Rainforest Creations, London

Rainforest Creations is a stall found on certain days at Old Spitalfields Market, as well as at stalls in the Chelsea, Hammersmith and Alexandra Palace markets. They also recently opened permanent spot in North Kensington. They specialize in organic, raw, vegetarian (and I think vegan) food, with Caribbean flavours.

Rainforest Creations

Rainforest Creations

Rainforest Creations - side view

Rainforest Creations - side view

I ordered a £5 Rainbow Box, which was stuffed with a selction of Tropical Coleslaw, Caribbean Sunrise, Red Quinoa, Wild Rice, Mung beans and Lentils, Chickpeas,  Angel Kale and Avocado salads, as well as sprouted hummus, an Akashe Ball (kind of like a falafel), and dressing. Everything was placed in a take out box, and served with a little wooden fork.

Rainbow Box

Rainbow Box

It was a little hard to pick out the flavours of all the individual salads as they were all in close quarters, but everything tasted fresh and crisp, with some salads having a mild curry flavour and some salads having some satisfying crunch. The box was quite large too, and could easily feed two people (or one very hungry person). This is the kind of meal that you’d love to have on a hot day. I loved that it was good value, as well as being healthy and tasty.

Rainforest Creations
www.rainforestcreations.co.uk

Pandan Agar Agar recipe

I am going to a potluck dinner today! (More on that another day.) I wanted to bring something a little different that some people may not have tried before. This is a South-East Asian vegetarian and dairy-free gelatin dessert that uses a couple of ingredients that may seem exotic to people unfamiliar with food from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines or Malaysia.

Pandan Agar Agar

Pandan Agar Agar

Pandan leaves (also known as pandanus or screw pine leaves) are a plant that is often used in South-East Asian cooking and appears in desserts, flavoured rice, curries, etc. The taste and smell of pandan is uniquely floral and slightly grassy. It is often paired with coconut; in fact, if you buy something that is coconut flavoured and it is green coloured, it probably has some pandan in it as well. People sometimes say that pandan leaves are as important to South-East Asian cooking as vanilla is to Western cooking. In Edmonton, you can purchase pandan leaves frozen from Asian grocery stores like T&T Supermarket and 99 Supermarket. I picked up pandan extract at 99 Supermarket.

pandan extract

pandan extract

Agar agar is a derived from an algae and is often used as a substitute for gelatin. It is most commonly used in South-East Asian and Japanese desserts, but sometimes gets used as a general thickener for food. You can sometimes find them in Asian grocery stores as long, dried strips, flakes or as a powder.

I originally was going to use a recipe that I found on the Internet or from a cookbook, but all of the ones I found weren’t quite what I was looking for. I ended up doing a test run and finally settled on these measurements as my preferred recipe.

Pandan Agar Agar

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup water
400 ml (approx 2 cups) thick coconut milk (use a higher fat milk – the one I used had 17 g of fat per 1/2 cup)
2/3 cup sugar
3 tsp powdered agar agar
approx 1/2 tsp pandan (also known as screw pine) extract (also sometimes called essence or paste)

Directions
Place the water, coconut milk and sugar into a pot and bring to a low boil.

Sprinkle the agar agar powder into the pot slowly while continuously stirring the mixture. Be careful because the powder can easily clump in the liquid if you add it too quickly. If it does clump, then break it up as much as you can and keep slowly stirring until the lumps dissolve in the liquid.

Slowly add the pandan extract until the desired green colour is achieved. I added 1/2 tsp, but really the amount added depends on your preference.

Place the mixture into molds or a casserole dish and let cool. Agar agar will become solid at room temperature, but it will solidify faster in cold temperatures. I generally let the agar agar cool down a little bit, and then pop them into the fridge. I recommend making your layer about 1/2 inch tall or less; once you get much bigger than that the mixture will settle toward the bottom and the top part of the agar agar will become translucent. The flavour will fall to the bottom as well.

Once cool, unmold or cut the agar agar into squares, rectangles, parallelograms. I used a small cookie cutter to create fun shapes.

N.B. Alternatively you can use pandan leaves and make a pandan juice instead of using the extract. To create the juice you take about 8 long leaves and rinse them. Chiffonade the leaves if you can, or at least try to slice them into as small pieces as possible. Place them into a blender with 2/3 a cup of water and puree. Strain the mixture with a cheesecloth. If you substitute the juice for the pandan extract, remember to reduce the amount of the water in the above recipe to 1 cup.

This dessert can be made vegan if vegan sugar is used. It is Celiac-friendly as well, but you probably need to use the juice instead as I am not 100% sure the extract is gluten-free.

S&M Café, London

It’s not everyday that you get to eat at a place called S&M. And then you have to explain to people that it’s not as kinky as it sounds, as it actually stands for sausage and mash. S&M Café is a local chain in London that specializes in “great British grub,” and we were there specifically for one of their breakfasts. More specifically, a Full English Breakfast.

S&M Café

S&M Café

I’m told that you can usually get the full English breakfast experience at most pubs, but this restaurant was recommended to us by a friend and their Spitalfields location was near where we were staying, so it made a great spot for us to grab some food before heading off for sightseeing for the day. Customer service was fast and extremely friendly – our waiter joked around with us every time he came around to our table.

We were there in the morning so we only saw the breakfast menu, but a quick glance at their regular menu posted on their website shows that they have a number of other traditional British fare available, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options.

The menu

The menu

Of course, the first thing that we ordered was the Great British All Day Breakfast for those in the group who were new to the experience. Toast, bacon, sausage, bubble and squeak, egg, baked beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes filled the plate to bursting.

Great British All Day Breakfast

Great British All Day Breakfast

Now, I have eaten full English breakfasts before (although then it was called full Scottish breakfast because it was in Edinburgh, and those ones had the option of adding haggis, vegetarian haggis, and/or black pudding), and I knew how greasy those plates can get, so I was more than happy to try something different. I opted for the Vegetarian All Day Breakfast, which included all the same items except that it replaced the bacon and sausage with Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages. (I think it was the cheese that convinced me that it was the right way to go.)

Vegetarian All Day Breakfast

Vegetarian All Day Breakfast

I have to say that although the regular sausages and the bacon were good, my Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages were spectacular. Crunchy on the outside, they had the texture of cornbread on the inside and great mix of leek and quite mild cheese flavours.

Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages

Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages

The bubble and squeak was a mixture of mashed potatoes and vegetables, including squash blossoms.

bubble and squeak

bubble and squeak

We stuffed ourselves silly, and rolled out of the restaurant while complaining that we were too full to walk.

condiments - mustards, ketchup and HP sauce

condiments - mustards, ketchup and HP sauce

S&M Café
various locations in London, England
www.sandmcafe.co.uk

S & M Café on Urbanspoon

Asparagus and mushrooms recipe

A trip to the City Market last Saturday netted me a few goodies including two bunches of fresh Edgar Farms asparagus (where I bumped into Sharon from Only Here for the Food when we both raced there to grab some before they sold out), and a 1 lb. basket of mixed wild and domestic mushrooms from Mo-Na Food. I also picked up a small container of morels to experiment with, but more on that on another post. I did think about some fiddleheads as well, but I’ve bought them a couple of weeks in a row and I needed a bit of a break from them.

My farmers’ market bounty inspired to cook up a simple vegetarian dinner.

I snapped the bottom ends of the asparagus and gave them a quick rinse, then popped them into some boiling water for a very quick parboil. I then popped them into cold water in order to shock them and stop the cooking process.

While the asparagus cooled, I cleaned and roughly chopped up my mixed mushrooms, diced a couple of garlic cloves, and chopped up another six portobello mushrooms that I had bought at Costco and added that also to the mix. I stir fried the whole lot with about three tablespoons of margarine and reduced the heat to a medium high temperature.

stir-fried mushrooms

stir-fried mushrooms

Once they cooked through, I splashed in about a tablespoon and a half of shao hsing Chinese cooking wine and added salt and pepper to taste (very little salt, as the cooking wine has salt in it already).

I then started plating. First, some drained asparagus. Then, spoonfuls of mushrooms. And to top it all off, scoops of the sauce over the whole thing.

asparagus and mushrooms

asparagus and mushrooms

Simple, fresh, nutritious and delicious. Great with a side of brown rice, or maybe some roasted potatoes. Myself, I toasted some whole grain bread and dipped it into the sauce until it soaked everything up.

Alternatives to the Chinese cooking wine include soy sauce, cooking sherry, or oyster sauce.

A warning – the amount of mushrooms that I cooked were enough to make at least 6-8 servings. I had plenty of leftovers.