HOW TO: Use a storm kettle

October 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

If you’re as much of a fan as I am of going off on adventures down rivers in wooden canoes, Famous Five Style (lashings of ginger beer optional), you may have used a storm kettle before. If you haven’t, it’s going to be your new best friend, and we’ve got one to give away, too!

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HOW TO: Wilderness skills for girls lost in the woods

March 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

My guide to Bear Grylls-style skillz for the next time you get lost in the middle of nowhere. Just make sure you have a few matches on you…

HOW TO LIGHT A FIRE
A fire will keep you warm and dry, it’ll cook your food, it’ll purify your water, and it’ll keep tigers at bay. It’s your best mate in the outdoors.
First you need to find a sheltered site free from wind and debris that could be flammable. Start your fire on flat solid ground or a layer of flat stones.
You need to begin with small pieces of wood (tinder) which must be completely dry. Forage for tinder such as small sticks, paper, leaves, grass or bark.
Light the tinder (yes, you need a match or a lighter. Realistically, rubbing sticks together will just exhaust you and waste your precious daylight time) from upwind, sheltering the fire with your body or a jacket.
Nuture your tinder – slowly add more as the fire starts to grow stronger, and watch like a hawk. When the fire is looking healthy start to add kindling (small dry twigs and sticks).
Once your kindling is crackling merrily you can add larger pieces of firewood – the drier the better. Dead trees are the best source of dry wood.

HOW TO BUILD A SHELTER
If you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere without protection you won’t last long. Luckily, a shelter is easy to make and the components are readily available in the woods.
Choose dry, flat ground that is sheltered from the wind. Make your shelter as small as possible for the number of people it has to hold, as your body heat will be better trapped inside.
Find a long, sturdy pole – this will be the main beam of the hut. Prop it up on rocks, tree stumps or a branch so that you can comfortably sit underneath it.
Lean smaller branches at a 45 degree angle from the roof beam. Fill in gaps with wide branches. Cover this framework with leaves, ferns, more branches or bark.
Place softer branches or moss on the floor of the shelter, as your body heat can ebb away into uncovered ground. Finally, build a door of branches and leaves that you can pull over the hole once inside.

HOW TO LIVE OFF INSECTS
Creepy Crawlies are actually a fantastic source of protein, containing 60% more by weight than beef. I know they don’t look as appetising as a steak, but when you’re starving and alone in the wildernesss, caterpillars start to be pretty appealing, I promise.
Make sure you avoid anything that stings, bites, lets of a weird smell or any kind of goo, is a scary colour or is hairy.
Look under rotting logs, in holes, under stones or in bark. Bugs with hard outer shells need cooking before consumption, but larvae and worms are fine eaten raw. If you can’t face putting a wriggly thing in your mouth, try mashing the insects into a paste and eating with vegetation. Delicious!

xx Sian

RECIPE: Wild Garlic

March 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

It felt like spring today. I actually had lunch outside (admittedly in my jumper and coat) and sat on the grass (which was wet but come on, this is Wales). This is a good sign since I am going slightly mad waiting to wear flipflops and my skin is crying out for vitamin D.
I noticed on a cycle a few days ago that the wild garlic is starting to spring up. It’s the perfect find for a foraging newbie as it’s easy to spot in woodlands (look for the wide leaves, small white flowers and, err, the smell of garlic) and easy to cook with. If you’re nervous about picking leaves from the outdoors this is a perfect place to start. There are myriad recipes floating about on the internet for what to do once you have your leaves, but these are some of the best.

JAMIE OLIVER’s wild garlic soda bread

Ingredients
• olive oil
• 1 small handful of washed wild garlic leaves, or spinach with a crushed garlic clove
• 250ml buttermilk
• 175g wholemeal flour, plus extra for dusting
• 175g strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
• 1 tsp sea salt
• ¾ tsp coarsely cracked black pepper
• 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 22g salted butter, chilled and cubed

1. Preheat your oven to 180C/gas 4. Put a wide pan on a medium heat and add a good lug of olive oil. Add the wild garlic (or spinach), stir and cook for 3 minutes, until wilted. Pour in the buttermilk, remove from heat and blend with a stick blender until you’ve got green milk.
2. Add the dry ingredients and butter to a large bowl with butter and use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until you have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and pour in your green milk, a good splash at a time. Combine with a wooden spoon until perfectly mixed and you have a dough.
3. Dust a surface with flour, pop the dough on top then roll into a large sausage, then cut into 8. Lightly oil a baking tray. Out the dough pieces on the tray, sprinkle over some wholemeal flour then put in the oven and cook for 20 minutes or until lightly golden on top. Remove from the oven, then pick one up and tap the bum. If you get a hollow sound they’re perfect, so put them on a wire rack to cool. (Perhaps you should make 9, because hot out of the oven with cold butter – seriously nice.)

GORDON RAMSAY’S wild garlic and parsley risotto

Ingredients
•1.3 litres chicken (or vegetable) stock
•3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
•3-4 wild garlic cloves (or new season’s garlic), sliced
•4 shallots, finely chopped
•350g risotto rice, such as carnaroli
•Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
•Few knobs of butter
•100g parmesan, freshly grated, plus shavings to serve
•Handful of flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped

1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan and keep it at a simmer over a low heat.
2. Heat the olive oil in a larger pan and add the garlic, followed by the shallots. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the shallots have softened. Stir in the rice and cook for a couple of minutes until the rice grains appear translucent, stirring frequently.
3. A ladleful at a time, add the hot stock to the rice and cook, stirring, until almost all the liquid is absorbed before adding the next ladleful. When you have added most of the stock (you may not need all of it), season and taste the rice. It should be al dente, cooked but with a bite in the centre. Take the pan off the heat.
4. Stir the butter into the risotto, followed by the grated parmesan and chopped parsley. Add a splash more stock to keep the rice moist and creamy if you like. Serve at once, scattered with parmesan shavings and topped with a drizzle of olive oil.

ANNA HANSEN’S wild garlic soup

Ingredients
•A little olive oil
•1 leek, diced
•2 fennel, sliced
•1 white onion, diced
•3 cloves garlic, diced
•250g wild garlic
•1 litre hot vegetable stock
•Crème fraîche

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently sauté the leek, fennel, onion and garlic until soft. Add the stalks from the wild garlic and cook until tender. Add the hot vegetable stock and simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat, add the garlic leaves and blend in batches. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve immediately with a blob of crème fraîche.

xx Sian

RECIPE: Rose hip tea

November 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

Rose Hip Tea

Rose hips are abundant in British hedgerows in Autumn and early winter, and are easily recognisable – fat, bright red buds with spiky black ends. They are a bit of a wonder food – high in vitamins C, A and B and rich in antioxidants, they are used to make syrups, jams, jellies, even bread and pies. If you’re a bit of a beginner in the foraging stakes, start off with some healthy and delicious rose hip tea, which is fantastic for beating winter colds.

1. Collect about a handful of rosehips per cup. You can also buy them dried from most health shops.
2. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 heaping teaspoons of chopped rose hips.
3. Steep the herbal tea, covered, for 15 minutes and strain.
4. Sweeten with honey if desired.

You can also add lemon juice or a few mint leaves. Rose hip tea is also a fantastic, caffeine-free drink for before bed if you need help drifting off.

If you want a little sweet treat to go with your herby tea, check out my step-by-step Welsh toffee recipe

Welsh taffy

xx Sian

RECIPE: Foraged nettle soup

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

This weekend I decided to practise what I preached earlier on in this blog by going out foraging, also known as ‘seeing what wild goodies I can collect to feed myself with’. Foraging scares a lot of people – it sounds difficult, time-consuming and frankly, dull. To these people I say, you are incorrect, sirs.
Obviously if you’re a ready-meal enthusiast, picking your own is not for you. It does require going out, finding some tasty leaves, gathering them up and bringing them home. However, as well as usually getting to go on a nice walk, it’s surprising how much you can gather in a small amount of time. In a ninety-minute walk from Combe Down in Bath to the charming Tucking Mill (victim of many a name-alteration), on Sunday, I collected a huge bag of green things to take home, including these beauties below.

Rosehips

Blackberries

Sloes

Something I’ve rather shied away from in the past are nettles, since in my view, they sting you with their stupid pointy hairs and martyrs make shirts out of them. These are good reasons for nettles not receiving my time or custom.
However, they have long been used as a foodstuff. Native Americans would harvest the young plant in spring, and nettle cordial can be traced back to the Romans. Stinging nettles taste similar to spinach, have an unusually high protein content for a vegetable and are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium and calcium. Clearly they are something I must learn to love. So, step one, harvest your nettles. They grow in abundance everywhere in the UK, and are easily recognisable. I took thick gloves and pulled the stalks up from the roots, then washed them in hot water (this neutralises the stinging chemicals and makes them safe to eat. A crucial step, unless you are these insane people).

Freshly picked nettles

After some internet research into what to do with my lovely safe nettles, I decided to adapt foraging king Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s basic nettle soup recipe. Here’s my revised version.

Ingredients:
50g butter
carrier bag full of nettles
1 onions, sliced
1 carrot, chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 litre good chicken stock (I used some we made from a roast a few weeks ago)
1 cup cooked rice
100g feta cheese

Pick over the nettles and wash them thoroughly. Discard the tougher stalks. Melt the butter in a large pan and sweat the onion, the carrot, 2 stalks of the celery and the garlic until soft. Add the stock and pile in the nettles. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the nettles are tender. Add the cooked rice and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve, garnished with celery and crumbled feta. It’s pretty good, if I do say so myself.

xx Sian

HOW TO: Forage in the Autumn in Britain

October 13, 2010 § 2 Comments

Do Not Eat - Amanita Muscaria is poisonous

Smart kids don’t go to the supermarket when they can go old-school (pre-industrial school?) and collect goodies from their nearest friendly forest (parks/patches of grass on laybys/windowboxes accepted also).

Mushrooms:
Now is the perfect time to collect mushrooms, as they flourish during the Autumn. There are some delicious specimens to be found, including cep, giant puffballs, field mushrooms and wood blewitt. Exercise caution and take a guidebook, as some common mushrooms as easily confusable with poisonous varieties. Most are delicious fried, coated in breadcrumbs or dried and used in risotto.

Nettles:
Found growing almost everywhere in Britain all year round, nettles are high in vitamins and minerals and are delicious when made into a classic soup or served like spinach, sprinkled with parmesan.

Wild garlic:
Perfect for first-time foragers. Abundant and strong-smelling, wild garlic grows in woodland, often near bluebells, and is actually milder to cook with than its domestic version. Its leaves are delicious eaten raw in salads or cooked in soups.

Seeds:
Any collected from the mustard family – such as shepherds purse, garlic mustard and horseradish – can be used as home-grown pepper to add a subtle kick to dishes. Fennel and dill seeds are sweet and aromatic, and when dried work well with fish.

Acorns:
Wild food gourmets swear by them. An acquired taste when raw, as they are high in tannin, they can be made into flour that is perfect for adding a nutty taste when making muffins or bread.

Hazelnuts:
Hazelnuts can often be seen on the ground beneath the small trees or bushes they have grown on, and if they are recent windfalls they are likely to be good for eating. They are delicious baked in cakes, used to make nougat or ground and made into hazelnut spread.

Sweet chestnuts:
Not to be mistaken with horse chestnuts, which are not edible. Chestnuts can found plentifully under trees in October, and are good eaten raw, baked, roasted (with a small slit in them to avoid explosions) or made into puree. They have high starch but low protein and fat levels.

Elderberries:
Speaking of alcoholic drinks, an autumn fruit that is excellent for making wine is the Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and it is easy to gather plenty of the clusters of juicy black berries that are often so plentiful they weigh down the branches causing them to bend. Elderberries can be combined with blackberries in jelly and are excellent in moderation added to apple pie to which they will impart both their flavour and colouring.

Blackberries:
Are definitely ripe in September, and tend to be sweeter than the early ones. Their high sugar content makes them ideal for making homemade wine and cordials as well as pies, crumbles, puddings, jams and jellies.

Roots:
dandelion and chicory can be made into coffee. Horseradish, parsnip, burdock, evening primrose, wild chervil are all around. Autumn roots tend to be a little sweeter than spring ones due to their higher insulin content. These can be used in stews and stir fries.

Rosehips:
are a fantastic source of vitamin C and make a good syrup or, when dried, herbal tea.

Crab Apples:
This small tree is the ancestor of all cultivated varieties of the popular fruit and although it is often very sharp and unpalatable it has many uses, including being used to make jellies and cider.

Sloes:
again too acidic to eat but can be made into jelly and gin.

Hops
Found in hedgerows and clambering up small trees, fences and poles. Hops are ready to pick by mid-September and as well as being a main ingredient for making homemade beer, they can be dried and used to stuff a herbal pillow to help in getting a good night’s sleep.

xx Sian

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