Six vegan chocolate brands that taste better than dairy ones

Coco Caravan date bar

If you can’t consume dairy products, it’s hard to get a chocolate fix when you need it. Thank goodness for these six artisans of vegan chocolate! Each different in their own way and easy to find, they are supplying the demand for quality, delicious vegan chocolate one bar of rich cocoa at a time. Read on to discover your next best friend.

Divine

Divine Dark Selection

This fair-trade company is owned by chocolate farmers all over the globe, so both you and the farmers get a good deal with every bite. Divine chocolate, available in bars, eggs and cute novelty shapes, is divine by name and divine by nature. A personal favourite is the 70% dark chocolate with raspberries; the cocoa flavour is robust and creamy, while the tartness of the fruit pieces pokes through.

Booja-Booja

Booja Booja Hazelnut crunch truffle

As a vegan, you tend to lose hope of receiving a scrumptious box of choccies on a special occasion. If this sounds familiar, point your friends and family in the direction of Booja-Booja, makers of rich, indulgent vegan truffles. They literally melt in your mouth (I thought this was merely a turn of phrase until I tried these), plus they’re dairy, gluten and soya free with a leaning towards organic ingredients.

Hotel Chocolat

Hotel Chocolat Fruit and Nut frenzy slab

Unlike a lot of chain chocolatiers, Hotel Chocolat have gone to really good lengths to accommodate vegans. The vegan chocolates have much more cocoa and less sugar than their milky counterparts and have won awards for their quality. The fruit and nut frenzy (pictured above) is a heavenly slab of crunchiness, chewiness and sumptuous meltiness.  Yes, it’s so good I made up descriptive words.

Moo Free

Moo Free mini moos

One of the most commonly available vegan chocolate brands (try Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Holland and Barrett), Moo Free makes fun everyday treats that are affordable and satisfy a chocolate craving. They make mini bars, big bars, buttons, advent calendars and eggs. In other words, with their rice milk based goods, they make sure vegans can join in with occasions like everybody else.

Coco Caravan

Coco Caravan

This start-up’s chocolate is so pure it’s almost unbelievable: no additives, no preservatives, no dairy, no gluten, no soy and no refined sweeteners. With just two key ingredients – ethically sourced raw cacao and unrefined raw Coconut Blossom Nectar – Coco Caravan makes and package everything by hand in Cardiff. The bars and sweet treats come in exciting flavours and varieties, making vegan chocolate fun.

Montezuma’s

Montezuma truffle grand collection

Family owned British company Montezuma’s pushes the mould when it comes to vegan chocolate. They specialise in making perfect matches between different spices, herbs, essential oils and cocoa strengths. It’s not just bars here – they have moreish truffles, chocolate engulfed fruits and luxury drinking chocolate, all of which are an absolute joy worth savouring.

Know any other vegan chocolate companies? Share your favourites below or tweet us @Creative_Hacks and we’ll spread the word (and have a nibble).

Amy sig

Where to eat in Bath: The Green Rocket, Yak Yeti Yak, Chapel Arts Café

Bath_eatsWhen it came to choosing places to eat while visiting Bath, we were spoiled for choice. Well known for being a foodie destination, the city attracts restaurants serving up just about every cuisine you can think of.  Our limited time meant we had to be selective about the places we ate, so we ended up choosing places that we felt offered something unique – and weren’t disappointed.

We made a beeline for our first lunch stop as soon as we stepped off the train; Chapel Arts Café was conveniently located halfway between the station and our hotel. Although it’s right in the centre of town, you’d be forgiven for skipping past this quaint little vegetarian joint, which is hidden away in the basement of St James’s Memorial Hall on Lower Borough Walls.

delicious-the-farmerVenturing in from the stone steps outside, the space is a hip and cosy combo of mismatched tables and chairs, gig posters, chalkboard menus and artsy knick-knacks. The café’s signature is its wood fired flatbreads, so naturally we both opted for one. Mine was was topped with a perfect balance of goats cheese, caramelised onion and roasted veg, while Amy’s was a spicy concoction of houmous, harissa, salsa and tabbouleh. Both were delicious, and combined with a coffee and a cuppa came to £20 – not bad for a wholesome lunch in one of England’s poshest cities.

This filled us up nicely until our evening meal at the hotel (I could write many more paragraphs on how incredible that was, but you should probably just check out the review I wrote here).

Lunch at Thermae Bath Spa’s Springs Café the next day took relaxed dining to a new level. Straight from the steam rooms and into the light, airy eatery, we sat eating serrano ham sandwiches and an olive salad in our robes and slippers, surrounded by similarly dressed down guests. The salted caramel and chocolate cheesecake at the end of the meal was undoubtedly the highlight – an extra slice of indulgence that I couldn’t resist in the midst of a seriously decadent day.

yakyetiyakBy dinnertime we were feeling adventurous, so decided to mix things up with a cuisine neither of us had tried before: Nepalese, courtesy of Yak Yeti Yak. Similar to Indian food but switching the blistering heat of traditional curry houses with subtle and smoky spice combinations, it was exciting to visit a restaurant where veggie food received equal billing to the meaty choices. Our mains consisted of Chyauko Tarkari (stir-fried mushrooms with earthy spices and tomato) and Pork Sag Aloo (slow cooked with potato, spinach and coriander). Both, however, were outshined by their irresistible accompaniment, Musurko Dal (mildly spiced orange lentils and garlic infused vegan ghee). It was so moreish that we had to order an extra portion.

We probably saved the best for last by squeezing in a visit to award winning café The Green Rocket before catching our train back to Cardiff. This vegetarian and vegan wonderland serves up an unpretentious array of fresh, healthy and original recipes, from satisfying mains to tempting home baked cakes.

IMG_7564IMG_7542 IMG_7545Everything on the lunchtime menu sounded good, but our individual choices really stood out to our respective tastebuds. Amy’s mezze offered a refreshingly different variety of light bites, from the mild and smooth baba ghanoush to the warm and soft dukkah flatbread. It looked incredible, but nothing could distract me from my awesome mushroom, sundried tomato and basil rice burger. Combined with halloumi and a cool green salad, even the stubbornest hamburger purists couldn’t have turned down this animal-free winner.

There were so many highly rated restaurants in Bath that we couldn’t possibly visit them all, and we’re already hungry for our next trip back to this flavoursome city. We’d love to hear about your foodie recommendations in a comment or a tweet @Creative_Hacks.

Matt

Café Pure: guilt-free indulgent food in Cardiff Bay

dumbell
If healthy eating summons up images of protein-guzzling hulks downing their powdery shakes during a relentless gym sesh, it’s time you paid Café Pure a visit. This Cardiff Bay eatery has a varied menu of super nutritious breakfasts and lunches, packing barrowloads of flavour into every portion.

Good health and good eating are combined here. Every meal on the menu is accompanied by a clear indication of its nutritional information, with a massive grid at the back indicating the presence of common allergens. If only all restaurants were this considerate.

paleo

This labeling system also means you won’t necessarily feel guilted into going for the salad after a particularly gluttonous Christmas period – more or less everything on the menu makes for a well-balanced treat. That said, salad was the first choice for both of us. I’m not usually one to go for leafy greens over a burger or pizza, but the Paleo Fuel option mixed up loads of my favourite things in one massive salad – topped with a tuna steak and served with a sweet teriyaki dressing on the side, it was seriously scrummy.

superfood
Amy’s Superfood salad with tofu and ‘Café Pure Sauce’ (a surprisingly nice blend of berries and balsamic vinegar) went down just as well – it’s always refreshing to eat somewhere with an abundance of choice for vegans, and she wasn’t disappointed here.

smoothies
Both our meals were washed down with vitamin packed drinks – the Berry Beauty smoothie and Tutti Fruitti juice jar were filled with anti-oxidants and meant we both had the majority of our five a day in a single delicious drink.


Feeling brave after such a wholesome lunch, we both decided to try one of Café Pure’s signatures before leaving: wheatgrass shots, squeezed from blades of the plant grown on-site and served with a juicy slice of orange to counteract the bitterness. Each shot contains the same nutritional clout of 2.5 pounds of dark green vegetables. It wasn’t the tastiest of tipples – Amy definitely wasn’t keen on the earthy tang or potency – but it did leave me feeling energised and ready to face the bracing Bay weather outside.

upstairs
A quote on the back wall of Café Pure reads “You are what you eat, so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake.” A visit here means you can fill yourself up with a nutritionally balanced meal made from fresh ingredients, prepared with care and full of natural flavours.

Matt

How to make spicy root vegetable and lentil one-pot


January can be a bit of a miserable month. When it’s wet and windy outside and Christmas is just a memory, sometimes all you want after work is a warm home and some delicious food to cosy up with.

This is the perfect recipe for those nights – a warming one-pot casserole (or stew, depending on how runny you like it) with loads of spicy flavour and wholesome seasonal veg. The lentils bulk it out, add moreish taste and hearty texture. Matt loves his with a dollop of plain yoghurt sprinkled with paprika, but tomato ketchup or balsamic vinegar would also go well with this dish. One thing is a must – a good chunk of wholemeal bread for dipping and mopping up every last bit.

Ingredients

(makes four servings)
4 carrots
4 parsnips
1 swede
1 large brown onion
100g dried red lentils, rinsed
1 vegetable stock cube
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp dark soy sauce
3 bay leaves
3 tsp dried mixed herbs
3 tsp curry powder
Ground black pepper and salt
Plain flour

Method

choppedveg1. Peel and roughly chop all of the vegetables.

2. In a large saucepan or casserole pot, lightly fry the onion on a medium heat for four minutes or until brown. Toss in the chopped vegetables and garlic, stirring every 30 seconds to stop them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Keep this up for about four minutes.

3. While the vegetables are cooking, dissolve the stock cube in a pint jug of boiled water. Add the tomato puree, soy sauce, bay leaves, mixed herbs, curry powder, salt and pepper to the stock and stir.

4. Pour the stock mixture and lentils into the saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the stew to a boil then turn it down to a low to medium heat. Allow it to simmer for around 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

cooking5. After simmering, the vegetables and lentils will be soft and full of stocky flavour. If you want to make the consistency thicker, sieve a tablespoon of plain flour into the saucepan, stir and continue to simmer for three minutes. If it’s still not as thick as you’d like, just repeat this step. To thin down the stew, add a small amount of boiled water and allow to cook for three minutes. Serve in big bowls with warm bread for dipping. Don’t forget to fish out the bay leaves (they’re not edible!).

We hope you enjoy this winter warmer as much as we do, especially if you’re embarking on the Veganuary challenge! Let us know if you have any suggestions for other delicious wintery recipes – we’d love to try them out and share them here on the blog.

Amy sig

Vegan food hacks: 15 animal-free ingredients that pack a flavour punch

Vegan Jambalaya - paprika rice
Having been a vegan for over four years, I’ve been inadvertently pulled into numerous conversations about my choice of diet. One of the most common reactions I get from non-vegans is ‘your food must be so dull’, and it’s hard to convince these people of otherwise by using words alone.

It’s only when I cook vegan food for meat-eaters and vegetarians that I feel they accept that, yes, my take on a plant-based diet is bloomin’ delicious. Furthermore, the nutritional values in a flavourful, balanced vegan meal can match or even exceed those in a portion of meat and potatoes.

If you’re looking to add oomph to your cooking without opting for animal products or highly processed additives, here are some store-cupboard staples for you to try. Trust me, they can transform bland slops into scrumptious meals.

Sauces and Liquids

Soy sauce 
A splash of this adds depth to tomato-based sauces, and when combined with crunchy stir-fried vegetables can bring an authentic oriental flavour. I have tried soy sauce with most staple vegan foods and can vouch for its versatility. If you want saltiness, an intensity to flavour or just a touch of richness, this is your go-to guy. My favourite is Kikkoman‘s – it ticks all the umami boxes.

Tofu Soy Sauce

Vegetable stock
Never underestimate the power of a good stock. In order to achieve a full flavour to stews, soups and grain-based meals, add a stock cube or stock granules. If your recipe is already liquidy, such as a bolognese, you can crush the cube straight into the cooking pot when you add seasoning. For foods where the water is absorbed or cooked off , such as cous cous, dissolve the stock cube into the amount of water you would usually add. Check the ingredients carefully – some stocks contain milk or meat extracts. A safe bet is Kallo’s organic veg stock, available in larger supermarkets. Better known brands like Oxo and Knorr also have vegetable stock cubes that are vegan – just double-check the labels.

Lemon and lime juice
For a zesty lift, to break down dense flavours or to counteract the heat of chili peppers, trickle a tablespoon of either of these citrus saviours into your saucepan. When used part way through the cooking process, you will find little citrus taste remains at the end – just a lightened, more fragrant feel to the food. For big lemony flavours, add a generous drizzle once served.

Quinoa

Puree
Coming in a variety of flavours – including tomato, mushroom, umami and even garlic – purees pack a punch. Use sparingly to avoid making your food too rich – a tablespoon of puree to each 500ml of liquid should be plenty when used for sauces. I like spreading a thin layer of sundried tomato paste on pizza bases instead of normal tomato puree. Try it!

Vegan meal

Ketchup
Enhance tomato-based sauces, rehydrating grains and even curries by squirting a blob of red sauce into your cooking. I use Wilkin & Sons‘ Tiptree ketchup as it adds sweetness and richness without the tanginess that you get in some of the value range ketchups available, but many typical brands like Heinz work just as well.

Balsamic vinegar
This slightly sweet, dark vinegar is thicker than the sort you’ll find in the chippy, plus a lot more flavourful. Use it as a dipping sauce when tucking into a crusty loaf, drizzle it over salads, add a dash to Italian sauces or trickle lightly over pasta dishes. Experiment with it by using it as a substitute for red wine vinegar. I did this for a Chinese recipe and it worked brilliantly.

Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, bread

Seasoning, herbs and spices

Chili flakes
Used sparingly, these dried crushed red pepper flakes can add heat or spiciness as well as general warmth to a meal. They can be quite intense, so if in doubt, use less than recommended in recipes. You can always add, but once these little flames hit your food it’s hard to nullify the spice. One option is to add them as a garnish to finished dishes, which gives you more control.

Garam masala
Buy a tub of this and you open the gateway to a whole host of cuisines. Spoon into curries when you’ve softened the onions for a beautifully fragrant Indian hit, or add to slow-cooked Moroccan stews for a one-step passport to the souks. Garam masala can vary according to who makes it, since it is a traditional mix of spices. I really like the Bart blend for its aromatic qualities.

Spice

Paprika
This ground red spice is a favourite across the globe, with the most popular forms being red paprika and smoked paprika. Use paprika in Mexican cooking to replicate the taste of expensive pre-mixed spice sachets in tortilla kits, add to goulash and stroganoff for subtle heat or use in bean-based recipes to unleash the earthiness.

Garlic
The smaller you chop it, the stronger the flavour. Pop a few cloves amongst vegetables when roasting for wintery dinners. Alternatively, crush a clove or two into Italian dishes, Chinese food and curries after you have cooked the onions at the start of the recipe. It’s a pungent one, and it’s not very nice when experienced second hand, so use it sparingly to avoid social isolation.

Hummus

Dried mixed herbs
The staple of all staples. A blend of dried green herbs that usually includes basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram, this works in pretty much any savoury meal. Just add a small spoonful part way through the cooking process – this way the herbs will soften as you cook and their flavours will enrich all of the other ingredients.

Flavour-boosting extras

Sundried tomatoes
Available in jars of oil or in packets without any moisture, sundried tomatoes are available in most supermarkets and delis these days. Despite the simplicity of their preparation – i.e. drying out halved tomatoes in the heat of the sun – the flavour that they pack is huge. Perfect rehydrated and added to salsas, salads, sandwiches, rice dishes, pastas and nearly everything else savoury you can imagine (except Chinese food), these little miracles bring a saltiness and richness that eradicates the need to add lots of salt to your cooking.

Pasta

Sweetcorn
Tinned, fresh or frozen, sweetcorn is always undeniably sweet. It lifts dishes that have one dominant flavour, allowing your taste buds to appreciate the complexity of the flavours from other ingredients. I love the stuff. Not once have I opened a tin for a recipe and resisted eating half of it cold. The sweet water from the tin is surprisingly useful too; tip a little into Mexican dishes and tomato-based stews to add sweetness throughout.

Olives
Not everyone likes them, but olives are a good alternative to additional salt. If you add them to sauces from halfway through the cooking process, they will infuse the liquor with a wine-like taste and another layer of flavour. They are less harsh than capers, tending to be bold and salty without being bitter. Marinated olives can make a great party dish – just add cocktail sticks.

olives

Nuts and seeds
A brilliant source of good fats, protein, vitamins and minerals, nuts and seeds are often eaten by vegans for their nutritional values alone. It just so happens that they are also packed with nutty, earthy and often malty flavour, too. Scatter on top of salads, soups and stews, incorporate them into bakes or simply snack away on them. There is a nut or seed out there to please even the pickiest of palates!

A vegan diet is a lifestyle choice and does require some forward thinking, but this handy resource should ensure that whatever you make, you can make it tasty. We hope you find this list useful – let us know if you have any flavour tips of your own via Twitter or by leaving a comment below. Happy Veganuary!

Amy sig