Banana bread dump cake (vegan)—a non recipe

There’s an entire category of desserts that are particularly popular in Minnesota during “cabin season”–our brief 3 months of summer when pretty much the entire Twin Cities metro area heads north to a lake for the weekend: dump desserts.

These are the kind of thing you put together with whatever random cans of fruit (or perhaps some sour rhubarb bought on the side of the road) you have in the cupboard plus lots of sugar and white flour. Served with ice cream or “Cool Whip” of course. There’s no measuring involved, which certainly evolved because whoever started this tradition probably was sauced by the end of a long day on the boat (for my European readers, that means “tipsy”).

I have decided that this type of baking is right up my alley. I sincerely struggle with the whole measuring thing, particularly if there’s extra care required like sifting flour. Seriously? That’s not happening.

Unfortunately this definitely creates inconsistent results, and I can’t even blame it on it being a vegan recipe. This lazy attitude about measuring has been with me long before the dietary switch.

My last banana bread was a total disaster. I didn’t read closely enough to notice the step of grinding the oats. It was a bit like glue. Green glue, as it had zucchini in it. Poor Avery desperately tried to pick through for the chocolate chunks. Alas, the compost got most of it. Not even butter helped.

Today I had 3 bananas to use up, so here we go again. I found a good vegan recipe, but there’s a catch: it’s in metrics. I know many of my devoted followers easily make the conversion from my usual U.S. customary measures to metric units and that a simple Google search brings up conversions. But that’s too much work: why not just guess? (No I am not sauced, it’s only Monday).

So that’s what I did and here’s the non recipe, which I think should become the universal standard since everyone understands the units.

BTW, no one is more surprised than me when something comes out of the oven looking like this! Luck is on my side tonight!

Banana bread dump cake

  • 3 overripe bananas, mashed.
  • Vegetable oil, coconut milk yogurt, coconut milk to equal just a bit more than 1c total (325mL)
  • ~2x as much dry to wet (flour). I lost track and just kept adding until it wasn’t soupy anymore.
  • A scoop of brown sugar
  • A scoop of cane sugar, plus the little bit that’s left in the bottom of the package, putting that back would be annoying.
  • The sugars are equal to half of the flour. Next time I will add more. Hopefully I remember to buy more since I just used it up.
  • A capful of vanilla
  • A pinch of salt, not the regular salt but the fancy coarse flake salt because I forgot to buy regular kosher salt this week.
  • A sprinkle of baking powder and baking soda
  • What’s left of that dark chocolate bar you’ve secretly been eating, chopped

Mix all the wet ingredients together and then add the dry, finishing with the chocolate. Coat loaf pan with cooking spray (seriously people don’t skip this step). Bake at 325 Fahrenheit for 55 minutes.

Good luck with that. Sometimes it’ll work. Sometimes not. When it does, everyone–especially teenage boys just home from hockey–will be very very happy. Dump cakes help keep expectations low…which makes it occasionally easier to exceed them.

Bunny battle royale & 2 vegan summer salads

While traveling this week, the bunnies got into my garden. They ate the zinnias out of the front pots, two new arbor vines and–most annoyingly–my herbs. They destroyed the cilantro, did quite a number on the dill and parsley.

People: This is war.

My mom graciously enclosed what’s left and let’s hope they bounce back. Avery has been assigned to “shoot” hockey pucks. Not my fault if bunnies are in the way.

Read below for the draft post I had started while on the road. The irony!

………

Which herb is my favorite? Tough choice. Why limit life to just one?

I am thrilled with my expanded herb garden, which is going gang busters with all of the rain we’ve had–except the basil, which is craving for the sun and heat.

Fresh tarragon, dill and mint are growing well right now and I am sprucing everything up with a few herbs. I vary those 3 on my avocado toasts for breakfast. I have an avocado toast “problem”/addiction. I love it! I substitute tomatoes for the salmon now, but that recipe remains the best base.

A long-standing favorite summer salad is chicken tarragon with grapes. So when I came across this vegan version on the Charming Chickpea, I couldn’t resist. Super easy and super awesome! I added tarragon, red grapes and red onions and threw it in a wrap.

We also tried a new recipe from Bon Appetite: Asian melon salad. Super bright with mixing textures of the soft honeydew and crisp cucumber. The ginger dressing with the serrano is fantastic. We skipped the avocado (not ripe yet plus I use it in my toast) and peanuts (oops forgot those at the store!) but made up for it with plenty of fresh mint! It’s a weed. And I am thankful because that means I can’t kill it.

Unless the bunnies figure it out, I should be good.

I can’t believe it’s meatless Bolognese (vegan)

So the thing about change is that it requires flexibility and curiosity. Changing how you eat after 20+ years is kind of a big deal. You really have to think and act differently. As in, be mindful about food rather than fall into autopilot. It’s hard.

We started the boys early on trying new foods and basically expected them to eat like adults from very early on. If they didn’t like something, fine. But they had to try it. Multiple times.

So the vegan thing is just taking that to another realm. Mostly it requires ME to change. I have to adjust favorite recipes, find new ones and shop differently. Mostly it’s fun and I am enjoying experimenting.

We try some things and add them to the buy again list–like cashewyogurt–and others–like tempeh bacon–will need to grow on us. But every week I have tried something new, a new product or a new technique.

There are an incredible number of fantastic plant-based products out there. Avery is never going back to regular milk from his barista smooth Almondmilk. (And no this isn’t paid product promo).

This vegan bolognese was a wild success. “Mom, you can make this every week!” And the best part is that it doesn’t take 3 hours of simmering (plant protein doesn’t break down the same way animal protein does).

There are a couple of secret ingredients in this–wine and cinnamon. Plus it’s important to cook the mirepoix before adding the meat, then garlic and herbs, then tomato paste. (If your sauce sometimes tastes bitter it’s probably from uncooked tomato paste. It only needs a minute or so but removes the sharp bite).

Oh, and the only reason to make bolognese in July is a state swim meet: Go Aquajets, Power of the team!

Bolognese sauce (vegan)

  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • 1 celery stalk diced
  • 4 garlic cloves chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 package ground meatless crumbles
  • 14oz veggie sausage
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 15oz can tomato sauce
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup veggie broth
  • Salt and pepper

Sauté veggies in olive oil until soft. Add “meats” and brown. Getting a nice crust adds depth of flavor. Add garlic sauté 1 min. Add tomato paste and herbs, cook 1 min. Add diced tomatoes, sauce, bay leaf, cinnamon, red wine and veggie broth. Season with salt as it simmers about 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Serve over pasta.

Boys of summer 


The pool closes this weekend. I can’t believe summer’s over 😔

Swimming outside with my “boys of summer” is quite simply my favorite thing in the world (btw, strawberry blonde is courtesy of the pool). Our “team” has been together more than a decade now. I have been swimming in this pool for 30+ years. It’s home.

I’m struggling with the transition this year…I need to make a list of what I love about fall/winter:

  • Our 20th wedding anniversary in September (double duty since its also hub’s bday 😉)
  • Apple picking and apple tarts!
  • Pot roast
  • An excuse to carbo load, including spaghetti and meatballs 
  • Red wine 
  • A trip to somewhere fantastic (and warm)
  • Harvest moon
  • Those exceptional warm days that transition quickly to cool nights (no mosquitoes!)
  • Cuddling up with my Kindle and cats
  • Bonfires (aka melted chocolate)
  • Swim season 
  • Hockey season 
  • An excuse to be obnoxious. Did I mention hockey?

I need some encouragement…please share your love of winter (and summer if you so happen to be reading this in the Southern Hemisphere! Can I come visit, please? 😇)

Steak salad with beets & goat cheese


The seasons are changing. The berries and tomatoes are done, and the root vegetables and fall squash are getting going. I do my best to enjoy every last nice day before it gets über cold 😦

The boys love this salad, mainly because of the dressing. Mix in whatever vegetables look good and protein of your choice, but don’t skip the goat cheese, cranberries and dill. And dressing!

Flank steak

  • 1.5lb flank steak
  • 1/4c soy sauce
  • 2tsp ginger
  • Red pepper flakes

Marinate steak at least 2hours and up to 8. Grill or broil to desired temp.

Salad dressing

  • 3roasted beets, cooled and sliced
  • Orange pepper, julienned 
  • 3oz goat cheese, crumbled 
  • 4 tbsp dried cranberries 
  • 1tsp dried dill
  • 1tbsp pine nuts
  • 8cups mixed greens

Pan roasted garlic butter dressing 

  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard

Saute garlic in butter. Cool. Add olive oil, lemon juice, dijon, shake to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Sparkling mint coldpress coffee


Summer Sunday mornings are one of life’s luxuries. We’re all together and while the boys sleep a little later, I get breakfast ready. We have a lovely little bakery down the street and so today I picked up some treats. 

My treat is caffeine 😉

I have been spending a ridiculous amount of money on coldpress coffee lately. It’s far less bitter and acidic since it never touches heat, which means a lot of noncoffee drinkers even enjoy it. 

If you’re not familiar with coffee, just know that “cold press” or “cold brew” uses a steeping technique vs “iced coffee”, which is typically brewed normally (hot) and then poured over ice. In both cases, the strength of the coffee is usually doubled as it gets water and ice added after it cools.

I’ve been playing around with the ratio and this morning tried a couple tweaks based on reading about coffee trends.  The nice part is that if it’s too strong for one drinker, you can simply add more water. 

These flavors are a riff on mint juleps. I normally drink black coffee, but found this really was better with the muddled sugar/mint. Feel free to sneak in some bourbon 🙂

Sparkling mint coldpress coffee

  • 8tbsp ground coffee
  • 3c still water
  • Sparkling water
  • Handful mint sprigs
  • Sugar
  • Milk, cream (as you enjoy)

Pour water over coffee grinds in french press. Steep for 12 hours in fridge. Press coffee. Muddle 2-3 mint sprigs with 1tsp sugar. Pour 4 oz of coffee over and stir to combine. Top with sparkling (2oz if you prefer strong coffee). Top with ice and milk, cream as desired. This is roughly 8 cups of coffee total.

Strawberry rhubarb swirl scones

  

Rhubarb is weird. It’s stringy, pungently sour and funny colored, I mean is magenta rhubarb sweeter than green? 

My mother-in-law was thrilled to unload a couple pounds of the stuff on me, and gosh darnit I got nostalgic remembering childhood desserts that appeared singularly in Spring. Someone always had rhubarb to give away. 

In fact, I ran into a woman at the grocery store who was distraught that she had to actually break down and buy it. She remembered fondly her grandmother’s rhubarb custard pie, but like many a hearty Minnesotan she couldn’t give me ingredients, she just “knew” how to do it. Hmmmmm. Evasively Suspicious. 

(For those of you unfamiliar with just how seriously we take our baked goods here, I have one thing to say: Minnesota State Fair ala Marjorie Johnson.)

In today’s vernacular what my dairy farm grandmother did in using what she had on hand is called “locally in season”. This recipe was inspired by that thinking.

The boys were skeptical that any amount of sugar would make mushy stringy celery taste good. Mixing it with strawberries and cream won them over. 

Maybe that’s cheating just a bit, but Grandma would have approved, and the cream certainly would have come straight from the  barn.

Strawberry rhubarb swirl scones

Make the swirl first by mixing 1c chopped strawberries with 1c rhubarb, 1/3c sugar and 2 tbsp lemon juice. Simmer til soft over low heat (about 10 min), mash until smooth. Cool. You can also use this as a topping for pound cake, ice cream, etc. 

Combine by hand:

  • 4c flour
  • 3/4c sugar
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2tsp salt

Add in 2 2/3c heavy cream and 1/2tsp almond extract. Do not overmix, dough should barely hold together. Swirl in strawberry rhubarb mixture. Form into mounds (makes 12 hearty portions). Bake at 425 for 12 min–use parchment or these may stick to your cookie sheet.

    Food ritual: Spaghetti & Meatballs

      
    I was reading about the importance of rituals in our lives. The comfort that comes from familiar, from routines. Our family has many, but the one that brings me the most joy is Spaghetti & Meatballs. 

    It’s not the result of Italian heritage (we’re a mix of stuff, mostly Scandinavian), but is the result of a twofold ritual–carb loading pre-swim meets and birthdays. 

    Last week was a birthday for Alec, who’s now 17! I didn’t even need to ask him what he wanted for dinner. As I made it, I took more care than usual to pay attention to measurements so I could post the recipe with some accuracy. Normally I just wing it because it’s like being on autopilot. Happy, comforting. The eating part is great, but the prep ritual is soul restoration for me! Enjoy!

    Meatballs

    • 1lb ground beef 
    • 1 lb ground pork
    • 2 slices white bread, crumbled
    • 3 tbsp milk
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 medium onion, diced
    • 1/4c parsley chopped
    • 2 tsp thyme
    • 2 tsp kosher salt
    • 2 sp Ground pepper
    • 1/2c grated parmesan cheese
    • 2 eggs, beaten

    Soak bread in milk–it should be moist but not drenched. Saute onion and garlic over low heat in butter until just starting to caramelize, about 10 min. Add herbs and seasonings to onion mixture and remove from heat. This helps the tasty stuff distribute evenly when you mix it into the meat. Squeeze excess milk from bread. Add it to beef and pork, mix along with onion mixture and cheese until just blended, mix in egg to bind. Roll into generous balls. Place on broiler pan lined with tinfoil, bake at 500 degrees for 5 min. Keep meatballs in oven, but lower temp to 350 and cook another 20 min. 

    Sauce

    • 2 28oz cans whole Italian plum tomatoes
    • 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 8 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
    • 2 tsp salt
    • 1 tbsp dried basil
    • 2 lbs spaghetti

    Boil water for pasta. Heat olive oil, add garlic, saute 30 sec, add crushed red pepper and salt, then tomatoes. Add basil. Simmer 10 min while pasta cooks. Blend to desired smoothness either with hand blender or in food processor (the boys tolerate “chunks” now that they’re older). You can also simmer meatballs in sauce for extra richness. This tomato sauce is more tart than sweet like most jarred sauces and along with thyme in the meatballs makes it distinctively ours. Of course these portions mean leftovers, which seem to disappear without anyone fessing up to secret eating. 

    Local bourbon 

    It’s bourbon month for our girls night out and we thought we’d try a new hot spot, Tattersall Distillery, in a converted industrial space in Northeast Minneapolis.

    Their bourbon actually starts in Kentucky and is then aged in MN, but close enough! 

    This Umeboshi Sour, which features bourbon, sour cherry liquer, simple syrup, lemon, Umeboshi vinegar and black walnut bitters was the highlight of the evening. Smoky yet tart and refreshingly complex.

    Their barrel-aged gin and aquavit were quite tasty too. (I was told by the bartender at Spoon & Stable that it’s the topselling aquavit. BTW, add that to your 2016 must try list when in MInneapolis!)

      

    Swimmer soup

    Pasta pasta pasta.

    Make ahead, heat and eat quickly.

    Easy.

    This isn’t gourmet living, but it works as an easy weeknight meal or on those days when we’re all eating at different times.

    Just remember to tell the 16-year-old after swim practice that the container serves 4 (is not his alone!)

    Swimmer soup

    • 1 lb ground Italian sausage (we prefer hot)
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
    • 28 oz can tomato sauce
    • 28 oz water
    • 2 c chicken broth
    • 1/2 lb pasta shells
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp basil
    • Salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste

    Saute meat until cooked through, drain fat. Add onion and cook 2-3 min, add garlic and cook another minute. Add tomatoes, sauce, water and broth, bring to simmer, add pasta and herbs. Cook 15-20 min on low until noodles are tender. Top with mozzarella or parmesan.