Veggie Pub Grub Pop Up!

There’s certainly a foodie vibe going on around Cambridge the moment, as demonstrated by the number of supperclubs and food-related events happening locally and new eateries opening across the City. Many different tastes and cuisines are catered for, and now there’s a new pop up in town – the Veggie Pub Grub Pop Up!

Veggie Pub Grub Pop UpThis new venture is the brainchild of Sam Dyer and Jennie Debenham, both known locally for their love of vegan food. Starting Monday 24th February, the pop up will run for six weeks at the Alexandra Arms on Gwydir Street, on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 6-9pm. The menu promises a whole host of vegetarian and vegan food delights, as well as gluten-free options.  Sam and Jennie are trying to source their food locally, including having their bread created for them by Bread On A Bike. You can just turn up on the night, but word is already spreading fast so it’s advisable to book in advance – just call The Alex on (01223) 324448.

Famed locally for her delicious vegan cupcakes, Sam is no stranger to the local food scene – she has run her own catering business, Mouth Music, as well as the kitchen at Arjuna on Mill Road, she has supplied food to hungry hordes of volunteers over the years at events such as Strawberry Fair and has also been part of the team behind the Wild Thyme Community Cafe. Jennie is also known for her food exploits and created the Liberated Feast – a vegan banquet that sources food from surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste (look out for the next one on 6th April!).

More information about Sam and Jennie’s menu will be revealed on their facebook page later this week, but I was lucky enough to hear a sneak preview yesterday and can tell you that it is going to be delicious – I’m not even a veggie, but my mouth was watering when I heard about the dishes planned for the menu! Right, I’m off to book a table… .

Sam & Jennie’s Veggie Pub Grub Pop Up
Monday & Tuesday evenings, 6-9pm (runs Mon 24th February – Tuesday 25th March)
The Alexandra Arms, 22-24 Gwydir Street CB1 2LL. Tel: (01223) 324448

To veg or not to veg…

Following on from my recent post mentioning the UN’s revelation that we all need to move towards meat free and dairy free diets if we are to save the planet (gulp!), I’ve been thinking about how easy it would be to become vegetarian or vegan…

PaellaIt can certainly seem like a big challenge – for a start you’re giving up something that probably appears in most if not all of your meals, and of course there’s the task of making your food taste delicious too. I’m not vegetarian at the moment, but I was a ‘veggie’ for a good few years. I had wondered at first if I would miss the meat element of my diet, but I was surprised by just how quickly I began to feel healthier by cutting it out. I started creating my own sauces (rather than opting for shop bought ones) such as pesto and I found that a lot of other sauces were pretty easy to make once I’d perfected the art of the roux. I also re-discovered some ingredients that I had previously dismissed – such as olives, capers and sundried tomatoes – and also began to season/flavour my food more with herbs and spices (paprika became a firm favourite around this time). My friend Mike, who lives in the Mill Road area, recently took on the challenge of becoming vegetarian for a month (or Veguary as it was known) and the photo above is of one of his delicious creations, vegetarian paella.

Butternut SquashIf you’re thinking of going vegetarian and considering using meat substitutes to help you ease into it, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Al Amin. They have an extensive frozen section at the back of the shop with all manner of pies, sausages, chicken and beef substitutes. If you’d prefer not to use meat substitutes then I’d suggest making friends with the butternut squash (and indeed other squashes), they are delicious and great for adding texture to curries, stews and casseroles.

There are a number of shops and eateries on Mill Road that are good to know if you’re planning on becoming vegetarian (or vegan), and with National Vegetarian Week coming up in a few weeks time (20th – 26th May) I’ll be returning to this subject soon with some more of my tips for making it that little bit easier.

What’s your favourite coffee shop?

MP Julian Huppert has just launched a competition – Discovering Cambridge – to find the best independent Cambridge businesses. He is asking the public to nominate their favourites and there will be a winner chosen in a different business category each month – with the over all winner being announced in December at the Mill Road Winter Fair. This sounds like a great idea and should hopefully highlight the importance of using our local independent shops and businesses (which shouldn’t be too hard to do around Mill Road!).

The category for January is ‘Best Coffee Shop’ and you can vote for your favourite via Twitter, Facebook, email or post – just remember to do it before the end of the month.

Boards outside some of the cafe's on Mill Road: (L-R) Cafe De Paris, CB1, Neide's Deli Cafe, Limoncello & Cafe Otto.

Boards outside some of the cafe’s on Mill Road: (L-R) Cafe De Paris, CB1, Neide’s Deli Cafe, Limoncello & Cafe Otto.

Even though I’m fairly sure I know a coffee shop when I see one, it’s worth noting that as well as being “a shop where different types of coffee are sold, either to drink or as beans or powder” the term ‘coffee shop’ can also refer to a small informal restaurant where drinks and small meals are served, sometimes in a larger shop or building” – so I assume that café’s and the like can also be included. There are several such places around Mill Road, the vast majority of these are independents and include:   Cafe Otto, Neide’s Deli Cafe, Café De Paris, Hot Numbers Coffee, LimoncelloCB1, Cornerstone, Rotana, BLD’s, Urban Larder, Black Cat, Snakatak; and you can even get a cup of coffee at the RSPCA Bookshop. There are probably others too (apologies to those I’ve missed) but these are just the ones that spring to mind.

Although I have my favourites, I think the competition is a good opportunity to try them all out – well, as many as possible (there’s only so much coffee a girl drink in one month!). It would be great to see one of our Mill Road places win the best coffee shop accolade, but the important thing is that we use our independents – so make sure you go and enjoy some of the local cafes this month.

Also – those of you following me on Twitter or Facebook will know that last week I asked for peoples favourite budget-friendly eateries around Mill Road, as I am writing an article. The article will be a short list of my favourites (which may include cafes, restaurants, pubs etc) but I do want to mention places that other local diners like – so do join in the conversation on Twitter or Facebook and let me know what would be on your list.

Mill Road and Gwydir Street on BBC Radio 4

Yesterday I went along to Clare College for the recording of Radio 4‘s The Kitchen Cabinet. The show is hosted by well known food critic Jay Rayner and the panel promised to be an interesting mix of well known food experts with local connections – Masterchef 2011 winner Tim Anderson, Michelin starred celebrity chef Angela Hartnett, food historian Dr Annie Gray and Fitzbillies‘ very own Tim Hayward.

Angela HartnettAnnie Gray is based in Ely and specialises in food and its influences, especially eighteenth and nineteenth century. Her PhD title was ‘Man is a dining animal‘ and her current research topics include the history of tea and self discipline and control at the dining table. She’s clearly passionate about her subject and I’d recommend catching one of her talks if you ever get chance. Angela Hartnett is no stranger to Cambridge, or indeed Mill Road – she lived on Gwydir Street whilst studying at Cambridge Polytechnic (now Anglia Ruskin University) and fondly recalled the hearty sausage and bean stew she had made on a few occasions (which sounded a lot tastier than some of the concoctions other panellists had come up with during their student days!). Some of you may also remember when she took on Regent Street’s Nanna Mexico in a TV cooking challenge a few years ago.

SushiIf you watched the 2011 series of Masterchef (I am a huge fan!) you’ll know that winner Tim Anderson has a particular penchant for Japanese food. He certainly knows his negi and entertainingly educated us with his vast knowledge of ingredients and techniques. Some of the specialist Japanese ingredients he mentioned were thought to be rather difficult to track down by others on the panel, but Tim Hayward reliably informed the audience that they were actually available at any one of a number of oriental supermarkets on Mill Road! I love the huge range of oriental supermarkets we have here and my current favourite is Li Ming – who have provided copious amounts of tofu for my homemade vegan raspberry cheesecakes over the last year or so, but more on those another time.

I was pleased to hear from Tim Hayward that his chef doesn’t allow Fitzbillies to have a microwave in the kitchen – I don’t really like cooking with a microwave and although I do have one myself, it only seems to get used occasionally to reheat a cold cuppa rather than to ever cook food! Tim didn’t get chance to elaborate much during the show on the background to his taking over of Fitzbillies eighteen months ago, but if you want to read more then here’s an interesting article he wrote for The Guardian.

Jay RaynerThe panellists all kindly stayed behind afterwards to chat to the audience. I suggested to Jay Rayner that he pencil Cambridge in for another visit in the future (not only was the auditorium full to capacity, but there were quite a number of ticket-clutching hopefuls who didn’t get in) and he duly made note, though conceded that it would be up to the production team. I spoke to Angela Hartnett briefly too and had hoped to chat to the other panellists, but they were all very much in demand so I didn’t get chance. The recording took an hour but the show itself is only 30 minutes, so I’ll have to wait until Tuesday to find out if the Mill Road and Gwydir Street mentions make the final cut!

FlavourAfter the show, myself and Mr Mill Road met up with a small group of other local food lovers, including Gerla from the Cambridge Food Tour and Ruth who is one of the presenters on the ‘Flavour’ show on Cambridge 105. On the way home we spotted some most excellent buskers on the corner of Rose Crescent and Market square (I had never heard a saxophone/violin/acoustic guitar version of Gangnam style before!) and although we’d hoped the days activities would inspire us enough to cook ouselves a delicious meal, we were too hungry to wait and instead opted for a delicious take away from the Rice House.

The Cambridge episode (which is the last in the current series) of The Kitchen Cabinet will be on Radio 4 on Tuesday (8th January) at 3pm. After broadcast the podcast will be available to download permanently on the BBC website.

A-B-C, it’s as easy as… a short stroll down Mill Road

Wondering what to have for dinner last night and with little energy left for cooking, Mr Mill Road and I deliberated for all of five seconds before deciding to go to the ABC BarBQ on the Broadway. It had been months since we’d been in and I had completely forgotten just how amazing their chips are, in fact they are my favourite chips of all the chip shops on Mill Road (and yes, I have tried every single one).

ABC BarBQABC does everything from fish, pies and chicken to burgers, kebabs and even steak dinners. I opted for chicken nuggets and chips whilst Mr Mill Road went for battered sausage, chips and curry sauce. I would have ordered some slices of cheese (cheesy chips are hard to beat!) but remembered that we already had some at home – which was probably just as well as my past cheese slice requests at ABC have usually been met with a questioning glazed look.

For those that haven’t been before it’s worth noting that there are two queues and you need to be in the right one – there’s a main queue at the front counter, but if you want any burgers, kebabs or steak with your order then you need to queue for the back counter (grill area) instead. You may have to wait a few minutes – we were in there for about fifteen minutes altogether, but I thought that this was pretty quick considering there were eight customers in front of us and only two members of staff.

The food is reasonably priced and we got the lot for about £7, though the cans of drink are comparatively pricey so we bought ours elsewhere on the way home. It may not be the healthiest food around (well, most of it is deep fried) but it was convenient, warming and tasty – and just what we needed during a very busy week.

A Fair Do!

MRWF trufflesI hope everyone enjoyed Mill Road Winter Fair on Saturday. There was so much going on that I didn’t even get to see half the things I had hoped to, but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. What better way to start the day than with some foodie delights, so I decided to make some dark chocolate and dragon ginger truffles first thing in the morning. Although I am not vegan myself, I have tested various truffle recipes over the last few months and the one that tastes most delicious just happens to be vegan. They seemed to go down a treat with everyone that tried them and I had a few people ask me to make some for them to give as presents – so I will probably be spending quite a bit of time in the kitchen over the next couple of weeks!

MRWF ASh Co-opI did a tour of the very busy Food Fair at Gwydir Street car park, which had some amazing edibles. The crowds were so great that you could only move in one direction, so if you passed a stall without stopping it wasn’t easy to go back. The Afternoon Tease stall had already sold out of all three (!) chocolate and Guinness cakes by the time I arrived, but I did treat myself to one of their lovely rum cup cakes. I saw some delicious looking burgers at one of the farmshop stalls and decided that I had to have one, but then I realised that there was a very long queue indeed, so I’m afraid I gave up. I tasted lots of food at the Fair including a lovely free jacket potato with cheese and coleslaw, courtesy of ‘Joseph’ outside Mill Road Baptist church. But I have to say my favourite food of all was the chickpea curry at Lally’s News, it was really warming and spicy, and possibly the best vegetarian curry I have ever tasted – Amrik and Raj are known locally for their delicious curries, and deservedly so.

MRWF Ash Co-opThere was lots of music along Mill Road and I saw people jiving on the Broadway. At one point I could hear my friends band playing on Mill Road bridge. I heard later from others that so many people were dancing to the music on the bridge during the day that the bridge, rather worryingly, actually started to shake (eek!). There was some great music at Argyle Street Housing Co-op in the afternoon, including musicians from the Jam Band Caravan collective playing folk and reggae, and I even heard some thrash metal at one point (!).

MRWF Mulled WineMyself and Mr Mill Road decided to pop in to the Earl of Beaconsfield in the afternoon in the hope of having a nice warm cup of coffee, but when we arrived the place was packed and everyone seemed to be drinking mulled wine – which sounded like a marvellous idea, and so we ordered some without hesitating. I don’t normally drink red wine, but mulled wine is different and this one tasted so nice that I decided to go and buy the ingredients (cloves, dried ginger, a cinnamon stick and a bottle of Chilean red) on Mill Road so I could try making some at home. The resulting mulled wine was great and I shall definitely be trying this again over the next few weeks (probably quite a few times!).

MRWF ReindeerFor me though, the best part of the Fair was bumping into so many friends as well as chatting to lots of people I’d never met before; and the absolute highlight for me was getting to meet my friends’ daughter for the first time – who at just two and a half weeks old was possibly the Fair’s youngest visitor! A massive well done to everyone involved in making Mill Road Winter Fair happen, including the Committee and all the visitors that came along on the day – it’s great to live in such a diverse and inclusive area that has so many community-minded people.

Mill Road Winter Fair 2012

SnowflakeJust in case you haven’t heard, tomorrow is the most important day in the Mill Road calendar – Mill Road Winter Fair! There will be plenty to see and do up and down the length of Mill Road as well as on many of the nearby streets; and if past years are anything to go by, any sort of plan I make will soon disappear as lots of other exciting things are discovered along the way…

Chocolate & Guinness CakeOne of my favourite parts of the Fair over the years has been the compliments booth outside Lifecraft – last year I received some very kind words and was also given an inspirational scroll to keep. This year they will be opening their doors and will have a selection of artwork and goodies for sale inside, as well as a performance from the Lifecraft Singers. I’m looking forward to visiting the Afternoon Tease stall (Gwydir Street car park) with its selection of lovely cakes, including chocolate and Guinness cake – which, given my adoration of the two main ingredients, feels like it was invented just for me! Keeping with the cake theme, I’m tempted to pop along to Cutlacks, where the will be a cake decorating demonstration (I need to learn!) as well as beer and wine tasting – which should keep Mr Mill Road happy too.

Argyle Street Housing Co-op gardensThe car park at Argyle Street Housing Co-operative (ASH Co-op is on the east side of Mill Road bridge) is well known for being a hub of activity at the Fair and this year looks set to be no exception. There will be an open marquee with music from Tariq Muhammed & The Africelt Connection and Dave Crow Barr playing some punk tunes with his electric cello. There’s also music from Jam Band Caravan, who will be playing their mixture of folk-rock, roots and reggae, as well as lots of other musicians throughout the day. The Arco Iris Samba Band traditionally play each year and I am told their performance this year should be at around 1:45pm. The Mayor of Cambridge also usually pays a visit to ASH Co-op during the Fair (in fact, some of you may remember watching former MP David Howarth and former mayor Jenny Bailey pedalling away to keep the the bicycle-powered sound system going a few years back!).

Mill Road Winter Fair 2009If you want to know more about T’ai Chi then who better to advise than the Vice-President of the T’ai Chi union of Great Britain! He and others will be on hand at the Grey Heron stall at ASH Co-op to advise about this martial art known for its health and meditative benefits, as well as other health and wellbeing practices.There will also be other information stalls as well as all sorts of goodies to treat yourself with or to buy as Christmas presents. Look out for chestnuts, chocolate truffles and a stall selling homemade chutneys – including a yummy sounding combination of onion and orchard apple, which I have heard described by others as ‘Christmas in a jar’! There’s also a stall selling a range of second-hand books as well as toys and games.

Mill Road trees in winterThere are lots of other things going on at the Fair. If you’re in Romsey then look out for special offers at Balv’s Hair & Wigs near the bridge and Billy’s off licence next door; and if you need warming up in the cold weather, the Earl of Beaconsfield has music and will be happy to serve you a free cup of coffee. If you’re looking for activities for your little ones then you will find a bouncy castle, face-painting and story-telling at Romsey Mill, a puppet show at St Philips Church at 3pm and Santa himself will be appearing at the Empress pub on Thoday Street from 3-5pm. If you find yourself on the Petersfield side of the bridge then I would recommend popping along to Lally’s News, where there will be some lovely vegetarian Punjabi food, with all proceeds this year going towards children at Addenbrookes Hospital; and just a few metres away you will find Andrew Northrop’s Butchers serving some lovely warming sausages.

I could go on, but the best thing about Mill Road Winter Fair is just taking a walk along Mill Road and seeing what you discover… Hope everyone has a great Fair!