Cooking equipment for campsites

Let’s face it. Camping kit is fun. We spend much of our time on campsites coveting the items we spot on the pitches around us and making lists of things we ‘need’ for our next trip.
I’ve come across some interesting new camp kitchen and cooking kit over the course of this camping season. With limited space in Custard my campervan, any new kit has to earn its place. In the first of a series of kit reviews over the coming months, here’s my round up on a few cooking pots – with a difference.

Omnia

 

There are times when I’m happy to be proved wrong. When I took the Omnia out of its box, I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for it. A stove-top oven, made out of extremely light weight aluminium (only 500g) it is designed to sit on top of a gas ring or single burner camping stove. The claim is that it can cook anything you can cook in a conventional oven – cakes, bread, gratins and so on.

It can cook over any fuel source – gas, liquid fuel or solid fuel – but for testing I am using my trusty (and much used) Outwell Double Burner with Calor gas.
The Omnia comes in three parts. There is the steel base ring, the main aluminium pan, and the lid. If I’m honest it all looked a bit flimsy to me so I was keen to put it through its paces. I decided to make bread. If I could make a decent loaf on my gas burner then I would be impressed.

Omnia 3 pcsHow does it work? The steel base is placed on the stove with the heat source centred under the hole. Having this barrier between the heat source and the pan with the food prevents the food being burnt directly over the heat. It also creates an air lock between the base plate and the food holder to create bottom heat. The heat heads up through the centre funnel in the food pan, bounces off the lid (with ventilation holes) allowing the heat to spread from above creating top heat. A simple, but very clever design.

Now before I come to the bread recipe I used, I have to mention the recipe book that comes with the Omnia. Being a Swedish design and company, the recipes are well... very Swedish. I am the first to celebrate the fact that Scandinavian cooking has had a resurgence in popularity here, especially since the publication of the wonderful book Scandilicious by Signe Omnia Bread RingJohansen, but I urge members to venture beyond the picture of the rather herring-heavy first dish in the book. Their website has some good suggestions including shepherd’s pie, stuffed peppers, fish pie and baked potatoes, as well as a few bread recipes. I used the basic bread recipe in the book.

(If you weighed out the dry ingredients into a freezer bag before going on a camping trip, it would make this an easy camping recipe).
I added 1tbsp of oil to 250ml of warm water then a pinch of salt, 1 tbsp of honey, 30g dried yeast, stirred and combined with 1 litre of plain flour (I used half strong white/half plain white) and mixed thoroughly. After a decent knead, I covered the dough over with a cloth and let it prove for 30 minutes. The recipe says to grease the Omnia food holder as well as dusting it with breadcrumbs to prevent the bread sticking. I just greased it and instead sprinkled some fennel and black onion seeds into it. After kneading the dough again, I formed a sausage shape to fit around the holder and allowed it to prove under the lid for another 30 minutes.

Keeping the lid on I baked it on the lowest setting until the crust was hard – and sounded hollow. After 30 minutes it was perfect and I was extremely impressed. I’ve since made a simple potato dauphinoise and a macaroni cheese – and both have turned out perfectly.

Thumbs up to the Omnia.

£42.99, cook book £13

To enter our competition to win an Omnia oven and cook book, click here, or to buy.

The Wonderbag
 

It may look like a cat bed, beanbag or turban, but it lays claim to some pretty world-changing stuff.

In short the idea behind the Wonderbag is that it’s a heat retention bag that ‘hugs’ your heated pot of stew or curry and continues to cook it for up to eight hours rather like a slow cooker. The advantages are that you use very little fuel to cook a meal, can prepare a meal in the morning, bring it up to boiling point then take it off the heat and leave it in the bag to continue to ‘cook’ while you have a day out and come back to a piping hot meal at the end of the day.

Wonderbag in useIt uses the same principle as the old fashioned hay-box – stick a hot pot of food in a box insulated with hay – and it will still be hot when you come in after a tough day in the fields.

The Wonderbag was ‘invented’ by a South African eco-entrepreneur called Sarah Collins who realised this simple bag could have a hugely positive impact on the lives of many families in the African townships around her. When families were spending so much of their meagre income on fuel for cooking, a Wonderbag could considerably cut their fuel costs.

As well as saving money, the company highlights the other advantages such as cutting down the risk of poisoning from toxic emissions that comes from burning solid fuels for long periods in enclosed places. Using a Wonderbag to cook food also cuts down on time women and girls have to spend cooking – allowing them to go to school or work. For every Wonderbag sold – one is donated free to communities in Africa.

So, it certainly has advantages to developing nations, but I’m looking at this product from a camping perspective. Obviously saving fuel is a big winner, as is the ability to slow cook something without having to use gas for hours and hours. I often avoid long-cook recipes in my camp cooking for this reason – unless of course I’m cooking on a campfire. So with all of this in mind I was really keen to give this a go.

I did have concerns though. Would the food stay hot enough? Basic food safety standards require that food must be kept above certain temperatures in order to prevent bacteria from developing. (This can happen if food sits between 5 and 60 degrees for more than an hour).
The instructions stress it is important to use a heavy pot that retains heat, and one with a tight fitting lid.

There is a Wonderbag recipe book that comes with the bag, with a range of ideas from sausage casserole to roast lamb and rice pudding. I chose to try the mild chicken curry and rice recipe to put it through its paces.

WonderbagI heated some oil in the pot on my gas stove, then added eight chicken thighs and cooked for ten minutes until browned all over. I added a thinly sliced onion and cooked it for a further five minutes until golden, stirred in two tablespoons of curry powder to coat the chicken then added 250g of basmati rice and 350ml of chicken stock. It’s then vital to bring the dish to the boil, before simmering for a good 15 minutes – this is to make sure that enough heat gets into the food.

Keeping the lid on, I then placed the pot in the Wonderbag, sealed it with the drawstring and left for 4 hours as instructed.

It was quite exciting unwrapping my parcel to see if my food would be magically cooked. And it was. To make sure I checked the core temperature of the chicken - 76C - above the recommended guidelines. Perfect. The rice was really well cooked too.

I want to point out here that I used a Deluxe Wonderbag filled with biodegradable polyurethane foam. There is an earlier version using polystyrene beads, which I’ve also tried, but was less happy with in terms of getting the food to the right temperature.

For a camper, the size of the Wonderbag could be considered a bit of a hindrance if you’re short on packing space. That said, you could still stuff it with dried foods or other kitchen items like your pan to make use of the inside space. You could even use it as a pillow!

But, I can see this being a really useful bit of kit for your trip – if you like the idea of preparing your meals before you head out for day. Most of all I can see me using this for our Friday night arrival meal. We all know the stresses of heading off to campsite after work or school on a Friday night - having to cook a meal after setting up your unit, tent or van can be the final straw. This way, you’ve cooked your meal in the morning at home... popped it in the Wonderbag for the journey and you’ve got a steaming hot dinner when you arrive. Wonderful!

The Deluxe Wonderbag costs £60. Buy now.

Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven

On to a classic bit of camping kit – a Cast Iron Camp Dutch Oven from American company Lodge. This 4 quart/3.8-litre cast iron pot may be a beast to lug about but if you are camping not far from the car it’s a must have for a bit of fireside cooking.

Lodge Dutch OvenLodge has been making iron cookware in Tennessee since 1896 and claims to be the sole American manufacturer of cast iron cookware. “We don’t just make products, we make heirlooms that bring people together for generations,” it says. With this kind of heartfelt pride in a product, I feel an obligation to make this cooking pot part of my camping life – and then hand it on to my kids along with all the stories of the places its been, the campfires we had...
Okay maybe that’s going a bit far, but there is definitely something wonderful about a well-made, robust cooking pot such as this.

The pot has a snug fitting lid that’s flanged to contain hot coals on top of the pot so you can use it for baking, stewing and roasting. The lid can be inverted to use it as a griddle. The heavy wire handle is strong enough for the oven to be hung over the campfire. The three integral legs allow the pot to stand over coals.

Isn’t one cast iron pot the same as any other? I’m not sure I’m in a position to answer that one. However, the proud folk at Lodge are keen to point out that the quality of the metal formula, as well as uniform molding to keep an even thickness of pot walls is something that keeps them at the top of their game. Most importantly make sure that your cast iron pot has a snug fitting lid as this one does.

The pot comes with a useful booklet with clear ideas and tips of getting the best out of your pot – as well as some classic Chuckwagon style recipes such as the Mountain Man Breakfast (sausage and hash browns), Southwestern Cowboy Omelette and Barbecued Chicken and Ribs.

I’ve been on a fair few rustic camping trips with groups of friends where the campfire is the focus of evenings – and this pot has come into its own. We’ve had sausage casseroles made with ingredients bought solely from the campsite farm shop, a rabbit stew and also tried, successfully, to make damper bread in it. I’ve found through experience that it’s worth turning the pot every 15 minutes or so just to keep the heat even. Don’t keep lifting the lid though or you’ll lose too much heat.

Use the hot embers, rather than the ‘fire’ to cook your food and remember to cover the lid with hot embers, which is possibly even more important than the heat underneath. As heat rises, it means food on the bottom of the pan will get a decent amount of heat, whereas food at the top needs extra heat near it.

I appreciate this pot might not be on the top of your list if you have a caravan or motorhome, but for campervanning or tenting around a campfires, perhaps even with a guitar and fireside tales – I’d recommend this is one for the kit wish list.

It's worth noting though, open fires are not permitted on Club Sites.

Price is £81 from Amazon.

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