Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Vegan Odyssey Part 2: Warsaw

This is the second in a two part series covering my mum's birthday trip to Berlin and Warsaw. Part 1 covered the first leg of our journey, from London to Berlin.

We arrived in Warsaw after dark, so it was lucky that we'd already decided where to go for dinner: a popular vegan burger bar not far from the railway station. Even with the help of the Happy Cow app, it took us quite a while to track down the tiny Krowarzywa, not least because the frontage was covered in scaffolding.

Still, when we did find it, I was very happy with my burger, complete with yummy garlic mayo and a frankly excessive quantity of beansprouts. We were intrigued by the basil lemonade that was on offer, but after a single sip I handed it over to my mum (who, thankfully, loved it) and reverted back to a very British ginger beer.

Vegan burger

Then it was time to find our hotel and settle in for the night. I'd actually managed to find a small apartment that was, for some reason, cheaper than a regular hotel room. Although the hotel was very central, it was set back in a small courtyard, so it felt quite private.

The view from our apartment

The next morning dawned grey and damp, but we'd already identified a plausible spot for breakfast, so we put on our raincoats and walked around the corner to Organitheka. They'd only just started opening in time for breakfast -- we were the first to try their porridge, served with a healthy scoop of stewed apple and cinnamon. The coffee was good, too. My mum had an almond milk cappuccino, which is a form of cappuccino even I can get behind!

Porridge for breakfast

Then, because it was still decidedly gloomy outside, we went to admire the lovely glass ceiling of this shopping centre that I remembered from my previous visit to Warsaw.

Warsaw shopping centre

Once the rain let up a bit, we went out to admire the architecture of the city. Warsaw is a pleasing mixture of pretty European squares...


...towering Soviet landmarks like the Palace of Culture...

Warsaw Palace of Culture

...and the medieval castle, which (along with much of the old town) has been painstakingly reconstructed brick by brick after it was destroyed in the war.

Warsaw castle

For lunch, we had soup that came with a garnish of raspberry puree and popcorn, and huge glasses of vegan hot chocolate to warm ourselves up.


We continued our walk around the city in the afternoon. I took hundreds of photos and I won't share them all, but I did think Copernicus looked particularly striking in silhouette against the gloomy skies.

Copernicus statue in Warsaw

In the evening, we went to Lokal Bistro, which gets some of the best ratings on Happy Cow. They're known for creating vegan equivalents of traditional Polish dishes, which stands out a bit against the burger-heavy vegan scene. We were hoping to make the most of this, but several things had sold out (although we went quite early!). Combined with some language issues, we basically ended up ordering random food, but it was still good.

Lokal bistro in Warsaw

I particularly loved this tempeh salad, with fresh spinach, various chopped veggies, and a decent quantity of olives.

Tempeh salad

For dessert, we had blueberry and almond cake, which was one of my favourite cakes of the trip.

Blueberry & almond cake

The next morning we got coffee from Caffe Nero, which was just a few steps from our hotel. Even chain stores are different when you're overseas -- in this case, there was an interesting range of baked goods, and I enjoyed a cardamom and almond bun for my breakfast.

Cardamom bun for breakfast

The weather was a little better on the second day, so we set out for a long walk through Łazienki Królewskie park.

Łazienki Królewskie

Flowers in the park


Lazienki Park, Warsaw

I've always loved red squirrels, and these ones were completely fearless, coming to see if we had any snacks to share. I was just a bit sorry that I didn't have anything in my pocket!

Red squirrel

Next on our foodie agenda was Chwast Food, another spot that specialises in vegan burgers. I had a mushroom burger with horseradish sauce, which was a great combination, and the multiseed buns were also some of the best I've ever had. We were totally won over by this place, and got some cakes to take away with us (ready for breakfast the next day, as it was Sunday, and we were afraid we wouldn't find anywhere open).

Chwast Burger

After some more walking, we dropped into a little cafe called Legal Cakes for afternoon tea. We'd hoped that somewhere dedicated entirely to cake, which advertised its vegan credentials, would be a great place to indulge, but sadly it was all a bit disappointing. There wasn't as much choice as we'd hoped, and everything was trying a bit too hard to be virtuous at the expense of flavour and texture.

Cake from Legal Cakes

Legal Cakes

That evening, I was determined to find some pierogi. We tried a vegan cafe that was supposed to have good ones, but they'd completely sold out, so we ended up at a tourist trap with kitschy decor. It didn't look promising, but they had loads of different veggie options, and the prices actually weren't bad. And a glass of Polish beer to wash it down certainly didn't hurt!


The next morning we had cake for breakfast, courtesy of Chwast -- a rich carrot cake, and cheesecake with a thick layer of fresh berries. The cheesecake base was a little weird, as it appeared to be made out of cornflakes, but the carrot cake was amazing.

Cakes from Chwast Burger

This was our last day in Warsaw, so of course we wanted to explore the city a bit more before we headed home.

Warsaw street scene

We managed to fit in one last burger from Chwast before leaving -- our first visit had been just so good that we decided to go back there rather than further expanding our horizons. This time I had the famous beetroot burger (which had been sold out the day before), and my mum was even persuaded to try it, despite generally hating beetroot. Again, a total success. To be honest, I'd probably come back to Warsaw just to eat these burgers.

Beetroot burger

And that's about it, really. We returned to England via the overnight train from Warsaw to Köln (Cologne), then on to Amsterdam, and back to the ferry. Unfortunately, by that stage I'd walked so far that I could barely manage a few steps, so we spent quite a lot of time in railway station cafes while we changed trains. All in all, we had a really lovely trip, and it was exciting to see the developing vegan scene in Warsaw. Given the rate that new places were opening up, it's probably completely different by now!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Vegan Raspberry Lemon Drizzle Cake

I've been meaning to create a vegan version of my favourite lemon drizzle cake for a while, now, and I finally got around to actually making it for a party recently.

While I was in the kitchen, though, I had a moment of inspiration. What's better than lemon drizzle cake? Lemon drizzle cake with raspberries. There's just something so obviously right about this combination that, once I'd thought of it, I couldn't believe I hadn't done it earlier. I had enough lemons for two cakes, so I decided to do an impromptu experiment.

I used dried raspberries, but I'm sure fresh would be even better, when they're in season. Friends have also recommended blueberries as an alternative that works well, so I'm looking forward to trying that out next time.

Vegan Raspberry Lemon Drizzle Cake
Makes 1 cake

2 lemons
350g (2 cups) plain flour
220g (1 cup) caster sugar
2tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
120ml (½ cup) sunflower oil
25g (⅔ cup) freeze dried raspberries
50g icing sugar
1tsp granulated sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F), and line a medium loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
  2. Zest and juice the lemons, discarding any pips from the juice.
  3. Measure out half the juice, and top up to 240ml (1 cup) with cold water.
  4. Sift together the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  5. Add the sunflower oil, lemon juice and water. Stir to make a batter, taking care to fold in all the dry ingredients.
  6. Put a layer of plain cake mixture into the loaf tin.
  7. Mix the raspberries and most of the lemon zest (reserving a little for the topping) into the remaining batter, and pour into the tin.
  8. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a knife comes out clean.
  9. With a few minutes' baking time remaining, heat the remaining lemon juice with the icing sugar in a small pan, and simmer to form a light syrup.
  10. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack and prick the surface with a fork in several places.
  11. Carefully spoon the lemon syrup over the cake, while the cake is still hot.
  12. Sprinkle granulated sugar over the top of the cake, and arrange the remaining strands of lemon zest to decorate.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Vegan Odyssey Part 1: Berlin

My mum had a significant birthday recently, so I said I'd take her on holiday, just the two of us.

Anywhere, I said: you choose, I'll pay. (With hindsight, this is the kind of offer you only want to make to people you really trust; thankfully that's not an issue between us!) There's a lot of world to choose from, so she understandably took a while to make her mind up -- by the time we set out, it was a good sixteen months after her actual birthday.

In the end it was an article on Happy Cow that tipped the balance, highlighting the recent, rapid rise in the number of vegan restaurants opening up in Warsaw. I thought it might be more fun to travel overland rather than flying straight there, and I suggested breaking the journey with a couple of nights in Berlin, which also meant we could fit in a special birthday dinner at my all-time favourite vegan restaurant (see my notes from my first visit, here).

We met up at Euston station and started as we meant to go on with lunch at Vantra, a vegan buffet restaurant in central London. Honestly, we were a little disappointed with this one, everything looked great and really fresh, but the flavours were a bit bland -- which may have been because, we spotted on our way out, the menu includes no garlic or onions. Which are two of our favourite things.

Buffet lunch at Vantra

Still, it filled us up, and we'd wanted to be sure of a decent lunch because we were going to spend the evening on the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. This is one of my favourite routes: the cabins are really comfy, and if you take the overnight sailing, you can sleep as you cross the Channel and wake up in the Netherlands ready to start your day.

I'm not such a fan of the food on the ferry, though, so we packed our own generous picnic for the evening, complete with a selection of tomatoes from my mum's garden, and a nice bottle of wine to wash it all down.

Picnic on the ferry

We hopped on the first train into Amsterdam in the morning, and we'd hoped to have time to get some brunch before our onward connection, but everything turned out to be just a little bit further apart than we'd hoped. Still, we got a bit of fresh air (slightly marjuana-scented, this being Amsterdam) and then it was time to head on to Germany.

Our first morning in Berlin we found our way to Geh Veg, a dinky vegan restaurant near our hotel, where I had a tempeh bagel and a cup of strong coffee, and we shared a popped quinoa flapjack-like cake just because.

Tempeh bagel

Our tour of the city started with a visit to Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was bombed in the war, and now stands as a reminder to all who pass its broken spire. We were generally trying to avoid the more depressing sights, since this was to be a happy holiday (and I've sobbed my heart out at the Berlin Wall before), but this was a fascinating spot that I didn't know about before we found it in the guidebook.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

We strolled through the city, took in the Brandenburg Gate, and narrowly avoided getting pickpocketed on Unter den Linden (the less said about that, the better). Around lunchtime, we came across Soy, a vegetarian Thai restaurant with a set menu that was incredible value for any city -- and certainly for somewhere as pricey as Berlin. It was also excellent. I'd go back there just for the frozen watermelon smoothie, but the whole plate was a mix of perfectly balanced flavours and textures.

Lunch at Soy

In the afternoon, we took a lengthy walk in and around the gardens at Schloss Charlottenburg. I could bore you with hundreds of photographs of flowers, but I'll settle for just one, since I'm trying to focus on the food here.


And then, in the evening, I'd booked us in for dinner at Lucky Leek. I figured the best thing to do was to have the tasting menu, with the accompanying wine flight, which gave us plenty of variety without having to make many decisions along the way.

We started with canapés: one bite of a quiche-type beetroot tart, and a tiny bruschetta with vegan chorizo. A bit experimental (and slate is always slightly too trendy for me), but the chorizo was surprisingly nice, and the bread was homemade.

Canapes at Lucky Leek

The proper starter was a sweet potato soup, served with a slice of baked apple, which was coated in caramelised nuts and smelled of childhood fairground memories. This was just lush. Warming and comforting and delicious all through.

Soup at Lucky Leek

I was actually a bit disappointed in the main course, I think they were trying too hard. Pea ravioli, and 'feta' rolls, and wilted greens, and sweet pepper sauce, and a fruit coulis, and decorative curls of what I think were purple carrot. Every element was yummy in its own right, but put together, it was just too much. The vegan feta-alike was amazing, though, really convincing with just the right amount of sharpness.

Main course at Lucky Leek

And then there was dessert, which is always immaculately presented. This included an elderflower ice cream, blackcurrant sorbet, a mini fruit salad, a chocolate layer cake, and even a slender macaron.

Dessert at Lucky Leek

The next day we had a relaxed morning wandering the streets of Berlin, and for lunch, we were surprisingly impressed with the range of veggie and vegan options at the Chinese buffet at Berlin's Ostbahnhof. And then it was time to catch our train onwards, to Warsaw.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Ginger & Orange Chocolate Cupcakes

Recently, one of my friends turned up with these vegan chocolate cupcakes to share. (Yes, I do have the best friends. I know.) They were really light and amazingly moist, and naturally I had to have the recipe. I could detect a hint of orange, but I was surprised to learn there was also ginger in there -- and we both agreed that more would be good.

Chocolate orange & ginger cupcakes

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago, and that seemed as good an excuse as any to do a bit of baking. I thought I'd have a go at making the same recipe, but try to make the ginger a bit more prominent by replacing the grated ginger with bigger candied ginger pieces.

A few other tweaks: I used fairy cake cases, which are a bit smaller than the cupcakes the original recipe envisions -- so my version makes more and they cook more quickly. I skipped the frosting, too, meaning that these little buns are only about 130 calories each. And I used a mixture of soft brown sugar and dark muscovado for a richer flavour.

Fresh from the oven, the cake tops were slightly hard, but kept overnight in a cake tin they softened up, getting squidgy and sticky and just better all round, so I highly recommend making these a day in advance.

Chocolate Orange & Ginger Cupcakes
Makes 36

150g candied ginger
500g plain flour
250g soft brown sugar
150g dark muscovado sugar
80g unsweetened cocoa powder
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp salt
400ml cold coffee
240ml sunflower oil
2tsp pure vanilla extract
2tsp orange extract
4tbsp cider vinegar
  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and set out 36 paper cases in a bun tray.
  2. Cut the candied ginger into small pieces, about ½cm cubed.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  4. Fold in the coffee, oil, vanilla, and orange extracts.
  5. Stir in the vinegar. The batter will get lighter in colour as the vinegar reacts, and you may see bubbles -- this is nothing to worry about and the colour will soon settle down.
  6. Divide the cake mix into the paper cases. Take care not to fill each case above 2/3rds full, to give the batter space to rise.
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes in the trays before removing to a wire cooling rack.

Chocolate orange & ginger cupcakes

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Visiting a Pumpkin Seed Oil Mill

View from the train, as we travelled through the mountains.

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to have a work meeting in the pretty Austrian town of Graz. I've only been to Austria to ski, previously, so seeing the mountains lush and green instead of covered in snow was a bit of a revelation.

I also had no idea that pumpkin oil was such a big thing in this region. Like, really big. A meal would not be complete without a fresh salad incorporating a pumpkin oil dressing.

Other things I did not know: pumpkin oil is dark green when you see it in a bowl, but looks red when you pour it in front of the sun. It's also delicious.

Our hosts arranged for us to have a tour of a local pumpkin oil mill, where the oil is pressed and sold. This is a family business going back several generations, and although the machinery has been updated a couple of times, it's still a very interactive process with several steps done by hand. I thought you might enjoy a bit of a virtual tour from the resulting photos.

Although it's no longer used, some of the original old machinery is kept in the museum part of the mill.

Sacks of pumpkin seeds waiting to be processed. Apparently, one litre of pumpkin oil requires about 30 pumpkins, or 2.5kg of seeds [source]

Pumpkin seeds are boiled up with water to break down the husks.

Boiling mash is decanted into a vat, ready to be transferred to the press.

The main pumpkin oil press has two symmetrical halves, each of which contains a series of metal plates to crush the oil from the pumpkin seeds.

The back of the oil press, where the oil drains into a barrel ready to be bottled.

Pressed disks of discarded pumpkin husks, after the oil has been extracted.

Tools coated in striking green pumpkin oil.

The run-off channels.

The end product in action: a typical Styrian salad tossed with pumpkin oil.

If you love to peek behind the scenes as much as I do, you might enjoy these other factory tours:

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