Afternoon Tea: Tea Hive, Chorlton

Afternoon Tea at Tea Hive (3)

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.

Afternoon Tea at Tea Hive (1)

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.

Afternoon Tea at Tea Hive (4)

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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I have a shiny new Facebook page for Herbivores’ Heaven!

Come along and say hello, and get a sneak preview of my fine dining experience in Wigan last night.

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Vegan in Paris (Part One)

Eiffel Tower (48)

Fresh from our Belgian adventure, we arrived in Paris in the early evening of Easter Monday ready for some serious tourist action.  I’ve been to Paris a few times, but not for about ten years.  It was nice to revisit the city older, wiser and better equipped to find the good food.

And find it, we did!  After making a beeline for the Eiffel Tower on arrival, we wandered to nearby Brasserie Lola (nearby = probably a 10 minute walk).  Nowhere on the menu or in the restaurant itself does it mention that it’s a 100% vegan establishment – we were pleased to be in the know!  Indeed, it seemed to be mostly frequented by English-speaking tourists who had presumably sourced it on Happy Cow.

Paris Brasserie Lola (3)

Paris Brasserie Lola (2)

Not in the mood for a large meal, my beau and I both opted for sandwiches.  He chose the club sandwich and declared it delicious, packed as it was with roasted vegetables and avocado.  I was rather bold, overcome by the Parisian air, and went for the most French thing I could see:  croque monsieur.  I’m not crazy about vegan cheese, but it was actually really nice and the cheese had successfully melted, which is always an achievement.  Both sandwiches were accompanied by nice crispy chips and a well seasoned salad.

Paris Brasserie Lola (4)

We continued our fancy Parisian theme with dessert, ordering two “gourmande” plates.  We were served a small piece of two of the desserts from the menu (chocolate cake and pain perdu), a shot glass of ice cream, some whipped cream and a coffee – or tea, if you ask nicely.  The real highlight was the pain perdu, which was caramelised, sticky, gooey, delicious:  all the good words you want associated with your dessert.  I don’t know if I could have handled a full portion of it, so this was definitely the way to go.

Despite the reputation the French have of being all snooty and not helping foreigners to understand, our interaction with the staff at Lola was the first of many encounters where we found the French to be delightful, helpful and friendly.

While this was a good start to our culinary adventure in Paris, it got even better the next day with a lunchtime trip to Cafe Ginger.  This was another place that we booked in advance via Facebook, and it’s just as well we did – it was rammed with people!  It’s a very small cafe and has a busy lunch service, which largely seemed to be locals rather than tourists.  Although we were in the minority, the waitress was lovely and helpful, translating the dishes into English and explaining how everything worked.

Paris Cafe Ginger (2)

Paris Cafe Ginger (1)

They offered two different kinds of savoury tart, or a salad plate.  Obviously we chose tarts.  We were given the freshest, prettiest, tastiest dishes imaginable.  My fellow got the pumpkin tart, which had good crisp pastry, a layer of mushrooms and courgettes and pillowy pumpkin on top.  I had the leek, asparagus and courgette tart which was so green and spring-like.  Both dishes came with the same salads:  a surprisingly dry falafel ball, some really nice bread, good rice and lentil salads, a Japanese inspired radish and beetroot salad, some zesty shredded beetroot and carrot, two tasty potato bites, some good old kale, other green veg and a spicy little dollop of salsa.  Everything was fresh and beautiful.  At 14.50 it’s not a cheap lunch, but you definitely get your money’s worth.

Paris Cafe Ginger (4)

Paris Cafe Ginger (3)

What we had seen so far boded pretty well for dessert, so we split the mango and coconut cheesecake and a chocolate terrine.  As usual, I’d expected the chocolate to be the highlight.  It was a small portion, but rich enough that you didn’t need more.  It was everything I’d hoped for.  But the cheesecake had that extra je ne sais quoi.  The tropical flavours were perfect for the summery weather, the flavours were really strong and the base was good and biscuity.  We couldn’t have asked for more.

Paris Hank Vegan Burger (2)

 

Paris Hank Vegan Burger (3)

That evening we went for a less fancy option at Hank’s Vegan Burger, near the town hall.  If Cafe Ginger was small, this place was miniscule:  it’s a fast food place with a counter with two stools, and three tiny little tables pushed together, seating a grand total of six with little space between you all.  It’s intended as a takeaway, but we wanted somewhere indoors to rest our feet, so we grabbed those stools and guarded them with our very lives.  There are four burgers on the menu, and a burger of the day.  I had the smoky pepper burger, which had quite subtle flavours and was quite tasty, but lacked in texture – it was all soft and mushy, without that nicer outer crisp.  Mr HH had the olive burger, which to me was packed with olive flavour, but to him was a bit bland and not as exciting as he’d hoped.  We both agreed that the chips were good though!  All in all, it was good fast food, but nothing special.  Still, it’s always nice to go somewhere that’s all vegan and not have to worry.

Arc de Triomphe (3)

More to come on the food front, but we did a few touristy things between feasts.  I’d been to Paris a few times before, while Mr HH never had, so we were trying to strike the right balance.  We viewed the Eiffel Tower but decided against going up, opting instead to climb the Arc de Triomphe.  Considering that Mr HH wasn’t exactly bowled over by the Parisian skyline (and we needed some exercise after lots of treats!), this was probably a wise choice, as it was also included in the Museum Pass.

Paris (4)

We went to the Louvre of course, queuing up before opening time.  I had mixed feelings about it – the main attractions were just surrounded by a scrum of selfie sticks, and there were a lot of portraits, which I always find quite exhausting.  Winged Victory was majestic, and there were lots of interesting sculptures and statues, but when it comes to art I thought Musee d’Orsay was far superior:  lots of Monet and Van Gogh, all inside a wonderful bright building.

Arts et Metiers (7)

We went to the Musee des Arts et Metiers, which had a cool pendulum and some exciting flying contraptions, but wasn’t quite as science-y as my science teacher beau had hoped.  Nor was the Museum of Medical History that exciting:  none of the usual gore and curiosities you’d expect.

Fairground Museum (33)

The Musee des Arts Forains is by appointment only and had some cool old fairground attractions, but rather than a 90 minute tour it would be better viewed at a casual saunter in 30 minutes or so.  It also costs more than the Louvre, which just seems crazy.

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We also stopped by Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, of course.  One of the most interesting sights was the pet cemetery, which is a bit of a trek on the Metro, but worth it for me.  It’s chiefly a resting ground for dogs, but there are a few cats in there as well, and even the odd monkey, hen or horse.  It was quite touching to see the monuments people had built in memory of their loyal companions, but also a little sad as I wondered if investing so much in the memorials prevented the owners from moving on.

Our final meals in France were the fanciest yet.  More on those next week…

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Vegan in Ghent

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After flying in to Brussels last month, we spent three nights in nearby Ghent, the vegetarian captial of Europe.  It was smaller than Brussels, unsurprisingly, and was exactly what I want from a European city – ideal for wandering around, full of picturesque waterways and lined with tall, attractive houses.  And with a medieval castle right in the middle of it too!  We couldn’t have been happier.  The food didn’t disappoint either.

Ghent Komkommertijd 1 (1)

On Good Friday we went to Komkommertijd for the all-you-can-eat buffet.  We were a little worried that we wouldn’t be able to get a table – Happy Cow reviews all advise booking in advance, but although the staff replied to my emails, they refused to take my booking, insisting it could only be done via phone.  When I did shrug off the expense and try to call, I just got the answering machine.  So we turned up for opening time, and it’s just as well we did:  it’s not exactly a small restaurant, but almost every table was reserved.  We were allowed in as long as we agreed to vacate within 90 minutes, and the restaurant around us filled up very quickly.  In warmer weather, I would be happy to get the cheaper takeaway box option and go and eat by the canal or in a park, but in early April it was positively Manchester-like, so staying inside was best.

But it’s not surprising that it’s so popular:  there is plenty of food and the buffet is regularly replenished.  It’s also very vegetable-based, which is always a winner.  It might sound obvious to say that a 100% vegan place uses lots of vegetables, but it was just lovely to see that, besides a large pot of rice and some cake, every dish allowed the vegetables to shine, rather than opting for mock meats or other kinds of protein.

The dishes were written up on the food table in Flemish, so I can’t swear what they all were.  We kicked off with a small dish of soup, which I thought was probably leek and potato – it was perhaps the most disappointing element of the buffet, a touch bland.  Not to worry though, the main courses were awaiting!

Ghent Komkommertijd 1 (2)

Ghent Komkommertijd 1 (3)

There were some small and crispy spring rolls, along with some aubergine pakoras that were not replenished after they ran out – instead, they were replaced by the melt in the mouth roasted aubergine on the second plate (I’d advise sitting close to the buffet if you can wrangle it – it’s good for keeping an eye on which new dishes are brought out).  Besides that, the root vegetable dishes were the winners, just beautifully cooked and full of flavour.  There was some mustardy veg, which had a bit too much mustard for my tastes, a tasty rosemary-flavoured potato gratin, and a spicy carrot, pesto and cashew dish.  From the cold salad bar we also enjoyed the potato salad and a buttery broccoli dish.

Ghent Komkommertijd 1 (4)

And of course, we had some cake to finish – it’s included in the buffet price, so presumably you could help yourself to numerous slices (though we didn’t see anyone doing so, and if you’ve done your eating properly you won’t have room).  This was a coconut cake with a fantastic texture and taste.

Our only complaint about Komkommertijd was the drinks policy – they refused us any tap water, saying we had to order a drink from the menu first.  I strongly feel that restaurants should push tap water rather than water in ridiculous plastic bottles (especially a vegan restaurant which should be slightly more concerned with the environment).

Ghent Avalon (1)

On Saturday morning we visited the castle, and lunched at Avalon, which is just opposite it and is generally hailed as the fanciest vegan place in town.  The service was wonderful, despite the fact that it was completely full (this time we had successfully booked), and there was even an English menu.  Mr HH ordered a vegetable pie, which you can just about see in here surrounded by all the other wonderful bits and bobs, including a scoop of polenta and some crispy potato slices on top.  The pie itself was full of tofu and carrots and had an excellent crust.

Ghent Avalon (2)

I had the bourginon seitan stew, which was really rich and succulent.  It came with roasties, cabbage, a sweet roasted onion, beetroot salad and a kind of mayonnaise.  Every component was good, and it was such an inviting plate.

Ghent Avalon (3)

We split two puddings, starting with this orange cake.  I loved the sponge – it was quite delicately flavoured and moist.  However, the sauce on the side was too sweet and strongly flavoured with orange, and I largely avoided it.

Ghent Avalon (4)

Dessert number two was more of an overall success:  a cherry and almond pudding, somewhere between a yoghurt and a mousse.  It had a lovely natural cherry flavour to it and was really good.

Along with these we ordered some ayurvedic tea, which we usually love.  However, it was so full of citrus flavours that it took us by surprise – it was far too zingy!  Fortunately, it was accompanied by a small pot of chocolate mousse which was rich and helped our taste buds to recover.  I definitely recommend Avalon if you don’t mind paying a little more for a holiday treat:  we loved it.

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As luck would have it, for Easter weekend there was an animal liberation stand set up in one of the squares of Ghent with some baked goods.  I trotted up hopefully to enquire if the food was vegan:  it all was!  We treated ourselves to a couple of these teeny tiny waffle bites for 1 euro each (pretty small compared to the one euro waffles that were everywhere in Belgium, but I’m happy to support the animal-loving community).  They were sweet and vanilla flavoured, and an unexpected treat.

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As we rambled around the town I saw some vegan graffiti too, which I hadn’t expected.

Ghent Lekker (1)Ghent Lekker (2)

Komkommertijd’s big rival in the vegan buffet stakes is Lekker Gec, which is just opposite the train station.  It had a much better drinks policy, but I also happily forked out for a hot chocolate (as in Brussels, it was made with cocoa solids and I had the pleasure of stirring it in myself), which was very tasty.  There was even a choice of milks, and I went for rice (they do serve dairy milk and ice cream, so make sure you specify).

Ghent Lekker (3)

Alas, the buffet here was pay-by-weight, so there were no seconds this time.  It wasn’t quite as tasty as Komkommertijd either, but still pretty darned good.  The vegetable pakora were sublime:  the batter was so good, and the vegetables beautifully tender.  There was couscous for the grain, and a salad and soup bar that we didn’t sample, then a few hot dishes which were again very vegetable-centred.  The root vegetables on the left looked tasty but were a little bland; the cauliflower at the front looked fiery but was actually in a pasta sauce; the cabbage, almond and sweetcorn concoction was delicious, as were the lentils, tofu and parsnips at the back.  Once again, really filling and seemingly healthy.

Ghent Lekker (4)

Cakes were an additional 3.50 each:  there were three different kinds displayed, but only a total of 6 slices left when we arrived at 6pm, and no signs of them being stocked up.  The cheesecake at the front had a lovely biscuit base, was not too tofu-like and had a pleasant blueberry flavour.  The banana coconut cake in the background tasted very strongly of banana but was not as moist as expected – it made me wonder if there was banana extract in it, rather than the fruit itself.  The top was dusted with crunchy toasted coconut, which was just sublime!

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We’d been worried that it would be hard to find somewhere to eat on Easter Sunday, but fortunately we managed to book a lunch table back at Komkommertijd (booked in person – apparently that is also acceptable).  This time there was a green vegetable soup which we sprinkled with potato crisps from the hot buffet – they added some much-needed seasoning.

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The dishes were all vegetable based again, with the same spring rolls, some pesto parsnips, curried kohlrabi, more parsnips with chickpeas, really nice pasta and broccoli salads and some delicious yet oily aubergine and pepper antipasti.

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And this time it was marble cake for dessert, with a lovely chocolate topping.

If we hadn’t been visiting over Easter weekend, we would have had the opportunity to visit a few more of the meat-free restaurants in town.  We’d also been hoping to pop into one of the few places that doesn’t use beef fat for their fries, but we were too full of vegetables (and, let’s face it, cake) to venture along.

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As for what to do in Ghent, it’s definitely worth paying to enter the castle.  It’s a pretty grand building, and offers lovely views of the city.  It’s also a great place just to wander around and look at the canals and architecture.  In contrast with the historical grandeur is Graffiti Street, which I found less impressive than the street art in Berlin, but still nice to see.

SMAK (4)

We also saw some art at SMAK, which my fellow had raved about after his previous trip to Belgium.  Alas, the ground floor was closed but we still had to pay full price for just a couple of exhibitions.  I’m not exactly clued up on art, but I like things that are pretty or give me something to start a conversation about, and the Larry Sultan exhibition did just that.  Added bonus:  we got there at opening time and had the whole place to ourselves!

Bruges (4)

And of course, Ghent is only a short train ride from Bruges, which is small and charming.  We were fortunate enough to visit on a day that the sun actually made an appearance, and the good weather added to its charm.  However, it was so full of people that we couldn’t appreciate it quite as much as we would have liked.

I really enjoyed Ghent – it’s not a place I feel compelled to return to soon, but it was a lovely place to wander around. It was more intimate and charming than Brussels as well, and a true delight on the food front!

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Cookbook of the Month: Asian Vegan Kitchen

AVK Button Mushroom Curry (12)

The Asian Vegan Kitchen had been sitting on my bookshelf for several years, and only used twice.  That’s pretty poor, especially considering how much I love Asian food.  I’d always been deterred by the fact that the ingredients lists look so daunting, and there aren’t many pictures.  Choosing this as a cookbook of the month forced me to actually venture into some of the tempting recipes, and I was not disappointed.  As I already have a pretty good stock-pile of ingredients now, it turned out to be a fairly cheap and tasty month, though due to my holiday I didn’t have time to cook as many recipes as I would have liked.  The book is organised by country, and I seemed to stick to a few of them.

AVK Satay Skewers (8)

Starting with the Thai section, I made these satay skewers with their delicious chunks of deep-fried tofu, mushrooms, peppers and asparagus.  The recipe also called for chunks of baby corn, but I couldn’t get them onto the skewers – fortunately, they were delicious eaten straight from the marinade.  The marinade was tasty, but was  overpowered by the sweet peanut dipping sauce that is served alongside it – I think you really only need one or the other.  We also debated whether we’d put theses ingredients on skewers again.  It would be much easier to simply serve them with some rice and a dollop of sweet peanut sauce.  We’ll definitely be having it again in one form or another though.

AVK Tom Yam Soup (9)

The tom yam soup was nicely flavoured, but looks a bit unappetising due to the dark soy sauce I was using.  I’m now rather fed up with thin Asian broths – I’ll definitely be back to some chunky, thick soups in May!

AVK Drunkard's Noodles (2)

The amusingly titled drunkard’s noodles are so named because the author believes they are a good hangover cure.  I can’t confirm that, but I had them when I was full of cold post-holiday and they certainly cleared my sinuses!  They were good and spicy, and delicious hot or cold.

AVK Roasted Aubergine Salad

This roasted aubergine salad was a filling and spicy lunch – again, good for my sinuses.  It’s better fresh from the oven, but cold leftovers work too.  I loved the crunchy peanuts!

AVK Sticky Rice With Mango (1)

Unsurprisingly, desserts aren’t the main focus of this book.  The only one I made was the sticky coconut rice with mango, that Thai staple.  It was as good as I’d hoped, and I’ll definitely make it again!  The recipe calls for quite a lot of sugar, which I thought would be unnecessary in light of the coconut milk and cream.  However, I would recommend using the full amount as a mouthful without any mango was really lacking in sweetness.

AVK Navratna Korma (8)

I’d expected to use the Indian section a lot more, but it only got a couple of outings.  The navratna korma is actually one of the dishes I’d made before.  This time I tweaked the recipe, soaking a cup of cashews beforehand to provide a real creamy sauce for the curry.  Actually though it wasn’t particularly creamy, and turned out to be one of my least favourites.

AVK Button Mushroom Curry (11)

The mushroom and green pea curry from the Indian section was one of the more intriguing dishes I tried- it was unlike any curry recipe I’d used before.  It called for a sauce made from ground up blanched almonds, which I decided to replace with almond butter, which resulted in quite a thick and creamy sauce.  The poppy seeds were a pleasant but unusual addition.  All in all, it was a nice tasty curry.

AVK Lachedar Paretha

And I even made my own bread to serve with it!  I’m a famously bad breadmaker, so this lachedar paratha was quite the surprise – it did exactly what I wanted (except that it was meant to be round and came out rectangular).  Mr HH is an expert in Indian flatbreads, and even he seemed tolerably impressed with my efforts, so I’m calling this one a definite win.

AVK Pho (2)

Although I lived in Vietnam for two and a half years, I rarely cook Vietnamese food.  I only remember eating pho once when I lived there (I know.  My only defence is that I hadn’t even heard of Happy Cow back then and didn’t really know how to find meat free food.), and that was when a student took me out and failed to grasp the concept of vegetarianism – she ordered me the soup without the meat, but it was still meat broth and I could barely choke down a few polite mouthfuls.  This was much better!  There were lovely tofu and shiitake strips, some fiery red chillies, crunchy beansprouts and of course plenty of noodles which I slurped up like a true Vietnamese.

Spicy Coconut Vegetable Soup (8) The spicy coconut vegetable soup from the Vietnamese section doesn’t look too appetising, thanks again to the strong colouring from the dark soy sauce I used.  But it’s all about taste, and that was spot on – it didn’t lie about the “spicy” part.

AVK Fresh Spring Rolls (3)

Spring rolls were probably my favourite Vietnamese food, and while I’d usually go for the crispy, deep-fried variety, this time I made some healthy fresh ones.  They were simple and tasty and I’ll definitely make them again – they made for a nice light meal and were nice simply dipped in soy sauce.  As always, the presentation needs improving, but the taste was an immediate hit.

AVK Gyoza

China was quite under-represented in my endeavours, and the only dish I tried was this one.  I was extremely nervous and excited about making gyoza for the first time – and astonished at how easy they were!  The filling was really simple but tasty, and construction was easy.  We popped a few in the freezer as well, so we have some more to look forward to.

AVK Tofu and Vegetable Soup (4)

The Japanese section was one of my favourites:  I’m crazy about Japanese food at the moment.  The tofu and vegetable soup was simple, but really tasty.  It included burdock, a mysterious ingredient that I’d planned to simply omit until I spotted some in the Chinese supermarket and thought I’d give it a go.  I suppose I’d expected it to taste like dandelion and burdock, but in actual fact it didn’t seem to lend a particularly distinct flavour to the soup.  Still, it was an exciting purchase, and the soup was really nice- the best of the ones I made.

AVK Vegetable Pancake (1)

I was a little anxious about making this vegetable pancake because I don’t usually excel at flipping pancakes.  But this one turned out pretty nicely, as you can see.  The recipe said it would serve four, but (gluttony alert) the pancake above consists of half the batter.  That looks the perfect size for a main course, in my opinion, so I don’t feel too guilty about it.  It was nice and crispy, and really delicious with the tomato-based sauce from the recipe.  I made it again with asaparagus rather than shiitake mushrooms, and it was just as good – they added a nice bit of bite to it.

AVK Tofu Teriyaki Steak (10)

The tofu teriyaki steak was one of the dishes I was most excited about trying.  I simplified the recipe somewhat, frying the mushrooms and asparagus in the same pan as the steak to save on washing up.  I know a lot of people complain about tofu being bland (that’s the point, it’s a flavour sponge!), but this had some good flavour from the sauce.  I might marinate it in the sauce next time to really let it soak it all up.

AVK Black Sesame (4)

I served the steak with black sesame asparagus – I didn’t grind the seeds as recommended, and I really liked the texture as it was.  The taste was good too, and it accompanied the steak nicely.

I felt like I hadn’t done that well with my challenge this month, but looking back I think sixteen recipes is pretty good in a month with a long holiday.  And the challenge worked for me in the sense that I finally overcame my fear of this book and no longer feel so daunted by it – it’s one that I’ll happily dip in and out of again in the future.  Despite the lack of pictures, the recipes are easy to follow and are quite easily adaptable if you want to replace expensive/hard to source ingredients with those you can pick up easily at the supermarket.

Next month I’m turning my attention to Afro Vegan, a book I got for my birthday this month.  The recipes look quite involved, but hopefully I’ll have enough time to dedicate to them.

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Afternoon Tea: Koffie ende Koeck, Amsterdam

Amsterdam Koffie ende Koeck (3)

While on our recent European holiday, we managed to find ourselves a nice spot for afternoon tea at Koffie ende Koeck, a vegan cafe in Amsterdam.  And oh my goodness, it was amazing!  I suspected nobody would do an afternoon tea quite like the English, but how wrong I was.

Amsterdam Koffie ende Koeck (1)

While the staff were putting the finishing touches to the main event, they brought us over a little appetiser in the form of this pineapple smoothie with a gingery kick – this was part of their breakfast menu which, considering our pretty dismal breakfasts elsewhere in Amsterdam, I wish we’d sampled as well.

Amsterdam Koffie ende Koeck (2)

They brought over a pot of rose tea with a little coconut biscuit on the side.  My fellow wished it had been standard English breakfast tea, but I thought this was delightful and complemented the sweet treats very well.  Free top ups were included, which is always a bonus.

Amsterdam Koffie ende Koeck (7)

Amsterdam Koffie ende Koeck (9)

Amsterdam Koffie ende Koeck (10)

First we tackled the savoury plate, which included a smoked tofu and salad sandwich on delicious toasted bread, a savoury scone and a pot of yoghurt with crunchy granola.  The sandwich was fantastic, and the scone was a real surprise – it was nice and crisp outside, and the filling was a mixture of cream cheese, cucumber and avocado with a real spicy zing to it.  The granola was quite unorthodox, but I liked that, and it made a nice transition from the savoury to the sweet plates.

Amsterdam Koffie ende Koeck (5)

On the middle plate we had a slice of upside down banana cake, which was surprisingly pink!  It was really tasty, but the sponge was a touch drier than usual, presumably because it was upside down.  At the front was the surprise winner, a gluten-free lemon cake.  I always expect gluten free cakes to be dry, but this was gloriously sticky and sweet, and full of lemony flavour.  Hiding at the back was a little bounty bar:  a layer of chocolatey puffed rice topped with creamy coconut and topped with dark chocolate.  The puffed rice had gone soft and didn’t lend that longed for crunch, but it was still really tasty – there are few flavours I enjoy more than coconut.

Amsterdam Koffie ende Koeck (4)

And to finish off, gluten free brownies and the house speciality, rose petit fours.  Again, we’d feared the worst from the brownie as it looked quite dry, but fortunately, beneath that crust lurked a moist and dense cake.  It had a few chocolate chunks hiding in there as well.  The petit four had a really delicate rose flavouring (it’s easy to make it too over-powering) and lovely white chocolate icing:  no wonder they’re a favourite.

Koffie ende Koeck is such a gorgeous little place, I keep wishing it were my local cafe.  It’s situated just near Westerpark, so it’s perfect for a summery stroll as well.  The interior is really cosy and nice, and there’s outdoor seating as well for the nicer weather.  The waitresses were lovely, and provided an unhurried, relaxing service and made us feel very welcome.  We booked the afternoon tea via their Facebook page, and communication was all very easy.  Writing this up, I may have just persuaded myself to book another flight to Amsterdam!

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