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

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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. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

    The cookie chronicles, vol. 2

    My confidence in my vegan baking skills is growing.

    There are definitely some differences. The texture is different, not different in a bad way, just different. It’s harder to get the wet and dry ingredients to combine, resulting in a cookie that tastes somewhat unfinished. I am determined to keep playing.

    In this round, I tweaked:

    • Chocolate, chopped instead of chips (yes!)–stayed with bittersweet
    • Brown sugar&granulated sugar (yes!) instead of just granulated
    • Tripled the vanilla (yes!)
    • Did not chill the dough (maybe)

    When it came time for taste testing, my teenage judge took half a cookie (he was skeptical after round 1)….”Can I have the other half?” Victory 😊

    The texture still needs work, it’s a bit gritty, which I think might be the sugar/tahini combo. Am going to play with an alternate for some of the tahini. I don’t want more vegan butter but something else. Have some ideas.

    The chopped chocolate was brilliant and made up for less sugar by having it melt in small flecks throughout the cookie. I am going to chop even finer.

    Both the chocolate and the brown sugar gave the cookies a more natural appearance–golden brown. This is important because we will be using the Minnesota State Fair baked goods entry and judging criteria for the contest. The components are:

      Appearance, color
      Flavor, aroma
      Texture, internal appearance

    I think I am making progress across all. I know from my experience in working at the State Fair in Marketing/PR that to win I must also demonstrate exceptional consistency (ie same size cookies, same amount of chocolate etc). Am determined to get there through devoted practice 😇

    The Cookie Chronicles, vol. I

    Do you prefer cooking or baking? The answer tells me how to talk to you 😉

    It’s a way of classifying personality in my brain.

    The cooks are creative, free-flowing, use a recipe as inspiration and general guidance. Bakers are more rule followers, precise and careful.

    I have the mind of a chef. Baking has never really been my thing, as I prefer to just throw things together, which doesn’t generally deliver great results in baking.

    So I have stayed away from vegan baking, as it is particularly intimidating. The ratios are even more important and the ingredients more difficult to find.

    There is nowhere to hide. No escaping the results of sloppy “measuring”. No buttery richness to distract the palate. It requires greater skill.

    But I am curious. And so started experimenting with a classic baked good: chocolate chip cookies. I mean most people will eat even a crappy chocolate chip cookie. Lots of room for forgiveness.

    I researched several blog posts and found a range of methods to cover off the substitutes I wanted to try first for butter and egg. I decided to start with a vegan butter and flax egg.

    Avery and I also ate at a new vegan restaurant– Seed Cafe. We love the chocolate chip tahini cookies. The tahini is a substitute for some of the butter and I added a vegan butter as the remainder.

    I then tried out the binder: flax egg.

    So 1 tbsp of ground flax seed to 3 tbsp water is the recommended ratio. Mix it and let it sit for 30 minutes or so. It definitely looks and behaves a bit like glue that’s partially set but materially flavorless. 😉

    But then I added the tahini. Yum. It’s nutty but not overwhelming. I used dark chocolate chips. The combo was definitely for a more refined palate. It was not sweet.

    The technique called for chilling the dough overnight (really, who does that?) This was a test of my rule following, so I did it. I don’t think it mattered. But technically I didn’t test it without chilling.

    I baked 2 rounds for different lengths, one in a ball and one smashed slightly. And topped with coarse sea salt.

    The texture was good if not a little gritty. The color being a bit dull since there’s no butter browning.

    This first round was good but not great. An A- from my adult taste tester, and a C from the teenager. Somewhere in between was my self-assessment. I could do better.

    More work to do, but keep:

      Tahini gives a nice nutty flavor
      Flax egg makes a good substitute and isn’t as hard as I thought
      Salt flakes on top make for a nice punch in combination with the tahini. Vegan baking definitely requires some flavor pops.
      Dark chocolate over semisweet
      Underbake, hey no eggs means less risk

    Oh, I forgot to mention that I might have opened my big mouth and bet a baker friend that I could beat his traditional cookies. (A month of vegan eating being the bet.)

    If you’ve got tips for me I will take them! The bakeoff is in early February.

    More taste testing to come!

    NYR (New Year’s Review)

    Life is good. A box full of chocolates in fact.

    I have recently picked up a podcast habit to explore various topics including creativity. My favorite is the Tim Ferriss show.

    He sends out a weekly email too and this idea is from his year end edition. Instead of doing New Year’s resolutions, he does a New Year Review.

    How it works: Look back at the past year week-by-week to identify the people that I spent time with that had a positive or negative impact. And how will I get more time this year with the positive list and less time with the negative?

    I did this and realized from a people perspective that there are very very very few people on my negative list. That I am already investing time with people I enjoy. Even when that’s work related. What a gift that is!

    But I wanted to dig deeper and say of the time I invested with others, what was most valuable, rewarding and memorable? How will I do more of that in 2019 WITH people that I enjoy?

    Here’s my list for “more of” in 2019:

    • Explore new places (cities/restaurants here in MN). We have travel plans to New Orleans and Central Iowa (for a college swim meet) in the next 6 weeks. Omaha surprised me, surely I can find an interesting spot in Grinnell. Dinner reservations are already made for Nola and a few stop in for cocktails spots 😉. This family tradition has created an open minded sense of adventure.
    • Learn new creative skills (I found out I love beading this year!) A food styling Photography class or refreshing my graphic design skills comes to mind to improve the blog. Doing artist dates with friends in 2018 was awesome! I want to take a limoncello making class (which sells out fast every year) or perhaps something for craft cocktails. Local distillery Copperwing has become a favorite.
    • Get outside. Even in winter. Combining walks with new restaurants was a particular highlight this year. Summer days strolling by the creek and then stopping for a glass of rose on the patio, ahhh I miss July! The luminary Loppet ski race and beer garden is on my list (so long as it isn’t minus 5 like today) and watching to see where the Ice Art Shanty village lands. The summer options are endless.
    • Bring together my favorite people to explore food. Perhaps a cooking club? I can think of some fantastic conversationalists that I would love to bring together over food. Gotta get organized for that, surely there’s an app that can help me.
    • Continue learning and challenging how our family eats. I started exploring different ways to shop and cook, including local meal prep delivery, online grocery shopping and shopping more frequently. All in an effort to reduce food waste, eat more locally grown products and to save time. I have more exploring to do here to get us more efficient. Maybe a garden expansion or finding a new CSA.
    • Share what I learn here 😊

    It’s easy to get motivated to think about planning fun food related experiences with my “peeps” that will help me grow in 2019, and equally rewarding to share it here with my virtual friends. Would love to hear what you have on your “more of” list.

    Chocolate cheers to an awesome 2019!