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.

Manicotti (vegan)

I was really hesitant about going full vegan on this recipe for manicotti, which is a winter comfort food for us. Let’s face it, it’s hard to substitute something that has as its main ingredient ooey gooey goodness with “feeze”. (All substitutes in our house now begin with F, as in “fake”. Ficken. Feeb. Feeze. We haven’t figured out what to do with Fish, except to say it wrong: Feesh. This is my first try with Feggs too).

But gosh darnit, it’s Sunday and I feel like experimenting while listening to the same 12 Christmas carols on the radio. I mean just look at these ingredients, doesn’t that look like the makings of a fantastic Sunday supper?!

Many thanks to Cathryn’s Kitchen for her recipe inspiration. The main uniqueness of this version is the crepes, which make the entire dish a silky texture, and how I have typically made manicotti. The crepes are a bit tedious to make but open some wine while singing to classic Dean Martin carols and it’ll go fast.

I was more than pleasantly surprised by the creaminess of the “rinotta” filling that had a nice lightness to it.

I added some chopped sautéed vegan Italian sausage to about half and would experiment with other additions next time too. I am trying out recipes for our Italian Christmas Eve dinner and now that I have a good substitute for ricotta, a whole new repertoire opened up!

Feel free of course to use the real deals, but you too might be surprised by the vegan substitutes.

Manicotti (vegan)

Crepes

  • 1c flour
  • 2 “eggs”
  • 2/3c water (in addition to the water for the vegan eggs)

Blend all together and let sit for 30 min.

Filling

In the meantime, mix up the filling.

  • 16 oz medium firm tofu
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 6 oz “mozzarella” cheese
  • 2 oz grated “parmesan”
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • Dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Mix ingredients together (and add other fillings as desired, such as vegan sausage).
  • Make the crepes by heating 1 tsp olive oil over low heat. Add 3 tbsp of batter and spread using the back of the ladle. Cook about 1 min and flip to finish another minute or so until the entire crepe takes on a translucent quality.
  • Fill with 3 tbsp of filling and repeat (this made about 18 crepes).
  • I used jar spicy marinara for the sauce, putting just enough to cover the pan before layering crepes on top and covering with remaining sauce. Bake covered for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.
  • Finish with chopped fresh basil.
  • Rosemary roasted red pepper pasta (vegan)

    Thanksgiving is one of those days when people have their expectations–of the food and the rituals like football, drawing names for Xmas gifts, the favorite nap spot, etc.

    It’s best not to mess with tradition. But maybe add a new one?

    I thought about what we might make for vegan options to bring to my in-laws, who would be preparing the usual turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and cranberries. It would be mostly for Av and me, but I didn’t want it to feel like we were being rude by eating an entirely different meal.

    Hmmmm. Mac and cheese seemed like a good option. Many families have that as part of Thanksgiving but we never have. I liked not having a comparison to hold against it.

    If I have learned anything about cooking vegan it’s better to play to the strengths of the ingredients rather than making a “fake” version of the original. Cheese (“feeze”) is definitely one of our least favorite vegan options. The texture isn’t quite right.

    So I looked up some recipes and found a roasted red pepper pasta made with cashews. I made a few adjustments based on the butternut squash lasagna I make, including steeping rosemary in the almond milk, and toasting it in with the cashews to bring out some of the oils.

    I ended up adding lemon juice and some crushed red pepper flakes to brighten up the sauce. This was the first time I had used nutritional yeast powder and I like the depth it added. I baked this, but it could also be eaten immediately.

    Alec ended up eating a large bowl later Thanksgiving night…with Sriracha. He’s grateful for the break from college dorm food. 😊

    Rosemary roasted red pepper pasta

    • 2 lbs elbow macaroni
    • 3c unsweetened almond milk
    • 12oz whole raw cashews
    • 1 large onion diced
    • 6 cloves garlic chopped
    • 3 tbsp olive oil plus more for drizzling
    • 2 sprigs rosemary
    • 12 oz roasted red peppers (about 3 large if you roast them yourself)
    • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
    • Juice of half a lemon
    • 1 tsp Crushed red pepper
    • 2 tsp kosher salt
    • 1 tsp black pepper
    • Panko breadcrumbs

    Bring the almond milk to a simmer and add one rosemary sprig. Turn off heat and let steep for an hour. Remove as much of the rosemary as possible (it’s ok if a few leaves remain).

    Toast cashews in sauté pan with remaining rosemary sprig. Crush rosemary to bring out oils. Let sit while preparing pasta and sauce.

    Cook pasta, drain and drizzle with olive oil. Sauté onion in oil until soft, add garlic and cook another 2 min. Add roasted red peppers, continue cooking briefly until heated through. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and nutritional yeast.

    To bring sauce together, purée cashews in food processor (remove rosemary). Add red pepper mixture and process until smooth. Slowly add almond milk.

    Pour sauce over noodles. Drizzle with olive oil. Top with panko breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

    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).

    Watermelon jalapeño gazpacho

    People either love or hate cold soup. Ya know, the kinds that are supposed to be cold. I happen to love them, with gazpacho being top of the list. Especially right now as the tomatoes are just starting to come in.

    Sidenote: I have 2 perfect green tomatoes growing on my deck. I have invested a lot in these beauties and am protecting them fiercely from critters. Am relishing a perfect slice atop a veggie burger or all on its own. It’s just a few weeks now and they’ll bloom red. Please, Mr. Squirrel, please pass by my perfect tomatoes.

    Anyhow, this soup is nice because it’s not the same old but is both sweet and spicy. A good quality watermelon makes all the difference–seedless is the only way to go.

    Top it off with fruit salsa. Normally I like to use what’s in it so people know, but in this case I had some cantaloupe left to use up and needed a color contrast.

    An easy way to get your fruits and veggies in and low fat too, perfect on a hot summer day. Super easy and super fast!

    Watermelon gazpacho

    • 3cups cubed seeded watermelon
    • 3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
    • 1/4c red pepper slices
    • 3 inches of a seedless English cucumber, peeled and diced
    • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
    • 3 slices jalapeño (no seeds!)
    • 1/2 small yellow onion, cut in large chunks
    • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
    • 1 tbsp champagne vinegar (white or red wine or lime juice works too)
    • 1 tbsp mint finely chopped.

    Blend everything but mint together in blender or food processor until smooth. Season with salt and add mint. Top with fruit salsa or a drizzle of olive oil.

    Fruit salsa is simply diced watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber and finely chopped mint.