A feast at River Cottage

Today is the post lots of you have been waiting for, the food, or our feast at River Cottage, and it was pretty special. And true to form I didn't manage to photograph all of the food I tried because I was too busy thinking about eating it - no surprise there. But I did do way better than I normally do, as I knew you'd want to know.

But before the food there was a cookery demonstration from Andy on brining. It's the sort of thing you hear a lot of at this time of year as often recipes say to brine the turkey. Well it's something I've never done, and if I'm honest I probably won't ever do, but it is a way of making meat juicier. And it kind of makes sense. Meat loses liquid during cooking, so if it has more liquid to start with then it's going to be juicier after cooking.  The chicken we tried tasted good, but I think any chicken I ate at River Cottage HQ would taste good, or I'd expect it to anyway.

The thing that I am tempted to try at home is making my own bresaola. Yes, I know that's quite a leap isn't it? Not interested in brining turkey, but very interested in soaking a piece of red meat in red wine for a few days. Maybe it's because I can see the point of this and the bresaola is done after the soaking and drying, and maybe it's because I'm a lazy foodie. You know, happy to eat all the fancy food, but less happy to do all the fancy-ness at home and preferring simple, straightforward cookery. 

A cookery demonstration from Andy with some fabulous venison bresaola

I've yet to hunt down the River Cottage bresaola recipe, but I'm sure it must be in *one* of the HFW cookbooks I have.  And I thoroughly enjoyed the brining demonstration, and of course tasting the results. Ahem, sorry for the lack of pictures, but look at how rustically pretty the dining table was set. 

And then the table was laid for dinner - or the feast- in the barn at River Cottage HQ

So with the dining table set and once the hungry-for-more-good-food bloggers had worked out the table plan, the main event could start. Well when I say the main event, I mean the appetisers, and the one I remembered to photograph, which was crispy rabbit served on a puree of romanesco and utterly gorgeous. It's not the sort of thing I'd usually order, not that I'm squeamish about eating rabbit, but it's more MOH's natural choice and it's an unwritten rule to choose different dishes isn't it?

 THE ONLY APPETISER THAT I MANAGED TO PHOTOGRAPH, PROBABLY BECAUSE IT WAS SERVED ON A PLATE

THE ONLY APPETISER THAT I MANAGED TO PHOTOGRAPH, PROBABLY BECAUSE IT WAS SERVED ON A PLATE

Then one of the young chefs from the cookery school appeared to introduce us to the menu, seriously that must have been a scary task, but he left us slightly redder faced than he'd arrived and with full knowledge of what the menu was, and where it was sourced from. And an invite into the kitchen, so not backward in coming forward off I went. Well, I mean, how often will I get to look around a kitchen while it's serving fifty covers. 

I was amused to see some very well used River Cottage cookbooks on the shelf. I have most of these and had my eye on Gill Meller's gather book, but rather than read it in the kitchen I made a mental note to check it out in the shop before I left.  And above the books were a large array of spices, and as you'd imagine in far larger quantities than a domestic kitchen.

 WELL WHAT OTHER COOKBOOK WOULD YOU EXPECT TO FIND IN THE RIVER COTTAGE KITCHEN?

WELL WHAT OTHER COOKBOOK WOULD YOU EXPECT TO FIND IN THE RIVER COTTAGE KITCHEN?

 AND THAT'S DEFINITELY HOW YOU DO SPICES

AND THAT'S DEFINITELY HOW YOU DO SPICES

WATCHING THE CHEFS PREPARE OUR STARTER AND TRYING NOT TO GET IN THE WAY OF IMPORTANT KITCHEN WORK

It was good to see the team at work - and they were a team - just look at this production line, and as with any good team there was plenty of healthy banter. At this point I decided to let them get on with it and headed back to my seat as I was keen not to miss the starter of celeriac ravioli with wild mushrooms and leaves. 

 CELERIAC RAVIOLI WITH WILD MUSHROOMS AND LEAVES

CELERIAC RAVIOLI WITH WILD MUSHROOMS AND LEAVES

Again it was delicious, the celeriac in the ravioli was super smooth and the stand out of the dish. But again though it's not the usual starter I'd order, I tend to avoid pasta as a starter, so there's room for the courses to come and as for pasta filled with vegetables, well, that's often the reason I'd give it a wide berth. But no more, this was so delicious I'd be tempted to try more of this kind of food, but a warning to restaurants where I might be eating, you've a lot to live up to!

So onto our main. Cider brined ham, carrot puree and fried savoy cabbage. Sounds simple doesn't it. I didn't expect it to look quite this elegant when it arrived in front of me.

 RIVER COTTAGE CIDER BRINED HAM, CARROT PUREE, FRIED SAVOY CABBAGE

RIVER COTTAGE CIDER BRINED HAM, CARROT PUREE, FRIED SAVOY CABBAGE

I was all for tucking in, as for me mains are all about the meat. But I quickly spotted the other food bloggers around me snapping away and I remembered you'd want to know, so I joined in, for a couple of photos at least. The meat was good, soft, sweet, sticky, unctuous, delicious and more filling than it looked. There was a side of braised beans, which were tasty but not so photogenic. For me the cabbage looked pretty, but I was less keen on the charred flavour, although I understand it brought texture to the plate.

As ever when I saw the menu my first thoughts were pudding. I spied creme brulee on the menu, approved and then went back to read the menu in the right order - I don't think I'm the only one that does that, am I?  The creme brulee was honeycomb and the accompaniments had an apple theme, not surprising really given that this is prime time for our home grown apples.  And doesn't it look great? 

 HONEYCOMB CREME BRULEE WITH APPLE PUREE AND APPLE CRISPS

HONEYCOMB CREME BRULEE WITH APPLE PUREE AND APPLE CRISPS

And take a closer look, can you smell its sweetness yet? 

 A CLOSER LOOK AT THAT PUDDING, IT REALLY WAS AS DELICIOUS AS IT LOOKS

A CLOSER LOOK AT THAT PUDDING, IT REALLY WAS AS DELICIOUS AS IT LOOKS

It really was as delicious as it looks. And aren't you proud of me for taking two photos of dessert? I'm proud of myself!

River Cottage run a wide range of cookery courses and I'm sure you'll find one suitable whether you're an amateur cook, food enthusiast or a full-blown smallholder. If you want to learn more about and have hands-on experience of brining meat then the meat curing and smoking course could be the one for you.

* This is a collaborative post, but all views and opinions are my own.