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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
After lunch it was back to work. Firstly, making the strawberries in syrup for the panacotta.
And then to perhaps the only bit I’d been dreading – filleting our own plaice and then assembling a chinese fish parcel.
Nearly onto the home stretch now. But first, proving our bread a second time.
|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…
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.