Vegan Cookery School: A Review (Plus 5 Tips I Learned There)

Those of you who follow Gallivanting Vegan on social media may have already noticed this (likely because of the influx of food photography), but mid-August I had the privilege of attending Demuths Cookery School in England! Since returning to the United States I’ve gotten plenty of questions about my experience, so I thought I’d share a little insight on earning my Vegan Cookery Diploma.

Getting some type of official cooking certification, both to sharpen my skills and give myself more clout in the culinary world, is something I’d been looking into doing for years. When Peter and I finally decided that we had the financial resources saved and I had the vacation days available to spend, I jumped at the opportunity by reserving my spot in the August course and booking a flight.

The course took place at Demuths Cookery School in Bath, England and is taught by two main instructors, Helen (a classically trained chef) and TJ (a registered nutritionist), with a mix of other teachers for more specialized cuisine days. The students were a small group of eight (with me being the only American) and our reasons for attending varied from desiring to start a vegan business to simply wanting to incorporate more plants into their diet.

Over the two weeks (totaling in 80 hours of kitchen time) we covered a little bit of everything. From laminated pastry to layering spices in Indian cooking, the instructors showed cooking techniques, introduced new ingredients, and guided us on plating best practices. By the end of each day, the recipe print-outs we were given ended up covered in frantic scribbles of the tips and tricks the instructors would casually mention when demonstrating each dish. I’d walk back to my Airbnb after each class, exhausted but excited from all the knowledge I had just gained.

If you have been eyeing culinary school for a while, but don’t know if you can stomach working with animal products, then I would highly recommend looking into Demuths Cookery School. You’ll leave with a whole new appreciation for international cuisines, an arsenal of stand-out recipes, and skills that will seriously upgrade your cooking abilities. Before attending, I was worried that the course might be too basic, but I quickly realized I still have a lot to learn about the culinary world through all the new techniques thrown my way. Since coming back, I’ve really been reinvigorated in the kitchen and found myself approaching cooking with a lot of the methods we were taught.

I plan on doing a “One Year Out” blog post in August about how attending Demuths has affected things like my home cooking, professional opportunities, etc. So keep an eye out for that in 2020, but until then, here’s a list of a few easy tricks I picked up from the Vegan Cookery Diploma curriculum that can help anyone with their cooking. Hopefully Helen won’t scold me giving away a handful of our trade secrets!

Great Glaze

Having a glaze on your baked goods gives them that shiny fresh-from-the-corner-bakery appearance. I usually skip this step because I’m already fussing over the main recipe, but this trick is so easy that I’ll be using it from now on: apricot jam. Simply heat up some of it in the microwave or over low heat in a small pot, then use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer to your baked good. Once it cools, you’ll have a beautiful and shiny dish.

Umami is Missing

If you order a meatless meal at an omnivore restaurant, or make one at home, sometimes you’ll end up with a dish that just tastes salty instead of having a deep rich flavor. Often umami (the savory flavor) comes from meat in dishes, not salt, so it’s harder to replicate in vegan cooking. To add plant-based umami to your meals try including:

  • Dried mushrooms
  • Fermented foods
  • Garlic
  • Lemon zest
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Herbs

Soaking Seeds

A freshly baked hearty loaf of whole-wheat bread studded with seeds and nuts is one of my favorite smells in the world. But to ensure that your bread ends up moist and delicious, it’s important to soak the nuts and seeds beforehand, otherwise they’ll end up stealing moisture from the loaf. Just place them in a shallow bowl and cover with water for one hour. Drain the nuts and seeds before you add them to the dough.

Say Goodbye to Spicy Garlic

Have you ever made a batch of hummus or guacamole with a few cloves of garlic and all you could taste was the pungent spiciness of raw garlic? While I sometimes enjoy this sensation, to tamp down the heat you can simply cut out the eye from the garlic clove to remove the spice.

Don’t Be Salty

When mixing up dough, you’re often encouraged to whisk together the wet and dry ingredients. But two of the most commonly included ingredients, yeast and salt, hate each other. Direct contact between them will instantly kill your yeast, so be sure to whisk in your salt before whisking in the yeast. If you dump it all on top of each other you risk a dough that won’t rise.

Low-Fat Guacamole

There has been an article making the rounds on the internet recently from L.A. Taco that caught my eye. The story reveals how some taco joints are serving a “faux guacamole” made from squash to cut down of overhead costs. While I’m sure many readers’ first reactions were abject horror, mine instead was curiosity. Intrigued, and with no evening plans to speak of, I hit up the local Mexican grocery store after work and purchased the necessary ingredients.

L.A. Taco’s original recipe includes a quarter cup of oil, an ingredient I usually try to avoid when cooking at home, so I chose to replace it with an avocado. I know, I know. The whole point of the recipe is to not have avocados, but I was more interested in the low-fat aspect of the recipe, not necessarily cutting out all the avocados.

The recipe ended up turning out beautiful, in both appearance and taste! Vibrant green, the flavors featured were bright cilantro, spicy jalapeño, and creamy avocado. It was like a rich version of salsa verde. The texture was thinner than traditional guacamole, but perfect for spooning over any sort of Tex-Mex dish imaginable.

When it comes to the healthiness of this dip, it’s a real winner in comparison to traditional guacamole. The entire recipe (which serves eight) contains 381 calories and 24g of fat, while the same amount of traditional guac would instead have a whopping 679 calories and 52g of fat. This is the perfect solution for anyone wanting to stick with a low-fat diet, but still enjoy that creamy guacamole taste and texture on their dishes.

Low-Fat Guacamole

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 large Mexican squash, ends trimmed and chopped*
  • 6 medium tomatillos, husked and quartered
  • 1 medium jalapeño, sliced
  • 1/4 cup minced yellow onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium avocado, pitted and peeled
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Stir in the squash and tomatillos and cover. Bring back to a boil and cook until squash is tender and tomatillos are dark green, about 8-10 minutes. Drain the vegetables and set aside.
  2. In a small pan over medium-high heat, add the jalapeño, onion, salt, and a splash of water. Continue to cook, adding water as needed to prevent sticking, until the pepper and onion is soft.
  3. In a food processor or large blender, add the boiled vegetables, sautéed vegetables, and remaining ingredients. If the ingredients are still very warm, be sure to remove your blender or food processor’s vent piece to ensure no pressure is built up. Blend the ingredients together, scraping the sides down occasionally, until a smooth texture is achieved.
  4. Pour into a serving container and allow to cool. This recipe can be served room temperature or cold and I recommend dolloping it on top of tacos, salads, or sandwiches.

Recipe Notes:

  • Mexican squash (also known as calabacitas) can be found in your local Mexican grocery store and are similar in appearance to a short zucchini.

Nutrition per serving (1/8 recipe):
Calories: 48 Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 0.5g Protein: 1g Carbohydrates: 5g Sugars: 2.4g

5 Must-Dos in Glasgow

Glasgow is hands down one of my favorite cities on the planet. There’s something about the combination of Victorian architecture, modern murals, friendly folks, fascinating history, and great vegan eats that makes my heart swoon.

Peter and I had the chance to visit Glasgow earlier this summer during a jaunt we took around Scotland, which also included Stirling and Inverness. While it was my fourth time in the city, it was Peter’s first, so we were sure to visit all the must-do sights. See the list below to learn my favorite spots in Glasgow, plus a bonus recommendation!

The Tall Ship

Although I’ve never been much of a sea person, I love visiting historical ships when the opportunity arises. The (aptly named) Tall Ship was originally built in Glasgow and is one of only five Clyde ships left in the world. It is still a functioning ship, but now acts as a fascinating maritime museum covering Glasgow’s seafaring past and current preservation efforts. While the Tall Ship is free to visit, we recommend purchasing one of the many printed guides offered to support the museum.

The Necropolis

The Glasgow Necropolis is the pinnacle of spooky graveyard exploring. Even if visiting cemeteries isn’t usually on your to-do list, the Necropolis is worth an exception. Spanning over 37 acres and housing 50 thousand bodies, the cemetery contains some of the region’s most ornate Victorian grave markers and includes several famous figures.

Enter through the Bridge of Sighs (where funeral processions used to begin) and walk through the sprawling area. From the top of the hill, you can get a great view of the city and the nearby Glasgow Cathedral, which is worth a stopover as well.

Purrple Cat Cafe

One of the hardest parts of traveling is leaving our two cats at home, so the chance to visit a vegan-friendly cat cafe is something we couldn’t miss. The Purrple Cat Cafe is home to 29 friendly felines who are ready to play, nap, and cuddle with visitors.

We had a great time casually hanging out with the kitties while sipping cappuccinos and eating tomato grilled cheeses (mine with dairy-free cheese). While the cats at the Purrple Cat Cafe aren’t up for adoption, they support the local CATFLAP rescue with regular donations. If you go, be sure to reserve a spot ahead of time on their website because slots often fill up.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

Besides the Necropolis, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was probably the attraction I was most excited to share with Peter. It’s easy to spend hours wandering the 22 displays that cover everything from marble sculptures to the famed Glasgow Boys painters that delve into Scottish modernism. If art isn’t exactly your thing, the free museum also houses ancient armor, Egyptian sarcophagi, and there’s an organ recital performed every afternoon.

The Lighthouse

Built in 1895 as the home of the Glasgow Herald newspaper, the Lighthouse is now Scotland’s Center for Design and Architecture. The space houses design programs, art exhibits, and (the real reason for our visit) a modern viewing platform on their sixth floor. Totally free to enter, you can march up the spiral staircase and be rewarded with a beautiful sight of Glasgow. Since much of the district surrounding the Lighthouse has relatively short buildings, you can see an uninterrupted view of the cityscape.

Bonus: Stirling Day Trip

If you’re in Glasgow for a more extended period of time, Stirling is definitely worth a day trip. Just a 30 minute train ride outside of the city, Stirling is a medieval little town with a ton of character. I recommend checking out Stirling Castle, Cambuskenneth Abbey, Stirling Cemetery, and grabbing a lunch of vegan haggis with neeps and tatties at Nicky-Tams Bar and Bothy.

The Best Vegan Buys at Aldi

I am unashamed to say it: I am obsessed with Aldi. I’m not quite sure what I did before this strange, German grocery store chain popped into my life, but I would be lost without it now.

Aldi definitely has its quirks, like requiring a quarter to get your shopping cart (don’t worry, you get it back) or encouraging the use of reusable grocery bags by charging for their plastic and paper bags. But this mild learning curve is worth it for amount of high-quality (and often organic) vegan food you can purchase at extremely low prices.

The company has even recognized their customers’ demands for vegan-friendly foods and it inspired them to launch the Earth Grown brand of 100 percent vegan products.

When I switched from regularly shopping at Publix to Aldi, I literally slashed my grocery spending in half. Admittedly, Aldi doesn’t always have ever single item I want — and I sometimes stop off at another grocery store to grab ingredients like bok choy or garam masala — but the bulk of my purchases come from Aldi.

Read below to see what my favorite finds are at Aldi. I haven’t included some of the obviously vegan options (such as fresh produce or bags of dry beans and rice) but instead of have chosen to highlight specific products that I regularly use and think you would enjoy too.

Aldi Finds

The unique thing about Aldi is that while it has a swath of regularly available products, they also have “Aldi Finds” which are a rotating stock of products that change weekly. You can find out ahead of time in their sales paper what will be available and there are often a swath of vegan-friendly options.

My favorites:

  • Earth Grown meat alternatives (Meatless Meatballs, Chickenless Patties, Jumbo Hot Dogs)
  • Wonder Drink Kombucha (Traditional, Cherry Black Currant)
  • Simply Nature Peanut Butter Powder (Original, Chocolate)
  • Friendly Farms Non-Dairy Almond Vanilla Creamer
  • Earth Grown Vegan Mozzarella-Style Shreds
  • Burman’s Eggless Mayo-Style
  • Barissimo Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate
  • Earth Grown veggie burgers (Quinoa Crunch, Black Bean Chipotle)
  • Deutsche Küche Bavarian Soft Pretzels

Pantry Basics

Aldi is the perfect place to stock up your pantry with healthy products. There’s a wealth of vegan staples like pasta, grains, beans, condiments, and breads to choose from.

My favorites:

  • Priano Gnocchi (Whole Wheat, Potato)
  • Simply Nature Organic Marinara Pasta Sauce
  • Seedtastic 21 Whole Grains & Seeds Bread
  • Earthly Grains Quick Cook Bulgur and Quinoa Blend
  • Casa Mamita Fat-Free Refried Beans
  • Pueblo Lindo Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
  • Fusia Green Sriracha
  • Simply Nature Vegetable Broth
  • Fusia Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce

Refrigerated and Frozen

The refrigerated section in Aldi has plenty of options, including non-dairy milks and veggie-based dips. Don’t forget to hit up the freezer aisle to grab a few bags of frozen vegetable medleys and fruit blends to keep on-hand for quick meals.

My favorites:

  • Little Salad Bar Hummus (Roasted Garlic, Classic, Roasted Red Pepper, Flavor Quartet)
  • Season’s Choice Steamed Quinoa (Fiesta, Kale)
  • Friendly Farms Almond Milk (Unsweetened Original, Chocolate)
  • Little Salad Bar Chunky Guacamole
  • Season’s Choice Asian Blend Steamed Couscous
  • Friendly Farms Coconut Milk
  • Little Salad Bar Kosher Pickle Spears

Snacks and Drinks

Have company coming over? Aldi has got you covered! Their line of snacks, with everything from nut mixes to crackers and chips, can keep your guests satisfied. Also check out their La Croix knock-off’s wide range of fun flavors.

My favorites:

  • Simply Nature Green Pea Crisps
  • Clancy’s Original Veggie Straws
  • Fit and Active 100 Calorie Almond and Walnut Snack Packs
  • PurAqua Belle Vie Sparkling Water (Cherry Lime, Blackberry Cucumber, Lemon)
  • Simply Nature Fruit Strips (Strawberry, Raspberry)
  • Clancy’s Pretzel Slims (Original, Everything)

Desserts and Baking

Whether it’s for a school bake sale or just because you’re craving something sweet, Aldi’s baking ingredient section is well-stocked with what you require. Sweeteners, like stevia and fair trade cane sugar, are available and displayed next to a variety of flours and seeds for all your baking needs.

My favorites:

  • Moser Roth Chocolate (Sea Salt, Orange Almond)
  • Simply Nature Chia Seeds
  • Specially Selected 100% Pure Maple Syrup
  • Simply Nature Flax Seeds
  • Simply Nature Light Agave Nectar

Baked BBQ Tofu

bbq-tofu

I gotta be honest, now that I live in the ‘burbs I can smell about half of the neighborhood grilling on any given weekend and that has left me craving some smoky foods.

As someone who has zero skills at grilling, and also not enough time or patience to actually learn it, I’ve got to find some other way to get my fix with minimal effort. That’s where my oven comes into play.

Baking tofu leaves it chewy and gives it crispy caramelized edges when sauce is applied. Add extra layers of flavor thanks to a dry rub and pickle juice brine, and you’re set with a plate of BBQ tofu that would be welcome at any cookout.

Since I am a self-admitted BBQ novice, I drew inspiration for this recipe from Food Network’s Rib Dry Rub and the sauce is a riff off an oil-free recipe on Inside Kelly’s Kitchen. Both were great jumping off points for mixing and matching to my family’s tastes.

bbq-tofu-2

Baked BBQ Tofu

Serves 4, 4 slices per serving

Ingredients:

  • 2 blocks firm tofu, drained and pressed
  • 4 cups pickle juice (can be from store-bought or homemade)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon coconut or brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 (8 oz.) can of tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • ⅛ teaspoon liquid smoke

Directions:

  1. Cut each block of tofu into 8 ½-inch thick slices. In a shallow casserole dish, layer tofu and pour pickle juice over. Marinate for at least 1 hour, flipping tofu as necessary for all sides to be well coated.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  3. In a shallow bowl, mix together cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, sugar, black pepper, and white pepper.
  4. Drain tofu and roll each piece in the dry rub mixture. Place tofu on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking time.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, yellow mustard, and liquid smoke. Set aside.
  6. Once tofu has baked for 20 minutes, use a basting brush to coat one side of tofu pieces with sauce. Bake for 5 minutes. Flip tofu, baste the other side, and bake for 5 more minutes. Serve with any leftover BBQ sauce on the side.

    Nutrition per serving:
    Calories: 181 Fat: 7.5g Saturated Fat: 1.4g Protein: 17g Carbohydrates: 16g Sugars: 7.8g

Easiest Ever Kimchi

bowl-of-kimchi

I often hesitate to use the word “ever” in a recipe. Descriptions like “The most decadent pie ever,” or “The best breakfast you’ll ever eat,” are just a little bit too over the top because these statements hardly ever turn out to be true. But I kid you not, this recipe for kimchi is the easiest you’ll ever find. You mix up some brine, stir in chopped veggies, and then let it sit out for a while. You’ll be rewarded with salty, funky, and crunchy kimchi that is addictive.

Now this isn’t by any means a traditional recipe. Honestly, your Korean grandmother might be rolling in her grave right now because of the ingredients list. But even with it taking a different avenue from other versions, the results are a delicious ferment. As with most recipes, feel free to play around with the ingredient ratios to make it as spicy, sweet, or tangy as you’d like.

kimchi-bowl

Easiest Ever Kimchi

Makes about 4 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 napa cabbages or large bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions (green parts only), chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
  • 10 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup sweet soy sauce
  • 1 cup gochujang paste

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, onions, and salt. Set aside for 10-15 minutes to sweat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.
  2. Once the cabbage and onions have wilted slightly, add enough water to the bowl to cover the vegetables. Roughly mix the cabbage and onions in the water with your hands (to remove any excess salt that’s left) and then drain well.
  3. Add the drained cabbage and onions to the gochujang mix. Toss with either gloved hands or tongs until everything is well coated. Put the kimchi mixture into 4 clean pint jars, leaving headspace of about 2 inches. Use a fermentation weight to weigh down the top of each jar, ensuring that the cabbage stays underneath the brine. Now you can either cover each of your jars with a regular lid (and ‘burp’ them daily to release excess pressure) or choose airlock lids for less hassle.
  4. Store in a cool place away from sunlight for 3 to 5 days and start checking the taste of the kimchi on the third day. It’s ready once it’s bubbly and tastes delicious. Store in the fridge for up to a year (but I promise it won’t last that long).

Nutrition per serving (1/4 cup):

Calories: 33 Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Protein: 1g Carbohydrates: 6g Sugars: 4g

Adventures in Fermentation (and Some Beginner Cookbook Recommendations)

two canning jars and two fermenting cookbooks on a green background

There’s something about doing things yourself that really makes me happy. Baking bread, creating condiments from scratch, or mixing your own tea blends are all things that I’m gung-ho about. But there’s one food ‘project’ that has really caught my attention lately: fermenting.

My first introduction to fermented foods (not counting the occasional sauerkraut on a veggie dog) was during our honeymoon. We visited the farmers’ market in downtown Austin, Texas which included Buddha’s Brew, a kombucha company with a variety of flavors for sampling. Neither of us had heard of such a thing, but we happily drank up the blueberry version whilst eating tamales and listening to the vendor explain the various health benefits to us.

Fast forward to three years later and nearly every counter in my poor, overworked apartment kitchen is covered in a myriad of jars and bottles containing bubbling ferments. In the last few months (especially thanks to three weeks off in-between jobs) I’ve started to seriously work on developing my fermenting from a fair-weather hobby into a real skill.

gallon jar of kimchi with a hand nearby to show sizeSo far, I’ve perfected my own recipes­—after drawing inspiration from various cookbooks—for lemon-dill sauerkraut, kimchi (see right, blog post coming soon!), and fennel-white peppercorn carrots. Obviously I’ve got a lot more to learn before I can even call myself an experienced fermenter, but I’m excited for the challenge.

Along with just being really delicious, fermented foods have a big health benefit: probiotics. These helpful little gut bacteria can help with an assortment of things, including digestion and boosting your immune system. Every time I have to take antibiotics, no matter the medicine’s strength, I’m always violently ill with a sick stomach. But if I take my meds with fermented foods (I usually drink a glass kombucha in the morning and eat a spoonful of kimchi at night) then my symptoms never get worse than a little nausea. Before, I would run out and purchase these items, but now I can just make my own ferments at home to keep illness at bay.

There are roughly a million other fermentation books that I’d like to add to my cookbook collection, but I’m starting small for now. These are the books that I’ve really been enjoying reading and learning from so far:

Ferment for Good: Ancient Food for the Modern Gut: The Slowest Kind of Fast Food—Author Sharon Flynn has created a career from her passion for fermenting, and you can definitely tell by reading her book. It’s an impassioned beginners guide that covers everything from the equipment you need to what all of the ‘scary’ looking changes are that occur when fermenting foods (most of which are perfectly safe and natural). Not to mention, she has some delicious recipes, most of which come with suggestions on how to mix-and-match ingredients to create your own unique ferments.

Fiery Ferments: 70 Stimulating Recipes for Hot Sauces, Spicy Chutneys, Kimchis with Kick, and Other Blazing Fermented Condiments—This book is hot! Literally. The recipes range from basic spicy relishes to sophisticated-sounding condiments (Habanero Carrot Sauce, anyone?) and each is sure to impress any heat-lover in your life. If you’re worried about making hot ferments and then not knowing how to use them, they’ve covered that too. There’s an entire chapter with delicious-sounding suggestions for using the recipes.

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World-I almost feel silly listing this because it’s such a well known book, but I’m doing it anyway. This is basically the bible of fermenting, written by Sandor Katz, the famed fermentation revivalist who credits these probiotic-rich foods with helping his health after an AIDS diagnosis. At nearly 500 pages, there’s a wealth of knowledge tucked in-between the two covers. Learn about which salts are best to use, traditional methods from a wide range of cultures, how to ferment non-dairy ‘cheese,’ and more!