Saturday, May 12, 2007

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #16: Something New From the Friendly Skies


This month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge host is Sara of I Like to Cook, who started the event as a weekly feature on her blog as way to cook from her cookbooks she rarely used. Not unlike the way Daring Bakers has grown from two to 30+ members, Weekend Cookbook Challenge has grown into a monthly "must do" event.

The theme this month is "Something New"; where we are instructed to cook from either a new cookbook, try a new technique, or play with a new ingredient. You may also know that along with the monthly official theme, I've been having my own little personal sub-theme of food from modes of transportation. I've featured food from ships with good hearty food from Great Lakes freighters and ocean liner elegant dinning from the Titanic . I've featured food from trains with a retro salad recipe from the Harvey House; the restaurant chain found at train stations and who provided most food service for trains during the golden age of rail. Now we are going to take to the air with, are you ready for this, airplane food. Yes, you read that right, airplane food!!

Because, believe it or not and really not that long ago, airlines served more than a bag of stale pretzels or six honey roasted peanuts to their passengers .


When air travel was in its infancy in the early and middle 1920's, mail planes would sometimes fly a few passengers for extra money. Meals consisted of what you brought with you or if you were lucky, hot coffee poured from a thermos and maybe a sandwich that was handed out by the co-pilot. As passenger travel increased so did the need to provide more than a cup of coffee served by the co-pilot. By the early 30's, companies like Pan Am, TWA, United Airlines, and American Airlines were officially carrying passengers (all these airlines started as mail carriers in the 20's) so they expanded services to include a stewardess who, along with being a registered nurse, also served hot meals, handed out slippers on overnight flights, polished shoes, and even carried a train schedule so passengers could make connections. By the late 30's and through until World War II, air travel grew and became more common place. This was the age of elegant travel when Pan Am flew their luxurious Clipper Ships and passengers were treated to cocktail services in mirrored art deco smoking lounges


seven course meals served on fine china with real silverware


sleeping compartments


and even breakfast in bed.


After jet travel became ordinary in the late 70's with the signing of the Airline Deregulation Act, Amercian based airlines used food service and gimmicky slogans as a way to distinguish themselves from each other and attract passenger loyalty. This was the age of the upstairs swinging bars in 747 jumbo jets complete with disco balls and "luv couches".


However, as the airlines became more like buses with wings and passengers began to demand cheap prices vs service, the quality of food service declined and the only place to get fairly decent food was if you were in first or business class. As recently the late 90's (which I guess really isn't that recent anymore is it?) I would get quite good meals from Northwest Airlines and American Airlines, who I traveled with frequently for business. This was especially true if I ordered a special meal like the vegetarian meal or the fruit plate in coach or if I was upgraded to first class (I was flying an average of 45 weeks a year for business in the middle 90's and I racked up elite frequent flyer status with several airlines during that time).

In 1993 American Airlines even put out a cookbook entitled "A Taste of Something Special".


This was a purchased gift item that would allow the passengers to re-create at home the chef inspired meals created for first class and overseas flights; meals like Chef Paul Prudhomme's Steak Louisana and Alice Water's Chateubriand with Sage. I located a copy about a month ago on Amazon when I began researching this post. I was absolutely amazed that it included dishes I remembered being served like the wonderful Greek salad and the salad that accompanied the very edible mesquite chicken breast, roasted red and green pepper salad.


Last week while I was visiting Haymarket, one of the vendors had this gorgeous array of red, yellow, and green peppers as well as cilantro and basil. I picked up two red, yellow, and green peppers took them home, roasted them and made this wonderfully sweet but tangy salad. I ate it with bread, served alongside a chicken breast, and straight out of the container. Each day, it got better and better as the flavours of the basil and cilantro combined with the sweet peppers (roasting peppers makes them smoky sweet). On Wednesday, I decided to top an omelette of herbs and cheese with the last of the pepper salad.

As I was in Fairfield, it meant I had to make the omelette in the microwave, which worked surprisingly well. I mixed the eggs with a bit of light cream and added basil, chives, cilantro and parsley. I buttered a microwave safe dinner plate and poured the egg mixture into the plate. Cooking the egg mixture on 70% for 3 minutes, I loosened the edges and cooked the eggs for another 2 minutes on high. I shaved some swiss cheese on top and microwaved it for another 30 seconds. Then carefully folded over the omelette and topped it with the roasted pepper salad. I served it with crusty French bread and a glass of wonderful French rose. Even though the omelette didn't have that nice brown crust that you get when you cook them on a stove, it was very good!

A nice reminder of a by-gone time when flying was "Something Special"...


Roasted Pepper Salad
Adapted from "A Taste of Something Special";
a cookbook featuring chef inspired meals served on American Airlines during the middle 90's

2 red peppers
2 yellow peppers
2 green peppers
1 head garlic
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
dash sugar
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste.

Roast garlic and peppers. Remove skin and seeds from peppers and slice into 2" slices. Place in 1 quart plastic container with a lid. Add roasted garlic and chopped basil and cilantro. Combine olive oil, salt, sugar, and add to peppers. Stir until all the peppers are coated with olive oil and add fresh ground pepper. Let marinate overnight before serving.

To Roast Peppers: If you have a gas stove, on medium flame, place the peppers directly on the stove burner. Turn with long tongs as each side, the tops and bottoms get charred. If you don't have a gas burner, brush peppers with light coating of olive oil and place on large baking sheet. Using the broiler in the oven, roast peppers turning as each side becomes charred. After peppers are roasted, place them in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap for about 20 mintues. This loosens the skin to make them easier to remove the skin. Do Not Wash the peppers. This will remove the smoky flavour.

To Roast Garlic: Remove as much of the outer paper from the garlic as possible. Slice the top off exposing the tops of the cloves. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper and wrap in foil. Cook for 35 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Squeeze roasted garlic out of the head and into a bowl. (This is really good just schmeered on a thin slices of crusty Italian bread and drizzled with olive oil!).

Editorial note/comment: This may be completely unnecessary but just so I don't get hate comments. I know flight attendants are some of the hardest working people in the air with a thankless job as over worked, understaffed "babysitters" to the largest fleet of buses in the air. It isn't their fault that the companies that run the airlines have decided to eliminate food service, take away pillows, and cram five seats into the space designed for three. When you fly, please be nice to them. They have long days and believe me, appreciate you thanking them!