Saturday, 8 March 2014

Cake Pops!

I have always thought that cake pops were sort of like the sweets we used to call truffles when I was a child; pressed-together cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in chocolate vermicelli, or variations thereof. But a couple of weeks ago I was given a cake pop maker (I'd show you a picture but they all came out very badly) which actually bakes perfectly spherical tiny cakes all ready to coat and decorate.
"It's basically a brownie on a stick," pronounced my stepdaughter, as she delicately but enthusiastically demolished hers. I must admit I did dip some of the cake pops in milk chocolate for the non-vegans in the household, but the cake inside is vegan, and of course ours were dipped in vegan chocolate. They were quite amusing to make and eat; certainly children would love them and they look pretty at a party in a tall glass with ribbons tied round the sticks. Two thoughts on cake pops:

  1. They could be made raw from fruit, nuts and seeds, with a recipe like this, perhaps coated in raw chocolate and sprinkled with coconut or goji berries.
  2. The cake pop maker could be used for making baked versions of fried things like falafels and pakoras, and they would come out small, cute and perfectly shaped as well as being healthier. Now there's an idea...

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Barley Bean Pilaff- vegan, gluten free, soya free

The barley pilaff is on the right, accompanying a cauliflower steak.
I'm hoping you didn't mind too much waiting for this recipe; this pilaff was delicious with the cauliflower steak but it would be a meal in its own right served with more veg and/ or salad, and that's why it has a post all to itself. Barley is a much under-used grain, in my opinion, and makes a good alternative to brown rice. Sorry to tease-I do hope the recipe makes up for it :)

Serves about 6:
2 cups pearl or pot (unpolished) barley
1 scant tab fresh rosemary (use dried if you can't get fresh)
300g cooked red kidney beans (or your favourite bean)
1 1/2 tabs tomato puree (the double concentrated kind)
200g diced or chopped veggies (I used green peppers, green beans and sweetcorn kernels)
2 tabs nutritional yeast (like Engevita brand)
1 tab olive oil
1 1/2 tsps seasalt
1/2 tsp black pepper

  •  I can't stand those woody bits in rosemary, so the first thing I did after I picked it was reduce it to powder in the grinder.
  • Pressure cook the barley in twice the amount of water, until it is soft and the water has been absorbed. (Or use 650g cooked barley if you happen to have some around.)
  • Stir fry the veggies in the olive oil until soft, then mix in the beans.
  • Add the herbs, salt, pepper, tomato puree and nutritional yeast.
  • Stir this mixture into the cooked barley and heat gently to serve.
This post is shared with Vegan Thursdays Google group

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Egg Vegetarian and Vegan Cafe,16-18 Newington, Liverpool

Part of the menu outside the front door- sorry about the blurriness!
Last Saturday we were in Liverpool and decided to check out The Egg, a well-established cafe-cum-art-gallery which I remember going to when I was a student at Liverpool Uni in the 80s. I recall an airy, somewhat minimal space with a high ceiling, wooden beams and a scrubbed wooden floor; a pleasant place in which to get away from the bustle of the city centre. (I think I may even have tasted hummus for the very first time there.) Returning after over 25 years (:/ That long ago? Really?), there were some changes, but The Egg still retains its Bohemian vibe and many menu items too, such as garlic bread with cheese and pitta bread with hummus and salads. I was even surprised to see the same old lino on the stairs leading  up to the cafe!
The Egg is tucked away down a side street in the city centre which connects Bold Street with Renshaw Street. It's near central Station, Lime Street Station and the Adelphi Hotel. We arrived in Liverpool after dark, and nearly walked straight past the entrance as it has no front window, only an A-board sign on the pavement and a menu in the doorway. This is because the cafe is up several flights of stairs, on the top floor of a Victorian warehouse building. This would obviously put it out of reach for anyone with mobility issues as there is no lift, and even carrying a folded baby buggy up there would be a challenge on your own. But I guess there's nothing the management can do about this because they share the building and probably have no say in structural matters.
At the top of the stairs we were confronted with a heavy purple closed door. All was silent. Had we got it all wrong? Gingerly, I pushed open the door, to be greeted by a different world, full of bustle, twinkling lights and delicious aromas. We joined the queue for the service counter immediately.While we waited in line (it was really busy) I surveyed the decor, mentally checking it against the place I remembered from so long ago. The wooden beams are now painted the same purple with green leaves as the doorway outside, and there seem to be more of the scrubbed pine tables than before, some small and intimate, some long and wide, inviting communal dining. I looked through the windows and remembered the urban landscape of rooftops you can gaze out on over your peppermint tea. On the walls is the artwork  from the current exhibition, and a few large hearts with messages on them like "Love Earth". (I would show you, but the photos came out very badly.) Overall, I'd say the style of the place is "shabby chic". Deliciously retro, in fact- just my cup of tea because it reminds me of the good old days.

The green and purple decor continues upstairs too.
To get served, you go up to the counter, where you can see the menu and the dishes on offer for that day. You order and pay then and there, cafeteria-style, but anything like soup or main courses gets heated and plated up then brought to you. Great for avoiding long waits at the table at busy times, but with one flaw: even when the tables are full and those that are left are all reserved, they keep on serving and so we had a few anxious moments trying to find somewhere to sit until the friendly staff saw our predicament and found us a little table for two in the corner. (Actually the staff table- but we didn't mind!) The glowing candles on every table and mellow music really helped create a pleasant atmosphere. The lighting where we were just didn't work for photography, though, so you'll have to make do with pictures of the food at the counter.

Part of the serving counter; the shepherd's pie is at the back.
The menu itself is fairly standard, old fashioned Cranks-style vegetarian/ vegan wholefood, with a selection of hot and cold drinks too. No fancy presentation or exotic ingredients here, but all good wholesome stuff nevertheless. There is a soup of the day which you can have with bread, garlic bread, cheesy garlic bread etc. (vegan options available). You can get a plateful of the salad selection, hummus, pitta bread and salad, there are a couple of quiches (containing egg and dairy) which are also served with salad, and a varying selection of main courses which can be served with rice, salad or a bit of both. I was delighted to learn that around half the cakes they had that day were vegan; banana cake, apple crumble (vegan icecream also available), chocolate crunchie (a biscuity fridge cake) and muffins. Vegan and gluten free items are clearly labelled and the staff seem only too happy to help with any queries you might have. We chose the shepherd's pie with salad and Moroccan vegetables with salad, and we both had the chocolate crunchie for dessert. Our food came quite quickly, which was impressive considering that the upstairs seating area was taken up with a function, and it was piping hot (they do use a microwave for this though.) My Moroccan vegetables were served in a bowl on a plate with generous amounts of salad all around, leaving not much room for manoeuvre and no choice but to dig in and clear some space! The portions were generous, and great value at around £5 or £6 for a main course. The shepherd's pie was delicious and hearty, and appeared to be mainly Puy lentils flavoured with fresh thyme. The potato topping was browned and crusty. The Moroccan vegetables were generous chunks of butternut squash, chickpeas, courgette and carrots. It was a welcome surprise to find the chickpeas as they hadn't been mentioned in the menu description and I had been wondering about protein content. The vegetables were pleasant and cooked down to  melt-in-the-mouth consistency, but to be honest I could have handled a bit more spice and slightly less of an oily finish at the bottom of the bowl. I guess they wanted to cater for all palates. We both found the salads attractive and tasty; chunks of tomato and cucumber, a selection of green leaves such as baby spinach, rocket and lamb's lettuce, a herby pasta salad and a rice salad drizzled with fragrant toasted sesame oil. The meal was really filling- we couldn't have managed it with the rice option as well although we had both been very hungry to begin with. The chocolate crunchie was nothing you couldn't make at home and very sweet indeed, but good and chocolate-y, with the slices about double the size you might expect; it was nice to be able to have a vegan treat we hadn't had to make ourselves and we tucked in happily.

There is a good selection of salads.
All in all, The Egg represents excellent value for money, with good down-to-Earth wholefood veggie and vegan fare. I would like to have seen vegan cheese on offer as an alternative to the cheesey garlic bread, and a vegan quiche or tarte would not have come amiss. But then I would say that, because I'm vegan. The dining experience here is pleasant, it doesn't cost a lot of money and whether you are vegan, vegetarian, coeliac or any combination of the above, you will find you have a choice of home cooked dishes, accompanied by a great selection of salads, cakes and all the hot and cold non-alcoholic drinks you would expect. Weekend evenings seem busy, so perhaps it would be advisable to book a table if you are planning on visiting then.
Look for the purple doorway and the A-board...

Top Floor
16-18 Newington
Liverpool L1 4ED
(0151) 707 2755

Opening Times:
Mon-Fri 9am-10.30pm
Sat/ Sun 10am-10.30pm

Monday, 3 March 2014

Inspired by... 3: Cauliflower Steaks with Smoky Red Pepper Sauce and Barley Bean Pilaff-vegan, gluten free,soya free

 The Chubby Vegetarian is created by Justin Fox-Burks and his wife Amy Lawrence, from Memphis in the USA. It was one of the very first blogs I started following three and a half years ago when I cautiously dipped my toes into the blogosphere, and I still await every new post with eager anticipation. They are highly creative professional people who really know their foodie stuff and are always on trend, yet have a friendly, relaxed vibe at the same time, with bags of enthusiasm, which makes for engaging reading. They recently published their first book,  The Southern Vegetarian, and are already working on a second. While they are not vegan, many of their recipes are, and those which aren't can be usually be veganised.This recipe doesn't actually attempt to replicate one from The Chubby Vegetarian; rather it contains some TCV elements that have inspired me, such as vegetable "steaks" (they have used portobello mushrooms, pumpkin and cauliflower in their recipes), smoky flavours and the use of fresh herbs. I created it  to feed four of us; in the end, there was a bit too much of the barley pilaff but that might have been because not everyone was very hungry. A succulent roasted cauliflower "steak" is a tasty alternative to steaming cauliflower, and retains lots of texture and flavour. My aim was to ensure the "umami" (Japanese for a type of tangy, slightly salty, savoury taste) in this meal, which was achieved by the miso in the sauce, the nutritional yeast in the barley and the judicious use of a little lemon juice.
1 large head of cauliflower
1 tab olive oil
a sprinkling of seasalt

For the sauce:
3 medium-sized red bell peppers (capsicums)
2 tabs sweet smoked paprika
1 tab regular paprika
1/2 tsp compound hing
2 tsps organic brown rice miso
1 tab lemon juice
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tab tahini

  • Wash and de-leaf the cauliflower, and slice it top to bottom into steaks about 2cm thick. If you leave a little stalk on, the slices will hold together.
  • Brush the slices with a little olive oil and seaslt and lay them flat on a baking sheet. grill on medium-high for about 8 minutes each side, until starting to brown- not too much, mind, as charred food can be carcinogenic. It should be cooked through, but a little more al dente than steamed cauliflower.
  • While the cauliflower is cooking, make the sauce: Quarter, de-seed and grill the red peppers until the skin is wrinkling and they are browning at the edges. Set aside to cool. (Unless your blender can handle them hot.)
  • Blend everything together and warm through gently in a small saucepan before serving on top of the cauliflower steaks.

As for the barley bean pilaff recipe; you'll have to wait a day or two, as it's coming in a separate post because it's so delicious it deserves it's own!
By the way, we're chuffed to bits we got a shoutout from The Peace Patch, a fascinating vegan blog which is currently running a series on daily food festivals and linking them to other blogs, kind of acting as a hub. Check out what was said about us and which of our recipes were featured...
...and here's the first daffodil of Spring from our garden!