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Friday, 8 April 2016

Cheffy Self Catering

I have recently returned from a week's holiday in a static caravan in Lancashire. We go on holiday about three times a year - Easter, Whitsun and summer - for little holidays, usually in the UK, occasionally to northern France, but always self-catering. I was surprised to learn in a conversation with my daughters that neither of their best friends would be going on holiday this year and I guessed this was because they couldn't afford it. Holidays are indeed a luxury and can turn out to be expensive. There is the cost of the accommodation foremost but then you have to add on the cost of travelling (more expensive if that means ferries or planes), then the cost of doing whatever it is you like to do when on holiday, and of course, there is the cost of food.

I do like to eat out every now and then; it is a special treat and it makes a nice change. But there are some downsides to eating out. There is always that slight tension about whether or not everyone will find something on the menu they are happy to eat, especially if the menu is littered with cheffy combinations that take perfectly tasty sounding meals into the realms of a bit weird. Then there is that moment when you have to pay the bill. Even a fairly basic lunch for four people is likely to come in over £20 these days. Having dinner out will set you back by at least £60 for four. And as much as I enjoy a meal out, there are times when I think that quite frankly I could have cooked something similar or maybe even better myself... and I like cooking so it's not like you could argue that it is a chore.

On the first day of our holiday we ate out twice - once for lunch and once for dinner. We ate in The Pack Horse, lovely historic pub in the middle of the moors and it was tasty, straightforward food. I really enjoyed both meals and it felt like a special treat but it did cost us about £100 for those two meals. You have to start weighing up whether you want to continue to pay that much to eat or if you would rather spend money on visiting attractions and doing activities.  So off we went to the supermarket and shopped for the next 3 days of self-catering. As we were on holiday we allowed ourselves some extra treats but even so it came out at £74. Given that that was breakfast, lunch and dinner for four people for 3 days, that was definitely better value for money than eating out every meal, every day and it also gave us the freedom of not having to be somewhere with a cafe at lunchtime and we could relax over our dinner in the evening.

As you know, I love to feed my family home baked goods so before we left home I had spent the weekend baking (as normal) with a view to packing up these goodies to take away with us. So we left home with the remains of the spectacular Easter cake my daughter had made, the last 4 hot cross buns from my Good Friday baking, a batch of 14 "Ben's Cookie's" style biscuits courtesy of the ebook I downloaded from Marmalade and Me, a box of my husband's favourite caramel flapjacks, and a picnic of mini quiche and pork pies. That may sound like a lot but with a cookie each for "afternoon tea" with a flask of tea in a scenic car park every day, and a slice of cake or a flapjack after dinner each evening, it was clear to me that it wouldn't last for the whole holiday. As such a did a bit of pre-planning and packed what I needed to make a cheesecake whilst I was away.

Does making a strawberry cheesecake whilst on holiday in a static caravan sound completely nuts? It was in fact ridiculously easy. For my Christmas present last year I asked my mum if she would make for me some sort of bag to hold a selection of kitchen utensils that I find essential and that can be missing from the itinerary of a static caravan's kitchen. Usually the contents of a caravan's kitchen is fairly predictable. You know you are likely to get a set of 3 saucepans, a fairly small and rubbish frying pan, a Pyrex dish with a lid, a jug, a colandar, knives, forks, spoons, a set of cooking utensils, a tin opener, a vegetable peeler and something vaguely resembling a sharp knife. However, sometimes an item or two from this list might be missing. And in addition, I like to have a pair of scissors, a sharp knife that actually cuts, tongs and oven gloves. My mum duly delivered upon my request at Christmas and this holiday was my first "road-test" for my kitchen kit, which she has kindly added to with bits and bobs she thought would be handy. Knowing that I also wanted to make a cheesecake, I packed a 20cm springform cake tin, a recipe that I had cut out of the Tesco Magazine and a jar of jam.

The recipe had particularly caught my eye because of it's simplicity and it's lack of weighing and measuring. From an advertorial from Carnation, the recipe required biscuits, butter, a tin of condensed milk, cream cheese, lemons, strawberries and jam. Although the recipe did mention a few of the ingredients in grams, I could see that these could be easy estimated and cheesecakes are not an exact science so they can be fudged to some extent. So, towards the end of the week, I added the ingredients I needed to my basket on our second shopping trip and then one evening I assembled the cheesecake and put it in the fridge ready for the next evening. At this point I wished I had packed some Clingfilm but I improvised a covering from the plastic bag the lemons had come in.

The next evening we had a lovely meal of lamb leg steaks with new potatoes and mushrooms supplemented with a few leaves of wild garlic I had picked from the verge as we had walked back to our car. This was followed by a slice each of strawberry cheesecake. Far from being a "make-do" cheesecake, it was one of the best that I have ever made and my husband particularly raved about it saying that he would have been very happy to have eaten something like that in a restaurant. So there we have it, a beautiful meal and fantastic dessert, created without drama in a basic kitchen and enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere... who needs to eat out?!

No-weigh Strawberry Cheesecake

13 digestive biscuits (from a 250g pack of McVities)
Slightly less that half a block of 250g unsalted butter
1 x 397g tin of condensed milk
250 or 280g tub of soft cream cheese
The juice of 2 lemons
1 x 110g jar of strawberry jam (I used one of my jars of Strawberry & Vanilla Jam)
A punnet of strawberries weighing something close to 300g

You will also need the following equipment:
A 20cm spring form cake tin
A plastic bag
A bottle of water or other heavy object
A tin opener
A large bowl or Pyrex dish
A large spoon or a whisk
A knife
A suitable container to store the jam/strawberry mix in
Some Clingfilm or similar to cover the cheesecake once made
A fridge

Grease the cake tin with butter and set aside. Put the biscuits into a plastic sandwich bag and tie up then repeatedly bash the biscuits with a bottle of water or similar until the biscuits are crumbs. Melt the butter then mix together the butter and biscuits in a bowl until well combined. Press the biscuit mix firmly into the tin to form the base and place the tin in the fridge to set. Clean out the bowl and dry then empty the tin of condensed milk and tub of cream into it and stir well to combine and make smooth. Cut the lemons in half and press your fingers into each half to extract the juice. Watch out for pips! Add the lemon juice to the cream cheese mix and stir well. Spoon this mixture onto the biscuit base and level out. Please note that the lemon juice seems to have some sort of chemical effect on the cheese mix, causing it to thicken up so don't think you can just leave the lemon juice out. Cover and return to the fridge and leave to set for a couple of hours or overnight. When ready to serve, slice up the strawberries and place in a bowl with the jam and stir well. Cut the cheesecake up into slices and spoon over the strawberries to serve. If not serving all the cheesecake in one sitting (we ate half over two nights), do not add the strawberries to the bit you are keeping and put it back in the fridge, with the strawberries in a separate container.

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