My Vegan Diary ~ Temple of Hackney, Dough Society and by Chloe

Vegan food is the best. I know that it has this reputation for being awful, but I think even if you’re not immersed in the world of all things vegan as I am, you can’t have missed the quiet revolution in mainstream vegan food that has been happening in the last year or so.

I often think that if you’ve been vegan for decades, and you’re used to being scoffed at when you go to a restaurant and ask if there’s a vegan option, you must be bemused by the way things have changed. Seriously, it’s astounding. There’s barely a week goes by without an announcement about a new product on supermarket shelves, or a restaurant launching a new vegan menu. It’s a good time to be a vegan.

With that in mind, while I don’t plan to make this a vegan blog, I am going to share some of the amazing food that I get to eat, because food is great, and when nothing has had to suffer or die for me to eat it, it’s even better.

Earlier in the year, my friend Hannah had a birthday, so we decided to head into London and eat lots of yummy vegan food. London is, of course, the place to be when it comes to vegan eats; Colchester, which is my nearest town, is actually quite good, but the choice available in big cities is always going to be better. Our plans involved vegan fried chicken, vegan fish and chips, and vegan doughnuts.

First of all, we headed to Temple of Hackney to pick up some popcorn chicken (please know that I’m not going to constantly refer to the vegan versions of food with their ‘code name’, nor am I going to qualify everything by putting the word ‘vegan’ before it. If I’m talking chicken, you know that I mean ‘chicken’.) Temple of Hackney makes fried chicken out of seitan, and it tastes AMAZING. Going vegan when I have means that I did it knowing that there was a KFC alternative out there – I know how lucky I am!

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Temple of Hackney is a tiny little establishment, and both times I’ve been there it’s been super busy, but it’s worth the wait. I’ve had their fillet pieces and their popcorn bites now, and next time I go I am definitely planning on trying a burger. They also have a branch in Camden, and have recently announced a third location, also in Hackney, at Hackney Downs Market. The popcorn bites are £4, and two fillet pieces are £5.

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Also in Hackney, we found Dough Society, selling all vegan doughnuts. I found it using the Vanilla Bean app, which I highly recommend if you’re vegan. You can see all the places near your location that have vegan options, whether they are fully vegan, vegetarian or omnivores places. Dough Society is a couple of minutes walk from Temple of Hackney, and it has a wonderful selection of 100% vegan brioche doughnuts. We grabbed a Peanut Butter Pretzel and the Homer (a perfect pink, strawberry flavour doughnut straight out of The Simpsons), and they were delicious. Dough Society doughnuts are £3.00 and £3.50

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Finally, we went along to by Chloe, which, as far as I know, is London’s first vegan fast food restaurant. It’s in Covent Garden, though they too have recently announced a new location, and have opened in Tower Bridge this week.

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The menu at by Chloe is amazing, with burgers, Mac ‘n’ Cheese, salads, and brunch all available. We decided to have fish and chips, the fish being made from tofu, and then battered, and the chips being air baked, and delicious. The restaurant itself is great; it’s a really nice atmosphere, because it’s fast food but great quality, and the decor is fabulous. We were there around 2.30pm on a Wednesday, and it was busy, but not so packed that we couldn’t easily get a table. Fish N’ Chips at by Chloe is £7.80, and we added a cheeky cookie for £2.40.

There are no shortage of delicious vegan eateries in the capital, and Temple of Seitan and by Chloe are two of the biggest and best known. They are definitely worth a visit, whether you are vegan or not, but there’s plenty of other places out there, and I’m hoping to try lots of them!

Now Cook It with Co-op

 

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I recently came home from work to discover a box full of ingredients on my doorstep. Intriguing, right? Further investigation revealed that it was from Co-op, who had sent me everything I needed to make a Roasted Vegetable Couscous. I have to say, though I like eating (a lot), I don’t do an awful lot of cooking. I’m really lazy, though I am trying harder lately, and this came just at the right time to give me a kick up the bum!

Co-op have teamed up with SORTEDfood to create #nowcookit, an online cooking course that is looking to ‘tackle the cooking skills gap’ that they identified among millennials. Now I totally count as a millennial, even though I’m a little older than the 16-24 year olds mentioned in the research. I have an interest in learning to cook, I just never seem to find the time. #nowcookit is designed to show that you don’t need loads of time, or loads of fancy equipment, and the Roasted Vegetable Couscous showed me that tasty, healthy food isn’t that hard! Something I should have learned before now, I know.

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As well as being available in a full text version, the recipes are also available as videos, from the team at SORTEDfood. This is a fun and engaging video, though it would be entirely possible for the whole thing to come across as cheesy, it doesn’t, and having watched it, I was eager to try my hand at the cooking!

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Anyone who regularly cooks would think that this was a walk in the park – it was literally just chopping up some veg and throwing it into a roasting dish, and then adding the lemon and garlic to give the whole thing some flavour. Cooking the couscous was easy too, and then it all just gets thrown together. The recipe calls for adding some cucumber, tomatoes and Greek yoghurt as an additional salad, but I went without that and just took the whole thing to work the next day for my lunch.

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In all honesty, courgette is not my favourite vegetable. In fact, I have issues with all cooked vegetables (I will eat all vegetables raw but am picky when they are cooked!). But this was so flavoursome that I got over my initial misgivings and enjoyed it very much! The lemon and garlic add so much depth to the vegetables that it was really tasty, and it was so easy.

You can find the Now Cook It course here; there are tips for cooking skills and techniques, and if you sign up for the course, you can earn status and awards. It’s a great source of inspiration, and there are loads of recipes to choose from. Even if you’re a little more adventurous in the kitchen than me!

*Co-op sent me the ingredients for this dish but as always, all views and opinions are my own.

Ultimate Comforts at Pizza Express

January isn’t traditionally the best of months, so popping along to Pizza Express to try out their new Ultimate Comforts menu was a welcome bright spot in a bleak month! The range of comforting and warming dishes has been launched to help us all get through the winter months with a treat.

I headed along to Pizza Express in Colchester; I took advantage of a day off after a long weekend of working hard, and took Hannah along with me (she had spent all weekend working hard too!). The new menu actually features dishes that have all previously appeared on the main menu, but are making a comeback due to customer demand.

Ultimate Comforts Pizza ExpressThe only starter on the Ultimate Comforts menu is Pennette Formaggi, a Pizza Express take on Mac & Cheese. As delicious as this looked, for me, it’s a little too much for a starter, so I opted for the old favourite of Dough Balls. You can also order the pasta starter as a  main, but when I go to Pizza Express, I want pizza!

 

I chose the Barbacoa Pizza – pulled Barbacoa beef, spicy chipotle salsa, garlic oil, mozzarella and tomato. It was quite spicy, but really tasty. it was huge though – I couldn’t manage it all!

Barbacoa Pizza - Pizza Express

As a vegan, unfortunately there wasn’t anything on the special menu for Hannah to have, so she went for her tried and trusted Pizza Express pizza – the Pianta. It’s a cheeseless pizza, and comes with spinach, mushrooms, artichoke, rocket and pine kernels.

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Despite vague intentions to participate in Dry January (and maybe dry 2017), I ended up ordering an alcoholic drink, because I couldn’t resist the lure of Sloe Prosecco.

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The dessert option on the Ultimate Comforts menu is a delicious Chocolate Fondant. Three courses might seem a bit decadent, but when the food is this good, it’s necessary! Again, there wasn’t a vegan option on the dessert menu for Hannah, so unfortunately she had to sit and watch me eat.

Chocolate Fondant Pizza Express

Now that we’ve finally made it to January payday, if you’re still feeling that post-Christmas slump, get yourself to Pizza Express!

This meal at Pizza Express was provided free of charge. This does not affect the integrity of my review, all opinions are my own. 

 

Book Review ~ Eat Like a Gilmore by Kristi Carlson

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With the recent revival, all things Gilmore Girls have been very much en vogue recently, and so when I spotted the Eat Like a Gilmore cookbook, I was rather intriuged!

There’s no denying that when you think of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, one of the first things that springs to mind is just how much food they eat. They manage to stay fabulously slim, but between Friday Night Dinners, meals at the diner, eating Sookie’s incredible food, and the various takeaways that they partake in on a regular basis, they eat a LOT of food.

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This cookbook takes inspiration from all of those places, with Sookie’s Kitchen, Luke’s Diner, Emily’s House and Town Favourites all being given as categories for the different recipes.

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Fans will spot favourites such as The Birthday Girl (a cocktail created for Rory’s 21st birthday – ‘it’s very pink’), the Candy Cane hot chocolate that Lorelai doesn’t actually get to have in the Season 7 episode ‘Santa’s Secret Stuff’, and plenty more.

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Of course, as well as being a gimmick to tie in with the return of the television series, this is also an actual cookbook, so there’s plenty of inspiration for meals and snacks and drinks. I’d just venture a word of caution: real-life calories are not the same as television calories – if you eat like those Gilmore girls, you will probably die.

It’s an unofficial companion piece, sure, but this is a fun book for any fan of the series, and I’m looking forward to making some things out of it!

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Eat Like a Gilmore by Kristi Carlson
First published: October 2016
ISBN: 9781510717343
Sky Pony Press
Provided by publisher

Lights Camera Currys: Food Photography with Nikon

As the daughter of a professional photographer, I wish I could say I was a little better with the visual side of blogging. Sadly, I’m not; I snap a quick photo on my phone or on a basic point-and-shoot camera, and move on. But I do want to be better, so when I was invited along to the Nikon School of Photography for a class on food photography, I was thrilled. Even my dad says how difficult food photography can be to get right, and he’s been wielding a camera for over forty years.

I have featured food on Is That You Darling before, but always with the caveat that the photography isn’t great. Getting the chance to learn from some experts (and to play with a nice expensive camera) wasn’t one I was going to let pass, and so I headed to Margaret Street for the evening a couple of weeks ago.

Now, I learnt some great stuff, and I had a lot of fun, but the first thing of note that I simply have to share is this fact: I ate my first ever macaron at this event. I know you’re wondering how I’ve been masquerading as a blogger for all this time without getting one of the most fundamental blogger basics under my belt, but it’s true. And I wasn’t disappointed. I now understand why everyone raves about them. Thanks to Nikon, Currys and Joe Blogs for helping me pop my macaron cherry!

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As you may be able to tell; this photo was snapped before we started to learn anything, with my phone, in the low light. Hopefully you’ll be able to notice a difference with the later photos!

We were taken through the basics by a fabulous member of the Nikon team, who thankfully didn’t assume that any of us were experts. I was given the loan of a Nikon D750 to use for the evening, as I don’t have a DLSR to call my own. It’s a very nice camera that felt fabulous in my hands; it’s easy to feel like you know what you’re doing when you’re holding expensive equipment!

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Some tips I learnt from the class:

  • Cameras basically just want to let as much light in as possible, so if you are using your camera in automatic mode, that’s what it’s going to do, at the expense of some of the other settings that will actually allow you some control over the way your photos look.
  • Your shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter is open for; when it comes to food, if not using a tripod, it needs to be at a minimum of 1/60 to avoid that shaky, unwanted blur.
  • Changing your aperture setting will allow you to play with your depth of field. This basically means that you can choose to focus on one specific part of the frame, and leave the rest of the image blurred – this is a shallow depth of field, achieved with a low aperture. This is good for food photography, because you can focus on the one thing you want to show off, and leave the rest blurred.
  • When working with artificial lighting, adjusting your white balance is really important, and will make all the difference with your photography. Our teacher was explaining this to various members of the group, and I eavesdropped enough to just about work out how to do it, but I think if I’d had the nerve to actually ask for advice, I could have taken some much better pictures. My inherent shyness got in the way yet again!

Having been given all of the information, it was time to get down to business, and we were encouraged to wander around the room and take photos of various fruit vegetables set up under some lights.

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These two photos are a good example of changing the white balance. While I don’t think the second photo is a great one, by any stretch, changing the white balance really shows, making the white surface actually appear white.

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These peppers became an obsession for me; I really wanted to try and get some good photos of them! I think I managed a couple, as shown here. They are definitely better than anything I could have achieved before I went to the class.

There is still much to learn, and until I have saved enough to buy myself a nice DSLR, it will have to be on borrowed cameras. But it’s nice to have a basic knowledge of how these settings work, so at least when I’m changing them, I know why!

Thanks again to Joe Blogs for inviting me along (they really do put on some amazing events), and to Currys and Nikon for arranging such an enlightening lesson (and for providing me with the chance to eat my first macaron). You can read some more about the evening on the Currys blog, and check out #lightscameracurrys on Instagram for more photos from the other bloggers I was too shy to chat to!