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.

    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

    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 😇