A day of foodie heaven, full of festive cheer, and with like-minded bloggers. The River Cottage Christmas Feast was something of a food lovers delight!
There are times when I have to pinch myself. Doing the job I do, means I get to see and experience opportunities that money can’t buy. It’s been hard work to get to this point, and I take nothing for granted.
Last Tuesday was one of these experiences!
Any foodie will tell you that visiting River Cottage is something of a food lover’s dream. It’s the Mecca of organic and delicious produce. So, imagine my absolute joy and excitement when I was invited along to the River Cottage Christmas event with Foodies 100!
Having made sure that Jon was available to have the children after school, I travelled the 3.5hrs to get to Axminster in Devon, where River Cottage HQ is nestled amongst rolling hills, tranquil fields and beautiful countryside. Imagine a slight mist hanging over the fields, highlighted by the gold, yellows, oranges and reds of the changing leaves. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it!
To get to the iconic cottage, you park in a car park just off the main road, before being transported by tractor and trailer on a bumpy (read very bumpy) ride down through the valley to the cottage.
Words cannot do justice to how beautiful and calm this wonderful place is.
And for a foodie, it really is a dream come true to visit.
The event brought together some of the best bloggers around, including Mel (Le Coin de Mel), Vicki (Free From Fairy), Emma (Free From Farmhouse), Pippa (The Slimming Foodie), Rachel (Vintage Folly), Nicola (Kitchen Sanctuary), Eb (Easy Peasy Foodie) to name a few, and sample the River Cottage Christmas feast!
Oh my goodness were we in for a treat!
Not only this, we were also privileged to have a fantastic cooking lesson from the senior head chef Andrew, who taught us about brining and curing various meats in time for Christmas.
There was also the opportunity for some fun games (guess the objects in the box, the foodie version of ‘I’m a Celeb’) and a collaborative workshop with other bloggers.
We were welcomed with hot drinks and a light snack before the fun began!
A lesson in brining meat
Andrew explained that brining can be done with:
It starts the curing process, but importantly, there’s absolutely no chemicals involved. Only natural ingredients are used.
Recipe for a hot brine, which would be used for red meats
You will need
- 2ltrs water
- 1ltr apple juice
- 1ltr cider
- Brown sugar (200g) - could use honey, treacle etc
- 1kg salt
- Black pepper roughly crushed
- Bay leaves ripped
- Orange zest
Bring to the boil for 5-10 mins and then leave to cool down completely.
Place the meat in a large container (plastic ideal) before pouring the brine over the top.
Meat needs to be fully covered by the brine and needs to stay in the mixture for 3 days for every kg of meat!
Whilst in the brine, the meat needs to be kept somewhere cool.
Remove the meat from the brine, and leave to dry. You can leave the meat on a plate uncovered in fridge, this will keep much better, and it will keep for up to 3 weeks.
When ready, cook/roast the meat as you normally would.
Once cooked, it will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge!
Tasting some delights
Andrew had made us some delicious roasted hummus to try, along with some lemon and gin brine cured chicken, and oh my word it was fantastic!
Then came the chance to try the River Cottage Bresaola of beef. It was absolutely delicious, and similar to Viande de Grisons (a French delicacy) which I had as a child. It brought back many happy memories!
To make the wet cure for bresaola:
Weigh meat (the demo had 700g of meat) and then place the meat into a zip lock bag.
Wet cure guidelines - 3% salt for weight of meat, garlic, bay leaf, Rosemary, lemon and orange zest, bit of chilli, cloves and black pepper. Then add just enough red wine to cover meat! (It doesn't matter what red wine you use, just make sure that it is one that you'd drink happily!)
Leave for 5 days and then dry off. Then air dry the meat at around 8-12c. The air needs to pass around the meat. If you put the meat onto a plate, rest the meat on a couple of wooden spoons and remember to turn regularly. Leave for 10 days, and it will then be ready.
Silver side of beef/venison is perfect for this! (Ask your butcher to cut with the grain)
When you carve, cut against the grain!
Our delicious meal
Before the most incredible 3 course meal you could wish for, we were treated to some delicious canapés!
First was exmouth mussels – cooked in apple juice, with red onion, apple and cider vinegar.
Then came goats cheese bruschetta, with marinated beetroot and fennel.
Followed by pork croquette, brined ham mixed with a thick béchamel sauce and accompanied with a tomato chutney.
And lastly, a Romanesco purée with braised rabbit, which was my favourite. It was a stunning combination of flavours!
Another of the chefs, Sam, then came and explained to the group how our menu was created, and what we would be eating.
It was lovely to hear that the menu they create is dictated entirely by what produce is available from the vegetable patch, along with the meats coming back from the abattoir, or the fish caught that day. It truly is sustainable living on a fantastic scale, as well as embracing the seasons and the produce on offer.
So, going back to our meal, which was quite simply a taste sensation!
Our starter was celeriac ravioli, paired with wild mushroom and sage.
Our main was brined ham (using the technique shown to us earlier in the day), slowly roasted and glazed with mustard and honey, and paired with carrot purée and a chunk of savoy cabbage pan fried with butter and garlic.
And the absolute star of the meal for me, was the most exquisite pudding you could ask for. A smooth and creamy crème brûlée, with the lightest of cruncy caramel toppings, paired with an apple crisp, apple purée, and a deconstructed apple crumble made with treacle and rye flour.
This was then followed by coffee, and petit fours (chocolate truffles with a candied orange peel centre) before the long drive back home, spent entirely on working out what meats I would be buying to brine and cure over the next 2 weeks!
Thank you Foodies100 and River Cottage for a wonderful experience, it was the perfect day spent with lovely bloggers!
NB: I was invited to this event, and agreed to write an honest review in exchange for attending