Monday, 28 October 2013

Cob-Bra!

I'm not sure where I first read about the Cob-Bra, a canvas skirt windshield for the Cobb Cooker. 

They seemed a great idea, so I bought two last week. As the business is local-ish, I picked up the Cob-Bras, so met Lynn briefly (and was envious of her cutting table)!


Infront Camping Gear make a huge range of canvas products - and we may well purchase other items in time.  I don't fancy a shower-hat style thermal cover for the Cobbs but there are plenty of other temptations. The product list includes miscellaneous camping items, roof-rack covers and canvas bags to suit just about everything. Something for everyone, for sure!

At this stage I've used a "bra" around the outside of one cooker but I might try to fit it inside instead to maintain the look of the stainless steel mesh.  Aesthetics are important, after all!

Light my fire(s)!

I've been trying some new methods of lighting the Cobb Cookers. 

The instructions say to use three firelighters in the fire chamber and place the fire basket on top of them, before adding the heat beads.  The older booklet actually says:-


"Relax.  Do some breathing exercises.  It takes 20 to 25 minutes for the fuel to be ready for cooking."  OK.  I haven't been relaxing.  Or doing breathing exercises.  Instead, I've been looking for ways to hasten the lighting process!

There was a suggestion on a camping/caravanning forum to light the beads over a gas hotplate - and do away with using heat beads.  I did try that.  One basket worked well and the other didn't but praps I was (again) too impatient!

I googled further and found some instructions from the manufacturer, specifically for lighting heat beads in a Cobb Cooker.  As there was a tin of the right size awaiting recycling, I cut the end off and put it into service as a "mini chimney starter".  It worked well and I've adopted that lighting method since.  Of course the tin no longer looks as bright and shiny as in the pics above!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Following Burke and Wills ...

Ever since our Melbourne arrival, we've been meaning to stop and look at the Burke and Wills memorial in Royal Park. We surpassed that aim today.  I packed "provisions" and we set off on an "expedition" to follow the first steps of the explorers' journey.


In preparation for our adventuring we watched two DVDs last night.  Les Hiddins, the Bush Tucker Man, presented an episode about the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition. He tells a good story and although we had seen it before, we all enjoyed the revision.  In 2010, a 4WD tour organiser led a tour to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the expedition's departure.  They followed the tracks of the original expedition as closely as they could - and we watched some of that too. 

Today's itinerary was based on the information held within "Following Burke & Wills Across Victoria" and the geocaches listed by Geocaching Australia in conjunction with the State Library of Victoria.

We started at the Melbourne General Cemetery to view the graves of the explorers.  There is a huge memorial to Burke, Wills and Gray.  The sole survivor of the expedition, King, died about ten years after his return to Melbourne and has a much smaller grave elsewhere in the cemetery.

From there we visited the Royal Park memorial, the starting point of the expedition.  Due to a late and disorganised start, they only managed to travel to Moonee Ponds on their first night - which was our lunch stop. 

Isn't the internet a wonderful thing?!  There's just so much information available.  I loved the fact that not only had the lists of provisions been transcribed but that I could view the original scanned documents, on the Burke & Wills Web online digital archive. 


Based on the list we took some beef jerky, dried apple, dates, currants, raisins, water crackers and lime juice with us today.  We had corned beef sandwiches for lunch - and yes, the beef jerky and lime juice were sampled, with very mixed reactions!

We travelled as far as Bolinda this afternoon, before calling quits and heading home.  It was a fun day and prompted lots of discussion - so I expect we'll undertake further expeditioning when time allows. 

Monday, 21 October 2013

An axe to grind ...

As much as we were enjoying the Lancefield Show (on the right day!), we left in the early afternoon to ensure we would be on time for a tour of the Mount William Archaeological Area, a short drive out of town. 

We now know that the site is only open to the public once a year, so are even more pleased we made the effort to go.  We arrived at least 20 minutes prior to the advertised tour departure time, which was just as well because very soon after our arrival, the tour started early!  

We hastily packed away our interrupted lunch and wandered up the hill to listen to a short history of the site.  As we stood in the sunshine, a wedge-tailed eagle flew overhead - which was very auspicious, representing a welcome by Bunjil the Creator Spirit of the area.

Wurundjeri elder Annette Xiberras also made us feel very welcome.  As well as speaking of the production of the greenstone axe-heads, she spoke of how the families would have lived at the site. Given my interest in open-fire cooking, I was intrigued by her description of clay balls used to prolong the heat of a fire for extended, "slow-cooker" meals!

At the end of the talk, we were given permission to wander over the site and explore a little for ourselves. Typically, Vaughan was keen to find the wombat burrow that Anne had briefly mentioned!

We thoroughly enjoyed the tour, which was a highlight of our day - $20 very well spent, indeed!

Weir are you going?!

From Seymour, we headed north-ish. 

Nick had travelled as far as Murchison back in August but the countryside was new for everyone else. 

It was a much hotter day and we spotted four snakes on the road, along the way.


Two were still alive, the others hadn't survived the high-speed traffic. I also saw a tortoise. Often we stop to escort them across the road but in this case we were on a motorway.  He/she seemed fairly safe though, on the water-side of the road and presumably headed to a huge body of water. We decided we wanted to go there, too!

"There" was Goulburn Weir - a lovely spot with grassed area for picnics/BBQs and games, lots of trees and masses of beautiful flowers.  Nick and I walked out along the dam wall, while Vaughan played on the equipment and Erin collected flower seeds. 

I'm not generally good with heights, or raised mesh walkways.  I surprised myself though and managed to walk across as far as I did.  I even went out on the landing area where the man is standing in the pic above, though wasn't at all comfortable. 

One of the highlights of the visit was watching a tortoise body-surfing in the current!  Well, I like to think he/she was enjoying playing in the white-water and not just stuck in an endless loop!

See more ...

A funny thing happened on the way to Lancefield Show on Saturday. 

After wondering at the lack of activity in the town we double-checked the date - and realised we were a day early!  Hah!

It seemed a shame to waste our picnic, so we headed out of town and made a stop at Broadford to show Erin and Vaughan the straw boiler.  We also inspected a monument and signage across the road, which commemorated the early explorers Hume and Hovell.

Given we were in the mood for more exploring, we headed out of town toward Seymour.  It was picnic time when we arrived and this tank caught our eye, so we lunched in the park beside it.  There were magpies and wattle birds nearby - and we enjoyed watching the world go by for a bit.  I've done a bit of research and it seems there is a fair bit to see at Seymour, so we'll have to make another visit.  Praps we could picnic next to the steam train next time?!

Cobb Cooker: Pizza!

Some weeks I really look forward to Friday, not because anything dreadful has happened during the week or anything wonderful is planned for the weekend - just that I like the feeling of  Friday afternoon!

Last Friday, I packed a picnic afternoon tea and collected Vaughan from school.  He, Erin and I spent a lovely hour in the sunshine feeding some local ducks and geese.  On the way home we bought a few extra pizza ingredients, then made pizza on the Cobb cooker for dinner.  We didn't eat till late, partly cos of the laid-back vibe and partly cos the process was slower using the Cobb.

I made four pizzas, using our deep-dish enamel camping plates.  They fitted well onto the trivets (atop the Cobb grill plates).  I used both ovens, each with eight heat beads.  The pizza bases were crisper than necessary in an attempt to brown the cheese on top - probably 30 minutes each time, perhaps longer.  Further experimentation is definitely warranted but as a first effort, I was well pleased!   

(Vaughan and I have previously made camp oven pizza with excellent results, so we can always use that method using the Cobb Cooker as the heat source - if necessary).

I've watched a couple of YouTube videos about Cobb cooked pizza.  Both made the pizza directly onto the frypan plate.  The cheese on top was melted, not browned.  I'm pondering that.  I've also been watching The Hairy Bikers on DVD.  They often use Cobb cookers/charcoal ovens.  I was interested to see one of them use a small blow-torch to brown the top of a soufflĂ© made in the cooker.  Now, that might be a gadget worth getting!

Friday, 18 October 2013

The egg came first!

You know the age-old question - which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Well, last night it was the egg by a long shot!  We had been tantalised by the smell of roasting chicken but opted for ham omelette and roast vegies when hunger overtook patience at around 8:30pm!


Plan B was definitely appreciated by the hungry hordes.  The roast vegies were quite well done.  Vaughan raved about the potatoes and insisted everyone try them first.  He was right, they were awesome!  (Nice to get something right)!

It was 10pm by the time the chook was deemed done - five hours after it went in (though it would have suffered heat loss at various checks throughout the intervening period).  It could easily have had another hour without any burning or deterioration.

Notes for next time - the chicken needs to start around 1:00pm to ensure dining at a civilised hour.  Although I topped up the moat liquid an hour after starting, it had well and truly evaporated by the end of the cooking period - which makes for more cleaning effort. 

On the bright side the vegie size and cooking time were perfect!  I had mixed them in a bowl with some olive oil to coat lightly - and that seemed to work wonderfully. Hooray!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Cobb Cooker: Cookin' the chook!

I collected a parcel from the post office today.  It contained my Cobb Cooker griddle plate, dome extension ring (and chicken roaster). 

I was expecting the items, so had bought a chicken while out grocery shopping to trial the new upright roasting rack cooking method.


I'm using both cookers tonight.  I started eight heat beads in the first one at around 4:30pm.  I also made a liquid mix for the moat using water, crushed garlic, lemon juice (and the remainder lemon) with some rosemary sprigs.  After fiddling with the chicken roasting gadget for a little while, I located it onto the grill plate.  I then sprayed the chicken with olive oil and dusted it with some mixed herbs.  It went onto the Cobb, with extension ring and lid, at 5:00pm. 

I started six heat beads in the firebox of the second cooker at 5:30pm or so.  At 6:00pm I put carrot, pumpkin and sweet potato in around the chicken.  (I topped up the moat and checked on the heat beads just prior to adding the vegetables).  I used the fenced rack on the second cooker's grill plate to hold potato pieces and a few onion wedges - which were also started around 6:00pm.

It's 7:00pm now and all smells wonderful but I expect it will be another hour or so before we eat - sadly!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Tent upgrade ...

We've been planning to upgrade our tents for a while now.  In January 2009 we bought our first tent, an Oztrail Sportiva Lodge Combo tent (on special).  It's seen a lot of use and still functions well but is a lot larger than we really need - and takes more energy to set up than we want to expend. 


Even though we had heaps of room in the main tent, Erin (and Keegan) preferred some space of their own, so always used an additional smaller tent. Over time, that tent developed leaks so needs to be set up under one of our gazebos.

We've done a lot of research.  As much as the 30-second and Turbo tents appeal, they are out of our price range.  After much deliberation we settled on the tourer tent style.  Several manufacturers made this style but the Oztrail version fits our budget best.  The plan was to purchase two - a smaller 9 for Erin (and Keegan) to use and a larger 10-plus for Nick, Vaughan and I.  If we doing an overnight stay en route, Erin can bunk in with the rest of us. 

Yesterday Nick spotted an Oztrail Tourer 9 on eBay at a buy it now price of $170.00, which represented just half of the best new price he could find - and that was considerably less than the RRP on the manufacturer's site.  (The seller had used the tent once, then stored it under her bed)!  We collected our "new" acquisition today and did a test set-up in the backyard.  So quick and easy - fantastic!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Out-foxed!

Life doesn't always go to plan - and neither do Cobb cooker experiments! 

It's been a big day here. We arrived home about 30 minutes before school pick-up time. 

I did a couple of quick missions and then drove out to collect Vaughan. 


Once home, I had another small window of around 45 minutes before needing to head out again. I started eight heat beads in the Cobb fire-box a little after 4:00pm. They were ready to use about 20 minutes later.

I decided to use some fluid in the moat, while our dinner was roasting - a mix of water, crushed garlic, Worcestershire sauce, mixed herbs and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. I put the liquid in after the beads had started to grey. (Next time I will pour it in while the beads are still cold)!

I used the new Cobb tonight so placed the meat, potatoes and pumpkin on the fenced roasting rack.  I sprayed everything with olive oil and sprinkled mixed herbs and a few rosemary leaves over the meat, as well as seasoning it with salt and pepper.  At 4:25pm I put the grill plate and full roasting rack on the Cobb, covered with it's lid and then headed out.

We returned home at 6:30pm, very hungry. Erin had stayed home and commented about all the lovely smells that had been wafting during our absence. Dinner was served al fresco at 7:00pm. We were well and truly ready for it but sadly, it wasn't quite ready for us!

The potatoes and pumpkin were firmer than we would have liked and the meat was far more rare. The eight heat beads were just about dust, so I added an extra five - and returned the meat to the Cobb (after cutting the edges off for our meal). At 9:30pm I removed the meat. It was very well cooked and declared quite tasty by all the samplers. It probably had 4-5 hours of cooking in total.

I've learned a few lessons tonight. The liquid in the moat probably needs to be checked/replenished during the cooking process. Regardless of the recipe notes I'll need to allow a much longer cooking time for us, so the number of beads used initially will increase. I think the size of the potatoes and pumpkin will be fine for several hours of cooking.

The verdict overall - the flavour is great, just some tweaking to timing/method and so on. All of which would have been easier had I been at home supervising the cooking process. Tis a learning curve, for sure but the cost of tonight's experimentation was only $1.30 - gotta be happy with that!

As I've been typing this, I heard some noises outside.  The sandy fox was just outside our front door, obviously attracted by the lingering smell of our roast dinner!

Cobb Cooker: Bolognaise and butterscotch ...

I used to Cobb cooker again last night with the Crofton cast iron pot, to cook a simple bolognaise sauce. My recipe varies depending on what ingredients are available at home but the method remains constant.

I often use one of my thermal cookers but the cast iron pot is quicker if I start cooking later in the day. I used our kitchen gas hotplate as my initial heat source, while preparing the six heat beads inside the Cobb's fire-box. I then placed the pot directly on the fire-box, in the same way as I had for the previous night's beef casserole. The Cobb was set up outside and Erin commented that the delicious smell wafted everywhere!  (The sauce was done about 45 minutes later, reduced and nicely thickened).

So why is there a photo of butterscotch self-saucing pudding?!  I made that after the bolognaise was done, using the residual heat of the beads to slowly cook a (very late) dessert.  It sat on the grill plate for about two hours in total.  I checked it from time to time.  The beads had reduced to a small crumbling pile when I removed the pudding. They had lasted around three and a half hours - a cost of 60c, or 17c per hour of cooking time. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Cobb Cooker: Cake - take two ...

There was still life in my heat beads after last night's casserole was cooked, so I made a double batch of cake mixture.

The full cake tin took about an hour and a half to cook, perhaps more. 

This cake had a bit more "colour" than my first effort.  It wasn't burnt but it was good that I removed it from the heat source when I did.  I again used two layers of baking paper inside the cake tin.  I knew the cooking time would be longer, so also improvised two trivets underneath.  I had hoped the trivets would stack but instead they slotted together.  Not to worry.  I'll check what other options may be possible with either equipment on hand - or picked up cheaply.

As you can see, the cake was a little higher on one side than the other.  The Cobb cooker itself was level, thanks to Nick's morning efforts.  Keeping the trivet(s) level is tricky.  I'll have to work on that!

Costing the Cobb ...

Erin gifted Nick a compact, portable BBQ for Fathers Day - together with a bag of Heat Beads. 

The bag was bought from a small mini-market, so the price was higher than it may have been at a larger retailer. 

I counted the remaining beads this morning and worked out the cost per bead (taking into consideration those already used).  Given the initial bag price, these beads are around 10c each.  Bunnings stock a 16kg pack for $21.44, which would drop the bead price to just 4c - so we'll buy them next time!

Yesterday I made one casserole, an impossible pie and two cakes (or one and a half when volume is considered).  I used just 10 beads for over 7 hours of cooking time - great value for $1.00.  I'm very happy with that - and will be even happier when the same energy costs only 40c!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Crofton meets Cobb!

I was on a roll today with my Cobb cooking trials. 

While I was waiting for the impossible pie to finish, I decided on a beef casserole for dinner. 

After checking the instructions, it seemed I could put my Crofton/Aldi cast-iron cooking pot directly upon the fire basket of the Cobb - and the contents were soon bubbling away nicely.  There wasn't a recipe as such.  I started out to make my usual beef stew and realised I didn't have one of the ingredients, so improvised.  As luck would have it the end result far surpassed my expectations and now I'm trying to remember what I did! 

It's impossible (pie)!

After my vanilla cake was cooked, the three heat beads I used were still largely intact.

I decided a second experiment was in order.  The small recipe book that came with our $5.00 cooker included a recipe for impossible pie, so I put that together quickly. 


I poured the mixture into one of our deeper camping dishes, which I sometimes use for cooking pies.  There was batter left over though so another round cake tin was a better option.  Hopefully it is possible for me to successfully cook impossible pie!

A few hours later:-  there were some hiccups in cooking the impossible pie. 

The recipe suggested three heat beads and I used those that remained after cooking my vanilla cake. 

In hindsight, it may have been better to add an extra bead before attempting the impossible (pie)!   Not to worry.   It seems a very forgiving recipe and coped with standing aside while photos were taken and more heat beats added.   It would probably work well to cook after a main meal, just slowly doing it's thing until it was time for dessert.

Cobb Cooker: Cake!

I've been doing some research about Cobb Cooker cooking. 

I particularly wanted to cook cakes and found some very good instructions at a camper trailer discussion forum.

The author stressed that the cooker should be level, so Nick did his best!

The trivet rack itself isn't level, and locating it within the holes of the grill plate is a bit of a fiddle.  Hence the cake tin isn't level - but we tried!

I made one quantity of a basic vanilla cake recipe that I use fairly often. 

The ratio is a cup of flour and a cup of sugar to half a cup of milk, with two eggs.  I always reduce the sugar and used some of our chookies' eggs. 

The cake tin was about half-full and took the suggested hour to cook. 

Next time I will make a double quantity of cake mixture and test the cooking time again.  I didn't use a second trivet today but may do that when cooking a full cake. 


The verdict?  An excellent first attempt.  Vaughan ate several pieces (and isn't generally keen on non-chocolate cake)!  Erin and I have taste-tested also, though are resisting further samples so Nick can try some when he wakes up again.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

And then there were two!

It's a good thing we tested our new Cobb Cooker last night. 

Eagle-eyed Erin spotted this bag and contents at the dump shop today and swooped upon them.  She called out to me and I hurried over.

We checked the bag - one intact cooker!


A small recipe book was included, with recommendations for the number of heat beads needed to cook effectively.  There was also a couple of typed pages with other recipes (and heat bead suggestions). Very handy!

The cooker seems the same model as ours though perhaps an earlier edition.  It's been well-used but should scrub up very well and will be a welcome addition to our camping kit, providing extra cooking area at the right price. 

How much was this splendid bounty?  $5.00!  And we thought our brand-new cooker with all its attachments was a bargain! 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Just like a bought one!

I've been interested in Cobb Cookers for quite a while and over the past few weeks have had several second-hand offerings on our eBay watchlist. 

Sadly I missed the end of one auction - and the cooker sold for less than I was going to bid.  As a result of my disappointment, Nick researched prices and found a great deal at BCF.  During the week, we visited our local store, specifically to look at these cookers.  We happened to be there on the last day of a short 3-day camping equipment sale - so received 25% off the cost of our Cobb Cooker and various accessories.  What a fantastic bargain! 

Funny story - we returned home and didn't check our boxes of goodies till just before Nick was leaving for work, at a little before 5:00pm.  It was then that we realised we hadn't bought a Cobb Cooker but an empty Cobb Cooker box!  I immediately rang the store and we exchanged the empty box for a full one the next day, amid much light-hearted banter from the staff!

We decided to test the Cobb Cooker tonight, just using the basic frying plate to cook eight lamb chops.  I was side-tracked by other missions and remembered to turn them after about 45 minutes.  I was very relieved to see steam rising through the lid!  The chops were on the hotplate for a bit over an hour in total but could have come off earlier.  There was still plenty of heat left in the eight heat beads, so we put on some sausages as a second experiment - and were very pleased with those results also!  Hooray!