Food, glorious food!(to quote Oliver Twist, the musical). In my previous blog I wrote about my Xmas as a volunteer kitchen assistant at Buckden Towers with Vegiventures, where I had the best vegan food I have ever had (in fact I think it was the best food ever, period, never mind vegan) .We kitchen staff got to eat all the same food as the guests, which was one of the major perks of the job. Nigel Walker, proprietor of Vegiventures, is a top chef (I believed he trained at a prestigious establishment in Switzerland) so I knew the food would be something special (incidentally, I gather that Nigel visited a slaughter-house as part of his chef’s training, and that was what made him decide to become vegetarian! Says it all, doesn’t it?)
On Christmas Eve when the guests arrived we were busy making scones and mince pies to serve for afternoon tea at around 4pm, for the initial reception. The mince pies were vegan, like almost all the food, and there was an alternative of the usual ones, or wheat-free ones. They were served with either dairy cream or cashew nut cream, and were delicious . I tried both types – strictly in the interests of quality control, of course! Had to make sure they were up to scratch for the guests, didn’t I?!. (Talking of cashew cream, I have made it, and it is easy and comes out well, see my previous blog on this subject, the title is self-explanatory!)
On Xmas Day for our main meal we had the usual roast dinner, a good selection of veg including brussels spouts, carrots, parsnips, roast potatoes, of course, and peas, etc, but in place of the turkey, we had seitan schnitzels. That was the first time I have tried seitan, and I enjoyed it, and was surprised at how “meaty” and satisfying it was. I gather that it is made out of wheat gluten and it is quite a long process – one or two of the kitchen staff made the seitan in advance, and they said it was a bit of a chore! But when they had got it into “cutlet” shapes it was coated in flour and breadcrumbs with herbs and seasoning, briefly fried, then baked in the oven, to make schnitzels. It made a very tasty meat substitute, a decent alternative to a nut roast, for example (I enjoy nut roasts, but sometimes you need a change from them for a roast dinner). The picture here shows us having our dinner at the staff table, by the way. That's me on the front left, raising a glass!
As an alternative to the seitan schnitzels, there was also chestnut, celery and red-wine tart with a wheat-free crust for the coeliacs. (I tried that too, and that was also awesome! I didn't think I would like it, but the flavours worked really well).I really want the recipe for that, then maybe I will make it in the future. Also the gravy that went with the roast contained ginger, which I thought sounded weird, but when I tried it, it was delicious – it didn't have an overpowering ginger flavour, just enough to give it a bit of a kick.
The Christmas cake and Xmas pudding, obviously also made by Nigel and his assistants were also mouthwatering and vegan, and surprisingly, made with no sugar – apparently Nigel rarely uses sugar in any of his cooking, on health grounds, so instead he sweetens cakes, puddings, etc., with apple juice or apple sauce (which work really well. They are not quite as sweet as conventional cakes, but full of flavour, and I prefer the fact that they are not super-sweet anyway, besides the fact that it is better for the health). The cranberry sauce that went with the roast dinner was home-made with fresh cranberries, and apparently that did have some sugar in it, because cranberries are so sharp otherwise (I think that was the only food to have added sugar though).
The Christmas pudding was served with tahini brandy butter, (vegan) which was amazing (tahini, for those of you who have not tried it, is a paste made from sesame seeds, so it gave the brandy butter a lovely nutty flavour, which complemented the boozy bit well!) They provided a glass of wine with each meal, and the guests were also allowed to bring their own to have at the table. Needless to say, all the wine that Vegiventures provided was vegan (You may not all be aware, but quite often wines are cleared using animal products, so it is necessary to shop around for vegan ones).
On Boxing Day the food was more exotic and just as delicious (even more so, in my opinion): the main course consisted of a kind of Oriental buffet – a Thai-inspired sweet potato and coconut curry, vegetable rice, a creamy mushroom and spring onion dish with soy sauce, and marinated tempeh pieces, which were awesome! (that was also the first time I have ever tried tempeh, which I have heard about, and I really enjoyed that too, like the seitan). I wasn't sure if I was going to like all of it, but I did, and completely cleaned my plate, as all the flavours complemented one another so beautifully. For dessert we had an exotic fruit salad with Swedish Glacé vanilla ice-cream (vegan, but you would never know it!)
I don’t have the full recipes for all the dishes unfortunately, as I only contributed to parts of most of them, but I will see if I can get Nigel to send me some of the recipes (if he is prepared to share some of his professional secrets with me, he may not be!) and if I can get them, I will blog about them here, I promise! Certain parts of the cooking process I can remember, so once I have had a chance to try them out myself, I will share the improvised recipes here (I haven’t had a chance to do much experimental cooking lately, as I have been so busy. Also the fact that I did so much of it at Xmas may have put me off for a little while! I am sure I will be back concocting things in my kitchen soon though, and there I will be here again with the results!)
Hope you enjoyed this blog. Your votes and comments are always appreciated.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.