Vegan in Cornwall (Part One)

Day Three Falmouth (29)

Ever since my aunt and uncle moved away from the north east to the far away land of Cornwall, I have yearned to visit.  Just about all of my other relatives have made their way there for a holiday and shared beautiful pictures, but it’s taken 14 years for me to make the journey.  My fellow and I decided that, before we flee this beautiful country, we should try to see a few more places in it, so we hatched the long awaited Cornish plot.

Day One Stonehenge (15)

On the way down south we stopped at Stonehenge, where a previously bright and boiling day instantly descended into an intense downpour.  How typically British.  It was expensive and full of people, but worth seeing.

Day One Avebury (38)

More impressive, in my opinion, was the nearby Avebury Stone Circle, which was free, not roped off, and scarcely signposted, so that you’d have to know about it to find it.  We were in a hurry as we’d pre-booked our Stonehenge timeslot and the M6 had been most unobliging, but it would be an ideal place to take a picnic and idle away an afternoon.

Day Two Eden Project (86)

Day Two Eden Project (36)

Our first stop in Cornwall was at the Eden Project, which was quite a last minute addition to our itinerary as I’d heard mixed reviews, but was worth it for the rainforest biome alone.  It was hot, humid and full of wonders.  Standing in the spray from the waterfall was welcome relief!

Day Two Eden Project (50)

After that heat, we rewarded ourselves with ice cream:  I had this strawberry sorbet, which is such a lovely natural colour that I was very impressed.  It was refreshing and tasty!  We did finally make it to my relatives’ home in Newquay, but after an initial stroll, didn’t do any more exploration there.

Day Three Falmouth (11)

I’d expected Cornwall to be a vegan haven, as I imagined it to have quite a laid-back, hippyish reputation that would go hand in hand with veganism.  However, I only found one 100% vegan establishment there, so Wildebeest in Falmouth was our first destination, and a welcome opportunity for a reunion with a friend.  It definitely didn’t disappoint!

Day Three Falmouth (31)

My friend, having her first ever vegan meal (or knowingly vegan anyway – I’m sure everyone’s had an accidentally vegan falafel meal at some point), really got into the spirit and ordered the raw pad thai.  The noodles were made of raw courgette, and she said the dish was tasty and filling.  It certainly looked fresh and inviting.

Day Three Falmouth (33)

My fellow ordered this rather exciting-looking concoction of polenta with glazed beetroot, roasted celeriac and broadbeans.  His verdict was that everything was good, especially the polenta and the sharp mustard mayo.  However, the menu listed a wasabi foam as one of the components (we were on a Celebrity Masterchef catch-up at the time, and he thought himself quite the fine diner when he saw it on the menu), but as you can see, it was more of a cream, and he said it was not as strong as he would have liked.

Day Three Falmouth (32)

Day Three Falmouth (34)

I was a bit of a maverick and ordered two starters for my main, mostly just because I really, really wanted the sushi.  The miso soup was good but unremarkable.  The seaweed was gorgeous!  And the sushi was amazing too, exactly what I’d hoped for.  The rolls were stuffed with quinoa, smoked tofu and avocado, and I don’t know what the miniscule red berries were, but they were really nice.

Day Three Falmouth (35)

Of course, we all had to have desserts as well.  Everyone was happy with their choice, but I definitely felt like the winner with this cherry and vanilla cheesecake.  Sometimes cherry-flavoured desserts are clearly artifically-flavoured, but this one was lovely and natural, both in colour and taste.  Everything tasted fruity and coconutty (the chocolate was especially coconutty, which was a nice twist), and the texture was perfectly creamy.

Day Three Falmouth (36)

I was extremely disappointed when Mr HH ordered the chocolate espresso torte, as I love sharing his desserts but hate coffee.  Fortunately (for me – he found it rather disappointing), the coffee flavour was extremely subtle and it was more of a chocolate torte.  Again, it was creamy and delicious, though for fans of coffee it might not quite meet your standards.

Day Three Falmouth (37)

And my friend chose the most tempting of the ice cream flavours:  peanut butter and chocolate fudge swirl ice cream.  From the little taster I had, it was decadent and delicious and tasted like a Snickers bar.  I can’t recommend this place highly enough, the food was beautiful and the service was great.  It’s quite a small place though, so booking is advisable.

Day Three Gyllyngvase Beach (1)

Day Three Falmouth (39)

As it was Cornwall, what choice did we have but to go for a pasty as well?  Happy Cow listed King’s Pipe Pasties as having vegan options, but I’d forgotten to write down the address.  Fortunately, it’s right by one of the little docks for boat trips and while we were scoping out the ferry to St Mawes we stumbled upon it.  On the menu board outside, the vegetarian and vegan options were clearly marked.  There was only one vegan pasty, so I took that and we kept it for later when we were reclining on the beach in the sun (and what a beach it was – I grew up a two minute walk from the North Sea, but this was something else altogether.  I didn’t even know clear water existed in the UK!), sheltering our food from the greedy seagulls.

Day Three Falmouth (41)

It was a good pasty:  the pastry was lovely, and the crimped edge was great (I’ve predominantly eaten Greggs pasties before – this was much better).  It was filled with onion, potato, carrot and pepper, and probably more veg that I didn’t identify in my greed.  It was really nice not to miss out on this Cornish staple.

Day Three Falmouth (43)

As we were by the sea, we also simply had to have some chips.  As we wandered past Harbour Lights, just round the corner from the pasty shop, we saw a sign saying that all their chips were fried in vegetable oil, so we decided to treat ourselves.  It was £3.10 for this large portion, which was a bit steep, especially as they weren’t well-seasoned enough for our liking.  Nevertheless, it was nice to sit in the sea air and eat some chips!

Day Four Fowey (4)

Day Four Mevagissey (5)

The next day my fellow took a break from driving and my aunt and uncle guided us around some of the smaller villages in Cornwall:  Mevagissey, Fowey and Padstow.  It really is easier to see Cornwall by car than public transport, which is a disappointment to me, but it was great to get to see so many places.

Day Four Polgooth Inn

We had lunch at one of my aunt and uncle’s favourite places, The Polgooth Inn.  Before the holiday I’d sent them a quick email to check if their falafel burger would be vegan without the blue cheese listed on the menu, and they confirmed this and said they would put on an extra vegan special for me if I let them know when we were visiting – what a lovely touch!  The special was a stir-fry, but I went for the burger anyway.  I don’t think the picture quite does justice to the sheer size of this monster:  it was HUGE!  The sweet potato fries and chilli jam were both good and flavoursome, but I couldn’t even finish them because the burger took it all out of me.  It was so crispy, and really nicely spiced – it was good pub grub, and it was ginormous.  There were a couple of sorbets on the dessert menu that I would have liked to have tried, but honestly, I couldn’t eat again for the rest of the day.  I would always prefer to give my money to 100% vegan establishments, but I love the fact that they were so accommodating.

Still to come:  another pasty!  A very good cake!  Pancakes!

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Cookbook of the Month: Vegan Secret Supper

Vegan Secret Supper Miso and Aubergine Gyoza (1)

For July I worked my way through Vegan Secret Supper, one of the fanciest cookbooks in my collection.  It was written by a woman who runs a supper club in New York, and as such the recipes are really designed to impress and have multiple components.  Not really one for a school night, then.  However, I thought I’d be able to make it work if I cut a few corners.

Vegan Secret Supper Peanut Butter Oat Pancakes (11)

Starting, as we must, with breakfast, I whipped up some peanut butter oat pancakes one happy morning.  These were taken from a recipe for waffles, served with white chocolate mousse and plum compote to form a twist on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I did not have time for such things, so I served them with strawberries and golden syrup, and they were delicious.  The pancakes were perhaps a touch dry, so the strawberries added some much-needed juice and worked really well with the chocolatey, nutty pancakes.  A great start to the day, and to my adventures with this book.

Vegan Secret Supper Double Chocolate Pancakes 012

I did the same thing with the double chocolate pancakes, transforming them from waffles to pancakes and ditching the extra components.  The recipe calls for a banana, but I didn’t have any in, so I used some coconut yoghurt instead (which I always have in, because it is amazing) – I hoped it might lend a hint of the flavour, but it contributed to texture alone in the end.  The pancakes were really good, in terms of both texture and taste.  The chunks of melted dark chocolate were the highlight, all gooey and delicious.  I layered the pancakes with raspberries, and served them with golden syrup, as always, but some cream would have been nice too.

Vegan Secret Supper Portobello Fennel Soup (8)

The fennel portobello soup was a great introduction to the soup section.  The recipe didn’t need to be simplified at all this time, though I didn’t serve it with the smoke-infused olive oil as recommended.  It was my first time cooking with fennel, but I didn’t pick up the flavour too much when I was eating because there was so much other good stuff in there:  tamari, chilli flakes, sage, rosemary and lovely, earthy mushrooms.  This is also a standard, simple soup recipe, and I’ll make it again frequently, despite its appearance in such a fancy book.

Vegan Secret Supper Caramelised Onion Bisque (9)

The caramelised onion bisque packed more flavour than the French onion soup I made last month.  It had some good herbs in there, and cooking the onions in balsamic vinegar added a really lovely depth of flavour.  This will now be my default French onion soup recipe.

Vegan Secret Supper Carrot Ginger Soup (2)

The carrot ginger soup was such a beautiful, vivid colour!  And I’m happy to say it tasted as good as it looked:  really zingy, with a great contrast between sweet and spicy.  It was really thick and filling too, a winner all round, and I’ll be making this a lot in the winter.

Vegan Secret Supper Spicy Peanut and Yam Soup

And the spiced peanut and yam soup was wonderfully tasty and sweet.  I used sweet potatoes and almond butter, and it turned out quite thick – ideal for winter, but it needed thinning out a bit for summer.  It was flavoursome and rich.

Vegan Secret Supper Apple Beet Salad

Another packed lunch option was the apple beet salad with lemon tamari vinaigrette, baked hazelnut cheese and sesame mustard.  And this time I actually made all components!  The apple was a bit overwhelmed by the flavour of the beetroot and the dressing, but it was all really tasty, especially the hazelnut cheese.  It wasn’t really cheesy, but it was lovely and tangy and moreish.

Vegan Secret Supper Mustard Roasted Nugget Potatoes

I attempted to make the mustard roasted nugget potatoes (made without the crispy fennel and smoky portobello mushrooms, as it was a packed lunch) into more of a potato salad, with the addition of some roasted asparagus.  It was delicious, but really more of a side dish.  I used baby new potatoes, which worked a treat – though I still increased the roasting time to get them thoroughly cooked.

Vegan Secret Supper Crispy Oyster Mushroom Tempura With Ginger Miso Sauce and Sesame Sweet Rice (1)

The crispy oyster mushroom tempura with ginger miso sauce and sweet sesame rice was really tasty too.  I ditched the sweet potato and squash blossom tempura because of (a) laziness and (b) where do you even buy squash blossom?  But just the sweet rice with the deep-fried mushrooms and the zingy ginger sauce was lovely.

Vegan Secret Supper Porcini Pecan Nori Rolls 007

I was excited about trying the porcini pecan nori rolls, as I’ve been developing my sushi-making skills this year.  The recipe also calls for ginger pear paper, but I don’t have dehydrating equipment and didn’t really have time.  I’d thought about cooking some sushi rice to go in the rolls, but again, decided to save time and not bother.  I would definitely do this next time though, because, while every element was really tasty, there wasn’t enough substance to the rolls and they squished and oozed when I tried to slice them.  A layer of rice would make it more of a meal as well – I suspect the recipe in the book did without because it’s listed as a starter.  The porcini pecan pate would be good just served with bread, and the miso tahini sauce is beautiful and I will definitely make that again.

Vegan Secret Supper Miso and Aubergine Gyoza (1)

I simplified the Miso and Japanese Eggplant Pierogies by turning them into gyoza, using up some of the dumpling wrappers in my freezer.  If you have time to make your own pierogi pastry, then by all means, go for it, but if you’re busy, then I’d recommend doing it my way.  The filling was quick to make and really tasty, and assembly is very quick with defrosted gyoza pastry.  I had a bit of extra filling, and dolloped it on the side of the plate as a bonus.  The book suggests various homemade accompaniments, but we dunked them in soy sauce and were as happy as can be.

Vegan Secret Supper Leek and Oyster Mushroom Risotto Cakes (2)

I’m not generally a fan of risotto, after living in Hong Kong where mushroom risotto was the default vegetarian option in every western restaurant.  But, like most things, it improves in fried form.  My leek and oyster mushroom risotto cakes didn’t hold together as well as I’d hoped, but they were a winner on the taste front.  A couple of these would make quite an elegant starter.

Vegan Secret Supper Butternut Squash Gnocchi (4)

It had been a while since I’d had a cooking disaster, so I was probably due one, and it arrived when I attempted the butternut squash and almond gnocchi sauteed with sage garlic butter.  The dough for the gnocchi was flavoured with squash and almond butter, and should have been packed with flavour.  Alas, it was too sticky to even attempt to knead.  I added so much flour it lost its taste, and was still too sticky to handle.  I popped it in the freezer for a while, then managed to shape it into the traditional bite size pieces.  I returned these to the freezer and defrosted them a few days later.  Then I came home from work to this sight:

Vegan Secret Supper Butternut Squash Gnocchi (1)

But I’d put so much time, energy and flour into them that I was determined to push on regardless.  So, I dolloped spoonfuls of the dough into a pan of boiling water and cooked them, then sauteed them in the delicious sage butter.

Vegan Secret Supper Butternut Squash Gnocchi (3)

The final result, while far from elegant, was really tasty.  I don’t know if I could bear to make them again, but I’d happily be served them.

Vegan Secret Supper Lentil Walnut Tourtiere (2)

Vegan Secret Supper Lentil Walnut Tourtiere (4)

The lentil walnut tourtiere was a real treat, and again, simpler to make than expected.  There is so much flavour in the filling from the spice and herb combinations, and the walnuts lend a nice crunch to everything.  It’s a great idea to brush the pastry with a tamari concoction as well.  The book suggests serving this with a homemade chutney and balsamic reduction:  I served it with new potatoes and steamed veg.

Vegan Secret Supper - Coconut Fettucine Alfredo

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of pasta dishes, but the coconut fettucine alfredo was so good I might just change my mind!  My gigantic local Tesco Superstore had neither fettucine nor sprouts, so I used tagliatelle and only cherry tomatoes for the veg, but the dish really is crying out for some greenery.  It was still delicious anyway, as the real magic was in the sauce.  I’m rarely wowed by pasta, but seriously.  There was coconut milk, tamari, tahini, chilli flakes, nutritional yeast, sun-dried tomatoes…all these good flavours mingling happily.  And it was easy to throw together after work (minus points for requiring three different pans, though).

Vegan Secret Supper Brown Rice Risotto (2)

And yes, I made a second risotto in July, and this one wasn’t even fried!  Despite my misgivings about the dish in general, I thought I would give the brown rice risotto with kidney beans a go, and I’m glad I did: it didn’t take too long to make, and it was really tasty.  The sweet potato chunks were really good, the sunflower seeds on top added some nice texture, and the spices made it rather curry-esque.  An unexpected treat.

Vegan Secret Supper Dark Chocolate Cake (6)

Vegan Secret Supper Dark Chocolate Cake (8)

The dessert section looks spectacular:  really, really tempting.  However, I only got round to trying one of them, and the dark chocolate cake with chocolate ganache glaze didn’t exactly go according to plan.  The batter turned out a bit lumpy, so I’d recommend sifting the flour first.  The ganache also had a few cocoa powder lumps.  I’m going to put it down to the heat outside, as I don’t usually have a problem with that.  Despite the lumpiness, the cake was really tasty.  It wasn’t as exciting as the spiced chocolate from Afro-Vegan I made in May, but for a plain chocolate cake it was very good.

I’m so glad I took the plunge with this book, after being somewhat daunted by it for so long.  Even the fanciest recipes can be simplified for a working week, and it was nice to get back to some more exciting flavours (I think every dish included tamari and chilli flakes) after the familiar flavours of last month’s book.  And I’m looking forward to trying some of the really impressive dishes for a special occasion.

Next month is going to be a busy one as I’m making the move to Prague, but I’m going to try to make some special salads nevertheless.  There’s always time for salad.

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Vegan Afternoon Tea: Crosby Tea Rooms, Liverpool

Crosby Tea Rooms (2)

A half-empty cake stand isn’t the most inspiring start, is it?  Afternoon tea at the Crosby Tea Rooms in Liverpool was quite a mixed bag:  the food was really good, but as a whole it didn’t quite come together.  Part of the afternoon tea experience is the wow factor when a cake stand of treats is set before you on the table.  Don’t worry, there was cake this time – it just arrived later, after we’d finished this part of the feast.

Crosby Tea Rooms (1)

Luxury afternoon tea at the Crosby Tea Rooms involves a choice of a sandwich from the menu:  there are two vegan fillings, or a club sandwich combining both of them between thick slices of toasted bread.  Obviously that’s the one we all chose, which may have been an error.  The sandwich was delicious (though it could have done with something to counteract the sweetness of the sweet potato, of which there was a lot), and the accompanying salad and vegan coleslaw were good too.  But we had a full club sandwich each, two of the halves shown above, and that is a lot of food when you consider it has to be followed by a scone and two full size slices of cake.  There’s a reason afternoon tea usually features finger food, after all.  Fortunately, we were asked if we’d like to take the leftovers home, so we duly accepted.

Crosby Tea Rooms (3)

The scones had a mixed reception.  I absolutely loved mine and ate it without any jam because it was packed with raspberries and had a lovely coconut flavour.  My companions found it too dry, though they agreed about the great flavours.  I could have happily taken a load of these home with me too, but there were no leftovers.

Crosby Tea Rooms (4)

After we’d finished the sandwiches and scones, the cakes arrived.  First was this tower of chocolatey goodness, sandwiched with coconut cream and dotted with the occasional raspberry.  The topping was lovely and gooey, but the cream and sponge were a little cold – it felt like it had just been taken out of the fridge.  Still, it was totally delicious.  And, much like the sandwich, this was the normal, full-size offering from the main menu, so it was quite the battle on top of the food we’d already eaten.  The best kind of battle, though.

Crosby Tea Rooms (5)

We had to take the last slice of cake away with us:  a raw peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake.  It pains me to admit it when I can’t finish a meal, but it would have taken a pretty serious eater to get through all of this.  Full size cake slices, I remind you!  As it was, we didn’t eat again for the rest of the day.  We devoured this cake the next day, when we were ready for food once more, and it was good:  the chocolate layer at the top was really rich, and as a whole it had the perfect cheesecake texture.  I would have like a bit more peanut butter, but other than that it was spot on.

In conclusion, I can only praise the food we had.  There were some excellent vegan treats to be had, and there was a very tempting-sounding vegan breakfast on the menu, if you’re ever in that neck of the woods.  The staff were really lovely, and there’s a vegan baker there, so you can rest assured that they have a good understanding of veganism and aren’t making any mistakes behind the scenes.  But I’m not convinced that the food really comprised an afternoon tea:  there was no finger food, no little bites.  The more food the merrier, but it’s easier to feel like a glutton if you devour a gigantic sandwich and three full-sized baked goods.  Perhaps I enjoy the deception of the delicate nibbles – it just feels less piggish to work your way through them!  I would definitely recommend Crosby Tea Rooms for a meal or a cake, but only for afternoon tea, if you don’t eat for 24 hours beforehand.

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Vegan in Prague

Prague 065

In May, Mr HH and I made a quick dash across to Prague to scope it out…before we move there in August!  We are extremely excited (and also terrified of how much packing awaits us).  When I returned to the UK from 2.5 years in Hong Kong, I thought I was hanging up my travelling cloak.  But of course, my feet began to itch again.  I’m delighted to be on the move again, but it’s a million times better to be going with my funny and fearless best friend, intrepid adventurer that he is.  It’s going to be his first time living abroad, and his giddiness at his first taste of life outside the UK is positively contagious.

Prague 003

And I’m pleased to say that Prague looks like a good place for a vegan!  During our short stay I managed to visit a few vegan eateries, and fit in an impressive amount of cake (I was alone, my feet hurt, I had a good book, those things all point to sitting down with some cake).

Moment (1)

Moment (4)

My favourite place was Moment, a small, 100% vegan cafe not too far from the city centre. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (or, to allow my northerness out:  breakfast, dinner and tea)…and also for cake.  The breakfasts are pretty special:  I had the pancakes, and my fellow had the omelette.  Look how much cream there is with those perfect little chocolate chip pancakes!  Surely I’ll be justified in having them every weekend?  The omelette was also tasty.  The menu said there would be spinach, but instead it was full of potato, mushroom and aubergine.  Not a bad substitution, eh?

Moment (2)

There was also one of the most tempting cake counters I’ve ever seen (second only to Oh La La in Berlin, I think).  It was difficult to choose, but I went for this peanut butter chocolate chip beauty.  It was delicious sponge, the icing was just sweet enough, and the chocolate chips were densely packed and lovely.  But there were some sneaky raisins hiding in there too!  I don’t mind a raisin in a carrot cake, but with peanut butter and chocolate chips?  It didn’t quite fit together.

Veg Teg

Another place to visit for cake is Veg Teg, which is not so central, but isn’t far from the river or the Botanical Gardens.  It’s a teeny tiny place, with just a couple of stools for eating in, so it’s perfect to pick up a cake and wander to a more scenic setting.  When I went in there were three different kinds of cake and a tempeh wrap, everything vegan, along with hot drinks.  I had the chocolate orange cheesecake, which was really tasty.  My only niggle is that the base was soft rather than crunchy, but still – it was a lovely place, and while I ate the woman who worked there chatted with me about all the great vegan places in the city.

Plevel (2)

Plevel (3)

In fact, she recommended Plevel, which has two locations, one about ten minutes away from the famous clock at the heart of the city.  We went there for an evening feast, and decided to go the whole hog and have a three course meal.  The menu is really tempting (again, it’s an all-vegan establishment), and we struggled to narrow down our choices.  My beau chose the portobello rolls.  Can you see them in the picture above?  The rolls themselves were miniscule, and the plate largely consisted of salad, so he was a little disappointed.  I went for the raw spring rolls, which turned out to be gigantic and better suited to a main course.  Of course, I nobly struggled on, and they were delicious.

Plevel (5)

I actually preferred them to my main course, the beetroot burger.  It was problematic from the start, because I couldn’t physically take a bite without unhinging my jaw.  After watching me struggle for a while, Mr HH advised just to eat it with a knife and fork like a loser.  So I tried.  And I failed:  the bread was too dense to cut through.  So I discarded the top bun and ate the burger and bottom bun with a knife and fork and I felt like a failure.  Cutlery for a burger?!  On the plus side, the menu said it came with a baked potato, which had me a little perplexed.  This turned out to be delicious wedges, and I managed to eat those in the traditional manner.

Plevel (4)

My fellow definitely came up trumps in the mains though, with his Czech speciality of mixed nut ragout, creamy sauce and semolina gnocchi. He found the gnocchi a bit too doughy, but the nutty dumplings and smoky sauce were really delicious.  I’ll definitely try this one when we go back.

Plevel (7)

Usually we try to get two different desserts to share, unless there’s a clear winner on the menu.  That was the case in Plevel, where we each ordered a banana caramel cake.  It was probably the best cake of the holiday:  sticky and sweet, with a lovely coconutty base.  Highly recommended!  The staff at Plevel were absolutely great, and they do a good range of vegan alcohol too.  The central branch is located in a little shopping centre, but it retains a nice atmosphere and is somewhere I’m looking forward to going back to.

Maitrea

Another eatery near the Old Town Square was Maitrea.  This gets great reviews on HappyCow, but I was less than impressed with it.  Our experience was worsened by the fact that we were seated downstairs in extremely close proximity to a group of three which included the loudest man in the world.  Really.  He was bellowing away in Italian to his two companions, and we could scarcely hear each other.  Fortunately, after sharing a nacho plate, he left the ladies to it and they audibly breathed a sigh of relief along with us, and we all got back to normal conversations.  But even without him I would have been somewhat underwhelmed by it.  The decor is so lovely, and the prices are pretty high, but the quality and creativity of the dishes just didn’t quite match the implied fanciness.  The vegan dishes in particular seemed a little uninspired.  I had the udon noodles with duck and vegetables – the mock meat was lovely, the noodles were beautifully thick and the seasoning was perfect…but noodles, protein and veg?  I felt like I could have made something equally tasty at home for at least half the price.  (Mr HH had his only cheese of the holiday at this meal, so no pictures of his, but he shared my general sentiment.)

Loving Hut

A much better place in terms of value for money was my old friend, Loving Hut.  I first encountered Loving Hut in Hong Kong, where I used to enjoy cheap, tasty food while watching propaganda videos of the Supreme Master, alongside poems from the perspective of a pig about to be slaughtered.  It’s basically run by a cult leader…but the food is good!  I went for the pay-by-weight lunch buffet, and coughed up 148kr for this plate of treats:  the biggest piece of deep-fried cauliflower I’ve ever seen, a spring roll, tofu omelette, chicken and veg and the most tender, delicious aubergine imaginable.  There are quite a few branches dotted around the city, all with a lunch buffet, so whatever my feelings on the Supreme Master, I think it’s safe to say I’ll be back.

LoVeg (1)

LoVeg (2)

Finally, over the bridge and high up the hill towards the castle, we found another fancy three course experience in LoVeg.  Not only do you have to climb up the hill, you also have to toil up a few flights of stairs.  It’s worth it, though:  it’s a warm, cosy restaurant with great service and even better food.  I started off with the bruschetta, which had wonderful flavours and a tasty cashew cheese.  My fellow tried the avocado tartar and reported that it was good, albeit extremely garlicky.

LoVeg (3)

We both chose the same main course, because we were keen to try a veganised version of the Czech national dish, svíčková.  I didn’t really enjoy it, but that’s because of the original dish, rather than how it was cooked here.  It’s just not my kind of thing, but I’m glad I tried it.  The dumplings are sliced like baguette, and are very doughy.  The meat is smoky and delicious, and the root veg and cream sauce is quite rich.  The cranberry sauce on top is simply not for me.  It was such a strange combination of flavours, and was extremely heavy.

LoVeg (5)

LoVeg (6)

Which is not to say we couldn’t fit in dessert, of course!  I tried the carrot cake, which was nice, but I really should have been bold enough to stick with the dumpling theme:  they were sweet and delicious, with their red fruit sauce and sticky icing sugar.  We were really delighted to have the opportunity to try both sweet and savoury Czech specialities.

After so much good eating, I wish we could afford to eat out every night when we live there!  But even when we settle in to normal life and a daily routine, it will be comforting to know that there is a thriving vegan scene out there, and plenty more to explore.  There are only a few weeks left until we make the move, and we’ll definitely be celebrating our arrival with more vegan cake.

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Cookbook of the Month: A Vegan Taste of France

A Vegan Taste of France Cider Casserole (9)

In June I worked my way through A Vegan Taste of France by Linda Majzlik.  This book doesn’t look particularly appealing:  there are no pictures, no little introductory paragraphs telling you about the origins of the recipe, no index, no separation between each step of the recipe (it’s just a block of text), and the ingredients aren’t even listed in the right order.  I bought it on the theory that none of that stuff really matters if the food is up to scratch.  So, was it?

A Vegan Taste of France Creamy Cauliflower Almond Soup (6)

I started, as I so often do, with soup.  The creamy cauliflower almond soup sounds like a simple classic, but alas, it was just too simple:  really lacking in flavour, despite all the salt and pepper I could muster.  I wouldn’t make this again.

A Vegan Taste of France Puy Lentil and Mushroom Soup (7)

The puy lentil and mushroom soup was much better – it was very tasty from the hearty dose of thyme, and had that wonderful earthy flavour of mushrooms.  The recipes says to blitz just half of the recipe, and I think I rather overdid it.  Next time I’ll keep it a bit chunkier, and add some dried porcini mushrooms as well to give a little something extra.

A Vegan Taste of France Breton Onion Soup (5)

The Breton onion soup was simple, but tasty.  As it was taken to work in a flask, I couldn’t add the sliced of garlic bread and warm it all up under the grill – that would definitely have been a nice touch.  I believe this was my first ever onion soup, as it’s traditionally made with beef stock.  I was surprised it wasn’t the dark brown I’d expected – but I suppose that’s what the absence of beef stock does.

A Vegan Taste of France Provencal Mixed Bean Soup (5)

The provencal bean soup was really refreshing and healthy, it was definitely a good one.  All of these soups are so easy to make, it’s just a matter of frying some veg, pouring in the stock and simmering it for a while:  no cream to be made, no intricate timing.  This one was so lovely on a summery (well, by Manchester’s standards) day.  Incidentally, I also love anything with the word “provencal” in the title, because I first encountered it in Beauty and the Beast when Belle bemoaned her “poor, provencal town”, and I thought it was a synonym for ‘boring’.  Boring bean soup for everyone!

A Vegan Taste of France Aubergine and Tomato Soup (4)

The aubergine and tomato soup was absolutely amazing!  It was the best of the bunch, and definitely one I plan to bring into regular rotation.  It was easy and quick to make, but very flavoursome.  The herbs gave it a really wonderful taste, and the cooked vegetables were tender and delicious.  The photo just doesn’t do it justice.

A Vegan Taste of France Pistou (2)

And the pistou soup was similary spectacular.  It was closer to a stew in the end, so chock-full of good stuff:  veg, pasta, pesto.  In a bout of laziness, I opened a jar of vegan pesto rather than whizzing up my own.  It was easy to make, and easy to devour!

A Vegan Taste of France Aubergine and Lentil Salad (5)

Another packed lunch I made was the aubergine and lentil salad.  Aubergines are amongst my favourite vegetables, and they really added a lovely flavour to this.  The aubergines and red onion are fried, and tossed with the nice fresh tomato, soft puy lentils, red wine vinegar, mixed herbs and garlic oil.  It’s easy to make and is a nice refreshing lunch, but would be a lovely side salad as well.

A Vegan Taste of France Carrot and Hazelnut Pate (3)

For a light Saturday lunch, I whipped up some carrot and hazelnut pate.  Mr HH thinks pate is almost the fanciest thing in the world, so he enjoyed this very much.  I did too, though it made for quite a festive meal, probably due to the hazelnuts.  I’ll make this again, but probably not until Christmas.

A Vegan Taste of France Aubergine and Lentil Pate en Croute (8)

If he thinks pate is pretty fancy, Mr HH believes that pate en croute is the absolute pinnacle of fanciness.  I expected him to dust off his top hat and monacle for the occasion when I prepared the aubergine, lentil and walnut pate en croute.  It required a touch more seasoning, but besides that it was tasty and easy to make – largely because I used shop bought puff pastry rather than labouring over my own dough.

A Vegan Taste of France Aubergine and Lentil Pate en Croute (10)

I served it with the lyonnaise potatoes, which were really tasty – thinly cut, parboiled slices of potato layered with fried onions and dotted with margarine, cooked in the oven.  They were a really tasty and simple side dish that I’ll happily make again.

A Vegan Taste of France Root Veg and Almond Cakes (9)

I was a little anxious about trying the root vegetable almond cakes, because I am notoriously bad at getting any kind of burger/patty to hold together. These worked like a dream though!  I used a combination of carrot, parsnip and potato, and they tasted delicious.  The book advises small patties for light bites, but I went big, of course, and it was worth it.

A Vegan Taste of France Potato Spinach and Walnut Croquettes (9)

Similarly, I was a bit concerned about rustling up the potato, spinach and walnut croquettes.  I’d never made croquettes before, and have eaten them rarely (I had a childhood aversion to any kind of mushy mashed potato – I blame school dinners), but they actually worked out nicely.  I made them quite big, and almost ran out of breadcrumbs, hence their slightly uneven coating.  The crumbs held on nicely and provided a lovely crunchy texture, and the spinach lent a nice healthy touch to it.  Very enjoyable!

A Vegan Taste of France Spinach Pies (10)

The spinach pie recipe was for six little pies, but I anglicised it and made two gigantic pasties.  They were alright:  good pastry, good spinach…bad fake cheese.  My usual supplier of vegan cream cheese was out of stock, so I had to get this awful Tesco free-from cheddary spread.  It smelt terrible when I opened the tub, and the pasty provided an unwelcome reminder.  I would try it again with the nice cream cheese, or with potato instead to give it a bit more substance.

A Vegan Taste of France Herby Chickpea Stew (8)

Happy Veggies, indeed.  The herby chickpea stew was healthy and, as the name promises, herby.  It had all manner of good things:  courgette, chickpeas, cauliflower, carrot, red pepper, and all the herbs in my kitchen.  It would be grand with some rice, but bread is always my carb of choice.

A Vegan Taste of France Cider Casserole (9)

The country cider casserole was a bit time-consuming:  you have to soak the soup mix overnight, then simmer it for 20 minutes, then cook it for one hour.  All the steps are really easy, but it takes so much time that you can’t really just throw it together after work.  For a weekend project while pottering about in the kitchen, though, it’s a definite winner.  There’s a lot of good veg in there, and it packs a nice flavour from the sweet cider, apple and apricots, along with a nice earthiness from the root vegetables and grains.  I’ll certainly make it again.

A Vegan Taste of France Root Veg Cassoulet (6)

The root vegetable cassoulet was another tasty but fairly autumnal dish.  I used a combination of carrot, parsnip and sweet potato, which were lovely cooked with the tomatoes and haricot beans.  Rather than using bouquet garni for the seasoning, I chucked in a lot of mixed herbs, and I scattered the breadcrumbs on top rather than stirring them in.

A Vegan Taste of France Ratatouille (6)

As for the ratatouille, it was nice but not life-changing.  This is perfect if you’ve had some cake during the day and want a virtuous evening meal (ignore the garlic bread on the side, obviously), and I enjoyed it, but probably won’t make it again unless I have a lot of veg to use up.

A Vegan Taste of France Courgette Mushroom and Rice Tian (1)

The courgette, mushroom and rice tian had a light, summery taste from the grated courgette.  I had feared it would be a heavy baked rice dish, but far from it.  The tomatoes on top were a really nice touch.

A Vegan Taste of France Pasta and Broccoli Amande (8)

The pasta and broccoli amande was an unexpected delight.  I rarely cook pasta, and find pasta dishes generally a bit uninspiring, especially in a restaurant (unless it’s lasagne, of course) but this was a tasty pasta bake.  I chucked in some cauliflower as I only had a little broccoli.  The sauce was surprisingly effective – it’s simply oat milk, cornflour and ground almonds.  It turned out wonderfully thick and creamy, and brought the dish together well.  It’s not going to change my stance on pasta, but it’s a solid option that I’ll trot out again when I have some pasta in.

A Vegan Taste of France Aubergine and Mushroom Ragout (13)

The aubergine and mushroom ragout was really meaty and delicious, full of chunks of aubergine, porcini mushrooms and textured vegetable protein.  It took a little longer to make, and doesn’t necessarily look that appetising, but it was a really nice meal.

A Vegan Taste of France Bourguinon (5)

And that most French of dishes:  bourguignon.  This is probably the recipe I was most looking forward to trying, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be:  meaty, rich, succulent.  It was quite similar to the ragout above, with its meaty chunks, mushrooms and red wine.  However, the chestnuts added a lovely sweet touch, and it was cooked until everything was so beautifully tender.  I shall definitely be adding this to my usual repertoire.

A Vegan Taste of France Chocolate Hazelnut Ramekins (5)

Anyone who knows me would have expected a strong showing from the baked and dessert section of the book, but actually my efforts were limited to just the one:  the chocolate hazelnut ramekins.  This was so easy to make, but seems like quite the fancy dessert – a thick, chilled, chocolatey pudding, not as airy as mousse, but lovely and rich and thick.  I collect mismatched, vintage tea cups and saucers, so I dusted off some of them and it made for a lovely elegant dessert – suitable for a dinner party, or eating in your pyjamas with your feet up and some Netflix!

This book certainly exceeded my expectations.  It’s a shame more thought wasn’t put into its presentation and design, because we really do judge books by their covers (and layout), and this one isn’t really selling itself.  The recipes didn’t have that wow factor of some of the other books I’ve used (like Asian Vegan Kitchen or Afro Vegan), simply because the European flavours and ingredients are so familiar to me.  But they were classic combinations, and I’ll definitely make a lot of these dishes again.  I’m also going to buy more of the author’s cookbooks and hope to uncover some more hidden gems.

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Vegan Afternoon Tea: Teacup, Manchester

Teacup Afternoon Tea 002

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.

Teacup

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!

Teacup Afternoon Tea 009

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!

Teacup Afternoon Tea 003

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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