Wednesday, May 4, 2011

From Gluten-Free to All-Gluten... Recent Classes at Natural Gourmet

If you've been following my blog for a certain length of time, you may already know that I'm a big fan of taking the recreational cooking classes at the Natural Gourmet Institute. I've learned Chinese Homestyle Cooking, made vegan hors d'oeuvres, and a Southeast Asian banquet there before, to name just a few of the classes I've taken in the past. They offer so many all-vegan classes, some focused on technique, others on various types of cuisine, and I always enjoy learning the new recipes and, at the end of class, getting to sample everything we've made.

This past week I took two classes - one was a vegan cake baking & decorating class, and all of the recipes were gluten- and soy-free. Not realizing the irony at the time I registered, the second class I took was a seitan-making workshop, meaning we were working with 100% gluten. It's all about balance, right?

The cake class was great because, you know, cake! The cake recipes were good, but I have to say that they weren't as good as anything I've had from Gone Pie or Babycakes (two sources of gluten-free vegan deliciousness) here in NY. We made a French Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting; Chocolate Cake with Caramel Chocolate Frosting; Lemon Cake with Lemon Frosting; Strawberry Banana Cake with Banana Icing; a Tropical Carrot Cake with Creamy Coconut Frosting; and a Pistachio Almond Cake with Almond-Scented Frosting, but the most fun was getting to play with all the different pastry tips to work on our cake decorating skills. Here are some of the fine examples from our class:

This was our instructor's chocolate cake - very inspiring!

This was the Pistachio - Almond cake... I think she had some decorating practice already!

I had the pleasure of meeting mtvVegan in the class - she also did a great job decorating her cake!

This was the Tropical Carrot Cake that I made and took home.
I'm a good wife, right? Although I need some more practice on my cake-decorating skills....

The seitan-making class that I took it with my friend Valerie from Lifestyles of the Chic & Vegan was great fun. Having only made seitan using Vital Wheat Gluten before, I had no idea how much work was involved in making seitan from scratch. You extract the gluten from wheat flours by mixing with water, letting the dough rest, kneading kneading kneading, soaking in water, then rinsing rinsing rinsing with alternating hot and cold waters while your beautiful ball of kneaded dough transforms into an ugly, stringy, gloopy mess, before it magically comes back together in one big ball of gluten. And that's how you make seitan! Honestly, it was entirely too much work to do on a normal day for your dinner, but I might do it once a year, maybe for a special holiday dish or something. The rest of the time, the Vital Wheat Gluten and Seitan Quick Mixes are perfectly acceptable and much, much easier and faster to make.

Our instructor was chef and cookbook author Peter Berley, with whom I took a Vegetarian Winter Casseroles class last year, where I learned such creations as Beer-Braised Kielbasa with Sauerkraut & Onions, Tempeh & Vegetables in a Spicy Lemon-Coconut Broth, and Seitan & Vegetable Enchiladas with Spicy Mole Sauce. Peter's recipe for the seitan workshop were just as delicious and inspiring - we made Seitan Wrapped Burdock, Leek, and Carrot Rolls; Braised Chickpea Stew with Seitan Chorizo & Fennel; Pan-Seared "Steaks" with Chimichurri; Gluten Puffs with Sweet & Sour Sauce; Seitan Sausages; Savory Seitan-Stuffed Summer Squash Provençal; and Eggplant & Seitan Falafel with a Lemon-Tahini Sauce.

Valerie & I worked on the seitan steaks with chimichurri sauce - if you don't know chimichurri, it is an intoxicating blend of parsley, cilantro, mint, garlic, shallot, jalapeno for a little kick, olive oil, and some rice vinegar for acidity. I know I sound biased because we made this dish, but it really was the biggest hit of the evening among all the other students.

Valerie thinks our dish was ugly but I thought that vibrant green sauce was just gorgeous!
Also delicious was the falafel made from seitan and roasted eggplant:

At first, I thought Seitan & Eggplant falafel sounded kind of strange, but the falafel balls really had the exact same texture as regular falafel, but the roasted eggplant and ground seitan really gave them an extra depth of flavor and savoriness. They were very tasty. And some of the other dishes:
These were the gluten puffs - deep-fried goodness with a sweet & sour sauce.
Satisfies all those Chinese take-out cravings.

This was actually an improvised dish that Peter Berley made with some leftover seitan - a roulade stuffed with a Mediterranean vegetable mixture. Delicious!

The seitan-wrapped burdock, leek, and carrot rolls

The Provençal-stuffed squash dish - rustic and very delicious.

Braised Chickpea Stew with Seitan Chorizo - a vibrant, flavorful dish!

The best part of the class... fixing our plates to sample everything

A very colorful tasting plate full of many different, all delicious flavors
We enjoyed the class with Peter so much that we are contemplating signing up for his homemade tofu class. Not that I really see myself making homemade tofu on a regular basis, but like changing the tire on a car*, I figure it's probably a good skill to know, right? I've also signed up for a vegan truffle-making class with the wonderful Fran Costigan the end of this month, so stay tuned for more deliciousness!

*I don't actually know how to change the tire on a car. I should probably learn sometime.


  1. I like your kind of balance- yummy cakes & nommy,our pan-seared chimichurri seitan was the best dish for sure! Priorities!- we live in NYC with no car, no need to learn how to change a tire- but making gluten-free cake, seitan & vegan truffles- them be serious vegan foodie skillz ;)

  2. Aww... Thanks for the shout out! Once you get the hang of all the flours, glutenfree baking is fun! But the pastry bag... gotta hone my skills with the old pastry bag. Those cakes look amazing!

  3. I took Peter's class on homemade tofu and it was great. Your analogy is pretty spot on! Another great tool in the toolbox. Everything looks great btw. :)

  4. Gauri Radha गौरी राधाMay 7, 2011 at 2:37 AM

    Everything looks delicious and those vegan cakes look so amazing!!!

  5. Oh, my gosh - What fun!!! Everything looks delicious!

  6. Ahh, So much fun! I can't wait to be in a bigger city with offerings such as the above - Seriously, I'll be all over it :)

  7. Gauri Radha गौरी राधाJune 17, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    Fantastic looking vegan cakes!!!

  8. I've been wanting to take one of these advanced are they? I have zero training but like to think I'm a pretty good novice.

    Would hate to pay for a class and have it be all wannabe chefs who make me feel like an idiot! lol

  9. @Anonymous - I've taken several classes there now, and I've always found that it's a good mix of cooking skill levels among the other students. Plenty of people with zero cooking experience who want to learn, and a few people who really love to cook but want to learn something new. Definitely you should go for it!