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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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!

Healthy holiday eating weeknight Mediterranean (vegan)

Let’s be honest: This time of year is so hard to eat healthy. The average American gains just over a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, which doesn’t sound like a lot.

But as I get older (sigh–closer to 50 than 40 this year), it gets harder and harder to maintain let alone lose weight. But more than anything, when I gain weight I really feel it. Even in the magical elastic jeans that stretch. I hate that feeling physically.

Going Vegan has made that so much easier. I recently learned through my work project that’s in the Type 2 Diabetes space something about new science–calories in, calories out is old thinking. Huh, good to know!

The new research shows that it’s both easier and more complicated than that…the quality, timing and frequency matter. (Especially for diabetics).

Every person metabolizes calories differently. Therefore different foods and even eating foods in a specific sequence can make a difference. For anyone watching blood sugars exercise also matters, with something as simple as taking a walk after a meal to help stabilize blood sugar. (**This is when I say that I am not a doctor and not giving medical advice!**)

So basically I am learning to stop tracking my food–which is a habit built over the last 5 years–and learning to fast (16 hours off and 8 on). I am also watching my reaction to exercise as it relates to meal timing. I feel best when I exercise midstream during my “on” timeframe.

This fasting process tricks your body into burning fat. It’s working for me slowly and without a ton of effort. It’s not really that difficult since I generally dislike breakfast and black coffee doesn’t count (really).

During the 8 hours on, I feel good about eating whatever fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, limited healthy whole grains, non-meat protein I want. And it’s also easier to not have to track things in detail but know that I have good meal quality generally by being vegan.

As always when it comes to food that fuels my body, I try to let go of the good/bad labels that come with “dieting” and in fact don’t see it as a diet but just the way I like to eat because it feels good.

I also enjoy the creative process of putting a meal together, which can be a challenge in a time starved world. This easy Mediterranean dinner is a good break from heavy holiday foods, and it’s simple to prep ahead for dinner on the table in 5 minutes.

Wishing you health and balance this holiday season!

Mediterranean salad

  • 1 English cucumber, skinned and sliced into half rounds
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Hummus
  • Package tabbouleh
  • 1/2cup chopped parsley
  • 1 can garbanzo beans drained
  • Naan

Prepare tabbouleh according to package. Add most of parsley and juice of 1/2 lemon. Refrigerate for an hour or more. Drain and rinse beans. Set aside. Seed and dice tomatoes, peel and chop cucumbers, adding remaining juice of 1/2 lemon. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Allow to marinate preferably overnight. Assemble salad by putting hummus in center, surrounding with tabbouleh, beans, and cucumber/tomato salad. Sprinkle remaining parsley and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with naan.

Tomato soup (vegan)

Potpourri. Growing up that’s what mom called leftover night. I hated potpourri night. So now, beloved readers, I give you a potpourri post. A recipe, yes. But some other random food stuff since it’s been awhile.

Let’s start with something cool. I am trying out a new Twin Cities startup, Local Crate. It’s a food delivery concept involving ingredients from local farms and artisans. It’s not dissimilar to why I originally started blogging–to inspire people to explore what’s grown near them. It’s been an interesting and time-saving experience to have a couple meals pretty much prepped. I made vegan tikka masala this week!!

It doesn’t quite look like the picture but it tasted good. This is ideal for people who love to cook but hate planning and shopping.

In other food news, Alec is discovering how good he had it eating at home. “Why don’t they make spaghetti and meatballs?” The thrill of a cafeteria offering perpetual ice cream sundaes has worn off. He says he’s losing weight especially now that swim season has kicked in. He has 5:30am practice 3x a week. We look forward to feeding him at Thanksgiving!

Avery has really embraced the vegan diet. He’s even doing a biology research project on how plant protein impacts athlete performance. It’s the first time he’s gotten truly curious about molecular structure 😉

He’s also learning how to make vegan snacks for late night studying (nachos being a favorite). Yea for adaptability and learning!

Finally, here’s the recipe. This is so simple it shouldn’t really count, but sometimes simple is good for the soul. It snowed this week. Yes people. Snow. I am perpetually cold and it’s only October.

Tomato soup

  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 3 carrots, sliced into halfmoons
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • Celery leaves, fresh oregano and thymes stalks
  • 4c vegetable stock
  • 28oz can whole tomatoes
  • Salt, pepper, basil

Simmer onion in oil until soft. Add celery, carrots and garlic and sauté another 3-5 minutes until onions are golden. Add tomatoes and vegetable stock. I added a few end pieces of the celery with leaves attached and some fresh oregano and thyme still attached to the stalk. This gave the flavor a bit more depth. Simmer covered for about 30 minutes. Remove the celery leaves and herb stalks (if you used them). Purée until smooth with hand blender, season to taste with salt pepper and basil (1/2 tsp is an estimate).

Home cooking vegetarian meatloaf

It’s week 2 with one less bird in the nest. We’re still getting used to it and I somehow expect Alec to walk through the door at any moment. Alas, he’s already enjoying college life, including the thrill of having so many food choices at any given moment.

I am saving about $100 a week in groceries and figure Lake Forest is losing money on his meal plan 😉

Avery is enjoying being an “only” child and not having to share the car with anyone.

We look forward to seeing him at Thanksgiving and hearing all about he’s learning (History of Global Capitalism, anyone?)

I figure the thrill of dorm food will have worn off by then and he’ll be grateful for anything cooked by Mom, including this vegetarian meatloaf. Maybe I will FedEx him some. I am sure his roommate would love it.

Vegetarian meatloaf

  • 14oz vegetarian sausage
  • 10 oz vegetarian meat crumbles
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1/4c fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2c panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp tomato sauce or ketchup
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Sauté onion in 1 tsp olive oil until soft, 3-5 min. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook another 3-5 min. Add Worcestershire sauce, herbs, salt and pepper. Mix in meats, eggs, breadcrumbs and combine gently. Put into loaf pan. Combine tomato sauce and brown sugar, cover meat in glaze. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour.