Vegan Afternoon Tea: Teacup, Manchester

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Manchester is proving to be the place for vegan afternoon tea.  Google as I may, it seems to be slim pickings out there for other cities.  But this is my third in Manchester, and I’m hopeful of finding a few more.  Teacup, for non-Mancunians, is a charming little cafe in the Northern Quarter, famed for its colourful and towering layer cakes.

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Alas, it is not famed for being vegan-friendly:  generally speaking, there are no vegan cakes on the menu.  However, when I emailed an enquiry, they told me they would be happy to provide vegan afternoon tea, even breaking their own strict no-reservations policy (there’s often a queue out the door).  And yet…still no vegan cake.

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It was an unusual afternoon tea, but I really enjoyed it.  Proceedings got off to a pretty poor start, when we waited thirty minutes for our afternoon tea (despite the fact that we’d booked it in advance), and had already drained our teapots.  Fortunately we managed to get refills (rose tea is now my favourite accompaniment to afternoon tea, it’s glorious) when the elegant racks of food finally arrived.  The savoury plate was different from the norm:  a delightful falafel wrap (a little on the dry side though, and could have done with a slap of hummus), some nicely seasoned salad leaves, beautiful tomatoes and a little bucket of olives.  It was like a normal sandwich dish condensed into finger food, and it was really good.

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In the absence of scones and cakes, the only baked good was the biscuit.  It was almost biscotti-like in its crispness, though the centre was a wee bit softer.  The chocolate was dark and rich, and there was a nice touch of spice.  I loved them, because I like dry biscuits, but my companions would have preferred just one biscuit alongside another treat.  The two biscuits were accompanied by a little pot of raspberry sorbet, which had melted by the time we got to it.  There were also two pretty little truffles from BonBon Chocolatier, just around the corner from Teacup.  The gold one was described as “rum sozzled”, and that was certainly an accurate description:  there was a lot of booze in there!

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When I first saw there was a fruit plate, my blood began to boil.  Fruit?!  As part of afternoon tea?  But I may have been a little hasty.  The pineapple didn’t do much for me – it was sweet and fresh, but not really special.  The jug contained a thin yellow drink that had no discernible flavour – we’d been expecting something lemon curd-based, or with tropical mango flavours perhaps, but none of us could identify the taste.  The passionfruit was sublime, but the real star of the show was the strawberry.  It was dipped in white chocolate and we could see something crunchy on the outside:  nuts, we assumed.  Yet as soon as I took a bit, the popping candy started whizzing and fizzing in my mouth.  What an unexpected treat!

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In conclusion, it was a surprising afternoon tea.  I felt a little disappointed not to have had even a sliver of cake.  I feel if a place that’s famous for its spectacular cake promises an afternoon tea, they should at least attempt a vegan cake.  It was mostly delicious, and I wasn’t hungry when I left, but nor did I feel that I’d really had what I’d wanted.  Is just a little bit of cake too much to ask for?

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Matthew Nutter’s Pop-Up Vegan Night

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Sometimes it can be a little lonely being a vegan:  being the only one who has to turn down a slice of birthday cake, waiting a little longer in a restaurant for a meal and receiving a little less, standing still in the supermarket analysing the packaging while everyone else whizzes in and out.  So it’s no surprise that there is a thriving vegan community online, consisting of Meetups, countless Facebook groups, bloggers galore, the Post Punk Kitchen community and the excellent Vegan Package Swap.  Besides the occasional ‘who’s the better vegan?’ contest (it’s all about parent companies, sugar and palm oil, basically), it’s a wonderfully welcoming community and a great resource.  Courtesy of the Manchester Vegan Facebook group, I found out about a pop-up event at Nooch in Wigan last month.  A vegan chef called Matthew Nutter was offering seven courses of fine dining for the reasonable price of £30, so we eagerly signed up and headed off to Wigan for the evening.

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The amuse bouche was one of the highlights of the evening (admittedly, this is largely because anything deep-fried gets bonus points in my book).  It was a battered broad bean fritter served with a basil puree and seasoned with paprika.  Despite the filling reminding me a little of the abomination that is the mushy pea, it was really nice and a promising start to the evening.

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There was a choice of starters:  Waldorf salad, or chips and curry sauce.  Despite the Fawlty Towers hilarity, I could not force myself to choose a salad, so it just had to be the chips and curry sauce.  It didn’t look like your usual chip-shop fare, of course:  delightful parsnips crisps with a really delicious saag almond sauce.  I thought this dish was exciting and creative, I really loved it.

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The soup was a beetroot and apple gazpacho (we nobly resisted all Red Dwarf-inspired tendencies to ask for it to be heated up).  It was a teeny tiny portion, but it was all we really needed.  I thought it had quite a lot of flavour, and the apple made it a little sweet and refreshing, but my fellow was rather underwhelmed by it and didn’t feel it added much to the meal.

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Next up was a salad, but it was a good one:  more beetroot, this time with orange and watercress, and some couscous under there too.  I’ve seen quite a lot of salad recipes that call for slices of orange, and I just shudder in disgust and turn the page.  This salad has changed my mind:  it was really good!  I don’t often enjoy mixing sweet and savoury, but the orange wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet in this case, and it certainly looks appealingly vibrant.  I’m definitely going to try those orange recipes now.

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For the main course we once again had a choice, and we both chose the salt and pepper aubergine steak.  The sticky rice with pineapple was amazing (despite what I just said about sweet and savoury, the pineapple was right at home here), and the cashews around the edge added a nice crunch.  The 5 spice aubergine steaks were rather slender, I felt – there wasn’t much meat on those baby aubergines.  I know portions have to be small when you’re pacing yourself through seven courses, but they had shrivelled quite a bit while cooking so there wasn’t that much to get into.  The salt and pepper salad had a bit too much chilli for me, but was nice addition nevertheless.

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Pre-dessert was next, another little teacup, this time full of a lemon, apple and chia drink.  It had a nice gingery kick and was a nice transition to the dessert.

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There were two options for dessert, and we went for the chocolate mousse with strawberries.  Although the menu listed avocado as the ingredient for the mousse, I wonder if they switched it completely for banana because that was the predominant flavour.  It was a nice mousse, really light, and the toasted coconut around the plate added a lovely bit of texture and a nice exotic flavour.  Delicious!  I know fine dining dictates that nothing can be served in a simple, straightforward manner, but I think this mousse would have been better in a bowl.

All in all, it was a very exciting evening and we enjoyed all the different dishes we got.  This week we’re going back for more:  only five courses this time, but I’m sure that will suffice.  As I always say, I appreciate any establishment that is trying to do something new and impressive with vegan food, and I hope that this chef will set up a permanent home in the north-west.  My experience with the vegan community here suggests there would be plenty of customers.

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Vegan in Brighton: Terre a Terre

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No trip to Brighton is complete without a visit to Terre a Terre.  In March when I stopped by for Vegfest, I squeezed not one but two feasts in during my 48 hours by the sea.  Alongside the afternoon tea, we also had a fancy evening meal there.

We started with Terre a Tapas, a sharing plate consisting of a little bit of everything from around the menu, handily featuring two of everything to avoid any fights.  In the front right hand corner above is some potato dauphinoise, which was tasty.  Next to that is a cube of sesame hoisin tofu, which was one of the highlights, and in the back a tapioca cracker with pickled veg, which also featured in the afternoon tea.  In the shot glass were some tasty root vegetables, fancily cooked and arranged.  The highlight is just the other side of the shot glass, a heaped salad of carrot and seaweed.  I hadn’t expected it to be one of my favourites, but it really was a treat.  And in the centre of the plate is a little dish of fondue, served with the chunky chips of spicy arepas.  I love plates like this, where you can peck at lots of different things.  It’s rare to have the opportunity to eat in this way, so I have to grab it when I can!

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My main course was the aubergine dengaku.  I chose this one because I am falling madly in love with Japanese cuisine and I couldn’t resist.  Happily, it also featured the salad I loved so much from the tapas plate.  Victory!  I actually enjoyed it more than the aubergine concoction which was intended as the main attraction.  The top was lovely and crunchy, the aubergine was soft and meaty from slow-cooking, and there was my favourite flavour combination hiding in there:  tahini and miso.  However, it was sitting on a splodge of wasabi pesto.  It’s not the heat that puts me off wasabi, it’s just the taste.  I don’t like it at all.  It infected the aubergine a bit more than I would have liked.

In the middle of the plate is a seaweed cracker that brought some fantastic texture to the dish:  it was really salty and savoury, and I just loved it.  And look how vibrant and pretty it all is.  Quite the dish!

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I still had room for dessert, even after all this feasting.  There was no doubt in my mind that I’d have anything besides the churros.  Let’s face it, deep-fried dough is a thing of beauty, and especially when you only rarely see vegan versions.  These churros are accompanied by vodka cherries, which are very boozy; dark chocolate, which is rich and sumptuous; and caramel, which is sticky and sweet.  That was my favourite.  It’s the kind of dessert I simultaneously want to wolf down and luxuriate in:  it’s so good you need more, but you can’t bear for it to end.

All in all, I think it’s probably just as well I don’t live near Terre a Terre, as it would be too great a temptation, to the detriment of my waistline and my bank balance!  But for a treat, it’s absolutely wonderful.  It’s the best restaurant of its kind, showing that meat-free meals can be whatever you want them to be:  sumptuous, exotic, creative, delicious.

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Vegan in Amsterdam

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After a glorious trip to Paris and some fine dining there, Amsterdam had a lot to live up to.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get off to the best start when we went for our first meal at TerraZen.  This place didn’t have a firm place on our eating itinerary due to some poor online reviews which described it as dirty and squat-like and the service as rude and slow.  On arrival, our hopes were restored:  it didn’t look dirty at all.  However, seating was an issue.  It’s not that small inside, but the space isn’t really maximised:  there’s one large table that 3 couples were sitting at, and a small table for four.  All seats were occupied at 7:15, so we asked the sole waitress if we could make a reservation to come back.  She invited us to choose a time, and confirmed that 8pm was fine.

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At 7:55, the tables were still full.  Nobody was eating still – a few people were waiting for their plates to be cleared, and others had already been cleared away so the customers were just sitting and enjoying the atmosphere.  We went up to the waitress and she said unapologetically, “It’s not 8pm yet.”  We waited outside, then came back indoors and lurked for 20 minutes until someone left (during this time the waitress made no attempt to speak to us, ask if we’d like a drink, or offer anyone else the bill).  As we took our seats, we ordered our food.  “You could have ordered while you waited,” she told us, simpering like we were simpletons.  “You could have told us that,” I replied, as politely as possible.

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Fortunately the food was faster than the wait.  We both ordered the combination plate (it’s an all vegan restaurant), and I really enjoyed it.  We had some nicely flavoured rice, a nice fresh salad, and some beautifully cooked and seasoned broccoli, cauliflower and beetroot.  My favourite element was the deep fried fake chicken which was well bread-crumbed and tasted so good.

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Like everyone else, we had to go to enquire about desserts – she didn’t offer them when she collected the plates.  I was told there was just one dessert, a coconut cheesecake.  However, when other people asked later they were given two options.  Fears that she had it in for us were confirmed when we got the scrawniest slice of cheesecake imaginable, with half of the base missing, and the outer edge still almost frozen.  Another negative (as if I needed another) was that there were no prices listed anywhere, so she could essentially have charged us whatever she wanted.  We paid 33.50, which was quite a lot for what it is, and for the shoddiness of the service.  It’s a shame, because getting the food right should be the difficult part – they had that, and it was just the rudeness of the server that dragged it down.

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The next evening was more successful.  During our daytime exploration we passed an Ethiopian restaurant with a ‘vegan friendly’ sticker in the window, and resolved to come back later.  There’s an amazing Ethiopian restaurant here in Manchester which has really given us the taste for the cuisine, so any excuse for it has to be seized.  We went back to Addis Ababa in the evening and enquired about vegan dishes.  As we’d expected, all the dishes from the vegetarian section were also vegan, with the exception of one which clearly listed cottage cheese in the ingredients.  I tried to order just one of the dishes, but our very persuasive waitress convinced us that it was better to order the combination plate with a bit of everything.  While we waited, we were given this tasty, warm homemade bread with a spicy sauce.

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And then the main event arrived!  You can see the cottage cheese is clearly segregated over on Mr HH’s side:  everything else was identical.  And delicious!  There was salad in the middle, and the hot dishes were a combination of lentil dhal-type dishes, some good chickpeas, spinach and various root vegetable combinations.  Everything was so well seasoned and tasty, and we had two injera each on the side before scooping up the one below.  It was 13.50 each, and felt like a bargain compared to the previous night:  the food was more plentiful, the atmosphere was nice and the service actually came with a smile!  I’d definitely go back for more.

On our last night in Amsterdam we pushed the boat out and had a real feast at Betty’s Vegetarian Restaurant.  It’s another quite small restaurant, but it’s the opposite of TerraZen in every way possible.  They don’t have a menu, but every day they provided three courses, decided on the day.  Obviously this means you have to give them a heads up if you’re vegan – we booked via the website a few weeks in advance and let them know that we wanted vegan food, and they were very happy to provide it.  The starter and main were tweaks on the vegetarian meals, but dessert…well, we’ll get to that.  There is only one seating of guests per night, so only one service for the staff (the husband and wife who own it) – this meant that we were settled in for the evening and it was a lovely relaxed, unhurried affair with plenty of time between courses to prepare for the next feast.

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We had a sharing plate to start:  not pictured were two slices each of homemade walnut bread with oil and salt for dipping.  The bread was warm from the oven and had a lovely crust, it was just perfect.  There was a leafy salad with rocket and pomegranate seeds, then a mixture of red quinoa, cannelini beans and pecans with a lemony dressing.  The asparagus was served with toasted farro, and there were some dates roasted in oil and sea salt, which were really addictive thanks to that sweet and salty balance.  And something crispy:  hurray!  It was a samosa filling in the style of some kind of Turkish cigarillo.  Whatever it was, it was the highlight of a very good plate.

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Obviously this increased our excitement for the main event.  On the main plate we had rice with lentils and ras el hanout seasoning, alongside a cinnamon and cumin spiced soy yoghurt and some tofu baked in sweet ketchup, ginger and sesame seeds.  To share, we were given some roasted parsnips and carrots (both orange and purple) with mustard seeds, cabbage with coconut and turmeric and an aubergine and tamarind chutney.  We also got a bowl of roasted carrot, cashew, coconut and green bean soup.  It was very thick and tasty.  Our advice from the host was to combine everything, so we obeyed and it was great – all the components complemented each other beautifully.  The tofu was the highlight though, it was excellent.

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And so, dessert.  The vegetarians in the restaurant could choose one slice of cake from the selection on display.  We, on the other hand, were brought a plate each containing THREE slices of cake.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Three desserts!  Suffice it to say, this is my favourite restaurant of all time.  At the front of the picture is a rich chocolate brownie cake with bitter marmalade – it was really decadent and intense.  In the middle was my favourite, a pastry tart with a delicious chocolate and avocado mousse filling, topped with caramelised hazelnuts.  It was so rich and tasty!  And at the back, a slice of carrot cake which was really moist and had a great texture, but just needed a bit more spice.  After three puds, we were full to the brim and as happy as could be.  I’m so glad I booked this for the last night of the holiday because it really was the perfect finish.  As always, I was thrilled to find a place that really excels at vegan cuisine.

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Amsterdam was perhaps my favourite destination in this trip.  It had the charm of Ghent, but had a bit more going on.  It was more compact than Paris, and a bit less crowded.  That said, we did have some pretty huge queues to contend with.  There were no online tickets for the Anne Frank House available, so we decided to brave it on the day and just turn up an hour before closing and hope for the best.  Alas, the queue was still too long.  We also stood in a pretty long line outside the Rijksmuseum, which I didn’t really feel was worth it – it was quite a dark, oppressive museum, and the main attractions (Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’, mostly) didn’t really dazzle me.

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The nearby Van Gogh museum was much better, and we’d actually booked our tickets online so got to waltz right in.  As I’ve said, I’m a bit of a philistine when it comes to art, but I like Van Gogh, and the information about his mental health problems provided a nice context to the exhibitions.  (No photos allowed in this museum, so I’ve stolen this one from Paris.)

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We also enjoyed FOAM, the photography museum.  There were some really interesting exhibitions, including one about meteorites which was also about story-telling and memory, and one about how Kodak film was accused of being better at photographing white skin than dark.  Besides that, we indulged in the obligatory canal cruise and spent some time in vintage shops and basking in the sun in Westerpark.  Amsterdam is a place I am keen to return to – chiefly for another trip to Koffie ende Koeck and Betty’s!

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Cookbook of the Month: Afro Vegan

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Afro Vegan is one of the prettiest cookbooks I own, full of beautiful pictures that truly tempt you to try the recipes.  I got it for my birthday at the beginning of April and struggled to wait until the end of the month to dive into it (I take my cookbook challenges seriously).  Each recipe is accompanied by a suggested song and sometimes even a suggested read, and I think that tells you something about the book – it’s not intended as an after work, throwing something together kind of affair.  These are dishes that take some time and preparation (though they’re not necessarily hard work).  For that reason, I found it difficult to use this book for my normal midweek meals, and didn’t use it quite as much as I’d originally hoped.  But I didn’t do too shabbily, as you will see.

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Starting with my favourite meal of the day, I made this millet and sweet potato porridge for a weekend breakfast.  Porridge is my normal breakfast, and I like an excuse to make it a bit fancier.  This was quite labour intensive – I roasted the sweet potato the night before, but was up with the lark to toast and simmer the millet, let it stand, mix everything together…in the end, it was nice.  But worth the extra effort in the morning?  I wouldn’t say so.

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Soup is my go-to packed lunch, so I made a few from the book.  This creamy coconut-cashew soup was creamy from the cashews, and its depth of flavour belied the simplicity of the ingredients:  coconut milk and sweetcorn.  The recipe called for fresh corn from the cob, but I chucked in some frozen stuff for ease.  It was intended to be garnished with grilled okra, but as I take it to work in a flask I didn’t bother with the extra touches.  It would have added a nice bit of colour though, there’s no denying that.

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The sweetcorn and ginger soup was quite similar, except that it included ginger and carrot, and the sweetcorn was added post-blending.  It tasted and looked similar to the first soup, but that was no bad thing in my opinion.

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I made the hominy and spinach in tomato-garlic broth with a few changes:  first of all, hominy is a bit of an unknown in the UK, so I chucked in a tin of chickpeas instead.  Secondly, the recipe called for the soup to be strained but I thought that would be a waste of the carrot, onion and tomato, so I kept mine full of veg.  Both were wise choices, I think – it was nice and substantial.  The broth was still very tasty as well, full of garlic.

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The sweet potato and pumpkin soup was merely spiced with cinnamon, which gave me cause for concern.  Sure enough, it tasted sweet, but lacked that bit of spice which would have rounded it out.  It was pleasant, but unremarkable.

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Moving away from soups to the other lighter bites…sweetcorn features pretty heavily in the book, and again I went for the frozen form for this fresh corn salad.  It’s simple (sweetcorn, green pepper, tomatoes, olive oil, basil, chilli flakes), but again, so tasty.  And so pretty!  Colourful food is always the best.

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One weekend we tried the Texas caviar on grilled rustic bread, which we called bruschetta.  The topping was delicious – really fresh and easy to make, full of zingy flavours, and very nice on top of toasted bread.  I’ll definitely make this again, for a light lunch or as party nibbles.

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The lil’ tofu po boys were a bit time-consuming and washing-up-producing, but I think they might be worth the effort:  marinated tofu, coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried.  Delicious!  The recipe called for a creamy red pepper spread as well, but I lazily swapped this for a dollop of red pepper and jalapeno hummus, which added a nice bit of flavour to the sandwich.  I’ll definitely make this again.

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The summer vegetable and tofu kebabs with pomegranate-peach barbecue sauce were also a hit.  There should have been baby new potatoes on the skewers as well, but I completely forgot to thread them on, so we had them on the side, dunked into the sauce.  The sauce was the highlight, a pleasant mixture of spicy and sweet.  I simplified the recipe a bit by using tinned peach slices, rather than peeling and chopping them myself.  The tofu was soaked in the sauce beforehand and had absorbed the flavour beautifully, and there was enough sauce to serve with the kebabs as well.  I’ll definitely make this again in the summer.

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For the couscous with buttnernut squash, pecans and currants I used millet rather than couscous, as I had an abundance of it.  The dish was quite sweet, with dates, pecans, squash, currants and cinnamon.  I liked it, and it was fine cold for leftovers the next day, but I don’t think it’s the best butternut squash salad recipe I’ve encountered.

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Ready for some mains?  The verdant vegetable couscous with spicy mustard greens was a nice meal.  I used quinoa as my grain, because that was all we had in, and toasting it first was such a great twist that I’m always going to do that now.  The asparagus and broccoli were fresh and tasty.  I have no idea what mustard greens are, so I used kale for that part of the recipe, steaming it then blending it with the garlic and spices.  It was very spicy, and I only needed a small dollop of it to season the dish and provide sufficient kick for me.  For such a simple dish, it did require a lot of separate pans and generate quite the mountain of washing up, so I’m not sure how likely it is to reappear in my plans.

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The peanut stew with winter vegetables was sensational!  The recipe calls for dumplings as well, but I didn’t make those – instead, I served it with either crisps or bread.  Again, there was incredible depth of flavour:  nuttiness, heat, sweetness from the veg (parsnips and sweet potatoes).  Really beautiful.

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And the sweet potato and lima bean tagine was good too, though not really spectacular – it was a solid evening meal.  I have never found lima beans in the UK, so I used cannellini instead, and found them very enjoyable.  Overall it was tasty with quinoa or crusty bread, and had a pleasant sweetness to it, but I’d probably ratchet up the spices next time.

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The tofu curry with greens was delicious!  I doubled the amount of tomatoes and used kale for my greens, instead of the elusive mustard greens.  There’s a generous tablespoon of peanut butter in the mix, giving it more of an African than Indian flavour.  But of course, the baked tofu was the real winner.  I could have eaten much more!

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The black bean and seitan stew had me worried for a while, as the only spice that went into it was allspice and the recipe didn’t sound very substantial.  I beefed it up with two tins of plum tomatoes, and doubled the amount of beans (alas, the foreign foods aisle had run out of black beans so I made do with a mixture of kidney and black eyed).  I seasoned it like crazy and it turned out very nicely – but the seitan was the real star of the show!  Coated in polenta and shallow-fried, it was delicious and crispy and added some much-needed bite to the dish.  Delicious!

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The millet-and-peanut-stuffed avocado was fantastic!  The recipe includes a harissa salsa which I omitted – I added chilli flakes to the filling, so we didn’t need any extra spice.  The millet mixture was very tasty, with a lingering hint of coconut from the oil, crunchy peanuts, fresh vegetables and a healthy dose of tamari.  It was even better when combined with the cool, refreshing avocado meat.  It was easy to make, and very, very good.

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And finally, I made the cocoa spice cake with crystallised ginger and coconut-chocolate ganache as a treat for finishing a 10km race.  It was a worthy reward!  I followed the recipe exactly, and even my oven (which has a special tendency to simultaneously burn the bottom of a cake and undercook the rest) played nicely and baked it perfectly.  The sponge was really moist and beautifully flavoured with chunks of crystallised ginger and a pinch of cayenne pepper – just the right amount of chilli for me, a nice warm kick in the back of the throat.  The ganache was surprisingly successful too – I was worried that it wasn’t thick enough before pouring it over the cake, but it set really nicely and was soft and chocolatey.  The whole thing was easy to make, and my mum immediately asked for the recipe after trying a slice, so we’ll call this a definite winner!

I’m glad to have this book on my shelf, and I think I’ll definitely wheel out a few of the recipes again.  But overall, I’m not sure I have the time to really get the most out of this book.  I suppose the cake recipe alone makes it a worthwhile purchase though!

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Afternoon Tea: Tea Hive, Chorlton

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After two extraordinary afternoon teas in March and April, May’s venue was always going to be facing an uphill battle.  This offering from the Tea Hive was delicious and filling, but inevitably less exciting than its most recent predecessors, so it is best viewed on its own merits:  somewhere to get a tasty afternoon tea on my own doorstep.

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Their website offers vegan afternoon tea as long as you give some notice, so we did just that and popped along one Sunday afternoon.  I’d never been to Tea Hive before (though I’ve walked past it a million times, as it’s just up the road from the vegan haven that is Unicorn), but it was just my kind of place – cosy and friendly, with mismatched furniture and crockery.  We were given our tea right away while they staff put the finishing touches to the treats.

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And not long after that it all arrived.  The sandwich plate was surprisingly exciting:  we each had four different fillings.  There was carrot and hummus; red onion with sunflower seeds and some greenery; hummus, basil and rocket; and avocado and salad.  It was nice to have some variety beyond the usual cucumber, and these were all pretty tasty.  The avocado was probably my favourite because, well, the avocado rules all.  It was probably the best sandwich plate we’ve had, and everyone enjoyed the variety.

Afternoon Tea at Tea Hive (2)

Size is perhaps the most important thing to me in a scone, and these were humongous, so we were off to a good start.  They were also generally very good too, not dry at all, and all three of us voted them the best part of the meal.  They were served with a pot of margarine and a little jar of jam.

And then the cake plate, which was actually a little baffling.  There were two slices each of a fruity flapjack, chocolate brownie and a ginger cake…but there were three of us.  We didn’t go hungry, so there was the perfect amount of cake for 3 people…but not the correct number of cakes.  And apparently there is no polite way to ask, “But shouldn’t there be three slices of each cake?” without looking like a giant pig, so we simply had to start cutting things up and trying to divide the two slices between three – a bit more complicated than I like my afternoon teas.  The brownie was good and had a nice crust and rich flavour, but I’d have liked it a touch gooier (it wasn’t dry either, though).  The flapjack was my favourite, but my companions were underwhelmed.  I like flapjack really soft and gooey so this was my ideal texture, but they wanted something with a bit more crunch.  We all had high hopes for the ginger cake, of course.  While the sponge was delicious and moist, the icing was quite disappointing – really gritty and almost painfully sweet.  So all in all, a good cake plate, but not quite on the money.

Nevertheless, I would happily recommend this place.  It was just over £40 for the three of us, and the service was great (they did accidentally bring us dairy milk and clotted cream at first though, so it might be worth double checking!).  I’m constantly researching other places to go for vegan afternoon tea, and Manchester seems to be providing the most options, so I feel very lucky to have found another nice place to go.  And I’m eyeing up another local place for next month too!

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Vegan in Paris (Part Two)

Arc de Triomphe (3)

I truly had an amazing time in Paris, and enjoyed everything from the sights to the food  We finished our little break there with some fine dining…and of course, some falafel, that vegan staple.

Paris L'as du fallafel (1)

One of the places I was most looking forward to in Paris was L’as du Fallafel, as I had seen pictures of falafel wraps the size of my head.  In Manchester we’re fortunate enough to have Go Falafel, home of the best falafel imaginable.  I had the impression that this one could be a strong rival, perhaps even winning on size alone.  Alas, it was not to be:  it’s a Jewish place, and we arrived during Passover, which meant there was no bread to be had.  Noooooo!  It was quite a bold move on their part, I thought, as most of their neighbouring rivals, also part of the Jewish neighbourhood, were still serving bread, but bravo for sticking to their principles, I suppose.  I just really, really wanted that falafel wrap.  We had to make do with the falafel plate instead, which we shared.  It was served with two gigantic dry crackers, which I wouldn’t stoop to photograph.  You all know the difference between a cracker and a wrap.

Paris L'as du fallafel (2)

I mean, the food was good.  The falafel balls were tasty (though a bit small, and not as good as Go Falafel), and were accompanied by hummus, tahini and salad.  It was nice, but it was all crying out to be wrapped in some bread!  It was 18 euros for this plate, and we weren’t full afterwards so we paid 5 euros more for a portion of ten falafels with tahini.

Paris Berthillon (1)

To recover from that disappointment, we went back to the tourist drag to find some coffee (for my beau) and some sorbet (for me).  We went to Berthillon, just along the way from Notre Dame, and grabbed a table in the sun for some over-priced refreshments.  The waiter told me that all the sorbets were vegan, so we had a scoop each of raspberry and mango (there were about six flavours in total).  They were as good as they looked, those vibrant colours matched by strong fruity flavours, perfect for sitting by the river and watching the tourists go by.  This set us back 9 euros, but we needed a little something.

Paris Gentle Gourmet (1)

And it wasn’t long before we were eating again, this time at Gentle Gourmet Cafe which had been at the top of my hit list:  a chance for some French fine dining.  It’s right on the river and, despite looking fairly unassuming from outside, is really classy and stylish inside, with excellent service, and, thankfully, an English menu (I can muster up a little French, but the descriptions are pretty intricate).  This was our real treat in Pairs, a fancy three course meal.  We kicked off in style with some Vietnamese fresh spring rolls.  And what a start it was!  They were colourful and fresh, filled with seitan and vegetables and garnished with hot pink sprouts.  They were accompanied by a good peanutty sauce as well.  Our enjoyment of these may have been heightened by the sight of our neighbour attempting to eat them with a knife and fork – there’s no need to be that fancy!

Paris Gentle Gourmet (2)

Next up, I ordered the excitingly named ‘Milan in Spring':  mushroom tagliatelle with mangetout and hazelnut seitan cutlets.  The cutlets were delicious, and every component was very tasty.  While I enjoyed it, I’m not sure it would be to everyone’s taste – it was quite dry (the less sauce the better for me, but it has been brought to my attention that other people feel differently).

Paris Gentle Gourmet (4)

My fellow went bold this time and ordered the stuffed artichoke.  Ultimately, he was a bit disappointed by it – although it looked spectacular, he feels that there should be nothing inedible on a plate, and a stuffed aubergine would have been better.  While the vegetables and tofu were tasty, he found the sauce a bit bland and found it a struggle to get the tasty bits of artichoke out.  On the plus side, we got a complementary basket of bread to help us along.  (Enjoy the bonus glimpse of the T-shirt he wore to the Louvre.)

Paris Gentle Gourmet (8)

Throughout the day I kept telling Mr HH how much I was hoping for a rich, chocolatey, creamy dessert.  And look what I got!  This chocolate Bavarian was every bit as good as it looked.  There was a fruity raspberry coulis, delicious whipped cream, tasty chocolate sponge at the bottom, and the real star of the show:  the moussey layer.  Good lord!

Paris Gentle Gourmet (7)

We decided to wrap it up properly and get a hot drink as well.  There were three different kinds of hot chocolate, and I ordered the one with pepper and cinnamon.  It sounded spicy and exciting…but actually it was a little dull – lukewarm, and I couldn’t taste the seasoning.  Still, the meal was a total feast and I can’t recommend it highly enough if you want a holiday treat.

Paris Le Porager du Marais (2)

Almost as fancy was Le Potager du Marais, which we could only squeeze in on Thursday afternoon very quickly before hopping on our train to Amsterdam (you really have to check opening times in Paris, most places are only open three days of the week between 2:32 and 4:19, or something equally ridiculous).  As we were against the clock, we’d booked a table for 12pm.  We arrived on the dot, but the waitress was still setting up and spent a good 10 minutes doing so before coming to serve us.  The starters looked tempting, but we simply didn’t have time.  Going straight for the mains, I ordered the cassoulet de la mer, a delicious combination of lentils, smoked tofu, seaweed and hazelnuts.  It had a good salty taste of the sea, and was served with a nice salad and mash (you can choose if you want mash or rice).

Paris Le Porager du Marais (1)

There was an ‘aubergine surprise’ on the menu, and my fellow simply had to choose that.  It turned out to be everything he’d wanted in his stuffed artichoke the night before:  sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and fake-cheese wrapped up in aubergine.  Better even than the taste was the fact that when the waitress delivered it, she declared brightly:  “Surprise!”

Paris Le Porager du Marais (5)

Paris Le Porager du Marais (4)

There were two traditional French desserts on the menu, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try them (don’t worry, we didn’t miss our train in the end).  We shared a tarte tatin, which was beautifully caramelised, sticky, sweet and warm, and a creme brulee, which I’d expected to be ramekin-sized, but came in this huge dish.  The top was perfectly caramelised, but beneath the surface the tofu mixture was an unappetising shade of green.  We were right not to be deterred though, for the texture was just right and the taste was sublime, full of ginger.

Yet again, this place really filled up over lunchtime so booking is probably a good idea.  We were delighted that both this place and Gentle Gourmet were all vegan – it’s lovely to see places that really strive to impress with their menus.  Bellies full of food, and a few French classics ticked off, we were ready to bid a sad “Au revoir” to Paris and embark on the next leg of the journey:  to Amsterdam!

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