Bee’s knees cocktail (vegan)

My favorite job ever was working in Marketing & PR at the Minnesota State Fair during the summers after my sophomore and junior years in college.

I got a lot of exposure to humanity and answered lots of unusual questions. My favorite being: “Is it the real Barney or just some guy in a purple dinosaur suit?” Yes, and yes.

One of the PR issues that I had to address was protestors who were opposed to the beekeeping demonstrations showcased daily. Now, mind you, this was 1994. The challenges of hive collapse and the extinction of many native bees was not as well known as it is today.

The protesters stated that the beekeeping and harvesting of honey was the “enslavement” of the bees. I didn’t quite get it at the time.

Fast forward to now and our vegan diet, which does not include honey. Bees and insects represent the health of world in many ways.

So this modified version of a Bee’s Knees cocktail is made with agave instead of honey. I steeped the agave with lavender from the garden, which is healthier too since it has a lower glycemic index. It makes for a perfect end of day pre-dinner cocktail at the lake.

I am going to admit, however, that I have not fully honored the respect of bee byproducts in my life. I have fallen in love with an artistic technique called encaustic acrylic painting.

I finally bought 2 pieces from a local artist–Jodi Reeb–who specializes in this technique using beeswax heated to 200 degrees mixed with acrylic paint. I simply love it! Layers upon layers so the colors merge and meld. The finished piece has a glean to it and an uneven surface. The landscapes make me feel very content (despite not being vegan). It’s ok to make some exceptions right?

Bee’s knees cocktail (vegan)

  • 1/2c agave, steeped with 3-4 lavender sprigs for at least a day
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • Vodka

Steep the agave with lavender for several days on the counter. Shake 3 shots (about 6 tablespoons) with half of the lemon (about 2 tablespoons) and 1/4 cup of the agave in a martini shaker filled with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish with lemon slice and lavender flower.

**Recipe makes 2. Decide if you want to share 😉

Advertisements

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.

Roasted Shishito peppers (vegan)

We first had these little gems–Shishito peppers–in Phoenix. Wow. Who knew I could eat an entire bowl of peppers!

That answers your first question: No, they’re not spicy. Well they say 1 in 10 is actually spicy and that’s consistent with my experience too. But not jalapeño spicy even. Just enough to keep eating for the random wildcard surprise.

They’re super easy to prepare and make a great app or side to anything from southwest cuisine to burgers. The long stems are ideal for snack ready eating–many places serve them with dips, but honestly I find that unnecessary.

The skins are very thin so it’s not even like a red pepper, you barely notice it, which is also a win for a roasted/blackened technique so you don’t end up with that giant mess of exterior to cleanup.

They can be difficult to find so if you run across them as I recently did in the coop or your farmer’s market, by all means buy them!!!

Roasted Shishito peppers (vegan)

  • Shishito peppers (8 oz is a good amount)
  • Olive oil
  • Juice of a lime
  • Salt

Toss in olive oil, cook on a vegetable grate on the grill over medium heat, about 5 minutes until slightly blackened. Remove from heat. Squeeze lime juice over and sprinkle generously in salt.

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.

Harissa roasted cauliflower (vegan)

As a child, I frequently set off the smoke detector when making toast. No, this is not a reflection of my early cooking failures. It’s about how much I love burnt toast. Burnt anything really.

It goes along with loving deep tannins in red wine like a Cabernet, or dark dark chocolate. It’s that back of mouth pucker.

So combined with a spicy hot pepper harissa paste, I am quite pleased. I love this spread mixed in for a punchy vegan mayo over a bean burger or with other veggies like roasted sweet potatoes and carrots in a Buddha bowl. Easy.

Deep fried or hot oil roasted cauliflower are becoming more common on restaurant menus. While I love the attempt at getting a vegetarian item on the apps list (usually served with cheese or a ranch type dipping sauce), it’s not healthy. All the nooks and crannies of cauliflower really soaks up the oil. It can be really greasy.

This recipe uses just enough to distribute the harissa, and obviously you don’t have to roast it until burnt like I prefer. Yes, I ate an entire head of cauliflower! And yes, the smoke detector goes off at least once a week in our house. 😊

Harissa roasted cauliflower

  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into medium size chunks
  • 1/4cup harissa paste
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Mix harissa and oil until combined. Toss cauliflower until coated. Season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or desired degree of not burnt.

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.