One of the highlights of any stay in the great outdoors – regardless of whether you’re in a van, a tent, or a cabin somewhere – is what us Clancys call cocktail hour. It’s that hour (or so) in the late afternoon – maybe as the sun is setting, maybe before you’re thinking about dinner, maybe while you’re thinking about dinner – when the beer comes out and the wine is opened. You sit around and have a drink, something to eat, and wonder what everyone else who isn’t as lucky as you to be where you are is doing.
Even though there are no cocktails as such, and even though it can stretch for much longer than an hour, we call it the cocktail hour.
This cheesy dip is a good one for cocktail hour. It doesn’t need a blender or any fancy equipment – just a bowl and a spoon – and can be whisked together quickly. It is, however, best if you let the flavours develop a tad.
We first tried it when we were road-tripping through the countryside in France earlier this year, although it’s got a far posher French name than herby cheese dip. Over there they serve it on boiled potatoes as a starter course with some salad, but we like it on toasted baguette.
What you need
250g cottage cheese. Choose the full-fat version.
50ml creme fraiche – that’s about 1/4 of the tub. Use the rest in a mushroom sauce for your steaks…yum. You can also use non-sweetened greek style yoghurt or sour cream if you like.
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
3 tbsp chives, finely sliced
2 tbsp continental parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
What you do with it
Place the cottage cheese and creme fraiche in a bowl and mix together.
Whisk in the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper
Stir through the shallot, chives and parsley.
Cover with cling film and pop it in the fridge for an hour
This dish combines two of my favourite things – curries and cooking on the fire. Plus, it’s a surprisingly easy meal to put together – always a bonus when you’re out and about. Don’t let me fool you though, whilst it may be easy, it is definitely tasty and full of textural delights.
Aside from taking great, this particular curry has one distinct advantage over other curries – it can be cooked and ready to be eaten in under half an hour. Perfect for a first-night cook if you are arriving at your destination later in the day or early evening.
There were a few extra ingredients that I played with here to get a different texture element and some more depth of flavour. I included canned pineapple cubes for sweetness along with canned lychees – which I must admit I haven’t cooked with before, although I definitely will be adding them to my camping list from now on.
The list below looks a tad long, but don’t forget you can make your curry paste at home before you leave – in fact, I’d suggest that you did. Of course, you can always take a shortcut and buy your favourite curry paste from the supermarket, though for me there is no substitute for freshness – even when camping.
What you need
2 duck breasts
1 teaspoon of oil
2 tablespoons of curry paste
400ml can of coconut cream
Small tin (225g) of pineapple chunks
Half a tin of lychees (about 250g)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons of fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
For the curry paste
12 – 15 dried red chillies
4cm piece of galangal (use ginger if you do not have galangal, or include both for even more flavour)
1 whole bunch of coriander – roots and all.
2 stalks lemongrass ( white section only). Smash the stalk with the back of a heavy knife and slice
10 kaffir lime leaves with stems removed
12 cloves of garlic
4 brown shallots
1 teaspoon shrimp paste. This is often sold as belacan and is available in little individually wrapped squares.
Dash of salt
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
What you do with it
Flatten out shrimp paste in between 2 pieces of aluminium foil and roast over medium heat in a frypan for 2 minutes on each side. If you’re making this in your kitchen at home, open all windows and put the fan on as this will smell!
Place chillies in a bowl of hot water for 10-15 mins, then drain
Throw all the ingredients into a mortar and pestle and pound into a paste – or blitz them in a mini food processor. If you’re blitzing your paste ingredients, chop each roughly. If you’re going with the pounding method, make life easier on yourself and slice and dice more finely.
Pop the lot into a jar and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. It should make a cup. This paste also freezes well – pop it into an ice cube tray to freeze and then store in zip lock bags in the freezer.
Making the curry
Do whatever it is that you need to do to get your heat source up to temperature. I like to use the Ozpig.
Let’s get the duck skin nice and brown. For the best result (not burnt, or cooked too quickly), score the skin and pat dry the skin with paper towel. Place the duck on a cold skillet or frypan and heat over your fire source. There’s no need to place any oil in the pan as the duck fat will render.
Cook until the skin is nice and golden, then flip and cook the other side for approximately 3mins. Once browned take it off the heat and allow to cool on a separate plate. Pour off the duck fat into a clean tin; you can save this for something else later – I’m thinking sauteed potatoes in duck fat…yum!
Pour the oil into your pan and fry off the curry paste until fragrant.
Now add the coconut cream and bring to the boil, then add the pineapple chunks and lychees. If you have other veggies you’d like to toss in eg beans, tomatoes, do it now.
Whilst that is coming back to heat, slice the duck to your desired thickness and add to the curry to heat through. This should only take a few minutes – you don’t want to overcook it.
To add even more depth, you can add the fish sauce, sugar and lime juice, though it is also well balanced without this.
Clancy is a Man From Snowy River tragic. Don’t tell him I said so, but I think he thinks he could be the man from Snowy River except for the fact that he doesn’t ride. Oooops. That doesn’t stop him making us all watch the movie over and over whenever we’re down in Eucumbene. He also bears more than a passing resemblance to Russell Coight from All Aussie Adventures (it’s time to hit the road)…but the least said about that the better.
The high country is Clancy country, so where else to go for a Clancy Crew get together than Craig’s Hut – the hut created for the Man From Snowy River for Jim Craig. It’s on Mt Stirling and to get up there you need a 4WD – or be prepared to walk 1.7km uphill …yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.
Although Craig’s Hut was originally built as a set for the 1982 movie The Man From Snowy River it has become a landmark in its own right – so much so that it’s difficult to believe that it hasn’t sheltered someone like Jim Craig over the years.
The original Craig’s Hut burnt down in a bushfire. This replica – with a tin rather than bark roof – was completed in 2008.
Apparently, it’s a pretty good replica of the high country settler’s huts. Regardless of whether or not it’s real, it’s extremely photogenic.
Sitting on top of Mt Stirling, the views are spectacular. Up here, on a clear day, it really does feel as though you can see forever.
We called in afterwards at Bindaree Falls. A short but steep walk takes you to behind the falls themselves. Well worth a detour.
Where we barbecued…
Bindaree Flat. Clancy isn’t short of bright ideas, so had thought ahead and brought along a single burner stove, frypan, sausages and bread rolls. Sadly he isn’t enough of an ideas man to have anticipated what the constant jolting would do to the beers in the esky in the back of the truck. Luckily we were able to salvage four.
Where we stayed…
Mansfield is in the foothills of the Victorian alps, an easy 40kms drive to Mt Stirling or Mt Buller, and about 180kms north east of Melbourne. With stops, I suppose it was around an 8-hour drive from Sydney. We stayed Friday and Saturday night at Mansfield Holiday Park. We booked 2 cabins and they couldn’t have been more perfect – or cost-effective. The cabins are neat, functional, comfortable and have all you need with none of the frills you don’t.
While there are plenty of places up around Mt Stirling to camp and picnic, you need to bring everything in with you – and take everything back out – and that includes your rubbish. There are toilets up there, but they’re long drops and you’ll need to have your own toilet paper.
Craig’s Hut is subject to seasonal road closures, so before heading up here check in with the Mansfield Visitor Centre.
The first time us Clancy’s went “camping” together things didn’t go exactly according to plan. We were staying at a family member’s property near Eucumbene – in the south of NSW near the Snowy Mountains. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Cooma and the same from Jindabyne and in the winter that means it’s cold.
We were staying in what used to be worker’s cabins from the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme. We sleep in sleeping bags so, in a way, it feels like camping – or at least glamping – so that’s what we call it. There’s a bathroom inside as well as an outside dunny with no door and a view to the bush and any passing kangaroo. We have a television for DVDs – there’s no TV reception -and aside from one point just outside the kitchen window, there’s no mobile reception.
The plan was simple. Even though there is a kitchen inside, we weren’t going to use it. No inside cooking. Unless it could be cooked outside- either on the barbecue or in the “camp” fire, we wouldn’t eat it. How hard could it be?
Part of the plan was inspired by pure laziness – if we didn’t use the stove/oven we wouldn’t need to clean it before we left. Part of the plan was inspired by the thrill of the great outdoors. Just how cool would it be to cook as if we were really camping and not just pretend camping?
Clancy was cooking his world famous lamb roast. Ok, it wasn’t world famous yet – after all, it was the first time he had tried this particular recipe – but it soon would be. His previous camp oven roasts had been spectacular. Apparently.
The fire had been built that morning and fed during the day. The pit for the camp oven had been dug and the coals carefully selected. We all sat around in thousands of layers of clothes, muffled by scarves and beanies, protected by gloves and jackets. The kids roasted marshmallows on the ends of sticks. The adults poured tumblers of red wine or fetched fresh beers and nibbled on cocktail hour.
When we finally decided our “oven” had been pre-heated to the guesstimated temperature of exactly 180C, Clancy heaved the cast iron camp oven into place. Then we waited. The kids went inside to watch DVDs.
The sun went down and the stars came out. More stars than I have ever seen. But still, the roast wasn’t cooking. We changed coals and sat back to wait. Obviously, the pit had a faulty temperature gauge.
Finally, it was sizzling and as the wind whirled around the fire pit, so too did the smells- lamb, rosemary and garlic. Our mouths watered. So we drank more (now chilled) wine.
The lamb that first night took almost 2 hours to cook. My brother declared that it normally took around an hour. It tasted as good as it smelled, although was a tad underdone for second-day sammies.
Sunday was our turn. Bacon and eggs on the barbie had to be finished inside when the gas bottle was found to be empty. Not a good start. At least my world famous (I was convinced it would be spectacular) slow cooked beef stew would save the day.
Gravy beef, veggies, a few tins of tomato, a bottle of wine and enough garlic to scare away the kangaroos was thrown into the camp oven. Last night had made us cautious – we didn’t want this to cook as quickly as the lamb so contemplated using a tripod and hanging the camp oven from it. A strong, blustery westerly put paid to that idea.
So, it was back to the pit. The coals weren’t as good and it had been a struggle to maintain the fire. At 3pm it was sleeting and the wind chill had brought the ambient temperature to around minus a lot.
We persisted. We estimated our oven to be at the perfect slow cooking temperature of 150C and oohed and aahed over the smells.
At the 20 minute mark, we checked it. Disaster. Not only had the camp oven boiled dry, but it had left a nasty charred mess where succulent beef was meant to be. And with the nearest shops 40kms away in Jindabyne…
Perhaps the coals had been closer to 500C? No problems, we could still make damper…
…which also burned to a crisp.
The kids toasted marshmallows.
In true invention test style, we cobbled together some pizza muffins for the kids and baked cheesy potato skins with a rough guacamole for us adults. Combined with cheeses, dips and some anti pasta veggies from a jar we had a feast. We prepared it using the stovetop and oven…which then had to be cleaned.
When the nearest shops are 40 clicks away it pays to over cater and have a back-up
no matter how well you plan it, you’re gonna be stuck cleaning a kitchen
Coals are tricky buggers
Cooking in a fire pit is not an exact science – who would have thought it?
As long as there are marshmallows to toast, all is not lost
I think it’s time that we talked more about the mighty jaffle.
For hundreds of years, people have been putting fillings between two pieces of bread and putting it all in a cast iron jaffle maker and sticking it into an open fire. Ok, perhaps I made most of that up, but it could very well have been true.
The question of what to put between those two slices of bread is an enduring one – and one that needs more scientific research. Clancy started with a poll of sorts – on Facebook. Some seriously good suggestions came up. We had (amongst others):
The roast lamb dinner jaffle
The breakfast jaffle
The eggs bennie jaffle
The banana cheesecake jaffle
The banana and Nutella jaffle
The apple pie jaffle
The Peking duck jaffle
Mexican pulled pork, taco sauce and guacamole
The ham and pineapple pizza jaffle
The meat-lovers pizza jaffle
The plastic cheese and peanut butter jaffle…yes, really…apparently late at night
The kid’s favourite – the spaghetti bolognese jaffle
We spread the survey wider and opened most meetings in the day job with the question: ‘what’s your favourite jaffle filling?’
The key findings from all of this research were clear:
Everyone has a favourite jaffle filling – and, as long as there is lots of cheese involved, pretty well anything can go into the middle of one.
A good jaffle has to be able to be eaten in one hand
The jaffle has to involve either leftovers or basic esky and pantry staples.
The jaffle shouldn’t involve the pre-cooking of any filling for the express purpose of being used in the jaffle (see the comment above about leftovers)
Any sort of bread or bread-like product is permitted in the jaffle
The jaffle can be cooked either directly on the fire or on the hot plate.
The best sort, though, are the jaffles you make on your final lunch when you have a heap of leftovers that need to be used up before you pack up. Think chicken and camembert, chicken, chorizo and cheese.
For a start, he’s not the guy in the picture – although he has been known to don an Akubra and a Drizabone and gaze out into the sunset. Just not from the back of a horse. Clancy’s not much of a rider.
Clancy isn’t one man – or even one woman. Clancy is anyone who enjoys the great outdoors – and sees good food as part of that adventure.
Whether you’re travelling in a van, camping in the bush, in a tent by the beach, using the communal facilities of a caravan park, or just having a picnic in your backyard or in that park by the beach, Clancy is there. You’ll find Clancy cooking over a fire, a hot-plate, a gas-burner or a portable wood stove.
Clancy will spice things up with a fragrant curry, keep it traditional with a slow-cooked stew, serve up a roast with all the trimmings, throw together a simple (or not so simple) salad, or make the most of the catch of the day. Clancy might be in the mood for some flatbread, pasta bake, or want to tempt you with something sweet. And when it comes to family favourites or a date night under the stars with that special someone, Clancy will have you covered there too.
Clancy knows that nothing tastes better than a meal cooked and eaten in the great outdoors – except perhaps the meal that’s cooked and eaten in the great outdoors with family and friends. Add a campfire and you’ve made some pretty special memories.
How do we know? Because that’s who we are.
Clancy of the Campfire isn’t one person – he’s really four people. More, if you count the kids. We’re two families who love to get together and cook, eat, laugh and talk about cooking and eating.
Mitch and Jo are brother and sister and with their respective spouses represent two different sides of the Clancy story.
Mitch and his wife, P like nothing better than getting away in the bush with their kids. He’s at his happiest with a swag, a fire, a camp oven, his portable wood burner. Mitch is the accessories guy.
Jo’s family like the bush too – they’d just prefer not to rough it quite so much. They travel relatively lightly – as far as equipment is concerned – and are more about cooking on a hot plate or over a burner.
Two different approaches with one common goal:
To create memories through the sharing of good food in the great outdoors.
We know that food cooked outside doesn’t need to be bland or boring – it can be as full of flavour as the landscape that we’re eating it in is.
We also know that when you’re in the great outdoors, we don’t want to mess about with fancy techniques and we don’t (usually) have access to the sort of kitchen equipment that we take for granted at home. (Although if you’re the person who packs a blender and the mixer, hey, no judgement.) That’s why the measurements in our recipes usually use spoons, cups, or handfuls rather than grams or ounces. Given that we’re cooking with flames and other variables, the cooking times will also be approximate.
We’ll try and stick to the sorts of supplies that are readily available either in your pantry or at the local supermarket near your campsite. Occasionally we’ll make something a little more exotic for those times when it’s worth the effort of taking those ingredients with you from home. We’ll also help you out with ideas for your leftovers.
If we’re making a curry paste we’ll either smash it out in the mortar and pestle or whizz it up before we leave home. When there’s a recipe that calls for multiple spices, we’ll mix the blend in advance – who wants to carry all those little bottles with you. A little menu pre-planning goes a very long way.
On this blog, we’ll be posting our favourite recipes and sharing with you our successes and our failures. There’ll be tips and tricks and we’ll even road-test the occasional new product for you. Whether you’re cooking in the confined space of a caravan, or in an outdoor camp kitchen you can turn out tasty and inspiring meals for all the family. Hang out with us – we’ll show you how.