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May 25, 2017

Ultimate Comfort Food: Camper-Van Edition. {Simple Recipes}

I love food and I also love my camper-van.

I could ramble on endlessly about the lure of the open road and the freedom that is a camper-van holiday, and bore you all senseless with photographs of my camper-van adventures, but it’s creating tasty comfort food in a camper-van (or “cramper-van” as my five-year-old calls it) that I want to talk to you about.

Let’s make it clear: I’m not into roughing it, and that’s why I ditched the idea of camping in a tent, so you won’t find any burnt sausages, flabby bacon, and mushy beans on my camper-van expedition menu.

I like food and drink and I like the freedom of pottering off in a camper-van, allowing my roaming instinct to make the plans. That is why I’ve developed a new style of gourmet camper-van cooking that can be created easily with minimum fuss.

Armed with just one saucepan and a bit of know-how, you can rustle up a meal that is just perfect for sitting down and relaxing with, and that is also less own-brand lager and more organic Chardonnay.

I’m not a great fan of camping food, as it conjures up memories of burnt barbecue sausages and terrible cooking. My parents were into caravan holidays when I was a child, and I just dreaded the chaos of meal times in their tiny 1980s Monza caravan. They used to involve split eggs, baked beans that sat on the plate as a heap of orange mush, and some sort of fine, retro delicacy such as a reconstituted steak, topped off with a portion of partly frozen oven chips.

However, these dishes were always better than the time my mum decided to have a barbecue under the caravan awning, smoked out the entire caravan, and then served burnt yet still frozen sausages.

Whilst she maintains to this day that burnt soup is part of the camping experience, it is safe to conclude that delicious and gourmet my mother’s camping cooking was not, and it being edible at all was a bonus!

Cooking and eating in a camper-van doesn’t have to be like this; it can be simple and delicious!

There is nothing I love more after a day on the road than settling down to a plate of sumptuous comfort food. To me, this is what camper-van food is really all about. So chill a bottle of white or pop the cork off a good Merlot, fire up both gas rings on the camper cooker, and get ready for a feast as you watch the sun set and hone into your open-road wanderlust.

My top four camper-van comfort food recipes:

This is mobile comfort food of the highest order, and the limited source of cooking heat and space for preparation will not impair the results at all. Good food, the great outdoors, and a bit of freedom—this could be your beautiful life.

Broad bean, walnut, pea, and mint leaf salad with honeycomb and goats’ milk Gouda.

This is quick and easy to make, and you add in things like young dandelion leaves and sorrel to satisfy the hunter-gatherer spirit within you.

150g small broad beans, shelled and papery skins removed
150g peas, podded
75ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 handful mint leaves, finely torn
50g goats’ cheese Gouda, chopped into small cubes
50g chopped walnuts
50g fresh honeycomb, cut into small pieces (a sticky job)
Salt and pepper

Put the beans and peas in a bowl, and toss with the cheese cubes and walnuts. Mix together the oil, vinegar, and mint, then season. Dress the peas and beans mixture, and plate up. Place a portion of honeycomb on top of each salad.

Great served with fresh sourdough bread or a touch of French stick!

Baked fresh goats’ cheese with cinnamon, figs, and olive oil.

I really love this recipe because it’s just so indulgent and simple. Can’t beat this dish for chilling with a glass of wine and just watching the world go by.

1 small, fresh goats’ cheese, about 150g (I often use the Somerset goats’ cheese for a milder, creamier flavour)
4 dried figs, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground rock salt

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F, or gas mark six. Cut out a piece each of tin foil and baking parchment, both large enough to wrap the cheese in, and lay the parchment on top of the foil so you have a double layer. Place the cheese in the middle and fold up the sides a little, so you have an open parcel. Sprinkle the cheese with the cinnamon, drizzle over the honey and olive oil, then add in the salt and dried figs. Next, fold up the sides of the foil and parchment to create a sealed parcel. Make sure you crimp together the edges of the foil, making sure you have a tight seal all around (you don’t want your cheese escaping). Bake in the hot oven for eight minutes.

Just before serving, open the parcel and mash the soft, hot cheese with the oil and spices. This is great to serve with steamed asparagus and bread for dipping. It really is the ultimate in comfort food.

Boozy vegetable risotto.

1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
50ml olive oil
150g arborio rice
125 ml glass dry white wine
125ml calvados
1.2 litres hot stock made with one vegetable stock cube
A few handfuls of spring vegetables: peas, broad beans, asparagus, chopped watercress
50g feta cheese, roughly chopped
1 handful fresh mint, shredded

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, sweat the onion and garlic in the oil until soft. Add the rice to the pot, stir to mix and coat in the oil, then cook for a few minutes, until it starts to brown. Add the wine and calvados, stirring continuously. Cook until it has been completely absorbed by the rice. Next, ladle by ladle, add the hot stock, stirring regularly and making sure each ladle of stock is absorbed before adding the next. When the rice is just undercooked—after around 15 minutes—stir in the vegetables and continue to cook until the rice is done but retains just a slight bite. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the cheese and herbs, season, and serve. This is great on its own or topped with an egg.

Baked eggs.

Forget your fried eggs, spitting fat over a small camping cooker. Instead opt for baked eggs with laverbread seaweed for a deliciously healthy start to the day.

4 eggs
120g tin of laverbread seaweed
1 tsp smoked chilli flakes
400g tinned (chopped) tomatoes, drained
salt and pepper to season
butter for greasing ramekin dishes

Heat oven to 200C (180C for a fan oven), or gas mark six. Squeeze out any excess water from the tin of seaweed and divide between four small, greased oven-proof ramekin dishes.

Mix the tomatoes with the chilli flakes and some seasoning, then add to the dishes with the seaweed. Make a small well in the centre of each tomato mixture and crack in an egg. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Serve with crusty bread, doorstep toast, or some nice fresh field mushrooms, roasted in the oven.

It just goes to show that great food can be had, even in a small space, where cooking and washing up must be kept simple. Whilst there seems to be an unwritten rule amongst campers not to attempt cooking anything more adventurous than baked beans, fried eggs, limp bacon, and well done sausages, my thoughts are that rules are there to be broken and hopefully my recipes will inspire you to enjoy camper comfort food.
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Author: Seren Charrington-Hollins
Image: Jules/Flickr 
Editor: Catherine Monkman

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