous Hungarian apricot compote at hand which my friend Timi brought me back from her Mum's. If you think you know what apricots taste like, think again - I have tried apricots of different origin and have found the ones coming from Hungary or the Wachau (a wine-producing region on the board of Austria's Danube) to be the top of the crop. They're bursting with flavour, sweet and slightly sour at the same time, a concentrated taste you normally only find in top-notch sticky wines... something you won't forget and once tasted, you certainly will never make jam with anything else again!

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Jan 12, 2005

Hascheeknödel - meatball dumplings

Hascheeknoedel Am I losing touch with my Austrian self? I could be forgiven, I guess, having lived abroad for a large chunk of my adult life. In terms of all things culinary, I have definitely moved away from the smells of my Mum's kitchen, but then, I have moved away from pretty much everything... to have, quite literally, a melting pot of cuisines on my stove. Life's too short to get stuck with just one thing, would I rather spend decades perfecting this one sauce or enjoy life cooking up a new one every week? I guess this is (among many other things, admittedly) the difference between Ramsay, Ducasse et al and myself - because I'd definitely choose the latter!
I haven't cooked anything Austrian since the great pre-Christmas Schweinsbraten fest we had with friends. But at the end of last year, I chose to make a dish with a bit of history. It always reminds me of our first intercultural experience, when my family (parents, that is) hosted an AFS exchange student from Texas for a year. She really enjoyed Austrian food, and Hascheeknödel were her absolute favourite - she therefore repeatedly went to the pub across the street after school to have a sneaky bite of dumplings before heading home. And my Mum kept wondering why she wasn't hungry. At the time, I was a tender 14-year-old and obviously wasn't allowed the same luxuries as she was...
This is the first time I've made these meat-filled dumplings - not because they're difficult to produce, it's just one of these cultural hurdles: here in the UK, a butcher cannot mince beef and pork in one mincer (because of various ethnic groups who cannot eat either the one or the other), so my butcher (and all others I've encountered so far) will only mince pork. But you need both pork AND beef mince for this dish and the mince you achieve with the blade of a knife is not fine enough for my liking. Also, apart from the fact that cold meats, like a fine smoked ham, or dry sausages, like salamis etc, are not even sold at most butchers here, they could not mince them either, since most of them contain a mixture of meats (and who knows what else goes in there ;-)).
You would expect cultural differences like this in two countries situated 2000 km apart, but I assure you that even in Vienna, barely 200 km away from where I grew up, I was unable to get the ingredients for my beloved Knoedel - I doubt that it's federal law, but rather guidelines from the butcher's guild which do not allow them to mince anything but raw meat (any kind), but under no circumstances cooked varieties, apparently because the added salt ruins the grinding plates.
Every ten years or so, the family suffers a bout of Hascheeknödel cravings and last year I had to get my father to go to his local butcher (who has the freedom to mince whatever takes his fancy, as long as it's not breathing anymore) and secure this eclectic mixture of pork, beef and the trimmings and leftovers from Austrian hams and sausages (Bergsteiger, Braunschweiger, Polnische etc) and have it put through the masticator there and then. Dad was kind enough to already prepare it at home, frying the mince with onions, herbs and seasoning, which only left the duty of kneading the dough and enveloping the tiny meatballs with it. As is custom in Upper Austria, I served it with Sauerkraut (which is now widely available at UK supermarkets) and a gulyas sauce - first time in ages I used a ready-mix! I'll be handing myself in to the foodblogging police as soon as I finish this write-up!

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Dec 22, 2004

Obauer's beef roulades on creamy vegetables

Rindsrouladenobauer_2Austria calls an impressive number of gourmet haunts its own, maybe not in terms of absolute numbers, but per capita. Having tragically lost my personal favourite among them recently (Joerg Woerther, of the Schloss Prielau) to a hangar at Salzburg airport where he has been commissioned (I think by Dietmar Mateschitz, owner of Red Bull) to devise airline food which is actually convenient & enticing and edible at the same time - my top choice would have to be the Obauer brothers. Situated in Werfen, which is only a stone's throw from the town of Salzburg (the federal state of Salzburg harboured 3 of 4 restaurants with 19 toques before Woerther's departure), Karl and Rudolf Obauer have been cooking top-notch food for ages. They have got one of the best sommeliers in the country as well and their food is divine.
The best thing about Austrian gourmet temples is that you will always be served matching wines with every course on the degustation menu - and more often than not the head chef will alter the dishes on the menu to support and enhance a particular characteristic in the accompanying wine... which makes for a sublime experience altogether. Should you ever have the chance to visit, make a point of booking a room, as their breakfast is the best I have ever had - if the first meal of the day can be a gourmet experience, this is certainly the one!!!
On one of my visits, I bought their collection of Austrian recipes (I hear a new edition is out, but I have not yet laid my hand on one) - signed by the ingenius siblings themselves, of course - and a few weeks back I re-created on of their dishes. This is certainly not something you would ever be able to order at their restaurant, but their interpretation of a traditional Austrian dish - nothing fancy-shmancy. And I have to admit that I was not overwhelmed by it, it may have been the quality of beef I bought in a hurry from an absolutely useless butcher, but I'd rather continue as I used to do before, picking those recipes which carry so many precious memories of dinners spent at the restaurant. "Trout strudel" being my favourite, which I shall cook up for you soon!

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Aug 22, 2004

Dumpling parade - spinach, bacon, curd and poppyseed (a recipe each, of course!)

TopfenknoedelAt this month's event, "IMBB 7 - You're just the cutest little dumpling", I really feel at home. Being Austrian, I have grown up on dumplings, in their various shapes and formats. They're served as main courses, side dishes or as desserts, they can be savoury or sweet, filled or not... so how could I have chosen just one! I needed to give you a sample of what Austria has to offer in this field.
The principle of dumplings is fairly simple and they're wide-spread for a good reason: Austria used to be a farming nation and dumplings tend to be made purely out of a farm's own produce, so there was no need to buy anything: potatoes and flour for the dough, eggs and butter added if you're lavish, and filled with left-over meats, bacon or fruits from the garden... whatever you have on hand, really.
spinachdumplingsOne of my favourites are spinach dumplings, one of the few varieties which are not filled. Instead, you take white bread (great for using a loaf which has gone stale), soak it in milk, work in some blanched spinach and season generously with nutmeg. Some people add fried bacon bits to the dough, but I prefer a vegetarian version. They're best served with a simple blue cheese sauce. These can actually also be prepared as finger food to pass around at a party: just make smaller dumplings (ca. 2-3 cm in diameter), cook them for less time (no more than 5 minutes) and pass them around on toothpicks with the sauce to dip in!
There's one important rule which you need to observe when cooking dumplings. The water in which you cook them should always be simmering, never cook them at a rolling boil or you might end up with nothing but dough and filling on the bottom of the pan, certainly not in dumpling shape.
speckknoedelNext up is a filled variety: Speckknödel, made from a versatile potato dough which can be used for savoury fillings like this one, but also works a treat envelopping whole fruits (like apricots or plums, stone removed and replaced with a sugar cube). The sweet variety is cooked in water, then rolled in a breadcrumb and butter mix. The version we have here uses very lean, cured bacon as a filling, nothing else added. They're then baked in the oven for 30 minutes before adding an egg and cream mixture. This is traditionally served wih a white cabbage salad or sauerkraut.
germknoedelAnother dumpling technique is to steam them - usually using a yeast-based dough, filled with Powidl, a dark roast plum jam... as for Germknödel. This results in really fluffy dough balls which are topped with poppyseeds and icing sugar.
Other sweet examples for dumplings are Topfenknödel (see picture on top of this post), made of sweet curd and brioche crumbs, the cooked in water and rolled in a sweet butter and crumb mixture. I serve this on a compote of rhubarb and strawberries - a refreshing treat in late spring when these fruits are at their best!

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Jul 31, 2004

Fischgröst'l - sautéed fish, asparagus and potatoes

FishgroestlThis dish has completely blown me away... and here's my confession: I had some leftover fish yesterday as I made sushi the day before - what do you do with a bit of salmon, tuna and some cooked prawns? You phone your Mom and ask for a recipe of something you had there last time you visited. Gröst'l is something very Austrian. The name means "sautéed", but the ingredients as well as the pronunciation in (any given Austrian) dialect suggest a more fitting translation: "sautéed leftovers".
Gröst'l always indicates parboiled potatoes, mostly sautéed with some onion and some left-over Sunday roast or cold meats. A very rustic affair. The one I cooked up last night, however, is a tad more sophisticated, in fact, it is tasty and unusual enough to be served even at a dinner party - such a great combination of flavours, the earthyness of the potatoes, the fish, the asparagus, some fruity sunblushed tomatoes, a bit of chilli and all rounded up by a little hint of creamy sauce and fresh herbs. To die for, I tell you! My husband and I had a bit of a disagreement when it came to the best wine match - I suggested a Pouilly-Fumé whereas he was very pleased with himself having chosen a Meursault (Louis Jadot, Burgundy 2000) - don't get me wrong, it was lovely, but I was looking for less acidity and more sugar and fruit... I suggest you buy two and have a little cross-tasting going on - and do let me know what you think!

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Jun 28, 2004

My Mum's Schweinsbraten - roast pork with dumplings and white cabbage

SchweinsbratenTraditional Austrian fare this is, although my friend Kate says they do a very similar dish in the Czech Republic as well. But that's the thing with our food: the Austrian Empire once spread over so many countries and regions that our culinary heritage is very varied indeed. So we claim a few things to be ours which originated in countries which no longer form part of Austria - gulyas from Hungary, dumplings, strudel et al. from the Czech Republic, Schnitzel from Milan... the list goes on an on.
One of my personal favourites is Schweinsbraten (or Schweinebraten), a traditional Sunday roast - it's infused with heaps of garlic, coriander and caraway seeds, cooked in the oven for many hours, then served with dumplings, potatoes and a warm white cabbage salad with fried bacon bits. The best part is that you make this pork with the skin on, the end result being a very tasty and super crispy pork scratching - a delicacy everybody will fight over at the lunch table!
The roaster my mum uses for this dish is a Römertopf. It is made of clay and forms an oval shape, you prepare it by letting it soak in cold water overnight. Then the clay will not absorb the cooking juices but instead let off a bit of humidity during the roasting process and keep the meat nice and moist. I use an oval cast iron casserole dish with lid from LeCreuset.
I always ask my butcher to score the pork skin for me as it is difficult to cut through it without breaking through to the meat, and I brought this particular roast home with me from Austria. It was just one of the many items I bought there, my suitcase was so stuffed with kilos of meat, sausages, bread, chocolates and other foodstuff that I ended up paying more than 90 Euros for excess baggage - but just for this roast alone I have to say that it was worth every penny!

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Jun 04, 2004

(Not-so) traditional Viennese Apfelstrudel

Apfelstrudel_1 Although I have been cooking for years now and think of myself as quite a confident cook, I have never dared to venture into making real, original, traditional Viennese apple strudel. The reason being that producing your own filo pastry has scared the living daylight out of me, I have visions of my mum in the kitchen, throwing some extremely thin dough around and catching it with her hands, always in danger of tearing it and having to start afresh.
So in an attempt to overcome my phobia, I asked my mum to give me a tutorial and I was extremely lucky, for the strudel turned out fine at the first try - and it was edible! I altered my Mum's recipe slightly by adding whole raisins and mixing some ground nuts in with the breadcrumbs - but as with many traditional recipes, there's so many variations around that I cannot claim to have invented it! You can serve the strudel cold with whipped cream or warm with a warm custard sauce or crème anglaise, vanilla icecream works well, too!
The great thing about this recipe is that you can use the filo pastry with many different fillings - try cherries, vanilla quark and raisins, plums, pears, poppyseed and plums, but also savoury options, like spinach and ricotta or potato, onion and bacon. Some people add sour cream or creme fraiche to the strudel, and some won't bake it on a rack, but put it in a pan, cover it with milk and cook until all the liquid is absorbed/set. In any case, grate your own breadcrumbs from old white bread (or even old brioche, if you have some at hand) rather than using artificially created ones from the supermarket, you won't believe the difference it makes!
I realise now that I have been paranoid for no reason and you will certainly be able to produce fine results even if, unlike me, you have not got a qualified psychotherapist around...

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Jun 02, 2004

Heurigen delights - Liptauer and blue cheese spread

LiptaueretalIn Vienna, summer is synonymous with evenings spent at the Heurigen. You get hot summer months with excellent weather most of the time and there's nothing better for cooling off after a long day than to head off to the vineyards surrounding the capital. Every wine maker has the right to sell off their produce to the public, so they open up their gardens for you to sit on wooden benches and tables and serve their own wine, which you can enjoy on its own or mixed with soda or lemonade/Almdudler.
Traditionally, you were supposed to bring your own picnic, but nowadays the food served has become as, if not more important than the wine. The food on offer ranges from a variety of spreads which you enjoy with bread and breadsticks, salads and traditionally cooked meats and their accompaniments, as well as a number of mouth-watering desserts.
A Heuriger is really the perfect place to be on a hot summer's night or weekend, with a light breeze coming in over the hills it is a bit cooler than in the city. Should you ever plan to visit a Vienna, make sure you include a visit to the Heurigen in your programme - you're bound to love the relaxed atmosphere and food on offer, but if going at night make sure you bring some mosquito-repellent!
Liptauer is the most traditional spread around, and there are as many different recipes for it as there are Heurigen! Some contain well over 20 ingredients, but I am keeping my feet on the gound here. I had to substitute the original Brimsen with Quark, and I went easy on the anchovies by just using a tiny amount of paste. This spread is wonderfully refreshing, with the virtually fat-free quark and the chopped gherkins, capers and onion. A bit more substantial is the blue cheese spread for which I used a Bleu d'Auvergne. The bread I chose was a crusty rye loaf and some Flesserl - plaited poppyseed rolls sprinkled with salt... the best bun ever invented!
As the spreads are so easy to make they are ready in minutes. You can serve them as a starter or amuse-bouche, with some crusty bread or vegetable dip sticks, get out the wine and create some Heurigen atmosphere in your own garden!

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Jun 01, 2004

Germknödel with Powidl & sweet poppy seeds

GermknoedelOne of the culinary excentricities of Austria is that it is quite common for people to make sweet food a main course. It is acceptable to devour a whole apple strudel or a variety of dumplings filled with fruit (apricots, plums, strawberry etc) and a whole array of other dishes considered desserts as the only thing you're having for lunch. Our Hungarian friends Timi and Levente had been bugging us for months now to make Germknoedel which they had eaten in Austria a few years ago. Serena also posted a comment recently when I was writing about my trip to Austria requesting a recipe for these delicious dumplings, so here we go.
Germknödel are big dumplings made out of a yeasty dough and filled with Powidl - a sort of plum jam which needs to cook for hours and hours to reduce down to an almost black paste tasting more of dried prunes than fresh plums. Timi told me today that back in Hungary her grandmother and other old women in the village would meet once a year to make this jam together, killing the endless hours in which the jam has to cook by drinking mulled wine by the bucket-load... I have asked her to put me in touch with her gran, of course, obviously I will be going for research purposes only, culinary and culturally research that is.
But back to the Germknödel. They are prepared as you would expect for a yeast dough, with lots of resting and rising and hoping and praying involved. You then stuff them with the Powidl and neatly close the dough around them, letting them rise some more. They are cooked over steam, spreading a kitchen towel over a pot of boiling water and securing it with a piece of string, then putting the dumplings on the towel and covering them with another pot (upside down) to create some sort of steam bath for the Germknödel (no aromatherapy involved here, though!). It would probably work equally well in a steamer, although I have never tried this. When they are done, they should be firm outside but wonderfully fluffy inside, and they are served hot with some melted butter and a mixture of poppy seeds and icing sugar - delicious!

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May 31, 2004

Kässpätzle and Eiernockerl

KaesspaetzleDuring my recent holiday in Austria, I made a point of eating almost exclusively traditional dishes. Not just because we had Lyn with us, a South-African friend who had to be initiated, but also because I thoroughly enjoy eating this comforting food every once in a while. I could not survive exclusively on this diet as dishes tend to be quite substantial and not of the healthiest kind, but I just cannot resist them when my mum prepares them at home. This time I made sure I was not just eating, but also watching and helping in the kitchen. You will be seeing more Austrian recipes over the next few days and weeks - today's post is for all of you who have been skiing in the Alps at some point and had a delicious pasta dish in one of the comfy chalets - Kässpätzle. You must have fallen in love with them.
kaesspaetzlecloseeiernockerlThe word “Spätzle” (or spaetzle) refers to tiny pieces of dough, something between fresh pasta and dumplings. Easy, cheap and quick to make, these little nuggets are used as a side dish for gulash and other meat dishes. However, the best way of eating them is either baked in the oven (for Kässpätzle) or (with the individual pieces slightly bigger) fried in a pan with eggs (for Eiernockerl). Last week we made both out of one batch of dough - either follow our lead or double the quantities for the egg mixture or the cheese accordingly.
For the Spätzle you will need a special tool, a Spätzle-maker or a Spätzle-mesh. I have tried both and find the former much easier to handle. With the latter, the dough has to be of a certain consistency, otherwise half of your pasta will be overcooked before you have pushed everything through into the water.
Spätzle-makers are available in specialist shops or by mail order, cooking.com has some pictures and descriptions. There are two kinds: one resembles a food mill and the other a cheese grater. Both push the dough through little holes to drop tiny dumplings in simmering water where they cook in no more than 3 minutes. You then finish your Spätzle either in a pan on the stove or in the oven - with gooey cheese (go for traditional Vorarlberger Bergkäse or other strong hard cheeses like Gruyère or Appenzeller), eggs, fried bacon, mushrooms... whatever takes your fancy, really!

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