Very Berry Stuffed French Toast Cupcakes

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French toast. How I miss being able to order that in a restaurant. To be honest, I don’t think I ever ordered that in a restaurant because I’m always scared to order sweet foods for breakfast…

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I digress. French toast. Vanilla, hint of cinnamon, butter-y and maple syrup, right? All these elements are at play here. Plus berries. I’m in the midst of the winter food doldrums and berries from Mexico are trying to help me out of them. Also my preserves from this summer where they’d been picked less than 15 minutes before I bought them. I’m a cold weather person, let me tell you, but I’m ready for Spring so that I can start dreaming about Autumn.

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Makes 12 cupcakes

Vanilla-Cinnamon Cupcakes

1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk + 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
2 flax eggs, whipped until fluffy (For the uninitiated)
1 1/4 cup all purpose gluten free flour (Same one I always use; hasn’t ever failed me)
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon good quality vanilla extract
1/4 cup high quality berry preserves

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin pan with 12 liners. Whisk soy milk and lemon juice together in a small bowl and set aside for at least 5 minutes. Prepare flax egg and let cool. Once cooled, using a hand or stand mixer, whisk until the flax begins to grow in volume and loses most of its colour. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking power, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and oil. Once combined, add vanilla and flax eggs mixing for a few minutes to ensure some air is introduced into the batter. Add half the flour mixture and half the milk and combine. Repeat with remaining halves of flour and milk.

Spoon batter into the liners so they are about 2/3 full. Add one teaspoon of preserves into each cupcake and then top with a little more batter. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the cupcake springs back at your touch. Let cool on a baking rack (or in the wide open kitchen window, like me).

Maple-Cinnamon Frosting

1/2 cup non-dairy margarine, softened
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract
1 tablespoon non-dairy milk, as needed

Using a hand or stand mixer, whip margarine for several minutes until it is light and fluffy. The longer you have, the fluffier the frosting will end up. Add the maple syrup and allow it to become completely incorporated. Next, in batches, add the icing sugar, alternating with the cinnamon and vanilla extract. At the end, if you feel a softer result is desired, add the milk one splash at a time.

Assembly

Pipe the frosting onto the completely cooled cupcakes. I’m not one for overly fussy frosting but do whatever your heart desires. Garnish with additional berries.

Light and Easy Beet Soup

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Let’s make this post a story about my good friend, Jason. Jason is a witty conversationalist, a cataclysm of energy and all-around wicked awesome person. We met about eight years ago when I started working at Starbucks in Winnipeg. He was awkward but beyond that, the most amazing person to pass any time with. After he moved to Montreal to get his masters in English, we kept in touch. Well, I say kept in touch but what I really mean is I crashed on his floor diagonally when I visited Montreal because his room was too small for me to fit any other way.

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I spent the majority of my twenties in a passionless relationship, but a dream of mine had always been to live in Montreal in an apartment with my two best friends – Kyle and Jason. Once I finally had the courage to make the move to Montreal on my own, that dream came true. It was a brilliant 30 days. Unfortunately on that 30th day, my friend Kyle passed away in his sleep. I guess you might say Jason and I have been through hell together and here we still are. 

I’m giving Jason some cooking and grocery shopping lessons to help him have more time and money to devote to his music. He loves beets. I make the easiest and most refreshing beet so
up I could make for him. There will be a series of recipes that follow the same bare-bones approach to cooking and I hope someone else out there might benefit from them!

Perfect with some crackers and crudités on the side. You might also consider adding some kidney beans for extra oomph, but my husband is allergic and they hurt my tummy, so I left them out. Are there fancier soup recipes? Yes. This is a base for you to learn how to cook intuitively. Or, I suppose a base for Jason to learn. You can do it, too.

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Serves 6 very comfortably

1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 large beets and their greens, peeled and chopped, greens set aside
1 tomato, chopped
1 litre vegetable stock
2 cups water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 small rutabaga or turnip, peeled and chopped
2 cups shredded green cabbage
Salt and black pepper, to taste

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In a large stock pot, combine onions, carrots, celery, garlic, beets, tomato, vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed. Add the herbs and tomato paste. Let simmer for as long as you have, no less than half and hour. When gearing up to serve dinner, add the cabbage, rutabaga and beet greens. You don’t want these to simmer for too long or the broth will become overly bitter. Once the rutabaga is soft, your soup is good to go. Told you it was easy. Taste for seasoning, adjust and serve.

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Tiramisu Cupcakes

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People, I am SO EXCITED about these. I feel as though they should speak for themselves. I hope they do. I will say that the vanilla spongecake is the lightest and most lovely I’ve ever made. Do these gluten free and no one will know, but by all means, as with all my baking regular ol’ wheat flour works as well as anything. 

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Makes 12

Cupcakes

3/4 cup non-dairy margarine, plus more for greasing cupcake tin
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 flax egg
Egg replacer, equivalent to 2 eggs
3/4 cup gluten free flour (Here is mine, as always)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a cupcake tin. In a medium mixing bowl, combine margarine and sugar. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat for about 5 minutes, until light, creamy and airy. You want a lot of air to get into this batter. Add the vanilla and flax egg and egg replacer. Another 5 minutes of beating the batter and you’ll have nearly enough volume. Lastly, add the flour and beat another 5 minutes. 

Using two spoons or a small ice cream scoop divide the batter so you have 12 total. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the tops spring back when you touch them. Let them cool completely on a baking rack.

Espresso Soak

1/4 cup espresso (single shot), cooled
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (How about this WONDERFUL homemade one????)

Whisk together in a wide bowl. You’re going to be dipping the cupcakes in them, so wide enough for that.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup non-dairy cream cheese
1/4 cup non-dairy margarine
3 cups icing sugar
2 teaspoons coffee liqueur 

Using a hand or stand mixer, in a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and margarine until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the liqueur and icing sugar and beat until combined.

Assembly

Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, cut each in half, horizontally. Quickly dip the insides of both sides in the espresso mixture, pipe as much frosting as you like in the middle and on the top. To finish, dust cocoa powder on top.

Serve with espresso, White Russians, rice milk or whatever you prefer with your pick-me-up desserts.

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Aparagus Risotto

Yeah, yeah, I know asparagus is majorly out of season right now, but there is a list of about six vegetables that my husband can eat without too severe a reaction, so I really have no choice.

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The key to success when making risotto is making sure that you have all your ingredients prepared beforehand. I make my stock in a mason jar, so that I can easily pour what I need into the rice and it can rest beside the stove – where it’s right on hand. I pour the wine in a glass, so no measuring is needed. The lemon zest is ready to go. Once you have the hang of risotto, you can make any flavour combination that sounds good to you in a snap.

Save your leftovers to coat in breadcrumbs and fry up. Perfect.

Serves 4, as a main

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1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 large stock celery, diced
1 1/2 cups arborio or calrose rice (just needs to be a very short grain rice to work)
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 cup white wine
1 litre vegetarian chicken stock, warm (vegetable will work fine too)
1 bunch thin asparagus, ends trimmed and chopped small
1 tablespoon non-dairy margarine (optional)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil, onions, carrots and celery. Season with a little salt, so the vegetables can begin to sweat a little faster. You’re not trying to colour these vegetables, so keep them moving and turn the heat down as necessary. . You’re not trying to colour these vegetables, so keep them moving and turn the heat down as necessary. After about ten minutes and they have softened, add the garlic and rice, stirring to make sure the rice gets coated with oil. Add the wine and begin stirring. You want the wine the to be quickly absorbed and you should get a wonderful preview of the richness of the dish at this point. Once all the wine has been absorbed, pour in about a cup of hot stock and stir until absorbed. You want a constant simmer, so watch your heat and turn up and down as your rice needs it. Too hot or too low will result in a less than creamy risotto. 

After the initial cup of stock has been fully absorbed, you will want to add a hearty splash more of stock at a time. You want something more specific than a hearty splash? About a quarter of a cup, but a hearty splash will help you become more intuitive in the kitchen – which I am all about. You may not need all of your stock, but I generally do. When you have a half cup of stock remaining, add the chopped asparagus. The rice is ready when it still has a bit of bite to it, but it’s not going to break your teeth. Turn the heat off, add the margarine, nutritional yeast, lemon zest, juice and taste for seasoning. Let sit, untouched for 10 minutes.

Serve immediately. Seriously, those are the risotto rules.

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Espresso Liqueur

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OK, OK, these coffee posts are leading up to something, I promise but first let’s get this out of the way!  This is something like Kahlua and would make a great White Russian. I’d say it’s a tad richer from the espresso base and considerably cheaper.

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Makes 4 1/2 cups

2 cups espresso liqueur (My recipe is here)
2 1/2 cups vodka
1 vanilla bean, insides scraped out

Place vanilla bean guts into the vodka and shake or whisk to combine. Add the syrup and shake well. Keeps a really long time if you don’t drink it.

Drink. Or do the thing I’m going to do next. You’ll just have to wait.

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Espresso Syrup

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Oh, yes. Coffee is my second true love, my singular vice and one of the greatest pleasures to be indulged in. Consider this self care for coffeephiles.


Makes 2 cups

1 litre  (4 cups) cold water
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup vanilla syrup (You know, the kind you put in coffee)
3 tablespoons instant espresso
1/2 cup cold brewed espresso (That’s a double shot)
1 tablespoon high quality vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt

Combine water, sugar, vanilla syrup and espresso powder in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then add espresso. Turn the heat down low and let simmer until the mixture has reduced by half, about 2 hours. Take off heat, let cool a bit and add vanilla extract and sea salt, whisking to make sure it is incorporated.

Use as is in coffee, over ice cream, by the spoonful…

Or stay tuned for an espresso liqueur that will make you laugh with delight and that even I could drink a sip of (I don’t know the last time I finished a drink or really even started the one that was made for me).

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Simplest Tomato Soup

Hey! I like tomato soup. I forgot. Husband is not really able to to eat tomatoes, beyond a few spoonfuls of anything that comes in a can or jar with plenty of preservatives. Anything with fresh tomato elicits and immediate and painful reaction. Even a pizza slice can have too much. But back to me! I eat lunch, I can have soup! This is a very old recipe of mine, uses the most basic of ingredients, takes very little time to prepare and can be jazzed up in an endless variety of ways. 

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If you want to stir in a spoonful of pesto or sun-dried tomatoes to your bowl, go ahead.

If you want to fry up tofu and top your bowl with that, do it.

If you want to blend in a can of white kidney beans for a more creamy and filling soup, you have my blessing.

If you want to leave everything chunky and throw in a handful of cooked pasta, excellent.

If you want to add fresh fennel or eggplant or kale or…well you get it, please add it.

If you want a creamy tomato soup, do it. Add coconut milk or soy cream or rice milk or whatever you do when you want creamy soup.

If you want to change the spices, so you have a more Mexican or Middle Eastern or Greek flavour profile, the power is in your spice cupboard and imagination.

Serves 6.

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1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 small sweet potato, chopped (About a cup of any winter squash works, too)
3 or 4 stalks of celery, leaves included, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped finely
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, stems included, chopped
2 cloves of elephant garlic, chopped (by all means, sub 4 or 5 cloves of ordinary garlic)
1-796 ml can of tomatoes
3 cups of water
1 cube of vegetable bullion (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon, each, dried oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary, coriander, paprika, fennel
Salt & pepper, both to taste

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often until they are translucent. Add the remainder of the chopped vegetables and let them sweat for a couple of minutes. Now, the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a vigorous boil and then turn the heat down and let the soup simmer for as long as you’ve got – but at least until the vegetables are all tender. Taste for seasoning. Blend with your instrument of choice (or don’t blend).

Eat hot. Jazz up as your energy level/pantry allows you to.