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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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…


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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.


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Click on the picture to see it large – it really is worth it!

A great day out at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation care of Chris Weston Wildlife Photography. And of course of my lovely wife who bought the day for me as a birthday present!

The WHF isn’t open to the general public; they do, however, open up to small groups of photographers. This makes funds for their conservation work; there’s no merit in us aggravating the animals because they’d just hide away from the camera; so it’s win all round.

As a result, you can get far closer than you would ever get to big cats in a zoo – they let you inside the barrier so you’re right up against the fence – being careful to watch out for a paw reaching through to snag you or your camera…  We saw (and shot) lions, tigers, Amur leopards, snow leopards, cheetahs, pallas cats, pumas and a lynx!  The day started with a few of the cats, then lunch, more cats, and tea. Then, in the wonderful early evening light, we had time to wander round on our own to catch whatever we wanted rather than being in a group of fifteen photographers – great light, not tripping over each other, but with the background to know what you’re doing let us get some great shooting opportunities.

Our instructor (in this case Chris’s colleague Pete Watmough) was there to give advice when needed, but didn’t poke his nose in when it wasn’t; in my case, a few helpful suggestions about catching a cat in motion and some great observations about the cat’s characters, which is vital to spot their behaviour and hence catch them well.

More to come just as soon as I can get the rest of the pictures processed to a suitable standard…

CIMG0769 Saturday was time for part 2 of the birthday celebrations.  We met up with some of my pals for an evening at Cosa Nostra.  As ever, the food was great, the atmosphere relaxed (you never seem to be waiting too long for your food, yet you never seem rushed either) and everyone enjoyed themselves.

Oh, and they also were happy to let Sarah bring my surprise cake for us to have as desert, rather than having theirs.   Yes, my lovely wife had used the time I was away in Brussels to make a scrummy chocolaty fudgy cake which we all tucked into after our pizza or pasta.  I am so lucky!


Wednesday was my birthday, but online time has been limited since then owing to a trip to Brussels and busy busy busy at work.

The day started rather early with the alarm at 0550 (the normal time!) but we did catch a train about 15 minutes later than our normal one – because that meant time to open… presents!

I have been spoilt rotten!   Mum and Dad have got me some vouchers and a chopping board that folds (which I really really wanted!) and a mystery present. Phoebe got me a T-shirt and a Wii game.  And Sarah spoilt me with a photography day (which I knew about – watch out for the pictures in March) and a pasta maker (which I didn’t!)

After a day at work, it was off to for a quick pre-theatre pub supper, then…


What a show!   The stage at Drury Lane is larger than many; they’ve used it very well to fill it with wonderful scenery, a company of eighty actors and superb choreography.  Such good tunes as well, and a story that has clearly stood the test of time.  Oh, and of course Rowan Atkinson.  Who steals the show.  And is a truly sinister Fagin, ably supported by Burn ‘Torchwood’ Gorman, Tasmin ‘I wasn’t the BBC competition winner but that’s cos I’m already a professional who’s done it before’ Carroll, a great Oliver and an Artful Dodger with perfect comic timing.  Go and see it.  Several times if you can.   You’ll come out feeling so much better with the world!