Friday, 3 April 2015

Overland cooking: Pizza, bread and cakes in a frying pan

I actually think that I cook better on the road with limited supplies than I do at home. As the Belgian and I travel down the road I get creative in my head: thinking well, I've got this, and this, and that too, and yeah, if I do this and then that, yeah I can use that too.... yeah that should work. And as such I often dream up and then create some fairly impressive meals.

Sometimes I buy ingredients that I'm not familiar with or that turn out to be not what I thought I was buying. But I have a taste and then figure out my next experiment. If possible I'll ask a local what to do, but sometimes it's not possible to ask and sometimes we just don't have the right equipment to do what the locals do.... so I have to figure out a different plan.

When I first joined H in Blac he repaired the expensive diesel cooktop so that it could be used for cooking. It was about 2 months later that he stood on the glass top plate and cracked it. I was so pleased! That cooker was slow and I preferred to use the Coleman stove.

Up until then, we'd only used the Coleman stove outside, but since then we have set things up so that we can use it inside (with windows open for ventilation) if the weather is bad outside. The coleman stove is an old one. H reckons the old ones are better for repairing, so much so that last year we bought one on ebay in Australia for when we are there. They are Coleman 2-burner dual fuel stoves, and in ours we burn the highest octane unleaded petroleum that is available at the pumps. We stress the high octane bit because we've met people complaining that their stove doesn't work so well and/or turns pots black; those people are always burning low octane unleaded and really you use so little that you should buy the better fuel.

As an option to the Coleman stove, we've also met overlanders with a single burner 'no brand' unit that works on similar 'technology' to the Coleman. They are available from the markets in Bogota (Colombia).

Using a stove for an oven

I'd love to have an oven, as I like to bake, but I do make do without one. So one day, craving a pizza and having an internet connection I googled a question about making pizza in a frying pan. I don't know where I saw that first post.... but my method has changed from what I read there, so perhaps it doesn't matter. My frying pan pizzas have been a great success: both H and my 8 year old niece say they are the best pizzas! see below for how to how to do it yourself (even in your home kitchen it will work).

To 'bake' things on a stovetop in a frying pan I simply create an oven effect by putting an overturned wok pan over the top. The wok's circumference is bigger than the frying pan and it traps heat. Of course, the difficulty is to not burn the bottom of the cake/pizza/bread, but to get it cooked through and, for the pizza, to get the cheese melted on top too. With cakes I usually turn them over when they are almost cooked (not runny anymore). Bread (really it's damper, I don't use yeast) is easy to turn. And for pizza, I have found the trick is to have a medium temperature: too hot and the base will burn, too cold and the pizza won't come nicely away from the pan for serving (then I end up with odd shaped tasty bits).

Chocolate cake 'baked' stovetop in a frying pan

When H turned 40 we had no one to celebrate with, but I wanted it to be a little bit special for him: So, I made him a double layered* chocolate cake, stuck together with cream and jam made local to where we were. It was special, and he loved it. My first few cakes were really good, but since then I've struggled to get the temperature right in my makeshift oven. Getting the temperature right will always be difficult as many factors will affect this on a coleman stove being used outside with a changing fuel supply. (*a double layered cake allows you to cut a surface off if burnt, and hide the cut surface. In this case I didn't need to, but that was my plan had it happened.) Here's a picture of the cake:

Overland cooking: Double Layer Chocolate Cake
Frying pan pizza made on camping stove while overlanding.

How to make a stovetop pizza while camping

To make a frying pan pizza, here are my very rough instructions (I don't really bother with strict measurements). Use a non-stick frying pan (see mine in the photo for a size indication). Add about a teaspoon of olive oil (as my pan is a bit scratched I spread this around the bottom before I start). Add about 1.5 cups of Self Raising Flour (or Plain flour with an appropriate amount of baking powder), and a pinch of salt. Stir in enough water to make a spreadable paste which you want to cover the bottom of the pan, roughly 1cm deep. 
That's your base, done (you don't cook it yet). 
Now cover it completely to the edges with a tomato sauce or paste or pesto sauce (spread it out with a spatula), then top with whatever-you-like-on-pizza, then grated cheese (or, if you must, thin slices of cheese.... if you're camping or overlanding, you don't have everything).
Now, turn on your stove to a medium flame (it's guesswork here), put your frying pan on the heat with a oversized lid or upturned wok over it. It should take about 10 minutes to cook through. You can check if the base is cooked by inserting a flat bladed knife or skewer, if it's cooked enough it should come out clean.
As mentioned above if the flame is too hot you'll burn the base of the pizza, if it's too cold the pizza won't come nicely from the pan. The pizza, when perfect, should slide out onto a plate.
I find that doing a second pizza while the pan is still warm doesn't ever work.... which is a shame because H always wants a 2nd pizza.

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