Once in a while, I get the itch to try something new in the kitchen. I’d probably act on that itch a little more if someone else would clean up after me, but whatevs. I finally decided to give aquafaba meringues a chance after seeing them pop up on some vegan food blogs. I’m not vegan, but I do love a chance to try something interesting. I’m also not a huge fan of eggs (the traditional base for meringue), so this was a perfect experiment for me.
First: aquafaba. It’s just a fancy name for bean juice. You can make your own by soaking and cooking dried beans, but the easiest thing to do is to spend a buck on a can of chickpeas and drain the juice into a container. Any bean will do, but chickpea juice is a) nearly flavorless and b) nearly colorless. Cannellini or white beans are good alternative. A black bean meringue is probably going to be very bad and very ugly, though. Learn more about the science of aquafaba here.
Anyway, get y’self a can of chickpeas, drain the juice and then set aside the chickpeas for something else, such as hummus, lemony chickpea stirfry, roasted chickpeas, or just toss them into a salad as is.
You just put your ⅔ to ¾ cup of chickpea juice into your stand mixer bowl (gotta be a stand mixer for this challenge) with some cream of tartar (or arrowroot powder, if that’s what you have), whip, then add sugar (vegan sugar if you want it to be vegan) and flavor, whip some more and 15 minutes or so later, you’ve got meringue! It’s that easy. And super safe to eat without cooking. Here’s the recipe I used that was based on one from The Kitchn, though I’ve made some notes and also filled in some steps that they missed.
Aquafaba Meringue Cookies yields 4 to 6 dozen cookies, depending on size
Ingredients ¾ cup aquafaba (the juice from 1 15oz can of low-sodium garbanzo beans/chickpeas ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar or arrowroot powder ½ cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavor--see notes) Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 200°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Place the aquafaba in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium speed until very foamy, about 3 minutes.
While continuing to beat, gradually add in the sugar (about a tablespoon at a time so it is fully dissolved) and vanilla. Once all the sugar and flavor has been added, increase speed to medium high (I put it on 7 on my KA mixer). Beat until glossy and to stiff peaks, about 7-10 minutes longer. You can stop and check for stiff peaks with a spatula. When you scoop a bit out and hold it upright, it should maintain its shape instead of falling.
Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a star piping tip. Pipe the meringue onto the lined baking sheets into 1-inch rounds (and 1-inch or so high). You can also scoop the meringues onto the baking sheets in tablespoon rounds or use a sandwich bag with the corner cut off.
Place both sheets in the oven (or you can do one at a time). Bake until completely dry to the touch, about 1 hour. Larger meringues with require 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the meringues from the oven and cool completely before using or storing.
Notes: You might be tempted to use almond. I did that and I don’t recommend it. The flavor doesn’t bake out right at the lower temperature, so it retains some of that metallic almond taste that’s so common in almond emulsions and extracts. YMMV. To save the almond ones I made, I added a bit of cherry-flavored Stur, which made them tolerable. They’re the pink cookies in the photo.
For a second batch, I used a ½ teaspoon of lemon extract and a ½ teaspoon of vanilla and I *loved* that flavor. But, as you can tell from the photo, I didn’t whip them long enough, so they did not retain their shape as well. That’s really the only issue with not getting the stiffest peaks: not keeping their shape. They still tasted great. Also, try to use two baking sheets at a time if you can. After an hour of sitting in the fridge, the leftover meringue needs to be whipped again to stiffen up and over-whipping may make it break down. That is true for eggs, at least. I didn’t really have that problem, but it was a concern. You can also make thicker and bigger cookies and they’ll have a bit of a marshmallow texture on the inside. Try it, you might like it.
Another cool thing is that a ½ cup of sugar only has 387 calories, so even a small yield of 4 dozen cookies (I actually ended up with something like 8 dozen because mine were small), they calorie count is very low. You’re eating mostly flavored air. You can also use aquafaba to make a meringue topping or a pavlova. Pretty cool!
Jamaicaway is a Caribbean style restaurant in Nashville that is one of my very favorite restaurants. They have an extensive vegetarian and vegan selection in addition to omnivore items and it's just like the traditional soul food I'm used to from Memphis but with a twist. My favorite entree is the vegan fried "chicken" which is made from vital wheat gluten. I order it with a side of fried plantains and pineapple sweet potatoes. I almost never order anything else.
This year, we were hosting Christmas dinner at our house and instead of traditional sweet potato casserole, I decided to try my version of the pineapple sweet potatoes. I roasted the sweet potatoes and pineapple instead of steaming them, so the texture is different (definitely drier, but also not stringy) but it is still really good. I was cooking for five, so this recipe was made with three large sweet potatoes, but it can easily be adjusted down for a smaller crowd. One large sweet potato will yield 2-3 servings (judging by the leftovers, it was more like three for mine).
Notes: I used butter, but you can easily make it vegan by substituting coconut oil (which I wish I'd done anyway; I think it would taste better). It takes a while to cook, but you can cut the time in half by microwaving the sweet potatoes for about 5 minutes before adding them to the recipe (you can also make this a day in advance and re-heat; I did this and transferred to a prettier dish to serve). Reduce the size of the recipe by estimating one large sweet potato for every two people and reducing the amount of pineapple accordingly.
Pineapple Sweet Potatoes
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
1 16 oz can of chunk pineapple
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp butter (1/2 a stick), cut into 8 slices
Place the sweet potatoes and pineapple in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Add the spices, salt, and sugar and stir together. Place the slices of butter evenly over the mixture and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes covered and then 45 minutes uncovered (until the sweet potatoes are soft).
Our last day in Jackson Hole was a sad one. We did not expect to love the area as much as we did and there was still a lot to do and see, not just in Yellowstone, but in the Grand Tetons as well. But we got up early to visit one last time before heading through Wyoming to Devil’s Tower and on to Deadwood, South Dakota where we stayed as a base for visiting Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park before heading back home.
It was during this time, though that wildfires started burning more area, causing a haze (and hazard) over a lot of Wyoming, Montana, and even Colorado. We got lucky that our visit was not affected by the fires.
Day 14: Leave Teton Village for Devil’s Tower and Deadwood, South Dakota (travel time: about 8 hours in the car plus about 4 hours of stops)
It was a beautiful morning, so we got up early to see Schwabacher’s Landing (Grand Tetons) before leaving the area. It is a stunningly beautiful spot that is quite popular for weddings. There were mostly just photographers there when we arrived, all of us trying to get a good picture of a moose cow grazing in the Snake River.
The first portion of our drive east was on a desolate highway in Wyoming dotted with small towns. The mountain terrain flattened to prairies covered with cattle, often interrupted by buttes of varying sizes. We passed many historic sites, including the infamous Teapot Dome! As we drove through the area, we listened to music on the Native American radio stations. The littlest Eats was not a fan, but we thought it was really interesting.
Side note: it was great to have a minivan with a huge gas tank, because there were long stretches where we saw no other people--not gas stations, cars, nothing but cows and grass (and signs advertising Wall Drug). Luckily, we had plenty of food for sandwiches and snacks in the car, too.
We arrived at Devil’s Tower around 5:30 p.m., which is the absolute perfect time in mid-July. We were very fortunate to have clear weather, so the late afternoon sun cast it in a golden glow. This is a sacred site for the Native Americans and it has many prayer cloths and bundles left as offerings. Devil’s Tower was a real highlight for my husband and me. He’s more a fan due to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which we both saw as children), but I also recall the site from a short film that used to play during intermission at the drive-in theater when I was a kid. Devil’s Tower was always shown during a particularly dramatic portion of the music and it had quite the impact on my memory.
Our expectations of the site were exceeded by far, though. It was an amazing experience; magical and spiritual. Even the hum of a busload of tourists that arrived shortly after us didn’t disturb the tremendous feeling of peace we felt being there. At times, the only sounds we heard was the whistling of the wind and an eagle flying around. While there, we stopped at a souvenir store and mailed an alien postcard to my husband’s brother’s family. Devil's Tower is almost as popular among believers in ETs and ALFs as Area 51.
We stayed until just after 7:30 and about an hour or so later, we arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota at The Lodge at Deadwood. Short-term rentals are a little harder to come by in this area, which is a popular gaming (gambling) area. The Lodge is a casino hotel, but you don’t have to go through the casino to get to the rooms and it had a really fun indoor water park that I figured would be great for some much-needed downtime after a couple of weeks of intense activity. The hotel was really nice and comfortable and not very expensive at all. It’s at the base of Mt. Roosevelt, so it’s perched above the main tourist zone, making it a much quieter place to stay than in town. One afternoon, we found a herd of bighorn sheep ewes grazing on the lawn!
Day 15: Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood (travel time: about an hour and a half to Mt. Rushmore)
We arrived at Mt. Rushmore a little after 10 a.m. (it is about an hour and a half from Deadwood through the Black Hills National Forest). It was already full of tourists and was the most crowded site we’d been to during the trip (since the site is pretty concentrated as opposed to an area that is spread out for hiking and nature viewing). Despite already being extraordinarily hot, the mid-morning sun was good for nice pictures (the monument faces east).
Mt. Rushmore was a huge disappointment for several reasons. Though I should note that I didn’t do a lot of research beforehand. First, it was incredibly tacky. I learned that it was created purely as a tourist destination, the area officials being concerned that the natural beauty was not enough of a tourism draw. The designer, Gutzon Borglum was er, not a good dude, either. After being so impressed by the beauty and spirituality of Devil’s Tower, it was disappointing to see the beautiful landscape marred by this monument.
Second, and less importantly, I’d had an unrealistic idea of what eating lunch at the monument would be like. I pictured civilized people having table service while admiring the view thanks to seeing North by Northwest. Reality was a bunch of tourists in our touristy clothing eating very bad food in a cafeteria. The food selections were so terrible, that I only had a small side salad to eat.
Lastly, the visitors to this monument were very different from the nature lovers at the national parks. I saw as much confederate flag paraphernalia as I’ve seen in downtown Nashville during peak season. Did they get it confused with Stone Mountain, I wondered? Are they unaware that they’re admiring an image of Abraham Lincoln and other representatives of a United States?
Anyway, we ate our sad lunch and a $6 cup of Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream and headed through the tourist traps and back to Deadwood.
Deadwood is an historic “old west” town and very much a tourist trap, but in a fun way. There is interesting people-watching and shopping (plenty of confederate flag merchandise, which I would love to say I don’t understand because of the location but…). We stopped in and had a family “wild west” photo taken (neither of us did this with our families as kids, so it was really fun to do it with ours) and ate at one of the oldest buildings in town, the Deadwood Social Club (neat place with lots of old photos). We drove around downtown a bit; many of the homes were built in the late 1800s and are beautiful Victorian style. We did not visit the famous Mount Moriah cemetery (where Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, and a number of other famous people that lived in the area are buried), but we did drive past. It’s a gorgeous area that’s very hilly.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Taco John’s, the other western taco favorite. They also feature tater tots, so we got some tater tot nachos. Not as good as Taco Time, but I still love the tater tot option. We ate dinner in the “water park” area, which thrilled the kiddo.
Day 16: Wall Drug and Badlands National Park (travel time 1-2 hours)
I’m not quite sure when I first heard of Wall Drug, but it is legendary, so we were excited to visit. It’s about an hour away from Deadwood and on the way to Badlands National Park. It’s a large complex now that sells just about everything you can imagine (there is an actual drug store), but mostly souvenirs and food. We had a brunch (freshly made donuts, pancakes, and more) as well as ice cream before wandering the grounds. It was definitely a fun stop.
On the way to Badlands, we stopped at the Minuteman Missile Monument, where our daughter got a quick lesson about the Cold War. Then, outside the Badlands, we stopped at The Ranch and fed a few of the resident prairie dogs.
Once we arrived at the Badlands (east entrance), we did a couple of short hikes, the Door Trail and the Cliff Shelf trail. This area is truly amazing. The prairie gives way to this landscape that is how I imagine Mars must be. It’s very stark, too how the prairie grassland just stops and the Badlands are revealed. Pictures don’t do it justice. We saw a lot of wildlife here, too including more bighorn sheep, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and a burrowing owl.
We drove through the Badlands and up to the west entrance and then back to Wall Drug for dinner. I was happy to find a Gardenburger on the menu!
Day 17: Deadwood to Pacific Junction, Iowa (travel time: about 10 hours including stops)
With the fun part of our vacation over, it was time to head back to Nashville. I chose a small hotel in Pacific Junction, Iowa for our overnight because it was cheap, safe, and convenient (it was definitely a no-frills place; it even had real keys for the doors). On the way, I thought we might detour for the Corn Palace, but I was disappointed to discover that the corn is used primarily for decoration and that there was no large selection of culinary corn specialties (just a few options for food including popcorn and corn on the cob). What a missed opportunity. So we skipped it.
It had been quite some time since I had vegetables, so I was happy to discover a place called Al’s Oasis in Oacoma, South Dakota, which is a bit like a mini Wall Drug (in that there are souvenir stores in the complex). We had an early dinner at their salad bar, which had several types of salad greens and all the typical toppings and dressings plus pasta salads, potato salads, and a dessert bar with fresh fruit, pastries, and (of course) puddings. At $8 per person (and $4.75 per kid), it was a great value. Even Mini Eats ate vegetables on her salad! And we were full for the evening, so we didn’t have to stop for dinner. We did have a mishap with the minivan that resulted in having to move all of our stuff into a GMC Acadia at the Sioux City airport, though. That wasn’t fun. But we were fortunate that they had a vehicle that could hold all of our gear.
Day 17: Pacific Junction, Iowa to Nashville (travel time: about 11 hours)
I was able to time most of our travel to avoid rush hour in the major cities, but could not avoid it for St. Louis on the return. Fortunately, we were headed in the opposite direction of most of their traffic, so it wasn’t too bad. But there was congestion a full hour outside the city, which made me realize how small Nashville really is.
I made a wonderful discovery on the way, though. With another “late lunch” stop (a “linner,” if you will), the other members voted to stop at Denny’s. Mr. Eats loves breakfast for dinner and Mini is all about pancakes. But I was still craving salad, so the server let me order a simple grilled cheese sandwich with a side of their kale salad. The kid and I both loved this salad, that was dressed with lowfat vanilla yogurt and topped with cranberries, almonds, granola, and feta. I make it at home now (minus the feta).
After fueling up outside St. Louis, we made our last stop at the rest area in Metropolis, Illinois for a photo op. We arrived home tired and sad and already wanting to go back to Jackson Hole around 10 p.m.