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Posts Tagged ‘vegan’

It’s been quite some time since I’ve reviewed a chocolate from my favourite one-woman local chocolate company, The Curious Chocolatier. The bar below is actually rather special, for two reasons. The first reason is that it’s not one of the standard, ever-present chocolates of The Curious Chocolatier line-up, but a seasonal (and hard-to-find) offering produced late last year.

The second reason relates not to the chocolate itself, but to how I came to have it in my hot little hands.

The Curious Chocolatier Dark Chocolate with Blueberries

The Curious Chocolatier Dark Chocolate with Blueberries

Do you remember when my family and I went out to lunch for my Grandma’s 81st birthday? Well, the entryway to Flint in the Vines is a bit of a shop, selling gorgeous crockery and a few local food products. Including, yes, chocolates by The Curious Chocolatier. I bet you can imagine my delight when I spotted this limited edition bar on the shelf, but I bet you can’t imagine how I came to own it.

(No, I didn’t steal it.)

What I did was (over the course of the lunch’s several hours) sporadically slip into any conversation involving my brother the fact that he should probably buy the chocolate for me, because he’d promised to bring me chocolate days earlier and hadn’t followed through. For example:

E.TeacherLord: I’m trying to decide between the barramundi and the beef. I think I’ll try the barramundi.

Hannah: Do you know what I think? I think you should buy me that chocolate. That would be fun for you.

Or:

E.TeacherLord: And then one of my students [did something amusing] and it made being at work for 10 hours bearable.

Hannah: Wait, what did you say? I didn’t quite catch it. Something about buying me that chocolate?

The Curious Chocolatier Dark Chocolate with Blueberries

The strange thing is I was really only doing this to amuse myself. (Boy, was I amusing myself.) So when I got up to visit the ladies and said to my brother that “now would be the perfect time to buy me that chocolate”, and he reached into his bag and pulled out the bar that he’d already snuck off to get for me, well…

I was ecstatic, grateful, and mindboggled that my ploy had worked. Apparently, I’m more persuasive than I thought, or else my brother loves me loads. Which I hope is true, because I think he’s awesome, and if he weren’t in another state, I would have shared this chocolate with him. Perhaps. Maybe.

The Curious Chocolatier Dark Chocolate with Blueberries

Now that we’ve got the back story out of the way, how did this chocolate rate in the Wayfaring Chocolate universe? Well, it certainly didn’t threaten my adoration of The Curious Chocolatier’s Dark Chocolate with Apricot and Rosemary bar, but it was pleasantly sweet and vanished all too quickly.

The bar is beautifully glossy and the freeze-dried blueberries clearly evident in their rounded glory, as seen in the photo above. The aroma was sweet and slightly fruity, and the snap quite crisp.

The Curious Chocolatier Dark Chocolate with Blueberries

Flavourwise, the chocolate base tasted like what I’ve come to expect from The Curious Chocolatier’s 54% blend, which means it was honey-sweet with strong vanilla and marshmallow tones, tempered with a nice jolt of chocolate richness.

The berries themselves provided a subtle fruity tang, although weren’t as strong in flavour as the apricots of the aforementioned Rosemary bar. I enjoyed the interplay of the honey and cream chocolate with the natural berry flavour of the blueberries, and have since realised that I seem to be conquering my anti-fruit-and-chocolate demons. Hurrah for widening chocolate tastes!

As a result, I feel comfortable recommending this bar as a pleasant, unaggressive, and refreshingly sweet-without-being-cloying chocolate treat.

Question Time: What fruit do you wish you could find embedded in a chocolate bar?

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Vegan Caraway Cake

Off the top of my head, I can think of one positive and one negative for getting up early after a bad night’s sleep and baking a cake to cheer oneself up.

Positive: Cake batter for breakfast. It’s funny how much batter can be “accidentally” left on the electric beaters, bowl, and two spoons used in the batter-making, isn’t it?

Negative: Finding cake batter in one’s hair hours later.

Vegan Caraway Cake

This wasn’t the cake I was originally lusting after. But when I ducked home to find the recipe for the originally-desired cake, I saw, directly to the left of that recipe, this fella. (What brilliant sentence construction! The essays I’m marking must be rubbing off on me…) My mum used to make this fella occasionally, but nowhere near as often as she made the originally-desired cake. I remember, though, that I used to feel more grown up eating this than the other (the originally-desired cake, that is. Have I lost you yet?), because of the below’s rather unique and non-children’s-party-friendly flavour.

So I forgot about the cake I had initially been craving, and made this one instead.

Oh, and I veganised it.

Oh, and I love it. And it still makes me feel grown-up.

Vegan Caraway Cake

This cake tastes like old-fashioned to me. It tastes like something one of the heroines in my beloved-childhood novels would have eaten whilst sitting in her garden dreaming about the future, or whilst serving afternoon tea to a dear grandmotherly-aged friend. This is the cake I imagine Elnora from A Girl of the Limberlost would have slid into the oven with her soft hair falling in front of her face and her butterflies adorning the wall behind her. This is the cake I imagine Anne Shirley would have shared with Theodora Dix as they listened to the echoes of their voices calling back to them from faraway hills.

It’s also the cake I can imagine I’ll  have polished off in two day’s time, but that can be our little secret.

Vegan Caraway Cake

Caraway Cake

Serves 8 -10, adapted from The Women’s Weekly Cakes and Slices Cookbook. For a non-vegan version, substitute Nuttelex with butter, two eggs for the flaxmeal, and normal milk for the soymilk. My mum used to make this wheat-free with her own mix of cornflour and rye flour, so I assume it would also work with gluten-free flours.

  • 2 tbs flaxmeal (ground flax)
  • 125g Nuttelex (I used the Olive Oil kind)
  • 1 cup caster sugar (I used raw caster sugar)
  • 1/2 cup soymilk
  • 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour (the original recipe said to sift this, but I didn’t bother. What can I say? I’m a rebel.)
  • 1/4 cup custard powder
  • 2 tbs caraway seeds.
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C, and grease and line a 14cm x 21cm loaf tin.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flaxmeal with 90ml water and leave to sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Add Nuttelex, sugar, milk, flour, and custard powder to flaxmeal and beat on low speed with an electric mixer until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and continue beating for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture has lightened in colour.
  4. Stir in caraway seeds.
  5. Spread mixture into prepared tin and bake for 50m-1hr. Stand in tin for five minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool.

Question time: Are there any particular dishes you make that remind you of a storybook character? Saying oatmeal makes you think of Goldilocks or beans of Jack doesn’t count…

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Panch Phora Lentil Pilaf

I love cooking. Really, I do. I love the way that cooking is my escape from anxiety and misery; it’s one of the only activities in this world that entirely captures my attention and makes the whirly-burly-thoughts stop their whirling-and-burling. I love attempting to follow recipes then being unable to stop myself from improvising, and I love when the people I care about enjoy what I’ve made for them.

That said, I probably shouldn’t admit the number of times I’ve stood in Smurf Kitchen at dinner-time, peered into my cupboard filled with quinoa, rice, millet, legumes, vinegar, sesame oil, canned artichokes, sardines in tomato/chilli sauce (don’t knock it ‘til you tried it. Unless you’re vegan/vegetarian. Then knock away), coconut milk, canned tomatoes… and made a frown-y face.

You see, sometimes I look at those wholesome, pantry-staple, Make-A-Nutritious-Dish-In-Half-An-Hour items and find myself unable to push away one forlorn thought:

How on earth can I get enough sugar, fat, and processed goodness into my tummy with those stupid ingredients?

More often than not, I’ll succumb to my mother’s voice in my head, which tells me to Make Something Proper That You Won’t Be Ashamed To Tell Someone You Ate.

Panch Phora Lentil Pilaf

Other times, though, the world goes blank and all of a sudden it’s ten minutes later and I find myself, with no idea how I got there, sitting with a plate in front of me upon which is perched a double decker sandwich of wonderment. You know the sandwich I’m talking about, right? It goes: Wonder White bread -> peanut butter -> chocolate chips -> Wonder White bread -> peanut butter -> maple syrup -> Wonder White bread.

And you know what, Mum? The only thing I’m ashamed of is that I never seem to take the final step towards frying such a monstrosity piece of art in butter.

However, for those of you who do like to cook Something Proper That You Won’t Be Ashamed To Tell Someone You Ate, I’ve got just the dish for you. It’s even the dish for me, because when I stopped being lazy and invented this, I couldn’t understand why I’d ever want to eat a sandwich instead.

Also, I want to marry Panch Phora. Just sayin’.

Panch Phora Lentil Pilaf

Panch Phora Lentil Pilaf

Serves 2 (easily doubled)
(recipe from my noggin)

  • 1 American tb (i.e. 3 tsps) Panch Phora
  • 1 tb oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 200g celery, sliced (or celery and carrot, or whatever vegies you have on hand)
  • 1/2 cup (100g) rice
  • 100g red lentils
  • 2 cups veggie stock (estimated… I think I started with 1 1/2 cups and then I threw more in…)
  1. Toast Panch Phora in a dry frying pan for a few minutes until the mustard seeds start to pop and the mix is beginning to get fragrant. Tip the spices into a pestle and mortar and give it a quick grinding. Don’t fuss over it, though. I love the flavour burst of whole spices, and none of these are crazy-intense like, say, cloves are. A bit of whole fenugreek isn’t going to kill you, I promise.
  2. Heat oil in a medium (or large, whatever floats your boat) saucepan, and fry onion and vegetables for 5-10 minutes until softened and gettin’ tasty-tasty.
  3. Throw in rice and lentils and stir around, and then pour in stock. Bring to the boil, cover, then turn down to a simmer and let it potter on its own for 20-25 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper. (And tabasco, if you’re me. Which you’re not, clearly, but… hmm. Where was I?)
  4. Eat, and be bemused by the thought that you ever wanted to eat a double decker sandwich of wonderment instead. Silly poppet.

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I’ve written about a few chilli chocolates on this blog, and I tend to make one of two statements at the close of such reviews. I either say that I think the chilli is mild enough to be enjoyed by those who profess sensitivity to heat, or I posit that the chilli level might be better suited to those who truly enjoy a spicy kick in the mouth. (A metaphorical kick in the mouth, that is. I’ve just finished watching a rather gruesome episode of True Blood*, which has proved to be more than enough violence for me.)

However, after making my way through the following sweet creation, I have a new closing statement about/category for chilli chocolate.

It goes something like this:

Oh dear holy pickle on a paddlepop stick, only eat this if you really and truly know that you love the sensation of burning in your throat. BURNING.

(NB: I do.)

Verē Organic Single Origin Dark Chocolate with Cayenne and Cacao Nibs

Vere dark chocolate cayenne cacao nibs

This vegan chocolate bar is made of naught but four ingredients, which are organic cacao mass, organic raw cane sugar, organic cacao nibs, and organic cayenne. Verē prides itself on using less sugar in its bars than do other chocolate makers, with the aim of creating an overall flavour that is more intense and “dark” than might otherwise be the case for a 75% blend.

I tried quite a few Verē chocolates during my 2007-8 American exchange year, and I feel sad that such tastings were pre-blog. The taste truly is dark and intense, which I love. Verē’s chocolate is earthy, bitter without being acrid, slightly-smoky, and punchy (again with the violence… sorry, folks).

vere dark chocolate cayenne cacao nibs

The colour of the bar is a deep brown-black, and the aroma is equally deeply chocolatey. There’s also a hint of fruity cayenne lurking in the background, which somewhat fooled me into thinking the cayenne would be subtle here.

Not quite. What was that I said about a pickle on a paddlepop stick?

Popping a square in my mouth, I started writing “not too sweet, almost bitter, I can taste the fruitiness of cayenne” in my tasting notes before, suddenly, the letters morphed into capitals and this appeared: “HELLO BURNING WOW WOW STRONG HEAT THROAT BURNING HEAT HEAT”. Yep. Keepin’ it real.

vere dark chocolate cayenne cacao nibs

Now, I’ve had spicy chocolate before, but this Verē cayenne chocolate was nigh on painful. In fact, I believe this would be unpleasantly burn-y for anyone who isn’t dedicated to spiciness. For my part, I was able to pick out occasional woodsy flavours from the nibs and some molasses notes in the chocolate itself but, in truth, this bar is all about heat.

vere dark chocolate cayenne cacao nibs

Which is probably what a lot of ladies would say about Eric Northman, but there’s a time and a place for that kind of talk, and it usually involves more wine than (I assume) any of us has on hand at the moment.

* Anyone else reading the books and watching the HBO show at the same time? I’m endlessly fascinated by where the two meet and where they diverge. Sometimes I think I know what’s about to happen, and then it turns I don’t, but I kind of do. Crazy town.

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Amadei Chuao

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve opened up a word document to write this review and then, well, haven’t. I don’t know for sure why I’m finding it so hard, but I have a few ideas:

  1. I ate this chocolate four months ago, and it’s usually easier to write about something I tasted yesterday than something I nibbled on a third of a year ago.
  2. This chocolate has been called the best in the world, and I somewhat dread admitting that I didn’t love it above and beyond all others.
  3. This is the very last chocolate I’ll be reviewing that was eaten on my travels, and I hate feeling like I’m closing the book on that part of my life. Thank heavens I still have travel photos to eke posts out of…

Amadei Chuao

Amadei Chuao
What a lovely Italian-hotel-room-chair-fabric backdrop!

(Because I feel you should know, I just ran away from this post by playing my online Scrabble games, writing a Facebook message to my brother, and staring intently at my Gmail account whilst wishing I could will an email from someone into existence. It didn’t work. So I’m back here, having realised that I once more procrastinated from writing the review.)

(Oh, and just then I spent ten minutes choosing the photos for this review, then I checked my online Scrabble games again, and then I stared into space while singing No Rain by Blind Melon, then I started singing On My Own from Les Miserables, then I realised I was making myself feel sad, so I’m back here again.)

Amadei Chuao

Shiny!

Look! Chocolate! Fancy uber-expensive Italian chocolate, bought and eaten on my last day in Florence! Lookee the chocolate!

Okay. Let’s do this thing.

Amadei’s 70% Chuao dark chocolate definitely lived up to its reputation of awesomeness in terms of the aroma. A rich, tempting, deeply chocolatey aroma burst forth as soon as I unwrapped the bar, so that the whole time I was taking photos, I was slapping my own thieving hand away.

The chocolate had one of the crispest snaps I’ve encountered in my few years of chocolate tasting, which indicates some pretty masterful tempering (particularly factoring in how thin the bar was). And did I mention the aroma? So, so, so chocolatey. Really. Don’t believe me? Your loss.

Amadei Chuao

Shinier!

When I took my first bite, a strong fruitiness became apparent as an undercurrent to the otherwise rich and sweet chocolate flavour. (I always feel silly when I say that a chocolate tastes like chocolate, but those of you who’ve experience high quality, unctuous, fills-your-senses-with-happiness dark chocolate should know what I mean.) I thought I detected a faint hint of cream and earth, but this was soon swept away by a strong tanginess, reminiscent of red currants, pineapple, cedar, lime juice and (bear with me) even a hint of parmesan.

Okay, I almost deleted what I wrote about parmesan. It’s definitely in my tasting notes, but now I feel like a crazy lady.

Oh well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you get the Real Hannah here.

Amadei Chuao

Eated!

There were times when the tanginess of this chocolate became too much for me. I picked up on lemon and sour raspberries and olives repeatedly, which is not to say that this chocolate didn’t also taste of high-quality, smooth, and delicious chocolate. It’s simply that, for me, the red-fruit spectrum isn’t ideal, although I know it tends to highly regarded by chocolate connoisseur folk. As my personal tastes tend more towards earthy, smoky, cream-and-molasses flavours, I’d be unlikely to make the (enormous) splurge on Amadei’s Chuao again.

It is lovely chocolate, though, and it’s probably just as well that I can’t get it in Canberra. I know I’d end up buying it again to check my first thoughts, and then I’d spend another four months avoiding writing about it…

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Several months ago, I was received a box of chocolate from TCHO. This American chocolate company generously sent me each of their signature chocolates as well as some chocolate-covered cacao nibs and chocolate-covered dried mango. Seeing as part of their reason for sending me such glorious freebies was hearing my opinion of their reformulated Nutty 2.0, I reviewed that one straight away. The rest, however, I saved for a metaphorical rainy day.

After the drought of styrofoam-textured sugar that was Coles Dark Cooking Chocolate and the dust storm of sourness that was Vivani’s 85%, I felt that today was precisely the right day for a rainy thunderstorm of TCHO.

(Wow. That whole metaphor-analogy bit was a bit of a stretch, wasn’t it? I fear the PhD is already sapping my creativity, and I haven’t even started it yet.)

TCHO Dark Chocolate “Citrus”

TCHO Dark Chocolate Citrus

A thunderstorm is a completely inept way to describe such a bright and sunshine-y package of chocolate. Shame on me.

I have a complicated relationship with citrus. Lemon desserts are a favourite of mine, and yet the slightest hint of orange in sweets makes me wrinkle my nose. I think limes are heavenly in Thai-inspired dishes, but I once told my Tasmanian cousin that I didn’t like grapefruit, only to walk upstairs (it was my first morning of a week-long visit) and find a halved grapefruit, sprinkled with sugar, on my plate.

I would happily have eaten it without letting on, but unfortunately my cousin had already let his parents know that I wasn’t a fan. I still remember the feeling of mortification. (I also remember that my uncle brought me a lovely brioche from a local bakery to have instead of grapefruit the next morning.)

Suffice to say I was a teensy bit wary of this TCHO chocolate, seeing as it’s named after alleged citrus flavours. I wasn’t too worried, though, for while I’ve enjoyed TCHO’s Nutty and Chocolatey bars, I’ve never thought they were exclusively nutty- or chocolatey-flavoured. Moreover, there aren’t any actual citrus ingredients in this chocolate; it’s made simply of cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla.

TCHO Dark Chocolate Citrus

Once again, TCHO impressed me with a thin-yet-super-crisp snap and glossy dark brown-black colour. When I breathed in, I was surprised to find that I could detect a high note of lemon, with a touch of yogurt, in the aroma.

Could it be? Could I have struck gold? Could I truly have found a citrus bar that played to my citrus-loves whilst steadfastly avoiding my citrus-enemies?

Readers, it could, and I had. I loved this chocolate. The zing of lemon played against the rich chocolate notes without falling into sourness, while undertones of brown sugar meant that every few nibbles, I’d find myself thinking happily of lemon curd and hot chocolate fudge sauce.

TCHO Dark Chocolate Citrus

Even though there were no roasted or earthy flavours in this chocolate, which I usually tend towards, and though the cacao origin for this bar is Madagascar, which I usually find too tangy, I found myself unable to stop nibbling TCHO’s Dark Chocolate “Citrus”.

It’s vegan, organic, and consistently moreish in its combination of assertive cocoa, sweet sugar, and zesty lemon notes. TCHO, I think this is my favourite of your line-up so far.

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Hey, guess what? I just realised this is another chocolate from my Fairy [God]Mother! Except, in this instance, she was working not under her Fairy pseudonym but her Actual Title. That is to say, this chocolate was given to me inside a birthday card signed by my mum and my dad, and was the extra treat-jewel in my birthday-crown.

(If you’re interested, that particular 23rd-birthday-present-crown from my parents was made up of a new kettle for Smurf Kitchen, a macaron cookbook related to my Paris macaron adventures, and a boxed set of Sondheim DVDs that was also from my brother. My stupendous, much-loved brother, who absolutely never sat on my head when we were growing up*.)

Vivani 85% Organic Dark Chocolate

Vivani 85% Dark Chocolate

If one brown bottle should accidentally fall...

I haven’t tried many of Vivani’s chocolates, although I do remember being delighted by its dark with crunchy caramel (like the grown-up version of Lindt’s Caramel Excellence bar) a year or so ago. I tend to be a big fan of over-80% cacao chocolates (as you may be able to tell from my reviews of Lindt’s 90%, Endangered Species’ 88%, and Theo’s 91% bars), so I was looking forward to this. What I love about high percentage chocolate is the earthiness found, more often than not, in its taste. When done well, this earthiness conveys depth and bitterness without tasting acrid or burnt.

Vivani almost hit this mark – almost! – but fell just a little bit shy of my Zenith Of Tasty High-Percentage Goodness.

Vivani 85% Dark Chocolate

Unlike Ten Degrees’ Chilli Chocolate, which burst forth with sweet and intense chocolate aromas as soon as it left its packaging (I love how that sounds as if the chocolate tried to make a run for it…), Vivani’s 85% had a more tentative aroma. Breathing deeply, I could detect something vaguely spicy in the scent, but not spicy in the chilli-sense. More like… garam masala, or a prickle of smoke at the back of your throat.

Putting a piece in my mouth, I was pleased to discover a softer melt than, say, Lindt’s 85%, which is quite resistant to dissolving. The taste, however, was less pleasantly earthy than that Lindt bar. There was a definite note of burnt coffee beans, and the finish was all about red fruits: raspberries and red currants were the clearest images in my mind.

Vivani 85% Dark Chocolate

I was intrigued by how noticeably absent vanilla was in the taste of this Vivani chocolate. Sure enough, the ingredients were merely cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and raw cane sugar. However, I don’t mean for you to get the wrong impression about this chocolate. It’s not awful, but it’s also not something I would recommend to anyone uncomfortable with bitter dark chocolate. It’s a bit too intense in sour and burnt flavours to foist on the unsuspecting, and yet I will say, in its favour, that its more pleasant chocolatey flavours lingered for a delightfully long time on the palate after the chocolate itself disappeared down my throat.

I believe that its dark intensity will make it a perfect match for my daily maple-syrup-sweetened bowls of porridge. Surely Goldilocks would find such a breakfast to be juuuuuuust right?

 * That was a lie, in case you couldn’t tell. He totally did.

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