Camping Adventures

A dear old friend of mine posed an interesting and somewhat non-trivial question recently: “What do I cook on a 5-week camping road trip around Scandinavia with the (3) kids?”

My initial response was “Holy crap… you lucky bitch!”

Top tips, ideas and advice hey – this is actually quite a task as although we’ve had many, many trips of this nature, they’ve never been anything like that long, and I can completely appreciate the intrinsic motherly anxiety around appropriate nutrition for the smalls.

So here goes – the following are my thoughts on this remarkably exciting adventure into the northern wilds.

  1. Principles
    • The biggest considerations are space and refrigeration. Even with a larger than average vehicle, space is at a premium when camping due to all the other paraphernalia you’ll have stowed. Think through how you can minimise – there’s always prepping options such as decanting into resealable bags (think salt – do you really need that full glass grinder?).
    • Refrigeration limitations will restrict what you have available and what you can store safely. To overcome this, maximise your store cupboard repertoire, but balance this by combining freshly bought fruit, veg and meat whenever you have the opportunity to do so.
    • KISS. The classic design principle of Keep It Simple Stupid; plan for simple dishes and then jazz them up with delicious little flourishes like herbs, cheeses, spices, flavoured oils and vinegars.
  2. Store-Cupboard
    • When I was very small, we’d drive to the south of France in an Austin Allegro and stop at the side of the road on the way – my inimitable mother would bust out a gas burner (the type that screw onto the top of a little gas bottle) and combine the following tin cans in a pot: baked beans, pre-boiled new potatoes, hacked-up corned beef. The classic ‘corned beef hash’. After it had warmed through sufficiently we’d eat it in bowls with brown sauce, and although this sounds truly awful and desperately unappetising to a well-developed palate of the modern day, I still have remarkably clear and fond memories of it (the taste; not how it looked!). I’ve actually recreated this dish at home using the best ingredients I can find and putting much love, care and attention into every individual element. It tastes incredible, but still doesn’t look any better..
    • Your store cupboard will treat you well. Stock it with due care and attention to ensure that there’s always options available to satisfy your families’ appetites should circumstances not pan out as you expected – I can guarantee that this will happen at least once during your trip through the wilderness – probably at the most irritatingly unhelpful time.
    • What kind of things would you want to maintain in your store cupboard as an absolute minimum?
      • Salt & pepper (good stuff – you may as well)
      • Balsamic glaze – transformative in bringing sweetness and depth as a dressing or during cooking.
      • Olive oil – a staple of life in my eyes. Flavoured oils can transform dishes.
      • Seasonings – spices and dried herbs that can lift even a boiled potato and transform it into something sublime.
      • A splash of vinegar: red wine, white wine, cider – pack a little bottle of your favourite for balancing dishes and making salad dressings.
      • Cans/tins – olives, corn, tomatoes, fish, olives, pate, whatever floats your boat. They’re safe, easy to stow and economical. There’s a whole gourmet market out there that’s so worth exploring. I have a thing for cooked mackerel in tomato sauce, but that’s a whole other post.
  3. Stuff
    • Aka equipment. I’m a bit of a purist and love improvising and re-purposing things to save space and weight, but there are a few things that will be terribly handy:
      • Tongs – size really does matter if you’re cooking with fire.
      • Foil – so handy as a makeshift lid or for wrapping and storing.
      • Colander – useful but not essential for washing and rinsing as much as draining.
      • Speed peeler – I don’t leave home without one.
      • Grater – microplane are my go-to.
      • Serious oven-glove. No explanation required.
      • Board – nothing like a nice hunk of wood but plastics are lighter.
      • Quality sharp knife (small and large but ultimately whatever you’re comfortable with). With younglings around it can be preferable to pack one with a sheath.
      • Wet-wipes – the saviour of all parents and essential ‘washing up’ kit in the middle of nowhere.
      • Frying pan – big enough to get everything in together, but small enough to fit on your camping stove!
      • Decent pot or perhaps a dutch oven if you have one – they’re amazing if you’re cooking with fire at all and it’s remarkable what you can achieve (even bread!).
  4. Classic dishes
    • Anything is possible if you have the key basic equipment to hand and a little imagination. I love the challenge of thinking through how to juggle everything in order to get the desired meal onto a plate but don’t constrain yourself by conforming to comfortable home standards – the bonnet is a table, a spoon is a knife, your oven-glove is a cushion and a pot stand. I could go on.
    • We always kick-off our trip with a slow-cooked chilli or stew of some
      description – if you’ve got a long journey to your first stop you can make this ahead and then freeze it so that it defrosts as you go. Bring it back up to temperature in a pot and you have a hearty ‘home-cooked’ meal to set you up.
    • Pasta will serve you well in your store-cupboard. A good quality pesto, grated  Parmesan cheese, a few wild rocket leaves and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Heavenly. Work with what you have to hand though though – all of these elements can be switched out with alternatives based on what’s available.
    • Greek salad (or any salad for that point) combines some great simple ingredients into a delicious balanced meal. Think about gorgeous salad dressings (mix 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil with some salt and pepper and shake it up in whatever bottle you have to hand).
    • Looking for something a bit different? try combining watermelon with Feta cheese (or anything salty and crumbly), fresh coriander, basil or mint leaves and some hot chilli peppers for mum and dad.
    • Beans or various types will provide you with wonderful nutrition. Easy to jazz up too.
    • Jacket potatoes are a quality camping companion – just wrap them in foil and pop them in the embers of a fire. Note that you can wrap lots of things in foil and chuck them in a fire… (stuffed aubergines anyone?!).
    • Rustic soups are an easy way of filling you up with 100% goodness from a plethora of different ingredients that you might have to hand.
    • Ever thought of making pancakes outdoors? It’s just a simple combo of eggs, milk and flour – you can even mix it in a bottle again!
    • French Toast (pain perdu / eggy bread) – sweet or savoury – a great use of stale or even fresh bread. A few eggs and a touch of butter or oil in the frying pan and you’re away.
    • Corned beef hash (as per above) with fried eggs if you’ve got a second pan :o)
    • Finally our family tradition: our less than obvious favourite is Spanish Padron Peppers blistered in a hot pan with olive oil for a few seconds and scattered with flaky sea salt. We simply don’t go camping without them.Cooking over fire
  5. Don’t ..
    • Risk it.. You’re camping – there’s nothing worse than food poisoning… oh yes there is, food poisoning when you’re camping. Err on the side of caution if you’re dealing with food that requires refrigeration and/or ever in doubt. Respect your ingredients, but as much as I’m one for championing the food wastage campaigns, you are on holiday after all.
    • Beat yourself up.. You’re camping – take the rough with the smooth and remember that everything is an adventure. Sure, you’ll have some crappy meals, but you’ll also have some phenomenal ones, and I would put money on them being the most simple, basic and unexpected ones that your children will remember.
    • Apologise.. You’re camping – it’s a team sport and you’ve all gotta play.

I’m sure I’ve missed things but you have to draw the line somewhere. I’ll update this post from time to time as I think of other things and I’d welcome anyone’s thoughts, stories, experiences and recipes.

Bon Voyage, or more appropriately, lycklig resa!

Childhood Obesity Strategy: Chapter 2

The tumultuous wranglings of the British political system paired with recent high-profile events has had me on pause, but I’m hopeful that some form of normality will return soon. The big news is that Her Majesty’s Government has released chapter 2 of the Childhood Obesity Strategy. The Prime Minister opens with the sad truth:

“The health and well-being of our children critically determines their opportunities in life. Today, nothing threatens that more than childhood obesity.”

The last strategy paper was a huge disappointment. I wrote about it almost exactly two years ago here. It simply didn’t go far enough and it lacked true accountability.

Jamie Oliver has given his views of Chapter 2 and we’re all feeling a lot more optimistic this time:

“I feel it’s really important to credit this much more holistic, multi-pronged, clearer and more convincing childhood obesity strategy. It’s not perfect, but it is underpinned by a big bold target to halve childhood obesity by 2030, and I fully support this in every way. It’s a vast improvement from the first and fills me with a sense of hope.”

You can read the rest of his statement here.

So what does Chapter 2 say?

The headline is a new national ambition to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030. It’s a big statement that’s going to require the aligning of many many ducks in order to see fruition. It’s more than possible if we get our S.H.1.t together as a modern society.

It’s heartening to read that there’s recognition of how ambitious we really need to be given the current circumstances. How big is the problem? Well, the estimate from the Government is that obesity-related conditions are currently costing the NHS £6.1 billion each year…

The specific points are summarised here:

1. Sugar reduction – The sugar tax (Soft Drinks Industry Levy) has had a great impact so far, with many big companies reformulating their products. There’s a commitment to review additional products such as milk drinks if insufficient progress is made. There will also be consultation on the intention to introduce legislation ending the sale of energy drinks to children. #NotForChildren

2. Calorie reduction – Overall, children are consuming too many calories, so a calorie reduction programme has been introduced to challenge companies to hit a 20% reduction across the board. This has a significant focus on labelling.

3. Advertising and promotions – To reduce the impact of marketing products that are high in fat, sugar and salt, consultation will begin on the introduction of a 9pm watershed on junk food TV advertising. Work is also underway to review price promotions on unhealthy products. #AdEnough

4. Local areas – There are plans to develop a new programme with local authority partners to show what can be achieved within existing powers and understand “what works” in different communities.

5. Schools – A significant update to the School Food Standards to reduce sugar consumption, including detailed guidance to caterers and schools to prepare them for the changes. Additionally, consultation is underway to review the nutrition standards in the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services.

The full document from the UK Government can be read here.

What’s next?

As you can imagine, there’s now going to be a (long) consultation processes to look into all the details – this can be read as a big risk to the strategy and its momentum, or an opportunity for industry to show their customers what they can do for the greater good.

I’m just hoping that we don’t have another backtrack due to changes at the top..

One thing is for certain: we’re not taking our foot off the pedal – we’ve never been so serious or determined, and it’s time to ramp up the campaigning to get us over the line. Anything is possible and it’s our responsibility to make a difference – not only for the wellbeing of our future generations, but also our precious NHS and ultimately the example we can set for the rest of mankind around the world.

Curing Egg Yolks

Sounds crazy right? Fear not, it’s remarkably simple and insanely delicious. In just 4 days you can transform an egg yolk into an umami-heavy delight with the characteristics and texture of Parmesan cheese.

The story starts as always with the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can afford. I normally use medium-size local organic free-range eggs.

Decide how many eggs you’d like to cure and select a dish or tupperware container large enough to house them comfortably without them touching each other. You’ll then need enough salt and sugar to bury them completely.

Separate your eggs and either freeze your whites (albumen) for later use, or make some meringues, omelettes or something useful.

Make yourself a curing mix by combining equal quantities of salt and sugar.  You may want to add in some other flavourings to jazz it up a bit: peppercorns, seaweed, mace, chilli flakes, cloves – whatever takes your fancy.

Put at least a 1cm of the mix in the bottom of your container, use the back of a spoon to make a little indentation for each yolk to sit in, place them in and then cover them all up with the rest of your curing mix.

egg yolk ready to be cured

Pop the lid on or cover your dish with cling film before putting them to bed in your fridge for 4 days.

Carefully remove the yolks and then rinse off any excess cure that sticking to them.

cured egg yolks ready to be rinsed

Next you’ll need to dry them out completely by placing them on a wire rack in a very low oven (50°C) for an hour or two.

drying cured egg yolks in a low oven

Your cured yolks will live happily in a container in the fridge for up to a month.

cured egg yolks

How to use them? Just finely grate them in the same way that you would use Parmesan cheese on pasta, asparagus, whatever you’d like. I just love it over buttered sourdough toast.

cured egg yolk on buttered sourdough

Sourdough Bread

As promised, here’s the recipe I’m generally following to make sourdough loaves. It assumes that you have a dutch oven, but if you don’t, you can use a large cast iron cooking pot with a tight fitting lid.

The story begins with a sourdough starter. If you don’t already have your own, you can find my recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • 80g sourdough starter
  • 580g strong white organic flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 380g water
  • 15g salt
  • Rice flour for dusting
  • Semolina for dusting

Equipment that will help:

  • Digital scales
  • Measuring jug
  • Dough scraper – good for shaping and moving your dough
  • Large bowl
  • Shower cap/cling film/cloth
  • Banneton – wicker basket for proving
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Lame, razor blade or bread knife
  • Water mister/sprayer
  • Dutch oven or cast iron pot
  • Cooling rack

Method:

Sourdough is all about time. You can’t rush flavour.

  1. The night before you want to bake, combine 80g of your sourdough starter, 80g strong organic white flour and 80g water in a bowl or Tupperware container, mix thoroughly, cover and leave at room temperature.  This will be your sponge.
  2. The following morning, add 300g water to your sponge and very roughly mix in 500g strong organic white flour. Cover with a shower cap and leave for an hour to allow the flour to absorb the water. This stage is called the autolyse.
  3. Mix in 15g salt and knead the dough on a clean surface for about 10 minutes. It will hold its shape and become less sticky as the gluten develops.
  4. Shape your dough into a ball, lightly dust with flour, and place it in a bowl. Cover and leave it to rest for 1 hour.
  5. Remove the dough from the bowl, knock it back and reshape it into a ball by working the outer edges into the centre. Cover and leave it to rest at room temperature for a further hour.
  6. Knock the dough back and reshape a further two times, until it has spent a total of 4 hours fermenting.
  7. Dust your banneton or bowl liberally with rice flour, shape your dough for the last time, place it inside and cover with a shower cap or cloth. Leave your dough to prove for 4 hours.
  8. Preheat your oven to full temperature with your dutch oven or cast iron pot inside. I wait around 30 minutes for everything to heat up sufficiently.
  9. Carefully turn your dough out onto a piece of greaseproof paper dusted with semolina. ready to be slashed and baked
  10. Slash the top of your dough with a lame, razor blade or sharp bread knife.
  11. Very carefully place your dough inside your dutch oven and spritz with water.
  12. Bake for 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 230 degrees centigrade and baking for a further 40 minutes.
  13. Carefully remove your bread and leave it to rest on a cooling rack.
  14. Admire and devour.

I find that a dutch oven creates a great environment for the bread to bake in the absence of a professional oven. The reality is that there are many, many variables in play when it comes to baking bread. Literally everything makes a difference, from the water, air and flour temperatures, to brand of flour and type of oven. For this reason, regular practice, keen observation and confident intuition are what truly makes great bread. The more you bake, the more you’ll learn and develop that all important feel for what’s going on with your dough.

Godspeed folks.

freshly baked sourdough bread

Sourdough Starter

Quite a few people have been asking me about Däve recently. This household pet that brings so much joy to my life isn’t a cat or a dog, it’s actually a natural yeast culture, cultivated right here in the Cotswolds. I made him by exposing an organic flour and water mix to the elements to collect the wild yeast spores that blow around on the wind. It really is as simple as that. The crossing of fingers helps a little too, but these dormant spores are even present in the flour itself.

Starters or leavens like this are beautiful things, as they’re unique to their surroundings in terms of their taste and behaviour. They’re also alive, and as such require a degree of husbandry. My sourdough bread is merely a combination of Däve, flour, salt and water. The most vital ingredient in good bread is without doubt, time. All bread used to be made with wild yeast, but mass produced commercial yeast is faster and much easier to store and control.

Now, I skip over the fact that our starter is called ‘Däve’, as I’m quite used to it now, but I must stress that it wasn’t my choice of name. Much akin to Boaty McBoatface and Brexit, be careful when asking children to make important decisions.

Fancy making your own starter? Just follow these basic instructions.

Ingredients:

  • organic flour of your choice (spelt, white, wholemeal, rye)
  • water

Method:

  1. Thoroughly mix together 50g of flour with 50ml of water in a bowl and cover it with a cloth or a shower cap. Leave it at room temperature for about 24 hours. (covering it will prevent a dry crust forming).making a sourdough starter
  2. Feed your starter with another 50g of flour and 50ml water, whisk thoroughly to incorporate plenty of air, cover and leave for another 24 hours.
  3. By this point you should see small air bubbles forming and notice an odour developing. Don’t be alarmed by what it smells like – it will change dramatically as your starter culture matures. fermentation in action
  4. Tip half of your starter away and feed it with another 50g flour and 50ml water, mixing well. Cover and leave for another 24 hours.
  5. Transfer your starter to a large glass jar or Tupperware pot. As your starter becomes more active it will froth up and expand, so make sure your receptacle isn’t too small… otherwise you may find yourself in this position: dave the sourdough starter
  6. Feed your starter each day for a week, discarding half before whisking in another 50g flour and 50ml water.
  7. At this point you’re good to go.
  8. If you’re baking frequently, you’ll want to keep up this daily routine of tipping half away (or using it to make bread, pancakes, whatever) and then feeding your pet with a 50g/50ml flour and water mix, however you might want to pop it in the fridge (with the lid tightly secured) as this will slow the fermentation process down so that you only have to feed it once every week or so. You’ll save plenty of flour this way, but you’ll need a couple of days of feeding at room temperature to get it back up to speed. This is all about yeast farming, and to make really good bread you’ll want your culture to be really active and lively.

Dave is born

Remember that keeping your starter small (in volume) means that it’ll be easy to manage; the bigger the volume, the more flour it will need at feeding time.

I’ll write a further post covering my favourite bread recipe (at the moment), but please do make good use of your sourdough starter instead of dried yeast in whatever bready adventures you embark on.

Check out: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/12/18/sourdough-2-0