Saturday, 23 November 2013

Next to Nowhere is really Somewhere!- vegan cafe review

News from Nowhere in Bold Street, Liverpool (the name is based on William Morris' 1890 novel about utopian socialism).
Yesterday I took a trip back into my past when we visited Liverpool, where I lived for four years in the 1980s as a university student and beyond. It was only after we arrived in the city centre, having driven past a couple of the houses I had lived in, that I realised why my years in Liverpool will always be important to me: they were the years in which I grew from being a teenager to being an adult- leaving home, fending for myself, discovering different cultures, religions and political opinions, learning to cook, taking responsibility (or not). I made plenty of mistakes in those years, and put myself through some very hard times, but I will always value the experiences I had there because they have helped to shape the choices I have made in the years that followed: I first became vegan while in Liverpool, I immersed myself in the vibrant music and social life of the subculture and I learned many lessons apart from those which took place in the relative safety of the lecture hall.
So I was feeling pretty emotional by the time we got out of the car in Renshaw Street. But happy to be finally back as well; Liverpool is a charismatic place, full of iconic public buildings such as the Liver Building and the two cathedrals, and large old houses laid out round green squares that speak of more prosperous times. We walked round the corner to Bold Street, which didn't seem to have changed that much over the years: Cafe Tabac was still there, albeit modernised, and there were still many independent shops selling vintage clothing etc.- a nice change from Birmingham city centre, which is sadly full of characterless chainstores. It was way less crowded than Birmingham on a Saturday afternoon too. Our first stop was a vegan cafe in a social centre called Next to Nowhere, situated in the basement of News from Nowhere, a radical bookshop which in the 80s had been in small and run-down premises a little further away up the hill. We rang the doorbell to the right of News from Nowhere, and someone came upstairs to let us in. Downstairs, we soon found ourselves in a do-it-yourself social centre which had clearly been created by a dedicated group of alternative thinkers to facilitate meetings, social events and sharing vegan food. This is what we saw:

A small serving hatch in a dining area covered in flyers and thought-provoking posters

...and a limited but astoundingly cheap vegan menu!
The cafe is only open on Saturdays and staffed by volunteers (which may explain the prices). It's great that anyone can come here out of the cold and get sustenance so cheaply. To say we got a friendly welcome would be an understatement- within minutes of ordering, we were both deep in conversation with fellow diners and the lovely lady preparing and serving the food. We met, amongst others, a man who had been to Antarctica with Sea Shepherd and a lady who is as passionate about Beethoven as she is about feminism and vegan cooking. The food was simple but good, but paled into insignificance compared with the warmth of interaction that was going on; it's a rare thing these days to share life stories with people you have never met before, but it's a heartwarming and affirmative experience.
I guess as this is a review, I ought to write something about the food: we both had the lentil burger and apple crumble. They may not sound very original, but were made and flavoured well, using quality ingredients like rice flour and coconut sugar. After the chunky wholemeal bread that came with the burger, the gluten free crumble was light, cinnamon-y and just sweet enough without masking the flavour of the apples. It was a shame that the burger was unadorned by salad of any kind- maybe they had run out as it was nearly closing time- but it was tasty anyway: at those prices (£2 for the burger and bread and £1.50 for the crumble), it's all good! This cafe may not be everyone's cup of tea as it is not glitzy or smart and sells very simple food, but it's certainly an alternative to anything you'll find in the mall and I for one would rather spend money at an exclusively vegan place like this than line the pockets of some unprincipled multinational.

A delicately tasty pulse-based patty

A very delicious gluten free apple crumble
We were so taken up with talking to our new acquaintances in Next to Nowhere that we only had time for one more place, which I was delighted to see was still there in Bold Street after all these years- Matta's International Foods. This multi-ethnic wholefood store and grocery was packed with customers, and I couldn't resist picking up a loaf of artisan rye bread, for old time's sake, as this was the place where I used to buy ramen, hummus, olives and pitta bread to fuel long days of study and even longer nights of partying. The guy behind the counter also gave us a free sample of Pukka's caffeine- free vanilla chai, which was delicious this morning with toast made from the rye bread.

We visited Matta's International Foods before we left town.
I'd like to think we will visit Liverpool again before too long, and this time I won't need to Google cafes before we set off...

Friday, 22 November 2013

Tips for Quick Meals from Scratch

We think it's about time I wrote something practical, since this blog is supposed to give cooking advice as well as recipes. (And I've also been suffering from terrible lack of creativity in the kitchen this week). Lately, meals in our house have been all about getting a tasty and healthy dinner prepared as quickly as possible as we have all been very busy, so I thought I'd share some thoughts and tips on cooking quick meals from scratch.

  1. If you have to cook for 4 or more people preparing veg can be a time-consuming chore- but remember that a healthy plate should contain 1/2-1/3 veggies. So you can't take shortcuts, right?- Wrong! When you are really pushed for time, choose veg that are simple to wash and chop like peppers, cauliflower, cabbage etc. rather than fiddly ones like runner beans, celery or anything that needs a lot of scrubbing, mincing or peeling. And when you do chop, go for chunky; you'll get it done faster. (But bear in mind also that the smaller you chop it the shorter the cooking time will be.) Don't resort to expensive packets of ready-prepared veg though, as they are not fresh and will contain less nutrients. You can, however, sneak some frozen veg in to bulk it up- this has been proven to contain more nutrients than canned, or even fresh veg which has been hanging around a while.
  2. Invest in a few favourite spice mixes/ masalas. There's no shame in using these for fast and tasty meals, and they take out a lot of the brain work and hunting for stuff in your spice cupboard. (Or if you really can't bring yourself to do that, then make your own masalas and store in jars for future use.) In addition to single spices like cumin seeds or coriander, we usually have a rogan josh, chana masala, Madras or Malaysian curry powder, Chinese 5-spice and ras el hanout, which between them can cover a lot of different meals. The same ingredients, differently spiced, will mean you can serve up a variety of flavours with the minimum of fuss- and nobody will get bored with your cooking!
  3. Ensure your storecupboard is stocked with some time-saving groceries like cans of coconut milk, beans, tomatoes or passata, yeast flakes (aka nutritional yeast), tahini, soy sauce/ liquid aminos and various dried herbs. Then you'll have some pretty much instant sauces. Stir fry or steam veggies and serve them over rice/ pasta and beans with a quick sauce. All you really have to decide is what kind of flavour you're going for- creamy, spicy, Indian, Indonesian, Chinese etc.
  4. Save time on grains: cook brown rice and dried beans in a pressure cooker. Every ten days or so I cook up a quantity of beans and chickpeas and keep them in bags in the freezer. This makes stuff like hummus a quick and easy option.
  5. Invest in some time-saving equipment. A food processor will make short work of slicing and grating veggies, a hand blender will turn a pot of veggies and a can of tomatoes into a delicious soup in seconds, and a grinder will create seed and nut-based sprinkles/ sauce ingredients in no time at all.
  6. Plan how you're going to cook your meal: prepare the slowest-cooking veggies first and throw them in the pot to give them a head start while you prepare the faster-cooking ones. That way you'll get them all cooked at the same time, and you'll have made the best use of your time by having some already on the go while you're chopping the rest.
  7. Meals that practically cook themselves while you get on with other stuff include jacket potatoes or sweet potatoes- just whizz up a quick soup or salad and hummus to go with them, and brown rice and beans with assorted roast veggies.
Quick and easy Recipe Suggestions and links:

So what tips and recipes do you have for time-saving yet healthy meals?

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Highbury Hand Made Christmas Fayre 2013- and what's in a name?


This is our shout for our friend Mel's annual event. She works so hard every year organising it,  and the proceeds go towards Highbury Theatre Centre. For those of you who don't (yet) know Mel, she is a very talented crafter  and lover of all things vintage, who writes the blog Mel Makes, in which she documents all her beautiful projects, aided and abetted by her cute kitty Boris. Naturally, she will be running a stall at the fayre, along with .gifts, handbags, textiles, jewellery if you live anywhere near Birmingham/ Sutton Coldfield, do go along and get some unique Christmas presents. Just click on the above link to her blog to find out more.

What's in a Name?
On to our next topic: last week on our fb  page we asked readers if they think we should change the name of this blog because it is now vegan and the title "vegetarian" could be misleading. As you may remember, we started out including dairy products in a few of our recipes, but although our kids are not vegan we now are, so our recipes are all vegan. If we do change our blog name, does that mean we should delete past non-vegan posts? The response on fb was pretty much in favour of us changing the name. What do you think? We would choose a name not too different from the current one (although Yogi Vegan is already taken).

Sunday, 17 November 2013

LBD Burger- vegan,wheat free

Everyone needs a good veggie burger recipe!

"Not another veggie burger!" I hear you cry- Erm, yes it is, but don't click off here yet because this one's really different. Savoury but neutral and able to hold its shape even when oven- cooked, it's the lbd of veggie burgers; you can take it anywhere. It can be dressed up or down according to the occasion and everyone should have it in their culinary wardrobe. If you only have one type of veggie burger in your repertoire then make it this one. But don't be deceived by this burger's apparent simplicity- it's actually packed full of super-nutritious ingredients. We decided to make a burger with the complete spectrum of amino acids, so we included grains (brown rice), seeds (chia and hemp, which contain the full range anyway), nuts (walnuts) and pulses (red kidney beans). Plus there's some veggies in there as well. This recipe made us 11 burgers, so although it takes a little longer to make the mix than with our usual recipe, you can freeze some- once you've shaped them- for another day. So read on, and meet our new best burger friend...

1 cup (250ml) brown rice (dry weight)
100g walnuts, ground
50g hemp seeds, shells and all, ground
50g chia seeds, ground
150g cooked red kidney beans
275g grated veggies (we used peppers and pumpkin, but sweet potato or courgette would also work well)
2 tabs tomato puree
2 tabs soy sauce (use tamari if you want to make this recipe gluten free)
1 tab paprika
1 tab dried mixed herbs
1 1/2 tsps seasalt
1/2 tsp black pepper

  • Cook the rice in twice the amount of water, until it is very soft and all the water is absorbed. (Tip: use a pressure cooker to speed things up.)
  • While the rice is cooking, you can grind the nuts and seeds and grate the veggies.
  • Mash or process the red kidney beans until smooth.
  • Add the cooked rice to the veggies, nuts and seeds and mix well. Add half of this mixture to the beans and process until smooth.
  • Mix the processed mixture back in with the whole rice mixture and add the tomato puree, soy sauce, paprika, herbs, salt and pepper. You might need to use your hands for this to make sure it all blends in evenly.
  • Shape and bake on an oiled tray at 200C. The bottom cooks as well as the top so no need to flip.
  • Serve however you like; with veg, gravy and potatoes, in a bun with relish,' slaw and salad etc. Miso and hing might also be tasty additions/ variations to the burger mix.