Thursday, 28 November 2013

Travel: Prague

One of my favourite perks about living in Munich is the travel. Even with just five hours, you can reach scenic cities like Vienna, Zürich, Salzburg, and Prague. I never would've thought that in my time here I'd have the pleasure of visiting the latter, but alas, the capital city of the Czech Republic was one of the past few weekend's set destination. 

Aside from the eclectic mixture of architecture, the exceptionally talented buskers, and of course the fascinating history, I think I owe my little weekend getaway to the [mostly] wonderful weather and the enchanting aura of autumn: trees in various shades of red, yellow and [very rarely] green, early morning walks along the foggy river, and hot spiced wine aka Glühwein being sold in almost every corner of the city. Everywhere I turned the Old Town part of the Bohemian capital treated me with a feast consisting of Art Nouveau, Gothic and Renaissance architecture. From the top of the Prague Castle Hill on the other side of the river I could also clearly see green-topped domes amongst the abundance of fiery red-orange roofs. It was picture perfect.

I'd say the only thing missing would've been one big serving of [unfortunately non vegan] trdelník, a chimney shaped cake rolled in sugar and spices. I actually first encountered the Hungarian version called kürtőskalács at the only Christmas market in Auckland that I knew of, and when I tried it during my pre-plant-based days I immediately thought it was pure genius. Speaking of, Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) have just started here in Munich, and I am so excited to check them out!

That's a post for another time though, so let's go back to what I found in Prague. First off is a place really close to the city's heart, aka the Old Town Square, where buskers, tour guides and tourists unite. It is here where one can find the aptly named Old Town Hall [with a pretty neat view of the city if you decided to ascend to the top], the accompanying Astronomical Clock [apparently one of the most disappointing tourist attractions, since it chimes for only a few seconds every hour, on the hour], the statue of Jan Hus, and the Church of Our Lady Before Týn.

With such a convenient location, its no surprise that I had a couple of meals in this branch of Country Life. I was rather fond of their system: you pick up a plate, fill it all up with whatever you want, then pay at the cashier on a pay-by-weight basis. It's also rather convenient that the food is divided into three distinct areas, with one for cold dishes, another for warm dishes, and of course, for dessert. Let's just say that when I had the meal presented above, I was restoring my energy stores after running to catch my bus to Prague. Basically what happened was we were told to go to the München ZOB, but were then told that we had 5 minutes to make it back to the Hauptbahnhof where our bus was actually leaving from. That, and the fact that my friend and I were just about to do the 3+ hour free walking tour [which I totally recommend!]

I was of course drawn to all the bright, beautiful vegetables first. Broccoli, greens, tomatoes, and carrots galore; can't say no to that! Can't say no to the hummus either, because raw vegetables and hummus are some of the best pairings in life. Some would argue that potatoes and gravy make a decent pair too, hence the small plate of potatoes and mushroom Stroganoff I tried on the side.

If a quick fill-your-plate-up-with-as-much-as-you-want kind of meal doesn't suit you, then perhaps Maitrea would be a also good option. Actually, I'd say I was rather impressed by this restaurant, especially if you're wanting to stick to eating as raw as possible. Raw spaghetti and raw chocolate cake with fig sauce? Yes, and yes. I tried one of the other dishes on offer too, since it seemed rather unusual to me: traditional vegetarian sausages, onions and arugula marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Pretty strong flavours to start a meal with, but with the nice and thick tomato sauce with the pasta as a main dish and velvety chocolate-y goodness for dessert, I've got nothing to complain about.

Except maybe the fact that I forgot to try the hemp beer they had on offer, although that is my fault, and no one else's. The restaurant does get rather full especially during dinner time though, so I suggest booking a table in advance or getting there really early.

Same goes for their sister restaurant, Lehká Hlava, which is located closer to the river bank. It's a shame that I wasn't that hungry when I went there, since items on their menu were just as appetising: they've got a raw salad, quadruple mushroom risotto [mushroom love!], and tapas with kimchi, rice and seaweed. I ended up having two dips, a sun-dried tomato and peanut pesto and a Kalamata olive salsa, as my 'mains' to curb my hunger without overstuffing myself. Best sun-dried tomato pesto I've had, hands down. Certainly this was due to the perfect balance of sweet and savoury dancing on my tongue. As for the Kalamata olive dip, it is as intense as the menu described it to be, so just be wary if you aren't fond of salty flavours.

Two other things I tried in here were the hot wine with spices and a berry pudding. I thought the presence of spices in the wine would make it more pleasurable to drink, but as a person who doesn't really drink, I must say that it wasn't something I'd come back for. That said, I do find most wines too bitter for my taste, so perhaps the Bacchus worshippers out there would think differently. Good thing I had the berry pudding in hand to wash away the bitterness.

Bohemian Bagel was the last eatery I visited on this side of the Vltava River, although they do have multiple branches in the city. Like many bagel chain stores, they have the classic varieties like whole wheat, sesame and cinnamon raisin, as well as a selection of different things to pair it with. That said, major points go to Bohemian Bagel for creativity in their presentation of their hummus plate. I mean look at it, how awesome does it look? Even our lovely tour guide Andrea, the one who showed us Bohemian Bagel, was astonished by how interesting a simple dish like hummus can be presented. Of course the hummus was nice too, especially with crisp bagel slices and fresh cut vegetables.

Loving Hut, another chain store that most vegans around the world know about that I actually haven't been to, also have various locations in Prague. Seven, to be precise. With that abundance I figured I should try it at least once, since it is after all, the vegan chain restaurant that can be found all over the world. Sure, a lot of the items on the menu creepily resemble animal meat waaaay too much for me to want to eat it, but I did find some things that I wanted to try. That would be the spicy soup vegetable broth based soup and crispy tofu with soy sauce. I quite liked how satisfying it was to bite into the crisp, golden coating of the tofu, before then sinking my teeth into the tofu that it hides underneath.

The last restaurant I had the pleasure of dining in on my last night in Prague was LoVeg, located along the long way to the Prague Castle. I think that once you go up this hill, one dotted with souvenir shops and restaurants, you'll know exactly when you've reached the entrance to this restaurant. That is, provided you look up, because then you will see an obvious marker of where it is. Be warned that after this you do have to go up a couple [and by that I mean give or take 5 flights]  of stairs to get up to your destination. It is so totally worth it though, because this restaurant was hands down my favourite. Relaxed atmosphere, cheerful and accommodating staff, and incredibly delicious food.

Let's begin with the starter, shall we? Baked red beet carpaccio with plant-based mozzarella, arugula leaves, and caramelised walnuts. The main? Marinated tempeh and home made dumplings with traditional Czech root vegetable sauce, cranberries, and plant-based cream. I admit that I've never had something like this before, but it is something I definitely recommend to everyone. Something about the earthy flavours of the root vegetables, the slight sourness of the cranberry sauce, the sweetness of the cream, the crispiness of the tempeh slices and the pillow-like fluffiness of the Czech dumplings just make it all work out. Heaven.

Oh, and then there's dessert too. To have there I had spelt pancakes with forest fruits glazed with wine, and for takeaway I also had a slice of their carrot cake. The cutest presentation of a carrot cake for takeaway I ever did see, thanks to the little carrot shaped melon slices presented on the side. Everything here was so so good, that not a lot of words can describe it. Except maybe perfect.

You could say same goes for the Life Foods goodies I got from Country Life and another gourmet food store whose name I've forgotten. Raw organic goodies to take on the trip back home? For sure. Especially when those goodies include vanilla almonds, Italian crisp bread, pizza crackers, raw superfood bars, hemp chocolates, cacao energy balls, and lemon vanilla cookies. If you had to choose, my recommendations would be the pizza crackers, brazil nut + vanilla and cacao + green protein superfood bars, and the lemon vanilla cookies. While on this food haul I actually talked to a guy who was getting some of the Life Foods superfood bars before he goes out into the wilderness of the forest or mountains or wherever it was he was heading to, and I think he too would agree with me that they are worth their slightly more expensive price. Although to be fair, a superfood bar for a Euro ain't too bad, is it?

Well, that's it folks. Děkuji!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

I Have A New Toy + Raw Pasta

In my opinion, raw pasta is one of the most genius raw food creations to this day: its satisfying, full of oh-so-good-for-you vegetables, and most importantly, it tastes so unbelievably delicious. It's not so expensive or difficult to make either, especially when you've got a handy portable spiraliser by your side. Although of course, that isn't totally necessary, so don't shy away from this recipe just because you don't have one. I used to not have one too, so I completely understand. 

In fact, my handy portable spiraliser is a recent acquisition. I bought it just last week on a whim, although thinking back to it now I  really should've been looking at materials for my design studio. Oops. No regrets here though, considering that purchasing this mini spiraliser was the best decision I've made all week. Speaking of, I also got a mini portable food processor that is manually powered a few weeks back. I've just tried it now, and it seems that it works. 

Don't you just love mini portable raw- vegan-food-preparation-friendly appliances? I mean, just look at those beautiful zucchini pasta curls. Imagine having that smothered with the best pasta sauce ever on a camping trip. Raw pasta dinner with a view of the Alps or another place with equally beautiful scenery? Uhm, yes please.

Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that's something I should do. I don't think I've told any of you yet, but the top of the architecture building in my current university has a student cafe and a viewing deck. It doesn't just have a view of Munich either, but also of the Alps on a clear day. How cool is that? I bet that cafe with a nice view will be really handy when crit time comes, provided its nice and sunny. 

Actually, this pasta recipe will be pretty good for those times too, since it's a healthy fast food recipe. Literally. It takes less than 10 minutes to make, and is 200% better for you compared to things like instant noodles or chips. You're pretty free to experiment and jazz it up too, so that you won't get bored of having the same meal everyday. Pasta arrabbiata for lunch and pasta with herby lemon cream sauce for dinner? Yes please! 

Easy Zucchini Pasta with Tomato Sauce

1 zucchini
1 carrot

Tomato Sauce:
1/3-1/2C pureed tomatoes
1t miso paste
2T balsamic vinegar
1T liquid sweetener (I used coconut nectar)
Pinch of pepper
Pinch of salt, but only if preferred

Suggested toppings:
Ground flaxseeds
Sun-dried tomatoes
Sunflower seeds
Nutritional Yeast

If possible, use a spiraliser to turn the zucchini and carrot into raw pasta noodles. If not, use a peeler to cut the vegetables into thin strips, before then cutting these strips into noodle shapes. This would take a bit longer than 10 minutes, but it still won't take too long, I promise.

Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. If the pureed tomatoes seem a bit too watery, then feel free to add some of the ground flaxseeds in to soak up some of the moisture. Adjust to your taste.

Just before serving, arrange the vegetable noodles into a bowl or onto a plate. Smother with generous amounts of tomato sauce, and top with flaxseeds, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, or whatever else you fancy. If you want, you can even add in some chopped kale or other leafy green.

Serve, and enjoy!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Carob Cinnamon Covered Almonds

Grüß Gott! For the past few days, I've been having this urge to create something deliciously raw for myself. With no food processor, blender, or even a lot of ingredients (seriously, I only had some apples,  oranges, almonds, dried fruit, cinnamon, carob, coconut oil, coconut rice milk, and a cucumber in my fridge/pantry), I decided to make the easiest, simplest raw dessert (besides fruit) that I could think of: chocolate. Well, carob 'chocolate'.

Carob 'chocolate' covered almonds, to be precise. I've noticed that almonds seem to be rather popular here in Germany, or at least in Bavaria, based on the numerous stalls selling caramelised almonds (aka 'burnt nuts' according to a friend). I've seen them in the supermarkets, too, covered in chocolate and delicious warming spices.

Naturally, I had to make my own instead of spending a ridiculous 2 Euros for one 50g pack.  The result? Me constantly munching on these carob and cinnamon covered almonds like there's no tomorrow. It doesn't need much more than almonds, carob, coconut oil, coconut nectar and cinnamon, so why the heck not? 

But before I supply you with the recipe, I'd just like to ask for your help regarding Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall. As some of you might know, my family is originally from the Philippines. Over 11 million people over there need your help, as they lack potable water, food, and shelter. Whatever help you can provide will be greatly appreciated by myself and those people, so please please pretty please consider donating some money for water and food. I myself have done so over at Oxfam, so please consider doing so too. Many thanks from the bottom of my heart.

Carob Cinnamon Covered Almonds

1T carob powder (or cocoa powder)
1T coconut oil
1T coconut nectar (or another liquid sweetener)
1t cinnamon
1/2t vanilla (optional)

Combine all the ingredients, except the almonds, into a small to medium bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined, and adjust to your taste. I did not have any vanilla on hand, but I would highly recommend adding in the extra vanilla. 

Toss in the almonds. Depending on how much chocolate you want covering the almonds, stir in between 1/3 to 1/2 cup of almonds. 

Arrange the coated almonds on a tray, container, or whatever you can use to keep the almonds in before putting into the freezer. Sprinkle a little bit more cinnamon or other spice on top, place in the freezer, and enjoy when its ready. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Travel: Amsterdam

There are a couple of things that makes one realise they've arrived in Amsterdam. Whether that's tree lined canals, boat houses, bicycles, coffee shops, or hemp products everywhere, you'll definitely be able to confirm that you are indeed in the Dutch capital. Without a doubt this city built originally on marshland and swamps is now one of the most interesting cities in the world, perhaps due to its culture, its architecture, or its nightlife. 

Or, you know, its 'tolerance.' I know you know what I mean. 

But with that aside, I'd like to keep it PG by saying that there is a lot more to discover in this city besides what it is infamous for. You've got the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Rembranthuis, IAMsterdam installations (done by the same designers who do hilarious advertisements for Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, by the way)... You get the idea. 

Close to one of these places, specifically the Anne Frank House, was Da Portare Via. Considering how long queues always are to visit one of the most historically significant buildings in Amsterdam, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I went off looking for the easiest and quickest food I could find as soon as I got out. This petite pizzeria just around the corner offers that and more- it's quick, easy, and tasty. I guess I should also mention that they specialise in wood fired pizzas, which in my opinion results in much tastier food. That especially applies to the best part of any pizza: the crust.

As for the rest of the pizza, I think the simpler, the better; just like how it is in Italy. There were a couple of items in the menu that looked easily veganisable, such as the margherita and vegetariana, but I went with one that already was. Crisp thin base drizzled with olive oil and generously doused with rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper? Yes, please!

One of the more popular vegetarian eateries is nearby too, if pizza in the Netherlands isn't really your thing. The place goes by the name of Bolhoed, and in case you don't spot the name etched onto the large window, it's the restaurant with its walls abundantly covered in leaves. Just a warning about this place though: be prepared to spend a decent amount of time deciding which dessert to get, because they have a lot on offer. They had the poppyseed and apricot spongecake, fruit and cream torte, and brownies pictured above, as well as a peanut butter chocolate pudding and a couple of varieties of cookies.

I can't say the same about the main dishes though, since with the vegan daily specials you don't really get to choose; you just get given everything. No joke. For 17,50 Euros I got the humungous plate of root celery schnitzel, beetroot salad, quinoa, tofu pieces mixed with sauerkraut, beans in a creamy mushroom sauce, and greens. I have to say that the beetroot salad and beans are tied as being my favourites of the bunch. I managed to try a pine nut and courgette brownie too, but I personally found it too dry for my liking. A little ice cream or caramel sauce on the side would've been perfect, don't you think?

If you're looking for something a bit lighter, and not to mention cheaper than the above, they also have stuff like hummus with pita, guacamole with tortilla chips, adzuki dip with sesame crackers, and salads.

If, however, you happen to be at the opposite end of the touristy side of town, don't fret because the vicinity of the Museumplein has a fair bit to offer too. The most convenient would have to be Deshima, located just across the river from the Rijksmuseum. Here they offer a cold/ hot meal bar where you can choose the size of your plate, pay for that size, then fill it up with as much food as you would like. But beware: don't fill your plate past its inner rim as you might otherwise incur a couple of Euros penalty. Its not a very fair penalty either, as you end up paying more than how much a large plate would cost. Unfortunately I was not aware of this, neither was I warned. 

With that issue out of the way, I'd like to look at the brighter side of things. Deshima did have a lot of choices to choose from, some of which included hummus, carrot salad, marinated tempeh pasta salad, roasted vegetables, steamed vegetables, tempeh stew and seaweed salad. They also had some ready made savoury items, like sandwiches and a savoury pumpkin pie. Of course, there's the sweet stuff too; how can I miss seeing vegan tiramisu, coffee pudding, blueberry cheesecake and apple pie? 

However, I would have to say that the BioMarkt down the road would have to be one of my favourites, and for two reasons: stroopwafels and raw chia hemp crackers. I kid you not. They had gooey caramel-y vegan stroopwafels and deliciously cheesy chia hemp crackers in the same shop. The same company that made the hemp crackers also made hemp chocolate and pink salt + spirulina chocolate, both of which are raw, and oh my goodness they were oh so good. 

To add to that they had a huuuge variety of biscuits too, including apricot filled biscuits, lemon coconut, macadamia chocolate chip and kamut cinnamon. 

It's a shame I found Alchemist Garden on the very last night after I'd already had dinner, considering this is actually the vegan restaurant that served raw food. I guess this was partly because the restaurant is quite out of the way compared to where most of the happenings in Amsterdam are, since it is located past the Museumplein and past Vondelpark that lies behind. Even then, I wish I could've gone earlier, because their menu did look rather impressive. Take the raw crème brûlée I had for dessert as an example; creamy, dreamy, out of this world deliciousness. Same goes for the raw white chocolate (white chocolate!) with royal jelly and mulberries. Their vegetable heavy mains looked unbelievably good too, both in appearance and the nutritiousness it would've packed.

Now for those who are stuck somewhere in Amsterdam without any specifically vegan or even vegetarian restaurants that you know of nearby, don't fret, because there's bound to be a Bagels & Beans somewhere close. I was actually surprised I really liked their quaint little cafes, but that may also have to do with the fact that it's in Amsterdam; and most places in this city I think I've fallen in love with. Of course the bagels are good too, especially with the amount of varieties you can choose from: plain, wholewheat, sesame, multigrain, tomato, cinnamon raisin and gluten free.

Naturally, I just had to tried at least a few of these; sesame for that morning's breakfast, then cinnamon raisin and gluten free for the plane ride back. The set I chose came with sun-dried tomatoes and black tapenade, pine nuts, and basil, all of which were excellent with the sesame bagel. Mmmm, there's just something to satisfying with bread that's toasted on the outside, but nice and soft in the inside. Oh, but do note: the selection I chose came with cream cheese, but like the rest of the accompaniments that's placed on the side so that the person eating has control over how much (or how little) of it goes into your bagel. As you can see, I smothered the cinnamon raisin bagel with speculoos, chocolate, bananas, and coconut chips once I got back home.

And by 'home,' I mean Munich, which by the way will be gather + wander HQ for the next couple of months. Now that I've settled in and posted my latest travel finds, I finally have time to come up with recipes. Who's excited? I am!