Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Vegan MoFo wrap up, and reflections on September and October

As the month of vegan food draws to a close, I have been reflecting on my experiences with taking part as well as the last two months more generally. The months in question, as you may appreciate, have flown by! My last "what I enjoyed this month" post was at the end of August and it feels like an incredibly long time since then.

Being part of Vegan MoFo has been wonderful. I took part with very little forethought or planning, and while I did develop a list of recipe ideas, I didn't follow it closely. There are recipes I haven't got to yet, and other unplanned ones appeared over the month instead. Next year I think I will be more organised, but I had a lot of fun in the kitchen this month despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of structure. I have also had fun reading others' posts. I didn't read as widely as I might have - time disappears so! - but I did discover some new blogs and I have bookmarked plenty of recipes.

As someone who usually blogs every other day (and blogged less often than that during September), I was curious about how I would find posting more days than not. For the first few weeks, it was actually quite fun and I enjoyed the constant immersion in food and cooking. For the last week, it has been a bit harder. I think I am ready to go back to 15, rather than 20+, posts per month. I am also ready to go back to more varied posts. While I loved the challenge of creating multiple new recipes per week, I did miss focusing on other topics. In some ways, Vegan MoFo consolidated my sense of what I value in blogging and how I view myself as a blogger. I certainly like food and recipes and related topics, but I like variety too.

The pace of Vegan MoFo has mirrored, in some ways, the pace of October. September was a fairy tale month. Busy, yes, but busy in a way that was entirely removed from day-to-day life. From our wedding on the 1st September, to our time in Europe from the 8th September onward, it was a beautiful, amazing, dazzling month that created memories I will forever treasure.

October was pretty wonderful too, although it has had some downs to balance out the ups. It started in England, saw us return home to work and 'regular' life, had me fly interstate for work in Queensland, incorporated several serious work failures / rejections (those who work in research will know the sorts of things I mean) and a smaller number of less important successes, and ended with a delightful day trip to Rottnest. With there now being less than two months until Christmas, I am quite ready for November to be settled and 'normal' and quiet!

One thing I can't help but feel, when I reflect back on September and October, is incredibly lucky. Even Vegan MoFo has had me feeling lucky - I have come to value blogging in a way I could never have predicted at the start, and the shared focus on MoFo amongst bloggers has been quite lovely. I also feel settled with my life in a way that I didn't know was possible, even with busy-ness, challenges, and some difficult days thrown in to the mix. I suppose I feel grown up. Perhaps that's what marriage does.

On that reflective note, here is the wrap up of my posts from October:

What has your October been characterised by?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vegan chocolate orange cupcakes, for Halloween

I feel like this post needs two disclaimers. The first is an apology to those of you who dislike chocolate-orange flavour combinations. I know there are a few of you out there. I beg forgiveness in the context of Halloween and all its orange glory!

The second disclaimer, though, is that I am not actually a fan of Halloween in Australia. This is sure evidence that I am turning into my mother, who has always held the view that it is an American tradition that Australia doesn't need to adopt. As a child, I thought this was utterly foolish. Why wouldn't we want a tradition that provides an excuse to dress up and obtain sweets and chocolates? Now, as an adult, I rather see her point. It is a bit dispiriting to see our supermarkets revel in another commercialised holiday.

And yet - I have made Halloween cupcakes. I am pretty sure that puts me on very low moral ground. I blame this on Workplace #2, which is hosting a Halloween cupcake morning tea tomorrow. I don't get very involved in workplace social events, but cupcake baking is something I can do.

Given my conflict between not really believing in Australian Halloween and nonetheless making Halloween baked goods, I was interested to read Wikipedia's entry on the history to Halloween celebrations. I hadn't realised that it stems from "All Hallow's Eve", the evening of All Hallow's or All Saints' Day, which is a Christian commemoration of those who have attained salvation in Heaven. Halloween may also have ties with Western European harvest festivals and/or pagan Celtic celebrations.

In light of the above, I have decided that I'm celebrating a harvest festival. My celebrations include chocolate orange cupcakes with chocolate liquorice spiders.


These cupcakes are an orange twist on my standard, no-fail vegan chocolate cupcakes. They are very easy. I used orange juice in the cupcakes and orange essence in the icing, but you could be more consistent and use juice or essence for both components if you prefer. The decorations are also vegan, with the spiders consisting of Droste's 70% cocoa pastilles and finely sliced liquorice. They were very fun to make, even if they look a bit more like suns than spiders!

Chocolate orange cupcakes for Halloween

Vegan, fluffy and just slightly orange-y
Adapted from my chocolate cupcakes, which were in turn adapted from the Red Velvet Cake recipe in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Vegan Table

Makes 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
Juice of 1 medium orange (~1/3 cup) (see note)
2/3 cup non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond)
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/3 cup good quality cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

Note. You want 1 cup of liquid, so adjust the milk amount depending on how much orange juice you get from your orange. If you don't have fresh oranges available, you can also use 1 cup milk and 1 - 2 tsp orange essence.

Preheat oven to 180'C and prepare your cupcake tin.

In a medium bowl, combine the juice, milk, sugar, oil and vinegar, and beat with an electric beater on medium speed for 1 - 2 minutes.

Add the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt and mix well. 

Bake for 20 - 22 minutes, until the cupcakes spring back slightly when touched.

For the icing:
50g non-dairy spread, at room temperature (I use Nuttelex)
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp orange essence
1/2 tbsp water

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat with an electric beater on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

For the spider decorations:
Cut liquorice pieces into narrow spider-leg strips. Arrange eight 'legs' per cupcake and top with a chocolate medallion. Pipe on red eyes if desired.

What are your views on Halloween? What about chocolate-orange flavours?

For those of you on the east coast of North America, I also hope that you are safe and dry away from the worst of the weather systems - hopefully with plenty of Halloween food to keep you going.

This (non-food!) post is part of my Vegan Month of Food contributions for October 2012. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Loving this week - Rottnest Island, Western Australia

I am linking this into cityhippyfarmgirl's 'loving this week' post. She has shared four previous 'loving this week' entries, which are well worth viewing if you want some inspiration in your day, cause to smile, or just like looking at beautiful photography.

I was a little unsure about doing a non-food post, given this is the month of vegan food. However, 20 consecutive posts on food must be my record for staying on a single topic and my blogging nature wants to veer off topic now! I am hoping that others don't mind the wandering. I will be posting my final Vegan MoFo recipe tomorrow, before a wrap up post as the month concludes on Wednesday.

Rottnest Island, Western Australia

I was delighted with the timing of the 'loving this week' theme, because it fit perfectly with my thoughts at the end of the weekend. Yesterday, you see, we were fortunate to have a day at Rottnest Island, an 11km long, A-class reserve located 19km off the coast of Western Australia. It is a 40 minute ferry ride from the Perth coastline and an extremely popular spot in summer - we squeezed our visit in before the peak busy season got going.

Rottnest is relatively unique in that it is free of cars (mostly - there are shuttle buses around the island and vans for essential services), making it a haven for bikes and laid back exploring. It is also free of residents, with the only people living on the island being those employed in essential services there, such as police, nursing staff, and rangers. There is a small school for children of worker residents, but it generally has 10 - 15 primary school aged students at most. No one is allowed to own property personally, and all land and buildings are managed by the Rottnest Island Authority. They also own and oversee the holiday accommodation, which makes up most of the buildings on the island. In effect, it is a self-contained community that changes every time a ferry arrives or departs.

Planning our cycle route of the island

I gave Mr Bite return ferry tickets for the island last Christmas, but with our whirlwind year it has taken us to now to get to using them. Fortunately for us, my sister works part-time at one of the ferry companies, which means we get generous discounts on crossings (and free bike hire - thanks again, darling!). If you don't have such connections, it is an expensive day out, but definitely a worthwhile one as a treat. It had been 10 years since I visited, and longer since Mr Bite had been, so we felt it was a well-timed trip.

We arrived on the island at 10.30am, and set off to cycle the perimeters of it. We didn't quite do the full loop - there is a narrow out and back stretch at one end - but saw plenty of gorgeous beaches on our circuit. We finished with a dip in one of the bays and the water was incredibly cold, but a refreshing finish to what had been a hot cycling stretch.

In addition to beaches, Rottnest is home to quokkas, which are small herbivore marsupials that are common on Rottnest but rare outside of the island. They are quite oblivious to humans, being so used to them, and wander the streets happily.

We also saw two snakes on our trip, which were less welcome on our path!, but they didn't seem interested in us either.

As a child, the food options on Rottnest were limited to an alcohol-focused hotel, fancy lodge restaurant, bakery, fast food chicken and chips, and two small supermarkets. We were interested to note that things have changed over the past decade or so, with the chicken / chips shop being replaced by a Subway, the hotel being renovated, and three new options being added: a seafood restaurant, a casual cafe with gluten free options, and a Dome Cafe (Dome being a Western Australian institution akin to Starbucks or Gloria Jeans, but with more food). We bought lunch at Subway and afternoon snacks at Dome.

I am not usually a beach person and yesterday gave me more sun than I have had in a while, but it was a gorgeous day and a reminder that it only takes one free day to have a holiday-like experience. We have had lots of holiday experiences recently, and I felt very blessed to have another day to ourselves yesterday. Rottnest is a definite perk of living in Australia, and one that I appreciate having so nearby.

Have you had any days out recently? Or do you have any favourite places to visit when you do manage an excursion?

This (non-food!) post is part of my Vegan Month of Food contributions for October 2012. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

30 minute meals, including tahini sushi

As the end of Vegan MoFo approaches, I thought I would mention some of the quick and easy meals that we have had this month. Some of them have been mentioned before and are semi-regular dishes for us. Others are new or appear less often. All of them can be prepared in 30 minutes or so, which sometimes is a critical factor when deciding what to have for dinner.

Tahini sushi

I made this in the same week as my sushi salad, having decided in advance to make a double batch of sushi rice. I liked the idea of putting tahini into sushi form, and used nothing more than tahini and finely sliced cucumber and carrot as the sushi filling. It was surprisingly delicious and is definitely something I will make again.

Served with a side of edamame beans

If you are using pre-cooked sushi rice then this dish can be made in 5 minutes flat. If you aren't, cooling the rice in the fridge or freezer should allow you to go from uncooked rice to finished sushi in close to the 30 minute time frame!

Mexican with cauliflower rice

This is almost two meals in one, as the first stage was a repeat version of stacked quesadillas. They have become a regular dinner for us, as they provide an easy vegetarian meal that Mr B and I both love. 

Stacked quesadillas

Last week, I paired leftover filling from the quesadillas with cauliflower rice. It made for a great lunch, and I almost liked it more than the original quesadilla dish from the night before.

Leftover quesadilla filling with cauliflower rice

This used about one-third of a head of cauliflower, processed into cauliflower rice, and a mix of tomato salsa, refried beans, lentils, grated zucchini and grated carrot for the topping. I squeezed some lime juice on the cauliflower before serving.

Supermarket black bean stir fry

After our enjoyment of Wok to Walk in Portugal, I promised Mr Bite that I would get my wok down from the top shelf of the pantry and have a go at re-creating their version of vegetable stir fry. I also, foolishly, promised that I would make him the black bean sauce that he enjoyed on his orders.

This was foolish because in the week I wanted to make this, I couldn't find black beans at any of our nearby supermarkets. I have previously bought the beans at a further away store, but didn't have the time (or inclination) to go there in the week in question. I thus gave in and bought a supermarket jar, which was part of what made this meal so quick.

I used to use my wok regularly, but over time have moved to using flat non-stick pans for stir fries instead. They are easier to store and to clean. I did enjoy re-discovering the wok for a change, and had forgotten how helpful it is for tossing ingredients whilst cooking.

I did my utmost to make Mr Bite's dish as close to the ones he had whilst away, which meant plenty of noodles, plenty of sauce, and a vegetable list that included onions, capsicum (pepper), bok choi and bean sprouts. My version was heavier on vegetables and lighter on sauce, with brocolli playing a starring role. It was also cooked in a regular pan because we only have one wok. We both had tofu, although I didn't bother marinating it separately before cooking.

The sauce was declared sufficiently authentic, we both liked our meals, and I think black bean flavours will be appearing again (possibly, next time, from scratch).

Stuffed peppers

These used to be a near weekly dish, so I was surprised to note that I didn't have a recipe for stuffed peppers on my Recipe page. I suppose they are so simple that a recipe is almost redundant. 

This version was made using two yellow peppers, which were cut in half and roasted in a 200'C oven for 15 minutes. While they were roasting, I cooked one cup of rice in two cups of vegetable stock and sauteed some diced onion, celery and carrot in a non-stick pan. When the rice was cooked, I combined the rice and vegetables, along with some diced tofu and dried basil, and then spooned the rice mixture into the pepper halves. If you roast the stuffed peppers for an additional 10 - 15 minutes, the meal is done. 

Much as I love adventurous and/or new dishes, sometimes a quick and easy meal is what is called for. I also like reflecting on how our tastes have changed over time - stuffed peppers have gone through a high and low period, and are only now returning to the rotation. We also used to have veggie sausages at least fortnightly, whereas we are now slightly off them. I am sure in another few months it will all change again.

What quick and easy meals have you been enjoying lately?

This post is part of my Vegan Month of Food contributions for October 2012. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Vegan English baking: Cherry scones

I have had a terrible time with scones this month. In theory, they are an easy treat to whip up. I had intended them to be my very first vegan English baking post. As you may have guessed, things didn't go quite according to plan.

The first batch I made used half spelt flour and half wholemeal flour. In the process of dividing the flour quantities in two, I managed to halve my baking powder quantity by mistake. The scones rose poorly, not helped by my decision to use frozen cherries in that batch. They were more like biscuits than scones.

This is not how scones should look

In my second batch, I used the right amount of baking powder but still ended up with flatter than optimal scones. I wasn't sure what had gone wrong. Eventually I wondered if my baking powder wasn't working as it should, as I was down to the last dregs in my container.

Better, but still not great

For my third batch, I decided to play things safe and use self-raising flour as well as baking soda (bicarbonate of soda). I have always associated baking powder with scone recipes (which is baking soda plus cream of tartar), but this article touches on the possible variations in rising agents, and the possible successes and failures you can achieve with scones if you tweak what you use. Self-raising flour and baking soda both seem to be acceptable alternatives as rising agents.

I am pleased to say that the third batch worked. I have also bought new baking powder and hope to avoid flat baking results from now on!

And finally - risen scones (thank goodness)

Cherry scones are something I have only ever seen in the north of England. I first came across them in 2003, when I was travelling England on my own. I remember browsing the food hall of Fenwick's department store in Newcastle Upon Tyne and seeing cherry scones alongside the other varieties. After seeing them there, they were suddenly everywhere - in the Newcastle Marks & Spencer's food hall, and in other supermarkets in the area.

On our most recent trip, I was thrilled to see cherry scones when we reached Durham. For those not familiar with northern England, Durham is about 1 hour south of Newcastle Upon Tyne, and Newcastle is about 2.5 hours south of Edinburgh. I am sure cherry scones must exist in the south of England, but I have never seen them there.

Top and centre - cherry scones

We didn't buy any cherry scones on this trip, but my previous experiences have all been positive. Whilst I don't usually like glace cherries, they work quite well in scone form as their sweetness is offset by the plainer scone surrounding them. I like other varieties of fruit scone too, but cherry is particularly pleasing to me.

Johanna has touched on the history of scones previously (and indeed, has an amazing array of scone recipes on her blog), so I won't repeat her points here. As she noted, scones originated in Scotland rather than England, despite the south of England providing the names for Devonshire tea and Cornish clotted tea. Johanna has also outlined that Australian and English scones may be more aligned with biscuits or shortcake in the States. Angharad at Eating for England has posted on this too. It's a confusing business, for something that is a simple flour / butter / milk product!

I was hoping to find some history specific to cherry scones, but wasn't able to find anything particularly compelling. I was interested to see this post refer to cherry scones (or 'Sgoniau Ceirios') as a Welsh product. I suppose there are many varieties of fruit scones and cherry scones have no doubt evolved in multiple places.

Across my three batches of cherry scones, I tried a number of cherry options. The first batch used frozen cherries. This worked well but does make for a heavier scone (especially, of course, if you omit half the baking powder). My second batch used both dried cherries and glace cherries. I think I liked this mix best. I would have done the same for my third batch, but had used the dried cherries up, so used currants and glace cherries instead. You could use glace cherries only, but I would recommend a combination of dried tart cherries and glace cherries if you have access to both.

Cherry scones
This quantity makes 6 - 8 scones; double ingredients for a larger batch

1 tbsp vinegar
1/2 cup minus 1 tbsp non-dairy milk (I used almond)
1 1/3 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
Pinch of salt
35 - 40g non-dairy spread (I used nuttelex)
Scant 1/4 cup glace cherries, chopped in half
Scant 1/4 cup dried cherries

Preheat your oven to 220'C and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.

Place the 1 tbsp vinegar in the bottom of a 1/2 measuring cup and top up with the non-dairy milk. Set aside to curdle.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Rub in the non-dairy spread with your fingers, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the glace cherries and dried cherries and the vinegar-milk mix. Stir to combine and knead to form a soft dough.

Roll the dough out lightly on a floured surface, to ~2cm thickness. Cut out rounds using the top of a glass dipped in flour or a cookie cutter, and place on the prepared baking tray.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.

Have you ever tried cherry scones? Or do you have your own favourite scone variety?

This post is part of my Vegan Month of Food contributions for October 2012. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vegan brownie bites with avocado and coconut flour

Some times, I make recipes with a great deal of anticipation and planning.

Other times, I make things almost without thought, combining ingredients on whim and being guided by spur of the moment decisions.

Recently, faced with avocado to use up and a vague desire for chocolate, I set out to make chocolate avocado mousse. Half way through I veered off and added dates and coconut flour. At some point before finishing, I decided that I was making brownies and not mousse.

This could have ended badly. Instead, it resulted in one of my favourite chocolate recipes. Ever.

These have just 5 ingredients. They take 5 minutes to prepare. There aren't baked, and the refrigeration time is minimal. And they taste like brownies. Genuinely, unbelievably, incredibly like brownies.

I would describe the texture as a cross between raw brownies and regular cooked brownies - dense, and fudgey, and slightly chewy. I liked it a lot. I liked everything about these a lot.

You don't have to take my word for it though. You could whip these up right now and sit down to try them in just one short hour.

Vegan brownie bites
Made with avocado and coconut flour, these are everything a brownie should be
A spur of the moment creation
Makes about 12 bite-sized serves
Vegan and high raw

1 small avocado (mine weighed 100g with skin and stone)
1/4 cup cocoa (the higher the quality the better)
1/4 cup coconut flour
6 dates, chopped in half
1 - 2 tbsp maple syrup (I used 1 tbsp and found that sweet enough; use more to taste)

Process the avocado in a food processor until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and process until well combined and starting to clump together.

Press the brownie mixture into a loaf tin or other container lined with baking paper. Set in the fridge for approximately one hour before cutting into squares and serving. Lick the food processor bowl while waiting.

I think I'll be needing more avocados before long.

What was your last unplanned but worthwhile kitchen creation? I have quite a lot of unplanned creations, but they aren't always full successes!

Submitted to Ricki's Wellness Weekend.

This post is part of my Vegan Month of Food contributions for October 2012. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Vegan English baking: Baked tofu 'scampi' with peas and potato

This is my fourth Vegan English baking post, but the first that is savoury rather than sweet. Unusually for me, I have been as enthused about this post as the sweet-themed ones, and have been looking forward to publishing it today.

For those of you not familiar with scampi, they are a type of small prawn commonly found across Britain. Deep-fried scampi are a standard item on pub menus, with the scampi usually being dipped in egg and breadcrumbs before the deep frying. In my younger years, it was one of my standard pub menu orders when on holiday in England and I found the scampi to be served, invariably, with peas and either chips or baked potato.

Since Mel posted her recipe for tofu fish fingers, I have wanted to try a fish-inspired tofu dish. I was thus interested to note that Mel's tofu fish fingers were adapted from Bryanna's tofu scallops. It is not a huge leap from scallops to scampi (different species, but similarly sized!) and I decided that tofu scampi would be just the thing for my English baking theme.

As you might have deduced, I decided to bake my scampi rather than fry them. I generally prefer baked or roasted foods to fried ones, and also don't trust myself with a pan of hot oil and the task of plunging items into it. Baking seemed a safer choice all around.

I followed Bryanna's and Mel's recipes closely, but simplified the ingredient list slightly and used Panko breadcrumbs instead of the Anchor brand I usually use. I found the Panko by chance in an Asian store and was pleased to have the opportunity to try them; as it turns out, I liked them less than regular breadcrumbs, perhaps because I didn't deep fry them when they are intended for that purpose. I found them a bit too light and also too pale in appearance (a minor complaint, but it irked me nonetheless!).

Breadcrumb brands aside, I really enjoyed this meal. I wasn't sure what to expect in taste, but the tofu pieces do indeed taste seafood-y. They are not going to be mistaken for true scampi, in taste or in appearance, but they certainly gave a nod of acknowledgement to the pub dishes of my memories. Mr Bite has never tried scampi and he didn't think these were particularly fish-y, but he did say that they didn't taste of tofu and that he liked them, so I will call that a success even if I didn't deliver a strong seafood experience for him.

The main feature that made these 'scampi', rather than tofu fingers or scallops, was the shape. Fried scampi generally form a rough triangle shape and that is what I tried to create here (picture a prawn that has been breaded and you will see what I was aiming for!). I served them with baked potatoes and peas (me) or mushy peas (Mr Bite), and can recommend those side dishes. I didn't bother with tartare sauce but Mel and Bryanna both provide vegan recipes for that if you are interested.

Baked tofu 'scampi'
A baked vegan version of the deep-fried English pub classic
Adapted from Bryanna's tofu scallops and Mel's tofu fish fingers
Makes about 24 small 'scampi' pieces

350g block of tofu
1 cup of water
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 sheet nori / seaweed, crushed or shredded
1 tsp brown sugar

1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup non-dairy milk (I used almond) curdled with 1 tsp vinegar
1 cup breadcrumbs

Ahead of time, press your tofu and cut the block into three strips. Cut each strip into 4 triangles, and then cut each triangle in half to give 24 pieces that approximate small curled prawns in shape.

In a large shallow dish, combine the water, soy sauce, lemon juice, 1 tbsp vinegar, crushed nori and brown sugar, and whisk to combine. Place the tofu pieces in the marinade and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes but preferably longer.

When the tofu has marinated, preheat your oven to 200'C and line two baking trays with nonstick paper.

Place your plain flour, curdled non-dairy milk and breadcrumbs in three bowls. Dip each 'scallop' in the flour, then milk, then coat well in the breadcrumbs. Place on the baking tray.

Cook the scallops for 20 minutes, turning at the 10 minute mark, or until golden brown and crispy.

...coated and before cooking...
...and after cooking.

These are best served straight from the oven, or at least re-heated in the oven. The crispy coating becomes soggy if microwaved, but I did find that eating the leftovers cold was quite enjoyable too (something that wouldn't be found, I suspect, with traditional scampi!).

All in all, this was a great variation on tofu and a fun meal to make. I am not sure if I will worry too much about the shape of the tofu pieces in future but these are definitely likely to appear again in some form.

Have you ever had scampi? What about fish-inspired tofu dishes?

This post is part of my Vegan Month of Food contributions for October 2012. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Product reviews: Lindt 90% dark chocolate and Seed & Bean organic Dark Chocolate with Lavender

After alluding, on quite a number of occasions, to my chocolate purchases in England, I thought it time that I actually blogged some of them.

Today, we have Lindt 90% cocoa dark chocolate and Seed & Bean extra dark chocolate with lavender, both of which are dairy free and vegan.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't expect much from the Lindt 90% block. I thought it would be like the 85% cocoa block, widely available in Australia, but darker. I bought it with the belief that I could probably track it down in Australia if I tried hard enough, and as such nearly didn't bother with it at all. 

Such foolishness. I can only say, now, that the 5% cocoa difference between the 85% cocoa and the 90% cocoa blocks makes a world of difference. A world. I loved this block more than I have ever loved a plain chocolate block before.

My first bite saw me inhaling in surprise, and then with deep pleasure, and then closing my eyes in enjoyment, and then opening them again in wonder.

I don't know how Lindt does it, but suspect that the real vanilla bean might be part of the effect. The chocolate is surprisingly sweet for a 90% block, but it is sweet in an entirely chocolatey way - not cloying, or sickly, or even sugary. Just sweet enough to balance the cocoa, and to give a result that is all chocolate and all deliciousness and all delight. It tastes of more than chocolate but also entirely of chocolate. It is lovely.

Having discovered this, I am now doubting my initial (foolish) belief that the block is available in Australia. As far as I can tell, it isn't. And I find that very unfair indeed.

Where I had moderate expectations of the Lindt block, I had soaring hopes for the lavender chocolate. Ever since my adventures with lavender cheesecake and lavender cookies earlier in the year, I have been sold on the concept of edible lavender products. On looking at the website for the Organic Seed & Bean company, I also wish that I'd seen more of their range around. Seed & Bean are an English chocolate company that started in 2005, with a focus on organic and fair trade ingredients. Their other blocks include such flavours as lemon and cardamom dark chocolate and pumpkin seed and hemp oil dark chocolate, both of which I would have snapped up if I had seen them.

The lavender block is 72% cocoa, and uses lavender oil rather than dried lavender. The result is a smooth block, quite silky in texture and taste, with a subtle lavender smell and a strong lavender taste.

At first bite, the lavender actually seemed a bit too strong for me. This remained the case at second bite, and possibly even at third. Over time, though, the block grew on me. By the end (and I ate it spread out, so the end wasn't immediately after the start), I was a convert. 

It is difficult to accurately describe the taste of this chocolate. It is definitely floral, but once the initial shock of that wears off, the lavender balances nicely against the cocoa. There is no hint of bitterness, and it is also not particularly sweet. It is deep and mellow but with lavender, which isn't something I could have imagined before tasting it.

I don't think I will pine for this chocolate in the way that I may pine for the Lindt 90% block, but I am very glad I tried it and would be keen to try other Seed & Bean blocks in the future.

For another complementary review of Lindt 90%, see Hannah's 2010 post here. She found brownies and cookies in the flavour mix, which makes me even more keen to try it again!

Have you tried either of these blocks? And what are your thoughts on lavender in food form?

This post is part of my Vegan Month of Food contributions for October 2012.