Austin360Cooks: How to pack a picnic for a plane

A recent weekend trip with the gals in my cookbook club brought the perfect opportunity to try out what I’ve always wanted to do: feast on a gourmet snack spread on the plane.

I’d rather eat well on the plane so that upon arrival to my destination, I don’t have to frantically rush for a quick taco fix. Our rental house was at least an hour from the airport, not including the trip to the grocery store we’d have to make, so we avoided landing with an empty stomach, scrambling for options.

This plane picnic wasn’t so hard to pull off because we all brought a little something to contribute. Since we are in a cooking club, we might have made a bit of extra effort, but even if you only pack a single element of this spread, you’ll have a happier flight.

We made rosemary and fig-glazed walnuts, individually wrapped cheese plates and dried strawberries, which tasted like the best fruit roll-up we’d ever had. We packed spiced fried chickpeas, olives and roasted pancetta-wrapped dates stuffed with Brazil nuts.

We ate a substantial, healthful meal to get our trip started off on the right foot. The globe grapes, almost crunchy, were bursting at the skins with pulp and juice. They nestled into a stainless steel bento box with chocolate truffles in the other stacked container.

One friend made ginger scones, just in case anyone was dealing with nausea (the ginger can help), and brought paint-pot-size plastic containers of crème fraiche. Wrapped in foil, the scones didn’t crumble and lasted us well into the weekend.

I decided to bring some cocktail mix but wanted to make my own, inspired by a recent issue of Spoonful magazine, but the real treat was the cocktails that went with it.

We ordered rum and tequila with glasses of ice on the plane and crafted our own cocktails right there on the tray tables. I used small TSA-approved glass bottles that I filled with a dark and syrupy concoction made with caramelized pineapple muddled with bitters and lime juice. A friend made a three-chili honey and kumquat margarita mix that was better than any cocktail we had the entire weekend on the beach.

Because we’d spent a little time planning what we’d be eating and drinking on the plane, the vacation started early, in our kitchens at home as we prepared for eating well on the flight. We savored the process, relished the company and were satiated before we even arrived. I’ll never travel without a spread like that again.

Tips for a plane picnic

Small vacuum-packed bags of herbed olives can be found easily at grocery stores these days, including the brand we liked, Olove.

You can ask your favorite cheesemonger if they have mini trays that you can use to make individual cheese plates for the flight. Wrap them well in plastic wrap.

Don’t prep too far in advance. You’ll want to cut the vegetable slices and put them into plastic zip-top bags the morning of your flight.

Don’t forget crackers and nuts. You never know what salty snacks they will pass out on the flight, so bring whatever you’re craving and will go well with you other snacks.

The TSA isn’t reliable about enforcement of the policy restricting jams, honey and other spreads, but technically, even soft cheeses could be thrown out at the checkpoint. We were able to travel with small glass jars of tapenade and apricot jam, but we knew they might get tossed.

For a really healthy lunch, grain salads travel well. Since these types of salads don’t get soggy, you can dress the salad before you leave for the airport.

Pack the snacks in plastic containers with a lid or a bento box that you can close up and then wash upon arrival to your destination. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are nice to have on hand, and we used disposable plasticware.

We used one small soft-sided cooler bag to hold the chilled food, but everything else, even the cheese plates, survived just fine in carry-on bags. We ended up using the cooler bag later in the trip for drinks on the beach.

Fried Chickpeas

These savory fried chickpeas are packed with protein and can be eaten by themselves for a midday or anytime snack. Perfect for vegetarians and/or anyone with gluten intolerance, I find these a refreshing change from the everyday search for a snack for my vegetarian daughter. Besides, since they taste so good, the whole family loves them! Olive oil, when not cooked at high temperatures, is still a good oil to cook with and still will impart flavor and nutrition. However, if you don’t want to use that, a good substitute with a neutral profile would be safflower or sunflower oil.

— Shefaly Ravula

1 (29 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and patted dry

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander

Heat the oil in a wide, shallow saute pan over medium-low heat. You want the oil to be hot but not smoking at all. Add the chickpeas that are fully drained and mostly dry (this will avoid oil splatter).

Increase the heat to high and fry for about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring regularly, until the chickpeas begin to brown. Some of the skins may begin peeling off by themselves too.

Stir in the salt, cumin and ground coriander. Turn heat to medium and continue to fry for 2 to 3 more minutes. The spices should not blacken. Remove from heat and season further to taste.

— From Shef’s Kitchen (

Brown Sugar Rosemary Walnuts

1 cup brown sugar or natural cane sugar

2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt

1 teaspoon chopped rosemary leaves

1/4 cup sesame seeds

2 large egg whites

4 cups shelled walnut halves

1/3 cup chopped dried figs, stems trimmed

Heat oven with racks in the center to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, salt, rosemary and sesame seeds.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites. Add the walnuts and figs to the whites, and toss until they are evenly coated — it’ll take a minute or so. Sprinkle the sugar-spice mixture over the nuts and toss again.

Split the nuts between the two prepared baking sheets in a single layer, separating the clumps.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the walnuts are toasted golden and the coating is no longer wet. Cool for a few minutes, then slide the parchment and nuts off the hot baking sheets onto a cool surface to cool completely. These will keep for a week or so in an airtight container. Makes 1 pound of nuts.

— Adapted from a recipe by 101 Cookbooks (

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Austin360 Eats

Ohio lawmaker's bill to name Labrador retriever state dog gets 'ruff' response from PETA
Ohio lawmaker's bill to name Labrador retriever state dog gets 'ruff' response from PETA

Ohio State Rep. Jeff Rezabek wants to name the Labrador retriever as the official state dog, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would rather that the American mutt get the special designation. PETA, an animal rights group with 6.5 million members, fired off a letter to Rezabek, R-Clayton, to tell him that his well-intentioned legislation ...
Wednesday events include CineNoche film, Jon Bonné wine dinner
Wednesday events include CineNoche film, Jon Bonné wine dinner

The Sword album release, King Buffalo at Mohawk outdoor 7:30 p.m. March 21. 912 Red River St. Accepting the award for Best Metal Band at the Austin Music Awards last month, members of the Sword made it a point to note they hadn’t asked anyone to vote for them. That’s no surprise, as the work they’ve done speaks for...
New exhibit explores Texas’ foodways, agricultural past and present
New exhibit explores Texas’ foodways, agricultural past and present

Did you know the Poteet Strawberry Festival started in 1948 as a way to encourage World War II veterans to get into farming? That’s one of the many Texas food factoids you’ll learn at a new exhibit at the Texas Capitol Visitors Center called “A Diverse Blend: Celebrating Texas Food,” which is open until Sept. 30. Although the...
Why you should think big when you buy a cutting board
Why you should think big when you buy a cutting board

In the food world, there’s an inclination to label this equipment or that ingredient as a must-have. (Food media types such as myself: guilty.) If the ordinary home cook had every one of these must-haves, well, there wouldn’t be room for anything else in the house. But you should really own a large wooden cutting board. A second wooden...
First love, Italian scenery shine in ‘Call Me by Your Name’
First love, Italian scenery shine in ‘Call Me by Your Name’

Here are a few interesting new releases that are available now from cable and digital providers as well as some titles that have recently become available through streaming services. Video on Demand “Call Me by Your Name”: In this sumptuous sun-kissed drama, Italian director Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love”) uses a perceptive script...
More Stories