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!

    Roasted chickpeas (vegan)

    Yum. I am simply in love with roasted chickpeas. They’re high in fiber and a good source of protein for a vegan diet.

    Aka garbanzo beans, most people have had these in the canned variety and may think of them as mushy or mealy, and literally beige boring in color. But when roasted, they take on a nice crunch and beautiful color.

    They’re common in middle eastern food, including serving as the base for hummus and falafel, another couple of my favorites.

    But they’re more versatile than that and we’ve had them recently at a nice Italian restaurant that serves them as an amuse bouche to start dinner, and on a vegan avocado breakfast toast at one of the fancy local bakeries, Rose Street/Patisserie 46.

    I plan to eat them as snacks, throw on salads and my morning avocado toast for a nice pop of texture.

    I foresee experiments with other seasoning combos too. Enjoy!

    Roasted chickpeas

    • 2 15 oz cans garbanzo beans
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp chili powder
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp paprika
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne

    Rinse, drain and dry beans thoroughly on paper towels. Mix together seasonings and olive oil, toss to coat. Spread evenly on baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Storing them exposed to air vs in a container keeps them crunchier.

    Emotional eating

    There’s a time and place for emotional eating. This weekend is one of them. It’s mid-April, and we’ve already taken our winter vacation. I thought it would be downhill after our return. Silly me.

    It has snowed 15″ in the last 48 hours. And it’s not done yet. This is definitely stretching my optimism skills, as hockey season is almost done (go Wild!) and baseball is underway (go Twins!) But Avery will be lucky to be practicing and playing outside by the end of the month, roughly half of the HS baseball season. He’s not happy.

    By Saturday night I was pretty squirrelly after being stuck inside so long. So I did what I do when my emotions run wild, I cooked. I made chocolate chip cookies and opened a bottle of wine. Fully admit this is emotional eating. And not vegan. Real Irish salted butter made these the best cookies I have ever made (keep it in the fridge for splurges and this definitely qualifies).

    When the plows finally came through this morning and Matt had collapsed from shoveling the driveway (spring snow is heavy!), I ventured out to the grocery store to re-stock. And do some more emotional cooking.

    We’re having favorites this week –made egg salad for Matty, bought lunch meat for the boys, spaghetti and “meat”balls, roasting a bunch of vegs and making ramen for me, which starts with an awesome garlic vegetable broth. All comfort foods that definitely have meaning for each of us. Is it so wrong to attach emotions to food and use it to perk up oneself from time to time?!

    The cooking process itself calms me down. I came out of my rage as the broth simmered, realizing how few “snow days” we have left as a family. That we were all safe and snuggled in wearing pajamas for 2 days straight, gathered round the kitchen laughing and making the best out of it (binge watch recommendation = The Looming Tower on Hulu).

    And it’s helping me make my case that our winters (Nov to May) should be spent elsewhere…just 2 more to get through! My suggestion to sell the house and buy a boat to sail the Caribbean is looking a lot less “crackpot”….

    Garlic miso broth

    • 8 cloves garlic, smashed
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 8 cups water
    • 2 stalks celery (with leaves)
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 head garlic, halved
    • 2 scallions
    • 1 bunch fresh herbs, parsley or cilantro
    • Miso individual soup packet (optional)

    Sauté smashed garlic in olive oil over low heat until brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic head, water, celery, scallions, bay leaf, herbs and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain and add miso packet, salt and pepper as desired. A great base for ramen or any veg soup.

    Shepherd’s pie


    I’m sorry. I don’t take this blogger photo thing as seriously as I should. It’s not pretty, but it’s good. 

    A bit of backstory: I started blogging about 4 years ago when several baseball moms started bugging me to actually write down my recipes. It’s a concept, and I have never been one to be so formal. 

    But then I got the idea that if I organized both my recipes and shopping lists that would be real value to working moms. I did that for a summer to test the idea and learned a ton about how people cook and grocery shop. The idea was solid (as proven out by services such as Blue Apron), but it didn’t really scratch the creativity itch for me. Nor did I really intend to make money at it.

    Cooking is an art form. I just love sharing my tested recipes and even more joy when someone tells me they learned something new in the process (or tried a new ingredient). The blog serves that purpose for me. 

    But in the past year or so, I have observed that we have a food consciousnesses crisis in this country. We have more, we consume more than we need, we waste more. And by “we” I certainly am generalizing. Americans don’t want to think about our food and where it came from or what purpose it serves our body. We are mindless consumers. And trained to be that way. 

    That’s changing, but like most change, not fast enough. I do what I can in my little world to support that change—raising mindful eaters and sharing recipes with my small circle. I think I need to bring more of those cultural observations into the blog going forward, in addition to recipes and food travel notes. Thoughts welcome!!

    Ironically, this recipe makes a massive amount of food that lasts at least 2 days (that’s eons in our house). But as winter sets in, we do need our comforts. All things in balance. 😉

    Shepherd’s pie

    • 5lb potatoes, peeled and halved
    • 3/4c 1/2 &1/2 (or milk)
    • 1 stick butter
    • Parmesan cheese
    • 1 lb lean ground beef
    • 1 lb lean ground turkey 
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 3 stalks celery, diced
    • 1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables 
    • 15 oz can tomato sauce
    • 2 tsp paprika
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne 
    • 2 tsp oregano
    • Dash of cinnamon 
    • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley 
    • 1 bay leaf
    • Salt and pepper 

    Boil potatoes in salted water til soft (about 20 min). While potatoes cook, sauté meats until brown, add onion and celery, cook til soft (about 5 minutes). Add seasonings, frozen vegetables and tomato sauce. Simmer for 20 minutes and then remove bay leaf.

    There are 3 keys to creamy, light mashed potatoes: 

    1. Never add cold liquids to hot potatoes (=glue)
    2. Don’t rinse potatoes, just let them air cool to a temperature you can handle. In this recipe you can let them sit awhile.
    3. Get a potato ricer. 

    Microwave butter and cream for 1 minute. Add potatoes using ricer. Mix together, season with salt.

    Place meat mixture on the bottom of large (10×14) baking dish, top with potatoes and sprinkle with parmesan. Cover with tinfoil, bake at 350 for 30 minutes, remove foil and cook another 10 min or so til top begins to brown.

    Can be made ahead and/or frozen.

    Shepherd’s pie


    I’m sorry. I don’t take this blogger photo thing as seriously as I should. It’s not pretty, but it’s good. 

    A bit of backstory: I started blogging about 4 years ago when several baseball moms started bugging me to actually write down my recipes. It’s a concept, and I have never been one to be so formal. 

    But then I got the idea that if I organized both my recipes and shopping lists that would be real value to working moms. I did that for a summer to test the idea and learned a ton about how people cook and grocery shop. The idea was solid (as proven out by services such as Blue Apron), but it didn’t really scratch the creativity itch for me. Nor did I really intend to make money at it.

    Cooking is an art form. I just love sharing my tested recipes and even more joy when someone tells me they learned something new in the process (or tried a new ingredient). The blog serves that purpose for me. 

    But in the past year or so, I have observed that we have a food consciousnesses crisis in this country. We have more, we consume more than we need, we waste more. And by “we” I certainly am generalizing. Americans don’t want to think about our food and where it came from or what purpose it serves our body. We are mindless consumers. And trained to be that way. 

    That’s changing, but like most change, not fast enough. I do what I can in my little world to support that change—raising mindful eaters and sharing recipes with my small circle. I think I need to bring more of those cultural observations into the blog going forward, in addition to recipes and food travel notes. Thoughts welcome!!

    Ironically, this recipe makes a massive amount of food that lasts at least 2 days (that’s eons in our house). But as winter sets in, we do need our comforts. All things in balance. 😉

    Shepherd’s pie

    • 5lb potatoes, peeled and halved
    • 3/4c 1/2 &1/2 (or milk)
    • 1 stick butter
    • Parmesan cheese
    • 1 lb lean ground beef
    • 1 lb lean ground turkey 
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 3 stalks celery, diced
    • 1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables 
    • 15 oz can tomato sauce
    • 2 tsp paprika
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne 
    • 2 tsp oregano
    • Dash of cinnamon 
    • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley 
    • 1 bay leaf
    • Salt and pepper 

    Boil potatoes in salted water til soft (about 20 min). While potatoes cook, sauté meats until brown, add onion and celery, cook til soft (about 5 minutes). Add seasonings, frozen vegetables and tomato sauce. Simmer for 20 minutes and then remove bay leaf.

    There are 3 keys to creamy, light mashed potatoes: 

    1. Never add cold liquids to hot potatoes (=glue)
    2. Don’t rinse potatoes, just let them air cool to a temperature you can handle. In this recipe you can let them sit awhile.
    3. Get a potato ricer. 

    Microwave butter and cream for 1 minute. Add potatoes using ricer. Mix together, season with salt.

    Place meat mixture on the bottom of large (10×14) baking dish, top with potatoes and sprinkle with parmesan. Cover with tinfoil, bake at 350 for 30 minutes, remove foil and cook another 10 min or so til top begins to brown.

    Can be made ahead and/or frozen.

    Shepherd’s pie


    I’m sorry. I don’t take this blogger photo thing as seriously as I should. It’s not pretty, but it’s good. 

    A bit of backstory: I started blogging about 4 years ago when several baseball moms started bugging me to actually write down my recipes. It’s a concept, and I have never been one to be so formal. 

    But then I got the idea that if I organized both my recipes and shopping lists that would be real value to working moms. I did that for a summer to test the idea and learned a ton about how people cook and grocery shop. The idea was solid (as proven out by services such as Blue Apron), but it didn’t really scratch the creativity itch for me. Nor did I really intend to make money at it.

    Cooking is an art form. I just love sharing my tested recipes and even more joy when someone tells me they learned something new in the process (or tried a new ingredient). The blog serves that purpose for me. 

    But in the past year or so, I have observed that we have a food consciousnesses crisis in this country. We have more, we consume more than we need, we waste more. And by “we” I certainly am generalizing. Americans don’t want to think about our food and where it came from or what purpose it serves our body. We are mindless consumers. And trained to be that way. 

    That’s changing, but like most change, not fast enough. I do what I can in my little world to support that change—raising mindful eaters and sharing recipes with my small circle. I think I need to bring more of those cultural observations into the blog going forward, in addition to recipes and food travel notes. Thoughts welcome!!

    Ironically, this recipe makes a massive amount of food that lasts at least 2 days (that’s eons in our house). But as winter sets in, we do need our comforts. All things in balance. 😉

    Shepherd’s pie

    • 5lb potatoes, peeled and halved
    • 3/4c 1/2 &1/2 (or milk)
    • 1 stick butter
    • Parmesan cheese
    • 1 lb lean ground beef
    • 1 lb lean ground turkey 
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 3 stalks celery, diced
    • 1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables 
    • 15 oz can tomato sauce
    • 2 tsp paprika
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne 
    • 2 tsp oregano
    • Dash of cinnamon 
    • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley 
    • 1 bay leaf
    • Salt and pepper 

    Boil potatoes in salted water til soft (about 20 min). While potatoes cook, sauté meats until brown, add onion and celery, cook til soft (about 5 minutes). Add seasonings, frozen vegetables and tomato sauce. Simmer for 20 minutes and then remove bay leaf.

    There are 3 keys to creamy, light mashed potatoes: 

    1. Never add cold liquids to hot potatoes (=glue)
    2. Don’t rinse potatoes, just let them air cool to a temperature you can handle. In this recipe you can let them sit awhile.
    3. Get a potato ricer. 

    Microwave butter and cream for 1 minute. Add potatoes using ricer. Mix together, season with salt.

    Place meat mixture on the bottom of large (10×14) baking dish, top with potatoes and sprinkle with parmesan. Cover with tinfoil, bake at 350 for 30 minutes, remove foil and cook another 10 min or so til top begins to brown.

    Can be made ahead and/or frozen.

    Cobb Salad (technique tips)

    Sometimes it’s the simple things. Cobb salad makes everyone happy. Here are some technique tips to prep the ingredients.

    1. Bacon. Use a broiler pan in the oven to get crisp bacon, while the fat drips through. It’s nice to not have to monitor a greasy pan.
    2. Hard boiled eggs. Place in muffin pan and bake at 325 for 30 min. Drop into ice water. Super easy to peel! Shout out to Inside Kel’s Kitchen for highlighting this FoodNetwork tip!
    3. Avocado. Cut in half, use the back end of a chef knife to remove the pit. It’s always easier to slice avocados in the skin and then turn them inside out.
    4. Chicken. Easiest thing to have on hand for either chicken or pork 4-3-2-1 spice rub (4 tsbp salt, 3 tsbp brown sugar, 2 tsbp paprika, 1 tbsp cayenne).
    5. Tomatoes. Always salt and pepper!
    6. Blue cheese. Don’t skimp on fancy ingredients. Buy less, but buy the best.

    Serve over romaine.
    Blue cheese dressing

    • 1/4c buttermilk
    • 1/2c sour cream
    • 1/3c mayo
    • 2 oz blue cheese
    • Dashes Worcestshire and Frank’s Red Hot
    • 2 green onions chopped
    • Salt and Pepper

    Mix together and adjust to taste (creamier, cheesier, spicier!)