Monday, January 30, 2012

Sweet & Sour Veggies

Last Monday, to celebrate Chinese New Year, Bailey and I had decided we were definitely going to be making a slap up Chinese meal for our tea. We had no idea what we were going to make though, so I was really happy to be inspired by the latest Serious Eats newsletter which had a recipe for homemade Sweet & Sour sauce.

I know Bailey loves a good portion of Sweet & Sour Chicken from the Chinese so I thought we could make a nice veggie version with some egg fried rice.

I was quite surprised to read the recipe for the Sweet & Sour Sauce and to see that the ingredients required to attain that distinctive flavour are in fact just a load of common ingredients that most people have knocking about the kitchen cupboard anyway. It was also super easy to make and turned out very tasty - what a result! Not that I ever did, but I will definitely never be buying those supermarket stir in versions of Sweet & Sour after this! 

Happy Chinese New Year to you all!


2 onions
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 packet of Quorn pieces (optional)
1 425g tin of pineapple rings in juice
1 tablespoon corn flour
1 tablespoon water
80ml Chinese rice vinegar
66g light brown sugar
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablepsoon soy sauce

Start by cutting the onions and peppers into strips. Place into a wok or large pan and fry over a medium heat. 

When the veggies have softened, add the quorn pieces, if using and allow to brown. Separate the pineapple rings from the juice. Put the juice to one side. Cut the pineapple into bitesize chunks and add to the wok with the veggies.

Meanwhile, make the sweet and sour sauce. Add the cornflour to a bowl and combine with the water. Stir well until free of lumps and you will have a small pool of white liquid.

In a small saucepan, combine the pineapple juice, rice vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar and soy sauce. Bring to the boil over a medium heat. Add the cornflour and water mix to the pan and cook over a low heat for just a few minutes until saucy and thickened.

Once the veggies are cooked through, add the Sweet & Sour Sauce to the veg and serve with your favourite rice or noodles! Delicious.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Last weekend we received an invitation from our buddies Rob and Rachel to go out for dinner at EastZEast to celebrate their birthdays. There was a big gang going so we knew it was going to be a lot of fun and EastZEast has been reccomended to us so many times ("best curry in Manchester" has been said) so we were doubly excited.

On arrival at the restaurant we had a lovely welcome from the staff and were shown to our table where everybody else was already tucking in to poppodoms and pickles as we were running a little late (as usual). The pickles were a real treat, very different to the standard array. This delicious tray featured a few different twists on the expected pickles but the favourite had to be the plum chutney, super sweet and tasty.

Everything was going great until the waiter arrived to take the order. The waiter made his way down the table taking everybody's choice of main course and telling us that rice and naan bread were being ordered for the table as a whole. I was a bit confused and disappointed that I wasn't going to get to choose the dishes that I wanted but I just thought it must be a system that works. Then the waiter returned to the other end of the table to chat with somebody else about the naans and rices where there was clearly more confusion. The waiter returned to our end of the table and started taking orders for rice and naan but beacuse I'd tried to order these before he told me that he knew what I wanted. The end result was that it took around 20 minutes to take our order and I wasn't confident that I was going to receive the right dishes. To be honest this feeling of unease and confusion ran throughout the entire restaurant with waiters and management running around looking stressed. This did not lend itself to a very relaxed eating environment! Anyway it didn't matter did it because the food was going to be brilliant.

Jules went for the Karahi Mix Sabsi, boiled rice and salad and I went for the Karahi Murgh with boiled rice and a garlic naan. There was quite a wait on the food, probably around 30-40 minutes, but it didn't really matter as we were enjoying having a drink and a natter with our friends. When the food for the entire table finally arrived more confusion began with multiple waiters shouting out the names of the dishes and delivering them to the hopefully correct guest. Again it just wasn't done in a very calm way and we really had to strain to hear what was being shouted out. When our dishes were placed in front of us the first thing you noticed was that they weren't very hot. One of our friends ordered the Chicken Shashlik 'Special Sizzler' that failed to emit even one sizzle. But it wasn't the end of the world because we knew the food was going to be super tasty right?

My curry was okay. It wasn't amazing but it was pretty good, a nice sweet blend of flavours and well cooked ingredients but no real punch of heat. Jules was much more impressed with the flavour of hers but the aubergine and potato were undercooked. There are few food crimes worse than undercooking aubergine. The rice was also luke warm and actually tasted claggy, like microwaved rice that has been irradiated for a little bit too long. The one brilliant thing that I tasted that I couldn't get enough of was the garlic naan bread. It was absolutely brilliant, light and crispy on the outside and a rich buttery garlic flavour. I would have to say it was probably the best naan bread I have ever had.

Again I would say we were dissappointed with the food and the service up to this point but we were still having a great time with our friends!

As soon we finished the meal the waiters descended to clear the table of plates and food as you would expect. What I didn't expect was that five minutes after the table had been cleared while we were still enjoying a near full bottle of wine would we be asked to surrender our table. The waiter told us they needed the table and that we would have to scooch up and all fit onto the remaining 3 tables. Out of politeness we began to start to ask people to move down and we began the scooching process. Within about 5 seconds it became perfectly clear that no more room could be made to accomodate the 5 people sat on our table so when the waiter returned to claim the table I let him know it wasn't going to work. He looked at me exasperated, threw his hands in the air and rushed off to speak to the manager. We returned to trying to enjoy our wine but this was pretty difficult with the waiting staff and management scowling at our every move. At this point the manager came over accompanied by the original waiter by her side and with her best smile asked if I could "do her a favour" and move up so they could have the table. At this point I was a little annoyed and let her know that it was impossible and that I had already been asked this to which she replied "sorry I wasn't aware you had already been asked". Harumph.

It has to be said that despite the mediocre food and the terrible service we still had a brilliant time! I'm not sure why everything went so badly for EastZEast on the night, I had heard such brilliant things, maybe they just struggle with larger tables. Whatever the reason for the poor organisation there are never any excuses for poor service and so we won't be going back when there are so many other great restaurants in Manchester who are putting the effort in.

East Z East on Urbanspoon

Fuel Café

Last weekend Bailey and I went to meet the gorgeous ladies Hannah and Kate at Fuel Vegetarian Café in Withington for Sunday lunch.

We've been to Fuel a few of times before, mainly though at night for a drink, when Fuel is in more of a "relaxed bar" mode. On arrival we found that the whole of Fuel's downstairs was packed and upstairs was still messy from the night before, but a lovely man came and sorted us out with a table.

We got some drinks in while we looked at the menu - Bailey wanted to try one of the famous Fuel Milkshakes that people are always banging on about, and plumped for a Maltesers one - and it was, as promised, absolutely delicious! Really sweet and creamy - a real treat.

Looking at the menu I was very impressed with the selection and felt that although a lot of the stuff featured on the menu is what you would expect of a veggie café (lots of halloumi, falafel, houmous), there were a few surprises on there and a lot to choose from.

After we ordered the food was quick to come out - for me, Kate and Bailey. But we were a bit disappointed for Hannah that her's took quite a while longer to arrive - I think it was because we ordered separately, but still - I was probably halfway through mine when she got her's. Although she had a really good portion of what were obviously freshly made yummy chips, I would have preferred it if we'd all been able to eat at the same time.

Having said that, we were really pleased with the food as it was really yummy! Bailey was instantly taken by the idea of the "Fish" Finger Sandwich with Chips - the fish having been replaced by yummy fingers of halloumi. He thought it was very clever that the halloumi was very close in texture to real fish fingers and it was a delicious, salty treat for his palate. He also thought the chips were great too.

Kate ordered a Butternut Squash stew which came with loads of houmous and pitta which I thought looked really nice - loads of colourful veggies. It was a massive portion too and Kate said it tasted great with her smoothie.

Hannah's slightly late dinner was a Halloumi and Roasted Veggie Pitta with Chips. She said her fresh chips were really nice and her pitta was gorgeous apart from one stray burnt bit of halloumi that she found!

I ordered a Halloumi Cous Cous Salad which was a massive pile of lettuce, carrot, red onion, cucumber, cous cous and halloumi served with pitta and some yummy sweet chilli sauce. It took me ages to eat as there was absolutely loads and it tasted really fresh, healthy and yummy.

We were really happy with our meal at Fuel and thought it was a really good place to go on a Sunday for great atmosphere and really friendly service - not pretentious at all which I think is sometimes a worry when frequenting vegetarian places. The food was really excellent value with most main meals costing only just over a fiver each and a really nice selection of drinks were on offer. We will definitely be going back there again and would recommend you do too but make sure you order all your table's food at once if you want to eat together! Cheers Fuel folk!

Fuel on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shallot and Thyme Eggy Bread with Pepper Compote

Sunday mornings are always much better when you have a loaf of Barbakan bread in your bread bin. The other day Bailey and I were fortunate enough to be in this position, and I just happened to have a cracking recipe from my new Dennis Cotter veggie cookbook just waiting to be tried.

The recipe in question was Shallot and Thyme Eggy Bread accompanied by Rocket and Spiced Pepper Compote. Don't think you can really go wrong when maximising the flavour of your scrumptious Barbakan bread with a load of yummy ingredients such as those.

Indeed, this breakfast did not disappoint - we loved every bite and it went so well with a nice mug of the Turkish coffee we'd bought from Meezan. The Barbakan bread was amazing and we felt all set for one of our normal Sundays of doing nothing.

I do have to say I did find the recipe a little faffy and thought that the addition of cheese to the egg mixture was perhaps a step too far. What with little bits of shallot floating about the place as well as lots of grated cheese, the frying pan did resemble a bomb site by the end and I think the bread would have tasted much better if the cheese had been left out altogether OR, for ultimate indulgent breakfast madness, had been toasted on to the eggy bread after coming out of the pan. Now there's a tasty idea for next time!

Niggles aside, we absolutely loved the Shallot and Thyme Eggy Bread and will definitely be trying it out again with a few tweaks. It also inspired us to make more exciting eggy breads in future so will be keeping our eyes out for any other ideas we could use for our lazy Sunday brekkies.


For the Pepper Compote:
1 red onion
2 garlic cloves
1 red chilli
1 red pepper
1 tbsp passata
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Splenda

For the Eggy Bread:
4 shallots
3 eggs
4 tbsp milk
5 springs fresh thyme, leaves only
45g cheddar
6 slices wholemeal bread
3 handfuls rocket, to serve

Start by roasting the red pepper. In recent months I have decided that life is too short to stand around blistering the pepper skins over the stove and have started slicing them in four then whacking them, skin up, under the grill. Seems to work the same to me. Once you've done this, peel the skin off.

Finely chop the onion, garlic and chilli. Heat up a saucepan with some oil, add the onion and fry for around 2 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for another minute.

Dice the roasted pepper and add to the pan along with the tomato, vinegar and Splenda. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until it thickens into a nice compote.

Meanwhile, make the eggy bread. Heat up an oiled frying pan and sauté the shallots until soft, then remove from the heat.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a bowl. Add the cooked shallots, thyme and cheese. You may want to adapt the future as we will in future and not actually add the cheese and then grill it onto the eggy bread at the end. Season the mix with salt and pepper. 

Dip the slices of bread in the egg mixture.

Clean the pan you were using earlier and heat it up again with some oil. I in fact used two pans so all the eggy bread would be ready at once. Add the slices of bread to the pan and allow to cook on each side before flipping.

Once both sides of each slice of eggy bread are nicely cooked and toasty, remove the pan from the heat. If you're doing the cheese at this stage, sprinkle it on and place under the grill until melted. 

Get some lovely plates and put one slice of eggy bread on each plate. Add a little blob of the compote to each slice and top with a bit of rocket.

Repeat the process until all the breads are layered up with compote and rocket. Serve!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sweet Potato, Feta and Pepper Frittata

Me and Bailey have decided in recent weeks that the time has finally come to bring good old Omelette Wednesday back into fashion in our house!

We kind of went off them a bit as we'd used up all our omelette ideas and it was a case of too much of a good thing. However, we recently started to think that they really are the best dinner because they're really easy, quick, healthy, versatile and filling.

Our old favourite is the good old Sweet Potato, Feta and Pepper Frittata that we sort of based on a Spanish Tortilla de Patatas with some more interesting flavours. This time we had a bit of thyme knocking about in the fridge so thought we would add that to it too which worked rather well!


1 sweet potato
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
90g feta
5 eggs
5 thyme sprigs

Peel the sweet potato and chop into bite-size chunks. Place in the microwave for around 5 minutes until the potato chunks have softened.

Meanwhile, slice the peppers then cut the slices in half again. Add to a frying pan with some cooking spray and fry off for a few minutes.

Add the sweet potato chunks to the frying pan with the peppers and cook until the vegetables are soft and browned. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl.

Beat the eggs well and scrape the leaves from the sprigs of thyme into the beaten egg.

Chop the feta into chunks.

Add the feta and the veg from the frying pan to the beaten egg and beat well.

Give the frying pan a good wash. Add some more cooking spray to the frying pan before pouring the frittata mix to the pan and cooking over a low heat.

When the frittata is almost completely cooked and the only bit of runny egg left is in the top of the pan, heat up the grill. Put the pan under the grill.

Grill the frittata until the top is cooked and the chunks of feta have started to brown. The frittata is ready to serve.


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