Raaka Unroasted Vegan Chocolate Review

Among Steven’s many excellent qualities is one that makes birthdays and holidays extra fun: He is a terrific gift-giver. He’s the type of person who keeps a running list all year long, adding ideas gleaned from offhand comments or the merest suggestion. His gifts are always thoughtful and frequently generous. For my 25th birthday — a year in which I’d come up with a list of 25 goals to accomplish — he made what was essentially a birthday advent calendar, with one box for each goal. Once I accomplished the goal, I’d open the box to find a trinket to commemorate my success: a sachet of saffron for a cooking-related goal, that sort of thing. For my 30th, he gave me a generous gift certificate to a local photography school so that I could take classes, a nod to my desire to improve my photography and to my desire to focus more on experiences than physical things. Steven derives genuine joy in giving the perfect gift, without expecting the recipient to reciprocate with something equally perfect. (Although I was pretty proud this Christmas when I got him a handmade Slytherin robe, which seemed to delight and surprise him.)

All this is to say that even my stocking is a thrill to open come Christmas morning. This year, along with some other lovely stocking stuffers, Steven included three chocolate bars from Raaka, an ethical chocolatier that produces some truly wonderful vegan chocolate bars. The gift ticked all the boxes for me, a lover of high-quality dark chocolate who tries to support small companies that incorporate transparent, ethical practices in their supply chain. I hadn’t heard of the brand before I received Steven’s gift, but I was glad to learn about them.

Raaka differentiates itself from other chocolatiers by focusing on single-origin unroasted beans and by being truly transparent about their processes. I received three bars, which came packaged in a nice little muslin bag I’ll happily use to stash toiletries during my travels. Here are the bars I tried. Spoiler: I love them all.

Vegan Raaka chocolate bars


Bourbon Cask Aged

Raaka describes this bar as their “tuxedoed sophisticate,” and they’re not wrong. The company barrel-ages their single-origin cacao in bourbon casks, imbuing the chocolate with a deep, rich, complex flavor. Would I have described this chocolate as bourbon-infused had I not read the label? Probably not. Is it still delicious? Yes, it is.

Pink Sea Salt

I am fully here for the trend of sprinkling salt atop an otherwise sweet chocolate! This bar fulfills all my salty-sweet dreams, with a grains of sharp pink salt liberally dashed onto a 71% cacao bar of chocolate. It’s utterly delightful.

Coconut Milk

This is easily the best vegan chocolate I’ve had in a long, long time. It hits a perfect balance between milk and dark chocolate, melting on the tongue like a milk but with the complex flavors of a dark, and very little actual coconut flavor. It’s light and smooth, a creamy delight that goes down easy. I’m exercising restraint and making this bar last as long as I can!


Vegan Raaka chocolate bars

If you can’t tell, I’m officially a Raaka convert. This is quality chocolate prepared with love and respect. I’m not sure that I’d identify it as unroasted if I didn’t know it in advance, but whatever they’re doing, they’re doing right. Plus, the labels are pleasing to look at and the price is right, comparable with other artisanal chocolate bars and well-worth the money. It’s chocolate to be savored, eaten slowly a square at a time. My kind of chocolate.

Raaka has quite a few other flavors, and I’m looking forward to trying them. I love the idea of the cab sauv bar, and they just introduced an oat milk bar (!?!) that sounds really interesting.

Let me know your favorite ethical vegan chocolate brands… if only to give Steven ideas for my March birthday! :D

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Vegan Afternoon Tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, Canada

I’ve finally achieved a dearly held dream: enjoying a full vegan afternoon tea!

Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, CanadaFor years I’ve read fellow vegan blogger Jenny’s accounts of the vegan afternoon teas she’s enjoyed all over the world (okay, mostly the UK) and wistfully wished for a tea of mine own. I’ve salivated over the savories and pined over the pastries, dreaming of a day when I’d get three tiers of treats all to myself.

My chance nearly came this past spring. For my birthday, Steven’s mom very sweetly gifted me (and Steven!) passes to enjoy a special vegan afternoon tea being offered at a tea shop in Ellicott City, a nearby historic mill town. The shop doesn’t typically offer vegan snacks but was partnering with a local vegan society for a one-off event, and I was quite excited to attend. Then the owner had an emergency in the family and had to reschedule the event, understandably. Before she could reschedule, climate change took its toll: A series of horrific floods swept through Ellicott City, and the tea shop flooded and had to close, likely permanently. Sad for me, but truly tragic for the town. My afternoon tea dreams were on hold.

And then Steven and I booked a winter trip to Montréal. I’d been itching for a December trip to somewhere in Europe where we could visit Christmas markets, but it wasn’t in the cards this year. A long weekend in Montréal was a more than passable substitute, and when a search for “vegan afternoon tea in Montréal” led me to discover that sweet tea shop Le Parloir offered a vegan afternoon tea, I was sold. I made a reservation and counted down the days till three tiers of treats would be mine.

We’d booked our afternoon tea for 1:00 p.m. on a Saturday and found the tea shop about half full when we arrived. After being seated, we waited about five or so minutes before getting the menu and a run-down of how to order, and that’s pretty indicative of the overall pace at Le Parloir: relaxed! This is the time to chill out, get cozy, and while away a few hours. (We were glad to escape from the biting cold outdoors; the temperature hovered around 5˚F on that day!)

Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, CanadaWhile you can order vegan a la carte options, we went straight for the full three-course vegan afternoon tea, served on (yess!) a three-tier cake stand. Priced around $25 Canadian, it was a bargain thanks to the favorable exchange rate for us Americans. (How rare it is I get to say that…!) Steven opted for a black chai blend, while I chose a jasmine green tea. Our piping hot iron pots arrived in short order, complete with hourglasses to time the steepage. Steven enjoyed his chai; my jasmine wasn’t quite as flavorful as I prefer, but still fine. We sipped our teas and did some covert people-watching while waiting for our trays. Interestingly, of the three other pairs of diners present during our meal, at least two people ordered the vegan tea, and one ordered a vegetarian spread. :)

A woman who I assume to be the shop owner delivered the vegan tray to a lady sitting behind us, explaining each dish, but we unfortunately didn’t get the full run-down when the waitress came with our cake stands a bit later. No matter; the food didn’t really require much explanation.

Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, CanadaFor the savories, we enjoyed five tidbits: a savory tart with walnut-mushroom pâté, a slice of toasty bread with beetroot hummus and radish slices, a (heart-shaped!) open-faced cucumber-cream cheese sandwich, two egg-salad finger sandwiches, and — my favorite — two tangy, mustard-y, pickle-laden sandwich triangles. I’m not sure exactly what the filling was on those latter two sandwiches; I’d guess it might’ve been chickpea-based, but it was really tasty, especially served on a soft, nutty wheat bread.

We slowly munched our way through the savories before moving on to the middle tray: the scone course! We received one towering scone apiece, and a good ‘un it was. Flaky, nice and tall, just barely sweet, with a tender crumb. Scone perfection, just about. The scones came with a small pot of blueberry compote, which I found just a tad too sweet. (A bit of cream would have helped cut through the sugar!) The tray also included a cute little pot of panna cotta, the only misstep of our entire afternoon tea. I think this dish relied on agar to thicken it — too much agar. It was basically a solid, flavorless white block — not terribly appetizing. I dutifully dug through mine to discover an absolutely perfect mango-passionfruit coulis at the bottom, a tangy-sweet sauce that paired really nicely with the toasted coconut flakes sprinkled atop the panna cotta. This would’ve been really lovely if the middle layer were a softer vanilla pudding!

Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, CanadaAt last we reached the dessert plate. Stomachs straining, we indulged in three treats: a tiny vanilla cupcake with almost painfully rich and thick frosting, a sweet little berry mousse tart topped with fresh berries, and a few candied orange jelly slices coated in rich dark chocolate. I could take or leave the cupcake, but not through any fault of its own; I’m just ambivalent about cupcakes in general these days. The other two sweets were lovely, and the dark chocolate oranges made for a wonderful last bite. I was pleased to pace myself enough to finish everything — it was a lot of food, all told!

I’m so glad we were able to make it to Le Parloir to enjoy a vegan afternoon tea in Montréal! I enjoyed the whole experience, from the kitschy-cute décor to the slow pace to the tasty little nibbles we enjoyed. And it’s fair to say that my appetite for afternoon tea will only increase now that I’ve had my first taste!

IF YOU GO

  • You don’t need to make a reservation at Le Parloir, but if you’re going on the weekend, you might want to do so just in case — they sometimes host bridal and baby showers, which can take up a large portion of the tea shop. You can call or send a Facebook message to make a reservation.
  • You don’t need to reserve a vegan tea in advance, but when I messaged the owner to make my reservation, she said it’s helpful for them to know in advance if multiple people will be ordering vegan teas. So you might as well specify when you make your reservation!
  • Take your time! Of the three pairs of diners who were there when we arrived, two were still there when we left.

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Vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir in Montréal, Canada // govegga.com

Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Review: Barking Mad Café in Gaithersburg, Maryland

I’m not usually a burger person. Sure, I’ll order them every so often at veg restaurants if the mood hits, and there’s definitely an uptick in my patty consumption during the summer months, but in general I could take or leave them. When I do take them, I typically opt for a burger that’s more veggie than meaty.

At least that was the case until I tried my new favorite restaurant meal: the Beyond Burger, served with tempeh bacon, sautéed mushrooms, BBQ sauce, and all the veggie fixins on a big ol’ wheat brioche bun.

Beyond Burger at Barking Mad CaféIt might look like your average veggie burger, but oh. my. goodness. It is phenomenal, and I’ve eaten it an embarrassing number of times over the past few months. It’s juicy, sweet-and-savory, and full of so many delicious textures… and it’s served alongside my favorite style of french fries: skin-on, nearly shoestring, with just enough salt.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the restaurant that serves this burger par excellence happens to be located just 10 minutes from our house, and just a couple minutes down the street from my office. The place is called Barking Mad Café, and it boasts an impressive range of vegan options on the lunch and dinner menus. Aside from my beloved burger, plant eaters can also enjoy a soba noodle bowl, a pizza (with mozz, caramelized onions, figs, tempeh bacon, and arugula), a farro salad, a kale salad, or a quinoa salad. I’ll be honest: I’ve only ever ordered the burger. But Steven had the pizza and was impressed, and another friend loves the soba noodle bowl. Plus, Barking Mad has a vegan affogato on the dessert menu, and you can veganize the fried cauliflower appetizer with spicy avocado sauce. (We did try the latter once, and I wasn’t impressed — too oily and not enough flavor.)

Fried Cauliflower at Barking Mad CaféBarking Mad does both sit-down meals and take-out, which is a boon for those of us who live close and prefer to eat while wearing jammies. I’ve only done a sit-down meal once, on my birthday, and found the ambiance and service a bit mystifying. There’s a back bar section, which seemed quite busy, and then a surprisingly massive table section with chrome and hot pink accents and a big window opening onto the kitchen, with the massive brick oven taking center stage. Although the bar was hopping the night we went, the rest of the place was not full by any means, yet the service was surprisingly slow. It took me an age to get my old fashioned (meh), and our food was similarly delayed.

On the plus side, in warm weather you can sit outdoors on a lovely — and large — patio. Barking Mad is situated in a fairly new mixed-use complex, with apartments facing a small retail development. There’s a splash pad, community lawn, and “performance park” in the central shared area, though I’ve personally never seen any “performances” other than dogs straining to have a pee on the artificial turf!

All in all, while the service may be disappointing, the vegan food at Barking Mad is anything but. And the restaurant itself is a great addition to the dismal vegan scene in Gaithersburg. During the warm months, their cold-brew nitro coffee is my occasional morning splurge on the way into work: It’s gorgeously smooth and a perfect, hyper-caffeinated start to the day. Now if only they’d add some vegan options to the brunch menu!

An “Original Vegan” Dish | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Seven

VeganMoFo 2017

Week One: Changing Vegan Perspectives
Original vegan: Vegan meals that aren’t trying to replicate meat/omni ingredients.

I just love this prompt. My tastes tend to be cyclical; I’ll go through periods where I’m all about veg meats and cheeses, then longer stretches of time when I eschew those in favor of more whole foods. While I mused on this prompt, my mind immediately went to elevated dishes involving unusual takes on typical veg ingredients. Curried kasha, cooked in coconut milk and spices?! An elaborate pasta dish with plenty of roasted tomatoes from my still-abundant garden?!

…but then I took a step back and realized this is the perfect opportunity to highlight a super easy, nourishing, healthy veggie meal. The kind that, truth be told, I rely on most weeknights. Especially this time of year, when it’s getting a little chillier out and I don’t mind turning on the oven, I love featuring roasted veggies in my dinners. It’s not unusual for Steven and I to sit down with a bowl of two or three roasted veggies, maybe a grain, and some tofu or beans for protein. Meals don’t need to be a single cohesive dish to be satisfying; sometimes a bowl with a few simple yet tasty components can be remarkably satisfying.

Simple, veggie-rich bowlSo I present to you a vegan dinner that is simple, satisfying, terribly healthy, and quite affordable. It lends itself well to scaling up or down, depending on how many diners you’re serving, and can be augmented with additional roasted veggies depending on what you have wilting in your crisper at the moment. I used delicata squash (the first of the season!), spicy marinated tofu, and steamed kale. Roasted sweet potato would also be lovely here. You can swap out the garam masala (which I’ve used on my delicata rings) for another spice blend of choice, but I like the way the sweet spices works with the kickier harissa-spiced tofu. You could certainly fancy this up with a sauce, but I kind of like the simplicity of enjoying each element’s individual flavors. (Pardon my rough recipe; this is not a meal that requires precise measurements! And pardon the rough phone photo; I was hungry!)

Simple Veggie-full Dinner Bowl

Serves 2

1 lb extra-firm tofu, pressed
1-3 tablespoons Harissa paste, to taste
~1 tsp garlic powder
1 delicata squash
Vegetable or olive oil
1-2 tablespoons garam masala
Dash salt (optional)
3-4 roughly chopped handfuls curly kale
Lemon juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 400˚F.

First, prepare the pressed tofu by slicing it into ~1” cubes. Toss it with harissa paste and garlic powder and set aside to marinate.

Trim the ends off the delicata, then slice it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, then cut each half into ~3/4” half-moon slices (see photo above). Toss with a little oil, garam masala, and salt, if using. Spread onto a baking sheet and pop in the oven, setting the timer for ~15 minutes. (Note: You can flip your rounds at some point to ensure even cooking, but I don’t always do that. #lazy)

When the squash rounds are nearly done (at about 15 minutes), heat a little vegetable oil in a cast-iron skillet or other nonstick pan. Add the tofu cubes to the skillet and cook on medium heat, flipping occasionally, to brown them slightly. When they’re about done and the squash is fork-tender, start boiling water for the kale.

Remove squash from oven and let cool slightly while you steam the kale for ~3 minutes, until bright green and tender but not overdone. You can drizzle the kale with lemon juice at this point if you’d like.

Add a good portion of each component to your bowl and enjoy!

Editor’s note: This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase something through my link, it costs nothing extra for you, but I get a few pennies to help cover hosting costs.

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Treat Yourself to Vegan Maple Liqueur

VeganMoFo 2016 graphic

Week One: Treat Yourself (and others)!

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love maple syrup. Maple is one of my absolute favorite flavors; it balances an undeniable sweetness with a caramel-y complexity you don’t find in straight-up sugar. Which is why I was delighted when Steven gifted me a bottle of this maple liqueur last Christmas. (He knows me so well!) It’s handmade in Vermont, which — as far as I, a born and bred New Englander, am concerned — is the best place in the world for maple syrup. (Canada? Eh, where’s that?)

Maple liqueur // govegga.com

When I brought this bottle home, visions of complicated maple-y cocktails danced in my head… and then I tasted it, and since then, I’ve pretty much solely enjoyed it straight. Unlike some cheaper liqueurs, this is the real deal. Rather than employing artificial flavors to approximate maple, this beautiful beverage relies on pure maple syrup. It’s smooth, rich, and basically an ideal liqueur for a maple-lover. I treat it as a digestif, enjoying it after a meal, but its sweetness and lack of bitter herbs makes it more like a sweet dessert drink. And it looks so beautiful in these antique aperitif glasses we got from Steven’s mom.

Maple liqueur // govegga.com

Sometimes I’ll enjoy it over ice; the cold really brings out this liqueur’s flavor. And I’ve been known to add it to hot chocolate (see: here). But really, straight-up is where it’s at.

And that is why, on this first Friday of Vegan MoFo, I’m treating myself to a little maple tipple. Drink up!

How would you enjoy maple liqueur?