Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Belgian Beerless Stew

As you can probably tell by the huge number of reviews on here recently, I've not been too experimental in the kitchen. I spend a lot of my time at work preparing food, so by the time I get home to my own kitchen, the enthusiasm for creative cooking has gone. I'm still eating meals, but generally relying far too much on pasta with pesto, veggie sausages/burgers and scrambled tofu. I finally had a nice long weekend with no plans, so decided to flick through some cookbooks for a bit of inspiration.

I wasn't really feeling it until I came across a recipe for a Belgian Beer Stew. I don't know why this caught my eye, I don't drink and I've always thought of stew as a dish I've perfected. I read through the ingredients and was really intrigued to see that the dish contained gingerbread. Baked goods in a stew? Interesting. I read the description which recommended authentic Belgian mustard and gingerbread but gave the option to use whatever you could get your hands on. Cool. I read further and was told that there is no substitute for the Belgian beer used in this dish. In fact, it states that if I couldn't get hold of a sweet Belgian beer I shouldn't bother...

Well...I'm not having that. No one is telling me that alcohol is crucial in a recipe, especially if it's a recipe that has bloody cake in it. No. I don't believe it. So I came up with this, and believe it or not, I think I made a pretty good Belgian Beerless Stew here.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 2 packs of Fry's meaty strips (or sub with homemade seitan/portobello mushrooms)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp mixed herbs
  • 3 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp yeast extract
  • 2 slices of homemade vegan Peperkoek (I used this recipe, but substituted the egg for a flax egg and reduced baking time)
  • worcester sauce
  • brown sugar to taste
  • salt and pepper
  1. First off, heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions for 15 minutes or so, until they are soft, translucent and slightly caramelised.
  2. Add half the Fry's strips, the bay leaves and the mixed herbs. Pour in half of the vegetable stock and add the wholegrain mustard. Cover the pan with a lid and cook on a low heat for 45 minutes.
  3. Stir the yeast extract into the rest of the stock and add to the stew, along with the rest of the fry's strips and a generous splash of worcester sauce. Crumble in the two slices of peperkoek and continue to cook through on a low heat until the cake begins to dissolve in the stew.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and taste. If you think it needs a little extra sweetness, add a little brown sugar before serving.
Serves 4

This was so sweet and good, I don't think it missed the beer at all. I think using red onion and cooking it right down gave it the sweetness the beer would have provided and the yeast extract really gives it that 'meaty' flavour. It felt a bit bizarre eating a stew with bits of gingerbread in, but it was surprisingly nice!

I originally only planned to use one pack of the Fry's strips, but when cooking the first box down they completely disintegrated into the sauce! I think next time I'll use a load of mushrooms and then just add one pack of faux beef at the end.

The recipe suggests serving this stew with fries, but I decided to defy it's advice to the bitter end and served mine with smiley faces. Yeah. Fancy.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Yu Fruity Chews

Last month I got some samples from Yu! and I've finally found the time so sit down and write about them on here for you. Yu! sell a range of fruit based, healthy snacks that aim to taste like sweets but without all the unnecessary sugar added in, they're just made with 100% fruit.

I thought these sounded interesting, so was looking forward to giving them a try. I received 3 flavours from the vegan range, Mango Stars, Strawberry Hearts and Raspberry Mini Chews. Looking at the ingredients on the back, they contain a selection of pureed fruit concentrates and fruit pectin is used as the gelling agent, so sounds good. Unfortunately, I was also sent 3 yoghurt coated fruit bite samples, which was disappointing as it was clear that I'm a vegan blogger, but mistakes happen I guess.

So, I cracked open all of the vegan ones and gave them a try. It's weird how much they taste like sweets considering they're just made up of fruit, but they definitely had the texture of chewy, jelly like sweets. My favourite was the Strawberry Hearts, I love strawberry and these were really tasty and surprisingly sweet. The Raspberry Mini Chews were also pretty good, they had a nice sharpness to them. The Mango Stars I wasn't so keen on, maybe because I've fallen in love with the dried mango we sell at work, but these just didn't do it for me.

The bags are pretty small (18g), which makes them a handy snack if you've got kids and want to keep them quiet, or want something sweet for their lunchboxes. I did a quick price comparison online and found supermarkets are selling bags of 5 for £2, which comes out at 40p each.

These are definitely a product I'll be looking out for when I'm hungry in town and want a quick snack but they're probably not really something I'd go out of my way to buy on a regular basis, just because I'd prefer to have dried fruit. I definitely think they're a handy product to know about if you've got kids running around though.

Check out their website for more details, otherwise keep your eyes peeled at your local Sainsbury's and Waitrose for these.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Richmond Tea Rooms - Manchester

A friend of mine is having a baby shower in May and really wanted to find somewhere in Manchester that did a decent vegetarian and vegan afternoon tea. There is the Tea Hive in Chorlton that is known to have a vegan offering, but as my friend and many of her guests (including myself) work in Chorlton, she wanted to try and have it elsewhere. I searched a few vegan pages on Facebook and came across a suggestion for the Richmond Tea Rooms in Manchester's Gay Village. I looked it up and it sounded great, so forwarded the suggestion on to my friend. She got in touch with them by email and it was confirmed that they could do both a vegetarian and vegan afternoon tea, and with notice could include vegan cakes as well. Great! My friend wanted to do a trial run, so emailed to ask if we could check it out 4-5 weeks later, and was told that it would be fine.

A few days before the trial, my friend got in touch to remind them and ask if the vegan option would still be available to try, a reply came a day or so later to confirm that it would be fine and there was no need for us to book. Awesome! My friend, her best friend and I met up today to give it a try. As soon as I saw my friend she looked a little concerned, the tea rooms had got in touch just as she set off to say that they'd had a busy weekend so were out of vegan cake, but a new batch were in the oven and they were looking forward to seeing us. My friend emailed back to ask if they needed more time to get ready as we'd be there within the hour, but no reply. We turned up at 2.15pm and asked if the vegan cakes were ready. The staff member we spoke to went to the kitchen to check and came back to say that they weren't yet in the oven so it would be hours until they were ready. We were a little confused as we'd been told they were already in the oven, we mentioned this but the look on his face gave away that this really hadn't been the case. He suggested we give them a few hours and hoped we didn't mind warm cake as they most likely wouldn't be cooled in time.

A little annoying but as we all work in retail we understood that sometimes weekends can be a nightmare and small businesses can only do their best. We decided to go watch a film at the cinema, which would give them almost 3 hours to have everything ready.

We got back to Richmond Tea Rooms at 5pm and we were starving! We'd been saving ourselves to eat at 2pm, so you can imagine how hungry we were by the time we returned. We asked about the vegan cakes and were told they'd just come out of the oven (how long does it take to bake and cool a few cakes?), so they could accommodate us. We were seated quickly and given a menu to choose from. We took the time before ordering to take in the decor at this place. It's awesome. It's Alice in Wonderland themed, it's OTT, it is really really cool. We all loved the look of the place and really wanted to have a good experience so we could come back with 20 people in May. I was also excited to blog about a vegan afternoon tea option, it would be my first proper afternoon tea experience too.

We ordered 2 vegan Queen's Tea and 1 vegetarian version. This would consist of 'selection of cakes and delights. Finger sandwiches and savoury pastry. Homemade fruit scone served with clotted cream and fruit preserve. Pot of tea of your choice'. The server studied the description before telling us that there was only one vegan cake, so we would get more than one slice of it to make up for the lack of variety. We accepted but were a bit confused as the email had mentioned 'cakes' and the wait seemed a bit excessive for just one cake. Oh well. We got served our teas quickly but soon had our server return to say that they didn't have much in the way of sandwich fillings, they asked if roasted veg, hummus and sundried tomatoes would be okay. We said that would be great, it's a pretty common vegan sandwich filling but for a non vegan place, an acceptable offering.

It wasn't long before our server returned again to inform us that the pastry chef had not been in today, so there were no vegan scones. He said that instead we could have a meringue with fruit inside it. 'A vegan meringue?' I asked. 'Yes'. 'Without egg???' I replied. 'Yes'. My friend said 'okay, as long as it's definitely vegan'. I was feeling really awkward and uncomfortable at this point. There's no way they make vegan meringue, I explained to my friends just how difficult it is to make and how rare it is to find a vegan version. We decided to wait and see. So we waited. And waited. We waited for a really really long time. Over an hour infact. We watched all the tables who came in long after us get served and finish their afternoon tea. It was painful. We were ravenous. Our tea got cold.

Whilst I was in great company and it was fun to imagine the staff in the kitchen googling 'vegan meringue' and shitting themselves, it was impossible to relax or enjoy the atmosphere because we were anxious about what we were going to receive and how long it was going to take. Not long before it arrived, one of us went over to speak to another member of staff to check on the meringue situation and remind them of how long we had been waiting. They were shocked that we had been offered meringue and confirmed that they did not make a vegan version, they also apologised for the wait and said the supervisor who had been the email contact would come over soon to chat to us. We also got a new pot of tea each to replace the ones that had gone cold.

Our food came over. We noticed immediately that there was no meringue and breathed a sigh of relief. I noticed 2 cake options though, which concerned me as we'd been told when we ordered that there was only one. We asked if they were all vegan and got told that yes, everything was vegan. Here's our vegan tea for 2.

The bottom tier was salad, oatcakes, hummus and then the hummus, roasted veg and tomato sandwiches. Tier two was 2 massive slabs of chocolate cake. The top tier was 2 more massive slabs of some kind of apple, fruit cake thing and some raspberry biscuits. When the server first described the tiers to us he called the chocolate cake a vegan cake but didn't do the same with the other cake option or biscuits on the top tier. He did describe them as vegan when we asked, but considering all the different things we had been told already that day, I was becoming really wary of the food.

I'd just like to show you the vegetarian option, as this was important to us. We didn't want the veggie option to look superior to the vegan one at the baby shower.

It does though, doesn't it? Our vegan option was not exactly as pretty or dainty as the vegetarian version. The cakes are iced here and there's a nice savoury pastry included, jam and fruit preserve. We reasoned that our tea would look better compared to the veggie one if we'd had the vegan scones, as we'd have got jam too. I also suggested that we could get hold of some vegan clotted cream and ask the team rooms to dish it out for the vegan options on the big day. At this point, despite being really disappointed we were desperate to make this work for the baby shower because we loved the look of the place so much.

We started off with the sandwiches and oatcakes, the sandwiches were nice but oatcakes...meh, they're oatcakes, nothing special. I then picked up my massive slab of chocolate cake (I was waiting for the supervisor before I dared to touch the other cake as I was doubting whether it was vegan). It was ridiculously heavy and looked incredibly dense. It was not cooked in the middle. The outside was overdone and chewy and the inside was like glue. It pretty much stuck my mouth together. I was hungry so persevered but eventually gave up as it was so unpleasant.

At this point the supervisor came over to chat to us. She apologised for the wait before telling us that she had no idea we were coming today and that they'd not had enough notice to get a good vegan option together for us. My friend pointed out that she had emailed 3 days ago and that the supervisor had responded twice, including once this morning. We were then told that she hadn't received the emails she had replied to, and that perhaps someone else had emailed my friend back. My friend explained our frustrations, that we had come in twice today, gone and spent money at the cinema to buy them more time, come back and waited over an hour for food, had been offered vegan meringues and that the chocolate cake was undercooked. The supervisor responded by saying she thought we were coming in May and then said that she was due to go home an hour ago so she didn't really have time to sort it out right now. My friend responded that we should have been home over 3 hours ago and that we really were not happy. The supervisor asked us if we could wait a little while so she could resolve the issue.

We waited for about 20 minutes. She went back and forth between an office in the back and the drinks bar where she was asking the other staff loudly and obviously 'exactly what time did they turn up?'. Just a tip for customer service here, don't make it obvious to the customer that you think they're bullshitting, it's just bloody rude. Honestly, what kind of customer service training does this place give out?

When the supervisor returned she owned up to receiving the emails and responding to was clearly lying to us the first time round. She then went into a lengthy explanation about the weekend and how busy they were and how they'd lost two pastry chefs so had an agency replacing them. She assured us that for the baby shower they would make all these improvements and it would run smoothly and were told that we could have 50% off our bill as if it were a favour. We hadn't even finished our afternoon tea at this point. My friend responded by saying that the baby shower would definitely not be happening there as the way we had been treated was just not acceptable and she didn't want the stress, she then added that we shouldn't be paying at all, especially since we had spent 5 hours trying to get afternoon tea! We'd spent 3 hours at the cinema, which cost us £25 to do so, and along with the wait for the food and the wait to get the whole mess resolved, we'd spent 2 hours at the tea rooms. We were told that a supervisor could not give us more than 50% off so we would have to wait again while she contacted the owners.

Jesus Christ, how much waiting did we have to do? We just wanted to leave by this point, we'd expected to be home hours ago and had pretty much wasted the whole day. This time we didn't have to wait long before the supervisor soon came back to say there would be no charge. Her return was so quick that I doubt she even contacted the owners at all. We left the remainder of the tea and went to leave.

One last slap in the face was noticing the supervisor bitching about us as we were leaving. Nice touch.

I am so gutted by how awful this experience was, I will never go back to Richmond Tea Rooms. Not only was the customer service awful, but I doubt how vegan the vegan option really was, especially after all the lies and misinformation. It is so frustrating as a customer to have complaints met with outrageous lies and then to have the blame placed on you. I have worked in retail for all of my working life and whilst I don't believe that 'the customer is always right', I expect a decent level of customer service and expect my complaints to be met with some level of understanding and respect. We got none of this from Richmond Tea Rooms. I would have been so much happier if the supervisor had held her hands up, admitted she messed up and apologised. We didn't need a long explanation full of reasons for why it had happened, we just wanted it sorted. And I cannot believe we were expected to pay for any of it after all those shenanigans, we'd left more than half of it on the table anyway.

So that's my experience of Richmond Tea Rooms. Anyone know of any decent vegan afternoon tea options in Manchester? My friend hasn't had an easy pregancy so far and really deserves a special day with zero stress! Suggestions in the comments please!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Mushroom and Fava Bean Stew

I have fallen in love with fava beans. Partly because they're delicious, but mostly because no soaking is required. I'm not organised enough to remember to soak and boil the hell out of my pulses, so quick cook beans are something I get pretty excited about.

The weather here in Manchester has been really grim so I've been craving comfort food, this dish really hit the spot.

Mushroom and Fava Bean Stew

  • generous splash of olive oil
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 450g portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 400g dried hulled fava beans
  • vegetable stock
  • frozen spinach
  • salt & pepper
  • splash of worcester sauce
  1. Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the leek and onion and fry for 10 minutes or so, until golden. 
  2. Add the garlic, mushrooms, thyme and bay leaves and cook until the mushrooms begin to release their own liquid.
  3.  Add the fava beans and enough vegetable stock to cover the mixture. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Add some frozen spinach and heat through for another 10 minutes or so.
  5. Season with salt, pepper and a good splash of worcester sauce before serving
Serves 4-6

I loved this stew, I love the thyme and mushroom combination with the nutty fava beans. I think if I made it again I'd add some dried mushrooms for extra flavour. This would also work with rosemary instead of thyme.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Nak'd Bars from Natural Balance Foods

A few weeks ago I got another one of my favourite kind of emails. That's right, another exciting sample request! I was super happy that Natural Balance Foods wanted me to sample a selection of their cereal bars as I've been a fan of Nak'd Bars since I first went vegan.

Nak'd bars are generally my main snack of choice. They're perfect to take when I'm travelling, they're accessible (I can always find them if I end up in town longer than expected and hunger strikes) and they're an affordable, easy snack in my everyday life. I'm pretty organised but sometimes there are days where I struggle to get myself ready for work in good time, I'm hungry and don't even have time to get some toast on. I am always incredibly thankful when I remember the battered (but still delicious) emergency bar at the bottom of my bag. Nak'd has saved me a LOT of times.

So I'm sure you can imagine my excitement when my box of goodies arrived!

When I opened the box, I saw a lot of my old favourites, but also some new flavours that I was looking forward to trying. Here is my selection

I have no will power, so I went straight for the new and exciting flavours. The one I was most excited about was the Bakewell Tart, though I did have my reservations, how could fruit and nuts ever taste similar to all that pastry, marzipan, jam and icing? It was love at first bite, I cannot believe how much this tastes like a real bakewell tart! It was awesome.

The next bar on my hit list was the Rhubarb and Custard, I'd heard great things about this one and was really excited, unfortunately I think this is a bit of an acquired taste. I really wasn't keen, but I gave the rest to my partner and he loved it.

After trying a few new flavours I started on some of the older classics. I love the Cocoa Mint and Cocoa Orange, they're my favourite chocolate flavour combinations and they work really well. They're very sweet but I like sweet so it works well for me

The Ginger Bread, Pecan Pie and Cashew Cookie are also pretty good, I like the flavours but I guess when it comes to snacking it's chocolate that appeals to me most!

I was super impressed with the Cocoa Delight, but even more impressed with the Berry Delight. I loved how big the flavour was in this bar. I love fruit when it's sharp and tangy and this bar gets it just right.

The last flavour on my list was the Caffe Mocha. I do not like coffee at all, not even when it has chocolate in but I can take one for the team. I had a bite of this, it's a very strong coffee flavour, so I guess for coffee lovers this would be perfect! I saved the rest for a friend at work who is in love with this flavour. For me, it just reminded me that I definitely don't like coffee, which I guess in terms of it tasting like it's supposed to, is a good thing!

Overall, I really love the Nak'd range from Natural Balance Foods. There's so much variety that I'm sure there's at least one flavour for everyone and they're just really handy snacks to carry around. They may look small, but they're so packed full healthy fruits and nuts that they have the power to keep even my raging hunger at bay.

If you haven't tried these cereal bars, where have you been?! Go out and find your favourite flavour!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Return to Berlin - Day 7

Ah, my last day in Berlin! I was so sad that we were going home the following morning but we had lots of plans for our last day and I was excited to get started.

We had a big breakfast before setting off to meet our friends at The Reichstag. We'd managed to miss seeing this last time because we didn't realise you had to apply to visit in advance. Luckily we remembered this time, although I think things have changed and you can now get permission to visit on the day, I think it's easier to guarantee a place beforehand though. It took about 7.-10 days to get online confirmation.

I really enjoyed visiting The Reichstag. I recommend getting the audio guide, it's free and gives you lots of information, points our places of interest that you can see from the building. It's an awesome building.

Afterwards we said goodbye to our friends and went to take one last look at the Christmas markets. They were a little less magical during the day but it was still fun to look round. I particularly liked looking at these festive Christmas decorations!

When we were too cold to browse any longer we went over to Kreuzberg for some lunch. My partner wanted to visit Yellow Sunshine again and I definitely wasn't going to stop him! I had a cheeseburger with a side of currywurst, which tasted great. It was a little disappointing that by the time we arrived loads of the burgers had sold out, but what we ended up with was tasty!

After Yellow Sunshine we made a final trip to Veganz as my partner wanted to stock up on daiya cheese. I picked out some presents for the lovely friends who had been looking after our cat and a few of the cheaper treats on offer there. I also bought two German cookbooks Kuchen Ohne Tiere (cooking without animals) and Susses Ohne Tiere (sweets without animals). Some of the recipes in there look amazing and I feel like I know enough German to muddle my way through!

We then decided to go to No Milk Today, which is between Kreuzberg and Neukoln. We spent ages waiting for a bus but finally found our way there. I really liked the atmosphere in this cafe, it was quiet, warm and cosy.

I picked out an apple marzipan tart and ordered a chocolate milkshake too, my partner ordered 2 cookies. Both the baked items were really tasty, I loved my tart! Unfortunately I really struggled with the milkshake, which sounds weird but it was like the soy milk they used was too beany and it overrode any other flavour. It didn't taste like chocolate at all, I tried my best but wasn't able to finish it.

I had planned to visit Vaust later that evening but my partner was tired and wanted to go back home and pack, so we decided to stop off at Denn's on the way home and get some food to cook up in our apartment. We had a nice quiet night in, eating gnocci and packing everything away.

I was really sad to be leaving the lovely apartment, the delicious food and the lovely friendly people of Berlin. I couldn't believe it had been a whole week and was all over. I have to say, that last night was my saddest night in Berlin, I wish I was still there now :(

Well, that's it for all my latest Berlin posts, I'll include all of these on a round up over the next few days, but for now I'm off to cry about all the food I can't eat now that I'm not in Germany!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Return to Berlin - Day 6

I think I woke up in a bit of a food fog on day 6. I got up and cooked a nice breakfast but started feeling really sluggish and awful afterwards. I ended up going back to bed to sleep and didn't wake up until the early afternoon. Thankfully the sleep really helped and I was ready to get out and about again when I woke up.

My partner wanted to go back to Coretex records in Kreuzberg so that's where we headed to first. We spent ages in there before checking out a few more shops in Kreuzberg. I'd heard about a veggie/vegan Chinese bakery in the area called Charlies Bakery so went off to look for it. Unfortunately the address on Happy Cow is wrong! We ended up stood in the middle of a road! Turns out Charlies Bakery is pretty much opposite Coretex! We went back the way we came and finally found it.

I was amazed when I went inside, I couldn't believe how much of the stuff in the display case was vegan! There were loads of adorable tarts topped with fresh fruit, cookies, cakes, savoury buns, cheesecakes! I was so excited, I didn't what to get. My partner went for a cookie, I think it was ginger, walnut and lemongrass? I went for a slice of fruit tart with a chocolate biscuit base.

I tried some of the cookie and it was delicious but the best by far thing was my tart. It was beautifully fresh and sweet and the fruit worked really well with the chocolate. It was way too pretty to devour quickly so I took my time with it. So good.

By the time we had finished our drinks and cakes it was getting late. We decided to check out a small Christmas Market in Kreuzberg. It wasn't too far from Freckles though, so we thought it would be best to make cake stop #2 on the way.

When we got to Freckles the door was locked and I couldn't see anyone inside. I was so desperate to try their famous cakes that I refused to believe it and sat outside for a while. Turned out a member of staff had briefly locked the doors while they went to the back so I was very happy when they came to the door and let us in.

The cakes here are beautiful, I found it really difficult to choose. I managed to convince my partner to go halves on a slice each and then asked for a slice to go. We picked the banana chocolate cake and some kind of hazelnut caramel cake if I remember right. I picked an apple speculoos cake to go.

AHMAGAHD. These cakes are fricking ace. Luckily my partner (who picked the chocolate banana cake) decided he doesn't really like banana in his cake so I got to eat most of it. The hazelnut one was incredible, one of the best cakes I've ever had. I loved it and was so sad that we didn't get a chance to get back here for a second visit.

After our sugar high wore off we went in search of the Kreuzberg Christmas Market. It was a little hidden away but we did find it. It was very small and quiet, not a huge amount there for vegans as most of it was food. I did manage to pick up an organic 100% cocoa bar for a friends Christmas present though so not a complete loss!

By the time we were done it was getting late and despite eating lots and lots of cake, I was ready for some savoury and there was something special that I wanted to visit.

Voner - vegan kebab! I loved this place when I went back in May so had to make another trip. My partner really didn't want to go but we managed to compromise when I told him that Oh La La was not too far away! Last time round I had a plate of the kebab meat with chips and peanut sauce but this time I went for the wrap and a side order of chips. My partner skipped the kebab style meat and went for nuggets.

Woah. So much food. The wrap was awesome and the best thing I've had there. So good. The chips...I was expecting just a normal side order of chips, these were something else completely. A massive plate of chips topped with the most amazing tahini sauce and sweet fried onions. Ahhhh! I love these so much! Forget chips and gravy people, this is where it's at.

I literally could not move after eating all that and I was super happy my partner enjoyed the nuggets so we didn't have to trek to Oh La La.

I couldn't believe how good that Voner experience was, it upped it's game. There's no way I can not go back on my next trip to Berlin. Proper dirty vegan junk food at its best!