One Day at River Cottage

At long last the day had arrived – my fortieth birthday present from Sarah, my parents and my brother Pete was ‘One Day at River Cottage‘.

Dad dropped me at the car park at the top of the hill – Park Farm nestles in the bottom of a dip, so it’s a trip down on their converted tractor trailer to start cooking.



We arrived to find ourselves in the newly rebuilt barn at Park Farm – you may recall there was a fire there last year. We were in groups of four to a bench, sharing a hob and oven between two. This worked well as we tended to help each other out – one of us got four pans, one four fish etc. when we needed to get ingredients and utensils. We also met our Chef for the day, Chris.



On that note, the day was really well arranged – at times stuff would be delivered to our benches; at times we’d collect it from the front or the side; and there was a magic table where we could leave dirty pots, pans and utensils for the ‘kitchen fairy’ to magic clean (actually several helpers out the back). IMG_1337

The first thing we did was make our bread dough. I’d never made bread before, so I was worried about whether I’d got the consistency right and whether the ‘crumb’ would be OK on my loaf. That’s my loaf about to prove for the first time on the right. After that, we took the ingredients for our elderflower panacotta. Unusually, this recipe had yogurt in it – which replaced some of the traditional cream and made it less rich than it might otherwise be. At each of the trickier stages Chris called us to the front to show us what to do – for the easier ones he’d just call out instructions as he moved among us.

IMG_1343 IMG_1345
IMG_1340 IMG_1347

Our final task before lunch was to season the meat that would form our chorizo balls as the starter for dinner. This meant spicing up pork shoulder and pork belly mince from the ‘pig in a day’ course a couple of days earlier.

IMG_1350  IMG_1351

Finally we were about to get to eat something! We made a quick ‘snack’ of Pork Saltimbocca – the bacon for this was cured at River Cottage and was soooo tasty.  It’s a pork shoulder steak cooked wrapped in bacon with sage, with sautéed little gem lettuce, capers and lemon juice.

IMG_1352 IMG_1355 IMG_1357

With lunch there was also a chance of a drink – although I decided to give that a miss until all the stuff with sharp knives was done – and to wander round the farm and see all the places we’d seen on TV – oh, and meet the cat who I think went by the name of Pudding.

IMG_1366 IMG_1364 IMG_1367

After lunch it was back to work. Firstly, making the strawberries in syrup for the panacotta.

 IMG_1370  IMG_1371

And then to perhaps the only bit I’d been dreading – filleting our own plaice and then assembling a chinese fish parcel.

 IMG_1373  IMG_1375
 IMG_1376  IMG_1379

Nearly onto the home stretch now. But first, proving our bread a second time.

IMG_1380 Voila! It had risen – which I was really pleased with. This is in a rising basket and had been knocked back and proved for another thirty minutes.

Finally it was onto the home straight for our dinner. Firstly, that chorizo meat had to be formed into small balls and fried, our broad beans blanched and a poached egg put on top. Then the fish parcel served with noodles and unwrapped. And finally, to turn out the panacotta and dress with the strawberries…


 IMG_1381  IMG_1382
 IMG_1383  IMG_1384

All in all it was a packed day with so many different things to do. Whilst I’m not promising I’d do lots of them day-to-day (I think I’ll let the fish stall or Waitrose fillet fish for me, for example), it gave me the confidence to try some things I’d been put off trying before – bread and panacotta for example. I’d recommend any of my foodie friends looking for a ‘present’ day out and likely to be near Axminster / Lyme Regis to invest – the classes are really good, and teach you lots of tips and tricks as you go.

Oh, and my bread? I was actually pleased with the result – and Sarah, Mum and Dad seemed to enjoy it for dinner.


Well, two dudes, and me, who’s not really a cool dude:


Two genuinely nice, friendly people.  And very happy to sign a couple of books and pose for a picture.  Walked back past the shop after they were supposed to be done – there was still a long queue and yet they were still smiling and signing.

It’s always nice to support your local independent bookshop.  Sadly St Albans lost theirs when Paton Books closed (although they do still run a book fair in the Town Hall on a regular basis). But Maher Books in Welwyn Garden City is only a few miles away, well stocked and the staff are always very friendly.  OK, so you can order from Amazon, and cheaper, but it’s nice to be able to browse sometimes, and if you’re doing that the least you can do is support them.   They’re on the third floor of the Howard Centre just by the stairs down from the carpark; why not pop for a coffee in Bebo afterwards? Best coffee shop in the town and just outside the other end of the Howard Centre. Their salads and soup are rather good too!

And to finish off my review of the year…

July – 199/365 Skater
199/365 Skater
August – 217/365 Abandoned
217/365 Abandoned
September – 251/365 Ziggurat
251/365 Ziggurat
October – 303/365 Look of Love
303/365 Look of love
November – 312/365 Remembrance
312/365 Remembrance
December – 352/365 Reflection
352/365 Reflection

You may (if you have a long memory with a capacity for very small and unimportant details) recall that I was doing a Projec365 – one photo a day for a year.   I started off posting them on here, but soon stopped because it was one more step beyond posting to Flickr, and most of you who are on here and of a photographic bent are also on there.

The time has come, however, for me to bore you one final time with 2009. Herewith my “best of” – a shot per month which I think was the best.

January – 26/365 Old man river
26/365 Old man river
  February – 33/365 Winter
33/365 Winter
  March – 81/365 Bawa
81/365 Bawa
  April – 109/365 Odeon
109/365 Odeon
  May – 140/365 In tune
140/365 In tune
  June – 158/365 Billy
158/365 Billy


Actually, I lied.  I’ll bother you twice – there’s still the second half of the year…

Friday afternoon was a belated birthday treat.  Mum and I went to see Cirque du Soleil’s current touring show, Varekai, in London. 

One word review: Wow!

More than one word review: What a show.  Completely unlike childhood trips to the circus, yet clearly the circus and not just dancing.  A magical story, humour, and infectious music…


Best viewed large!

207/365 Heron

This heron was hanging around a coot’s nest in Verulamium Park on the River Ver.

I suspect he was looking for dinner 🙁

Technical notes: Nikon D90 with Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF. ISO 200, 1/60 at f/4.0.