Monday 30 June 2014

Macaroni Cheese, Kebabs and a Birthday Celebration.

A couple of Mondays ago I was lucky enough to have the company of my delightful friend Sal for a journey way further North than we would usually venture. Why the trip? Mac and Cheese! If anything's going to tempt me away from Brighton for an evening it's macaroni cheese so when Jhenn (aka The Vegan Ronin) announced she was starting a Macaroni Monday supper club I knew I had to go. Due to travel plans and tube strikes it took a lot longer than planned to get ourselves to Finchley to try the good stuff but it was absolutely worth the wait.

Jhenn cooks up a huge pot of stovetop mac and cheese and then you can dress up your mac with any one of six different toppings. There were six mix-in options including sauerkraut, seitan bacon bits, pastrami, toasted panko and sesame courgettes. I started with sauerkraut, seitan bacon and toasted panko, three of my favourite flavours on top of creamy mac & cheese. Perfection. 

This really was great mac and cheese, the nutritional yeast based sauce was smooth and velvety and Jhenn's homemade seitan was perfect, really flavourful and the texture was spot on. I loved the crunchy bacon bits! I've never considered making my own sauerkraut before but Jhenn's was way, way better than the cheap jarred stuff I've been buying. This night doesn't just involve mac though, there was dessert and tea too. I skipped the tea but I will never say no to a cupcake especially a Speculoos one.

Jhenn used to be a full time baker at one of my favourite spots, Ms Cupcake, so of course this cake was delicious and perfectly light. I liked that there wasn't too much frosting and it was nice to come home from dinner not feeling super stuffed. Jhenn's supper clubs range from mac nights to five course Japanese feasts and you can book through Eat With. As I mentioned earlier Jhenn makes her own seitan which you can buy on the night, I loved the bacon bits so much that I bought some of her homemade Beican home with me.

I used it to make Nick and I epic breakfast sandwiches at the weekend and they was so good, the bacon crisped up really nicely and tasted great and we ate them on delicious Infinity Foods bakery sourdough baguette. Jhenn has an Etsy store here which doesn't have anything in it right now but hopefully more mock meats will be hitting the virtual shelves soon.

Back in Brighton the sun has finally emerged from behind the clouds so new kids on the block Beelzebab couldn't have picked a better time to launch their brand new vegan doner kebab stand. 

I swung by Street Diner for lunch on their first day and Nick and I were their 3rd and 4th customers, not too shabby! We both grabbed the vegan doner of course although Nick nixed a whole load of the salad.

Of course I left off the chilli sauce which made the homemade vegan tzatziki sauce even more exciting. Nobody wants to be eating a dry kebab and tzatziki was a pre-gan favourite of mine.

The huge Infinity Foods made pitta was stuffed full of the duo's artisanal seitan alongside fresh crisp cabbage, onion and cucumber and fresh, flavourful tomatoes. It was seriously delicious and I can see myself making this lunchtime kebab a bit of a habit. I tried to swing by one of my long time favourite Street Diner stalls, Sultan's Delight, for a piece of their delicious baklava but they'd already sold the whole tray! Next time I'll be getting up even earlier to get my hands on the dream lunch combo. 

Beelzebab can be found at Street Diner on Saturdays throughout summer and you can keep up with their upcoming pop-up's and events on their Twitter or Facebook accounts. 

Last weekend I got to hang out with Sal again because it was her birthday! Nick and I drove up to her place where she was hosting a barbecue for her family and bff's, it was so much fun. Sal had been raving about the chicken seitan recipe from the cookbook Vegan Sandwiches Save The Day for a while so we were super excited when she pulled a few cutlets out of the fridge. We brushed them with garlic oil and grilled them alongside some of our favourite Vegusto Farmhouse Sausages.

The cutlets were perfect on a bun with coleslaw and a side of noochy garlic bread. We love garlic! And bread!

As well as the coleslaw, chickeney steaks & garlic bread Sal had also made one of my favourite salads, the Sweetcorn Edamame Salad from Veganomicon. I love sesame and this is one of the easiest and most delicious sides you can throw together. 

I was in charge of cake and I made the s'mlove pie from Veganomicon because Sal had never had it before. Ridiculous! 

This is one of the most indulgent desserts ever, I love it. There's a biscuit base then a tofu based chocolate pie filling, on top of that is a layer of peanut butter caramel topped with maple candied pecans and lastly even more chocolate is drizzled on top. It's perfect and if you haven't made it yet you should really get onto it stat!

Thursday 26 June 2014

Black Cat Cafe

On Monday myself and some friends from Brighton Vegan Meet Up got together and headed up to London for the day. The purpose of our trip? Cats! Black ones to be precise. As we're a pretty kittie obsessed group hell bent on eating everything vegan in our sights Black Cat Cafe seemed to be an obvious spot for a day trip. Situated in Hackney on the sight of the sadly closed but much loved Pogo Cafe Black Cat is co-operatively run and 100% vegan.

After much train drama we arrived around two o'clock and dived straight into the lunch menu ordering different things so that we could sample our way around what they had to offer.

I chose the BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Burger which came in focaccia and with chips and salads on the side.

I definitely enjoyed this but I had to remove some of the jackfruit to up the mayo / tomato to spicy barbecued jackfruit ratio as it was obviously too spicy for me, when will I learn?! Justine happily helped me polish off the jackfruit though and she loved that there was a wheat free meat sub on the menu. Out of the three salads I enjoyed the spring cabbage slaw with apple and cucumber the most, in fact I could have eaten a whole bowl of the stuff it was so yummy. The other salads were carrot and seeds and quinoa and sprouts both of which were enjoyable but obviously I preferred the chips!

Justine ordered the Garamlette, Black Cat's clever name for their chickpea flour omelette, which was full of peppers, onions, asparagus and corn.

As you can see it looked really good although it's not something I'd order myself as chickpea flour or tofu omelettes are a go-to weeknight meal for me.

I was definitely a little jealous of Rachel's order as she picked the Seitan and Mushroom Pie with mash, peas and gravy but I was lucky enough to get to eat a chunk of it as she declared it to be too big for her.

It was super delicious, the pastry was light, the mushrooms were plentiful and the chunks of seitan scattered throughout were tender and flavourful. The mash looked really creamy too and I think I'll be ordering this if it's on the menu next time I visit.

As well as being a cafe Black Cat is a well stocked vegan shop selling mock meats, imported and locally produced vegan treats, cookbooks and zines. This section has an impressive range of treats spanning from Ten Acre crisps to Bajadera, a favourite Croation chocolate of mine that I'd never seen in the UK before.

On the other side of the space are fridges full to the brim with mock meats and cheeses. They also do coffee with an impressive selection of non dairy milks to choose from.

The homemade sausage rolls were super tempting too...

...but my eyes were drawn towards the just-delivered desserts.

I picked out a Rocky Road bar and a Lamington.

I was immediately drawn to the Rocky Road slice because whilst I love the rocky road style bars I can buy down in Brighton this one was made the traditional way with marshmallows, let's just say I wasn't disappointed by it's deliciousness!

Whilst I'd heard of Lamingtons thanks to my Australian blogger buddies I'd never eaten one before and gawd damn, it was delicious! It's made up of moist white sponge enrobed in chocolate and then covered in desiccated coconut. So delicious! I would like to eat another right now please.

We had such a great time at the cafe, the volunteer running the show on the day was super chatty and friendly and I only just realised whilst writing this that Black Cat are also not for profit which has made me love them even more! We were also all very impressed by the amount of cats we saw wandering past the large open windows and we had to keep halting our conversations to point them out and comment on how adorable they are. We heart all of the cats!

If you're in London I would strongly suggest a visit to Black Cat, get the pie, eat all of the Lamingtons, enjoy!

Thursday 19 June 2014

Saying Goodbye to Japan.

As you may have gathered from my previous posts Nick and I had an amazing time traveling around Japan. Nikko, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka and Ōkunoshima (bunny island!) were all different and wonderful in their own ways. We were really glad we decided to get a rail pass so that we could see more of the country than just Tokyo but there are so many amazing things to do (and eat!) in Tokyo that we ended up cramming a lot into our final three days! 

We arrived back in the city after a five hour train journey from Hiroshima at around two or three in the afternoon and decided to head straight to Hanada Rosso for one final burger. I was still dreaming of the burger I ordered on our first visit so I ordered that again, it comes topped with homemade soy mayo and ketchup and it's super tasty.

I also chose the side of homemade potato wedges again rather than rice because that seems to mesh better with a burger in a bun in my mind. Of course I followed it with the cheesecake which was obviously delicious.

I'm still searching for a recipe for a perfect Japanese style cheesecake so shoot one my way if you have one! 

We went out late that night to the super swanky New York Bar atop the Park Hyatt because that's the bar from Lost in Translation! Drinks were expensive but the atmosphere was great and the view was incredible. After a nice lie in the next morning we headed to another of our favourite spots Pure Cafe for something resembling brunch. I ordered my favourite Mr Mustard Sandwich which comes stuffed full of roasted veggies, grilled potatoes, and a tofu cheese spread. I also ordered yet another slice of cheesecake. 

Nick got another PB & Banana sandwich and a jam filled oat bar that looked good but it certainly wasn't something I'd have picked over cheesecake, Nick's commitment to jam is strong!

We spent most of the rest of the afternoon walking around the city and taking pictures of everything! Even the drain covers are beautiful in Japan.

Whilst we were drinking matcha lattes, yes, again, we really did spend our final days eating and drinking all of our favourite things, we kept seeing young women coming in with adorable Care Bears / Little Twin Stars bags. A little googling told us that there was a Little Twin Stars X Care Bears exhibit right around the corner! How serendipitous! Of course we headed straight there as soon as we finished our lattes. It was unbelievably adorable, look, puffy cloud bears! 

I wanted to pick this up and take it home!

After Nick was all outa patience for cuteness we decided it must be dinner time and we wandered over to Roppongi to try somewhere new. Our first attempt to dine at Chien Fu didn't go so well as we found them closed when they should've been open (according to Happy Cow). It must be so difficult to keep up with the changing opening and closing times of thousands of restaurants around the world so I always make sure to drop Happy Cow an email with an update if something like this happens. It really helps other travellers and without our updates information on the site could quickly become outdated. Another thing about Chien Fu is that if you weren't familiar with Japan yet this place could prove hard to find, it is almost exactly where google maps suggests but, as we'd already learnt, in Japan you have to look up! We found a lift tucked away around a corner next to a convenience store and Chien Fu was located on the fourth floor. This vegetarian Taiwanese spot has an English menu and they helpfully mark dishes containing egg with a yellow dot and dishes containing cow's milk with a blue one.

We started with vegetable spring rolls and what we thought were going to be mock meat steamed buns. The buns turned out to be fried though and they were really freaking good. They came with an amazing sweet dipping sauce that made them one of my favourite dishes of the trip.

If there's a black bean dish on a menu you can guarantee that Nick and I will order it and after some deliberating we went with a black bean tofu dish and a sweet and sour dish with cashews, mushrooms and mock chicken.

We had steamed rice on the side and had no problem polishing off the generous (for Japan) portions.

The next day we had shopping on our minds, I say we but I think we all know that Kiddyland was my favourite Japanese store and not Nick's. Nick actually hates shopping except at the cash and carry, apparently giant food is fun to him, or Whole Foods because they usually have vegan cake! Kiddyland is located in Shibuya and has whole floors devoted to both Rilakkuma and Hello Kitty. Best. Ever.

Nick thought that the best thing about Kiddyland was it's proximity to Pure Cafe so we stopped off for more sandwiches and green tea and raspberry muffins. This was yet another delicious Pure Cafe muffin (I tried a delicious orange and carob chip muffin at the beginning of the trip) it had a subtle green tea flavour and the raspberry was in the form of jam which is always a win in both of our books.

Because I'm always thinking ahead we also grabbed banana bread slices for the plane the next day.

Finally we ended our trip with a meal at Ain Soph's Journey location, we'd already visited once right at the beginning of the trip and we were excited to go back. We ordered the fried soy meat plate again because we loved it the first time around. This time was no different and the tender juicy soy meat encased in crispy batter was spot on.

We ordered the veggie paella next which turned out to be a wonderful choice. I love paella and this came with loads of roasted vegetables including one of my fave's, aubergine, and plenty of black olives.

We were feeling pretty stuffed but we didn't want to miss out on one final dessert so we ordered the dessert combo plate to share. It comes with waffles, whipped cream, rum 'n raisin ice cream, a brownie and vanilla pudding.

The waffles were excellent, crisp on the outside, soft inside and covered in syrup. The pudding didn't look particularly appetising and as I hate pudding and vanilla flavour desserts I skipped that part but Nick loved it. The brownie was dense and fudgey and the rice whipped cream was as wonderful as I remembered it being from the pancake plate we'd eaten on our previous visit.

After dinner we took one last walk around the city at night marvelling at the busyness and abundance of neon lights. Tokyo is such an amazing place, I really hope that I get to visit again one day.

Now from the title of this blog post you'd probably think I was done writing about Japan but you'd be wrong! I have another post up my sleeve and it concerns something I spent a lot of time researching, convenience foods. It's not always possible to eat out at a veg friendly spot for every meal especially in a city where almost nothing vegan friendly opens until 11am so I'm putting together a picture guide of the vegan products we discovered at 7/11, Lawson and Family Mart which should help future vegan travellers find quick and easy snacks and meals on the go.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Another year, another birthday blog post!

Last week I was trying to decide what to do for my birthday, I felt overwhelmed with options and that's when I realised that I haven't spent my birthday at home in Brighton for six years. Six! My last Brighton based birthday celebration was before I'd even started this blog! So crazy. I can't believe I've been lucky enough to celebrate my birthday in such amazing places recently, the Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall (which I'll be re-visiting this summer), London, Berlin, Millencolin Fest' in Sweden and last year's 30th birthday extravaganza in Spain. I adore Brighton so I was super excited to plan a fun day here and Nick and I started with a lazy morning together at home. When I came downstairs there was a helium ballon waiting for me, I love helium balloons, I'm not really sure why but I think they're just super fun and cute!

Nick sneakily bough some Hello Kitty stickers in Japan for decorating future cards and gifts with, he's so adorable!

For breakfast Nick made us our favourite green juice from 365 Vegan Smoothies, it has banana, orange, kale, grapes and lemon juice and I love how frothy it gets. You'd think you wouldn't need a recipe book for smoothies but I'd never made a green juice this good until I bought it so I think it was a good investment! We also had Jus-Rol croissants with loads of Vitalite, two of my favourite accidentally vegan products!

Of course there were presents! Nick gifted me some graphic novels which I was super excited about, I read them so quickly that I find it hard to justify dropping the cash on them so they make excellent presents. He also got me some gorgeous Oracle brass ear weights, I'd been coveting them for a long time so I was super excited and I've been wearing them almost every day!

After our lovely slow start to the day we grabbed a Car Club car and headed for Raystede Animal Sanctuary. It's one of my favourite places to spend time, Nick and I visited last year for an Animal Carer Day and I try to go back whenever I can. I'm looking into volunteering there right now but it's surprisingly difficult to get to without a car.

Our first stop was the cattery, you can't go inside but you can peer through the windows at the kitties being all adorable. I always get so sad reading the reasons why cats end up at the shelter but it made me extra glad we decided to foster Rorschach until we were able to find him a perfect forever home. Our second stop was the goats. Best photobomb!

After a walk around the lake we checked out the donkeys and ponies. I love this part of the sanctuary, it's so beautiful and there are some really little ponies who are obviously super adorable.

Look at their ears! I love donkeys, they're like an extra fluffy horse!

On the way home we listened to one of my gifts, the latest Me First and the Gimme Gimmes CD. I love this band, they play punk rock covers of classics and this has to be the best album they've released for ages. There's even a cover of Cher's Believe complete with ridiculous synths and auto-tune!

We were starving by the time we got back into Brighton so we headed for VBites for one of my favourite meals, the 3Bites plate! It comes with one each of the VBeefy, VFishy and Classic Beefy burgers and a side of fries. I blogged about it with a better picture here, they've definitely made the burgers smaller since the trial period but it's definitely still one of my favourite meals to eat in Brighton right now.

Obviously everyone needs cake on their birthday, or ice cream if that's more your style. One year I'd love to have an ice cream cake, I've never tried one but they sound perfect! I'd had breakfast at Infinity Foods Cafe with some friends a week or so before my birthday and the cakes looked amazing so I was excited to go back. I chose the Chocolate Cheesecake and Nick went for a slice of Chocolate Chip Banana Cake.

I'm not normally the biggest cheesecake fan but this one was tofu based and very mousse like, I really enjoyed it and I'll definitely be going back for more soon. Nick loved his cake too and the little piece I tried was super moist and bananaey with huge chocolate chunks throughout.

That wasn't enough cake for one day though so we wandered down Kensington Gardens and picked up a slice of Lemon, Poppy Seed and Polenta cake and a piece of Chocolate Tiffin from Iydea and a Chocolate Raspberry cupcake from Cloud 9.

I loved the tiffin, it was ridiculously rich and chocolatey and full of chunks of biscuit and cherry. I'll definitely be buying it again. I was a little disappointed by the other two though, the lemon poppyseed tasted strange and I think for me there were just too many poppy seeds which gave each bite an odd mouthfeel. The cupcake from Cloud 9 was ridiculously dry and crumbled as we tried to eat it, the frosting was nicely flavoured but texturally it didn't hit the spot. Cloud 9 have only recently started making vegan cakes and I've seen a promising looking Oreo mud cake whilst walking past so I will be giving something else there a try soon. My recommended spots for cake right now are definitely Infinity Cafe, both of the slices we tried there were excellent, closely followed by the cake we ate recently at Our Cornish Pasty Shop. I'll also give a little shout out to WaiKikaMooKau who stock my Operation Icing cupcakes but don't go out to eat my own cake, that'd just be silly!

After a long day of adventuring in the sun it was time for some quiet time and I read books on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon. Hunger struck early evening and Nick and I got into the kitchen to make some serious birthday food, mac & cheese pizza!

This isn't the greatest pic but as you can probably imagine this pizza was totally ridiculous and delicious and an awesome end to the day!

We'd made the Roasted Red Pepper Mac & Cheese from Isa Does It the previous night so we just needed to slather some jarred pizza sauce on to a store bought base (the Sainsbury's hand stretched kind is my favourite), top it with the mac and then top that with the last of the Follow Your Heart cheese we brought back from NYC in January. For some reason if you shred a block of Follow Your Heart and freeze it for around 6 months it doesn't melt anywhere near as well as before so next time we'll just buy the pre-shreded bags. It was still gooey and close to melty though so it was all okay!

Don't think that my celebrating ended there though! I'm a firm believer in the birthday week especially when your birthday falls on a Tuesday so come Friday evening it was time for the extravaganza to continue. I met Nick when he finished work and we walked down Western Road to Gourmet Pizza Kitchen, a cute little pizzeria that I only heard about a few weeks ago.

GPK have one vegan pizza on the menu, the Vegan Pesto, and then they have vegan cheese so that you can veganise some of the veggie options or create your own. I picked the Vegan Pesto and Nick ordered a Margherita with veggie pepperoni. My vegan pesto pizza was covered in a generous amount of toppings which, as well as the pesto and cheese, included caramelised red onions, black olives (my faves) and cherry tomatoes. I enjoyed it although I think Pizza Face currently holds the best pizza in Brighton crown. The Margherita was definitely slightly lacking in the topping department, I think pizza should be almost drowning in tomato sauce especially if the toppings are as simple as cheese and pepperoni and I think the lack of marinara sauce resulted in a slightly dry pizza. I would definitely go back to GPK, I can't think of many places you can go out to eat vegan pizza in Brighton in the evening (I think it's just here, perhaps La Cucina and Pizza Express where you'd need to take your own cheese or go cheese-less ) and I would order the vegan pesto pizza again, the crust was nice and thin and I liked the restaurant itself.

It was definitely a good plan to fill up on food because our next stop was Boho Gelato's frozen cocktail night held at Slice Sussex. I've been to this event a couple of times before and I last blogged about it back when the event began. I've always thoroughly enjoyed it and this time was no different. We were meeting some of the friends I've made in the last year from the local vegan group on Meet Up and I'm still so glad I bit the bullet and joined last year. Working from home isn't the best way to make local friends and whilst I have some amazing buddies scattered all over the world I felt like I was lacking in local mates to grab food or beers with on a regular basis.

The menu at the cocktail night is always split into two, dairy and non-dairy. Non dairy doesn't always mean vegan but they'd done their research and knew that the Campari in the Boho Aperitivo needed to be replaced with something else.

I love lemon so the Limoncello Classic seemed to be a good place to start the evening, this gorgeous frothy delight definitely ended up being my favourite cocktail of the night. I think I could drink these all day. I won't, but I totally could!

The next drink I tried was the Hendricks + Cucumber Slushy and before the event it was one of the drinks I was most excited about. Unfortunately I think it worked better on paper than in reality. It wasn't a slushy and I think the rose in the rose and cucumber sorbet distracted from the gin cucumber combo that should have been delicious.

Lastly I tried the Boho Aperitivo which consisted of blood orange sorbet, limoncello and gin. This was apparently better than the kind with the Campari which I'm counting as a win for veganism.

This night's not only good for the drinkers among us though, the guys behind the bar were quite happy to whip up some non alcoholic cocktails for the sober among us and they were a super bargain at £2!

My third and final birthday celebration took place yesterday afternoon at the lovely Terre à Terre, somewhere I will always find an excuse to visit! Nick and my bff's Tabitha and Sal were more than happy to accompany me for afternoon tea. The vegan friendliness of the tea is pretty new and we were all excited to try it. Sal and I upgraded our tea to prosecco for £6 extra which is a wonderful choice for anyone celebrating something or for people like me who just dislike hot drinks!

I won't give you a full run down of everything on the tiers, some people will want to be surprised and the rest of you can read the full descriptions on the online menu here. The tea is designed to move from salty to sweet to sweeter and I loved this approach.

The savoury tea layer included some beautiful local heirloom tomatoes in a multitude of colours which accompanied some of my favourite nori crackers. There were also sesame crusted tofu bites and one of my favourite menu items, the Arepas Chilli Candy which even I can manage to eat as long as I remove the biggest chunks of chilli from the sticky sauce!

The sweet tier came next and I was so impressed with it that I took a picture of it separately. You can also see the gorgeous hand painted card Tabitha made me in the background, she's ridiculously talented.

There were a couple of mini churros each, and the two little polenta cakes, one with an orange filling and one with a chocolate filling were delightful bite sized treats. I enjoyed the snappy pistachio wafer way more than I thought I would and the little chocolate cake with freeze dried raspberries was also delightful.

Lastly we ate the scones, two little ones each which was perfect. They were served with almond cream and homemade jam. I would have loved to see some homemade vegan butter here as that's how I usually roll with crumpets but this was still wonderful and everyone else agreed that the cream / jam option is more traditional.

I had such an amazing birthday week surrounded by friends (human and animal), eating great food and generally living it up! I also really appreciated everyone who tweeted or instagrammed birthday wishes in my direction, you're all lovely! Bring on 32, who knows where I'll be!