Brown Sugar Christmas Cookies

Ok, real fast word association game:  I say Christmas, you say…
Cookies – right?

Well, you do where I’m from.

I was originally going to bake Captain Joe’s Famous Christmas Cookies this holiday season but the guy beat me to the punch! (I should mention Capt. Joe is my Dad.) Good ol’ Dad sent me two lots of vacuum-packed perfect-sized chocolate-and-walnut cookies (and an entire pecan pie!) – and they were as fresh as ever despite having traveled half-way across the globe.

Those cookies brought all sorts of warm and fuzzy Christmas feelings with them.

image…. and gave me the Christmas cookie bug.

Since we were covered on the chocolate cookie front, I decided to make a classic and simple sugar cookie. No fancy decorating – just chewy, red sprinkle-speckled, not-too-sweet sugar cookies. I mean, they’re sweet – they’re sugar cookies. But I made them with salted butter and brown sugar to mix things up a little. I think it makes them all kinds of extra-awesome and even more addictive than usual.

Make these. Share them in pretty paper bags that you decorated yourself. It will make people smile.
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Broccolini Chickpea and Soba Salad

Do you want to take a second to talk about the fact that it’s almost Christmas? You probably know this, but I’ve been working hard trying to remember.

I’ve made a playlist comprised of Mariah Carey, Tchaikovsky (what? my childhood dream was to star in the Nutcracker. I was a ballet nerd.) and Bing Crosby. I’ve baked my first batch of red sprinkle-encrusted cheer and I’ve even made a couple of paper snowflakes in a rare crafty moment.

And yet, I have barely begun my shopping and am crossing my fingers that my holiday cards make it to the States in time. It’s time for me to get a move-on.

Here’s a noodle salad you can make ahead so you can grab a bowlful between wrapping presents, addressing cards and baking glorious holiday treats. It’s good for someone like me, whose blood sugar level needs to be kept in check if I am going to accomplish anything. The spicy garlic dressing is a nice reprieve from all the candy canes too.
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Tomato and White Bean Salad with Roasted Greenbeans

Gingerbread! Champagne! Honey glazed ham! Chocolate chip cookies! Sugar cookies! PeppermintChocolateAmazingness!

Let’s face it, holiday treats trump vegetables. Even for salad groupies like me, the lunchtime standard looks a little lackluster next to something as glamorous as baked brie.

No matter what advice Women’s Health gives me about eating off of small plates for portion control, filling up on carrots and celery or drinking lots of water – I am still probably going to have an extra cookie. Or five. And that’s totally ok – because heck, it’s Christmas and everyone’s brought their sugary best!

For me it’s not about skimping on the festive morsels, it’s about feeling like I’ve eaten enough good stuff in my day to warrant some of the naughty stuff.

These past few weeks I have consciously been trying to create salads that I can get excited about so I can fully enjoy some healthy food before I hit up the dessert buffet.

Last week I shared another salad that I deemed “festive” and I think this one is worthy of the same label – just look at that color combo!

Tomato and White Bean Salad with Roasted Green Beans and a Balsamic Reduction
(serves 4)
– 20 cherry tomatoes, halved
– 1 cup of white beans, cooked and rinsed
– 1 cup of green beans, chopped into bite sized pieces
– A handful of basil, roughly chopped
– Olive Oil
– Salt & Pepper
- Balsamic Reduction
– 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
– salt
Pour balsamic in a pan and sprinkle with salt. Bring the vinegar to a high heat and let it boil, stirring occasionally until it is reduced by half. It should have a syrupy consistency and a sweeter flavor. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F. Toss green beans with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake on a lined oven tray for 10 minutes until tender. Let cool.

Combine tomatoes, white beans, green beans, 3/4 of the basil and salt&pepper together. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and sprinkle with the last of the basil leaves. Serve pre-cookie binge.

This salad also stores well in the fridge for a day or two.

Fig & Rosemary Scones

Some things I learned this weekend:

  1. Foil-wrapped chocolate Santas still get me excited.
  2. Clark Griswold will always make me laugh.
  3. You cannot find red sprinkles in supermarkets in Australia.
  4. If you make a batch of fruit and herb scones, they will all get eaten.


These may be the easiest scones ever. Using cream instead of a butter dough simplifies things but doesn’t sacrifice the taste that you want in a homemade scone.

Sure, they’re not the prettiest. In a moment of forgetfulness/scone crafting excitement, I neglected to add my figs and rosemary before I started kneading my dough. So ingredients were incorporated…haphazardly. I thought about scraping this batch when I saw the imperfections that formed during baking, but once I had a bite of one I realized there was no need for a do-over. They taste fantastic – beauty contests be damned!

Fig & Rosemary Scones (makes approximately 10-12 small scones)
Adapted from Gourmet Traveller

- 300 ml/1 1/4 cups pure cream
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour, plus extra for dusting
– 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
– 5 dried figs, chopped into small pieces
– 1/2 teaspoon of salt
– milk, for brushing

Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Whip cream and sugar with an electric mixer until firm peaks form (3-4 minutes). Stir in flour, rosemary, figs and salt until a soft dough forms. Turn onto a well-floured surface and knead until smooth (2-3 minutes). Add extra flour if dough is sticky.

Roll dough to 2 cm/3/4 inch thick on a well-floured surface. Cut into rounds using a 5 cm/2 inch-diameter cutter. Place scones on a baking paper-lined oven tray, brush tops with milk.  Bake until risen and golden (10-15 minutes). Can be served warm or cold.

I served these with ricotta and honey. Further proving my hypothesis that ricotta goes well with everything.

5 Ingredient Friday: Moroccan Spiced Apple Bruschetta

Happy Friday, ya’ll!

I came across a Mark Bittman recipe for Moroccan spiced apples which he suggested as a side to a nice piece of pork – you know, an elitist NYTimes version of Pork Chops and Apple Sauce. Just kidding guys, I love Mark Bittman. He’s not an elitist, he’s the master of simplification.

Anywayyy, I thought these apples would go well with ricotta instead. A bruschetta made on fresh bread topped with creamy ricotta and savory-sweet apples sounded just right to me.

Not for nothing, but these babies are perfect for a festive cocktail party or for enjoying by one’s self while standing/wiggling in the kitchen listening to LCD Soundsystem.

Moroccan Spiced Apples:
– 2 large or 3 small apples (I used Gala), chopped into bite-sized pieces
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 tablespoon Moroccan spice blend
– Sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 220C/425F. Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl and mix until well combined. Spread out on a lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the apples are golden and soft.

To Make it a Bruschetta:
– Fresh Ricotta
– Baguette

Slice baguette into 2.5-cm/1-inch thick pieces. Spread on as much or as little of the ricotta as you’d like. (I am biased toward a heaping spoonful, but that’s just me.) Top with apples, serve immediately.

Apples can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for a day. Serve at room temperature.

Before you go…let’s talk about holiday things!

Technically not a Christmas song, but damn this gets me into the spirit

I LOVE Peter Alexander and all of these PJ shorts!

Cannot wait to make some festive (there’s that word again) cocktails like this and this.

Pumpkin and Feta Quesadillas

Who said Mexican food can’t have roasted Japanese pumpkin and Greek cheese in it? Nobody, that’s who. And hey, worse things have happened to Mexican food before.

Pumpkin quesadillas aren’t the usual gooey, cheesy affair – believe me, there’s a place in my heart for that, but today pumpkin wins out.

These are hearty yet simultaneously light and pack a little unexpected punch with the help of some cayenne pepper. The pumpkin (I chose a sweet Japanese/Kabocha) plays off many cheese choices nicely – if I didn’t have feta, I would have used a goat cheese, an aged cheddar or some parmesan.

In conclusion: be a rebel, make a multicultural quesadilla of your own. Do it.
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Nectarine, Serrano Ham and Caramelized Rosemary Walnut Salad

Phew, that’s a mouthful of a salad name – but all important elements should be mentioned!

The holidays, as I am sure you have been reminded constantly, are upon us. I was reminded last night at a party where my dinner consisted of 3 bites of honey baked ham, a Tim Tam, a fruit mince pie and some other sugary concoction called “White Christmas”. Yeah, that happened. Happy Holidays!

Naturally, my mind turned to salads today. I’ve been thinking a lot about special salads to add to my repertoire that are easy to throw together and make a positive contribution to a holiday feast. You know, not just any old salad – a festive salad.
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