Nostalgic American Style Pancakes

Seriously, I know I keep going on about the food we ate in America…but these delights need to be shared!!

One of our favourite parts was the AMAZING  breakfast we had whilst staying at the Homewood Suites hotel on International Drive. A full cooked and continental complimentary breakfast called the ‘Suite Start’, it set us up for the day and meant we didn’t need to eat anything else for a good 5 or 6 hours later. It could quite easily have been 7 or 8 hours later but we force-fed ourselves at lunch in order to sample as many American culinary delights as possible.

Some mornings we had the cooked option, which changed every day…

Sometimes I had raisin whirl bread and various yummy condiments…

And some mornings I just went all out and got pancakes and waffles! Ohhh the calories.

Back to reality…we had some friends stay with us over the Bank Holiday weekend and as they share our passion for Florida I thought it would be fun to surprise them with an American breakfast and make my very first pancakes!

These were so easy to make, I can’t believe I haven’t made them before! The only thing is the pan I used was slightly bowed which caused the pancakes to be oval shaped 😦 Next time (and there will be a next time!) I’ll probably invest in a mould or a tiny saucepan that will produce perfect circular pancakes a la Nigella. I definitely want to be the kind of girl who makes homemade American pancakes all the time!

We teamed the pancakes with super crispy bacon from Sainsburys – £1.40 for 12 streaky ‘USA style’ rashers which produced the perfect crispy bacon that is so prevalent in the US of A. We also made a big batch of scrambled eggs as it was the ‘morning after the night before’ and we all needed something nourishing to repair our poor hungover bodies!

The finishing touch was a big squeeze of maple syrup – purchased in Florida by my parents and bought home to my eagerly anticipating self as a gift. Honestly, the first waft of the sweet, smokey maple syrup and I was transported right back to Florida and the holidays I spent there growing up. Such a lovely feeling.

Check out the spread!

And heres the moral of the story – So excited were we by our authentic American breakfast and the rush of nostalgia it caused that we basically threw caution to the wind…all four of us booked for next year! Vicki and Ian for their ‘Disneymoon’ following their wedding and 14 nights on-site at Disney for us…with 7 nights on I-Drive and Universal to be booked in the coming months. 3 weeks baby!

Only 521 days to go!

InSpiral Vegan Cafe, Gloucester Arms and general London eating

We were in London recently for the weekend to see an amazing folk band called Show of Hands at the Royal Albert Hall (for a fabulous review of our evening check out my boyfriend Ben’s post on his music blog, BamRambling!) I booked tickets as a surprise for Ben (what a good girlfriend!) and arranged for us to stay with our good friend Sam on the Saturday night. We had National Express tickets early on Saturday and late on Sunday so we had lots of time to kill which was mostly spent eating.

My favourite place we ate at was a vegan cafe in Camden called InSpiral. It’s a small, busy place with a big counter brimming with vegan and raw treats and a few tables with lovely views of Camden Lock.

It wasn’t too busy when we got there and I was able to spend a few minutes agonising over the array of choices – they all looked so good!

In the end neither of us could resist the amazing looking vegan lasagna which came with a choice of three sides. I got an apple juice and Ben got an orange juice and we got a little table for 2 over by the window.

The portions here are HUGE! Our food came on very smart black rectangular plates which had plenty of room for the delicious side dishes that were generously spooned on next to our lasanga. I chose to have the channa masala, root vegetables and curly kale, all of which were really good. The root veggies were roasted and covered in a sweet nut and herb mixture which was incredible! I chose the channa masala in a moment of panic as I felt I couldn’t get potato wedges as I already had root vegetables (schoolboy error) but they turned out to be my favourite part!

The lasagna itself though. Oh my goodness. It was roasted vegetables in a rich tomato sauce with the most amazing cashew nut ‘cheesy’ bechemal sauce. I could have drunk a glass of it, it was that good. We also opted to have vegan pesto on the top of the lasagna which just took it above and beyond! I felt so virtuous eating this lunch knowing that everything was meat and dairy free and so fresh and wholesome. I managed to eat all the lasagna but was very upset that I had to leave some of the side dishes. Tears were nearly shed.

The juices we ordered were made fresh and I was slightly alarmed when my apple juice came out all frothy and bitty…but it was delicious! I will never again judge a juice by it’s frothyness.

Tragically we were too full for dessert and although I had plans to sample some of the raw chocolate truffles and vegan ice-cream, I never got the chance. We will be back though! InSpiral is not a cheap lunch option (especially compared to the rows and rows of Chinese, Indian, Mexican etc food stalls in Camden Market) and our lunch came to £30ish but we couldn’t pass up the chance to try some authentic vegan food and are really glad we visited.

While we were in Camden we also visited Whole Foods – one of the UK branches of the huge American health food store. We tried to visit the one in Orlando while we were in Florida last year but it was a lot further away than we thought so we couldn’t which was very upsetting. I was excited to visit the Camden one but I had lowered my expectations considerably because lets face it, it’s Britain, not America. It was a nice shop, loads of awesome hard-to-find products and a fabulous hot and cold salad and soup bar. Although we didn’t need a meal (or even really a snack…) we couldn’t resist buying a couple of goodies and ended up with some items from the fridge.

I had a vegan spinach and tofu pancake.

The brand was ‘Lauras Idea’ and there were lots of similar items in the shop. The pancake was delicious – light and fluffy with a slightly toasted flavour. The filling was rich and indulgent with an intense creaminess from the silken tofu and a satisfying bite in the spinach from a sprinkle of nutmeg. I really wouldn’t have guessed this was vegan as the tofu confidently takes the place of what would normally be ricotta.

Ben chose a vegetable calzone. We were pretty sure it was meant to be heated up but he really fancied it so threw caution to the wind and ate it straight out of the fridge.

It was filled with a mixture of roasted vegetables in a rich tomato sauce. No complaints from Ben and it was gone pretty quickly!

The other eating experience from our London trip was a visit to the Gloucester Arms pub, about 10 minutes walk from the RAH. I was looking for somewhere to eat before the show that wasn’t eye-wateringly expensive (nigh-on impossible in that area!) and the Gloucester Arms seemed to have pretty bargainous food and drink prices.

The menu is very extensive and it seriously took us about 15 minutes to decide what to order as everything sounded amazing! Eventually though I selected the very item that had first piqued my interest when viewing the menu online – Vegetarian Fish and Chips! And the best part about it? The ‘vegetarian fish’ was IN FACT battered halloumi! Can you blame me for ordering!? I also couldn’t resist ordering a side of onion rings and for reasons known only to myself at the time, a pot of curry sauce. And the meal came with bread and butter anyway. So basically, I looked like a huge greedy beast with 5 plates of food around me. In my defence I was hideously hungover and after coming back from a near-death state in the early hours of the morning when I first woke up and enduring 2 hours on a coach then 5 hours walking round London, I think I deserved it.

The halloumi was perfectly amazing in the way only battered cheese products can be. The batter was extremely thick though and unfortunately (although not surprisingly given my side dishes) I was unable to finish it and had to make the tough decision to just eat the halloumi. The onion rings were also delicious and obviously you can’t go wrong with bread and real butter!

Ben got the same as me but Sam went for the burger and very kindly paused to let me take a photo.

Overall we all loved our meals at the Gloucester Arms and if I’m ever in that area again I will definitely be going back! The food in London was brilliant as ever and I never cease to be amazed by the huge range of choices everywhere you go. I love it!

Ben’s Birthday Dinner

It was Ben’s birthday last week and as we were going to Weymouth for the weekend of his actual birthday, I decided to cook him a nice meal the Saturday before. I knew exactly what I wanted to make, something I’d been wanting to create ever since Ben became vegetarian 6 years ago…seitan! I found a recipe I liked the sound of and planned to adapt it slightly to fit in with our tastes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find vital wheat gluten in any shop in the entire county of Hampshire so had to order it online from Veggiestuff.com – I ordered some geletin-free Haribo sweets from there for Christmas and was very impressed with the service.

I placed the order Tuesday night and waited and waited and waited…and waited, for it to come. Saturday (the day of the dinner) I was up with the larks, obsessively checking out the window for the postman. At about 11am I saw him striding down the road in the rain in all his fluorescent glory and ran down the stairs to wait. Finally he arrived at our door and I watched as a letter, two flyers and a Domino’s leaflet dropped through the letterbox and onto the mat. No boxes or packages or anything remotely resembling vital wheat gluten. Hmm. On to Plan B!

Plan B was similar to Plan A but not nearly as exciting or innovative 😦 I decided to make a red onion pie to go with the already  planned accompaniments of purple sprouting broccoli and dauphinoise potatoes. I was planning to make the seitan into a roulade, stuffed with onions and mushrooms a la the Post Punk Kitchen one so I figured a pie wouldn’t be far off, just less ‘meaty.’ I chose to start the meal with a selection of bruchetta and finish with the ultimate dessert – chocolate brownie ice cream sundaes.

The end result was, if I do say so myself, pretty impressive!

First up was the bruchetta. These were so easy to make and turned out delightfully! I sliced up a fresh baguette and popped it under the grill to crisp up for a few minutes. I slathered on some pungent green pesto and topped half with sliced black olives and the other half with chopped onion, garlic and fresh tomatoes.

A lovely start to the meal!

Our main course came together very nicely and I was pleased that I had done most of the preparation beforehand and only had to put the finishing touches on after we finished our starter.

The pie started off as a block of chilled shortcrust dough before becoming this:

And then this!

I filled the pie with a mixture of herby caramelised onions, finely chopped mushrooms and quorn mince with a sprinkling of parmesan. I cooked the onions and mushrooms slowly and sauteed the mince in the pan and then let it simmer so it was all infused with the flavours of the herbs and earthy mushrooms. It looks dry in the photos but it was actually very moist and didn’t need a sauce to accompany it.

My dauphinoise potatoes were amazing, beyond all comprehension! I feel I have finally mastered the art of this cheesy wonder dish. Despite not being able to locate a mandolin to slice the potatoes as I was originally planning (see Dauphinoise Potatoes fail post) I very carefully sliced them really thinly and layered them up with a few grated cloves of garlic and seasoning. I then slowly heated up a 500ml tub of double cream (really low cal, this dish) with a knob of garlic butter and poured it all over the potatoes, covering them in a blanket of garlicy, creamy amazingness. The dish went into the oven on a very low heat and finally emerged, an hour or so later, looking like this:

I could tell it was going to be good!

Seriously, look at this.

The potatoes were cooked all the way through and there was no, I repeat NO curdling! The cream had developed into a thick, oozing sauce that held the potatoes together easily and would have lent itself well to a proper restaurant-style ‘stack’ of gratin, had I been so inclined.

I carefully cut out a very restrained portion for Ben and arranged it beautifully on a square (read: posh) plate alongside a slice of pie and some purple sprouting broccoli. He was very pleased with the result and so was I 🙂

One more potato close-up…ohhhh it was golden.

To be honest the potatoes rather rudely out-performed the pie and ended up being the highlight of the meal, very different from the usual afterthought status of the average potato side dish.

I think dauphinoise are the spoilt, pampered rich kid of the potato world. If they were a dog they’d probably be a Chihuahua – languishing in a monogrammed Louis Vuitton handbag with a diamond studded collar and a personal butler called Jeeves.

This was definitely my best cheesy-potatoes-and-pie combination and we both cleared our plates easily. No seconds though as we had a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, chocolate brownies, chocolate sauce and whipped cream waiting for us! The perfect ending to a fabulous meal.

Happy Birthday Ben! 🙂

(The vital wheat gluten has now arrived and is waiting to be whipped up into something stunning very soon!)