Wednesday 28 August 2013

Having a Blast.

The last week's been full of awesome hang outs, meet up's and, of course, food. When Green Day announced a last minute show at Brixton Academy there was no question about it, we were going and we were going early - not to queue for hours to get on the barrier as I would have 10 years ago but to pay two of my favourite vegan spots a visit, Ms Cupcake and Franco Manca

I don't get to go to Brixton often enough and it's actually been well over a year since my last Franco Manca sourdough pizza experience.

Franco Manca don't do any speciality toppings or vegan cheese just plain simple tomato topped veggie covered pizza. You can tell that they trust in their preparation of the classics because there's a tomato, basil and garlic pizza right there on the menu. No cheese, no veggies, nothing. Just pizza at it's simplest. I was feeling fancy so I threw some mushrooms on mine.

This was the first time Nick had visited Franco Manca and he was super impressed by the quality of the pizza. Franco Manca are cheap by both London and pizza standards and they even have a great vegan beer on the menu, Green Daemon, which I'll be ordering again next time.

Obviously Green Day were awesome, it's not often that they play smaller (ha, I know, Brixton's not small but it is in comparison to a stadium!) venues these days and it's certainly not usual for them to play Dookie from front to back! It was epic and we had Ms Cupcake treats to munch on the slow train back to Brighton.

Friday saw a sunny start to the bank holiday weekend and I just had to pop to Street Diner to check out new kid on the block, Toston Tolon, and their vegan friendly arepas.

Toston Tolon's vegan option comes stuffed with black beans, plantains and chilli sauce. Unfortunately both of the cooling parts of the arepa experience, cheese and a mayo based dressing, are not vegan meaning that this delicious arepa burnt my mouth like crazy!

It was definitely delicious and if you have a better spice tolerance than me (um, so that's everyone then!) you should definitely give this unique vegan option a whirl. I would love it if enough vegans visited that it would be worth it for TT to add vegan cheese to their repertoire, I think the Veganic Pizza Cheese would be perfect here.

Obviously I had to chase it with some baklava from Sultans Delight because I'm actually physically incapable of walking past Brighthelm gardens on a Friday without grabbing a piece.

Sunday saw me breaking a long-time boycott and trying out Brighton's Loving Hut. The Brighton Vegans meet up group converge upon Loving Hut every Sunday and as well as the forging of new friendships there was the additional bonus of this frankly delicious Ocean Burger and chips.

The burger itself was made up of two delicious nori coated, breaded, and fried fish fillets, creamy coleslaw and, oddly, an apple slice which I removed after one bite and ate on the side. I'll definitely be ordering this again and I'd also like to try their Scramble Tofu Roll, Happy Chick'n Burger and Sweet and Sour Soya Balls. What can I say, I'm weak, consider this boycott well and truly over!

Sunday night saw Nick and I heading to Moshimo to learn to roll our own sushi. It was such a fun class, they'd never run the class with vegans before and whilst there were a couple of teething problems they'd thought it all through pretty well. We'd let them know about our dietary restrictions in advance so we had a totally different box of ingredients which included avocado, mock duck teriyaki, asparagus, cucumber, vegan cheese, kampyo and teriyaki mushrooms as well as a little pot of oil to rub on our gloves because everyone else was using mayo. 

The guy leading the class was great and made making sushi seem so simple.

Me and my structurally dubious teriyaki mock duck gunkan, or battleship, sushi.

Nick being awesome at rolling some cucumber maki.

I would definitely recommend this class to other vegans, it was super fun and we ended up completely stuffed full of sushi. There are even two drinks included in the price, saki or Asahi beer. The only thing they really need to change to make this class more vegan friendly is to have a separate chopping station for fish free sushi, going first at the chopping board worked well the first time around but we were much less comfortable chopping our second rolls on the board even in spite of the clean knife.

On Monday I met up with some people from the Brighton Vegans meet up group again for another Street Diner visit. I'd heard on Twitter that Honeycomb Cakes were trial running a raw, gluten free, vegan brownie so I headed straight there to grab one.

This raw brownie was made with both dates and prunes which made it extra sweet and delicious. It was a little crumbly in places but it mainly held together well. I'll definitely be buying it again and at £1 I think it's a total bargain. I'd love to see this adorable cake stand back with even more vegan options next time. Our group actually ended up eating three of these before heading to our next destination, Boho Gelato.

As soon as we joined the line snaking out of the door we were wondering what was going to be on the far left side of the cabinet where the vegan options are located. I actually squeeked a little when I saw the PB Sea Salt Caramel and I definitely willed the people in front of us in line to choose something else!

This was the perfect way to end the bank holiday weekend, great company and great ice cream. What more could you want?!

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Almost that time again...

You guys! It's almost Vegan MoFo time! If you're thinking that it's been less than a year since the last time I blogged every day for a month, you'd be right. Last year's MoFo was in October and this year we've moved it forward by a month so that we can have a little more daylight and a little less pumpkin, two things I'm definitely excited about.

Just incase you haven't heard of it before Vegan MoFo, or Vegan Month Of Food, is an annual month long blogging event where everyone taking part tries to eat, cook and blog about vegan food as much as possible. The idea is to shoot for a post every weekday but for the last three years I've posted every day during the month, I'll be attempting to do that again this year.

It's become a MoFo tradition for me to reflect on last years posts and in doing so I just spent thirty minutes gazing at photos from Austin where I began last years MoFo month. Just look at this Peanut Butter Cup Sundae from Sweet Ritual.

When we got back from Austin I recreated this hot dawg and waffle fry meal from Frank's on Football Food Sunday.

I also took part in the great MoFo Kitchen Tour...

...made one of the most delicious pies ever on Pie-Day Friday...

...and discovered one of my favourite ever sandwiches on Cookbook Challenge Tuesday; the Monte Cristo Reuben from 500 Vegan Recipes.

This year I'm moving away from some of my regular themes, sorry Cookbook Challenge fans, because I'm going to be travelling and blogging from the road for half of the month. As I'm sure regular readers of my blog have noticed I'm terrible at blogging from the road so this is going to be a huge challenge for me. I'm hoping to stick to my themes but I suspect that some may fall by the wayside and end up being replaced with photos of me eating doughnuts!

As is traditional I'm going with daily themes and here they are...

Mac 'n Cheese Monday - This is one of the themes we came up with in the Vida Vegan Con MoFo Workshop and I'm running with it. I'll be posting about my favourite Mac 'n Cheese recipes as well as blogging about the Mac 'n Cheeses I'll be eating on the road.

Travel Tip Tuesday - General travel tips, from packing and planning to staying vegan on the road.

What I Ate Wednesday - Keeping it simple and showing you guys what I eat on a regular day whether I'm at home or away.

Thirsty Thursday - Another MoFo Workshop theme, I'm pretty sure one week will be about root beer!

Facsimile Friday - Re-creating some of my favourite foods from my American travel adventures.

Snoozeday Saturday - Breakfast in bed! These MoFo Workshop themes just keep on coming!

Football Food Sunday - This is the one theme from previous years that's sticking around but this year we'll actually be watching the 49ers games IN San Francisco! So excited!

As always I'm super excited to get blogging every day and I'll be writing round ups and running competitions over at the official Vegan MoFo blog just like last year. If you're still not sure if you're up for joining in with the MoFo fun pop over to the official blog and have a read of Katie's VeganMoFo On The Go post as well as mine on Official Themes and Blogging Prompts. It would be so awesome if everyone with a vegan blog would take part! You do only have until August 28th to sign up though so move fast.

Portland: Portobello & Departure Lounge

This is the third and final instalment in my Portland series (for now, maybe I'll get to go back one day), read parts one and two here and here.

One place I knew I had to visit during my stay was Portobello, I'd heard so much about it and whilst a greasy burger from a food cart out the back of a dive bar is probably more my style I wanted to fine dine it up with the best of 'em at this upscale vegan joint.

Stephanie, Mandee, Randi and I managed to snag a table just before the Vida Vegan Con hoards descended upon the city. We decided to go all out with starters, mains and desserts and Mandee and I started with the cheese plate which came with three kinds of cheese, baguette and quince paste. 

Honestly I was a tad disappointed with this plate, I know vegan cheeses are expensive but for $16 I was, um, a little surprised at quite how tiny this plate of food was. Maybe I'm just a philistine? I will say that everything on the plate was delicious and I believe that the cheeses were from Heidi Ho, Chao and Punk Rawk Labs; my favourite being the peppered cashew cheese.

Stephanie ordered the Beet Tartare which actually ended up being the highlight of the fine dining experience in my mind. This perfectly creamy cashew cheese and roasted beetroot dish was beautifully presented, came with plenty of delicious French bread, and, if this had indeed been served at a dive bar I'd have licked the plate.

Next up we have Asparagus Fries, we almost didn't order these which would have been stupid. Served in a cone to stop the light tempura batter from becoming soggy these crisp delicious fries were my second favourite part of the meal.

I think I ordered badly again with my main course because I really didn't love this Summer Pea Ravioli with Morels.

I love ravioli and I love both english peas and mushrooms but something about this dish missed the mark for me. I did however love Stephanie's Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables which was weird because normally I am not a gnocchi fan. The moral of this story is go to dinner with Stephanie, order what she orders, enjoy.

I couldn't pass on dessert because there was a Chocolate Hazelnut Bomb on the menu!

This chocolate explosion was topped with crunchy caramelised hazelnuts and it was an amazingly rich end to the meal which left everyone feeling stuffed to the point of bursting.

I would definitely go back to Portobello, the dishes I enjoyed still stick in my mind today (uuuhhhh that beet tartare) and I love that their menu changes with the seasons. If you go let me know what your favourites are!

Our next dining destination was Departure Lounge somewhere that I hadn't even heard of before Vida Vegan Con started, but after recommendations from both Isa and Grant Butler (VVC's restaurant review panelist) it seemed ridiculous not to pay them a visit.

Our group of four ordered many, many things to share and drove our not-so-food-photo-obsessed friend a little crazy with all of our picture taking. If you're reading this, sorry again. I still feel a little bad about being such an annoying dinner companion.

Departure Lounge is not a vegan restaurant but they do have a separate vegan menu and a commitment to creating out of this world vegan dishes. Good enough for me.

This dish of Wok Fried Brussels Sprouts with chilli, lime and mint was outstanding. I have no idea how anyone can make sprouts taste this good and on the strength of this dish alone I'd like to invite the chef to come and live with Nick and I. I'm sure Nick wouldn't mind once he tasted the food.

The next dish of Gingered Mushrooms came with sweet & sour rhubarb, watercress and ramp. As a lover of all things rhubarb I was delighted to see it represented in a savoury dish, breaking out of it's role as a filler of pies and crumbles. This was exceptional.

We ordered all of the sushi on the menu which included this Grilled Shiitake Roll with avocado, cucumber, scallion and carrot sauce which I adored.

Next up was the Ume Shisho Roll with pickled plums, cucumber and jalapeƱo. Whilst I loved the bold plum flavours in this dish I did (somewhat unsuccessfully) have to eat around the jalapeƱos!

The table also ordered these beautiful BBQ Tempeh Buns.

These steamed buns were stuffed with Korean BBQ sauce and spicy coleslaw. I didn't try one, I can tell when something's spicy enough that it'll kill my tastebuds and my dining companions agreed that it'd definitely push me over the edge!

This Greens and Seeds roll was the thing that got us all excited about Departure Lounge's menu. How could a place serving nooch sushi ever steer you wrong?! This roll was also stuffed with avocado, cucumber, herbs, pumpkin seeds & sesame and I'm pretty sure there was some wasabi or something in there too because this roll packed a strong horseradishy punch.

Last but by no means least the final part of our sushi selection hit the table, the Sweet Potato Tempura roll was a spicy miso spiked delight and I loved the addition of even more nori - delicious.

If I'm lucky enough to end up back in Portland this is somewhere I'll most certainly re-visit and now that I've blogged about it I'll be able to leave the iPhone in my bag and just enjoy the overall dining experience. The food here was stunning both in taste and presentation and I'd highly recommend it to any vegans with their sights set on Portland.

Monday 26 August 2013

Portland Part 2

This is the second instalment of my Portland series, read Part 1 here.

One of my favourite PDX hangouts was the vegan friendly bar White Owl Social Club and it had nothing to do with this Mac & Cheese Burger...okay, that was a lie, it had EVERYTHING to do with this Mac & Cheese burger. That and the delicous drinks menu and bargaintastic happy hour. Oh and did I mention that they even have a black and white photobooth, so rad! Anyway, THE BURGER! Just look at it...

...isn't it just one of the best things you've ever seen?! It's mac and cheese, fried, in a bun, with a side of fries. That's the triple carb win right there. I don't think I need to say much more than this, I ate it five times in a week. 

I also visited on another occasion when I decided to branch out and Mandee and I shared a selection of goodies from around the menu. We went for the mac and cheese, which I thought was better in burger form. Fried pickles, um, amazing, I'm a total pickle convert. And the BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Burger with Fries. This was our attempt at ordering in a restrained manner, I love us!

Portland has a tonne of vegan friendly bars, I also went to both The Bye & Bye (where I took a terrible photograph of a delicious grilled cheese sandwich at 2am) and The Sweet Hereafter (where I hung out with many VVC attendees at the Unofficial Conference After-party).

I loved all three of these bars because of the plentiful outdoor seating, great drinks menus and the fact that food is served all hours. Whoever came up with the law saying that food must be served if alcohol is being served is a real winner! I wish we had bars like these in Brighton.

Alongside the super vegan friendly bars another thing I love about Portland is the Food Carts. Two of my most frequented carts were DC Vegetarian...

Both of these carts are situated Downtown on the corner of SW 3rd and Washington which means you can mix it up and order something from both carts if you wish. On more than one occasion I grabbed a breakfast sandwich or bagel with cream cheese from DC Veg and a Kale - Mango Smoothie from Sonny Bowl. The perfect breakfast combo.

Another highlight of the food cart scene was Homegrown Smoker. I've been wanting to visit this cart since I first heard about it back in 2011 and it certainly didn't disappoint. I was totally unable to choose between the Macnocheeto, a vegan mac 'n cheese burrito, and the Carolina Chick'n Sandwich so I went all out and ordered the Combo Platter instead.

The platter comes with your choice of two proteins, two sides and corn bread and I picked the Smoked Soy Curls, Smoked Chikn', mac no-cheese and STFU Puppies - corn fritters with remoulade sauce. My choices were definitely influenced by my chilli allergy / aversion and I was surprised that after discussing this with the person working that they still covered my chosen proteins with chilli sauce! It was all okay though, some careful scraping and liberal use of the remoulade came to the rescue and whilst this meal was still right at the top end of my heat tolerance it was totally amazing. 

This was the first time I'd ever tried Beyond Meat and I loved it, the texture was spot on and I still can't believe how meat-like it is. The soy curls were super smokey and flavourful and the mac no-cheese was out of this world delicious and creamy. I had no idea what to expect from the corn fritters but unsurprisingly I loved them and the corn bread was by far the best I've ever had. I will definitely be going back to Homegrown Smoker to order this again but next time I'll just be sure to specify no extra hot sauce!

There were plenty of other food carts I never got the chance to check out including The Cheese Plate, Native Bowl and Potato Champion. I did make it to Flavour Spot though and you can read about that here.

Moving back to brick and mortar vegan eateries Back to Eden is right up there with my favourite places in the world. On my first visit Nick and I just grabbed some soft serve, chocolate of course, which I insisted on topping with their house made caramel sauce even though the dude told me it was for ice cream not soft serve and it'd probably slide off.

He was totally wrong and it was brilliant, it even stayed on long enough for me to take a picture and it elevated my cone to the next level.

On my second visit with Randi I ordered the Quiche which was the most delicious quiche I've ever eaten vegan or not. It was perfect, really eggy and perfectly browned on top. Now, if only I'd managed to get the asparagus the right way up for the photo...

I followed my quiche with a 5" Strawberry Rhubarb pie, it had a perfect crumb topping and exactly none of it got saved for later!

Back to Eden is definitely on my re-visit list, the pastries and ice cream I tried were wonderful and if I'd had more time I could have stayed in there all day eating my way through their bakery case. I found out after my visit that Back to Eden is totally gluten free which blew my mind, I can't believe pastries this good were made without gluten and it makes me feel like I need to up my xgfx baking game.

One place I'd never envisioned myself checking out was Prasad but I'd heard so many good things about it over the weekend that I gave in and headed there with my slightly kale obsessed friend Randi. This restaurant is in the Pearl district and shares its space with a yoga studio, it was really busy when we visited but it was somehow still a relaxed and mellow environment - it must be all that yoga!

I'm not exactly sure what came over me when I ordered The Mightly Bowl which is made up of quinoa, steamed greens, lentils and a garlic tahini sauce. It was simple and tasty but looking at the menu there are so many more exciting choices!

I had a carrot and orange juice on the side which is one of my favourite juice combos. Whilst we were eating I noticed a note on the menu beneath The Mighty Bowl stating that Prasad believe that everyone deserves a warm, healthy, organic meal and therefor they offer this bowl on a donation basis, nobody is turned away. I think this is a wonderful thing for a business to do and they're not wrong, everyone does deserve a nutritious, filling, healthy meal no matter how much money they have. Nice one Prasad.

This last spot was probably the most surprising to me because I kinda went into it thinking, sure, bowls, how good can they really be? And, well, when you're at Canteen they can be pretty fanfuckingtastic!

I ordered the Portland Bowl which consists of a base of quinoa topped with steamed kale, baked maple tempeh, noochy cheese sauce, chopped local hazelnuts and grated carrot. They even have shakers of nooch so that you can go extra crazy with the cheesiness. This was a magnificent bowl and it's something I've been craving and working on recreating since I got home!

In the next instalment of my travel-ventures I'll be posting about two upscale Portland eateries, Departure Lounge and Portobello.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Portland Part 1

I am finally over being overwhelmed by my backlog of pictures from Portland, the food's still there for the eatin' so I'm damn well gonna blog about it!

As soon as we arrived in town we headed straight to Sweetpea Baking Co to grab some tasty eats and to say hi to my buddy Ms Panda With Cookie because it'd been three whole years since I'd seen her in real life. Three years! I needed a panda hug. Sadly on this visit there was no panda hugging to be done, something which I think we definitely made up for during the rest of my trip. We even double-team-hugged a large chimp together. Ah, memories.

I ordered a delicious Chickpea Tuna Salad Sandwich...

Note : I took this before anyone taught me how to take a picture of a sandwich. All things considered I don't think it's that bad! 

...and a Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie.

Both of which I loved but the real jewel in Sweetpea's crown as far as I'm concerned are their deeeelicious biscuits and gravy. I chose to get mine with some tempeh bacon and I've seriously been waking up thinking about this almost daily ever since. It was amazing. I wish I was less lazy and could be bothered to learn how to make my own biscuits, it can't be that hard can it?!

Mandee and I chased our breakfast biscuits with some pastries because we're awesome like that. You know what else was awesome? Sweetpea's pastries that's what. Yet another thing I'm scared to try to make after an epic croissant failure back in '08!

One spot you simply cannot miss on a vegan tour of Portland is Voodoo Doughnut. They have two PDX locations, one Downtown and one in NE and I managed to squeeze in five or six visits during my stay.

Voodoo Doughnut have a vegan version of almost every doughnut on their large menu and they're crazy cheap so you can buy loads.

The day I realised that Mandee and I would be forever friends was the day she went out early and brought doughnuts back to our room before I'd even emerged from under the duvet. Best. Roomie. Ever. 

Doughnuts in bed are the best, I hope Nick reads this and gets the (not so subtle) hint that he should get up early in Vegas, drive to Ronald's, and bring all of the doughnuts back to me!

That chocolate topped, peanut butter drizzled, cookie covered monstrosity, named the Old Dirty Bastard, was amazing. I kept ordering it again and again not needing to branch out because this doughnut is perfect. The Gay Bar on the right was full of cream, not jam as I had suspected, meaning that I didn't love it but everyone else did!

Another place I fell head over heels for in Portland was Sizzle Pie, vegan pizza, by the slice, open until late, what more could you want? Well, honestly, I'd like their brunch pizza to be available at all times but I'm pretty demanding like that!

This Raw Power slice was my favourite and every time I walked through this neighbourhood I made whoever I was with stop for a slice. Sorry, not sorry.

Nick and I went for brunch at Hungry Tiger Too before he left, due to someone's (ahem, Nick) time consuming hairstyle it was super late by the time we arrived and I was the kind of hungry that has crossed passed hangry and into a whole 'nother dimension. I ordered the most epic sounding thing on the menu...

...and then got some corndogs on the side much to the amusement of our waitress.

My Greek Scramble came packed full of olives, tempeh bacon, spinach, garlic, tomatoes and Daiya cheese and was served with with sourdough toast and an enormous hash brown. This was one of my favourite meals of the whole trip. The scramble was super flavourful and if somewhere has sourdough toast on the menu I will love them forever. 

The corn dogs on the other hand? Good god no! I didn't actually realise that a corn dog is a sausage on a stick covered in sweet, yes, SWEET, batter. Now I love maple syrup with my tempeh bacon these days but this? This was taking it too far! American's, you crazy! I am glad I tried a corn dog though and if you haven't ever had the pleasure you should give 'em a whirl, but don't say I didn't warn ya!

This next delicious brunch is from Blossoming Lotus where Nick and I were lucky enough to have a brunch date with the lovely Jess Scone and her hilarious ladyfriend Jules.

This Coconut Bacon BLT was perfect and was made all the more delicious because it was accompanied by a mimosa and wonderful company. We both wish that we lived closer to these ladies so that we could have brunch together all the time! I'm still a little obsessed with coconut bacon right now, you can't buy it in the UK like you can in the US so I've been making my own using this recipe.

Last but by no means least Nick and I managed to make it to flavour spot, a waffle cart with two locations in North / NE Portland. There's only one vegan option, the No. 3 Vegan Sausage & Maple, but that was a-ok with us. Why would you need anything else?

It was as epic as it looks and for $5.50 it was a total bargain. This delicious crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, waffle was folded around vegan sausage patties and slatherd with organic vegan maple spread. I love this sandwich SO HARD. I really, really wanted to visit this cart more than once but, alas, opening hours and a base downtown made it impossible.

That's not all I ate in Portland though, Portland Part Deux is coming up real soon. Watch this space.