Review: River Cottage Veg Cookery Course

I started the day at 9.30am with a very bumpy ride down the hill from the car park to the farm HQ in a tractor and trailer. Apparently there had been a very boozy wedding at the farm recently and it was easy to see the appeal of the location as the grey morning mist lifted to reveal amazing views.  Once we all arrived, slightly bashed about from the tractor, we were welcomed with tea, coffee, River Cottage presse and a mini breakfast of scrambled eggs on sourdough toast with seasonal samphire.  This breakfast was the perfect showcase of how delicious simple ingredients can be when they are at their best.

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The kitchen we were to spend the day in was in a modern, clean barn space set out with ovens, equipment and work spaces for two people to share.  Through a door towards the front of the kitchen, we could see glimpses of the ‘real’ kitchen preparing for lunch service at the River Cottage canteen.  The technical side of using and sharpening knives was tackled first, using some very fancy knife rolls containing a variety of knives that we had free reign over using.  There was no ‘use this knife for this task’ or demands of any kind, we were simply instructed to use whatever felt right.

IMG_9325Stock making was first on the menu, simple chopping skills were taught and we were left to our own decisions on particular flavourings for our stocks.  Mine had a particularly fennel-heavy flavour, I used fennel seeds, whole allspice, star anise and juniper berries.  I had never made such a heavily flavoured stock before, and I was really surprised at how little time the stock took to cook and take on flavour too.

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While our stocks were simmering, we were lead around the kitchen garden, farm and polytunnels.  I had some serious garden envy here, the grounds are small but with lots packed in, including a polytunnel filled with 15 different varieties of tomato.  We used the produce in the kitchen garden for a summer garden soup later in the day, having picked peas, broad beans and kale during our walk.  We also picked and tried a large selection of fresh herbs, it was really amazing to have everything we needed to create something delicious right on our doorstep!

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Back in the kitchen it was time to start making the main dishes of the day.  We made a delicious carrot hummus, which I have made at least three times since, a muergez spiced cauliflower and borlotti bean, shallot and mustard salad. All washed down with fresh presse and homemade tortillas, this mezze of delicious things was the best part of the day for me.  We were mostly left to our own devices, with instruction to go with our instincts and mix up the recipes a little if we would like.  Speaking of recipes, there was no open recipe book on our benches, only watching demonstrations to guide us.  I really enjoyed this aspect, we were of course sent the recipe packs for the course at a later date, but we were able to learn from watching the chef rather than struggling through a complex recipe.

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We all sat down for lunch together to devour our hard work before starting work on our summer garden soups.  We used vegetables fresh from the ground that morning, and all were delicious.  Using our stocks as a base, we added charlotte potatoes, carrots, broad beans, peas, mange tout, kale and little gem lettuces all cooked until just tender.  However, I felt the course could have been around 30 minuets longer as the soup making part felt rushed, and we didn’t have time to sit down together to eat what we had made.

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IMG_9340While the soup was simmering, we made a start on our beetroot tarte tatin.  Initially a little confused about whether this was a sweet or savoury dish, we quickly rolled out some ready made ruff puff pastry, after a demonstration on how to make it.  Again, a little more time would have been nice so we could make the pastry ourselves.  However, the beetroot we used were so fresh and beautiful, I credit the great taste of this tart to those beets.

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We simmered the beets in a pan with some apple balsamic vinegar and then let them caramelise underneath the pastry before turning them out (fairly successfully) onto the plate.

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I really enjoyed the course overall, despite the slightly rushed ending, and I learnt lots of new skills that I have used with will continue to use.  I would recommend this course to anyone with an already formed love of veg and cooking with some practical skills already under your belt looking for a fun way to experience a cookery class.

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