Entries Tagged 'Road food' ↓

Welcome Tammi Jonas and Motorhome Mama Cookin’

Now one of my dearest and closest friends, @tammois and I met on the twitterz and have since cemented our friendship around many tables and fires, cookbooks, meals and bottles of wine. Tammi and the rest of her brood, The Jonai, are at present on a magnificent three month Rebel Farm Tour of her homeland, the USA, in the world’s coolest RockVan.

You can follow their journey at her blog Tammi Tasting Terroir, on Crikey’s Back in a Bit travel blog and on twitter but this here is what Mama’s been cookin’ up on the road …

A question food folk love to both ask and answer – ‘what can’t you live without in the kitchen?’ – is one that most of us rarely have cause to put to the test. But flying across the Pacific with nothing but a suitcase of clothes to drive across America in a ’77 GMC motorhome provides the perfect opportunity.

I knew there’d have to be cast iron, a good knife, a wooden chopping board and either a mortar & pestle or a hand blender. The hand blender won in deference to space considerations (I can hardly claim it was the weight given all the cast iron…). A mixing bowl or two, a large-ish pot, some wooden spoons and a whisk pretty much rounds out the essentials.

We picked up a cast iron griddle and a frypan for a song at the thrift shops of Front Royal, Virginia, where I also scored a hand blender for $5, and complete sets of utensils, cups and plates for a few dollars. Due to the small stove, I leaped at a narrow, tall stainless steel pot on sale for $15 new at Target, and a large, new, wooden chopping board with a non-slip mat underneath from Camping World that’s designed to sit atop RV stoves to save space and stop the rings from clattering on the road.

A good knife eluded me for over a week – we’d bought a Wüsthof paring knife at Bed, Bath & Beyond hoping it would tide us over until I found a quality Japanese high-carbon steel chef’s knife. I quickly lost patience and knuckles chopping garlic with this woefully inadequate tool, but we’d scoured all the ‘home’ or ‘kitchen’ shops we could find, all of which were of the large, generic franchise sort, and found only Wusthofs and Globals and something branded by one of those ‘pretty women who cook on tv’ whose names I can never remember. And then we stumbled across Country Knives.

We were just past Intercourse, Pennsylvania on a tiny byway (340) after exploring Amish country when the sign appeared. There was no town nearby, and the sign appeared to be at the front of somebody’s home. I figured there would be a charming but useless collection of ‘country craft’ knives – perhaps with carefully whittled handles for the grey-nomad types to admire and purchase only to continue to despair at cooking as they’ve never known the joys of a good knife. I was utterly mistaken.

Inside was a wonderland of knives – some 8000 the owner told us – everything from hunting knives and throwing stars to high-quality chef’s knives. Bingo. The beautifully curved 10” Shun Classic twinkled at me from behind the glass. Just to be circumspect, I handled three or four, but it was love at first sight, and it was with intense pleasure that I handed over my credit card to make the Shun mine. It hasn’t disappointed, as I’ve chopped my way down the Appalachians, rhythmically maintaining an otherwise scattered sense of self from Pennsylvania to Mississippi.

A secondhand 4-quart cast iron pot with a lid was even more difficult to secure, and without it, there’s no hope of making bread in the RockVan’s small oven whose designer clearly mistook ‘distribute’ heat for ‘localise intensely at the bottom middle’. We picked up a simple heat dissipator for a few cents at one of the many Habitat for Humanity’s Restores we’ve frequented, which should make basic baking more successful, but bread’s a fussier beast, so cast iron was required.

Yet again, patience paid off, and I found what I needed at a Lodge Cast Iron factory outlet outside Knoxville, Tennessee. Since the recession, Lodge made a decision to put pots and pans with minor defects out on ‘seconds’ shelves rather than re-melting them for another attempt at perfection. Thanks to this reportedly popular new policy, I scored my pot for $26 rather than the usual $60, all because it has two nearly invisible little concave bubbles in the bottom.

So now that I’ve waxed fetishistically on about knives and cast iron, surely you’re wondering what I’ve cooked with it?

Those who know my penchant for making sourdough damper when we camp might have wondered whether I’ve baked yet. For one, I miss Fran, my sourdough starter whose daughters I left with family in Oz in hopes of returning to her in September. Next, there is the issue of the small oven that seems to think it’s an inverse griller. Finally, it’s been so freaking hot there’s no way I wanted to put the oven on! However, having found my cast iron pot and lid finally, I’ll make my first RockVan loaves soon … whether in the oven or on the stovetop will depend on the mercury.

The ready availability of quality tortillas and dearth of decent bread across small-town America has resulted rather logically in a surfeit of Mexican cooking in the RockVan. Of course it’s ‘Tex-Mex’, and frequently inspired by what we’re finding in the taquerías to be found in even the most seemingly ‘white bread’ towns. It’s also inspired by the brilliant variety of chilies found everywhere (even – gasp – in Walmart!), anaheims, poblanos, jalapeños, habaneros, and serranos to name some of the most common. And don’t be fooled by some of their capsicum-like appearance – most are very bloody hot – as I discovered during an out-of-mind experience three bites into ‘testing’ the hotness of one type.

And so burritos de frijoles negros, tacos de carne asada, quesadillas, enchiladas de pollo, and many bastardisations of all of the above have been our lunch and dinner staples, plus the odd breakfast burrito here and there.

Still, it turns out even the bean-lovin’ Jonai cannot survive on tortillas alone, and so I’ve experimented with drop biscuits both on the griddle and in the oven. It’s surprising how well they work on the griddle, though it’s tricky to keep them from burning on the outside while ensuring the middle isn’t doughy. Then having learned about hoecakes, which are a sort of cornmeal pancake/biscuit, I’ve been working on a technique with thinner biscuits for the stovetop. I’ve also rather enjoyed making these southern staples for my aunts and uncles, all of whom grew up on them, but are pleasantly surprised to find that their ‘Australian’ niece makes them ‘like Mama did’, even though they themselves now make pop-out biscuits.

Free-range eggs are often found for sale along the roadside – usually for $2 or $3 a dozen – and so eggs, biscuits and gravy are a popular brekky. I broke in the hand blender with a classic ‘tammindaise’ the day we did happen to have bakery bread and after planting our little herb garden in the kitchen window.

The ever-present truck-wheel fire ring grill at all the state parks has meant some barbecuing as well – ‘grass-fed beef’ is pretty easy to come by, as is free-range chicken. Vegetarian options range from the black-bean Mexican favourites to tofu burgers and an old standby, a Sri Lankan style mustard eggplant curry. We even made a Limburger and avocado pasta one night, and although the stinky-socks smell of the cheese challenged the brood, they gobbled it all up.

One night, just for a lark, we cooked some turkey dogs for the kids, and Stuart even taught the kids the ‘bend the can’ trick to cook some creamed corn on the grill, which they universally despised, I’m happy to report.

When Oscar spiked a fever, it was roast capsicum and garlic soup on the menu, and when he recovered and requested fried chicken, I proved it’s possible even in the little RockVan.

When I stumbled across fresh pita breads at the Central Markets in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we had to have kebabs, and here in the South, we seem to have coleslaw with nearly every meal.

The opportunity to cook in ‘real’ kitchens while visiting family and friends has been a lovely respite from the RockVan’s confines and a great way to say ‘thanks for having us’. I’m surprised that nobody has blinked an eye as I stride in with not just ingredients but my kick-arse knife as well.

Texas lies ahead, so our Mexican fetish should crank up a few notches when I pick up tortilla presses for me and the wonderful Zoe, our gracious host here on PDP. But first, we’ll be traveling through Cajun country in southern Louisiana, where I hope to learn the mysteries of Gumbo, Jambalaya and crawfish étouffée. If you want to see how that goes, be sure to tune back in for the next instalment of Motorhome Mama Cookin’. ;-)

 

Emica faces up to Continental corporate catering: vitello tonnato versus cheese’n'mayo sarnies

Conferences are usually surprisingly good for me: the food is so completely appallingly inedible that I live on the bananas in the fruit bowl. There’s something so depressing about leaving a tedious presentation for a lunch spread of beige foods. Cold deep fried reconstituted chicken ‘goujons’ and a variety of mayonnaise-based curling sandwiches.

I’m just back from a work trip to Maastricht in the Netherlands. Our super urbane host organised a series of excellent restaurants for us. Dinner of day one was vitello tonnato followed by slow roast lamb and a ferrero rocher flavour profiterole. Lunch on day two was at a hip theatre cafe with roast tomato soup and a great selection of rolls (cheese heavy, it’s the Netherlands…). Dinner on the second night was four courses of charcuterie, risotto, then more veal and I can’t remember what for dessert, probably because of the wine.

I think it’s only fair that I get one good batch of conference food cos I’ve had some total rubbish over the years. Thank god for packet biscuits.

So, what were your best and worst corporate catering experiences?

Emica goes in pursuit of lunch in Paris and Berlin

How glamorous. What air of intrigue. How totally European: to take the 20:15 night train from Paris to Berlin; alone. I feel like a character from a Tolstoy novel or perhaps a fugitive agitator, en route to foment revolution and bring about the downfall of the owning classes, delivering the means of production into the hands of the workers. Ahem. Apologies. Having had a starring role in books and films, as well as actual history, European train travel is so evocative that I get a bit carried away with the romance of the tracks. (If you’re doubtful, check this site out; I get a sudden urge to book long journeys to exotic destinations).

Air travel has become a tedious cattle market experience, so recently I took the overnight train from Paris to Berlin. While both cities have earnt a place at the table of world history, it can be tricky to get a bite to eat in either.

I’ve been to Paris a few times now and have done the major sights, so with just an afternoon in the city before my connecting train, I figured it would be best spent over a leisurely lunch. Unfortunately, I arrived in Paris at 2.30 and so missed my place at a bistro, as the dining hours are observed very strictly. Having reconciled myself to an afternoon without a creme caramel, the tricky thing about having over shot the lunch hour is that, in Feb it’s not as inviting to grab a baguette, some cheese and a slice of apricot tart and find a park bench. It’s a little chilly. But, the weather was mild and sunny- and hunger wins over cold- so a picnique was my best bet to eat.

You know those cheese and bacon slices that Brumby’s does? From memory, inch thick rubber cheese pocked with pellets of salted animal byproduct on pizza dough. Well, the cheese and bacon slice I got from the swank Parisian bakery was about as far from Brumby’s in a culinary sense as it is in geographic distance. Stinky gruyere with nuggets of speck on flaky butter pastry. One euro fifty slice of cheesey goodness. I also got an olive ficelle, which was almost 50/50 squashy kalamatas to chewy sourdough. And thank goodness I did because I didn’t really eat for nearly the next 24 hours, except to nibble a bit more of the unending ficelle.

Part of the reason I don’t manage to eat is I was too busy drinking, which won’t come as much of a surprise to many. A joy of travel is chance encounters and a party of two English couples celebrating a joint birthday take me under their wing in the bar carriage. We planned to test the urban myth that a train barman stays as long as his customers and I stumbled (well, it is a moving train!) into my couchette rather later than I’d planned, having not eaten the snacks I brought along as dinner. I’m not usually too pernickity, but in the morning I decide that it’s probably best not to breakfast on yesterday’s quiche, still wrapped in its greaseproof; eggs in a warm couchette for 12 hours doesn’t sound like a good idea. The ficelle tides me over.

Berlin is big. Compared to London, with its dense, higgledy, narrow streets and people under foot at every turn, Berlin is huge and wide and straight and empty and I feel a bit disoriented by the space. An interesting fact a colleague in economic development told me is that, when major cities across the western world were gaining population in the past 20 years, Berlin lost people.

An olive ficelle is not much to keep a girl going for a whole morning of sight seeing and so I headed towards a place recommended in my guide book that seemed to be only three blocks away. Except, three blocks in spacious Berlin seems to be about a kilometre and a half in distance and, in empty Berlin, didn’t offer many alternative eating options along the way either. I never found the well recommended restaurant due possibly to my confusion with street numbering or the great Saturday shut down, but instead found Lutter & Wegner, an entirely charming piece of European civilisation, with wine lined walls, floorboards and scrubbed wooden tables.

The menu tended towards proper main courses and the tables around me had plates of serious looking food, but the terrine I ordered was exactly what I felt like eating. They were very generous with the bread basket of very good bread (caraway!) so with that and a glass of reisling, I was very pleased with myself. I was even more pleased when my dessert arrived – curd cheese cake with sour cherries and nougat icecream with a huge twirl of wafer. Alright!

The lovely English people from the train had invited me to join them for dinner and so I had a second thoroughly enjoyable night drinking too much with strangers – which sounds a lot more salacious than it was. It struck me that this was the kind of European food I almost never eat – ordinarily I cook more in the mediterranean-middle eastern palette and, post Friday work pints, continue the theme with a kebab on the way home. Chic, refined European cooking isn’t something I often do, but I may make it more of a habit because my lobster soup was delicious: smooth, velvety and fishy, and the pork with leek risotto to follow was excellent. I’m a little hazy on what my new found friends had because of the reisling – I think the fellas may have had lobster at some point, tuna carpaccio was mentioned and due to the heavy meat element in the menu the waiter was at pains to help the one vegetarian get a full meal.

Prenzlauer Berg, an inner north area of former East Berlin, is now a very hip quarter, with lots of cafes, bars, hipsters on bikes and, oddly, babies. I’ve never seen so many Bugaboos! After the last couple of days wearing out my shoe leather in pursuit of food, I’d started feeling cursed to wander, seeking sustenance but forever denied. In Prenzlauer Berg however, the fault was all mine. It wasn’t for lack of choice – the main street is dominated by various cafes, including a bar on the ground floor of a squat – but my pickiness about the kinds of signifiers I look for in somewhere to eat. And my choosiness can mean very long walks to see what’s round the next corner. So after some legwork on Kastanienallee, I lucked upon a super cool cafe on Oderberger Strase. So cool that I can’t remember it’s name written in German in neon on the front. This cafe served only crepes (which should be due a comeback in the English speaking world I think) and, riffing on a retro theme, was entirely decorated with raids from some stylish nanna’s living room.

In a country that invented the last word in cake related indulgence – schwarzwelderkirschtorte [black forest cake]- my last food adventure was kafee und kuchen at Anna Blume, a cafe and florist rolled into one with a very sexy painting of a Demeter-type figure in Art Noveau style on one wall and a glass cabinet of cakes. Mmmm sachertorter…

And just one final thought – train stations featured quite prominently during the weekend and this chain of croissant and pretzel shops was always found somewhere near the platforms. It just sounds vaguely rude, doesn’t it?!

Pammy Faye finds over 120 varieties of home-made bliss

There is a man called Keith who lives in Huskisson on the NSW south coast. Keith loves jam and relish. In fact, he loves jam and relish so much that he has dedicated that last 17 years of his retired life to the business of making and selling over 120 varieties of the stuff.

It’s a rough and ready operation, a back yard job turned semi-professional but nevertheless one that appears to be carefully observant of food safety and handling regulations (all his bottles are labelled with a ‘best before’ date but I didn’t ask how he sterilises the jars). He uses recycled jars and his niece makes the labels for him on her home computer. On his business card Keith describes himself as a “Maker of Quality & Fancy Jams & Pickles for Australian & Continental Tastes”, and I would not disagree. They are indeed quality, and many are really rather fancy.

I discovered Keith’s jams during a three-week writing retreat I organised for myself late last year. Every day after my early morning ocean swim in Jervis Bay, I’d make myself a strong cup of coffee and a plate of toast with lashings of jam, and sit quietly in contemplation of the words ahead. Under conditions of self-imposed social isolation, this ritual of morning toast and jam was incredibly comforting, so much so that it quickly became habit. And Keith, god bless him, was my dealer.

Hundreds of jars of jams and pickles line the walls of Keith’s modest weatherboard home. He’s got your tried and tested traditional sorts: plum, strawberry, raspberry, apricot, and smooth and creamy lemon butter with just the right amount of zest. He’s also runs a line of offbeat moderns and fusions: tomato and pineapple jam, chilli jam, mango jelly, rhubarb and apple jam, onion jam, and banana jam. He makes over fourteen varieties of marmalade including cumquat, ruby grapefruit, melon and lemon, bush lemon and tangelo.

Then there are his relishes and chutneys, many of which give expression to his love of all things spicy: mexican tomato chutney, choko chilli garlic chutney, plum and chilli bbq sauce, and cauli chilli relish. For the curious, a chutney is a form of relish, specifically indian relish, derived from Hindu word chatni. A relish is a form of pickle served as a condiment. and we all know a pickle is something that is difficult to get out of. And for those of you are aware of my passion for all things beetroot, you can only imagine how excited I was when I discovered both beetroot chutney and spiced baby pickled beetroot.

One could spend a lifetime tasting them all. What a pity I’ve only got a few days over Christmas and limited luggage space in the Troopy .

Keith grew up on a farm in the nearby district of Tomerong. The farm had over twenty different fruit trees, all of which were at various times in glut and therefore preserved and shelved in his mother’s walk-in pantry. Keith didn’t lay eyes on a commercially produced tin of jam or relish until he was married; in fact he reckons he didn’t even know they existed. Keith went on to spend his professional life working in kitchens, and when he retired just kept on cooking, preserving whatever local produce he could get his hands on. He makes his LillyPilly jam, a delicate little jewel which might be compared to a good sparkling from the fruit of the LillyPilly trees [insert link to LillyPilly info page on net] he planted in his front yard.

Keith and I both agree that his fig and ginger jam constitutes his masterwork. I didn’t ask him which was his favourite pickle, but his recommendation of green tomato and chilli mustard relish to accompany our Christmas day ham this year was genius and did not disappoint. As you can see, it hasn’t taken us long to put a rather large dent in it. Home made bliss indeed.

Emica’s camp cooking challenge; or, the search for the perfect scone

Possessed by the spirit of our straitened times – and the rubbish value of the pound against the Euro – The Man and I decided to have a staycation and spend a week’s summer holiday camping in the Lake District. Key words to note here: camping; Lakes; England. What can I say? The Man must have caught me at a weak moment. Perhaps I was distracted by a Queen of Puddings or some other delicious fancy.

While not virgin campers, we are definitely novices and our previous test runs coincided with a spell of perfect English summer weather – blue skies, puffy clouds, burbling brooks. On these occasions it seemed only a matter of time before Ratty and Mole punted past our tent. We hadn’t taken cooking equipment on the brief test trips and I’d been equally impressed and alarmed by the other campers’ kitchens and what was considered essential camp cooking kit (a fruit bowl? Really?). So with visions of warm evenings grilling some little something picked up at a local grocer, we booked a week in a tent in the Lakes.

We’ve stayed in those vast, tarmaced caravan parks before (on honeymoon in Dorset in a 1979 Kombi camper van) and this time specifically sought out a camp site that would be a bit closer to nature. The first site was absolutely beautiful – a few farmer’s fields littered with boulders, criss crossed with dry stone walls and with long views across the valley to the fells above.

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Well, I say that now. I only discovered these charms on about day 3 when there was a brief break in the pelting rain and gale force winds and I could actually take in the surroundings rather than scuttling between car and tent, head down and zipping the fly sheet behind me.

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When you’re the tool of the day…

Why would the fifteen-year-old Tom opine such a comment from the back seat of his Dad’s car as we wend our way out of Cooma on Sunday night? Being one of four tired, sore, happy boys on their way back from the snow? Research data has its price.

tool

Since 1977 there has been a Greek milk bar/café/restaurant just north of the main roundabout in the main street of Cooma. My research data tells me so. We visited this restaurant, the Tourist Cafe Restaurant & BYO, three times on this trip. The first time, at 7.30 on Thursday night, was to discover that they only do takeaways between 7.30 and eight, as they try to clear the dining room of guests. On Thursday there were two more-elderly-than-any-of-us grey-haired gents busy writing at tables at either end of the dining room as we waited for our takeaways, and they weren’t budging. But a nice touch, which added to the ambience, we thought.

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Pamela Faye has reached the (unb)eaten track – Tjukurla Community

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Instalments one , two and three.

It’s been a long and arduous couple of weeks of eating, but have finally found my way into the Ngaanyatjarra lands and some civilised eating options. I arrived in the tiny community of Tjukurla from the tourist resort of Yulara at Uluru a couple of days ago, and have been eating fabulously, if somewhat humbly, since.

My enthusiasm for food has been somewhat diminished over the past fortnight by a persistent stomach bug that left me feeling exhausted with nausea but thankfully with few other symptoms. Not that I was missing out on much. With the exception of some excellent home cooked meals with friends in Alice Springs, eating since leaving Adelaide has been a rather mundane affair. Under siege from a meat craving, I ordered lamb shanks and mash at the dubious Glendambo Road House, our overnight stop between Adelaide and Alice. These shanks were enormous – quite literally an example of the proverbial mutton dressed up as her younger sister. But they were rather tasty and quite possibly the only redeeming feature of a place that otherwise makes no apologies for the appalling state of their accommodation. The bunk-house we were offered looks so bad that my travelling companion and I opted for sleeping rough on a tarp next to the ute rather than risk bed bugs. A sprinkling of rain initially left us doubting this decision, but then a cold, strong wind blew the clouds away and we slept contentedly under the magnificence of the Milky Way.

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Ginormous Glendambo Shanks

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