An Evening of Vegan Treats With Jackie Kearney

Last night I got to stuff my face with the most delightful vegan street food treats at Jackie Kearney’s book launch.

For those who haven’t heard of Jackie, she was one of the Masterchef finalists in 2011 and is a committed vegetarian.

Her latest book is called My Vegan Travels.  Jackie has travelled a lot in South East Asia and picked up a ton of great ideas for cooking vegetarian and vegan food.  Her previous book Vegan Street Food was along a similar theme, but her new book is focussed on super simple, comfort food recipes.

I got to munch my way through: shitake mushroom croquettes, bombay veg sandwiches, beetroot and watercress samosas and artichoke torta.  All rather lovely.  But the icing on the cake for me as a greedy sugar fiend, were the chai doughnuts with raspberry jam and soft pecan cookie ice-cream sandwiches (with a vegan malted coconut and blueberry ice-cream). Scrumptious.

The book looks absolutely superb, so if you want to buy an original Christmas gift for a cooking enthusiast, My Vegan Travels is a great shout.

All the photos were taken by the talented Paul Wolfgang Webster.

Jackie Kearney shitake mushroom croquettes
Shitake mushroom croquettes
Jackie Kearney bombay veg sandwiches
Bombay veg sandwiches
jackie kearney beetroot and watercress samosas
Beetroot and watercress samosas
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Tuesday Night Pig Out at The Con Club, Altrincham

Last night I headed out to the Con Club to meet my friend Kate for dinner.  It was Tuesday night, so a proper meal out felt rather extravagent, but having just got back from my holiday, it seemed like the perfect way to try and distract myself from my post holiday blues.

The Con Club is opposite Altrincham Market and is a gorgeous venue – it’s an old building (1887) that was renovated last year, and the Con Club opened as a restaurant in November. It’s a really trendy, beautiful place now – spacious, high ceilinged, modern and fun.

Con Club The beautiful interior of the Con Club
The beautiful interior of the Con Club

We arrived at 7.30pm and the place was buzzing! Who knew that Altrincham is the place to be on a Tuesday night? I ordered a Yakatori Beef dish with Asian veg and Kate went for a sirloin steak with fries.  We were both very pleased with our choices.

Con Club Yakatori Beef dish with Asian veg
Yakatori Beef dish with Asian veg

Having just got back from Italy I ordered a Italian wine: Levorato Primativo.  It was fruity and delicious.  And I felt like I earned myself some brownie points for not staying safe and ordering my usual glass of Malbec.  Check out my recent Help, I’m in Wine Rut blog post to read more about my attempts to push myself out of my wine comfort zone.

We both finished off with decadent puddings, I chose a carrot cake with coconut sorbet and Kate opted for a chocolate lava cake with popcorn ice-cream.  My carrot cake was excellent, but I have to confess to having pudding envy for Kate’s dessert, which she described as the most chocolately cakey extravaganza she’d ever eaten.

con club chocolate lava cake with popcorn ice-cream
chocolate lava cake with popcorn ice-cream

We both had a superb evening at the Con Club, it’s lively, stunning to look at, the food is fabulous, and the staff couldn’t have done enough for us, making us feel very spoilt and well looked after.

It’s All Mixed Up at Fraiche

Last night I enjoyed the second meal of my life at a michelin starred restaurant.  It was at Fraiche in a gorgeous little village called Oxon, on the Wirral.

We had a really lovely night, and the food (well 80% of it!) was excellent.

I would recommend it, because it was exciting, interesting and we felt very spoilt and well looked after, and actually it was relatively inexpensive (for a michelin starred restaurant).

However, would I go back there again? No, I don’t think so, not unless they radically rebranded, no.

Firstly, I wasn’t a fan of the decor.  It just felt like something between a living room and a nightclub, with no natural light whatsoever.

There were blinds at the front of the restaurant, but they were shut and the rest of the restaurant was low lit and candlelit, and in honesty, it felt a bit too dark (hence the lack of any photos!). And I think I can best describe the interior as confused.  Video footage of flowers and rollercoasters were projected onto the walls to create atmosphere, and a lot of the ‘slanty’ trendy furniture felt a bit tacky.  It’s not that anything was individually bad as such, it just didn’t add up to create a overall alligned effect.

And this theme of disjointedness flowed into the food.  It was very delicious, but it felt like it was being interesting for the sake of being modern and whacky.  It seemed like ingredients frozen with liquid nitrogen kept appearing in dishes, but it didn’t necessarily improve the flavour, it felt like it was for show.  For example, at the beginning of the night we had an entree of a parmesan frozen lollipop.  A cool idea, but it didn’t taste of anything.

I must stress again that we did have a delightful evening, we really did.  The staff were so attentive and knowledgeable – we couldn’t have felt more special, which played a huge part in us having such a great night.

There really were some stunning dishes on the menu.  The wild sea bass with fennel and butter milk with a smoky squid ink crisp was awesome and beautifully plated.  And the blackberry, apple and verbana mousse ‘thing’, was sweet and tart in all the right ways, it was quite something. I wish I could describe it better to you, but I’d had quite a bit of Sancerre by the 11th course, so my memory is a bit blurred.

The cheeseboard was super impressive.  We got to choose five cheeses from a trolley packed with about 30 intriguing looking cheeses. Our waiter absolutely came into his own at this stage, he really knew his cheeses and was incredibly passionate.  We got five gorgeous slabs with cute little accompaniments, such as quince jelly and dried blueberries, especially chosen to go with each cheese.  It was good stuff.

I’m really glad I went to Fraiche, but I just feel like someone needs to sit down with the owner and get him to strip back and decide, is he running a michelin starred restaurant or a nightclub? I’d be far more interested in authentic food that’s part of a more cohesive menu served in a simple setting, as opposed to the slightly jarring food and decor we experienced.

Please note the image used is not from Fraiche restaurant, it’s a stock photo.

 

Pizzageddon at PLY

Last Monday night PLY restaurant invited myself and Jamie and some other Manchester Instagrammers to try out their new menu.  We had had a delicious sourdough pizza at PLY earlier in the year so we were more than happy to go back for more.

What I hadn’t quite anticipated was the volume of food and cocktails what would keep on coming all evening (although that definitely wasn’t a problem).

It started with mouthwatering charcuterie and beetroot carpaccio for starters, along with a fennel salad that was a bit too watery for my liking.  The starters were followed by I kid you not, six different pizzas.  We were very happy! All were very tasty but my definite favourites were the chorizo and squash and the pear and blue cheese pizzas.

And the cocktails.  Definitely a terrible (yet brilliant) idea on a Monday night to be downing a load of tasty cocktails.  There were too many to mention, but I loved the Pantone Two Eleven – gin, rhubarb, strawberry and prosecco – fresh and fruity with a lovely tang from the rhubarb.  I wasn’t quite as keen on the Americano Float cocktail which was made from vermouth, coconut gelato and prosecco.  I found it a bit sour and it had an odd aftertaste – but perhaps I’m just a philistine as I do have a very sweet tooth!

Apart from the good food, it’s a stunning and atmospheric venue, it has an arty/industrial feel and it wouldn’t be out of place in New York.  And even though it was a Monday night it was really busy and buzzy.  So alround, it was a rather excellent night.

beetroot carpaccio
New York vibes
Mouthwatering charcuterie
ply pizzas Vitamin Bee cocktail with gin, bergamot, honey, lemon (that's pollen across the top)
Vitamin Bee cocktail with gin, bergamot, honey, lemon (that’s pollen across the top)
Ply pizzas Pear and blue cheese pizza (bianca, fior di latte, gorgonzola, pear, maple walnuts - crispy smoked pancetta)
Pear and blue cheese pizza (bianca, fior di latte, gorgonzola, pear, maple walnuts – crispy smoked pancetta)
ply pizzas Rustica pizza (bufala, mozzarella, proscuitto, parmesan, sun dried tomato)
Rustica pizza (bufala, mozzarella, proscuitto, parmesan, sun dried tomato)
ply pizzas Americano Float cocktail - vermouth, coconut gelato, bubbles
Americano Float cocktail – vermouth, coconut gelato, bubbles

Good Food, Cute Animals And Glorious Sunshine – Poynton Show Ticked All The Boxes For Me

I wasn’t convinced that Poynton Horiticultural Show would be for me.  It sounded a bit old fashioned and I didn’t really understand what it was.  However Dave, our local Riverford Veg Box Franchise owner was going to be there with a stall and he spoke highly of it, so we decided to give  it a whirl.

Poynton is just two miles from our house, so we had a gloriously sunny cycle there this morning, which got the day off to a good start.  The show was being held in Poynton Park, which is a really tranquil, pretty park with a lake (I will be using that as a running location from now on!).

We arrived absurdly early (8.30am!!), so not everything was up and running, but it was a nice opportunity to stroll round and chat to stall owners while it was peaceful.  We started with the Cheshire Cheese Company stall, where we tucked into a second breakfast of various samples of cheese, including gin and lemon and caramelised onion and rioja.  It was tasty stuff so we bought a few ‘truckles’ of cheese to make flatbreads pizza with for lunch.  We then sauntered over to the ‘small livestock’ tent where I was delighted to discover a variety of unusual breeds of hen, guinea pigs and rabbits.  I was like a kid in a sweet shop – they were so cute! Next it was time to say hello to the large livestock outside in pens.  Various breeds of bulls, shire horses, donkeys, sheep – it was glorious! My favourite moment was befriending a bull called Minnie who loved having his head rubbed.

Poynton Show Minnie the bull - such a happy animal!
Minnie the bull – such a happy animal!
Poynton Show So sleepy!
So sleepy!
Poynton Show Having a nice rest in the hay
Having a nice rest in the hay

After we’d got our fill of animals we trotted off to the craft tent, where we went met Paul a local honey producer from Happy Valley Honey.  We had a fun ten minutes bombarding him with questions about the honey making process and where he keeps his bees (at various farms around Cheshire if you’re interested).  We also obviously tasted and then bought some as well, and were particularly enamoured with the soft set honey which was lovely and creamy!

Poynton Show Paul Beardmore from Happy Valley Honey
Paul Beardmore from Happy Valley Honey
Poynton Show Happy Valley Honey
Happy Valley Honey

And final stop was at the vegetable tent, where leeks and carrots the size of baseball bats and cabbages as big as sheep were on display – all competing to win prizes.  It was rather fascinating, and gave us some inspiration to up our game with our own garden.

We left the Poynton Show having had a surprising buzzy morning and with a bag full of local produce! What an excellent day out.

PS the flatbread pizzas made with fennel, walnuts and the Cheshire Cheese Company ‘Black Bob’ extra mature cheddar were delicious.

poynton show Fennel, walnut and extra mature cheddar flatbread pizza
Fennel, walnut and extra mature cheddar flatbread pizza

Riverford Recipe Box Happiness

On Thursday we received the Riverford vegetarian recipe box containing the ingredients for three vegetarian meals for two.

I had not anticipated that the box would:

a) be so overflowing with vegetables and ingredients

b) that I would be quite so excited about unpacking the goodies

Jamie and I rummaged through the intriguing ingredients in the box which included kefir, dill, harrissa and beetroot, I wondered what they would all be for.  I was particularly delighted about the kefir – I’ve heard a lot about the health benefits of kefir lately and was keen to try it.

Within the box there was a bag cooled with ice that contained the items for the fridge, and as well as the veg, there were little pots of spices measured out precisely for the recipes.

We didn’t waste anytime and cracked on with a recipe for our Thursday night dinner. Sweetcorn and leek fritters with tomato and onion relish and alfafa salad (see photo above). Easy to assemble and cook and a delicous combination of fresh flavours.  This wasn’t any old average meal, it was exceptionally good.

Friday’s mealtime I would say was my favourite though, harissa falafels with spiced beetroot, kefir dressing and pittas.  I’ve had falafels many times before but I often find them a little dry, but these were so moist, the beetroot mix was beautifully spicy and sweet and the kefir dressing was a lovely creamy herby addition.

recipe box Harissa falafels with spiced beetroot, kefir dressing and pittas
Harissa falafels with spiced beetroot, kefir dressing and pittas

Saturday lunchtime we cooked our final meal: chimichurri and roasted mushrooms with baked sweet potatoes and lentils. OMG I am now a convert to chimichurri (a spicy sauce made with parsley, chilli and garlic) – it was the perfect compliment to the veg and really lifted the dish.

What was noticeable about all these dishes was that they were so imaginative and well thought out.  I’m quite a recipe snob and we eat a lot of excellent homecooked food, but the three meals were exotic and brilliantly flavoured.  They were a real joy to prepare and then eat. The recipes cards were so easy to follow too.

I think these recipe boxes would be such a treat for people who love their food and want to eat healthy, inspiring and varied meals, but just don’t have the time to:

a) be looking up interesting recipes

b) sourcing ingredients

c) spending hours in the kitchen measuring out ingredients

Riverford have got it spot on!

Recipe box Chimichurri and roasted mushrooms with baked sweet potatoes and lentils
Chimichurri and roasted mushrooms with baked sweet potatoes and lentils
Thanks to Riverford for providing the vegetarian recipe box.  All opinions and words are my own.

Riverford Pop Up Feast, Uppermill

We signed up to weekly Riverford veg boxes three months ago as part of my bid to be more environmental. We haven’t looked back since. I am now a Riverford evangelist. The produce is delightfully fresh and flavourful and it’s given us the opportunity to cook some cracking meals that really focus on the veg. I’ve been especially pleased that we’ve been confronted with foods we wouldn’t normally cook – eg daikon radishes, kolrabi and corn on the cob. We’ve had to dig deep and work out what to do with the stuff, and without fail, the outcome has been delicious.

I was looking forward to the Riverford Pop Up Feast in Upper Mill as it was another excuse for me to gorge myself on Riverford veg and learn more exciting ways of celebrating veg in dishes. The meal was part of a number of events Riverford were running to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Riverford’s Yorkshire farm. Riverford itself has been running for 30 years, but the Northern franchises have been a newer addition. Riverford customers were invited to attend at a bargain price of £15 a head.

Riverford A marvellous feast of veg!
A marvellous feast of veg!

I can confirm that the food was exceptional, and here’s the menu:

Sweetcorn with romesco

Tomato, pickled peppers and feta panzanella

Courgette and bean salad with orange, tahini and poppy seed

New potatoes with tarragon butter

Beetroot, rhubarb and blue cheese salad

Macerated nectarines with brown sugar meringues

Jamie and I were lucky enough to sit with Greg Penn, Business Development Manager for Riverford’s Home Farm in Yorkshire. We really bent his ear. I wanted to know everything about Riverford, the farming and the franchises. It was fascinating hearing all about it and we also spent a long time raving about Riverford vegetables and our favourite recipes. This might not be everyone’s idea of a good night out, but I was in my element!

Riverford yet more veg!
Yet more veg!

I went home very full and inspired. I also came away fired up to spread the word about Riverford and other organic farms, so that more people can join me in evangalising about beautiful organic vegetables, and of course so that farms and companies that are helping the planet get more support.

Thanks to Riverford for inviting us as guests.  All opinions and words are my own.