I used to fly from Heathrow to Scotland on the BMI earlybird flight more often than I like to remember. In theory, you could get a breakfast on the flight: in practice, getting a vegetarian breakfast required booking it at least 48 hours in advance. (The flight was one of those you can book 12 hours in advance – I don’t know if they still exist, but on at least one occasion I decided to go to Edinburgh if I could get a seat, rang up BMI in the afternoon, booked myself on the next day’s flight… and found I was 36 hours too late to get a vegetarian breakfast.)
The one time I managed to book in advance and navigate their special meal booking system to get a vegetarian breakfast on the plane, another vegetarian was sitting several rows ahead of me, so when he asked could he have a vegie breakfast, he got mine: and no, the flight attendant did not apologise for the mistake.
Food on short flights exists mainly to give the passengers something to do. (Actually, I suppose the practice of serving meals probably initially began because flight attendants, whose primary duty is to save the passengers lives in the event of disaster, were always mostly female, and what do you have women do when they’re not saving lives? Serve food.)
On long flights, though, you do need to eat something – even if you’re not doing anything: and of course the crew need to be fed: they’re working. The only problem is, and particularly if you’re vegetarian: the food is usually vile, where it isn’t inedible.
My solution is baked cheese on bread. If you don’t make your own bread, splurge on good stuff. Buy some good Edam, or some other medium-hard cheese – also, a nice melty cheese (well, I usually use cheddar) with a complementary flavour/texture.
Cut the bread into slices. Not too thin – too thin will be too crisp, which means crumbs. Place the slices on a baking tray. Turn the oven on: hot. Cut slices of Edam, layer over the bread till each slice is covered out to the edge. Put the tray in the oven and wait till the Edam is melted (the reason I used Edam for this is that it melts without getting crispy). Start cutting slices of Cheddar or whatever you’re using.
When the Edam has melted – this might take five to ten minutes, depending how hot your oven is and how thick your slices of bread – take the tray out of the oven, and cover the Edam with slices of cheddar. Press each slice of cheddar down into the melted Edam. Carefully – the melted cheese is hot. What, you burned your fingers? Well, next time, read to the end of the paragraph before you follow the instructions.
Put the tray back in the oven until the top layer of cheese is crispy. Probably another 20 minutes. If you take the slices out of the oven and stand them up on end against each other like you were building a card house, they’ll cool without getting the least bit soggy, but I have also had good results by just switching the oven off and leaving the slices to cool on the tray in the oven.
When the slices are completely cool, wrap them individually in cling film.
That’s it. Each slice is a mini-meal – a carb-protein mix, compact, tasty, and filling. If you have space to pack a few pieces of fruit – an apple or a satsuma – an apple followed by a piece of this baked cheese on bread is practically a balanced meal.
When everyone else is staring aghast at their awful trays filled with instant swill, you can just ask for a glass of wine, sit back, open up one or two of your cling-film packets, and enjoy.
If prepared as directed, these slices keep several days – just bake thoroughly, cool completely, and wrap tightly.
Variations: If you like a bit of onboard heat, sprinkling a tiny amount of chilli powder between one layer of cheese and the next is excellent. I also like a little dried rosemary.
Warnings: For all of love, do not even contemplate doing this with processed cheese.