Thursday, February 5, 2015

A is for Austria

For our first go at an international (and alphabetical) cooking experience, we chose Austria.

Austria is a European Country that neighbors the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, and Switzerland.

It's cuisine is diverse and shares a lot of elements with it's closest European neighbors. Beef and Pork feature prominently in their menus, as do sweet pastries.

Their cultural contributions include Father of Psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, Composers like Liszt, Strauss, Haydn, and Mozart, Artist Gustav Klimt, Scientists like Christian Doppler and Erwin Schrödinger, and poets such as Franz Werfel and Rainer Maria Rilke. We also have Austria to thank for Falco, but more on that later.

The Selection Process

We came to our decision to start with Austria by first figuring out what countries in the world begin with the letter "A" using this handy-dandy list.  We were surprised to find that 17 countries share this initial, including Antartica and Azerbaijan. While we are interested in an adventure, we definitely leaned toward the familiar for this first go-around. We pretty quickly narrowed our choice down to Argentina and Austria.

From there we started doing research on the cuisines of both countries. Here are some of the places we checked out:


A Tango of Flavors: 10 Traditional Argentinian Recipes
Argentinian Food


Viennese Cuisine and Famous Austrian Dishes
Austrian Food – A Native’s Guide To Best Dishes and Austrian Recipes

Argentina seemed to offer some great choices in the barbecue department, but since our family heritage is German, Austria seemed a fitting start to our journey.

The Recipes

At that point we went on a quest for the perfect recipes to try. We searched both online and at the library, but honestly, we found it difficult to find Austrian cookbooks at our local library. These are the recipes we initially landed on:

Viennese Potato Soup
Old Viennese-Style Roast Pork with Fried Potatoes
Apple Strudel à la Sacher

The Process

Next, we shopped for our ingredients. This is where we hit some challenges.

For example, a closer reading of the Strudel recipe would have immediately clued us into the fact that as amateurs on a tight schedule, we had no business taking on this particular dessert. In fact, as the day of our first meal approached we let go of that particular fantasy in stages. First we thought we might just replace the hand-pulled pastry that had to be done well-ahead of time with store bought pastry, but the more we read about it, the more we realized that this was no real solution. Next, we looked into purchasing a delicious Apple Strudel from our local (and wonderful) German restaurant (The Gerst Haus). Buying an entire Strudel was well out of our price range, so then we thought we would just throw in the towel and buy something pre-made at the grocery (perhaps in the frozen section?). Let me tell you that unless you have a hankering for Pilsbury Toaster Strudels, that option is off the table as well. So... we fell back on a dessert that, while not technically Austrian, was close enough for us- a delicious Mozart Chocolate Bar by Reber (Product of Germany). Here is our rational: if we could buy it at our local Fresh Market, surely we could buy it in Austria. Besides, Mozart was Austrian, right? Good enough.

Another challenge was translating the recipes from Austrian to English, and more importantly, the measurements from metric to US/Imperial (bet you didn't know it was called Imperial). Talk about problem-solving. This process is not for the faint of heart or the math-challenged. Annie did that part with the help of Google Translate and a Metric to Imperial Converter.

Another challenge we faced was finding certain ingredients, specifically vanilla sugar (for the Strudel we didn't make) and juniper berries. Note to self: When looking for ingredients you haven't personally owned before, you might not want to start at Walmart. They have a lot of stuff, but apparently they don't see enough demand for juniper berries.

All of that said, with only 2 recipes to conquer, we had pretty smooth sailing the evening of the event. We set the mood with an awesome Austrian yodeling Pandora station (yes, that's a thing) which featured a lot of music from Edith Diepold, the Austrian Yodeling Queen.

Yeah, we could have listened to Mozart, but we went all in with the yodeling.

By the way, we could have also listened to Falco's Rock Me Amadeus and Der Kommissar (Austria's contribution to the 80's), but there is a limit to my tolerance for vocal scratching- Ruh-ruh-ruh-rock me, Amadeus!

Once we had set the right tone, we worked together to prep the ingredients and get them sizzling in the oven (roast) and simmering on the stove (soup).

We noticed that our soup didn't really look like the soup pictured on the website, but it was really good anyway, and the roast pork with vegetables was AMAZING (juniper berries, who knew?).

The best part was that we sat down to a family meal together, and got to enjoy our creations while having great conversation, and yes, while listening to more yodeling.

What We Learned

  • Austrian food is closely related to German food. In fact, we had a hard time distinguishing them.
  • There is such a thing as the Austrian Yodeling Queen. You should check her out!
  • When trying new recipes/cuisines, read the recipes closely ahead of time, and be realistic about what you can accomplish.
  • Austrians take their Strudels seriously, and short cuts to success with them appear non-existent.
  • Converting from Metric to Imperial measurements is time-consuming, but estimation helps make it less so.
  • Mozart Chocolate is pretty amazing, but pricey (and German).
  • Google Translator is a handy tool when translating webpages on the Internet.
  • Austrian food is rich, and in some ways saltier than we were used to.

What We Thought Overall

Tim: I liked the pork best. The rub that featured the juniper berries was super flavorful and worth revisiting. I wish we had been able to take a run at the Strudel, but the candy bar was very satisfying, and all I really needed after such a big meal. I liked the soup as well (even though I typically shy away from mushrooms), and it was very easy to make for such a tasty reward.

Annie: I really liked the soup. I thought it was very savory and the mushrooms didn't even bother me. It was really salty, though. The pork was also good, but I couldn't eat much of it because it was so filling. I liked being able to sit down to a meal that I helped to make.


Check out our 30-second slideshow to see images from our Austrian Cooking Adventure:

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Greetings! We welcome your comments. Please keep in mind that we are amateur cooks, and we are going to make mistakes. This project is more about learning and fun than it is about perfectly recreating a particular recipe or cuisine. We'd love to learn with you. Cheers!