Saturday 21 December 2013

I'm feeling all Christmassy!

I'm getting pretty excited about Christmas you guys. Only four more days to go. Christmas is one of my favourite times of year although I'm not even the slightest bit religious... I just love tinsel and twinkly lights and presents and food! This year Nick & I are spending Christmas in Brighton which makes it extra awesome, not having to lug everything we're going to eat for three days to someone else's house is definitely a win! This is the first time since we've been together (over 9 years) that we both have Christmas Eve off too, in the past either I've been working or he's been working but not this year. I was thinking about Christmas traditions and whilst I don't really have any with my family I have plenty with Nick and with our friends so I thought I'd share them with you.

The Animal Aid Christmas Without Cruelty Fayre is in early December and it's one of my favourite Christmas traditions. We get up early, get the train to London, meet up with friends and make a beeline for Ms Cupcake to get ourselves nicely sugared up before doing a little Christmas shopping.

Plenty of animal charities have stalls at the fayre so it's a great place to pick up Christmas cards, this year I picked up these, erm, beauties? I wonder if the cat is meant to be the face of the lord Jesus Christ?! Or the ghost of Christmas past perhaps? Whatever's going on I love it!

The Vegusto stall is always one of our first stops, and not just for the free samples! They have great deals on their meats and cheeses and Nick & I stocked up on a whole lot of cheese for us to munch on over the festive period. This year I was super lucky and also won a whole hamper of Vegusto goodies. How rad is that?!

There were two sample size packs of hard cheese, a melty cheese, mushroom burgers, a farmhouse sausage and some dark chocolate in the basket and I can attest to almost all of it's deliciousness - I say almost because Nick scoffed the chocolate before I got a look in! Vegusto are one of my favourite vegan companies and I have a review of their roasts coming up on the blog soon.

Another must at the fayre is a slice of pizza from the Shambhu's catering stand, this year they had vegan coleslaw too and it turns out that pizza and coleslaw are pretty awesome together!

I was super excited by the Ananda Foods marshmallow stall this year, I haven't been the hugest fan of their marshmallows in the past but this year I tried their vegan version of a Wagon Wheel and a chocolate covered, sprinkle dipped 'mallow on a stick and they were both SO DAMN GOOD!

Nick and I shared the Round Up because at almost £4 it was quite expensive, it differed slightly to a traditional Wagon Wheel in that it wasn't completely covered in chocolate but it was the perfect biscuit, marshmallow and jam sandwich and I can't wait to get my hands on another one. The marshmallow on a stick was much cheaper, a little over £1 from what I remember, and equally delicious - I totally kicked myself when I realised far too late that I'd forgotten to get another one to take home.

The day after the fayre we put up our Christmas tree. I love putting the tree up, it's so fun to get out all of the decorations we've been collecting over the years and we always listen to Christmas music which I love, yes, even the cheesy stuff. My Christmas playlist has a pretty great mix of the classics, cheesy 80's & 90's pop, and punk. I'm listening to Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight) by The Ramones right now. 

This is our first ever Christmas with a kitty so I skipped putting up some of my favourite glass baubles just in case he got a little over excited and knocked the tree over. He's showing no signs of Christmassy destructiveness so far though, he just sits underneath it and tries to eat the gift tags on the presents.

We even got a little kitty ornament of him made by my friend Lisa, who you might know as Panda with Cookie.

Super cute right? We also got a Teal Cat ornament and a penguin to top the tree with.

As well as sitting under the tree being adorable Rorschach's been great at helping wrap presents, he gets right on the paper and everything!

I wish we could keep him forever!

Christmas is also time for some of my favourite foods, I love a good roast dinner as much as the next Brit' but I'll happily eat that in any month that feels even vaguely wintery and as I live in England that means a July roast dinner is perfectly feasible. VBites, the company that used to be called Redwood Foods, come out with a festive range every year which includes one of my favourite mock meaty things, Smoked Salmon Style Slices. 

I love them on brown bread with lots of lemon juice and black pepper which reminds both Nick and I of Christmases growing up. This year VBites have also come up with a Festive Pasty - they don't photograph well but they're freaking delicious. Puff pastry stuffed with turkey style pieces, pork sausages, veggies and a lovely rich gravy. If you get the chance to try these, do it!

Sainsbury's have a chocolate santa this year, I love this kind of cheap milk-like chocolate but I only really eat it around Christmas and Easter time, apparently I like my cheap chocolate in festive shapes only!

I make mince pies every year, I cheat and use store-bought pastry and mincemeat which makes them super fast and easy to throw together.

I love the smell of them baking, they make the whole house smell Christmassy!

Do you have any fun festive traditions? or favourite festive foods? Leave me a link in the comments if you've blogged about it, I love reading about everyones Christmases!

Sunday 24 November 2013

Veganz Berlin

One place I re-visited over and over again during my trip to Berlin was Veganz, this entirely vegan supermarket has two locations and I frequented the super convenient Warschauer Strasse location over and over. Situated in a prime location right by the S and U bahn station of the same name the building not only contains the Veganz store itself but also all vegan cafe Goodies, Mio Matto vegan restaurant and avesu, a vegan shoe store. 

Upon entering the door you're drawn towards Veganz fresh produce to your right and Goodies pastries on your left. You can imagine which way I turned most often!

Within walking distance from our hostel Goodies was usually our first stop of the day. They have a wonderful selection of breads, cakes, pastries and sandwiches as well as a refrigerator chock full of salads. I can never resist a croissant and this one was flakey outside and soft inside, whilst it wasn't the best I've ever had it was by no means the worst. It could have been perked up with some jam or margarine but my German doesn't stretch that far!

My buddy Tabitha went for a spicy sweet potato lentil bagel which seemed like an odd combo to me but apparently it was quite delicious. I also grabbed a soba noodle salad (not pictured) from their chiller on the way to the airport. The noodles were smothered in peanut sauce and it was chock full of peas, it was so good that I ate most of it on the train on the way to the airport! 

When the weather was clear and dry we took advantage of Goodies plentiful outdoor seating options and enjoyed many, many slices of cake. 

This perfect looking chocolate mousse cake with a raspberry topping was my favourite. We found that occasionally the cakes were a little dry so I started choosing by going for the newest looking cake rather than by flavour which is a method that I find works pretty well!

Both Veganz locations are chock full of European vegan products as well as the things I think most of us in the EU are excited by, the US imports! As well as Tofurky roasts, slices, sausages, and pizzas, I spotted both Daiya and Follow Your Heart vegan cheeses, Eat Pastry cookie dough, Dandies marshmallows, Upton's seitan and Coconut Bliss ice cream. Pretty cool right?!

Having been the the US recently and with plans to go back in the not too distant future I skipped most of the US imports, apart from the Dandies, I can never resist a bag of delicious puffy marshmallows, and came home with a bag overflowing with German salami, some of the best sour gummy sweets I've ever eaten, huge bags of vital wheat gluten (so that I can make seitan all the time) and a few bars of my favourite Nirwana Noir praline chocolate.

The second Veganz location up on Schivelbeiner Strasse is stuffed with just as many amazing vegan treats and, in addition to the store, they also have a Goodies cafe. Wonderful. I had a thoroughly enjoyable apple frangipane tart and we both tried a toffee cake which to be honest was not great due to the overwhelming cinnamon flavour.

Back at the Warschauer Strasse location we tried the vegan brunch at the upscale and beautifully decorated Mio Matto restaurant.

*Sadly Mio Matto has now closed but you can get a comparable vegan brunch at Kopps and there is still a vegan restaurant at this location above Veganz*

An all you can eat set up is always going to be a winner in my book and we loved checking out their plentiful buffet before filling up our plates with mock meats, tofu scramble, salads, potatoes and fresh fruits and veggies. There were also plenty of different breads to choose from as well as muesli, yoghurt and little chocolate cakes.

It was one of the best brunches I've ever had in the city, it even rivals my previous favourite brunch from the sadly closed Hans Wurst. I wish that somewhere in Brighton would do a euro-style vegan brunch like this, I'm sure I'd become a regular.

If you're visiting Berlin do not skip Veganz. Honestly, this place is vegan heaven and I am more than a little excited that London will be getting it's very own Veganz in 2014.

Friday 15 November 2013

Exploring Berlin.

I spent the last weekend of October in Berlin with one of my very best friends Tabitha. We had so much fun! She's my oldest Brighton based friend and I actually met her and my dude Nick at the same time, shitty jobs can apparently bring great things into your life. We're both kinda busy and don't get to hang out often enough so a weekend break was the perfect way to squeeze in a whole lot of silly friend time. We both adore Berlin, this was my fourth visit and her sixth or seventh and it was super fun showing each other our favourite parts of the city. A joint favourite and a place we knew we'd be heading for as soon as we arrived was Vöner, this all vegan kebab joint serves frankly enormous seitan doner sandwiches which come with your choice of herb, tahini garlic or chilli tomato sauces. I went with tahini garlic because if it was up to me I'd make it a law that people must put garlic on everything!

We both love to explore cities on foot and ride the u-bahn so we went all over the city eating, meeting dogs (real and not!), looking at street art and taking pictures of everything!

Our favourite place to warm up and chill out was Ohlàlà Tartes Shop. (Note: As of 2016 Oh La La is closed) I fell in love with this beautiful French style cafe on my last trip to Berlin in 2011 and I'm happy to report that Tabitha now loves it as much as I do. We endeavoured to try as many of the delicious things on offer as possible and started with hot chocolate and flavoured lattes.  My hot chocolate was delightful, I love this style where you mix the warm milk with the melty chocolate, it's so creamy and decadent.

I got super overexcited when I laid eyes upon the crepe menu, I might've even done a little squeak! I adore crepes especially the savoury cheese stuffed kind and they aren't something I often stumble upon. 

As was only right in this establishment I chose a Parisienne crepe which came filled with ham and cheese. It was absolutely perfect, I mean how can you go wrong with a melty cheese stuffed crepe?!

This cafe has an amazing selection of sweet treats filling the counter and tempting your tastebuds. We endeavoured to work our way through as many as possible starting with this beautiful and perfectly light chocolate mousse cake.

I also tried a pear mousse bomb which was filled with an even lighter mousse than the previous cake, something I hadn't thought possible, hidden inside were some sweet delicious pear pieces.

Tabitha taste tested this gorgeous chocolate nougat thing that I forget the name of, it was dense and filled with a gooey caramel, definitely an intense dessert option.

Another of my favourite discoveries from previous trips was Viasko, I ate lunch there twice last time I visited Berlin and this time we went for dinner where we started the night as we meant to go on, with booze! These cocktails were up there with the best I've ever tried, my TransMelonMan was so good that I finished it in record time and had to order another before our food had even arrived.

We arrived around 8pm and quite a few menu items were done for the day so I decided to go with a salad starter...

...and my companion had the soup of the day which, to her delight, was mushroom. My salad was delicious but really huge and super filling for a starter,  the mushroom soup was simple, rich and beautifully creamy, everything I remember dairy and cream laden mushroom soup to be.

My main was this huge tofu and sweet onion covered Flammkuchen, a dish I'd seen on many a German menu but never tried. The cheese portion was a mix of homemade nut based cheese, a melty dairy cheese alternative and tofu. 

Tabitha ordered the seitan gyros, a classic choice and Nick's favourite dish at Viasko. Our mains were tasty for sure but we both agreed that they were far, far too salty, the combination of that plus the slow service when we needed our water glasses refilled meant that we only finished around half of our mains. I would definitely still recommend a visit to Viasko though, I love the atmosphere there and 90% of the food I've tried has been outstanding.

If you've been to Berlin recently or follow me on Twitter or Instagram one place I'm sure you've noticed is missing from this post is Veganz, Berlin's amazing vegan supermarket chain. Don't worry I haven't forgotten about it I just loved it so much that it's getting a post of it's very own, watch this space!

Friday 8 November 2013

VioLife Vegan Cheeses.

The super generous peep's at Veganic Foods in Germany sent me a bumper pack of vegan cheeses to try late this summer and I couldn't wait to dig in. I was totally one of those "I could never give up cheese" vegetarians. I know! I snapped out of it pretty swiftly and realised that the lives of dairy cows are obviously more important that my love of dairy - duh! 

Anyway, as a former cheeseoholic, I get super excited whenever a new non-dairy cheese appears on the scene. The Veganic brand have come up with ten, yep, ten, differently flavoured cheeses which come in pre-sliced packs alongside a pizza cheese which is taking indie pizza places, including Brighton's very own Pizza Face, across the UK by storm.

I dug into the cheese slices as soon as they arrived and to test their meltiness I popped a slice onto the chickpea tuna sandwich (recipe in Vegan With A Vengeance) I was halfway through making and grilled it for a few minutes. The cheese got bubbly and melty, it was dreamy.

My absolute favourite way to eat the cheese slices (aside from straight up outa the pack) was on a regular old cheese sarnie. These were up there with my favourite sandwiches pre-vegan and now I can eat them again, all day every day if I want to. Being an adult is a dangerous business!

My very favourite of the flavours on offer was Original which reminded me of the Leerdammer slices I used to enjoy, both in taste and texture. My second fave was Cheddar which tasted pretty similar to Original and this was closely followed by Pizza, Olive Oil, Olive and then Herbs in that order. I could take or leave the mushroom variety.

As I couldn't be bothered to make a pizza as delicious as Pizza Face's I used the Pizza Cheese in a variety of different ways, stuffed into a baked potato, melted on toast, out of the bag with a spoon, but my favourite had to be this lazy chick'n parm. Can't be bothered to cook a proper meal but want it to look fancy? Just grab a Fry's schnitzel, chuck some passata (from a box, obvs) ontop, sprinkle with herbs and then top it with Veganic Pizza Cheese. Perfect. I served mine with quinoa and Nick knocked up some pasta to have with his. It was delicious.

There are so many non-dairy cheese options out there now even compared to when I went vegan almost eight years ago. Imagine what being vegan 15 or 20 years ago must've been like. Maybe you don't have to, maybe you've been vegan for that long or longer, if so, kudos to you. I think you're pretty rad! This range of cheeses can definitely hold it's own in the ever growing vegan cheese market and I strongly recommend that you give it a try. In Brighton you can pick up my favourite flavours at Infinity Foods (just a coincidence but a great one!) or check out a health food store near you. You can also order online from Goodness Direct or Alternative Stores.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Exploring Leeds.

After arriving home from my US travels in the second week of October (more on that trip soon!) I turned around in a day and a half and hopped on a train followed by a Megabus up north to Leeds. The mission, to get tattooed. This isn't something I'd necessarily recommend as I was still feeling a little jet lagged and fragile by the morning of my appointment! I popped to the shop for my consultation as soon as I arrived in Leeds and then went to warm up with some hot chocolate and crumpets at veggie spot Roots & Fruits.

Roots & Fruits is a super cute cafe run by a lovely couple, these crumpets were the perfect comfort food and aren't something you often see in vegan friendly places. None of their main meals really jumped out at me so I didn't end up going back for one but I'd definitely say that this place is worth a visit.

The next day I grabbed a super hearty and filling breakfast of Baked Beans and Cheese on Toast at Global Tribe Cafe. This is another cute little place, located above a crystal shop, and run by super friendly people. As you can see the cheese on toast was suuuuper huge and filling. I loved that it was essentially a cheese on toast covered in beans, brilliant. I could hardly wait to go back!

This breakfast kept me going for a good few hours but after my appointment I was in need of sustenance asap and decided to check out Little Tokyo because of it's close proximity to Out Of This World, the health food store where I planned to stock up on awesome stuff for a hotel room dinner picnic. Unfortunately I don't think I can really review Little Tokyo fairly right now, it came recommended to me by two vegans who I assume enjoyed the food there and it has good reviews on Happy Cow but everything I tried was worse than mediocre and Japanese food is my favourite so I know what a decent dumpling's like. I only ordered dim sum though so maybe the full meals are better? If you've been let me know what you like there and maybe I'll give it another try.

The good news is that after my disappointing lunch I went dessert crazy at Out Of This World and got myself four desserts and a sandwich ready for bed picnic time! I was really excited to see the pistachio cardamon cake made by local company That Old Chestnut who I stumbled upon at the Northern Vegan Festival in Manchester earlier this year. I loved that cake then and I still love it now, it's delicately flavoured and not too sweet. Perfect as part of a dessert medley! I also grabbed a slice of Peanut Butter Chocolate tiffin which may have also been made by That Old Chestnut. It was exceptional, I've eaten a lot of tiffin in my time and this is up there with the best.

Next I was drawn to the piece of Bakewell Tart, I will never turn down a piece of Bakewell and this was the most authentic vegan version I've ever tried. It had the thin bottom layer, moist sponge and almond / cherry ratio spot on. It was delicious. Lastly I grabbed a Pudology chocolate pudding which I remembered enjoying at the Northern Vegan Festival but I was a little disappointed at how much more coconutty it seemed this time around, it really overwhelmed the chocolate flavour and I'm unsure if I'd buy it again.

I also enjoyed a couple of sandwiches from Out Of This World whilst in Leeds, the fillings change regularly and they come in either a large bap or on gluten free bread. My only complaint was that the chopped salad inside both sandwiches contained red pepper which I dislike and it was a challenge to pick out the pieces (especially on the bus!) because they looked so similar to the delicious chunks of tomato - hardly the worst thing ever though and I'll definitely be revisiting Out Of This World on my next Leeds adventure, they're only little but they have all of your vegan needs covered.

For my last meal, a brunch of sorts, I finally got to go back to Global Tribe Cafe to try their pie special. The day I visited it was Creamy Chicken & Mushroom, my favourite. It came with roasted root veggies, salad and a decent sized jug of gravy - there's nothing worse than somewhere that gives you a thimble of gravy ...or maple syrup, ugh! Moving on from my dining out pet peeves this meal was delicious and filling and I love the homely vibe here.

I really enjoyed my little weekend break in Leeds and I'll certainly be recreating the epic beans on toast soon. Since I got back from Leeds I've been in Berlin and now I'm getting reaquainted with Brighton and spending far too long lying around snuggling with Rorschach, our foster kitty, how could you resist this floofy belly?!

Monday 30 September 2013

Mac 'n Cheese Monday - On the road.

Because I'm totally obsessed with both pasta and anything vegan-cheesy I like to fit in as much mac 'n cheese as possible whilst travelling, here are some of my favourites.

This side of Creamy Mac n Cheese from Foodswings in Brooklyn was pretty perfect, I loved it and I was gutted that I couldn't finish the whole bowl!

Also a side, the mac 'n' cheese from Chicago Diner in, yup, you guessed it, Chicago, was also creamy and delicious - just the way I like it.

I'm realising now that I'm writing this that the majority of the mac's I've enjoyed are sides! Weird. This next one's from Veggie Grill who have locations in Seattle, Portland and all over California. This contained some unexpected chilli but makes it into the favourites list anyway because it was perfectly al dente thanks to the gluten free pasta and once I knew the chilli pieces were in there I could eat around 'em no worries.

This next one certainly didn't come from a restaurant but I did eat in on the road so it's in. The Amy's Dairy Free Rice Macaroni and Cheeze is made with Daiya and it's something I eat regularly when we're staying in hotels, motels or anywhere with a microwave. It's so delicious that I eat it whilst I'm travelling even though I can get it at home.

This side of mac no-cheese from Homegrown Smoker in Portland was one I wished was way, way bigger. It was perfectly creamy and smokey and next time I'll be getting an extra portion.

This next one only just scrapes its way onto the list on a technicality, it's not really just a mac 'n cheese and therefor shouldn't be judged as such. Buuuut the Mac & Cheese Burger from White Owl Social Club in Portland was one of the best things I've ever eaten so it's getting a special mention. 

Where are your favourite mac & cheeses hiding? You never know I just might travel somewhere to try them.

I can't believe this is that last Vegan MoFo post of 2013, I've loved taking part - I've learnt that blogging (and especially commenting) from the road is, um, challenging and, as always, I have a tonne of stuff bookmarked to read, make, and gain inspiration from throughout the year. Until next time MoFo's!