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Camping in excelsis – some tips

For me, camping (food-wise) is like an extended picnic: you have to plan for all the meals, and you have to do it well!  Just because you’re out bush with limited utensils and facilities doesn’t mean you can drop your standards.  Camping is not an excuse for slumming (although it can be an excuse to eat bacon and sausages).

So when we go camping I spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re going to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  Of course it has to be easy; easy is the key to camping, as is pre-prepare.  If you can make your marinades and salad dressings before hand and put them in those tiny little plastic jars, then all you have to do is rub, mix, sear, toss and voilà. Dinner is served.

For our recent anniversary we decided that we would go camping.  Haven’t been camping for years (too busy travelling the world – see my other blog: travelling travails).  But a lack of funds due to redundancy and a sense of having already been to so many good restaurants, I thought it would be fun to do something different.  After all, eating out doesn’t have the same appeal when it’s for special occasions – its a “been there, done that” feeling.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love finding great little places to eat, but I’d much prefer to go and have a bite after a lunchtime yoga class and discover that the place does great share plates and fabulous bloody marys as well as a good wine list, rather than the special all-out eating … besides which, I somehow can’t help myself and want not just one cocktail but two (I always want a good martini) and the the wine.  So you can imagine …..

I won’t bore you with the details of our camping trip but I do want to share how its possible to eat well out in the great beyond.  Admittedly we took our trusty little asian butane burner – don’t leave home without this. Actually because I only have electricity at home, I’m often found squatting on the floor over a wok on this device – I confess to some distant asian heritage. And we took our portable weber.  All set.

For breakfast we brought muesli, almond milk, bacon, black pudding and coffee, though mostly we just ate some fruit and unfortunately I inadvertently picked up the box of long life chocolate lactose -free milk instead of the plain one – YUK).

For lunch: wraps with tinned chilli tuna, rocket, avocado and dips with biscuits and fruit.

On arrival Friday afternoon:

  • Traditional pork pies with radishes, dill cucumbers and cornichons (my husband prefers cornichons, whilst I can’t go by a dill pickle) pre-boiled eggs, some nice cheese and rye biscuits. Though by the time we had set up our tent it was closer to an early dinner/late afternoon tea, rather than lunch.

For dinner:

  • Salmon with a chilli lime salt (pre-prepared) and Ottolenghi’s wonderful tomato and pomegranate salad – dressing and roasted lemons pre-prepped.

Day two – our anniversary dinner was meant to consist of oysters with a shallot and red wine vinegar dressing, but in the end we couldn’t be bothered leaving our camping ground and travelling all those kms (around 30) to a place near Forster  (we were at Seal Rocks).  Amazing how lazy you can become, given the opportunity.  We’d been to the beach and by the time we came back it was afternoon – time for lunch and have a glass of champagne.  I had  brought  some spinach leaves ,a block of Dodoni fetta and nectarines.  So our late lunch was a salad with the spinach and slices of nectarines and crumbed fetta, dressed with some vino cotto and olive oil.  Unfortunately I realised that I had forgotten to bring the wooden salad bowl.  Merde.  However my problem-solving skills kicked in and I made up the salad in a plastic bag.  Brilliant (also saves on washing up).

Dinner was seared beef eye fillet with an anchovy dressing (essentially just anchovies melted on the grill plate with lots of freshly cracked black pepper) and asparagus with lemon zest, salt and pepper and a day of olive oil, seared on the bbq. And (because it was our anniversary) a bottle of Pol Roger.  Please note, it is essential that you bring good drinking glasses.  We have a set of nice chunky plastic glasses suitable for our G&Ts and stemless (plastic) wine glasses but you really shouldn’t drink good champagne out of plastic.  Better to go without (the champagne).

Day 3 dinner was chicken with a rub consisting of crushed garlic, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, ground cumin, lime juice and olive oil served with shucked bbq’d corn, avocado and a coriander and a tomatillo dressing (yes, this too was prepared in advance).

On the final day we cooked our bacon and had it in wraps with avocado and  tomatoes. And fabulous italian pork and fennel sausages – again in wraps with rocket and some hummus.  Simple but oh so satisfying.

So the trick to great camping is:  good simple food, good wine and a good campfire.  Oh, and don’t forget to bring the salad bowl. But if you do, all is not lost because with  plastic bag you can put all your salad ingredients in and then add the dressing and shake it all about (just like the hokey pokey) and all is well.

Camping


Poriyal anyone? Joys of South Indian cuisine

So what’s a poriyal you’re all thinking. Essentially its a vegetable dish tempered with spices. It’s South Indian – which is a much lighter and fresher than the heavily sauced, rich northern Indian food.
A lot of the food in the south of India is vegetarian. But it’s the blend of spices that really differentiates it from its northern counterpart.

We tend to eat a lot of spicy food but I was never a fan of Indian food until I discovered south Indian cuisine. My preference is for light and fresh. So I was very surprised when I first came across it (thanks to my husband who lived in India for many years and spent much time holidaying in Goa – then a somewhat rustic haven for poor travellers and locals. Sadly now taken over by too many Israeli and Russian tourists with their demands to have it all). 

Usually I cook Thai and Vietnamese style foods while my husband cooks Indian. However we recently come across a couple of great cook books with more contemporary adaptations on traditional food and I decided to learn the basics. In fact we first came across the modern incarnation at a fabulous resort restaurant in Kerala – but that’s another story.

So back to the poriyal. It consists of a basic tempering spice mix:

  • 1 tspn cumin
  • 1 tspn black mustard seeds
  • 1 tspn urud dhal
  • 1/2 tspn asafetida
  • Curry leaves
  • Red chilli split lengthways but still intact.

Heat a pan until hot and add a tablespoon oil or ghee.
Once the oil is hot throw in the spice mix but stand back – the mustard seeds pop as do the curry leaves. You need the oil to be hot enough to do this otherwise the spices just steam and don’t release their flavours.
Then add the roughly chopped zucchini (you can use any vegetables for this, e.g. green beans, or a mixture of finely chopped, beans, carrots and capsicums) and stir to mix the spices through. Then add a splash of water and let it cook – briefly – until the zucchini is just cooked but still firm. Stir through a tablespoon or so of shredded or grated coconut. And you’re done. Easy.
And to go with that poriyal? We had a spice-crusted fillet of beef (seared and then cooked on the BBQ for 15 mins) and a tomato relish (tamatar ka kut) which is east Indian; but its also good with fish, dhal, rice – the possibilities are endless.


Fast food on the road

On  our way for a camping trip our ETD was supposed to be 10am.  But there’s always something else to pack – at the last moment I decided I wanted to take our hammock which necessitated finding some additional ropes.  And then I thought it would be a good idea to make some fresh juice to take (pineapple, honeydew melon, apple, carrot, celery, cucumber and ginger). And so our departure time was almost one hour later.

A quick stop for a bottle of champagne and whisky (can’t sit around a fire without a dram) and we were on our way – 11.15.  Still, no rush and we’re missing all the peak traffic.  Just means we’ll get to our destination at 3pm instead of 4pm but we have another two full days so all is well.

I packed the juice and some fruit to have on our journey but couldn’t remember where (the car was choc full) so we stopped at one of those fuel/food places.  The usual suspects – MacDonald’s, Star cafe and some other unsalubrious looking greasy joint, but also a place called “Oliver’s Real food” which is an organic food cafe/take-away.  They have fresh wraps and sandwiches, sushi, salads (both fruit and vegetable), yoghurt mixed with berries and little cups of chia and coconut with fresh raspberries and a better then average range of drinks including coconut water and freshly made smoothies.  M had a fresh chicken, avocado and lettuce sandwich and I had the little chia and coconut cup – a mixture of chia seeds, coconut milk, coconut flakes and fresh raspberries.  Quite delicious and not sickly sweet.  And the best roadside coffee I’ve had – fresh organic beans.

So next time you’re on the road and in need of sustenance, look out for an Oliver’s, its a far cry from the usual unpalatable dross available at other roadhouses. Oh, and they also do gluten-free; vegetarian; vegan; lacto-free; lacto-gluten vego. As well as delicious looking things for kids.

Now just to locate those nectarines and juice.


Picnics

I love picnics. There’s something festive and relaxing about eating outdoors – especially on the grass on a warm sunny day. Our picnics were often quite spontaneous: we would just go to the local Italian deli and pick up some baby boconcini, prosciutto, stuffed little capsicums, some white anchovies, some good bread from the local bakery (Italian) and some fresh fruit – strawberries, peaches, figs or whatever is in season; a bottle of wine and perhaps some good cheese and we were set.  Other times we’d get some oysters and cooked prawns and I’d make a coriander and chilli salsa to go with them.

Picnics are about enjoying the great outdoors in simple style (although I do like to take proper plates, linen napkins and proper wine glasses; makes the picnic basket a bit heavier but it’s well worth it). Nothing fancy, just good produce and great flavours: fresh watermelon and peaches or strawbs with vino cotto. In summer this year with a good friend staying we went to Neilson Park to laze about and swim. I decided on schnitzel in bread rolls accompanied with a wonderful fresh coleslaw (finely shredded cabbage, radish, mint, red onion, caraway seeds and a lemon dressing), dill cucumbers and homemade habanero mustard. Simple but utterly more-ish. I was surprised at how many people passed by and asked if they could have our leftovers!  A Petit Chablis and then a moscato to accompany the food. Fresh juicy big cherries and a mango to finish.

On Sunday we went to the Royal National Park for a picnic and swim. We went primarily because my daughter needs to get her driving hours in. What a blessing that was; we otherwise wouldn’t have gone and it’s such a beautiful spot; it was glorious: sun, sand and sea. And a lagoon where people jumped from great heights off a cliff into the water below. A family friendly place – casual and relaxed. I made steak tartare burgers (finely chopped beef with chopped onion, cornichons, capers, parsley, tobasco, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and egg yolks) freshly cooked in situ on a little portable burner and inserted into fresh Italian bread rolls spread with some homemade mustard on one side and hummus on the other and topped with rocket, slices of home grown tomatoes and dill pickles (I don’t think you can have picnics without dill cucumbers ). Then watermelon. That was it.  Simple but delicious – and good fun to eat, trying to keep all the filling from falling out (as is the way with hamburgers) and all those juices running down our hands and onto our legs.  Necessitated a dip in the water to clean ourselves up, but we really didn’t mind. Picnic perfect.


Burns’ supper – a contemporary twist

January 25 is Burns’ Night (the date of Burns’ birth) and tributary suppers are held not just in Scotland but all around the world – wherever there are Scots.  Burns’ Supper was originally started by a group of his friends and acquaintances a few years after his death, to honour his memory.

The menu is iconically traditional with a haggis as the centrepiece.  Burns referred to it as the  ‘great chieftan o’ the puddin’-race’. The  accompaniments to the haggis are neeps and tatties  – turnip and potatoes – served  mashed. Traditionally the haggis is piped in and then addressed – the recitation of a Burns poem called ‘Address to a Haggis’ (go figure).
If there is a large gathering there is an ‘Address to the Lasses’ – which commemorates Burns’ fondness for them.  If a small supper then its usually just the ‘Selkirk Grace’. Essentially its a celebration of plain country food and plan country folk of whom Burns was a champion.

Plain country food in Australia, haggis is not.  Cooking your own haggis is out of the question.  There are a number of butchers scattered around Sydney who make haggis but usually you have to order these in advance or else travel to the ends of the earth (St Mary’s).  Fortunately we found a supplier (Farmer Giles) selling these and other Scottish fare at the Bondi markets.
Hot, hot, hot on Saturday so husband and daughter sent off early to the markets to purchase produce, leaving me to sleep.  Daughter is learning to drive so this was a good opportunity for her to get in some much needed practice hours (otherwise I doubt she would have chosen to embark on that journey).  Unbeknownst to me, having obtained all things necessary at the markets they then went off to the beach for a swim.  I meanwhile sat sweltering in a lounge chair outside reading the digital news.

Haggis is something I absolutely adore.  When we’re in Scotland I take every opportunity to eat it.  Its generally not served at home other than for a Burns’ Supper but many pubs serve it.  I was always on the look out for a pub that had it on its menu.  And while the neeps and tatties might be served in alternative ways, canonically you got a plate with a pile of mashed potatoes, a pile of mashed turnips and a pile of haggis. Not the prettiest looking dish and I constantly wondered why no-one ever did anything different.  But I don’t think the Scots are generally known for their creativity – rather, the word conservative comes to mind.  But I do have to admit that the combination is a very successful one.  However, this being Australia, and me a foodie, I wanted to do something a bit more contemporary and aesthetically pleasing – especially when serving this rather confronting dish to people who had not tried it before (I’m always amazed at people’s reaction to haggis: generally its’yuck!!!!’ with looks of horror and distaste.)

So we searched and found a nice form of presenting this dish:  in a stack with a layer of haggis, a layer of mashed potatoes with spring onion folded thought and then a layer of mashed swedes (nice orange colour) brushed with egg yolk and cooked in the oven and then topped with asparagus tips wrapped in crisp pancetta and served with a whisky cream sauce.

I had one vegetarian guest so I decided that given this dinner centred around a haggis I would have to make a vegetarian haggis for her rather than something entirely different.  I also thought I’d better make a few extra just in case anyone was truly put off by haggis.  The vegetarian version had split peas, barley, chopped onion, garlic, carrot, steel cut oats (which are tiny and coarse) and lots of pepper and freshly ground and toasted allspice.  I was pleased with the end result – it had the same texture and flavour as the haggis (well, almost).  I was also pleased at how much people enjoyed the real thing.  Truly delicious – you just have to not think about what it consists of, but then again, if you don’t mind offal – pate anyone? – then you probably won’t object to haggis.

To start I had champagne and smoked salmon with horseradish and creme fraiche. For entree I made a dish of seared scallops on black pudding discs with a pea and mint puree, drizzled with chilli oil. And for desert, another classical Burns’ supper dish – Cranachan, which is like a trifle with layers of whisky cream, freshly pureed raspberries, toasted oats and flaked almonds and topped with fresh raspberries. Whisky is of course the canonical accompaniament to haggis – it doesn’t go too badly with the desert either – but of course a good red wine is also in order.

So my husband having said grace (see below) and then the address we ate and drank good plain Scottish food and gave Burns not another thought.


Burns’ Selkirk Grace
Some hae meat and cannae eat,
And some can eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit


Variations on a theme of pasta: asian style

One of my favourite pasta dishes is a Thai flavoured version of spaghetti marinara.  I  have a fabulous fishmonger who always has beautiful fresh seafood in his marina mix – o extenders, just really good fresh produce, a mixture of scallops, prawns, octopus, calamari, salmon and white fish.  Its always so fresh you could eat it raw (but dressed).

I finely chop lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chili and saute in a pan.  Once its fragrant I add some passata and fish sauce, a touch of sugar and lime juice.  Then I throw in the seafood and cook for about 5 mins.  Then finish it off with finely chopped lime leaves and serve with chopped coriander and an extra dash of fish sauce and lime juice.

I cook the pasta at the same time as the marinara sauce so that they’re ready within minutes of each other. Cooking time (all up)? 15 minutes. Jamie Oliver’s not the only one able to make great meals in less than half an hour.
This is a truly delicious fragrant and light way to have a marinara.  An asian twist on an old time favourite, but please, can we not call it fusion?

Bon apetite.