For many, the thought of sitting down to Christmas dinner on The Big Day either invokes a sense of excitement (a festive feast with all the trimmings? Yes, please) or dread (what’s that timer for again?!). And with my very first vegan Christmas fast approaching, it’s safe to say my feelings toward the matter were somewhat mixed.
Thankfully, in discovering Demuths Vegan Festive Christmas, I found the answer to all my culinary qualms. The day promised a combination of hands on cooking and demonstrations, culminating in a Christmas meal of our own making – the perfect dress rehearsal for the real meal.
Based in Bath, Demuths Cookery School specialises in plant-based cooking courses taught by a team of experienced chef tutors. With a range of courses to suit everyone from the complete beginner to the more accomplished cook, I knew I would be in safe hands.
Our tutors, Helen and Simi, led us in the group introductions where we discussed our kitchen competencies (reassuringly, I wasn’t in the midst of secret chefs) and food preferences; an even split of meat-eaters and vegans amongst the group showed how a plant-based diet could be appreciated by all.
Helen eased us into the day with a demonstration on how to make soy ricotta to be used later in our show stopping centrepiece – a Christmas wellington wreath. Throughout she happily answered our questions and shared hints and tips which proved to be the first of many to come, such as choosing a soy milk that’s high in protein for best results when making vegan ricotta.
Before moving on to veg prep, a lesson in knife skills was due. As someone who’s lacking in hand-eye coordination, I was slightly concerned about being handed a sharp blade (shamefully, my kitchen is home to a sad array of blunt knives in an attempt to save my fingers). But with a lot of assistance (and patience) from Helen, I managed to master the basics of ‘the claw’ – and leave the building with all ten digits intact.
The end result of all the chopping would be our starters; parsnip fritters with a side of winter slaw and yoghurt dill dip. As we diced, mixed and seasoned, we were encouraged to taste our dishes along the way, considering which flavours could be more pronounced. Tentatively we made our suggestions – perhaps a dash more coriander, another squeeze of lemon – as Simi reassured us there’s no right or wrong answer.
All the thorough taste-testing only served to fuel our appetite and we eagerly made our way to the dining room for lunch. The parsnip fritters were a real stand out amongst the group with their crispy, golden crumb and we all agreed we would be adding them to our own Christmas menus. Accompanied by the colourful slaw and tangy dill yoghurt, they made the perfect starter for any festive feast.
Already my worries about Christmas kitchen catastrophes were fading, and all before the main course.
We headed back to the kitchen with the promise of baking a chocolate truffle cake, topped with a decadent ganache. As someone who is well known for their sweet tooth, I was particularly excited about this course (and the sampling required for quality assurance purposes). Whilst we baked the cake, Helen demonstrated how to make the ganache, suggesting the recipe was also perfect for truffles – perhaps with a hint of rum for the grown-ups.
Trying to stay focused with the scent of chocolate in the air, we began to assemble our wellington wreath showstopper. Helen guided us as we rolled out the puff pastry and carefully alternated the leek, roasted squash and red pepper, and spinach and ricotta fillings. Topped with a small galaxy of pastry stars, it would make a worthy centrepiece for any Christmas table.
Of course, Christmas dinner would not be complete without all the trimmings and, despite their bad rep, this includes Brussel sprouts. Years of eating my mother’s soggy offerings had left me with a less than pleasant view of the veg, but armed with Helen’s recipe for stir-fried sprouts and chestnuts means I’ll be on sprouts duty this year.
Served alongside Simi’s saffron roast potatoes and our own attempts at a port and shallot gravy, the feast was complete. The time to untie our aprons and tuck in had come (but not before a mini photoshoot).
Having managed to cook a whole Christmas dinner (in November, no less) I no longer feel the impending sense of doom at the thought of doing it on the day. Equipped with Helen and Simi’s delicious recipes, expert cooking tips and preparation tricks, I’m sure I can impress the family with my new-found culinary skills and vegan dishes.
To find out more about Demuths Cookery School and their Vegan Festive Christmas courses head to demuths.co.uk. Photography by Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures.