Risotto – Proper cooking on a camp stove!

Instant noodles make me think of that scene from Crocodile Dundee. “You can eat it, but it tastes like ….”. If you’re away for a single night, and tired after yomping and setting up camp, I’ll let you off, but what about that second night. Why not have a meal which is memorable for the right reasons?

With a little bit of creativity, time and imagination, you can eat extremely well with a small range of ingredients. You’re on holiday! Enjoy it!!

Risotto is a rice dish from northern Italy. You don’t boil the rice in water, but slowly add stock, ladle by ladle, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. The rice becomes packed with flavour. You cook risotto in stages, and build the flavour, layer by layer. It’s another dish you can prepare without a fridge on hand!

For the stock, you’re unlikely to have a chicken carcass and plenty of fresh vegetables with you, so for a camping risotto, a good quality stock cube is a necessity! You need some form of fat to coat the rice before you start adding wet ingredients. Butter (for me) is best, but an extra-virgin olive oil is a practical alternative. This recipe below is my favourite risotto. It’s packed with flavour.

The recipe below is for 4 people (or 2 if you’re particularly hungry). Hell… it’s for two people, who am I trying to kid!

Ingredients:

  • 1 and a half cups of arborio rice.
  • 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Mushrooms (dried or fresh).
  • Half a chorizo ring.
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese.
  • 1 onion.
  • 1 glass of dry white wine.
  • 1 chicken stock cube.

Cooking in stages

The chorizo: Slice up the chorizo. I prefer mine fried with a little crunch, so cook these separately first. Chorizo releases oil (fat) when cooking, and can go a bit soggy and overpower the other ingredients if cooked with the risotto from the start, so I fry the slices first and put them to one side, then add them to the risotto to heat through towards the end of cooking.

The shrooms: If you’re using dried mushrooms (Tescos do a pack of Porcini, Chanterelle, Black Trumpet and Fairy Ring mushrooms for £2), these need to be blanched for 20 minutes in boiling water. Do this first, then drain and set to one side. The flavour is wonderful. Don’t waste that water though! Use it as the base for the stock.

The stock: Add more water to the saucepan used for boiling the mushrooms, until there’s roughly 5 cups in the pan. Then add the stock cube and dissolve, bringing the liquid to a boil. The stock is slowly added to the rice while the rice is cooking, so if you’ve only got one pot, you’ll need to decant it to an aluminium water bottle. If you have two pots, no problem. Stick a lid on it, or even better, if you’ve a campfire going, put the stock close enough to the edge of the fire to keep it warm (or on some coals!).

The risotto rice: Add two tablespoons of oil to an empty saucepan and heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to go clear. Pour the rice into the pan and fry the rice in the oil for no more than two minutes, stirring all the while. The rice will start to go clear. Gently stirring is important when cooking risotto. If you don’t, the rice will stick to the pan and burn. Add in the glass of wine, and continue stirring until the wine is absorbed/evaporated. This adds another layer of flavour to the risotto. Add the mushrooms.

Next, you add the stock… slowly. One ladle (or the equivalent) at a time. Your finished risotto should be creamy, not a soup! Continue stirring until the stock is absorbed by the rice, then add another. Continue until all the stock has been used, by which stage the rice should be ‘al-dente’. You don’t want the rice a dissolved mush, but to still have a little texture. If you’re unsure… taste it (but try not to finish it all during cooking, and especially if you’re cooking for others… as that’s considered ‘mean’).

Toss in the chorizo slices. Heat through for a couple of minutes. Add the grated parmesan and continue to stir until the parmesan is melted.

You’re looking at about an hour’s cooking time. Yes, it’s a faff, but oh so worth it. A comfortable seat is essential too!

Serve up, consume with the rest of the wine. Lie gently rocking in your hammock making little moans of pleasure. Replete is a good word… and such a worthy goal.

Packing Your Ingredients

You don’t want to carry unnecessary weight, and you can cut down on preparation time by doing the following:

  • Decant you olive oil into a smaller plastic bottle. Glass breaks and is heavier. Why carry oil which you won’t later use while away. Just take what you need.
  • Grate the parmesan before leaving home (you can also buy grated parmesan, but don’t use the stuff you find on the pasta aisle at your supermarket). Buy fresh if you can afford it. The processed parmesan in those little round pots with the consistency of sawdust doesn’t pack the same flavour as fresh.
  • Pre-measure out the ingredients into sealable freezer bags.

Carrying a bottle of wine… Now you could take a miniature bottle, and you can even buy wine in cans now. I say… to hell with it. Take a full bottle, or ideally two. The first you use for and while cooking. The second while eating.

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DD Hammocks: Hammock Range

There are seven reasons why we’re recommending DD Hammocks.

  • They’re a UK supplier, meaning you get UK based customer service;
  • We’ve tried the service personally, and it’s good. You get a quick response, they’re helpful and friendly;
  • The quality of their products is good and the products feature thoughtful design. We sleep in their products.
  • They’re inexpensive, and you don’t see quality compromised for price. There’s no point having a cheap hammock where midges climb through the mosquito netting, the hammocks and netting tears, or where the strapping breaks!
  • They have a wide range of accessories allowing you to spread the cost of building your ultimate hammock camping system.
  • Fast Delivery (when we purchased in the morning, we got our items next day).
  • If we recommend something, we don’t want our visitors upset. We feel confident with DD.

To see the full specification of DD’s hammocks, click on the green + buttons in the table below.

 

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A Beginners Guide To Hammock Camping

A Beginner’s Guide To Hammock Camping

Your equipment needn’t be expensive. We were set a challenge to build our own hammock camping rig for under £45. Not a problem and we could have done it still cheaper. It kept us dry in torrential rain, warm and we slept incredibly well. You can also buy custom camping hammock rigs and tarpaulins. Hammock camping isn’t an expensive pastime, and regardless of your budget, it’s affordable. Even those cheap chinese hammocks can hold 18stone.

DD Hammocks, a UK based manufacturer also sell custom hammock camping equipment (handling up to 20 stones). We mention them because they have good quality, affordable equipment and offer very good service. Their equipment is well designed with features which may not be apparent to inexperienced campers but are worth noting. Built in mosquito nets which stop the netting drooping on you, double layer bottoms to the hammocks for insulation (and/or storage), storage tabs inside the mosquito netting to hold a nightlight or water bottle, and suspension systems aimed at fast set up and take down. They also sell kit which is tailored to hikers who want exceptionally light weight equipment, hammocks for kids, larger tarpaulins which the family can cook under or for greater privacy at night. An alternative to DD Hammocks are ones made by Tenth Wonder which our members like too. Both manufacturers offer affordable, decent quality kit.

The great thing is you don’t have to buy all the equipment at once. Start with a tarpaulin and hammock, and then consider adding adjustable rigging (which mean you can raise or lower the hammock or adjust its lie between two trees without having to untie anything. With this and a sleeping mat to insulate your back, you’ll be set up for camping in summer months.

To extend your camping season, you can then add an under-quilt. An under-quilt is suspended under your hammock, trapping a layer of warm air. People go hammock camping in the snow using these and stay warm. One other great upgrade is a custom hammock sleeping bag or quilt. Most people will climb into their sleeping bag before sitting in the hammock and swinging their legs up and lying down. Custom hammock sleeping bags have a waterproof area around the feet, and zip up the middle. Over quilts have a similar enclosed ‘box’ for your feel, and attach around the neck and are used in conjunction with under quilts.

DD Hammocks’ beginners guide to hammock camping is a good start for anyone who wants a better understanding of setting up, equipment and sleeping positions (yes you can sleep on your side, and lay flat in a custom hammock!):

If you’re heavier than 20 stone, there are still options. Hennessy Hammocks (an American manufacturer) sell a hammock large enough for people 7′ tall and 350lbs! An alternative and cheaper option is the

Design Matters

Hammock width and length: Width is quite important, as a wider hammock gives you the option of lying at a slight angle, which flattens the hammock out and allows you to sleep on your side. The hammock has to be long enough for you to sleep comfortably.

Mosquito nets: Ideally, you want a hammock with an integral mosquito net, and one with mesh fine enough to stop midges. Aside from a cold back, nothing can ruin a night more than being eaten alive, and we live in midge country! Black mesh gives an experience of looking through sunglasses and I prefer this to green netting. Spreader bars which lift the mosquito net away from the hammock (and your face) feel roomier. Tabs inside the mosquito net give you an option of hanging a lamp (meaning there’s no need to hunt for a torch, and if you read, your light is right above your head). While you can hang a lamp from your tarpaulin ridge line, you may not be able to reach this without ‘getting out of bed’. Then you have the difficulty of readjusting your bedding after lying back down, without the benefit of a light!

Storage: While you can hang equipment from the ridge line which supports your tarpaulin, you’ll want pockets in your hammock for your car keys, phone, wallet and book/kindle. Reading in a hammock at night time is incredibly relaxing. The more pockets, the more storage. Some integral mosquito netting has tabs at each end inside, which allow a cord to be tied between them and items such as water bottles to be suspended from them. No hunting about at night for a drink!

Insulation: A double layer bottom to the hammock allows you to use a sleeping mat for insulation (even in the summer, a breeze can leave you feeling chilly unless your back has some insulation). While you can put a sleeping mat in a hammock without this bottom layer, they tend to pop out which is a pain.

Side tabs on the hammock: These are used to ensure an under-quilt (if you’ve bought one or intend to) is nice and snug underneath you. You don’t want this quilt to be compressed (by your weight) as you’ll lose some of the benefit of insulation. Neither do you want a gap as you’ll lose that trapped warm air which insulates you. They’re not essential, as you can attach an under-quilt via elastic cord to your tarpaulin ridge line.

Breathable bottoms: Some hammocks come with waterproof bottoms. It’s tempting to buy one of these to allow the hammock to be used on the ground as a bivi when camping away from trees. A word of caution though. Standard hammocks “breath” while ones with waterproof layers do not. Condensation from breathing and sweating can be a problem in hammocks with waterproof bottoms. I know several hammock campers who’ve traded in their bivi hammocks for this very reason.

Spreader bars: A few brands use spreader bars at the end of their hammocks to give the sleeper a flatter lie. While this may seem a good idea, I really don’t recommend them and wouldn’t buy one myself. These brands then use additional guy lines intended to stop the hammocks tipping over when you get in (or roll about in your sleep).

Spreader bars make hammocks unstable and remove your option of an under-quilt/blanket to insulate your back. While a sleeping mat can go inside the hammock, they slide about. Buy a hammock with gathered ends if you want a hammock you won’t slide about in or fall out of! If you want a flatter sleeping position, buy a wide hammock.

Light weight: If you’re a walker, you may want to sacrifice some of the above options to reduce carry weight. Most manufacturers offer a light or superlight range. Unless you’re camping only in the winter, do make sure you have a mosquito netting (by which we mean midge netting!) and personally, I’d still want a hammock with a double bottom to keep a sleeping mat in place! It is possible to buy detachable mosquito nets, and ones which will go over most hammocks. DD hammocks sell one.

I still don’t know what to buy!!! Well come and join our Facebook group and ask advice. You’ll find lots of experienced and helpful members as well as complete beginners. Regardless of your experience, you’ll still learn something new and they’re a friendly crowd!

Buying a hammock with these options saves you money in the long term, and gives you plenty of options to upgrade your kit which you needn’t buy straight away (or at all). All you really need is a hammock, a tarpaulin, and something to hang them from.

If you’re a serial kit collector don’t despair, you can then focus on camping knives, clothing, rucksacks, camp stoves, fire pits, cooking pots and a whole host of other things.

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Make Your Own Mosquito Net

Custom camping hammocks often come with their own sewn in mosquito net, but what do you do if you want a cheaper alternative, or have an open hammock which you love? You can buy a loose one custom made for hammocks from DD hammocks or make one. One factor in term of deciding whether to make one or buy your own is the quality of material used and whether or not the mosquito netting in a shop bought mosquito net is treated. While you can spray your own net, mosquito repellent isn’t cheap, and a bottle of Jungle Juice costs close to £10.

If you’ve a sewing machine (or someone you know does and you can bribe them to do the sewing for you), making your own mosquito net isn’t hard.

You’ll find black net curtains on Amazon (most are sold per panel, so check as you’ll need a pair). Make sure they’re long enough and deep enough! You’ll want a pair, and to sew them along one length that will go over your ridge line. How long and how wide the curtains must be deep depends on how you set your hammock (and the hammock size). When you’re in your hammock it sags, and you want the material deep enough so it can be gathered underneath you with shock (elastic) cord which you will use to tighten the netting once you’re inside. So You don’t want mosquitoes flying in underneath.

You’ll need:

  • a pair of net curtains (avoid tulle, it’s too flimsy… go for sheer or plain black voile made from polyester). For size, we’d go for 54″ wide and 90″ long;
  • Fine polyester thread;
  • Ideally a size 9 to 11 ballpoint needle;
  • 5m x 4mm shock cord; (yes, we know the video says 3mm, but this stuff is only £2.85 for 5 metres, including delivery!);
  • 4mm spring loaded cord locks (for the ends of that shock cord).

 

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Suspension Rigs: Double O-Rings

SDC10965This is the hanging system I use. I’m not skinny, and I can confirm that even for the more ample hammock camper, this set up is perfectly secure and is also quick to take down. Four thick metal O-rings (used in pairs) allow you to quickly hang and adjust your hammock. I tie mine directly to the tree straps rather than using a carabiner, but the principle otherwise is the same as the one set out in the Youtube video below.

To simplify matters further, I removed the short rope attached to the hammock, replacing it on each end with 5 metres of pre-stretched 6mm thick sailing rope. 5 metres is more than you’ll need in most situations, but the slack can be coiled and tied up. Sailing rope is stronger than most nylon rope which can stretch.

The O-Ring set up also acts as a water barrier (when it rains, you don’t want water running down your rope and into your hammock). A further precaution is to tie a small length of paracord to the hanging rope near the hammock end, which acts as a wick (water runs down the rope, meets the paracord, and then runs down it, dripping onto the ground rather than your neck!).

Tree straps protect the bark on the tree whereas rope or cord can cause damage.

 

An alternative adjustable set up uses whoopie slings. Whoopie slings offer a far more lightweight and compact alternative to O-rings and rope.

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Building a Hammock Camping Rig for under £45

There are some wonderful custom hammock rigs available for hammock camping and we’ll come to these in other reviews. For people on a tight budget, you can make up your own, and it really needn’t be expensive.

IMG-20150812-01087You need three things:

  • the hammock;
  • a tarpaulin to keep you dry;
  • something to tie the hammock and tarp to a tree.

We managed this set up for an impressive £42.98 which includes £9.78 spent on decent marine rope. Go with the short rope which comes with the hammock as standard and you’re looking at under £35.

Custom hammocks often come with pre-attached and sewn in mosquito netting, and while you can make do without this, if you’re in midge country then a decent mosquito net (and one chemically treated) becomes a necessity. You can’t relax in a hammock if you’re being eaten to death. The mosquito net cost an additional £22. You can however make your own.

You’ll need bedding too. a decent three season sleeping bag, optional fleece blanket, and a sleeping mat to tuck under you. As you’re suspended in the air, your back will get cold in the night unless you have something insulating you. I have self inflating mats bought from Aldi a couple of years ago for a tenner. Foam mats will also do.

Chinese made hammocks

hammockchinaDon’t worry that cheap means poor quality. I have a couple of these hammocks and love them. They’re extremely comfortable to sleep in and can bear up to 18 stone in weight. They include decent carabiners. For adult campers, I recommend replacing the ropes they come with (which are nylon and will stretch). They claim to be two person hammocks, but really they’re only suitable for one. That said, you can fit a rather large person in one! How much can you expect to pay? You can buy these on Amazon for under than £15.

What you get? The hammock which folds up into its own small bag (about the size of a small bag of frozen peas) – the bag is attached to the hammock and doubles as a convenient pocket, two metal carabiners, one short length of nylon rope. An absolute bargain.

Cheap Tarpaulins

SDC10974Custom tarpaulins designed to cover hammocks (kite shaped) can be quite expensive. The more expensive tarps tend to be lightweight and pack very small, intended for walkers and people on expeditions who carry all their equipment in their rucksack. If you’re on a static camp not too far from your car, weight and the tarp being a little more bulky really isn’t a problem. Anything waterproof and large enough will do where weight isn’t an issue.

Bearing this in mind, the cost of your tarp can come down from £35-£90, to a lowly £10.03 for one which is 2.7m x 3.5m. Cheap doesn’t mean they look bad… just they’re bulkier than a custom hammock tarp.

It will do the job, will keep you dry and is quite robust. Ours hasn’t taken any damage so far and we’ve survived the torrential rains in August 2015 which saw floods in the south of England.

Suspension Systems – Tarpaulin

paracordSuspension system? OK, we’re being a bit grandiose here… all you need to string up a tarpaulin is string (or a suitable outdoor variant). We use paracord which is ideal. Paracord contains 7 or 9 nylon strands inside a sheath, and is incredibly strong. Various sellers will say they supply what’s called ‘550 Paracord’ (meaning it can bear 550lbs in weight), but the Chinese versions are lower quality. For hanging tarpaulins, the cheap Chinese paracord is fine for both the ridge line (what the tarpaulin sits on) and guy lines (which you use to tie the hanging tarp to the ground (attached to tent pegs). Just don’t use it to scale cliffs!

How much should you pay? You can buy black paracord from Amazon for as little as £2.40 per 100ft.

While we wouldn’t recommend it for stringing up a hammock (and bearing an adult’s weight), for hanging a tarpaulin it’s fine. Paracord will stretch when under weight but is ideal for guy lines.

Suspension Systems – Hammocks

SDC10965To protect the bark around a tree, you need hammock straps since rope or cord (with your weight pulling on it) puts too much force on a single point. Hammock straps are simply webbing. We bought a pair off Amazon for under £8.00.

With the hammock straps attached to the tree, you now need something to attach your hammock to the straps. You have a number of choices, but we opted for using marine rope. Again, there are more expensive alternatives which are far slimmer and pack very small.

The rope I chose was marine quality braid polyester, pre-stretched and 6mm thick. The key word here is pre-stretched. You don’t want your bottom scraping the ground in the morning. The rope cost £9.73 for a 10 metre length, cut into two pieces (one for each end of the hammock).

Next you need to attach your rope your hammock. The hammocks have a small piece of rope which runs through the material and ties off to a carabiner. We removed this, slid the end of our suspension ropes through the holes, and then tied this off at the hammock end. One thing less to break or go wrong! For the other end which you need to affix to the hammock strap, you can now use the spare carabiner! No extra cost!

SDC10968Mosquito Net

DD Hammocks sell custom mosquito nets for a little under £35. These have draw strings round the bottom so once you’re inside you can pull the drawstring and the netting is pulled tight around the bottom of your hammock. To me they look a little claustrophobic.

Cheaper alternatives are available, and conscious of price and wanting to see how cheaply we could build a system, we opted for the £22 Trekmates Tour Treated Mosquito Net which hangs down loose. It’s possible to sew shock cord into the bottom of this hanging net (to enable you to draw the hammock closed, as is the case with the DD hammock to keep more of the midges out). Something I may do over the winter.

Although you get more head room with the Trekmate net this isn’t specifically designed for a hammock (we hang ours from the tarpaulin ridge line). It does however have suspension points. The DD Hammock mosquito net draws closed underneath the hammock with built in shock cord. There are pros and cons with both. I got two bites on a very midgy night using the Trekmates one.

If you’re really tight for money, consider sewn net curtains.

The Test

We set up in a Cumbrian woodland at the height of midge season. We did get a couple of ‘bites’ in the night, and no doubt the DD net would have been better. As for the rest of the set up, we stayed warm and dry despite torrential rain on two nights.

IMG-20150813-01112Look at the picture, and honestly… do I look uncomfortable?

The second day into the holiday, I was accosted by an elderly Yorkshire couple where the wife wanted to see how comfortable the hammock was. I couldn’t get her out until I told her husband that “it looks like I’m sleeping with you tonight then”. She then pestered him into lying in it, and after is initial reluctance and saying it wasn’t “his thing”, he told me he’d be buying them for himself, his wife and his grandchildren as he had woodland at home. When I said I liked swinging in woodland, I never intended a Yorkshire couple to leap into my bed!

Job done, and tested in all weather. I didn’t wake up until after 11am one morning.

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Haggs Bank Bunkhouse and Campsite

SDC10985
Bunkhouse and mine entrance

Haggs Bank Bunkhouse and Campsite is a small, family owned campsite set in stunning countryside in the North Pennines.

For those who want a wild camping experience but in a location with clean toilets and hot showers, you couldn’t ask for more. The owners are relaxed and helpful, the site spotlessly clean.

For cyclists, there is secure storage and the site is on the C2C cycle route.

Read more

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