4 bean salad (vegan)

It seems about right that I am making one of our favorite summer salads in September. I am not quite sure where it went! But both boys are back to school, with Alec at college for almost a month now and Avery having started his senior year of high school this past week. One more year until empty nest!! 😆

His last first day pic.

We are getting back into the groove of quick weeknight meals between hockey and other school activities. My weekends are spent preparing things ahead so anyone can grab and eat whenever.

Honestly this 4 bean salad fits that criteria which is why it’s a church picnic staple in Minnesota. You can throw in any beans you have on hand–I happened to use kidney and great northern. Most of the time it’s all canned beans too.

But this week at the Farmer’s Market the yellow wax beans and green beans were just fantastic! That’s actually what inspired me to make this salad, along with grabbing about 5 pounds of tomatoes to turn into roasted tomato pasta sauce. (I wish I would have snapped a pic of the golden raspberries I bought too–but they were eaten within hours along with a pint of red ones. Still Avery’s favorite!)

Also on tap this week is beef stew for Matt’s birthday with mashed potatoes and an apple tart….chili and coconut tomato soup and a cauliflower curry….maybe fall isn’t so bad. But I still hate winter. One more.

4 bean salad (vegan)

    1 cup each yellow wax beans and green beans, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
    1/4 small red onion, diced
    1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
    1/2c vegetable oil
    1/4c red wine vinegar
    2 tsp agave
    1/4c chopped fresh herbs–parsley and oregano
    2 stalks celery, diced

Steam green and yellow beans until tender about 5 minutes. Cool quickly in ice water.

Drain and rinse canned beans. Combine all beans together.

Soak red onion for about 10 minutes in cool water (takes away some of the bite). Dice.

Dice celery.

Mix the oil and vinegar and add herbs, salt and pepper and agave (sugar is fine if that’s what you’ve got).

Combine all ingredients together and let sit for an hour to marinate.

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It’s ok! Play with your food

The end of summer is near–Alec returned to college in Chicago this week.

For those of you not from the midwest, a drive through Wisconsin creates the opportunity for comedic experiences. Such as the Mousehouse Cheesehouse that has a giant rat/cheese wheel on it. Interesting enough, this is not the ONLY giant rat/cheese “sculpture” found on the I94 route.

Beer, Cheese, Gifts and Fudge were advertised. None were purchased. This is Wisconsin. They’re serious about cheese. They also sell beer everywhere. I am unclear how fudge got involved except that after beer and cheese obviously one needs fudge to cleanse the palate. We stopped to snap a pic with the rat.

It got me thinking about how much fun we have in our house with food–trying new recipes or restaurants. So this post is a rather haphazard look at some of the experiments from the last few weeks (and hopefully distracts from my lack of actual recipe posts lately 😉).

What happens when you freeze watermelon cubes as mojito “ice”? Delicious drink for the lake

What happens when you puree an entire cucumber for a martini? Great flavor and color, not so great texture 😉

Challenge day: Can you make a breakfast baked good with a half eaten container of yogurt and a random amount of blueberries and no eggs because you haven’t done the grocery shopping at the lake yet? Oh-yes-you-can lemon-blueberry muffins. Could you repeat it because you wrote any of it down or measured? Oh no.

Favorite new food toy: the Jaguar of zoodlers (“leased” from my sister). Alec and I also laughed while doing this, it’s like the old Play-Dough toys.

I need another drink after all of that creativity! But a perfect reminder to stop and smell the roses (jasmine). It goes fast.

Actual recipes forthcoming now that Alec isn’t here to distract me.

Banh mi (vegan)

This is the vegan’s version of a barbecue sandwich. Layers upon layers of flavor and absolutely impossible to eat without making a mess. But you won’t care cuz it’s just that good.

I tried a different technique with the tofu–slicing into 1/2 inch, marinating and then baking it. It got a little texture on the outside but still plenty moist. It has the appearance of something other than tofu, which may be important to some folks.

I also used a readymade cabbage slaw for the pickled vegetables. That’s speeds things up too. I had black currant vinegar on hand which blended the tart/sweet punch perfectly!

You can pretty much accessorize with any crunchy vegetables you have though. I had radishes, daikon radish sprouts and a jalapeño. I thought about slicing a cucumber too but it was already too fat to fold 😉

Fresh herbs–mint and cilantro–and a Sriracha mayo finish it up. Round 2 was open-face sandwich style.

Creating this feels like creating art: between the colors and flavors it turns out differently each time, but always delicious! Easily my favorite sandwich and WAY better than barbecue.

Banh mi (vegan)

  • Baguette
  • 1 block extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2″
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
    2 tbsp Sriracha, divided
    Juice of 1/2 lime
    1/2 cup vegan mayo
    1 cup coleslaw blend
    1/2 cup vinegar–apple cider or another fruit based cider works well
    2 tbsp sugar
    Sliced radishes
    Sliced jalapeño
    Sprouts or lettuce
    Cucumbers
    Mint and cilantro leaves

Drain and slice tofu. Mix tamari, sesame oil and 1 tbsp Sriracha. Coat tofu and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Microwave vinegar about 1 minute until just warm enough to dissolve sugar. Cool, then add coleslaw and allow to soften for about 30 minutes.

Bake tofu on tinfoil at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. An ambitious person would flip it halfway through.

Mix mayo with remaining Sriracha and lime juice. Adjust heat to your preferences.

Slice cucumbers, radishes and jalapeño. Prep mint and cilantro leaves.

Assemble sandwich by putting mayo, herbs, vegetables and tofu on one side, slaw on the other.

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.

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.

    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. ⭐️⭐️⭐️