Vegan About Town: The Handmade Burger Co.

In the (nearly) four weeks since taking on the vegan challenge, I’ve went out for food once. Last Thursday, as a stop-gap between Wicked and Courtney Love, the boy and I dropped by Rufus T’s for a quick somethin’ to keep us going. More vital fuel than anything else. I hadn’t actually went out somewhere for a proper meal. It’s not something I tend to do alot- mostly for financial reasons, really. However, it’s a different story when a) I’ve had enough rosé the night before to make me starving hungry but not hungover, and b) I’m out with my mum.

We’d ventured over to Braehead for a trawl around the shops, and I hadn’t given much thought to foodstuff. After an hour in M&S while my mum decided what to spend loyalty vouchers on, I’d definitely worked up an appetite. My experience of eating in Braehead was pretty limited: usually we’d head up to Fat Jackets, which is usually a good option but was rammed. On our last visit we went to The Filling Station, which despite my reservations was surprisingly OK, but I wasn’t sure they’d have many vegan options.

The layout of the three restaurants on the ground floor is pretty smooshed together, so we ended up wandering towards The Handmade Burger Co by default. A quick glance at their menu told me all I needed to know: they had not one, but SEVEN vegetarian and vegan options. When your choices are usually split between ‘bean burger’ and ‘spicy bean burger’, this is akin to a religious awakening.

What’s more, the menu informed me that all of their burgers were made freshly to order every day. My mum said she’d had a veggie option at their Silverburn restaurant and had no complaints. All good points, then! I opted for the sweet potato burger with mango salsa- be warned, it comes with mayonnaise, so just ask them to haud it for a dairy free alternative.

I have a bit of a gripe with places that offer burgers for over a a fiver without the addition of chips. However, Handmade Burger Co offer a smaller portions menu (which my mum opted for) and we put aside our grumbles to get cajun spiced chips on the side. Any misgivings were forgiven when the food came- these were proper chips, fat chips with the skins on. I’m not the biggest fan of French fries, despite a penchant for the crispy end bits of a bag of chippy chips. These were no such thing. Properly spiced, even I found them a bit nippy- good job, HBC, good job.

I tried getting a shot of my mum's to, just to be fair, but mine pretty much dominated.

I tried getting a shot of my mum’s too, just to be fair, but mine pretty much dominated.

As for the main attraction, it was quite a beast. Many a time I’ve ordered what’s described as a ‘burger’ only to be handed a roll and Portobello mushroom *cough, cough* Lebowskis *cough, cough*. No such problems here. The sourdough bun was pretty massive, as were its contents. There wasn’t much of a garnish- the usual lettuce, onion and tomato- but I think anything else might have infringed on the flavours.

Crispy on the outside, and full of smooshy sweet potato-y goodness on the inside, this was pretty damn close to perfect. The mango salsa was delicious too, although I’d have preferred a little more. I’m a sauce fiend though so I won’t hold it against them- it’s rare that anywhere seasons food enough for my liking without me having to personalise it further (although I do try and taste it first in case I’m being unfair). When I put tomato sauce on my chips, it looks like a crime scene. Like tomato soup with chip croutons. You get the idea.

The only change I would’ve made was that it needed a wee kick. Mango and sweet potato equals alot of gooey sweetness. Thankfully, in place of the usual ketchup and mayonnaise, they had Tabasco and green jalapeno sauces on the table. I opted for the latter, which did the trick.

A cross examination revealed it to be full of gooey deliciousness.

A cross examination revealed it to be full of gooey deliciousness.

The real winner was that it didn’t fall to pieces when I attempted to eat it. I can never eat a burger whole- I’ve taken many a hit for having to cut them in half- and usually after one bite you’re left with a handful of sauce and veg that’s shot out of the roll upon impact. This stood up to even my oddly specific method of burger eating (cut in half, bottom of the roll, burger, top half, chips, repeat for other half) and the size was enough that I felt full without bursting.

Despite my non-meaty leanings, I was also impressed that my mum’s chicken burger was an actual chicken breast and not some mushed up, battered fillet padded out with God knows what. Good show all round! I was really impressed by the range and quality of veggie burgers, and I’ve got my eye on a return visit to road test their quinoa effort.

I’ve had my fair share of restaurant veggie burgers and can honestly say this was up there with the tastiest and most filling- pretty much as far removed from a roll ‘n mushroom as I could’ve hoped for. As we were sitting waiting to be served, the restaurant got busier and there was actually a queue of hungry shoppers waiting to be seating- always encouraging to see when you’re trying somewhere for the first time!

My only gripe? I really don’t know when I’ll next have an excuse to go to Braehead. In saying that, there’s a branch of Buddy’s opening in Cumbernauld soon so who knows- we could be coming up in the world. Maybe we’ll get a Handmade Burger Co of our own. Hint, hint…

Hold The Cheese Please

I hate saying that I’ve ‘been too busy’ to do anything. It always comes across as self-important. However, I’ve been kept steadily busy this past week with various gigs and things, that I’ve had little turnaround time in between.

May has been utterly ridiculous with the amount of events that are going on around Glasgow: I’ve already been to see The Libertine at the Citizen’s Theatre, Clutch at the ABC and yesterday had a double bill: the matinee of Wicked at the King’s Theatre, followed by Courtney Love at night time. Not including full time work and other life ‘hings in between.

 

 

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I feel like I’ve been a bit of a fraud this week as I haven’t given much thought to cooking anything- aside from my avocado cheese pasta concoction, that is. I’ve been mostly running off of soup, toast and other easy-to-throw-together things. We did pretty well with our fruit haul at the weekend, which obviously meant I could have something chocolatey. Unfortunately, vegan chocolate is… well, it doesn’t really taste like chocolate at all. Unless you mean the cooking variety. Lindt 70% has been an utter hero in such times of confectionary crisis and womanly woe.

The plan yesterday was to go and get a nice dinner somewhere, and explore Glasgow’s many veggie-friendly options but we didn’t have much turnaround time in between shows. We decided a beer ‘n burger deal was our safest, and quickest, bet and stopped by Rufus T’s. After getting shafted over £7 for theatre wine, I was in the mood for something cheap and cheerful, and wasn’t disappointed. Making my veggie melt sandwich vegan was as easy as saying “hold the cheese”. Almost feels like a cheat, really…

I feel like I need a total kitchen restock in order to start getting into cooking properly again. Sadly mid-month, especially one which is so event heavy, is never an easy time for that. Handily I got an Amazon bargain in the form of the The Daily Vegan Planner. It’s a 12-week, day by day journal, which allows you to keep track of what you made and ate, and also how you felt about it. It seems like a really good way of staying on track, and marking any changes in health or whatnot. It’s also got a tonne of recipes and a list of about 250 vegan friendly foodstuffs… seems fairly foolproof to me!

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It’s a good thing to invest in, as well as the other books and downloaded recipes I’ve collected so far: one thing I’ve learned quickly is the importance of variety. I never thought I would say this, but I think I’m actually getting bored of soup…! Or if not bored of it, then definitely looking to out it on hiatus for a while. I always thought the third week would be pretty hard going, and I wasn’t wrong: the first week’s shiny new-ness is over, week two of casually finding my stride is done with. Unfortunately for me I’ve got half a pot of the spicy sweet potato soup taking up space in my already tiny freezer… guess I’ll be putting that hiatus on hold for a while first.

Still, the best thing to do is keep going, and not allow myself to get lazy. If I do, I’m worried that soup and I may just part ways for good.

Life’s Too Short to Follow Recipes Part 3

It might be drawing closer to summer time, but Scotland operates on its own weather system. We can be basking in glorious sunshine of a lunchtime, and by home time be marching at an angle against a torrent of rain.

When it is actually nice outside, eating habits change too. Apart from a year-round soup obsession, I don’t like eating anything hot ‘n heavy when it’s warm. Chocolate is out the window too- seriously, is there anything worse than warm, slightly melty chocolate? Blarg.

I figured that since I’ve been getting into the spirit of trying new things that I should update seasonally. If it’s not macaroni weather I need to adapt to survive. After a recent shopping trip, the boy and I returned with a bag full of mango, melon, raspberries and strawberries, all in season and entirely delicious.

(If we sound like a pair of smug dicks, let me assure you: this is only a very recent occurrence). There really is a marked difference in buying fresh produce seasonally: there’s something weird and perverse about buying strawberries at any other time of year. I’d also picked up vegan onion and black pepper cream cheese, and I was determined to use it in EVERYTHING.

I came up with a really quick and easy comfort food, because as usual I couldn’t be bothered cooking. I spread the cream cheese on rye toast and topped it with some mashed avocado and cherry tomatoes, which I seasoned with cayenne pepper and paprika. I couldn’t get it in my face fast enough, and alas, it was gone too soon.

After this I wondered what else I could work cream cheese into. I had a notion for something pasta-y, and the most popular seasonal recipe I found was pasta primavera (I remembered enough of my Standard Grade Italian to know why this was suddenly popular. And who says you forget everything after school?).

Some recipes just involved pasta and green vegetables. As per, I didn’t have all of the ingredients to hand so just adapted it and swapped out some things for others. There were other recipes for a creamy version involving cheese, which I opted for in lieu of having asparagus or soya beans handy.

I’ve been trying hard to try new things but when taking on a big change, some degree of familiarity is nice. The recipe itself is a change for me: macaroni aside, I’ve never been a fan of creamy sauces. To me you can’t go wrong with a tomato-based sauce. Cheese and white sauces always seemed like more work. But since I’m out of my comfort zone as it is, I thought I’d give it a try…

It's pretty hard to take a decent picture of food this colour...

It’s pretty hard to take a decent picture of food this colour…

  • 150g pasta (I used gluten free conchiglie, because it was the only gluten free one I could find in Tesco’s )
  • 1 or 2 ripe avocado, mashed
  • A few scoops of vegan cream cheese (mine was onion and black pepper to give it some much needed flavouring)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ red pepper deseeded and chopped
  • Meat free chicken (about 70g is enough, I have no idea how much I used since I dumped in what was left of the bag)
  • 2 tsps Very Lazy Smoked Garlic
  • A wee glug of olive oil
  • Some grated smoked vegan cheese
  • 1 spring onion, chopped

Boil the pasta as per the packet instructions. Gluten free takes a little longer so you have some time to play with.

In the meantime, chop the onion and pepper. Heat the oil, add the ‘chicken’ and one tsp of garlic. After about 2-3 minutes, add the onion, pepper and remaining garlic. Most recipes call for garlic gloves, but I like the smoked taste of this one. And also don’t have a garlic crusher. Ever tried doing it by hand? They smell rank afterwards and you never get it chopped up small enough.

Fry up the veg and chicken until soft. Mash the cream cheese in with the avocado and season well. I also added some cayenne pepper, to add some edge to the creaminess. When the veg and chicken are nearly done, scatter in the smoked cheese and stir until melted.

Once your pasta’s ready, chuck it all together and mix it over a low heat. I also sprinkled some raw spring onion through it once it was cooked, just to make it a wee bit crunchy.

The results? This was a pretty easy recipe, although in hindsight I would’ve made some changes. I used two avocadoes as they were both on the turn and I had to cut bits out. I reckon one might have been enough. I’d have added some more fresh chillies too, or at the very least more pepper.

There are more traditional recipes for pasta primavera that don’t involve cream cheese, and I’d be inclined to just ditch it altogether to make the final result a little lighter. However, it was a nice wee filler and a change from my usual. I also think I’m starting to find uses for the vegan smoked cheese!

Top Five Tips, Or What I’ve Learned So Far

When I first started the 30 Day Vegan Challenge, I really wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I’d given it a try years ago, and it was doomed to failure from the start. I was a poor student, in college by day and working most nights in a bar. I didn’t have time to cook- and if I did, I was more interested in being 20 and living in the city centre.

The pledge seemed like the ideal way to get back on the bandwagon. I’m now working full time, and I recently signed up for the Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5K. Although I’d cut out meat, my diet was still pretty unhealthy. I ate well enough during the week- albeit with a lot of buttery toast involved- but at weekends, anything went. My skin was breaking out and, as my job was pretty sedentary, I didn’t feel I was getting enough exercise to justify my eating habits.

I decided a full overhaul was the answer: one exercise class a week wasn’t going to cut it. I also smoked too much- I could have three before even getting to work at 9am. It seemed a bit daunting at first but it was either whole hog or not at all. Go big or go home. It was for my health, after all. I did my research, and the more I read, the more my resolve was strengthened. My first couple of attempts at cooking went well enough but the first two weeks were admittedly difficult.

It got easier when I realised there are vegan alternatives to pretty much EVERYTHING.

Then something happened- I started to enjoy cooking. After feeling pretty sluggish, my body eventually got used to the onslaught of fruit, veg and protein I was piling into it. The more thought I put into what I was eating, the more inventive I got. In the (relatively) brief time I’ve been doing this, I’ve tried a lot of new things and never gone hungry. I’ve overhauled the way I ate and thought about food, but still found time to treat myself. Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve learned…

  1. Speculate to Accumulate

The initial outlay of ingredients seemed like a lot especially the week before payday. However, if you’re clever, you won’t need to top up too much. You can buy most things in bulk from supermarkets if you’re pushed for time, although independent stalls are usually cheaper. The boy and I scored a bursting bag full of soup ingredients for a mere £6- and the fresher vegetables made our giant pot o’ soup taste even better.

  1. …But You Probably Have A lot Already

Even if you don’t follow a vegan diet, you’ll probably have most of the staples at home: grains, oils, pasta, rice, seasoning, spices and vegetables. A lot of supermarket bread is vegan too, as are a lot of pre-packaged soups and ready-made Indian and Chinese foods. The big supermarkets publish online lists of all their own-brand products which are suitable for vegans, so have a wee read- you’ve probably got a lot already.

Dairy-free alternatives to your usual staples are cheaper and more widely available than ever... it's a big pot btw, I just have giant hands.

Dairy-free alternatives to your usual staples are cheaper and more widely available than ever… it’s a big pot btw, I just have giant hands.

  1. Search and Research

Even if you know a lot of recipes already there’s still a treasure trove out there. A quick internet search yields thousands of results and there are plenty of resources out there. I signed up for the PETA Vegetarian and Vegan Starter kit, which has some great wee articles, recipes and tips for beginners.

Becoming Vegan is a good handbook to have as it’s really in depth, but it’s a bit like a school textbook: good to dip into but perhaps not cover to cover. I also like The Post Punk Kitchen, One Green Planet and Domestic Sluttery. Look for local bloggers too: they’ve often got inside tips for good places around your hometown.

  1. Choose Your Own Adventure

I don’t usually have much of a middle ground. If I take on something new, I’m all in or not at all. The faster I throw myself into something, the more I see results and acclimatise myself to a new way of thinking. However, this approach isn’t for everyone: it might be that you start by cutting out dairy, or only eating vegan during the week.

Whatever the approach, once you get used to something, cast your net a little wider. I started increasing the amount and variety of exercising that I did. Don’t get me wrong, it still hurts- I’m currently sitting here in pain after a double assault yesterday- but I feel like I’ve got far more energy to get through it in the first place.

  1. Smile Like You Mean It

Most of all, whatever your approach, just enjoy it. Do some reading, stockpile enough ingredients and before long cooking actually becomes less of a chore. From eating raw Pop Tarts and anything cheese laden, I now love spending a full afternoon chopping up vegetables (I know, right? I’d hate me too). Exercise has become an enhancement to my routine, not a burden.

I’ve cut down on smoking because I’ve realised how gross they actually taste. Above all my general health and well-being has improved too. I’ve even managed to semi-convert the family: after having the “what will you actually eat?” conversation, my mum took some of my spicy butternut squash soup to work and it went down a treat. I’ll take that as a victory.

Life’s Too Short to Follow Recipes Part 2

So I’m now two weeks into my 30 day vegan challenge, and I have to say it’s been far easier than I thought. Aside from the extra preparation and cooking time, it hasn’t got in the way of daily life at all. In fact, I actually enjoy the cooking process now… I always liked baking for other people’s birthdays or for friends and family coming round.

Ally and I would make an occasion of concocting epic feasts: putting on huge spreads of Mexican food or making marinades from scratch because we drunkenly picked up reduced sea bass (definitely one of our better post-pints food purchases). However, when it came to cooking for myself… well, I just didn’t really. More often than not, the limit of my creativity involved mixing three different kinds of cereal together. One time I even ate a raw Pop Tart. I just never saw the point when it was just for me.

I suppose my one culinary saving grace was that I was never into convenience foods. My mum drilled the evils of microwave cooking and ready meals into me from a young age, and even when I did try them I didn’t like them. There’s also not much in the way of convenience or junk food readily available for vegans: I’m sure such things exist, but perhaps not in your standard supermarket frozen aisle.

Nowadays I’ve noticed that I can actually think up recipes with relative ease. If I pick up a block of tofu or some pasta, the possibilities are endless. Mostly because tofu tastes like absolutely nothing and as such is the best starting block for ANYTHING. As I said in my last post, everything I make consists of throwing things together and adding some spices.

*sniff* it’s so pretty…

I was racking my brain on my last shopping trip, following the boy around like a bored child when I picked up some Nando’s BBQ Chicken Rub out of curiosity and discovered- ta daaa!- that it’s accidentally vegan. A couple of shelves along, I found gluten free pasta sauce. One of my favourite ‘throw together’ dinners involved Cajun spiced Quorn chicken, so I thought I’d see how I got on with being more experimental with it. The results? Pretty damn good. Here’s what I chucked in…

Cajun BBQ Marinated Tofu Pasta

150g of wholewheat pasta

120g block of Cauldron Tofu

1 packet of Nando’s BBQ Chicken Rub

1 210g carton of Heinz Gluten Free Tomato & Basil Sauce

2 tbsps of Cajun marinade (I used Asda’s own brand)

1 avocado, de-stoned and diced

½ red pepper, diced

½ orange pepper, diced

½ green pepper, diced

½ red onion, chopped

A handful of chestnut mushrooms (however many that may be), sliced

5 or 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered (I used on the vine ones, for no reason other than they were cheaper)

A variety of spices (such as cayenne pepper, chili flakes, Cajun spices, Jamaican Jerk spices etc)

  • Drain and press the tofu according to packet instructions, then cut it into chunks. Give it a right good rub with the Nando’s powder, and add some Cajun marinade as well. Leave it for a while to soak in- however long depends how much you want it to taste like anything!
  • Put the pasta on the boil. While you’re waiting for the tofu to marinade, add a teeny drop of oil to the mushrooms and rub some of the spices into the mushrooms and avocado.
  • Fry the tofu in some oil for about 6 minutes. Add all the vegetables and whatever spices you choose, give them a good stir and fry them until the vegetables are soft.
  • Stir in the sauce and leave it to simmer while you’re draining out the pasta.
  • When it’s done, stir it all together and resist trying to eat the whole damn lot in one sitting. If it’s any incentive, it tastes even better after a day in the fridge- and better still after a day in the fridge after two hours in the gym.

Again, this was just a potluck attempt at making a substantial dinner, and I didn’t actually have a recipe in mind to follow. I wanted further practice at making tofu as well, as I’d only made it once. Thankfully it was an improvement on my last attempt and I wasn’t even jealous of the boy’s amazing-smelling paella. Well. Maybe a little.

We might have got better at cooking, but we still suck at portion control.

On a final note: I bought vegan cheese a week ago which smelled so awful I couldn’t bring myself to use it. I got home late last-ish last night after a long day at work and a trip to The Fort, I wasn’t in the mood for cooking and was faced with a near-bare fridge… apart from the dreaded vegan cheese.

I can now confirm that it’s not the worst thing if you stir it in with some beans and have it on toast. Voila! Easy vegan comfort food, without having to microwave anything. Or waste money throwing away gross, sick-smelling vegan cheese.