Spring Kitchen – Eating outdoors

 In Havering

There’s nothing better than cooking and eating outdoors, especially surrounded by friends and family. To me it rekindles childhood memories of so much cooking on various different modes of heat, with whatever food could be found locally or even caught yourself. Gas stoves, altar fires (half an oil drum on a stand), barbecues, beach fires. Anything portable or almost portable that could hold a flame. It’s something that I’ve always taken for granted, if you have food, or find food, or catch food, then you can easily build something to cook it on. Picnics and barbecues were interchangeable, it was simply the surroundings which altered.

The summer gas barbecue may feel a little more domesticated than gathering driftwood, in the hope of a successful battle with the elements. However enjoyment of the fire lighting ritual and feeding loved ones doesn’t change. Prepping the salads, chilling the beer, opening the wine, then getting the meat on the coals or into the pot.

Eating outdoors - Al fresco Dutch ovenBarbecues and picnics are also an ideal way to introduce youngsters to the joys of cooking; tossing salads, mixing burgers, and collecting wood, all adding to the occasion. I can recall a childhood where chicken, apples with raisins and brown sugar, and potatoes, were all baked in foil, and freshly caught fish went straight onto the grill over the coals. In fact my most abiding food memory is making raspberry jam from freshly picked wild berries on a camping stove in front of our tent. Cooking outdoors is a multi-sensory experience for all.

Here I’ve included recipes which could all go together on one day for a wonderful outdoor feast, or they could each form one single course for an al fresco lunch. Some could even be made in a Dutch oven watching the sun set over the sea from a remote Highland beach. The extent of outdoor meals extends as far as your imagination will allow it.

Lamb burgerMeat tends to form the backbone of most outdoor cooking, barbecues seem to become a meat fest where you eat twice as much as any normal meal. The menu here includes steak, burgers, and kebabs. I’ve gone for venison steaks as it’s my favourite meat and goes wonderfully with a smoky barbecue. Lamb burgers are a real favourite of mine, as the natural fat in the meat that keeps hill lambs alive renders a beautifully sweet burger alongside mint and rosemary. I’ve used rose veal for the kebabs, I usually get mine from Nethergate Larder but you’ll find stockists countrywide now.

Alongside the meat a good range of salads is key to giving that freshness of the season. There are so many amazing products appearing each week through spring and summer it’s sometimes difficult to plan too far ahead. Fennel, peppers, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes and new potatoes, alongside freshly picked herbs, all speak of days in the sunshine. The combinations with salads of summer vegetables is unending.

First Article in Scottish Daily Mail ‘Spring Kitchen’ series

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