Smoked Paprika Pork Fillet

Looking for varieties of meats to cook is always a challenge when we’re not sure of the cuts or quality and prepackaged in Spain is aimed at large families.  We found some very nice pork fillet and this is a very simple but tasty way of cooking it on the Cobb. The added bonus was that the campsite at Laredo in Spain has several lime trees with limes ready for picking! This recipe makes enough for 2 hungry people.

In a bowl mix together I heaped tsp paprika, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 2tbsp olive oil, zest and juice of one lime and a few grinds of black pepper.  Pork fillet about 400g, trimmed of all sinew and cut into 2 pieces. Make diagonal slits in each piece, do not cut through completely, marinade in the paprika mix for hours.

Heat the Cobb, use the frypan or plate, sear the pork on all sides, cover with lid and cook to taste, rest the pork a few minutes then slice and serve.

Paella in Spain

Before we left the UK we agreed that we should eat at least one paella while we’re in Spain but heading out to a restaurant with a Fred in tow would not be a good idea so I set about organising the key ingredients of rice and spices before we left.

I found sachets of dried paella spice mixes in Tesco and as there’s only the two of us one sachet would give me the opportunity to make it twice and I bagged up ready weighed paella rice.

Spanish supermarkets sell frozen bags of mixed paella fish, ideal as it would save a lot of time and mess. The bag contained a good mix of white fish and shellfish but if you’re clever and have the time use fresh seafood of choice. Also needed are a small fresh red pepper sliced, some chorizo, onion, garlic and a couple of fresh tomatoes, all chopped, fish stock or water.

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until soft then add the chorizo, fry gently to release flavour and oil then add the rice and the spice mix, stir until it’s all coated with oil, add red pepper and tomatoes plus enough stock or water for the quantity of rice used. Cover and simmer until the rice is cooked and stock absorbed, this is difficult on a diesel hob as you can’t reduce the heat so you will need to keep checking that it’s not sticking to the bottom to much and add a little more stock/water if needed. Gently stir in the seafood and allow to cook for a few minutes. Serve with fresh crusty bread and a nice chilled glass of white Rioja.

Pizza on the Cobb

Preparation is the key to success with a pizza and it’s best to choose to make one when you’re on a stop over for a couple of days and the weather is at least dry and preferably warm. For this I use 2 new gadgets, a fry pan plate for the Cob and a small manual grinder from Lakeland. Around midday I prepare the pizza dough, my recipe is still being tried and tested but I pack ready weighed flour mixes with me and add the yeast and water when ready to make up. Leave the dough somewhere warm to rise for the afternoon. I whizz up a fresh tomato sauce using my manual grinder (clever little gadget!), slice red pepper, onion, a little chopped chilli, grate cheese of choice and put them all in the fridge along with some black olives and chorizo slices. These really are our favourite toppings but we’re planning to experiment next time.

When ready for dinner we light the cob and let the coals get really hot then place the fry pan on it to warm.

Divide the pizza dough into two pieces and shape one to fit the size of the fry pan. Line up the tomato sauce, peppers chilli and onions, grated cheese, olives and chorizo slices.

When the fry pan is hot lift it off the Cobb and spray with a little oil, place the pizza base inside and add the toppings in which ever order you prefer. The key here is not to overload the pizza. Put the frypan back on the Cobb, cover with the lid and cook for 10-15 mins until the base is crisp and the toppings are cooked. Remove from pan and keep warm while preparing the second pizza, cook this one while you enjoy the first.

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In our world there’s nothing better than sitting outside of an evening with a glass of wine and slices of fresh pizza.

Wallas Diesel Hob

Back in 2016 when we first looked at the internal layout for our new van installing a diesel hob was not high on my list. I understood the benefits of not carrying gas on board, giving me more cupboard space and not having to worry about running out while travelling, but I couldn’t really find any information on how to use one. A couple of visits to the Wallas stand at BusFest and seeing the hob work gave us the confidence to go ahead and buy a Wallas hob/heater combination. 

 I’m pleased to say it was a good decision and I hope the following points will be helpful to anyone considering installing one:-

It does take about 10-15 minutes to reach full heat but you don’t have to wait just put the kettle or a pan on the left side as soon as you fire it up and they will start to heat up too.

The hob has no temperature control, it’s hotter on the left side so use this for bringing pans up to boil then move to the right side to keep contents cooking slowly, however it’s important not to leave the left side without a pan on it for too long (15 minutes maximum).

It’s a very different way of cooking. Took me a few goes to get used to it but I learnt very quickly to switch pans from side to side to balance the heat in the pans so nothing overcooks or burns. It seems to cook quicker than gas rings but you can’t simmer easily so you have to keep stirring which means you can’t leave it unattended. I also have a toast grid for it but haven’t yet mastered making toast.

When you’ve finished cooking and switch off the hob it will cool down reasonably quickly but you must wait for all the lights to go off before you can turn it back on so think ahead, if you want coffee after dinner boil the kettle before switching off.

Occasionally you may get the odd whiff of diesel when you first fire it up especially if you have a window open. I confess to being very concerned the first time it happened but once we worked out why I stopped worrying about it. Although the unit uses very little diesel Depending on how high in your diesel tank the pick up is you need to be sure that there is enough in the tank for the burner to work. Likewise the unit uses very little electricity except for an initial surge on start up so you will also need sufficient battery power. If there isn’t then it simply won’t switch on.

Food Thoughts

Holidaying for 6 weeks in the van is a big challenge on the food front. I want us to continue with the healthy diet we follow at home but also allow for treats and of course the extra glass of wine when relaxing at the end of the day. So far I think we’ve eaten well.

Our staple breakfast is porridge, I weighed and bagged each days amount before we left home and I make it using powdered milk and water. I’ve tried various ways of making toast on our Wallas diesel hob none have been very successful so if we want a change from porridge we have crusty bread with honey, jam or marmalade.

Lunch is usually a sandwich or bread and pate, always with a salad and followed by fruit and our trusty Activia yogurts, just to help keep our digestion healthy. Finding seeded brown bread in France and Spain has been a real bonus and we can even buy granary baguettes in France, something that was impossible to find a few years ago when we had our holiday house there.

Mid morning coffee and our afternoon cuppa usually mean a digestive biscuit or two, maybe a cake treat and one day we found pastries filled with gooey dark chocolate, yummy.

Evening meals really depend on weather conditions, if it’s nice and we have time then we’ll get the Cobb fired up otherwise it’s cook on the hob. Using the hob I’ve cooked various pasta sauces, seafood risotto, spicy chicken, fish, spicy Spanish white beans, omelettes and even managed to warmed up bread. Cobb cooking is simply grilling sausages, burgers, chops, steak or fish until yesterday when I finally had a go at cooking pizzas from scratch, something we’ve talked about doing for a while now.  Our evening meals are eaten with bread or potatoes, vegetables or salads, followed with cheese and fruit or a pot of something luscious we’ve found in the supermarket.

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I’m really enjoying cooking with our diesel hob and learning how to adjust cooking times to allow for the heat settings as hot and warm are the only options!

Ridge Monkey

On recommendation from Sarah and James we invested in a Ridge Monkey – a revelation in cooking, versatile, non stick and quick, because it cooks everything in a sealed environment food stays moist and tender and because very little or no fat is needed it’s healthy. So far we’ve cooked eggs, chicken in various sauces and several fruit based desserts, all with great results. We’ve yet to make toasted sandwiches and experiment with different meats, I’m told burgers, bacon and sausages all cook well. It’s also a great stand by if the weather is rubbish and too cold or wet to light the Cobb.

Getting Organised

One of the most important things about cooking in a camper van is to be organised.  Know what you’re going to cook and get everything you’ll need out of the cupboards first, this may clutter the limited work space but there’s nothing worse than trying to find a pot, can or spatula from the under cupboard when you’re in the middle of prepping or cooking especially if you have the table in place.  With a top loader fridge I also need to remember to get all the chilled stuff out before piling the top of it with pans and the like.

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With some imagination there are no limits to what you can cook using a wok, small saucepan, frypan, Ridge Monkey and a Cobb grill just be relaxed about mealtimes, some things take longer to prep and cook when you’re limited on space and tools.  I use Notes on my iPad for recipes that are easy and tasty using a mix of fresh, dried and tinned ingredients. It’s nice to plan and cook together but with limited space I’ll usually do the prep and cooking while Alistair is great at getting the Cobb lit, pouring the wine and keeping Fred away from the food.

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Our new van has a diesel hob, very different from anything I have cooked on before and at first required an element of ‘shall we try this?’  Now after several short adventures in the UK we are  becoming quite skilled at mastering the diesel hob, yes it takes a while to heat up and once hot there is no real temperature control so it needs constant attention, stirring and switching pans around but it’s efficient and I haven’t burnt anything yet.

We enjoy grilled meats, fish and chicken so the Cobb gets a lot of use, simply grill as they are or marinate in herbs or spices in the fridge during the day while travelling.  When deciding what to serve with grilled food the standard salad always heads the list but after several days this becomes a bore so I have developed a list of side options and always stock the cupboard with stir fry sauces, tins of mixed beans in spicy tomato sauce, baked beans, salad beans and lentils, noodles, rice, couscous and several types of pasta, all of which can be made into sides for grilled food.

I take weighed quantities of pasta, rice, couscous and porridge sealed in small bags but also take a set of cups and a measure chart for these basics in case we run short of pre weighed.  Packet cuppa soups are a great standby for a quick lunch but they also make excellent sauces to cook meat, fish, chicken or vegetables in, use a good brand, don’t add all the recommended amount of water to start with and add extra herbs and spices to enhance the flavours.