MiniMoFo: A Tale of Two Berlin Brunches

Following a month of intense cooking and blogging, November’s MiniMoFo theme of lazy is more than welcome!  I’m not sure how well this post really matches the theme – a long, leisurely brunch feels lazy and indulgent, but at the same time, someone is doing a lot of work!

For MiniMoFo, I’m taking you to Berlin.  There are many great things about Berlin:  the museums, the street art, the history. But more importantly:  the all-you-can-eat vegan brunches.  Oh yes, that’s brunches, plural.  There are a number of them available at weekends, and they’re exceedingly popular.  Last year we went to Kopps (boo!) and Alaska (woo!), and this year we tried two different ones:  playing with eels and Viasko.

playing with eels is predominantly a catering company – they only serve food from their cafe on a Saturday when brunch starts at 11am.  It’s a nice cafe with mismatched furniture and fun art work, and when we were there every table was booked, so make sure you get a reservation – I did so via their website.

We arrived at 11am on the dot, and were the first people to the buffet.  But don’t worry, we didn’t eat it all!  It was such as incredible spread – various kinds of bread, numerous dips,and a whole host of vegetable and grain concoctions.

Apparently I was too excited to take a steady picture of any of our plates – this is the only passable one, though you can be sure we had more than just the one helping!  We loved all the different spreads we tried (including a couple of butters that were wonderfully rich and creamy), and the pasta dishes were nice too. There were some aubergine slices, along with an aubergine and lentil dish, which were both beautiful. Dr HH was particularly taken with some spicy, peanut buttery dish he stumbled upon, and kept trying to force me to try some as well!

There was so much choice, and some really creative dishes – there was nothing here that I looked at and thought, ‘Meh, I could have that any old time.’  Clearly a lot of effort went into it.  Our only complaint was that everything was cold, even the dishes that would have been better warm, but as you can see from the picture of the full table, it was quite the spread, so it would be difficult to keep everything hot.

On to the dessert section, which was rather spectacular. There was some granola, yoghurt and chocolate cream, plus fruit salad (yawn – we kept things as unhealthy as possible with just granola and chocolate cream!).  There were some little chocolate brownie squares and a fruity streusel square, both of which were nice.

Best of all was the rice pudding, which was so comforting and beautifully spiced – even though it wasn’t warm, it felt extremely warming!  And finally, the Bounty pudding:  chocolate sponge, a creamy coconut layer and dark chocolate on top. I wish I’d had room for more helpings of this.  In fact, maybe I’d go back and just eat my money’s worth of rice pudding and Bounty pudding!

It was €13 all-you-can-eat, and everything was just wonderful.  We didn’t really need to eat again for the rest of the day! I loved the atmosphere and decor too, and it seemed like a very friendly and relaxing place to while away a few lazy Saturday hours.

The next day we went to Viasko – again, we had a reservation and it was pretty busy, so I don’t think it would hurt to do the same.  Also they have a sign on the door warning that people in fur and other animal products won’t be welcome (or even just materials that resemble fur), so be careful if you’re wearing a fake fur or fake leather coat!    We ended up sitting in a kind of cavern downstairs from the buffet, so the light wasn’t great.  The buffet table itself was far too crowded for pictures, more’s the pity, so you’ll just have to see what we ate.

The best thing about this buffet was the deep-fried stuff!  As well as battered veg, there was also a crispy spring roll and two breadcrumbed meaty chunks.  We also had some lovely marinated mushrooms, a pretty bland little vegetable wrap, and some gnocchi which was actually the most flavoursome dish on offer!

For round two, we focussed more on the meat and bread side of things. Here we have a little Caprese salad, some tasty olives and antipasti, one of several dips on offer, and a nice slab of seitan. Alongside the regular crusty bread roll is a salty pretzel roll, and I probably don’t need to tell you that it was a real highlight.

Dr HH is an unstoppable eating machine, so he also went for a third plate with some baked beans and sausages, tofu scramble (both of these were warm), more mushrooms, ground seitan and some tempeh.  He was very happy with the seasoning and temperature of everything here!

Eventually we were ready for the sweets, which were less exciting than the day before.  We had a little chocolate cake and another fruity streusel square, both of which were nice but unremarkable.  The real highlight was the pancake though!  It was good and pillowy, and cut into manageable pieces.

Viasko was a wee bit more expensive at €14, and it lacked the relaxing atmosphere as we were in a little cavern -it was quite dark and loud.  The savouries were delicious though.

As you can see, we were extremely well-served by these two vegan brunches and would happily return to both! Ultimately I think we both agreed that the choice at playing with eels was better and much more inventive, but the food was kept warmer at Viasko.  For anyone with a sweet tooth, proceed straight to playing with eels and dive into those puddings!

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Vegan in Manchester: Trof NQ

The Northern Quarter is one of my favourite parts of Manchester.  It has it all:  independent shops, ever-changing street art, and plenty of vegan options!  Trof NQ is just one of the omni places that is happily catering to vegans, so we decided to check it out over the summer holiday.

Dr HH had the full vegan breakfast, and had one obvious complaint:  that tomato you see was stone cold.  Not even grilled!  (Actually, there was also a second complaint:  no spread on the toast.)  Besides that, he was very impressed. Under the hash brown you can see a breadcrumbed avocado, which was just sensational!  Everything else was good too, though a touch under-seasoned for his taste.  Even though there were no meat substitutes, he was very full and satisfied.

I got the hash, which combined sweet potato, mushrooms, spinach and cashews (you can add vegan black pudding for an extra £2).  It was perfectly seasoned, with a healthy dose of chilli and some fresh herbs too.  It was also good and filling.

There are also four lunch/dinner options:  a vegan burger, sweet potato falafel, a balti and a superfood salad. Of course, I got the burger – excuse the terrible photo, clearly I was too excited.  The patty was made with beetroot, white beans and cashews.  Not only was it really hearty and flavoursome, it was also a beautiful bright pink on the inside!  There was plenty of guacamole and some spicy sauce on the top bun, making it extra delicious.  And the portion of chips was huge!  This is highly recommended, and not even just as a back-up for when you’re with meat eaters/vegetarians – even a group of vegans (what is the collective noun for us?) would be perfectly satisfied.

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Cookbook of the Month: VeganMoFo 2017

VeganMoFo is finished for another year, and I am exhausted!  It’s always my favourite month of the year, but I can’t deny that I’m looking forward to having some free time again.  As always, I’ve discovered some fantastic new blogs and Instagrammers to follow, checked in with some of the regular crowd, and marvelled at some of the recipes people have shared!  Like last year, I’ve done a little VeganMoFo cook-along, which will replace my usual Cookbook of the Month post.  Take a look at everything I made!

Brunch first:  I’m crazy about a good potato-chorizo hash, so I had to try this one from Kelly at Vegga.  I followed her suggestion of par-boiling the potatoes, and it worked a treat.  I swapped the green pepper in her recipe for mushrooms, because, well, it’s mushrooms!  It was a really tasty dish.

Walks, Talks & Eats is one of my favourite blogs for recipes (you’ll see another in this post) and is worth checking out at any time of the year.  I couldn’t resist this chickpea tahini soup, which I sold to Dr HH as”hummus soup” – it has chickpeas, lemon juice, cumin and tahini, so it’s basically liquid hummus!  Unsurprisingly, given that ingredient list, it was delicious. I didn’t produce a very visually appealing colour or texture, but the taste was perfect.

I also made this curried root vegetable bisque from Not Fun at Parties. Unfortunately mine did not achieve the glorious yellow shade of the original, but the taste was spot on! The recipe called for some agave syrup stirred through at the end, but I thought the soup was already quite sweet so I skipped it.  It was very finely balanced between sweet and spicy with the curry powder, root veg and coconut milk. This is the kind of warming soup I just love at this time of year!  It was one of the best soups I’ve ever had – I never wanted to reach the end of the bowl.

The pumpkin and black lentil soup from AfroVeganChick was another good one, though I used roasted butternut squash instead of pumpkin, green lentils instead of black, and added some garam masala along with the cinnamon.  It was really autumnal and thick, and I would definitely recommend it.

From Gonna Go Walk the Dogs, I made this Moroccan vegetable soup – or, as we called it, “Everything soup”. It contained vegetables, pasta, and mock meat, which is pretty much everything as far as I’m concerned!  It was very easy to make, just a case of chopping and chucking it all in a big pot.  Unsurprisingly, it was delicious!  I would have liked a kick more spice, but Dr HH was very satisfied with the turmeric and saffron combination here. It was really filling, and coming across a chicken chunk was a real treat!

And my final soup: Dianne at Dianne’s Vegan Kitchen shared the recipe for this curried cauliflower cream soup.  It was very easy to make, as it uses bought red curry paste, and this time I thought it was perfectly seasoned but Dr HH found it “a bit intense”, whatever that means.

Back on the first day of VeganMoFo, Sarra and Mike of Fake Meat & True Love made these exciting hummus-crusted tofu and vegetable tacos, and I’m not the kind of person who can turn down a combination of hummus and tofu.  It was really good, and I’m already pondering what salads I can use it in as well. Alongside this delicious concoction, I also filled the tacos with roasted broccoli and potato, and splashed on some hot sauce.

Also on day one, Jess at Ichiban Vegan posted these herbed mushroom and tempeh veggie burgers.  The recipe should make 5 but I only got two!  On reflection, I have to admit that I could have made them smaller. I regret nothing though!  They were good and meaty and packed with flavour.  I’ll make them again.

One of my favourite prompts asked participants to improve on their worst catered meals.  It was an easy improvement for Emma at Walks, Talks & Eats because her worst dish was lasagne made with slices of celeriac instead of pasta.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  I decided to have a go at her roasted vegetable lasagne, and I think we can safely say it was better than the celeriac one!  Clearly I am greedier than Emma, because I beefed up the vegetable sauce with a block of crumbled tempeh and a second tin of tomatoes.  The filling was lovely, but the real highlight was the cheesy sauce made from silken tofu.  Not only was it really delicious as it was, but it also mixed into the tomato sauce making that creamier and more delicious too.  Majestic!  Dr HH declared it the best cheesy lasagne sauce he’s ever had, and I’m inclined to agree.  We’ll be factoring it into all our lasagnes from now on.

Emily from Vegans Need Sauce  chose tempeh as her secret ingredient on day ten, which was funny to me as I live next to a supermarket that often doesn’t have onions, broccoli or chickpeas, but always has packets of smoked tempeh.  So of course I had to make her tempeh marinara.  It was so meaty and flavoursome, and really quick to make.  Definitely a good one to have up my sleeve!

Two Happy Rabbits is a blog I only discovered this VeganMoFo, and I’m so happy I did – they posted mouth-watering recipes every day, most of them cooked in a tiny kitchen in their campervan!  I got Dr HH to make these pasilla chili braised mushroom tacos with walnuts and dill, though he had to improvise a little – pasilla chillies aren’t a thing here, and he couldn’t get any fancy mushrooms.  But the final product was a huge hit!  The tacos were really meaty, and the walnuts were a wonderful addition, bringing both texture and flavour.  We were very impressed.

From the same blog, I also tried this mushroom and tofu ricotta tartine.  Doesn’t that sound fancy?  Again, I had to use bog standard mushrooms. It was a nice dish, but the flavour was all in the mushrooms.  The ricotta would be nice in a lasagne or other dish, but it needed a bit more seasoning in order to stand alone.

Jennifer at One Raw Bite was posting all-American cakes, and one of her early contributions was this applesauce cake.  Applesauce is quite an elusive ingredient in the UK, but you can find it everywhere in the Czech Republic, so I decided to give it a go. It’s very easy to make – I threw it together after work one evening. I made it into cupcakes instead of one big cake, so it’s easier to take for packed lunches – just reduce the cooking time if you do this.  This cake combined apples, raisins and cinnamon, so as you can probably imagine, it was delicious.

And another recipe from Ichiban Vegan, this time these chocolate oatmeal protein squares.  I don’t own any protein powder and refuse to buy any on the grounds that it costs a fortune and plants contain protein anyway, so I eliminated that from the recipe, but chucked in some ground hemp seeds instead.  Brace yourself for a shocking statement:  I thought these were a little too chocolatey!  Instead of adding chocolate chips, next time I’ll throw in some juicy cranberries.

There are good recipes to be found on Instagram too, such as this chocolate brownie from @ambereatsveg.  It was quick and easy to make, and my only change was to microwave the peanut butter to get it softer and easier to mix in.  The courgette in the recipe kept the sponge nice and moist, but the flavour was all chocolate and peanut. I also made this in cake cases, per Amber’s suggestion, which reduced washing up nicely!

As if that wasn’t enough sugar, I also made these chocolate-covered shortbread-style cookies from Wing It Vegan, who was a latecomer to VeganMoFo but provided an excellent range of cakes and cookies to serve just two people.  Perfect!  These cookies had the best texture, and I loved the chocolate coating. I’ll make these again, but I might double the quantities next time – I can’t limit myself to just six!

I always find so many creative new ideas during VeganMoFo, and one of the best I encountered this time was Claire from Coastal Vegan‘s recipe for instant hot chocolate mix.  I have really missed instant hot choc since going vegan, and I was happy to see that the recipe contained vegan milk powder – something which is also available in our aforementioned terrible supermarket!  In the end, Dr HH actually came home from work one night with a packet of coconut milk powder, rather than the soy one available closer to home, so I used that.  I feel like the word “gamechanger” is overused these days, but here it was definitely applicable. I’m going to have a constant supply of this stuff!

And that’s it!  There are a lot more recipes I still want to try, but I’ve been limited by time/lack of kitchen equipment/terrible supermarkets.  I really enjoyed trying these recipes and reading along on so many great blogs, but I’m sure we’re all ready for a little break now! I’ll be over here sipping my instant hot choc!

What were your favourite recipes from VeganMoFo? Any you’ve already tried, or bookmarked for later?

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VeganMoFo 2017: La Margherita, Bologna

The last morning of our holiday was dramatic, but not nearly as dramatic as our last night:  we were sitting quietly in the bedroom of our airbnb watching a new episode of Game of Thrones, when our host knocked to see how we were and what we’d been doing all day.  She saw our window was closed (so that we could hear GoT!), and came storming in to open it, then propped our bedroom door open – it opened into the living room – and called her male visitor (whom she introduced as her dentist) into our room to meet us.

Rather than entertaining him, she spent most of the next hour sitting on our bed and telling us her life story – and what a life it was!  It was excruciating.  She was absolutely wasted, extremely loud, and pretty racist, and I genuinely didn’t know how we would get rid of her.

Eventually she did return to her guest, and we sneakily closed the door and wondered if we could just tie our sheets into a rope and climb down from the fourth floor in the morning.

We didn’t go that far:  we woke up early, saw that she was passed out on the sofa in the living room right outside our door, and tried to tiptoe past to the front door with our bags.  As we opened the front door it let out a long creak, and we heard her call from behind us.  Nooo!  Fortunately we still managed to get out pretty easily, and almost ran to this nearby vegan cafe, La Margherita, where we tried to recover our nerves.  This place was just what we needed.

They had a solid breakfast array:  Dr HH got the last croissant, and I got a delicious slice of carrot cake, which was super moist and nicely spiced.

We stayed for an early lunch too before our flight back to the UK, and shared these two pies.  The one on the left was aubergine, and it was sensational.  That lovely aubergine flavour!  The one on the right was full of potato and tomato, and was also good – but it was no aubergine.

It was the perfect culinary farewell to Italy, and just what we needed after a very intense airbnb experience!

We had such a great adventure in Italy:  the food was largely incredible, we loved almost every place we visited, and we had a gelato every day.  Truly living the dream!  I highly recommend it as a vegan holiday destination, as even the places without an abundance of plant-based food (a)are pretty enough to make up for it, and (b)have gelato.  Oh, gelato!

Thanks for reading along this VeganMoFo – it’s been a lot of work, so I really appreciate everyone who has read/liked/commented throughout October.  I’ve already chosen my theme for next year, so I hope you’ll stick with me!

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VeganMoFo 2017: Peterland – Masterchips, Bologna

I’m a big fan of Happy Cow and it drives me crazy when people don’t update it.  On a Monday night in Bologna, we tried three different places that were listed on Happy Cow as open:  none of them were.  When we got home that evening, it took me about ten minutes to update their opening hours on Happy Cow, and it drives me crazy that neither the company nor any of their customers updated it before me.

It’s even worse when I see a review on Happy Cow complaining that the eatery wasn’t open when it was supposed to be because the hours had changed – but the complainer in turn has not done other people the courtesy of updating it.  I think Happy Cow is the best resource for vegans on the go, and I urge you to update it whenever you can, or one day you will be just like me, spending an hour walking the streets of Bologna from one locked door to another, belly grumbling.

With no other options, we staggered into Peterland-Masterchips, a fast food place not far from where we were staying.  We’d spotted this sign for vegan food, and in our hour of need, it provided.

We both got the vegan burger, which didn’t look quite as grand as in the advertising.  But it was a good seitan patty, which we weren’t really expecting from a generic, omni fast food place.  We also had a choice of condiments, including vegan mayo.  Top marks.

And we shared an order of veggie rings – despite the colours, we think they were 90% potato.  They definitely hit the spot.

Have I added this to Happy Cow? Do you even need to ask?!

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VeganMoFo 2017: Vegan in Ravenna

We’d been planning a day trip to Modena in homage to Master of None, but our airbnb host, in a rare moment of sanity, directed us instead to Ravenna, a seaside town I’d never heard of.  Before I googled the mosaics, of course I checked Happy Cow for the vegan options.  Then the plan got the green light!

It’s a pretty vegan friendly place!  We started with (second) breakfast at Grinder Coffee Lab, a charming little cafe with really fun decor.  There were only two vegan croissants when we got there at 11am – this plain one, and a seeded one.  It was only€1.10, which seemed pretty reasonable, and it was nice and flaky.

We’d planned to return for an afternoon bagel – the Erykah Badu is their vegan option.  But our plans changed when we walked past this sign outside Passatelli, closer to the town centre.  I was torn between the vegan lasagne and the sausage plate – eventually I decided on the former and Dr HH the latter.  When he ordered it, the waiter looked like he’d never even heard of such a dish but he dutifully noted it down.  He came back a minute later to report that it was “finished” – at 2pm on a Monday?!  After that, Dr HH switched to a vegetarian dish instead.  What a shame!

At least I got my lasagne, though. It didn’t contain any ragu, tomato or cheese, and was the greenest dish I’ve ever had, but it was hearty, contained tofu and had some nice creaminess going on.  Acceptable, but not particularly inspiring.

Things picked up when we got to Gelateria Panna e Fragola, though.  It’s a small place with some nice outdoor seating, and some exciting vegan flavours:  peach, coconut, vanilla, almond, pistachio and salted peanut.

How could I resist salted peanut for my last ice cream of the holiday?!  It tasted like a Snickers bar and I couldn’t have been happier.  The pistachio was also really good.  As a bonus, I think this was the cheapest gelato of the trip, and some of the boldest flavours too!

Even without a good range of vegan options, I’d still recommend a trip to Ravenna.  The churches themselves weren’t that exciting…

…but the mosaics really were!  We just wandered around with our mouths agape.

And if you want to make a full day of it, get the bus to the beach as well!  We enjoyed a little paddle in the sea to cool us down.  Mosaics, vegan food and the sea – what more could you want on holiday?!

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VeganMoFo 2017: Gelato in Bologna

The great gelato quest continues, and indeed concludes, in Bologna.  For any gelato afficianado out there, I would strongly recommend following our route travelling east across Italy rather than the reverse:  our gelato journey basically improved at every stop along the way.  I would have been devastated to start with this great gelato in Bologna and see my options dwindling down as I made my way back to Milan.

We only went to two gelaterias in Bologna, but they were very good indeed.  We started out at Cremeria San Francesco, a nice place in a quiet square, a little away from the centre.  This was perhaps the most vegan-friendly gelateria we visited:  they even had vegan brioche for the beloved gelato-in-brioche dish (I wasn’t that excited by it, surprisingly).  I think only one of their cones was vegan though, so do specify when you order. Above is the menu from July:  you can see a lot of vegan options there, and some quite exciting flavours.

I got the gianduia one, which was really rich and creamy and had dark chocolate chunks.  I paired it with the salty pistachio, which was the most flavoursome gelato I had throughout my whole stay.  It was sublime!  Dr HH and I both agreed that this place provided the best gelato of the two weeks.  Bravo!

Next stop:  Stefino Bio.  This place was more central, and also had plenty of vegan options, including some exciting ones:  lemon and basil, chocolate and curry (?!).  I decided to play it relatively safe, and chose the two flavours I’d been hoping for all through the holiday and finally found right at the end here:  coconut, and mint choc chip.

The coconut was good, and the mint choc chip was great!  I wish it had been green, but that’s a minor quibble.

And as if we didn’t already love the Bologna vegan gelato scene enough, check out this artwork left behind by some children at the colouring table!

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