Butternut Squash, Ginger and Pear Soup

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Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada! I made big turkey dinner for my family last night and then we watched the Blue Jays’ baseball game together. It was fun family time and the Blue Jays won, so we had much to celebrate.

Many people take a moment on Thanksgiving Day to mention all of the things that they are thankful for. I have a long list of family and friends who make my life special and I hope they know who they are. I also have a passion for photography and food, and the joy that sharing those passions brings me. I am thankful for those blessings every day, not just today.

One of my blog followers asked me to feature a fall soup so I tried out this vegan version of Butternut Squash, Ginger and Pear soup. It is a compilation of a few recipes. I really like the complex flavour that adding coconut milk adds to the recipe. The consistency is lighter than other butternut squash soups that I have made but, it is still packed with flavour.

I hope you enjoy the soup. Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian readers!

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Butternut Squash, Ginger and Pear Soup

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 medium leeks, finely chopped

2 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced finely

6 pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces

6 cups low sodium vegetable broth

1 cup coconut milk

Fresh thyme sprigs and pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

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Directions:

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and ginger and sauté until tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes.

Add the squash and pears and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes until squash is tender.

Remove from heat and add coconut milk. Puree the soup in a blender in batches and serve with your choice of garnish.

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Celebrating a 2 year old milestone with Gluten-free Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes

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I have a beautiful granddaughter named Aiobhann who just celebrated her second birthday. Aiobhann has some pretty severe allergies like eggs, dairy and gluten so finding treats for her party is not always that easy.

The good news is that we have an amazing gluten-free, vegan bakery in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood called Bunner’s Bake Shop. I have tried many of their baked treats over the past 2 years and I am so surprised at how delicious they are. They make a cinnamon bun that is the best I have tried anywhere. Imagine my delight when I was wandering around my local bookstore and found out that they had produced a cookbook filled with all of the wonderful Bunner’s treats that we love.

When it was time to choose a dessert for Aiobhann’s party I decided to be adventurous and to bake some cupcakes from the book.

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I found reading the recipe a little daunting, at first. I ran around to some local health food stores to find the exact ingredients as I did not want to take any chances on having them turn out well. Fortunately, I was not the first person to ask for these ingredients and the sales people were very helpful.

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The most important thing was that Aiobhann got to have some yummy treats that she could eat and share with the entire family. She is not the only one with food allergies but the cupcakes were a hit with everyone. They have a rich moist flavour and denser texture than a cake mix but I think it makes them taste better.

I made this batch with the Bunner’s Frosting recipe. If you are not concerned about them being vegan you could substitute cream cheese or traditional vanilla buttercream frosting. I do plan to try more recipes from this book and share them with my grandchildren. After all, isn’t that what Grandmothers are supposed to do?

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Gluten-Free Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes

Makes 18 cupcakes

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups Bob’s Red Mill garbanzo and fava flour
¾ cup potato starch
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp. arrowroot starch
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. gluten-free baking powder
1 ½ tsp. sea salt
¾ tsp. xanthum gum
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 cup agave nectar
¾ cup rice milk
½ cup + 1 tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
½ cup canola oil
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 batch vanilla buttercream frosting (see recipe below)

(You will need 2 batches of frosting if you are piping it on in big swirls)

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Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 18 muffin cup with paper liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, both starches, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, xanthum gum, and baking soda. Whisk to combine.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the agave nectar, milk, applesauce, oil, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Using a spatula, thoroughly mix the batter, then let it sit for about 10 minutes to rise.

Pour the batter into each muffin liner and fill to 2/3 full. Bake for 20-24 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted to the centre comes out clean.

The cupcakes will be lightly golden on top.

Cool completely at room temperature before frosting with vanilla buttercream.

Cook’s note:

These cupcakes are best eaten the same day or the following day. If you are not concerned about the vegan icing, you can substitute for a vanilla buttercream or cream cheese frosting from your own recipe.

Recipe from Bunner’s Simple & Delicious Gluten-Free Vegan Treats by Ashley Wittig & Kevin Macallister

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Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

½ cup Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (I stick) at room temperature
½ cup Earth Balance Shortening Sticks (1 stick), at room temperature
3½ cups organic powdered sugar, sifted
1 to 2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 to 5 tbsp. canned coconut milk or soy creamer

Directions:

Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and shortening until completely smooth and fluffy.

Slowly add the sugar, mixing well. Stir in the vanilla and then 3 tbsp. coconut milk, adding the milk as needed to achieve a nice, spreadable consistency.

Whip the frosting for several minutes, until fluffy. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator.

If refrigerated, bring to room temperature and give it a good stir with a frosting spatula or butter knife before spreading.

Cook’s note:

The frosting is very dense and a little tricky to spread but it tastes very much like regular buttercream without butter.

Recipe from Bunner’s Simple & Delicious Gluten-Free Vegan Treats by Ashley Wittig & Kevin Macallister

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burgers with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

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Can you feel it? Can you feel the energy building up as we all come out of hibernation to enjoy this wonderful spring weather?

The change of seasons brings back memories of years gone by and simpler times spent with family and friends. I recall how I spent so many spring and summer days as a child playing outside until it was time to go to bed. It never crossed our minds to sit in front of the TV or computers. Instead we would play games like hide and seek or red rover or bike around the neighbourhood with our friends. We all looked out for each other and had a great time.

Other memories are of casual family dinners comprised of burgers or hot dogs on the grill. Someone was always flipping burgers while others were making wonderful salads and cool drinks. It was a wonderful summer ritual.

Now many of us are not eating meat so burgers are made from a variety of other options. In search of something new and exciting, I found this recipe in a terrific vegan cookbook called The Oh She Glows Cookbook by another Canadian blogger, Angela Liddon.

The recipe takes portobello mushroom caps and turns them into  an amazing, healthy, vegan burger. I added a store bought sun-dried tomato pesto and the other toppings resulting in a modern and healthy version of the classic summer burger.

Grilled Portobello Burger with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

Ingredients:

For the Portobello Caps:

2 medium portobello mushrooms
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Optional Toppings:

Carmelized onions
Avocado slices
Kale leaves
Sliced tomatoes
Sun-dried tomato pesto

Directions:

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and discard. Scrape out the black gills with a small spoon. Rub the cap with a damp cloth t remove any debris.
In a large bowl whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, oil, garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Add the portobello caps and toss to coat them in the marinade. Marinate teh mushrooms for 30-60 minutes, tossing every 15 minutes.

Preheat a grill pan or outdoor grill over medium-high heat. Grill the portobello caps for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until lightly charred and tender.

Serve on a toasted bun, add the pesto and additional toppings of your choice.

Recipe adapted from The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon

Warm Spring Salad

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What a wonderful holiday weekend! The weather is beautiful and we have 4 days off to enjoy it.

I have been car shopping for the past few weeks and I must say that it is an arduous task. It takes days to compare all of the models and brands and then consult all of the review sites.

Do I buy new or save and buy a few years old?

Do I want a car to move things around or something more sporty?

Do I care about what colour it is?

All of these questions and more have been running through my head, endlessly. It’s driving me crazy!

Since I live in downtown Toronto I could almost get by without a car. There is public transit that will get me anywhere within the city. Then there are the car-by-the-hour places that can supply wheels to go, if I choose to venture further.

I have decided to walk away from the car shopping and the big decision, for a while. I will take my new bicycle for a ride. I will turn off the computer and get outside to enjoy the sun.

I hope you are all enjoying this wonderful season and that you are having a great weekend!

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On holiday weekend like this, it is easy to over indulge on sweets and heavy foods so I try to serve healthy side dishes to my meals.

I am featuring a vegan recipe that is simple to make, beautiful to look at and delightful to eat.

I found this recipe on a local vegan blog called Oh She Glows. I modified it by blanching the asparagus and adding sugar snap peas which are also blanched. I love how blanching brings out the rich green colour while leaving a bit of a crunch in the vegetables.

The salad would be great as a side dish or as a main dish. Either way, it is delicious and healthy,

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Warm Spring Salad

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked quinoa
½ tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 leak, sliced into rounds or half moons
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch asparagus, ends broken off and chopped in to 1-inch pieces
1 cup sliced strawberries
¾ cup sugar snap peas
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tbsp. pure maple syrup
Salt and pepper
Lemon zest for garnish, optional

Directions:
Cook quinoa according to the instructions on the package. Fluff with a fork, remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes.
Blanch the snap peas and asparagus in separate batches by inserting them in boiling water for 1 minute, drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, sate leeks and garlic over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the asparagus and snap peas and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the parsley and strawberries. Heat for 1- 2 minutes and remove from the heat.

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Whisk together the dressing ingredients (olive oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, ¼ tsp. sea salt). Pour dressing over the cooked quinoa.
In a large bowl, toss the quinoa and the skillet mixture together. Can be served warm or cooled.

Recipe adapted from http://www.ohsheglows.com