Believe it or not, we were around food a lot as children. Whether it was at the decades-old family restaurant in Vienna where we spent childhood summers or our father’s restaurants in New York, there was no shortage of restaurant talk and lingo. For us as kids, there was little difference between everyday life and the restaurant life. My sister, Elisabeth, and I never intended to end up in the restaurant business as a career, but it shouldn’t be any surprise that we’ve made our life our work and our work our life. When you’re around the restaurant business for so long—the backwards schedules, the hours, the lifestyle—it creates a certain rhythm in your body, where 7 p.m. on Saturday night means one thing and one thing only: conducting a complicated orchestra called dinner service. Honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
We are both immensely grateful for the rich cultural atmosphere we were around as children. While we spent a lot of time in Austria with our father’s family, our mother’s family is steeped in the Slavic traditions of Kansas City, Kansas, and Strawberry Hill. Growing up in New York City, most of our friends were foreign, so dinner at a friend’s house usually meant experiencing a new culture. But what continues to inspire both of us most were the daily lunches (not dinners) we enjoyed at Oma’s (German for Grandmother) house in the Austrian countryside. We were awoke in the morning with the aromas of whatever Oma had plucked out of the garden that day. As we filled our late mornings with bike rides and hikes, Oma was at home putting the finishing touches on what was sure to be a lively feast. Lunch was served promptly at 1 p.m., and we learned quickly that being late was not only taboo but also meant you had last pick of the schnitzels. Ten to twelve of us—uncles, aunts, cousins, and neighbors—gathered to share a fresh, simple meal served family-style that would lull us all into our afternoon siesta.
These days rarely do both of us have a night off together (and when we do it is usually a holiday), but cooking is always a team effort at the Grünauer household. Not because we are some idyllic picture-perfect family—to which our heated exchanges and colorful language can attest—but because this is the way we work and consequently live. Divvy up the responsibilities and get to work. We have to eat don’t we? When we do cook at home, our recipes tend to be representative of the season, a nod to our youth, and easy to execute. Time generally isn’t an issue as long as we aren’t too distracted from a glass of wine and conversation.
Earthy beets, vibrant lettuce and crisp cucumbers were usually in high season during our summer trips. As a result, this salad is an easy and nostalgic pairing to any meal for us. The only trick here is freshness. If you don’t have the luxury of a backyard garden, we recommend checking out the CSA at Karbaumer farms (karbaumerfarm.com). It’s as close to Oma’s garden as we can find!
3 peeled and finely sliced cucumbers
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
1 bunch fresh dill
1-1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
After peeling and finely slicing the cucumbers, toss the slices in salt and let sit covered in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Rinse the cucumbers and add red-wine vinegar, chopped dill and sour cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh dill.
There is something about simplicity that really gets the palate going. Frittaten soup or another consommé variety is the traditional way to start any Austrian meal. You can make the crepes in advance, and easily add them to the consommé for a quick aperitif.
Frittatensuppe Savory crepes
2-1/2 cups milk
2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tablespoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons parsley
Chopped chives as garnish
Combine the ingredients thoroughly with a whisk. It should be a thin pancake batter. Pour 3 ounces of batter in a well-oiled pan over medium high heat. Flip when golden brown. Let the crepes cool, then slice into thin strips
Add the sliced crepes to your favorite consommé and garnish with freshly chopped chives.
6 cups mirepoix of carrots, celery and onion
3 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups finely chopped button mushrooms
3 pounds ground sirloin
2 cups beef broth
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup white wine
5 whole stewed and peeled tomatoes
5 cups tomato sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Premium or homemade pappardelle, cooked
Parmesan cheese, to taste
Basil leaves, for garnish
Chop mirepoix in a food processor until it has a rough consistency. Sauté mirepoix and garlic in olive oil on low heat with fresh-ground black pepper and salt until onions are translucent. Add finely chopped mushrooms and let simmer. In the same pan, add ground sirloin and sauté until fully cooked, then add beef broth. Add cream and let reduce, then add white wine. Cover pot and let simmer for 1 hour on low heat. Add whole peeled tomatoes and sauce, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.
Serve over pappardelle, and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and whole basil leaves.
Cabbage rolls are something we do at the restaurant and something you see in many different iterations across Europe. This Polish version is something we learned here in Kansas City, Kansas. As you can see, if you have the time it’s an easy way to feed a group.
Golumpki Serves 4-6
1-1/2 pounds ground pork
1-1/2 pounds ground sirloin
3 cups partially cooked white rice
1 bunch fresh parsley
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium chopped onions
1 head blanched napa cabbage
5 cups beef broth
5 stewed and peeled tomatoes
4 cups tomato sauce
1 cup white wine
2 cups sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix raw ground beef and pork with partially cooked rice, finely chopped parsley, garlic, onions, salt and pepper. Stuff blanched cabbage leaves with the pork/beef mixture. In a large, deep pot, cover the bottom surface with the stuffed cabbage rolls and fill the pot to the top of the cabbage rolls with a mixture of half water and half beef broth. Cover pot and let simmer on medium heat for an hour and a half. Add tomatoes, sauce, salt, pepper and white wine. Cover and let simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. When the sauce starts to reduce, add the sour cream. Serve cabbage rolls with sauce and garnish with fresh parsley.
Summer berries with ice cream
1 pint sliced strawberries
1 pint whole raspberries
1 cup sugar
2 ounces (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup of cognac or brandy
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Premium vanilla ice cream
Fresh mint for garnish
Mix berries with sugar in a large mixing bowl, and cover to let macerate overnight in the refrigerator. Sauté macerated berries with butter, stirring constantly until sauce thickens, then add cognac. Let simmer until the cognac reduces. Serve over vanilla ice cream. Garnish with fresh mint.