Twice as Nice

We have been having some difficulty with cooking plain rice of late. Neither of us has been able to turn it out nicely. It is possibly because we have not had a suitable pan. Previously I used the smaller pan of my two-base pressure cooker with its close-fitting glass lid. The pan was very heavy bottomed and the seal was good. Since selling up to go travelling, I no longer have that pan. 

The Tefal Ingenio pans that we bought for the van are very good and suitably heavy but the lids have two cut outs, one for pouring and one for fitting around the clip-on handle. It is impossible to effect a good seal, though we tried adding a foil insert and so on.

So, possibly the pan but, more likely we think, poor quality rice. 

What if… we ruled out the pan issue by using our new Mr D’s Thermal Pot? We had curry tonight and I duly tested out the thermal cooking of my rice. I used the same rice that we have been using (it’s the only Basmati that we had to choose from at our local shop), washed it well (it takes forever to get the starch out of this stuff) and drained it, leaving it to dry for a couple of hours.

Using 1 1/4 cups of water to 1 cup of rice, I added both to the smaller/top pot and brought the pan to the boil, then put the pan in the vacuum casing for thirty minutes.

Now, can I say that it produced perfect rice? No, unfortunately not. However it did show improvement and I do think that I have proved that it is the rice at fault and not the cook. If we find a good Asian supermarket on our next travels I will invest in some good rice and repeat the test. I did like the ease of preparation and the fact that it requires no supervision at all. Also a plus: no sticking to the base of the pan. None whatsoever. That will make washing up in a tiny sink a lot more pleasant.

In Other Culinary News (sorry, I know this is a travel blog and not a cooking one but travellers need to eat too) I have invested in a Kindle copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple. I think that it might be just what I need to kick off some  culinary inspiration when we are travelling.

SIMPLE includes recipes made in under 30 minutes, one-pot meals and store-cupboard recipes. Ideal in a small van, I suspect.

Watch this space.

Two snails, one dog, a couple of cats and Mr D

The Winter Tour

Two Snails are making preparations for the 2018/2019 Winter Tour. Mr Snail has a hankering to repeat last Winter’s experience of spending the turn of the year in the warm sunshine rather in Rain, Frost and Snow. So, we are off to Spain and Portugal again. Or not. There is still a possibility of going Somewhere New.

It turns out that there are complexities associated with crossing borders when it comes to gas bottles. This had never occurred to me as the last time that we were down there we had an onboard tank and did not have to consider such matters. With two French bottles on board we hope to manage for a couple of months without the complication of ditching one in exchange for a Spanish or Portuguese one plus the new necessary fittings.

How to conserve gas supplies? Eat salad! That’s fine if the weather is as good as it was last winter. What if it’s not? and the journey down could be wet or cold or both, it certainly was at times last year. Eat out! Can’t do that all the time though…

Enter Mr D and the concept of thermal cooking.  

Mr D’s Thermal Cooking pot is a modern take on the old haybox cooker and also, if you like, a Slow Cooker that needs no power to do its cooking. It has useful application for the off-grid traveller. More importantly for us is the matter of using less of our precious gas. Instead of cooking a meal for half an hour, an hour, or more on the hob (depending on what you are actually planning for dinner of course) it’s simply a matter of getting the pan going on the hob. Once it is fully hot, the pan goes inside the insulated casing and cooking continues with the residual heat. So you can slow cook a stew that would normally take two to three hours on the hob top with just ten minutes use of gas, or thereabouts. A slow cooker would do the same job but requires an electric hook-up to be available, this thermal pot needs no input. 

There are other benefits to using a thermal cooking pot. Of interest to Snails is the ability to cook on the move. There is the potential to start dinner off before we pack up and leave a site, leave the Mr D’s sitting in the sink for security, arrive at our night stop and find dinner already cooked for us. Awesome!

Similarly, we can set dinner away to cook and then go off walking the dog or out for the day. No safety worries about leaving things plugged in. Nothing burns. Nutrients are locked in. Odours and steam are locked in. This latter is also very useful when living in a van.

We dithered for a while about a Mr D’s; they are not cheap. It was the gas bottle issue that swung the decision. We ordered one up.

It took a while to get here; two weeks from ordering. We were watching the tracking and it left Hythe, in Hampshire, and sallied forth via Bournemouth, then Hinckley (!) and… Poland (!!), where it sat for at least 48 hrs. It moved on, to The Netherlands (!!!). We were losing hope of it arriving before we leave.

Battered and bruised after a long and complicated journey. I thought it best to photograph the damage to the box just in case the contents had suffered,

This morning, tracking indicated that our package was still in The Netherlands but later in the day it updated to say “Out For Delivery” and this afternoon it arrived – just as I was about to make soup for dinner.

Well, what’s a Snail to do? I made my soup in the Mr D’s.  It was late in the day but my leek and potato soup had two hours in the pot and was both properly cooked and hot enough to eat without any re-heating.

Mr D’s Thermal Cooker

Notes so far:

  • The manufacturing quality is apparently good
  • This 3 litre size is ample for two
  • The internal pan is narrow and deep, boiling up the soup took quite some time
  • Instructions are to cook in the closed thermal case for a minimum of three hours but two hours was plenty for this simple leek and potato soup.
  • Much less liquid is required than when cooking on the hob, where the liquid evaporates. I thought that I had used sufficiently less but it turned out that I should have cut back further – my soup was somewhat lacking in body (though full of flavour)
We purchased the 3 litre “Twinpot”  setup. One large cooking pot, one smaller top pot, and a thermal casing. A lid for each pot is included.

I look forward to further adventures with my thermal cooker.

Tagged: Mr D

Not My Fault

We are at the CMC’s caravan site at Stonehaven, the Queen Elizabeth Park or something like that. It is a small site, right on the sea front and just on the edge of town. It was a fifteen minute walk for Mr Snail to the Railway station this morning. from Aberdeen station he took a bus to the infirmary and had plenty of time in hand for his midday appointment..

The appointment went well and he does not have to return for 12 months. The consultant says if we are still in France, so long as he still feels well, Mr Snail can swap the appointment for something more convenient if necessary. So, we may be back here this time next year.

It’s pretty convenient. Sadly the open air salt water pool next door does not open until the end of May but the town has some useful shops and there is an award-winning chippy about 100 metres from the gate.

Today we took a stroll along the cliff path to go and view the Eastern end of the Highland Fault. I was wobbly about the cliff path and Mr Snail was wobbly about the fact that the path skirts the golf course, so we ended up cutting our walk short and not getting to the Point.

We are off to Glenmore tomorrow and staying for two nights. Internet reception there is poor to non-existent… so I’ll do a brief catch up on the week to date right now.

Saturday: rose early to a very grizzly day. Readied the van in very wet conditions and set off in time to grab some brunch at Tesco in Dumfries, where we picked up what few provisions we needed for the week. Rain continued until we reached the upper Clyde Valley, around Crawford, where the sun embraced the landscape to great effect.

Saturday night: wild in the car park at New Lanark Mills. We walked Nell along the Clyde for a while and then I cooked the Gousto meal we had lined up for the evening, a dish of Dal with some spiced Aubergine. All hopes of spotting badgers were dashed by what appeared to be a kids’ party and lots of lights and noise and rushing around. Of course, the smell of curry may have warded the badgers off too!

Sunday:  (ETA material regarding Wilsontown 23/3/17) beautiful morning initially but cloud built as we drove up to Forth.  We rose early and set off without breakfast so as not to be a nuisance in the New Lanark Car Park. We stopped at Wilsontown to walk Nell and to make bacon rolls. It was quite dull by the time that we arrived but we managed to stay dry on both walks, before and after our late breakfast,  and I managed to take a few photographs.

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There is not much remaining of the works but the site is rich with interpretation boards and a number of  quotations engraved on stones give pause for thought. Often the interpretation boards invite one to use imagination to bring to mind an image of the filthy belching plant sited in the middle of nowhere upon the moors. I need no imagination however… I have been to Consett!

After a brief stop at a Lidl somewhere in the Lothians (I forget) a lovely scenic ride up the East Fife coast to Cellardyke in bright sunshine followed. We stayed at the Silverdyke site for two nights. This was the same site that we stopped at on our way South in September/October last year. (This is the point where I discover that I never got round to writing that part of the trip up so I cannot link to it now – I will do it. I will. Soon…ish)

Sunday Night: dinner at The Cellar.

Monday night: Anstruther Fish Bar.

These I will write up separately.


Tuesday: Further good weather for the ride up here to Stonehaven. We stopped in Montrose for some KFC fodder and an item or two from B&Q.

There has been little camera action, I am afraid, and what use the camera has seen has by and large been dedicated to food. I will try to do better.


As already noted – we depart from here in the morning to do 100-ish miles to Glenmore. We hope to break our journey somewhere interesting with a walk for the dog. We shall be two nights at Glenmore and then will do one further night wild or Britstopping before getting back to base.

Snow is forecast for tomorrow night. Perhaps the photos from Glenmore will be pretty ones!

We shall be busy once we arrive back in Kippford. We need to pack, to post excess baggage home, and to plan our route and stops back up Scotland to the ferry.

Soon be home now!


Once more, with Gousto

We treated ourselves to what may be our last Gousto box before we return to Orkney, where they do not deliver. The box arrived today, with four meals therein:

  • Chicken Katsu Curry
  • Rosemary Lamb Meatballs & Mint Sauce
  • Harissa Chorizo With White Bean Mash
  • Two-Lentil Dal & Spiced Aubergine

Tonight we plumped for the Lamb Meatballs, and very good they were too.

Rosemary Lamb Meatballs & Mint Sauce

  • Date made: 8/3/2017
  • Used: Two gas rings and the Remoska
  • I added: nothing 
  • ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Odd as it may seem I do believe that this was the first time that I ever made big meatballs for a meal other than cooking small meatballs in sauce for pasta.

The meatbal mix: lamb mince, panko breadcrumbs, stock cube, rosemary, garlic, seasoning

The timing of this meal was a bit up in the air as I roasted the potatoes in the Remoska and was uncertain how long that they would take. I did expect them to need more than the 20 – 25 minutes suggested time. I elected to leave cooking the carrots and meatballs until the potatoes showed signs of browning.

Meatballs made. Remainder of Rosemary to chop for the potatoes

Due to Mr Snail’s preoccupation with van servicing tasks, the potatoes were in the end really well browned (50 minutes total cooking time.)

Impromptu “Pestle and Mortar” for the Mint Sauce.  Yes. I am a messy cook

The potatoes went onto the Remoska, which I lined with foil.

Prepping the spuds

However when I tested the potatoes to see if they were cooked through, I found that the bottoms had stuck to the foil. I took them out, eased them off, and then chucked them back into the Remoska without the foil.

Ready to roast

I reduced the carrot liquor down to a glaze at the end of cooking

A little sparse-looking on the plate and I should have appreciated a second vegetable

I liked: all of it

I disliked: the usual shortage of accompanying vegetables

Verdict: Quick and easy. Next time I would add a second veg.  Not so sure about adding oil to the mint sauce… it seems unnecessary and adds nothing so far as I could tell.

Order again?: Probably, though it would depend what other dishes were tempting me on any given week

We are thinking probably the Katsu Curry tomorrow…

You can take the lass out of Yorkshire but you can’t take the pudding out of the lass

Today’s Remoska Adventure was the making of a good old-fashioned Toad in the Hole for our dinner. All the gory details may be found at Rumbletums.

Curry in favour

Curry-cooking and van life do not sit happily together. Who wants their bedding reeking of curry, when all be said and done. Mr Snail however requires a regular infusion of curry. At home he cooks our curries from scratch and we have a vast collection of spices in our arsenal. Obviously there is no room in the van to carry everything we might need and we are normally parked somewhere far from the kind of shops that offer esoteric foodie ingredients.

There are other aspects of curry-eating that do not work well in a van. Boiling rice, for instance. At home we use the absorption method, which keeps the steam down but in the van we have been trying out various ready-cooked and microwaveable solutions (when on hookup).

We have tried various “cook-in” sauces and have in the past favoured those that come with some dry spices in the lid. Nothing really came up to scratch and we had come to terms with ready meals from the supermarket, though they are by and large disappointing.

Recently I spotted a new product in the shops. New-to-me at least, are the multi-part curry sauce kits now available. They consist of spices and sauces in pouches that need no special storage,but have a long shelf life without additives or preservatives. They have a small pack size and, best of all, produce a meal that closely resembles a fresh-as-a-daisy made-it-myself version.

The Spice Tailor

We have been using the Spice Tailor product, which we buy at Tesco. They cost a whopping £2.89 each but this is also something that we have happily come to terms with. We believe that, in our itinerant tiny-kitchen situation, this is the best way to a decent curry at home. (Waitrose are doing them for £2.00 at the moment and if I had ever seen a Waitrose I’d be in there like a shot to stock up)

Of the ten sauces currently available, we have so far tried three. Previously we have used the Punjabi Tomato and the Souther Pepper variants; tonight it was the turn of the Fiery Goan Curry. All three have been thoroughly delicious and produced curries that tasted as fresh as a made-from-scratch dish. They are a product light years ahead of the standard sauce jar.

The kit comes in a cardboard sleeve that houses two or three plastic pouches. One small pouch has the whole dry spices, including an optional additional chilli, for those who desire some extra heat. A medium sized pouch of “base sauce” may be included (depends on the variety chosen) and this can be used to marinate your chosen ingredient(s) or just cooked in the second stage if you are short on time. The largest pouch contains the “main sauce”.

Open the cardboard sleeve carefully as it bears  the simple three-step instructions. Additionally it suggest variations to the recipe and ways to make it your own.

For the basic dish you will need to add your choice of protein or vegetables.

And it really is simple:

  1. Heat oil in pan and cook the whole spices for 20 seconds
  2. Add the meat (prawns/Veg/Tofu/whatever floats your curry boat but if using fish hold it back for now) and brown lightly before adding the base sauce (unless you used it as a marinade) and simmer for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the main sauce (add fish here if using instead of meat) and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until your protein is cooked through.

That’s all that there is to it. Unless you want to complicate it. Confident curry cooks will do their own thing, the nervous cook can take confidence from the suggestions for tailoring the curry that are printed on the packet.

Want to go a step further? The Spice Tailor website has a cookbook using the sauce kits to make up a wide range of dishes –  use the Tikka Masala sauce to make a Pizza, perhaps? Why not – have Remoska, can Pizza!

Our Fiery Goan Curry

Tonight I made a meal with the Fiery Curry Goan kit.

(Standard saucepan on the induction hob)

I used all the whole spices, including the extra chilli and fried them lightly before I added Chicken Thigh Meat, which I had first marinated in the Base Sauce. After frying the meat to seal it, I added some chunky slices of Mushroom before adding the main sauce. Once the chicken was cooked and tender I added thawed Frozen Leaf Spinach and simmered the whole for another couple of minutes whilst I nuked a pouch of Tilda Basmati Rice Aromatic Spices. (Yes, that is a very expensive way to buy rice but once again, it has a small pack size, a long life and takes just two minutes to heat in the microwave and does not add to condensation issues in the van.)

Dinner done. It was delicious. Fiery Goan Chicken with Saag and Mushroom. Better than any ready meal and better than most takeaways and many restaurants. Dare I say it… perhaps even better than some of our homemade efforts too.

No photos, sorry – entirely due to my lack of discipline and the undone washing up filling my tiny worktop. Everything was too disordered.