Vegan in Nottingham

Hello! Dr HH here, filling in for Ms HH with tales of a recent solo adventure.  How would I fare without the meticulous meal planning of Ms HH? Was I doomed to wander the streets forever hungry?  Or could I work this all out for myself?  Read on to find out…

I was recently back in Nottingham for a whirlwind 24 hours of rock and roll mayhem!  In between zig zagging the city to catch with up some old friends and loud ear splitting music, I managed to sneak in a couple of meals of note.

Upon arrival at the train station, I fired up Happy Cow to see what my options were for a quick and easy lunch, and Doughnotts was the clear winner.  Vegan doughnuts have been popping up all over the place and I couldn’t resist the chance to get my fix here.  I battled my way through the hordes of slow moving Christmas market gawkers and found the secret (actually, it was very clearly signposted) staircase down to Doughnotts.  It’s quite a small place with some long tables for sitting in and eating your sugary doughy treat.  They have a glass cabinet split into standard (£2) and premium (£3) doughnuts, with about 8 different varieties in each half of the case.  They had 2 vegan options in the premium half, and 4 or 5 of the standard options were vegan.  I went for one of the premiums that was topped with a peanut butter glaze, a couple of Oreos, a drizzle of chocolate, and some more crushed Oreo bits for good measure. Sadly, I cannot remember the actual name and there appears to be no reference to it on their website.

As you can see, this thing was a beast and made for a pretty filling lunch.  The icing was delicious without being too sweet, and I’m always going to be happy with some extra biscuits on top.  The doughnut itself was a bit dense and chewy compared to our regular doughnut fix from The Donut Shop, but on the whole it was a good tasty treat and I don’t regret my decision at all.  The one downside for the place was that there were no non-dairy milk alternatives for the coffee, but the lady behind the counter gets a plus point for referring to dairy milk as “cow’s milk” rather than “normal milk”.  With a belly full of dough, I set off on the rest of my adventures.

My next meal of note did not come until the following morning. This is one I had been looking forward to for a long, long time.  Long time readers of HH will have seen me writing about the great Annie’s Burger Shack before. I had tried and failed to book a table there the previous evening, but I was determined not to miss out completely.  I hauled myself up in the wee hours of Sunday morning, escaped from my awful hotel room (I didn’t realise hotels with smoking floors were even a thing anymore), and shambled my way across Nottingham to Annie’s to finally investigate…THE BREAKFAST MENU!

The menu is split up into sections based on different regions of the US, and each one has 4 or 5 options in it.  There is also an extras/sides section so you can top up your breakfast plate with any of your favourites.  As always, everything can be made vegetarian or vegan too, so there are no limits to your ordering.  I took a while considering my options and ultimately landed on the lumberjack to sate my hunger and fuel me for a day of travel. This breakfast was described as ‘hearty’ on the menu, and it consisted of 3 pancakes, 3 eggs, 3 slices of bacon, a sausage patty, and a choice between home fries or hash browns. I went for the hash browns.  In an exciting twist, I was offered an option on how I wanted my tofu eggs cooked: fried or scrambled.  Having eating all the tofu scrambles ever known, I went for the lesser trodden path of fried tofu eggs.

I sat sipping my coffee eagerly awaiting my breakfast feast and when it arrived I was a little surprised at just how big the whole thing was. I had not expected my pancakes to occupy so much space on their own separate plate.  After I overcame the initial intimidation of it all, I set to work in true Dr HH fashion: I tried everything with everything.  Ms HH would no doubt have been appalled by me using my maple syrup covered pancake as a toast-esque base for my sausage and bacon [Ms HH: disgusting!], she would have wailed as I melded crunchy salty hash brown with sweet soft pancake [Ms HH: an abomination!], and I’m sure she would have averted her eyes as I stacked up a little bit of everything and created a full breakfast pancake sandwich bite [Ms HH: *shudder*].

I did my best to work my way through the whole plate(s), but I was defeated and could not find room for the last pancake.    It was big, it was filling, but the components were a little hit and miss.  The sausage patty was great, well flavoured, good and crispy outside and quite soft on the inside.  The pancakes were fantastic, a great fluffy texture and not too sweet.  The bacon was pretty typical facon, so pretty uninspiring compared to the quick and easy smoked tempeh bacon we make at home.  The hash browns were good and crunchy, but a little flat for my liking.  The eggs may have been an exciting choice, but they were the wrong choice.  I was not a fan of the texture at all, the outside was kind of crispy but the inside had a weird soft stickiness that I did not like. I give credit to Annie’s for offering something other than the typical scramble, but it certainly was not for me.  I left with a full belly and a lighter wallet. This massive breakfast came with a hefty price tag of £9.30 but it did keep me full for about 7 hours.

After gathering my things and checking out of the hotel, I still had about an hour to go, so spent most of it sipping coffee at 200 Degrees Coffee.  The coffee was great with plant milks available, and they had a selection of vegan sweet treats and sandwiches, but I was far too full for any of that.

My last meal of my flying visit was in Pret at the airport.  I settled on the falafel, avo, and chipotle flatbread, accompanied with a packet of chipotle crisps because all sandwiches are of course better with a packet of crisps.  It was a well flavoured wrap, but, as is often a danger with wraps, there were parts where it was rolled and folded in such a way that the bread to filling ratio was about 95:5.  With a full belly I drifted off to sleep on my flight comforted by memories of doughnuts, pancakes, and crisps.

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Vegan in Manchester: HOME

Home is where the heart is, and one of my favourite things about going home to Manchester is paying a visit to HOME, Manchester’s greatest independent cinema. Formerly the Cornerhouse on Oxford Road, it relocated to much grander premises a couple of years ago and the (already fairly decent) vegan options have had a similar upgrade.

I’m of the opinion that there are few things more delicious than battered, crispy cauliflower. Really, it should be on every menu in the world. I was very excited to try this, and it certainly didn’t disappoint: an excellent coating, and really tender cauliflower. The menu warns that the buffalo dip is very spicy, so I largely steered clear of that – the vegan mayo was a cooler alternative. I’d urge anyone visiting HOME to try these.

For my main, I was powerless to resist the artichoke and wild mushroom pizza. It doesn’t come with cheese (pffft!), but I’m no fool – I paid the extra £1 to have some added. There are few things I love more than artichoke on a pizza, so this was an absolute delight. In general, you can rely on HOME for good pizza: a nice thin base, flavoursome sauce. There are only two vegan pizzas on the menu, but they are both solid choices.

Dr HH surprisingly veered away from the pizza and went instead for the bhaji burger. Doesn’t it look good?! It was in a focaccia bun, and you can see the roasted red pepper slice peeking out there. Unfortunately he found the burger as a whole a little dry, but it was tasty enough. Maybe it’s worth asking for extra salsa!

We were quite stuffed at the end of this feast, but you can also rely on HOME for some good vegan cake options too.

Whether you’re going to see a film as well or not, it’s always worth a trip HOME in Manchester!

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Vegan in Prague: Bistro Strecha

Is there any meal more exciting than brunch? I spend many an hour looking forward to my next brunch discovery, or daydreaming about putting together a spread for a themed brunch at home (though I’m far too lazy ever to execute this plan). It is fortunate, then, that Prague really delivers on the vegan brunch front!

Bistro Strecha doesn’t actually specialise in brunch – Monday-Friday it’s a regular vegan cafe with its daily lunch menu and a few regular items to choose from. We’ve tried a few of those regulars before, including a very tasty shawarma, some pale but satisfyingly chunky chips, and a good cutlet sandwich.

But on Saturday morning, thinks get really exciting as every week there’s a themed brunch. Who doesn’t love a theme?!

The first one we went to was Harry Potter themed. I’m a massive fan, and last Christmas Dr HH found himself sitting through all eight films as they were shown on ITV (on consecutive days, not all in one sitting, of course) and was sort of won over, if only be Hermione’s clear superiority over her male peers. Altogether we were powerless to resist this brunch, and we were not alone – every seat was taken! Fortunately, we’d reserved a table. I don’t take chances when it comes to brunch!

It was quite the exciting plate of food! There were two tiny, crisp pumpkin pasties, which I loved, and a St Mungo’s Bean Salad, which was solid. There was also mash and gravy with a steak and kidney pie (kidney beans and veg, it was absolutely delicious – probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten at Strecha), which I think are more British than specifically Harry Potter-ish. And we also got one of Hagrid’s cookies, and a chocolate frog. How magical!

At Strecha you don’t choose one dish for brunch, you are just given a plate containing a bit of everything. I love getting to try everything, but I hate having sweet and savoury things together – especially as it was summer and the chocolate frog was melting into the savouries! Still, it was a really fun, well thought out meal, and we were even asked which house flag we’d like sticking in our pies. We asked for the general Hogwarts one but for the record, I’m a Ravenclaw.

We returned a few months later for the Japanese brunch. This time it was a bit of a mixed bag. The miso soup was a bit bland, and we actually chucked the soy sauce in for flavour. And the tempura was absolutely awful – so slimy and oily, we could barely eat it. But the noodles were good, and the sushi was excellent. No dessert this time, which on the one hand was disappointing, but on the other hand at least there was no contamination risk!

And most recently we went for the chanson brunch, thinking it was purely French themed but finding that there was in fact a live music element as well. This was another good one! The ratatouille looked quite watery, but was actually alright. It’s hard to be blown away by a ratatouille, but it was nice. The nicoise salad was fun – I’ve only ever had it when I’ve made it myself from Appetite for Reduction, so it was nice to see what it should be like. I was excited to see garlic bread on the menu, and rightly so – the garlic butter was super creamy and super garlicky, so I was very satisfied. The mushroom pate was the highlight though, it was packed with flavour and on a nice crisp bit of toast.

I managed to salvage the tarte tatin by quickly transferring it to the saucer from my cup of tea – phew! It was very good as well, with juicy apples and thin pastry – a much more elegant dessert than I would have expected at such a cheap and cheerful place.

So if you are in Prague it’s always worth checking the Bistro Strecha Facebook page a few days in advance to see what that Saturday’s theme will be – they always have the full menu posted there.

If you need any further convincing that you should go, Strecha is a kind of social enterprise which employs ex-convicts and homeless people, so it’s a good place to support.

And if that didn’t seal the deal, please note that there’s quite often a dog curled up in a cosy armchair looking like it owns the place!

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New Products

It’s been a long time since I did a post about new vegan products I’ve tried. This is partly because we’re trying to use as little plastic as possible, so we’ve been a lot more conscious of what we’re buying and wary of just trying every new thing we see. But occasionally we do still pick up the odd treat in single-use plastic, and apparently it’s quite often ice cream or chocolate. Here are ten new products we’ve discovered this year.

1.Marks and Spencer Iced & Spiced Soft Bun

I’d had my eye on these buns for a while on social media, but they never made it to the Prague branches of M&S. I finally got my hands on them in Dublin in April, when Dr HH and I picked them up for an early breakfast en route to the airport. They were like hot cross buns, but with lots of delicious icing! Definitely worth the wait.

2.MooFree Baking Drops

Vegan chocolate chips don’t seem to be readily available in Prague, so I picked up a bag of these in the UK in April – they were just sitting on the shelf in a regular old Morrisons. I love MooFree chocolate, so I thought these were delicious, and very convenient for baking.

3. Super Fudgio Chocolate Coconut Milk Bar

There are always lots of exciting vegan chocolate bars available in Prague, and both the packaging and the name of this one appealed to me. The chocolate is super creamy and delicious, and there are a few different flavours. The coconut here was quite subtle and very pleasant.

4. dm Bio Jackfruit

Aha, there is a savoury item on this list! In the UK it’s become a bit easier to get tinned jackfruit (I think?), but in Prague I’ve only ever seen it like this, in a plastic packet inside a cardboard box. Due to the plastic, we won’t be buying this regularly, but it was exciting to test it out. I just love that shredded jackfruit texture!

5. Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss – Vanilla Island

In the summer we picked up this carton of vanilla ice cream, and it’s hard to get excited about vanilla ice cream, but it was really good and creamy. We also decided to kick things up a notch and try this…

6. Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss – Salted Caramel & Chocolate

Yes, it is as good as it sounds! Perhaps the perfect ice cream!

7. Magnum – Vegan Classic and Vegan Almond

More ice cream! I was shocked to see someone on Instagram posting about finding the vegan Magnums in a regular supermarket in Prague. Our local supermarket no longer sells loose onions, potatoes, or garlic, so imagine my astonishment on finding a freezer full of these! (And credit to Dr HH for urging me to look when I was too pessimistic to even consider it.) They are both sublime, the almond one probably more so.

8. Pret Cookie

It seems like all of the chain cafes in the UK have been really upping their vegan game this year, perhaps none more so than Pret. When they introduced this vegan chocolate and almond butter cookie, I booked flights back home to try it immediately! (This is not entirely true, but it was a very exciting time.) It’s a really, really good cookie. It’s quite intensely chocolatey, and has the perfect texture. Well done, Pret.

9. Costa Cookie

Not to be outdone, Costa have also introduced a vegan cookie now. This one has an extremely soft texture, which is a little disappointing (I like a cookie that’s soft in the centre but still has some bite around the edges), but it is filled with sticky, gooey toffee. How exciting! Overall, I probably prefer the Pret one, but I’m happy to do some more research in order to confirm that.

10. Boots Parsnip Fritter & Butternut Squash Sandwich

And another savoury product! I was in London at the beginning of October, which is apparently exactly when the shops introduce their festive sandwiches. Boots was the only place open when I arrived, so I grabbed their vegan option. Fritters sound like a very exciting sandwich filling, but actually I always find them a little dry. Also the veg made this a little sweeter than I might have liked. Good for an emergency, but not worth making an effort to track down, in my opinion.

 

So there you have it! Which product would you most like to try? UK vegans, what should be top of my list when I’m home for the holiday?

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Vegan in Prague: Forky’s

Forky’s is a difficult place to classify. On the one hand it’s got glorious, slightly greasy fast food, and on the other it’s got build-your-own buddha bowls. I’d like to say it’s the latter that lure me in, but you probably know me by now. If it  doesn’t come with a side of chips, I’m not interested! At least there’s something for everyone, but this will be a fairly one-sided review.

On my first visit I got the kebab (it’s an all vegan establishment, so you can take your pick from the menu). I never ate a kebab when I was a meat eater, and possibly never even tried a veggie version when I was a vegetarian. But now I’m a vegan (and living in Europe may also be a factor), I can’t get enough of kebabs. I judge a kebab on the texture of the mock meat, and the seasoning. In my opinion the best vegan kebab in Prague can be found at Paprika, but this is a solid runner up – it might even have nicked the top spot were it not for the abundance of red cabbage rolled up in there.

That first time I was a little disappointed to find that the chips were a mixture of regular and sweet potato fries. Don’t get me wrong, the sweet potato has its place. But I find myself becoming increasingly impatient with places that offer chips and they turn out to be orange instead of yellow. Sweet potato chips just don’t have that perfect texture, do they? They’re like slightly soggy, off-brand chips.

So imagine my delight when I returned recently and found that proper potato chips were now the order of the day! What a step up. The menu had generally been jazzed up as well, so that it now included fish and chips, which no Brit living abroad can reasonably be expected to resist.

My poor eyesight led me to believe that the picture behind the counter was showing battered tofu for the fish – alas, that was not the case. The tofu was extremely nicely flavoured and it was a very delicious meal, but it was lacking a little in the texture department. The gigantic portion of chips did make up for it though, and I really enjoyed this dish.

And Dr HH loved his French burger. The caramelised red onions were delicious, and the mustard was good and warming. The patty itself had a good texture and flavour, and overall he was a very satisfied customer.

I’ve only ever seen one dessert at Forky’s, and fortunately it’s a good ‘un. I love a good brownie, and this one is certainly chocolatey enough for me and is quite fudgy in the centre, but can be a wee bit crumbly elsewhere. Also, it’s served on a ridiculously small plate, especially if you’re planning on sharing. That said, maybe they’re trying to discourage splitting desserts, which is certainly a policy I can get on board with.

And just imagine there’s a review of all the nourishing, balanced buddha bowls here! All in all, I like the food at Forky’s but go rarely because it’s close to the city centre which is always crowded with tourists. So if you’re sightseeing, you should definitely go! It’s a casual, canteen-style eatery where you order at the counter and wait for your number to be called out. It’s not fancy, but it’s filling and tasty, and sometimes that’s just what you need.

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Vegan in Brighton: Iydea (Again)

I often find myself stuck in the classic dilemma: should I revisit an eatery I know and love, or try somewhere new? Stick with my favourite dish, or gamble on another? When we were in Brighton this summer, we couldn’t resist – we just had to revisit the two breakfast spots we’d been to before, because they’re just that good. And I ordered the same dish as last time as well, because I knew I was in for a top notch breakfast. I’ve already mentioned our return to Wai Kika Moo Kau, and here we were back at Iydea as well.

Iydea’s a lovely little veggie cafe on a charming street in Brighton full of independent shops and cafes. Just like last time, Dr HH and I both got the vegan full English, and had no regrets at all. We had a really flavoursome tofu scramble with red onions, two delicious sage sausages, two crispy hash browns, an avocado, tomato, and mushroom hash, homemade beans, toast, and a little pot of spread (not pictured). It was an absolute feast, and there wasn’t really a weak element (though I was unlucky and only got 1 piece of avo in my hash – Dr HH was good enough to even things out though). So, how does it compare to our first visit? Well…

For one thing, clearing the lighting has improved! My complaints the first time around were about the tomato halves (one of my least favourite things on a breakfast plate, now mercifully removed), the sausages being a bit bland (now they’re super tasty), and there being no tofu scramble to replace the eggs that vegetarians got (and now there is a scramble!). I also grumbled about only getting one slice of toast, but this time I felt that was plenty.

So now I feel totally justified in revisiting old favourites to see what changes they’ve made – they might just have become even better!

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Cookbook of the Month: Vegan Christmas (Part One)

Eyeing up Christmas recipes is one of my favourite activities, so as soon as I heard about this book by Gaz Oakley, I knew that I needed it. But truthfully, I don’t really approve of changes to my Christmas meals. I know what I like, and I’m a bit wary of any radical additions or extractions from our festive traditions. So I’m not sure how many of these dishes I’ll make actually at Christmas, but I was very excited to try them! Here’s what I’ve made so far from the different sections of the book.

Christmas morning:

The eagle-eyed among you may notice that I transformed the sweet potato waffles with sauteed mushrooms into pancakes, as I don’t have a waffle iron. No tweaks were needed to the recipe, the batter was already perfect pancake consistency. I omitted the maple syrup as I was worried it would turn out too sweet, and I think I made the right choice – I also added some garlic to the mushrooms to keep it good and savoury. The recipe should have made 2 waffles, but I got six fat little pancakes out of it, and they were delicious! We actually had this for dinner rather than breakfast, and I think they would work either way – though it was a pretty hearty meal, and I try not to go too big for Christmas breakfast, so I wouldn’t serve them on the day itself. Definitely tasty though!

Party food and light bites:

The parsnip and vanilla soup proved a little divisive. I used vanilla essence instead of the recommended paste, and though I added just a splash the soup ended up a bit too sweet for Dr HH. I was expecting to have a similar response, but actually I didn’t think the sweetness was a problem, but the flavours weren’t quite balanced correctly. Either way, we won’t be revisiting this one.

I’m a big fan of Welsh rarebit, aka fancy cheese on toast. The cheese sauce was easy to make and really flavoursome, and the caramelised onions were a nice touch. I’ll definitely revisit this recipe.

The recipe for fish finger sliders also includes bread buns and mayo, but I stuck to just the fish fingers themselves due to laziness. They were nice and simple to make, and the texture was great, but they didn’t taste particularly fishy, despite the nori placed on the tofu. Next time I’d pulse some dill and possibly even more nori into the breadcrumbs to up the ante a bit.

I believe this was the first vegan quiche I’ve ever made, and it was the biggest success of the book! First of all, there was nooch in the pastry – what a brilliant idea! And secondly, the filling was just delicious too. I used smoked tempeh instead of the recommended homemade bacon, and I’m happy with that shortcut. I thought this was going to be a really stressful ordeal, but it was actually really easy and I’ll certainly be making it again. It was so good!

Centre pieces:

Well, this is obviously the most important section of the book, but I haven’t had a chance to get stuck into it yet – I’ve been trying to get my hands on some of the ingredients. This section will feature more heavily in Part Two of this review.

All the trimmings:

Is there any better side dish than cauliflower cheese? Well, truthfully I made this herb-crusted cauliflower and leek cheese as a main instead of a side, and it was autumnal perfection. There are leeks as well as cauliflower, the cheese sauce is delicious, and the crumbs on top give it a great texture. I don’t really like tampering with our classic Christmas sides, but I would certainly make an exception for this delightful concoction.

Leftovers:

I almost never make curries, because why make curry for a man who was raised on it? But I gave this Christmas korma a go, and I’m glad of it – even Dr HH didn’t have a bad word to say about it. We used a really weird shop bought seitan rather than homemade leftovers, and it had a very strange texture, but otherwise the curry was lovely.

Afters:

Terry’s Chocolate Oranges are probably the only thing I really miss since going vegan, and they are inherently Christmassy, so I was very excited to try the chocolate orange raw cheesecake. It was easier to make than I expected, though I was very concerned that both layers were extremely thin and liquid when I added them to the cake. It firmed up just fine though, if a bit creamier than a cheesecake usually is. The nutty base was absolutely delicious, and the orange layer was lovely, but the chocolate was really lost – I’d recommend adding a good bit more cocoa powder than the recipe called for.

Edible gifts:

We don’t have many cookie cutters with us in Prague, so the Christmas cookies had to be either Star Wars or dinosaur themed. Dino it was! Even with these fiddly and quite delicate shapes, the biscuits held really well – I think only one of them broke in transit. They were tasty and crisp, and really really good.

Dr HH has recently become a homemade Bounty bar enthusiast, so he took the helm for these coconut Bounties. He reported that this recipe was better than the one he was using before, and made for a creamier filling. The chocolate didn’t end up very smooth, but we’ve put that down to human error rather than the recipe.

 

It’s been a very exciting book thus far! One thing I wasn’t very keen on was that the writer repeatedly uses quotation marks to show that these are definitely veganised dishes: “fish” fingers, chocolate “cheesecake”, etc. Personally I don’t think that’s necessary. I like a bit more patter before each recipe as well, especially in something like a Christmas book where he could have really personalised it. But the recipes have been great, and I’m excited to see how I get on with the centre pieces in November – wish me luck making seitan for the first time ever!

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