Taco Cups

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To celebrate the success of our Bench Cover Thingy, Cait and I held a wee taco party afterwards. These are inspired by Kevin & Amanda, and I think I’ll be cooking these up pretty often. They’re easy and provide a tidier option to those of us who like hard-shelled tacos. Plus kids will love being able to make up their own custom tacos in advance. Also tacos always remind me of my favourite joke, but I don’t wanna taco ’bout it. You’ll have to watch it to see what I mean. This recipe makes enough for 24 taco cups, which feeds four hungry adults quite nicely.

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Start with half a large sweet onion and dice that up.

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Grab 2 tomatoes and dice them too.

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Why yes, that IS dog hair on my tomatoes. Thank you for asking.
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I swear that I removed the dog hair before dicing. I promise. Maybe.

Scoop up some spices: 2 tablespoons chilli powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle, and some ground black pepper.

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You’ll also need some meat. I used about 3/4 kilogram extra lean ground beef.

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Sauté your onions in about 1 tablespoon olive oil until translucent and amazing-smelling. Tip in the meat and stir, breaking it up into little pieces, until it’s browned all over. Drain it if necessary (the bonus of extra-lean is you don’t need to drain).

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Remove the meat and onions from the heat and tip them into a large bowl. Dump in your spices and mix them around.

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Tip in the diced tomato as well and give that a good stir. Set that bowl aside for a spell.

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Now preheat your oven to 375°F or thereabouts. Grate up about 2 cups cheddar cheese (you can use more or less if you like).

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Grab a muffin tin and generously brush the whole thing with olive or vegetable oil (or use cooking spray). I did the 24 taco cups in two separate batches so they were fresh and hot, so I only needed the one tin, but if you’re doing them all at once you will obviously need two tins.

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Now you need some wonton wrappers. Square ones are probably best.

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Press a wonton wrapper into the bottom of each hole in the muffin tin.

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Spoon a small amount of meat, onions, and tomatoes into the spaces as well.

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Top with a wee bit of grated cheddar.

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Then jam on ANOTHER WONTON WRAPPER. Press everything down underneath it so you still have space to put stuff.

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Spoon in some more meat/onions/tomatoes and top with additional cheese.

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Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the wonton bits that you can see are brown and the cheese is melty and bubbly.

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Cait and I found that about five minutes on a cooling rack after baking made them a bit more solid and easier to handle. Just be careful when you’re scooping them out and run around the edges with a spoon to make sure nothing is still attached to the tin.

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Top with a dollop of sour cream and some fresh chives and you are golden.

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Chipotle Beans (and Rice!)

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This probably should be a Wingin’ it Wednesday kind of post but it’s so good I simply can’t wait that long. This came out of the fact that I had been remiss in cleaning our refrigerator and there were some sad looking contents that really needed to be dealt with.

It also makes for a super quick dinner because most of the ingredients just need to be heated up and then you’re set.

Start by cooking up (or heating up) some rice. I’m using brown rice here because that’s the sum total of rice I had in my house but you can use whatever you want.

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Then I chopped some stuff: onions, green onions

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Some cold Italian sausages we’d barbecued the night before …

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And some very sorry-looking tomatoes.

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Then I drained and rinsed a can of black beans. You can use any kind of bean you like – just make sure they’re not dried or that would taste bad.

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Then I heated up some oil and butter in my big cast iron skillet and cooked the onions until they were translucent and smelled amazing.

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Added in some garlic and the beans and gave that a stir.

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Then I chucked in the rest of the stuff.

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Added a wee sprinkling of ground chipotle.

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And a few dollops of sweet salsa (this stuff has mangos in it and I love it).

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Then I stirred it all around until everything was soft and amazing.

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And then served it over rice with a dollop of sour cream.

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The cilantro garnish is growing on my table. I hope it will flourish in the backyard once it gets warmer.

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This was so good I don’t want to wait until I clean the fridge again to make it once more!

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Cranberry White Chocolate Scones

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I meant to make these back when I made the Savoury Sunday Scones but I ran out of time. So I just had a package of defrosted cranberries sitting in my fridge for AGES. I felt bad about those poor cranberries, so last weekend I whipped up a couple batches of this recipe from Chew Out Loud, one to eat right away, and the other to freeze unbaked as a giftie for Cait.

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First, make sure you have 1 cup butter sitting in your fridge (or better yet, freezer).

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Preheat your oven to 400°F and start with 4 cups flour (if you think that’s a lot of flour, imagine how much I had when I doubled the recipe. Okay, you don’t have to imagine: you can just do the math, I know). Whisk that together with 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt.

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The original recipe calls for 1 cup sour cream, but I only had a very little bit. So I thought I’d add in some yogurt, but I only had lemon meringue flavoured yogurt (still, citrus and cranberry are a great combination). But I didn’t even have enough of that. So I added in some dregs of whipping cream I had lying around.

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I ended up cleaning out all three containers.

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So. In a bowl, mix together 1 cup sour cream (or your dairy Frankenstein equivalent), 2 large eggs, and 4 teaspoons vanilla. Set that aside for a minute or two.

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Grab your super cold 1 cup butter and grate it into your flour mixture. Yes, grate it. It’s oddly satisfying to grate butter. I always enjoy it, though I hate grating cheese.

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Use a spoon to stir it into the flour. I went ahead and used a pastry cutter on it as well just to ensure I didn’t have huge clumps of grated butter in places where they shouldn’t be.

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Stir in half a package of white chocolate chips (I used a whole one because I doubled the recipe).

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Now tip in your liquids and stir them until just combined.

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Add in half a package of fresh cranberries (again, I used a whole one because of doubling the recipe).  Stir those into the mix.

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I tipped the whole thing out onto a work surface to squish and kind of knead gently into a cohesive mass.

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I split it into four balls (two if you’re not doubling).

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I flattened the balls into disks, which I cut into 8 equal wedges.

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Whisk an egg in a small cup with a tablespoon of water and brush the egg wash over the scone wedges. Sprinkle with a bit of sugar.

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Bake those suckers on parchment-lined baking sheets for 14-17 minutes, until they’re a nice pale brown all over. Serve warm!

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Burnt Butter Mashed Potatoes

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This is an elegant twist on your average mashed potatoes and it’s worth the little bit of extra effort.

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Start with 3 1/2lbs of white potatoes. When I’m cooking for the Pie’s family, who are all mashed potato fiends, I generally go with one large potato for each eater.

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I don’t usually peel potatoes before mashing them because I like the texture of the skin but in this case I followed the recipe and peeled them up. Then I chopped them into smaller pieces and chucked them into a large pot with some salted water.

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Simmer the potatoes for at least 25 minutes, or until they’re all soft and you can poke through them with a fork very easily. Drain the potatoes and put them back on the warm element before you start mashing them.

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In a small pot on the side, dump about 1/2 cup butter and turn it to medium heat. Let that melt.

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While it’s melting, add 1 cup milk and 1/4 cup sour cream to your mashed potatoes and mix that in.

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By now your butter should be starting to fizz. Swish it around a bit but leave it alone for a little while longer.

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When it starts to really foam up, you’re nearly there, and you’ll be able to see the butter start to caramelize and turn brown. Remove it from the heat.

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Pour most of the butter into your mashed potatoes and stir to combine.

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Then sculpt them into a nice serving shape and drizzle maybe 2 tablespoons of the butter on top. TADA!

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The Molly Cake

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Mrs. Nice’s birthday was back in November and the Pie and I wanted to make her birthday cake a little more personal this year. Papa John and Mrs. Nice now live next to a farm and so their backyard faces a huge field full of very curious cows. At a craft fair recently, Mrs. Nice picked up this gorgeous painting of a cow named Molly, and so the Pie and I tried to re-create at least the sentiment of it as best we could, considering our utter lack of artistic skill.

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My frame of reference. NAILED IT.

Start at the beginning first. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Bring 3 egg whites to room temperature in a decent-sized bowl. You can drop in 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar too, while you’re at it. Leave that alone for a while.

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Grab yourself some frozen strawberries. This is from a 1kg package frozen strawberries, which is about 5 cups’ worth.

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Plop those in a pot with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and stew them over medium heat until they’re all melted and gooey and lovely.

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You can purée them at this point if you wish but I wanted some strawberry chunks in the cake batter so I mashed the goo with a potato masher instead.

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Now you can turn your oven on to 350°F and butter and parchment up your cake pan(s). I used my trusty 17″ round cake pan but there is enough batter here if you wanted to use 3-8″ round pans instead and create a layer cake.

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Sift together 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 2 teaspoons baking soda and set that aside for a minute.

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In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening until fluffy and amazing.

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Next, beat in 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar until it’s also fluffy and amazing. Then you can add in 2 teaspoons vanilla (I used vanilla bean paste, my new favourite thing).

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Now scrape down the sides of the bowl and plop in 1 egg. Just one. It looks so lonely. Beat it up. Show it who’s boss.

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Okay now we put all this jazz together. Take your strawberry goo. And your flour.

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Starting with the flour, add about a third of it to your mix and stir to combine.

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Add half the strawberries, then another third of the flour (mixing it all in), then the final half of the strawberries, and the last of the flour.

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I decided to disobey my normal rules about colouring food and added a bit of red gel paste colouring to the batter to make the strawberries pop.

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Then stir in 1 cup sour cream.

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Look at that gorgeousness.

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Beat your room temperature egg whites until stiff peaks form. Yay, meringue!

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Ever so gently fold those fluffy whites into your batter. This batter is pretty dense and produces a pretty thin cake so you need all the fluff you can get.

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Smooth the batter into your cake pan(s) and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the pan comes out clean.

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Set the whole shebang on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Now, if you’re not making a giant cow out of your cake, you can skip this whole segment. If you are making a giant cow out of your cake, then I hope yours turns out better than mine because you are less terrible at art.

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So with the giant cake laid out on a board, I cut out the shape of the cow’s head, and then from what was left I cut out the horns and the ears. It’s all symmetrical.

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Then I laid it out.

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I had to move everything around on the board to get it to fit, and the cake was so sticky it was a hard job to do it without disaster. And now it looks like the Chicago Bulls logo (GREAT GIFT IDEA FOR BULLS FANS FOLKS!).

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The Pie thought we should add a bit of extra cake at the snout. Now we need some frosting.

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I needed two colours of icing, so in two double boilers I melted 4 oz dark chocolate and 4 oz white chocolate, respectively. If you’re just doing one colour then obviously just use one double boiler and 8 oz chocolate. When that’s all melty and smooth, set it aside to become less horribly hot.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 2-250g packages plain cream cheese (room temperature) until they’re silky smooth. Remember, the warmer your cream cheese is, the less lumpy the frosting will be.

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Beat in as well 1 tablespoon vanilla (again I used the paste because I love it), 3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream, and 3/4 cup icing sugar.

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Then I split the frosting between two bowls. Hello, beautiful. Look at those little flecks of vanilla seeds.

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Then I poured the now-cooler white chocolate into one bowl, and the now-cooler dark chocolate into the other and stirred them up.

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Ready to decorate!

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I started with the white, because … well, I just did.

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Then I filled it in with the dark chocolate. The nostrils are wonky because I dropped a huge gob of icing accidentally and so that’s just how it had to be. TADA! Not fine art, but highly tasty, and Mrs. Nice loved it.

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Apple Streusel Muffins

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A couple weeks ago, in the beginning stages of November, I had a strong hankering for apple muffins. I was reading a book where one of the main characters kept making them and I just couldn’t resist the temptation anymore. I found this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction and the rest is really history.

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Let’s start with the streusel crumb topping, shall we? It’s what elevates these simple muffins into items of historic greatness. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a bowl, then dump in 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Give that a good stirring.

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Then add in 2/3 cup all-purpose flour and mix it up with a fork or your hands.

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You’re going to get a lovely crumbly mix. Set that aside for a minute.

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Now, preheat your oven to 425°F. I know that seems high, but don’t worry, we’ve got a plan. You might want to grease or butter a muffin tin while you’re at it. I also set 2 large eggs in a bowl of warm water to bring them to room temperature. Because I didn’t plan ahead.

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In the bowl of your mixer, cream 1/2 cup room temperature butter until all fluffy and amazing. Then add in 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup granulated sugar and beat that up again.

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Why yes – that granulated sugar IS pink. It’s a long story.

Then add in your 2 large eggs and beat until fully combined. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

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Now add in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup yogurt (any flavour). You can use sour cream if you have no yogurt. I had neither sour cream nor yogurt, so I used buttermilk. Well, I had no buttermilk either, so I used milk that I had soured with lemon juice.

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Now, peel and chop up 2 medium apples – you want about 1 1/2 cups diced apples for this. Can you peel your apple all in one piece? It’s one of my special skills.

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In another large bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. The original recipe also calls for a teaspoon of baking soda but I found I could really taste it in the muffin so I would leave it out.

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Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

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Plop in your apples and 1/4 cup milk (any kind) and mix that up again.

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Scoop that glorious stuff into your prepared muffin tin, filling the whole cup.

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Sprinkle generously with the streusel topping and shove that in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F, then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for a further 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the centre muffin comes out clean.

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While the muffins were baking, I glanced out the window and the bright sunny day had suddenly become a blizzard.

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And then the sun came out again. Though the snow kept falling.

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Set the hot muffins on a wire rack to cool down and start on your glaze.

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Whisk together 1 cup icing sugar with 3 tablespoons heavy cream and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

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Drizzle that insanity over your still warm muffins.

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Eat these glorious gems within a couple days, as they will tend to get soggy over time.

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Gluten-Free Choco-Fudge Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

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I hadn’t baked anything since before we left for NYC so I was kind of jonesing for some cupcakes, and these were a perfect match. They actually came straight off the package of Bob’s Red Mill quinoa flour that I was using. As far as gluten-free flours go, quinoa flour is probably one of the closest you can get, consistency-wise, to real wheat flour. When you bake with quinoa flour you end up with lovely fluffy sponge-y cakes. They do, however, taste like quinoa. So if you’re cool with that, then have at her.

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Start by preheating your oven to 375°F and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

In a medium pot, melt 1/4 cup butter with 1/2 cup water and bring that to a low boil.

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Whisk in 1/4 cup cocoa and remove it from the heat. Let it cool down from molten temperatures.

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Sift 1 cup sugar, 1 1/4 cup quinoa flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda into a bowl.

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Add in the slightly cooled cocoa mixture and mix that around.

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Separate yourself 2 eggs. Leave the whites to come to room temperature, and mix the yolks together with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 cup sour cream. Mix those into the cocoa mixture (make sure it’s not too hot so you don’t curdle your yolks).

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Now, whip up those egg whites until stiff and foamy and then fold them into the mixture.

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Drop that into your prepared baking cups and bake for  20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the centre cupcake comes out clean. Let those cool completely on a wire rack.

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While that’s baking, why not start with your icing?  I pulled this from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

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Melt 1/2 cup butter in a medium pot over medium heat.

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Add in  1 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

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Add in 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt and stir that in. Stirring occasionally, let the whole thing come to a bubble, and stay at a bubble for about 2 minutes, then remove it from the heat and let it cool enough that you won’t burn yourself on it. Because being burned by hot sugar is bad.

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Beat in about 2-3 cups icing sugar, a little at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. If you find you’ve added too much, don’t freak out – just add a bit more cream and you’re all set.

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Slather the icing all over your cupcakes. I tried to pipe mine but it was too thick so I went with slathering, but you can pipe it if you want. Giv’er!

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