Coconut tomato soup (vegan)

It snowed another foot this week. Which is why I am still making soup practically every week. (Well technically this one is so easy Matt made it!) I seriously considered buying a blow torch to melt the lawn. <<Sigh>>

Back to the soup… it’s creamy” without being creamy and just different enough from the typical tomato soup recipe to pique interest.

I keep the fresh pastes in a tube–ginger and lemongrass in this recipe–in the fridge because they make it fast and easy to bump up flavors in Asian dishes like stir fry or ramen noodle bowls. They last a long time too!

This soup comes together quickly, so very doable for weeknight meals or make ahead to put into school lunches.

Sidenote: Avery’s lunchbox is a bit different than his classmates’. Apparently salads, vegs/hummus and coconut tomato soup are “low trade value” to 17 year old boys. 😉

I am planning the summer herb garden and look forward to just a few weeks from now when I get to plant them…just popping out to the back deck to get a few sprigs of whatever to brighten our meals seems like such a small luxury. Think Spring!!

Coconut Tomato soup (vegan)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger paste
  • 1 tsp fresh lemongrass paste
  • 28oz whole tomatoes
  • 13.5oz can coconut milk
  • 4cups vegetable broth
  • Salt, pepper and sweetener to taste

Sauté onion in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and lemongrass, stir briefly before adding tomatoes and broth. Break tomatoes apart, simmer 20 minutes. Add coconut milk and seasonings. Purée with hand blender.

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Harissa roasted cauliflower (vegan)

As a child, I frequently set off the smoke detector when making toast. No, this is not a reflection of my early cooking failures. It’s about how much I love burnt toast. Burnt anything really.

It goes along with loving deep tannins in red wine like a Cabernet, or dark dark chocolate. It’s that back of mouth pucker.

So combined with a spicy hot pepper harissa paste, I am quite pleased. I love this spread mixed in for a punchy vegan mayo over a bean burger or with other veggies like roasted sweet potatoes and carrots in a Buddha bowl. Easy.

Deep fried or hot oil roasted cauliflower are becoming more common on restaurant menus. While I love the attempt at getting a vegetarian item on the apps list (usually served with cheese or a ranch type dipping sauce), it’s not healthy. All the nooks and crannies of cauliflower really soaks up the oil. It can be really greasy.

This recipe uses just enough to distribute the harissa, and obviously you don’t have to roast it until burnt like I prefer. Yes, I ate an entire head of cauliflower! And yes, the smoke detector goes off at least once a week in our house. 😊

Harissa roasted cauliflower

  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into medium size chunks
  • 1/4cup harissa paste
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Mix harissa and oil until combined. Toss cauliflower until coated. Season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or desired degree of not burnt.

Pasta with sausage, chard and ricotta (vegan)

This recipe has become one of Avery’s favorites. He’s even made it himself once! (And learned that when mom says “4 garlic cloves” she means chop them up, not whole 😉).

The sauce uses a classic Italian technique to make for silky and perfectly cooked noodles–using the pasta water to finish the cooking within the sauté pan with the other ingredients. It is practically fool proof.

We use vegan sausage and ricotta for this, which is a nice way to get some plant protein along with the carbs.

Any leafy green works, but rainbow Swiss chard is our favorite because it cooks fast but doesn’t completely fall apart like spinach. You throw it in the pasta pot for the last 2 minutes, which is another cheat making this recipe a weeknight favorite.

There are many variations on this recipe–changeout the protein or green, skip the ricotta or substitute parmesan, use any combination tomatoes–but the base sauce technique is definitely a winner for any experience level. So long as you remember to chop the garlic.

  • Pasta with sausage, chard and ricotta (vegan)
    • 4 cloves garlic chopped
      4 tbsp olive oil, divided
      1 pint or more small tomatoes–we love brown Kumato, red grape and yellow Sunburst, cut in half
      1 lb vegan Italian or Chipotle flavored sausage, sliced
      1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves roughly chopped, stems discarded
      1 lb pasta, tube shape preferably
      1/2 cup or more ricotta (we like Kite Hill brand)
      2 tbsp pine nuts

    Roast the tomatoes for about 20 minutes at 300 degrees until juices start running and they begin to caramelize.

    In the meantime, start pasta water.

    Sauté sausage on both sides in 2 tbsp olive oil until brown. Remove from pan.

    Put pasta in water and cook for 2 minutes less than instructions.

    While pasta cooks, remove tomatoes from oven. Sauté garlic in remaining oil for 1 minute before adding tomatoes. Scoop 1 cup of pasta water into tomato sauce. Let simmer on low.

    Add Swiss chard to pasta with 2 minutes remaining. Drain pasta and add to tomato sauce. The noodles will be al dente, and continue cooking for 2 minutes until tomato sauce finishes cooking noodles. You can always add more pasta water to the mixture. (Don’t dump it out until you finish the sauce just to be safe).

    Add sausage back in. Top with ricotta and pine nuts.

    Beans on toast (vegan)

    Another snow day off of school here in Minnesota. We just broke the snowfall record for February (and mind you we have another week to go!) with over 30″ just this month, including 8″ in the last day. Btw, The last time this happened the Metrodome roof collapsed.

    We’ve had a lot of together time inside and I am really grateful for Amazon Prime to bring groceries to my door!

    This hearty dish is nice for a cold day, and is good on its own, over noodles or toast. Whole Foods even has a pre-made vegan garlic bread to make this super fast and super easy. We like Field Roast brand of “fork nossage” (not pork=fake=fork, not sausage=nossage), in either Italian or Chipotle flavors.

    I am really regretting not booking a winter getaway this year…..am willing to do a house swap if anyone’s interested….ours comes with 2 Cornish Rex cats who love to cuddle.

    Beans on toast

    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 1lb vegan Italian sausage, sliced into rounds
    • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
    • 5 oz package spinach or bunch of chopped Swiss chard leaves (any hearty green really)
    • 2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed
    • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 tsp Salt

    Sauté sausage in olive oil until brown, flipping halfway through. Add garlic, salt, oregano and crushed red pepper. Cook 1 minute before adding tomatoes and water. Simmer 10 minutes. Add spinach and beans and cook another 5 minutes.

    Serve over garlic toast or noodles.

    **Recipe adapted from Bon Appetite

    Travelogue: New Orleans

    A long weekend in Nola is just about perfect.

    You can fit in a sampling of everything and yet have had enough fun to be ready to return to reality.

    I could definitely see a recurring trip just to explore new restaurants, it’s a great town for eating and any worries I had about finding vegan/healthy choices were quickly set aside. I mixed in trying local seafood too. If I lived near the ocean, I would definitely be pescatarian. 😉

    Day 1

    After arriving early afternoon, we did our usual walking tour to get the lay of the land near our hotel. A quick route on Canal and down into the French Quarter, where we grabbed a late lunch at a hole-in-the-wall spot, Green Goddess. The roasted tomato Bloody Mary was fantastic (Crystal hot sauce being another secret ingredient) and Matt started his run on bourbon tastings.

    The staff was incredibly friendly and gave us tips to check out some relatively new restaurants (and yes, that’s drink #2 if you’re keeping track):

    We had dinner reservations at Pêche, which is part of the restaurant group of chef Donald Link. It’s a hip place with a Creole and Southern seafood oriented menu. I broke my vegan diet to try Louisiana oysters, which were very plump and mild, not briny like East Coast types. (Drink #3 was a gintilly shakedown with gin, ginger, cucumber, lemon and cava. Adult Kool-aid, yum).

    We stopped by the hotel bar afterwards. Completely packed for live jazz, and great people watching for the revelers just heading out (it’s Mardi Gras season after all). I am fascinated by what people do on holiday.

    Day 2

    I had the day to myself and stopped by Merchant for a breakfast of almond crepes. They do a cool self-contained version of a french press coffee to go that I had never seen, plus vegan options.

    We headed off to City Park’s Sculpture Garden, which is free and has more than 300 large sculptures and miles of walking paths. The old oaks with Spanish moss were ethereal. It was nice to walk outside without wearing 12 layers!!

    After lunch, a swim at the hotel pool (a flow pool, cool!) and massage before dinner at Paladar 511. The tuna crudo with avocado and pistachios was fantastic. It’s crab season and the squid ink pasta was also a highlight.

    Day 3

    Lots of walking today to burn through some calories after a late breakfast at Willa Jean. Avocado toast and a glass of lunch punch, with a yummy lavender syrup. I also saw my first King Cake, and learned about this 300-year-old tradition. In Nola, the “king/queen” for the evening who finds the baby figurine is responsible for buying next year’s cake (which BTW can only be eaten during Mardi Gras season.) You can find elaborate fillings and decorations using the colors representing the 3 kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus (purple, gold, green).

    Walking down the Riverfront path watching the barges come in to St. Stephen’s church, and a palm reading (the irony).

    A late lunch at Killer Poboys of banh mi style sautéed shrimp sandwich. They had vegan options here too and I fully converted to the vinegary Nola-based hot sauce brand, Crystal.

    We had a work dinner event that night, which included a crawfish boil and gator bites. Growing up, we used to catch crayfish on the North Shore of Lake Superior, where we’d skewer roast them over a fire with butter. So I was up for trying the crawfish, but wasn’t keen on the texture…and couldn’t bring myself to try gator. 😉

    N’awlins really is another world of cultures and traditions from our northern end of the Mississippi. But like Minnesota, the people are very nice. The main difference this time of year is just a mere 100 degrees and 36 inches of snow. 😉

    Already have the next long weekend planned:

      Nighttime ghost tour
      Creole Cooking class
      Preservation Hall
      Frenchmen Street
      Market Street
      Garden tour

    The Cookie Chronicles: final volume—Dark chocolate tahini sea salt (vegan)

    “They just weren’t ready for you yet Mom.” –Adoring 16-year-old

    Well, I lost my bet. I am ok with that because I know these cookies are good. Just not the sugar sweet type of cookie most people are used to.

    I have learned a lot through this process of perfecting vegan chocolate chip cookies–everything from how to make a flax egg to the importance of precision when it comes to baking. Every detail matters.

    Even in this last round of final tweaks, I made a couple of inadvertent missteps. I got a phone call while measuring the flour and lost track, adding an extra 1/4 cup.

    That’s kind of a big deal. While they were good, they weren’t great as it changed the texture. I also used a different brand of tahini. That too seemed to change the flavor just slightly. I had to make a whole new batch.

    Man I could really keep going on this testing variables thing indefinitely. Kind of exhausting. So in the interest of moving forward, here is the best I can do for now.

    Over the course of the tests, the main things that I learned matter most:

    • A blend of wet ingredients creates a depth of sophisticated flavors, coconut oil gave them a nice crunchy exterior–better than just vegan butter on its own
    • Use really good chocolate. Dark is our favorite (70% cocoa), chopped finely. The other benefit is that most good chocolate (70% or greater) is vegan. Read the label for whey when in doubt. Combined with the sea salt, it’s a nice 1-2 pop.
    • Double down on vanilla
  • Read the previous attempts for all tips:
  • One
  • Two
  • Three
  • I haven’t baked this much in years–There’s a teenage boy who really hopes there are more contests in the near future. They’re winners in his book, which is the one that matters most to me.

    Dark chocolate tahini sea salt cookies

    • 4oz vegan butter
    • 1/2c brown sugar
    • 1/2c cane sugar
    • 1 flax egg (1 tbsp ground flax seed to 3 tbsp water)
    • 2 tsp vanilla
    • 1/4c coconut oil
    • 3 tbsp tahini
    • 1 1/8c flour
    • 3/4 tsp baking soda
    • 3.5 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
    • Coarse sea salt

    Grind flax seed in spice grinder and mix with water. Let sit at least 10 minutes. Beat butter until soft, add sugars and beat until fluffy. Add “egg” and again beat until soft. Add vanilla, coconut oil and tahini. Mix thoroughly. Add flour and baking soda slowly. Finely chop chocolate and mix into dough. Chill at least 30 minutes. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 13 minutes on parchment paper. Allow to cool on pan for at least 5 minutes (they will be very soft) and then move to cooling rack.

    Makes 2 dozen.

    ❤️❤️At least one boy loves these!

    The cookie chronicles, vol. 3

    We’re almost there folks. Two dozen cookies gone in less than 24hours. I ate 3 purely for “data validation purposes” 😉, but the other 2 humans living in my household refused to admit that they each had about 10. In one day. I count that as success!

    The main changes this time around were to improve the texture. The tahini is a great flavor but it can make them a bit gritty. So I cut that in half and substituted coconut oil (solid).

    The dough was a lot moister and I realized after putting the first dozen in the oven and watching them spread….and spread….and spread, that I better chill the dough. Remember people there are no raw eggs in this so eating the dough is perfectly acceptable 😇

    Both rounds were fantastic with a crispy outside crunch and soft chew on the interior. The flavor was less nutty but still noticeable.

    I also ran out of flour. Yes, this is the kind of baker that I am. Normally I would have just said “close enough”. But I figured I better try to be precise. So I rounded it out with pancake mix. Yup. Close enough. 😉

    The only thing left to fix is the chocolate. Because the dough spreads quite a bit, any big chunks kinda settled into a giant mess. A chocolate mess. So no one complained. But I need to chop it more finely and go back to bittersweet. The fine little shards melted throughout are really yummy.

    Ironically I tried a super dark chocolate (85% cacao) when my Amazon Prime substituted it for bittersweet. Sidenote: Have you tried online grocery delivery? On a below zero Sunday morning, the convenience is winning me over.

    After these adjustments, I think I am ready to publish the recipe and hopefully win my contest. ⭐️⭐️⭐️