Vegan Products: M&S Plant Kitchen Range

If you are a vegan who does not live under a rock, you may have noticed that Marks & Spencer has released a new line of vegan ready meals, known as their Plant Kitchen range. This has inspired the usual comments from the online vegan community: they’re too unhealthy, inspire laziness, use too much plastic. Personally, I think anything that  makes veganism more accessible must be a good thing, and even the most well-intentioned home cook/zero-waster has the occasional day when they just need a quick fix. As such, I was very pleased to see these products start popping up at the M&S branches in Prague.

The mushroom pie is my favourite discovery, because vegan pastry is virtually unheard of here. This pastry in particular is so buttery that the first time I had it I went and double checked the box just in case it wasn’t really vegan. It is delicious! So far I’ve only found it in one location in Prague (Wenceslas Square, for anyone trying to track it down), but it’s always worth the detour.

The dirty fries are more readily available, and also pretty good – proper, thickly cut chips are hard to come by in these parts, to I definitely appreciate that.

The chips are doused in a tomatoey sauce and bechamel. Generally, I like a dry chip, but I can’t deny that these are tasty. Both sauces are really nice, and there’s good coverage on the chips as well. There’s something quite decadent about chips like these!

We paired the fries with the cauliflower popcorn for a lazy night in, kicking off our long overdue great Buffy rewatch (six episodes in I have to say that Xander’s creepy obsession with Buffy has not aged well). It is perfect in-front-of-the-TV junk food!

The coating on the cauliflower was good and well-seasoned, and the pieces were the perfect size for pecking at. The dip was also pleasant, though not spectacular.

I’d heard mixed reviews about the cashew mac from the rest of the vegan community, so I was expecting the worst. I needn’t have worried though!

The sauce was good and creamy, and the mushrooms and crumb topping were great additions. It might have needed a touch more seasoning, but honestly, for a ready meal I think this was really good.

And lastly, we’ve also tried the lasagne (ah, behold the yellow stickers – always a welcome sight!). This was the most underwhelming of the bunch – solid, but a bit bland and unremarkable. Fine for an emergency, but I won’t be rushing to purchase it again like I will with the others.

So there we have it – vegan life just got a little easier, and I’m definitely on board! The pie is already one of my favourite vegan products ever (yes, better than the Linda McCartney pie), and I hope it will spread to the other locations around Prague.

What other products from the range should I look out for? And is anyone else really disappointed that the sandwich from this range is essentially just hummus and avocado? I was expecting so much more!

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Vegan in Prague: Pastva (Take Two)

We all know that veganism is on the rise, and I’ve been very pleased to see the evidence of this in my own workplace. When I started there 18 months ago, I was the only vegan and it was a sad and lonely time with no options for me at the Christmas party. Now there are two other vegans in the office, plus four people who are mostly plant-based besides the odd bit of cheese: we’re taking over the world! I even managed to get us some delicious, labelled vegan options at our last Christmas party. Not only that, but I’ve successfully convinced two separate teams to schedule our team lunch at a nearby vegan restaurant, and set up a standing weekly lunch date there with one of my omnivorous colleagues. And that restaurant is the wonderful Pastva.

I’d been a good few times before I started working in the neighbourhood, but then it was mostly for the evening menu. Now I’m all about the lunch specials. Every day they have a different menu, generally with one soup and three mains (one of which is always a salad – yawn!). They keep things pretty creative and don’t repeat dishes that regularly, which means it’s always exciting to turn up and see what the daily options are. Best of all, the portions are insanely generous and do not skimp on the carbs: a lunch here sets me up so comfortably for the afternoon that I never need a snack (though I could often do with a post-lunch nap).

Another thing Pastva has going for it is that the chef is not afraid of spices. Quite a lot of their dishes are curries or involve spicy sauces, and they know how to hit the sweet spot of spiced but not too fiery. I wish this tofu curry would pop up on the menu again.

And if the spicy food has some deep-fried tofu on top, so much the better! They know how to prepare tofu in this place.

It’s not always curries though – the quesadilla (with homemade sour cream and guacamole, no less) is absolutely spectacular…

…and there are quite often French stews, or this magnificent concoction: French potatoes with ratatouille. The potatoes were just exquisite! (I also once had hasselback potatoes here, and felt like the fanciest person in the world.)

And occasionally something Czech pops up too, with the classic dumplings thrown in – they may look like slices of baguette, but they’re actually dumplings.

The only downside to Pastva is that it’s so popular! It’s always packed from 12-2pm, and they don’t take bookings for groups smaller than four, so it can be a gamble to see if you’ll get a table. If it pays off though, it’s definitely worth it.

And on days when I take a packed lunch to work, I’ve been known to pop out mid-afternoon for a tea and cake break at Pastva, which is also highly recommended. They do a mean chai latte, and some very exciting cakes (though usually only one or two to choose from – savoury is definitely their speciality).

They’ve got their presentation down – doesn’t this one look pretty?!

And this peanut butter cookie sandwich is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten – hopefully it’ll become a regular fixture.

Looking back over these delicious meals, and reminiscing about the ones I forgot to photograph, I feel incredibly lucky to work near this brilliant establishment and be able to go for a top notch vegan lunch whenever I like. And I feel extra lucky to have so many plant-based friends to share these treats with!

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Vegan in Prague: Moment (Again!)

I never want to be one of those people who struggles to comprehend the passage of time, but honestly, I can’t believe I’ve been living in Prague for over 3.5 years. Part of the reason I can’t believe it is simply because there are many things I dislike about living in the Czech Republic: the terrible politics, the casual racism, the fact that local people are really quite surly and mean. And yet here I am, still. This is the longest I’ve ever lived in one city (or even country) as an adult, so clearly this place is doing something right. And perhaps it is Moment Cafe that is keeping me here…

I’ve written about Moment on this blog many times before (most notably in the ‘year in cake‘ opus), because Dr HH and I go there almost every weekend for brunch, and occasionally we throw in a midweek evening meal as well. We love it. It’s a cosy, friendly place, which always has a lovely array of dogs snuffling around and great staff who serve us with a smile. The menu has stayed reliably small over the years, though there are occasional small changes. In the last couple of months they’ve shaken things up a bit, so it seems like a good time for my billionth post on this place to see what the changes are.

First of all: more baked goods for brunch! This can only be a good thing. Nowadays there are usually some cinnamon rolls on the counter…

…and occasionally even gigantic ones like the lemon and coconut one pictured up top here. Moment are renowned for their great bakes, so these rolls have certainly been a welcome addition. Best of all, in my opinion, is the savoury bake in the bottom left here.

This is a pagáče. We have been reliably informed by the staff that this is a traditional Slovakian bake, and we’d describe it as somewhere between a savoury scones and a pastry – it has an incredible, kind of flaky texture. It’s speckled with bits of smoky tofu, which are of course delicious. I believe these are only available on Saturdays, so we always pick up a couple to takeaway for an afternoon snack.

Other important brunch developments: you can now pay 20czk extra to add kimchi or cheese to the omelette! This omelette is perhaps my favourite dish in Prague, so I’m delighted to now have the option to make it cheesy as well.

And speaking of cheese – fried cheese is a traditional Czech dish, and you can now get a vegan version of this in Moment every Sunday. I’m not sure there are many things more exciting than fried cheese, it’s simply sublime.

Recently, the most famous Czech dish of all, svickova, also made it onto the menu. It’s a weird concoction to an outsider, but I’ve become accustomed to it over the years: a root vegetable sauce, hearty dumplings, slabs of mock meat, and a dollop of cranberry sauce. Dr HH says this is one of the best versions he’s had, due to (a) the lack of whipped cream, which sometimes makes a perplexing appearance, and (b) the excellent quality of the seitan. I haven’t tried this one yet, but I’m certainly keen to.

And also on the evening menu, there’s this new kebab. As always, Moment really delivers on the mock meat front, and this is beautifully seasoned. The bread is especially good as well.

Despite all these changes and updates, the staff have not started slacking in other departments: the cake is as good as ever! Behold perhaps the best cake I’ve ever had: the salted caramel cheesecake. And the selection is still as tempting as it was the first time I went in, and has now expanded to include cupcakes and brownies as well as the standard cheesecakes and layer cakes. In short, I could comfortably manage another ‘year in cake’ post this year!

If you ever visit Prague, Moment remains my absolute top tip. Go for brunch, go for coffee and cake, go for the daily lunch special, or go for a glass of wine and an evening meal: just make sure you go!

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New Products

There’s no shortage of new vegan products these days, with so many supermarkets and companies jumping on the bandwagon and delivering exciting new options. Lately it seems that a lot of my new discoveries have been dairy substitutes (milk and butter), but they’ve been very excited indeed. Here are five new products I’ve tried recently.

1.Rebel Mylk – Whole

I spotted this carton on the shelves in a local vegan shop and almost swooned with excitement: whole milk! When I grew up we always drank semi-skimmed dairy milk, and knew that whole milk was only for very special, indulgent occasions. I was very excited to try this in a hot chocolate, and let me tell you, it was everything I’d hoped for. (It’s possible that it’s all in my head and I’m just convinced it must be that bit more special, but I don’t care. It was magnificent!

2.Rebel Mylk – Semi-Skimmed

The semi-skimmed variety (which I only got because I’d apparently cleaned them out of the whole milk) also made a solid hot chocolate and cup of tea. I wouldn’t go out of my way to get this one again, though it was perfectly good – it’s more expensive than other neutral milks, and not as fancy as whole milk in my mind.

3.Nemleko Gingerbread Almond Milk

Speaking of fancy…I’m a big fan of this Czech company, which produces vegan milk, yoghurt, and butter. Everything comes in glass bottles or jars, which I’m a big fan of, though it does make everything that bit more expensive, so we usually only rarely splash out on one of their products. We were powerless to resist the gingerbread milk though, and it was really delicious, especially served warm.

4.Nemleko Butter

And we finally caved in and tried the butter, after struggling for a while to justify the price when we usually make our own spread. This is really nice, and very spreadable. Also, butter from a glass jar is just so fancy! Dr HH prefers the additional flavour of our homemade variety, and he makes a good point – this is very neutral. Imagine if they brought out a salted version!

5.Candy Kittens – Blueberry Bliss

I try to avoid single use plastic, but sometimes I just can’t resist. I discovered these delightfully fizzy jelly sweets at Heathrow last year and now I’m always on the lookout for them. There’s something so comforting about tucking into a bag of sugary jellies while watching a film. I have one more packet which I’m trying to save until the weekend as the perfect accompaniment to Captain Marvel…let’s see if they survive that long!

 

What new products are on your wishlist? What should I be looking out for? Let me know!

 

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Cookbook of the Month: BOSH! (Part Two)

I was very pleased with the dishes I tried in January for Part One of my BOSH! review, and happily February has been an equally delicious month! Without further ado, here’s what we made this month (with thanks to Dr HH for doing the bulk of the cooking this time around).

Big Eats

The pasta caponata was a simple but flavoursome dish, with some delicious roasted aubergine chunks and various tasty elements (capers, olives, pine nuts). It’s always nice to have a slightly fancier pasta dish to throw together for emergencies, and I wholeheartedly approve of this one!

Showpieces

I was a bit taken aback to see a chilli recipe listed in the Showpieces section, even if it was named ultimate chilli. I maintain that it has no place in that section – it was a solid chilli recipe, but pretty standard. Hyping it up by putting it in this section was not a great move.

The big BOSH! burger also suffered from being placed in the wrong section. It was a decent burger primarily made of sweet potato, brown rice, and kidney beans, but it wasn’t a particularly mind-blowing burger. It was tasty, but I won’t be going out of my way to try this recipe again.

The rich and creamy lasagne is more what I was expecting to find in this section. There are few things I love more these days than spending a few hours labouring over a lasagne of a weekend, and this one was just as much fun to eat. The chunks of butternut squash and aubergine were delicious, and I enjoyed the bechamel too. I’d sooner remake the pesto lasagne recipe from this book (see last month’s post), because it’s hard to argue against the exciting addition of pesto.

Greens & BOSH! Bowls

This was delicious! It’s the satay sweet potato BOSH! bowl, and it was a masterpiece: roasted sweet potato and broccoli, quinoa, fresh avo, a dollop of homemade hummus, and most importantly a sensational dressing. I like bowls (except for all the washing up they entail), but their success really hinges on the dressing. I would drink this one straight from the blender if Dr HH would let me! This was a sublime dish of food.

Small Plates & Sharers

I’m not sure we’ve ever had homemade cauliflower buffalo wings more tender than these ones: they were delicious. However, we encountered that classic issue that the coating went quite soggy due to the hot sauce, so we’d go back to our usual technique of serving the sauce on the side. The ranch dressing was nice and cool as well, though still not our favourite (that honour still goes to a creamy blue cheese dip).

We baked rather than fried the popcorn falafel, and I’m not sure this was the best plan – they turned out quite dry. They were still tasty though, and there were plenty of them!

We had these for packed lunches with both the classic hummus and the olive tapenade hummus. I was worried about the latter being a bit too strongly flavoured (and too heavy on the parsley), but actually it was delicious. We enjoyed all four hummus recipes we tried from this book.

The garlic and herb cashew cheese was not a total success – we added a bit too much water and ended up with a sloppier cheese that could be spread but not sliced. It was still really creamy and tasty though, and cheese-making is definitely an area where I want to experiment more.

Desserts

These gooey PBJ brownies are amongst the best brownies I’ve ever eaten, never mind personally baked. The texture was perfect: so dense and gooey. And I don’t even like jam, and I thought the raspberry swirls were an absolute delight. I’m planning on making these again with speculoos spread soon.

Breakfast

When I order a full English breakfast in any eatery I always judge it on whether or not the beans are homemade. There’s nothing like some excitingly-flavoured beans! This may have been our first time making our own, and I was definitely a fan. The smoky BBQ beans on toast had loads of flavour (though Dr HH thought they could have been a bit smokier), and were nice and easy to make.

The chocolate granola was also a hit. It was quite a simple granola, with plenty of good stuff in it: coconut, chocolate, and a squillion different kinds of nuts. Usually I don’t eat granola for breakfast in February as I need nice warm porridge, but it’s been so Spring-like that I was happy to try this instead.

We also sprinkled some of the granola on top of the choconana protein shake, which was nice but generally an unremarkable shake. Nice, but not groundbreaking.

 

All in all, I’m a big fan of this book and could probably get another month out of it if I were so inclined. There are a lot of recipes, most of them very tempting, and I enjoyed everything I made. I stand by the grievance I mentioned last time, that the recipes aren’t that nicely set out and can be a little confusing to follow, but overall it’s still worth the effort to muddle through it and produce something delicious.

If you’re planning to delve into this book, I’d recommend starting with the gooey PBJ brownies, the satay sweet potato bowl, pesto lasagne, and both kinds of sushi rolls. And probably the chocolate fudge cake too! Have I tempted you to try BOSH!?

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Vegan in Manchester: GRUB

People often ask me if I eventually plan to ditch Prague and move back to Manchester, and I always tell them that I hope so. When pressed, my reasons are 40% to get all my old stuff back from my mum’s attic (clothes, books, KITCHEN STUFF), 10% to be closer to my loved ones, and 50% for the vegan scene. GRUB is a large part of that – it’s a food fair that takes place every weekend with an all-vegan day every Sunday. And there’s free entry too! Whenever I’m home I try to squeeze in a visit, and I can only imagine how exciting it would be to go there every week.

In the winter it’s held in an old warehouse in a slightly rundown area near the train station – the first time we went, we wondered where on earth we were heading to, but it’s actually delightfully cosy inside with twinkling lights, an assortment of armchairs, long picnic tables, a bar, and several vendors. It is absolutely dreadful for  taking photos of your food, though. The outdoor summer location is much better in that regard, and is similarly close to the train station and with plenty of seating.

My first visit was in December 2017, when I basically just wanted to visit the Hip Hop Chip Shop stand. As always, there were four different vendors there each with a different focus (burgers, Italian food, and doughnuts rounding it out on this occasion), but I only had eyes for the battered goods.  This was one of the wisest decisions I ever made: it was phenomenal.

As an omnivorous child, there was nothing I loved more than a battered sausage from the chippy. I hadn’t had one since I was eleven, so it was a real treat to see it on a vegan menu. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, and not just due to the nostalgia. Dr HH went for the more traditional “fish” and chips (mushy peas on the side of both meals) and also loved it, though perhaps not as much as he loved the deep-fried onion rings and gherkins we ordered as a side. This was a lot of fried food, and my mother and I didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day after this lunch – though let the record state that Dr HH got a takeaway calzone to have for his supper.

On my subsequent visits I’ve been more open to seeing what other options they have, rather than arriving with my heart set on one particular vendor. I was very excited in my July visit to try Vork Pies, which had been popping up all over my social media for a while.

What’s not to love about a veganised pork pie? As you can see, the pastry was spectacular and the filling was solid and meaty – and also really tasty. Again, this was a good nostalgic, childhood dish recreated.

And last Christmas we were very excited to try some poutine from The Gravy Train. I’m not a big fan of mixing my food, or soggy chips, so I had always been quite resistant to the idea of poutine. But Dr HH made some a while ago with homemade chips, gravy, and mozzarella, and I found it to be a surprisingly pleasant combination. Those Canadians clearly know what they’re doing!

Dr HH and I both enjoyed these concoctions. It was nice to try something we’ve never seen on a menu in Prague – and it fitted in nicely with my goal of trying to eat as many chips as possible whenever I’m back in the UK (nobody makes proper chips like the Brits).

This time Mother HH bucked the trend by getting a burger from Wholesome Junkies, which she really enjoyed, despite being a bit sceptical about vegan cheese.

And finally this time we had room for dessert! Chou Choux had an extremely tempting array of desserts, and it was a real challenge to narrow it down. In the end I had a date, chocolate, and caramelised pecan slice, Dr HH got a rich chocolate raspberry tart, and Mother HH got the lemon meringue tart.

The latter was the clear winner – it was light, zingy, and marshmallowy. My mum had never tried vegan meringue before, and was very impressed.

I’m still torturing myself by looking at their weekly vendors even though I have no plans to return to Manchester anytime soon – I just can’t help myself! I really wish Prague had something like this event, happening so frequently. Even when there are vegan festivals here, it tends to be the same vendors every time and most of them are from local restaurants that I could go to any day of the week. It’s really exciting at GRUB to try out these smaller, newer eateries who are just trying to establish their customer bases.

Is there anything like GRUB in your neck of the woods? What have been your best finds?

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Vegan Products: Tyne Chease

For the third year in a row, I was desperate to try the Tyne Chease selection box at Christmas – and for the first time ever,  I was successful! Both previous years I was unsuccessful because they had already sold out, so this time I was ready: I asked my mum to order it and pop it in the freezer before I’d even booked my flight home for Christmas. (Last year she’d managed to get me some cream cheeses, which were very nice indeed, but there’s no substitute for a proper cheese board.)

These ten cheeses are very small, and I hope it’s not absolute gluttony to have devoured the lot in one sitting. Dr HH and I shared these for cheese supper on Christmas Day, and it was perhaps the fanciest I have ever felt (and we were in our pyjamas and watching a superhero film, so that’s saying something).

For each flavour, we simply chopped the cheese in half and slathered it thickly on a cracker. There were ten flavours: Za’atar spice, pink peppercorn, dill, garlic, smoked, Ethiopian spice, chilli flakes, original, mustard, and sundried tomato.

I skipped the dill and mustard ones, because I don’t care for those flavours. Everything else was simply delicious! My favourites were the ones that were coated in a flavoured crust, like the za’atar one unwrapped above. It was so flavoursome! The peppercorn one also stood out, along with the smoked, though the chilli flakes were a bit spicy for me. The cheese was pleasantly creamy and spreadable, and I heartily enjoyed them.

My mum had been quite disappointed by the size when she received them, but I think it was perfectly sized if you’re planning on sharing with just a few people. And I would happily order this pack again, even with the dill and mustard cheeses in there.

What a time to be vegan – five years ago I never would have guessed I’d be tucking into a delicious cheese selection box!

What’s your favourite vegan cheese?

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