Soups, Stews and Rock’n’Roll

Adventures with a slow cooker on the Boy George tourbus

I'm the one not wearing eyeliner....

Eating well on tour can be a bit of a random affair.

Mealtime arrangements can run the gastronomic gamut from elaborate catering through to a plate of curly sandwiches left too long in the dressing room.
On this particular tour, we were by and large left to fend for ourselves foodwise. While there are sometimes a variety of interesting and quality eating establishments around venues, more often than not one is left to choose between a Wetherspoons pub meal, or some fish and chips. (There’s also pretty much always the “elephants leg”  kebab option, but I personally never go down that route).

Happily though, this particular band includes a number of people who are keen, skilled cooks and interested in the value of a quality meal.. (there’s nothing more depressing than being on the road with a bunch of definite non-foodies who are only too willing to settle for the kebab option).

The kitchen on a tourbus consists of a microwave, a kettle and a toaster, as well as a variety of basic cooking implements like a chopping board, knife etc etc. As you can imagine, it’s very much a “galley kitchen” affair, space obviously being at a premium.

Our guitarist/MD John Themis already has a history of preparing delicious miso soups on buses. He does this by using miso paste and a sachet of Japanese fish stock to make the soup with boiling water. He then makes some noodles in the microwave, and poaches some salmon gently in freshly boiled water in a seperate bowl. These are then added to the soup, together with tofu, chopped spring onions, chillis or chilli oil, sesame oil and some sesame seeds.
I sampled a bowl of this soup one afternoon, and it was outstanding, and considerably more nourishing than a service station sandwich.

About half way through the tour, we decided to buy a slow cooker in order to open up our options for cooking on the road. John managed to pick one up on offer at £30, so it wasn’t exactly a major investment.
The cooker’s maiden voyage was a wholesome Irish stew made by John.
Stopping at a limited Spar supermarket, John nevertheless managed to pick up all the ingredients necessary for this dish. I got back on the bus after a morning stroll around Eastbourne, to find Kevan the bassist and Bob the merchandise chap excitedly clamouring around the kitchen where John was a whirlwind of activity stacking the cooker with carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, chopped beef and some skillfully rolled meatballs, together with some mixed herbs and freshly ground black pepper.

Irish stew being assembled

He then made up some makeshift dumplings. Unfortunately we didn’t have any plain flour, so pure suet and water was used, and the dumplings were rolled small and compact, in anticipation of their richness.

A cooking liquor was then assembled with a beef stock cube and some HP sauce dissolved into some boiling water and added to the dish, which was then covered, and left to cook on the medium setting.

John rolling his dumplings for the Irish Stew..

After about 3 hours (after soundcheck in fact) John did a check for seasoning, added some salt, and replaced the lid. Since a slow cooker can lose a considerable amount of valuable heat, when the lid is removed, we had to place a “DO NOT OPEN” sign on the lid, to stop hungry musicians and crew lifting the lid and having a sniff.
After the gig, we exited the venue and got on the bus, where a delicious aroma was now pervading the air. (In fact, 2 of George’s die hard fans Kerstin and Sibylle who were standing outside the bus, commented that they could smell the food from there!)
The Irish stew had now been on for more than 7 hours, and it was looking and smelling amazing. A true one-pot dinner, John was able to serve it in bowls, with nothing more than a bit of French bread on the side. After a week or so of eating out, the experience of some home cooking was incredibly comforting.

John and Kevan ready to dish out the Irish stew..

The next day (Sunday) we arrived in Lincoln early in the morning following an overnight drive.

After the success of the Irish stew, I was thoroughly inspired to try and cook a chicken curry for after the show that night.
The first step was to purchase the necessary ingredients. As it was a Sunday, my only hope was to find a large supermarket (there was another small Spar shop near the theatre, but they didn’t have half the stuff I required). I managed to locate a Tesco which was a good 15-20 walk away, so I set off on my quest, and eventually arrived back at the bus with some chicken, onions, chillis, spices, microwavable steamed rice, chappatis and ready cooked poppadums.
The first problem to solve was how to fry the spices with the onions. To achieve this I chopped the onions in batches and “fried” them in a bowl with some sunflower oil in the microwave on the high setting for about 3 minutes to soften them up. Then, for each batch I added roughly 2 tsps ground coriander, 1 tsp cumin and 1/2 tsp tumeric, and “fried” them again in the microwave for 2-3 mins, again on high.
All the onions (1 bag) yielded 4 batches. With the last batch I added 2 good tsps each of ginger and garlic paste, as well as the spices (fresh ginger and garlic would have been an option, but would have required more chopping and made me late for soundcheck).
I then layered the ingredients in the slow cooker: 1 batch of onions, some chicken, some chopped red chillis and some diced potatoes. I continued layering up in this order until the cooker was full (luckily it was just about large enough to hold all the ingredients.)
I made the sauce by dissolving some creamed coconut and tomato puree into some chicken stock made from a stock cube, and poured this into the slow cooker until the meat was pretty much covered. I then put the lid on, propped up the “DO NOT OPEN” sign, and went to soundcheck.
Again, after souncheck, I tested and adjusted for seasoning, adding just a little salt.

After the gig, the smell on the bus was most inviting, and anticipation was high. 5-10 mins before serving up I added a whole packet of chopped green coriander, replaced the lid and let it cook in a bit. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the curry in the cooker before we started serving, but remembered to do so when we were halfway down:

The curry, halfway through serving

I was a initially little nervous the curry wouldn’t live up to expectations, but luckily those fears seem to have proved unfounded. With John’s help I dished up several servings in a production line fashion. We had the sachets of rice in the microwave (which only took 2 mins), and a toaster warming up the chappatis. Each serving was then garnished with fresh green coriander, chopped fresh red chillis and a poppadum.

A serving of tourbus chicken curry

There was enough for 12 servings all together, and more than enough chappatis and poppadums. So Bob the merchandise chap was suitably relieved when he arrived on the bus, as he’s always last back because of the nature of his job.
Although most of us ate on the night, George and Jon the backing vocalist requested that we save their shares for the next day, due to not wanting to eat too late at night. So in fact, they would have sampled the best of it because it would have been marinating for a good 16 hours before they had their share. Curries are always better the next day…

Below is a photo of Bob’s share with extra chillies:

Bob's share served up with red chillies in background

….and this was Bob’s reaction:

The next day we were travelling all day from Lincoln down to Swansea, so it was an ideal opportunity for John to once again knock up one of his delicious miso soups, but this time he made a large portion, big enough to feed the whole band, and just left it in the slow cooker on the low setting, so it would be warm all day for people to help themselves as and when they wished.

He assembled it using the ingredients and method previously mentioned, but with the addition of poached eggs, which made it an even more inviting and balanced meal. After some discussion of how to best poach eggs on a tourbus, Kevan’s method of breaking the egg into a cup, with one teaspoon of water, and microwaving for 1 min was decided upon, and it proved to work a treat, as you can see in the photo below.

Johns miso soup made and kept warm in the slow cooker

The final day of the tour was a drive from Swansea to Cheltenham, and was the day when Kevan had promised us his signature dish of slow cooked beef in guinness casserole. Since we were setting off in the morning, and there was predictably a paucity of food outlets near the hotel, Kev took the precaution of purchasing all his ingredients the evening before from a large supermarket located conveniently next to the theatre.

Kev’s plan for the next day was to rise early and do his preparation on the bus before we departed, rather than trying to cook on a moving vehicle. He was prevented from doing this however, by the minor setback of a bottle of sunflower oil that had fallen over and voided most of it’s contents onto the imitation wood floor of the bus kitchen, rendering the area a veritable oily ice rink. By the time we had placated the obviously not to pleased bus driver and persuaded the nice houseekeeping staff at the hotel to come out and aid in cleaning the area for us (most of which was done by John), it was time to leave.
Not to be deterred, Kevan soldiered on bravely with chopping onions and carrots, while being periodically tossed back and forth by the moving bus. He even managed to trim the beef of most of it’s fat, not the easiest job while the bus was negotiating the roundabouts and corners of downtown Swansea…
Eventually, he got the dish in the slow cooker. It consisted of beef, onions, carrots, peas, some good quality beef stock liquid, lots of black pepper, and of course guiness (2 cans sufficed I think). He thickened the sauce with plain flour mixed with a little water, which he added after a couple of hours. John also rolled some dumplings later on (this time with the correct 2:1 flour:suet correlation) and threw them in.
After the gig, the stew smelled delicious as we boarded the bus. Predictably, is tasted every bit as good as it smelled as Kevan served it out – tender beef in a rich peppery guinness sauce with sweet carrots and peas, accompanied by creamy microwaveable mashed potatoes, and provided a fitting finale to a triumphant few days of experimenting with the possibilities of real home cooking for musicians on the road….
Below is a photo of casserole in the slow cooker:

The casserole ready to be served

..and one of the dish served out:

The beef in guinness casserole served up with creamy mash

…and Bob’s enthusiastic reaction upon tasting his share…..

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About Gourmet Gorman
I'm a musician who enjoys cooking

24 Responses to Soups, Stews and Rock’n’Roll

  1. alison says:

    wow!! good to see you all eating well. thanks for all the tips i think i might follow a couple of the dish’s myself. love to all take care lots of love. alison 🙂 xx

  2. helen okon says:

    hi all pleased your havin fun eating well x it looks well taisty x

  3. Hilarious, adventurous, and inspiring. What a riot the videos are and the food is definitely looking nutritious, delicious, comforting, and economical – my kind of food!
    🙂
    Valerie

  4. C says:

    wow your tourbus meals looks yummy! so many versatile uses of a single pot! lovely!

  5. Jackie says:

    Love that you are using a crock pot to cook on the road! Everything looked great.

  6. Beth says:

    I’ve never made miso soup at home – looks amazing!

  7. haha i really enjoyed reading this. I go on tour from time to time with bands (and sometimes a tour bus is far too luxurious for us!) and I’d never have thought of taking a slow cooker. I am always the one doling out the apples and bananas after day three when everyone else is sick of kebabs and chips!

    Good post!

  8. yamaonna says:

    Wow! Everything you described here sounds so yummy! I’m such a huge fan of curry, and I’ll be trying this and the others you have on your blog!

    I never actually thought of bulking up a Miso soup like that (heh, guess I’ve lived in Japan too long) but it sounds really yummy. Might give it a try next time I’m in the mood for miso!

  9. Kristin says:

    I was stuffed from dinner when I started reading this post, but I am now suddenly starving! You kitchen sounds challenging, you might be the macgyver of the cooking world.
    p.s. Thanks for the tip about the slow cooker losing heat quickly when you lift the lid! I’ll admit, I take WAY too many peeks-but I won’t from now on.

  10. Mike King says:

    I’m a firm believer that anything placed in a slow cooker turns to gold given adequate time and this look like it’s no exception

  11. acookslibrary says:

    love this for the travels as much as the food! Just to let you know I’m now on http://www.acooklibrary.com – have gone over to a self-hosted site, so do you want to amend your blogroll or readers’ll get the old site and not the new, sleek look!
    Karen

  12. hopeeternal says:

    What an inventive idea getting a slow cooker. Have you tried slow roasting a boned (because of limited space in the pot) meat joint on a bed of veggies: carrots, leeks, onions? A friend does this and it is delicious.
    A warning about toasters and poppadoms, by the way – just don’t try it! (I thought it might be a good idea and set fire to the toaster.)
    hopeeternal
    ‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’
    http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

    • We didn’t use the toaster for the poppadums, we used it for the chappatis.
      Funny thing is though, that particular night, the bus was drawing power from the venue via a cable, and after a few goes at having the microwave, toaster and slowcooker all plugged in at once, we managed to blow a fuse in the venue, so the bus was without power the rest of the night.
      Luckily we were in a hotel that night though, and also we’d served most of the curry portions before it happened….

      • hopeeternal says:

        Yes, I did realise you toasted chappatis not poppadums – I pep up supermarket Naan breads the same way in the toaster. Just wet them a little on both sides first and do them on the lowest setting possible. I usually find it best to turn them and let them pop twice. The water really helps bring them back to life.
        Where do I sign up to come on your tour/eat your food!!!
        h/e

  13. Su-Lin says:

    I love that you do eat proper good food while on the go! But how do you deal with all the smells inside? Do they not pervade everything on the bus? Still, I’d put up with the smells if it meant food that good!

    • Actually, the smells didn’t bother anyone, they were in fact welcome.. even the curry.
      Somehow they didn’t pervade into the sleeping area so much, must have been something to do with the ventilation through the skylights.
      And the smells were most inviting indeed when we’d finished a gig and were making our way onto the bus.
      Some of the fans hanging around outside the stage door, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of George were looking positively hungry… 🙂

  14. I am thoroughly impressed with this! You must be the most well fed band every to go on tour! Bob’s reaction to the dishes is sheer hilarity 🙂 I intend to try all 4 dishes, I keep meaning to use my slow cooker more, now I have no excuse!

  15. Pingback: Meanderings ‘à la carte’ – June 2010 « Meanderings through my cookbook

  16. Lou says:

    woooah that’s a long post- kudos!
    I love cooking in difficult circumstances, it’s nice to have a challenge. Looks like you did a good job. I’m so into casseroles and dumplings ❤

  17. taraskitchenonline says:

    I do love crockpot cooking and always looking for more ideas. It’s so easy and the slow cooking just makes things amazing. Loved your posts and photos! Also, you’ve inspired me to try chicken curry in the crock pot! I am curious as to how it will come out. Great blog! 🙂

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