Sunday, 22 May 2011

Firemaking Kit

Last winter, our son Luca received the most delightful birthday present. A shiny metal tin containing all you need to get a fire going in any conditions. When I realised what it was, I smiled at my sister-in-law, and she knowingly said "well, I thought it was something you could do together". Too right.

We kept it safe until our first camping trip earlier this month where we could both enjoy it and Luca could make his first true fire.

We planned to use it on our second day when I would have more time to pore over it with him. We opened it together and discovered surprise after surprise. The tin box contained little paper bags full of hardwood twigs, dried holly leaves and dried bark, a bundle of hardwood kindling, a flint, a box of stormproof matches and a veggie peeler (for making tinder shavings). Underneath all this lot was of a packet of marshmallows. Truly heart warming. It was so beautifully considered and packaged you couldn't help but smile.

We decided we would use it to start our afternoon fire for our barbeque supper. During the day we walked the fields around the camp site collecting kindling and fuel from under some of the large trees.

When the time came to light the fire, we used our own tinder and kindling to preserve the beautifully packaged bits in the tin. Luca shaved some soft sticks with the peeler to make more tinder and we started to build what would become our fire. We laid some smaller sticks at the bottom of the X-Grill we had bought with us to stop the tinder from falling through the grill (click here for my earlier review of the X-Grill). We then laid some dried grass, shavings and tiny twigs on top and then a few larger twigs to hold it all down.

Now, we were contending with 20mph plus winds and even stronger gusts, so being on the edge of an open field was probably not the best 'survival' location for fire lighting, but hey, we were camping. The wind made the flint starter a bit of a challenge, so we eventually opted for a storm proof match. Did the trick instantly and the wind made sure the fire took off very quickly.

We loaded it up with the wood we collected earlier and this became the fire that would keep us going all afternoon and evening.

Every time I think of this little tin box I feel warmed inside. It's like a box of little gifts. The joy doesn't stop at the first time either like many presents. You just want it to keep being there. I love it.

The lack of marshmallows in my photos is because by the time I had got the camera out we had already toasted them on a fire the night before. Brilliant idea 'though. Ten out of ten for feel good factor.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Hungarian Goulash in a Kotlich


I was recently given my first kotlich as an early birthday gift and couldn't wait to get something going in it. A few days camping at Folly Farm in the Cotswolds in the early May bank holiday provided the perfect opportunity.

The kotlich is an eastern European cooking pot (bograc in Hungarian), suspended from a tripod over an open fire. The idea of a goulash seemed a perfect match for my new kotlich's initiation.

I did some digging for traditional goulash recipes and came across some inspiring details on a Budapest tourism website. History, recipes, variations, the lot. The whole thing joined up perfectly when I read that goulash was originally cooked by Hungarian herdsmen in a cast iron pot over an open fire in the fields. With prime quality beef at hand, and a cooking method requiring little attention, it suited (and still does) their life style perfectly.

The recipe I found at the 'Budapest Tourist Guide' is the perfect 'one pot meal', ideal for camping, or even at home on the hob or in a slow cooker. There was a bit of apprehension from my dear wife when I suggested it for our meal as she claimed she had never had a goulash that was flavoursome enough. I dug my heels in and set out to prove otherwise.

RECIPE (serves 4):

- 600g beef shin or shoulder cut into 2-3cm cubes (I could only get brisket)
- 2 tbsp olive oil or lard
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1-2 carrots, diced
- 1 parsnip, diced (I couldn't get one)
- 1-2 celery leaves (I used one stalk, chopped)
- 2 medium tomatoes, skinned and chopped (I didn't bother skinning them)
- 2 green peppers, chopped
- 2-3 medium potatoes, sliced or chopped
- 1 (heaped) tbsp of paprika powder (I used more)
- 1 tsp ground caraway seed (I couldn't get any)
- 1 bay leaf (or more)
- Water (I used water and beer)
- Salt and pepper
- (plus I added a tin of chopped tomatoes)

The great thing about this cooking pot is that it is not fussy about the fire, it just needs heat. Flames, embers, doesn't matter a bit, unlike when cooking directly over fire. And also, when camping, unless you are uber organised or super equipped, everything takes longer.

For the fire, I used our X-Grill portable barbeque (see my earlier article and review), as we weren't allowed to light fires directly on the ground. We'd brought along a box of decent hardwood, my favourite hatchet and had gathered I pile of tinder and kindling from around the farm. We were also contending with 20mph winds and occasional severe gusts that routinely tipped over our camping chairs.

METHOD (Allow at least 3-4 hours depending on the cut of meat)

Get a good fire going under the pot and brown the onions in the oil. Then add the paprika, stirring to prevent burning. Add the beef, garlic and caraway, stirring until the beef changes colour. Add the bay leaf and enough water to cover and leave to cook. This is where I also added the tinned tomatoes.

After an hour and a half or so (when the beef is half cooked), add the potatoes, carrots, parsnip and celery, check for seasoning, and add another 2-3 cups of water if needed.

Finally, when the vegetables and meat are almost done, add the fresh tomato and green pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes or so.

Goulash is often served with csipetke, little dumplings cooked in the sauce, which need to be added five minutes before serving. I didn't do them this time.

The sauce should be rich, aromatic and thick, and ours certainly was. My wife was converted and they all loved it and scraped the pot for seconds. Next time, with caraway, parsnip and dumplings, it can only get better.

After the meal, we sat around the warmth of the fire and toasted a load of marshmallows for our dessert.

The kotlich is a must have camping accessory. Lightweight, easy to pack, easy to clean and really good fun to use.

Click here to get your own kotlich from The Glam Camping Company.

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