I’m delighted to say that I’ve finally completed all of my 14 for 2014 challenges !
It took me a while to get around to completing this one but thanks to our annual St Andrew’s Day public holiday – the annual Christmas shopping day for some of Scotland’s public sector employees – I instead used it to have an enjoyable day out with my wife while the kids were in school.
When I was selecting my 14 for 2014 it was easiest to identify the challenges where I wanted to climb / see / do something. I got stuck on choosing the last one from my short list (well, it was quite long actually). But then my neice, Eilidh, came up with the great idea that I should cook a gourmet meal on a camp fire. We discussed it a bit and then to be on the safe side I changed it to “… in a camper van (or on a camp fire)” just to leave some wriggle room. Just as well, really – it’s a bit chilly for a camp fire this time of year. I did want to cook on a camp fire but for one reason or another it just didn’t happen over the summer.
Planning a gourmet meal turned out to be quite a challenge. For a start, ‘gourmet’ is a relative term. It’s one thing cooking up fancy sauces and whizzing ingredients up in a food processor at home but quite another when you’re limited to two rings and a small fridge. (And yes, even this is a luxury compared to an outdoor fire and no fridge !). So, my initial menu planning wasn’t based on our usual cookbooks but Martin Dorey’s excellent Camper Van Cookbook and Camper Van Coast. As it turned out, I ended up using some initial menu ideas as a stepping stone to other recipes I found elsewhere.
The other planning challenge was remembering all the ingredients to take from home and figuring out how exactly I was going to make the meal. Since we only ventured 30 minutes from home I took things from our kitchen but we needed to go out and buy a hand held whisk since we only ever use an electric one at home. I’ve been really busy at work over the Autumn so it was a bit of a mad dash to get everything together and as you’ll see, one or two essential ingredients … er … got left behind.
So, having given this big build up you’re all wondering what this gourmet meal consisted of, right ? Well, (with apologies to any ‘real’ goumet foodies out there) this was the menu:
Kedgeree with smoked haddock
Coffee and amaretto biscuits
Sounds yummy, doesn’t it ! And for the most part I have to say it was easier to prepare and cook than I thought and certainly was delicious.
We parked up the van at a lovely, quiet spot beside Loch Vennachar in the Trossachs. It wasn’t much of a day – low cloud, cold wind and drizzly – and so we put the Vanarak on to keep warm and cosy inside with the roof up and heater on. To make it easier to follow the recipes I’m describing each course in order although this isn’t the order in which I prepared and cooked everything – where I made the dessert first and cooked the starter and main course in parallel.
The seared scallops starter recipe I found was interesting since it used a cauliflower puree, something I’ve never done before. It was lovely and I must admit here to cheating a bit in that I cooked this in advance at home. It was really easy, though: just chop up a cauliflower, simmer it in milk for 20 minutes and then whizz it up into a puree (and yes, I did use the electric whizzer but I could easily have used a hand held one in the van).
The scallops only needed a couple of minutes on each side to put some colour into them. They should really have been cooked in the oil from the chorizo but this was still sitting in my fridge at home (oops … first mistake …). But in fact the starter worked really well without and the subtle scallops and puree flavours complemented each other very well.
The scallops were served on the bed of cauliflower puree and with some nice leaves and topped with fresh parsley. Yummy !
I ended up using my mum’s kedgeree recipe since all of the recipes I could find online use curry powder or curry paste. The nearest I can find is this one, which points out that kedgeree was originally invented by a Scottish regiment who married smoked haddock with local curry. But I was brought up on a version which doesn’t use curry powder and (call me biased but …) I think it’s nicer just to focus on the strong smoked haddock flavour.
I started by poaching the smoked haddock in a little milk.
The milk – now with a lovely, smoky flavour – is then used to cook the bismati rice, topped up with a little water.
I kept the haddock warm in the lid of the rice; here you can see that I had the rice on the go at the same time as cooking the starter.
We use some great stainless steel pans in the van. It’s a set of three that sit inside each other – a bargain my mother in law gave me that she picked up from her charity shop for £2 I think (I have no idea who they’re made by). The rice is in the larger pan and I boiled a couple of eggs in the small pan.
I simmered the rice for 10 minutes or so and then switched off the heat while we ate our starter. Once it had soaked up the liquid I flaked up the smoked haddock and mixed this with the rice, fresh parsley and some butter. The chopped, boiled eggs on top finished things off. Delicious.
Our dessert was Nigella’s quick and easy amaretto syllabub. While I’d cheated by whizzing up the cauliflower puree at home I resisted the urge to whizz up the cream in advance. So instead, we went out and bought a hand held whisk and I gave my wife the job of whipping it up (all good chef’s need an able assistant !). I didn’t feel (too) guilty since it only took 10 or 15 minutes, and a great job she did too.
Meanwhile, I broke up some amaretto biscuits. These proved too tough to break up by hand. So I improvised by putting them in a sealed bag and whacked them with my heavy griddle. (Well, if anyone who’s cooked outdoors knows, you do need to find alternative methods when needs must …).
If I’d remembered to bring the fancy glasses from home (made from real glass) then the dessert would have looked more impressive. However, we just had to make do with our plastic wine glasses that stay in the van, and which don’t match !
The final ingredient I forgot was … er … the amaretto. OK, I admit you can’t really call it amaretto syllabub without amaretto but in my defence we weren’t going to spend £lots on a bottle of amaretto that would just sit in the kitchen cupboard gathering dust. (Is Nigella the only one was seems to gaily float around her kitchen sipping amaretto and serving up sophisticated Italian recipes on a typical school night ?!). In fact we’d intended to improvise and take some brandy or Baileys from home which would I think have been equally good. But in the event I forgot these too and given the lack of off licences on the shores of Loch Vennachar we decided it would be just as tasty as it was. [Well that’s my excuse, but if you’re cooking it I would recommend that a splash of alchol would top it off …].
With some coffee and spare amaretto biscuits we surveyed our lochside view. We felt all full and cosy with the van heater on while it drizzled outside.
So while not all had gone according to plan, it really didn’t matter too much. For a camping meal I think it just about qualified as ‘gourmet’, and only took about 40 minutes to prepare and cook. Not too bad for two rings, a fridge and some last-minute improvisation.