Ginger Molasses Cookies + Ice Cream Sandwiches

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These are representative of my annual negotiation with a warm weather Australian Christmas. Most days in December are too hot to bake – but without baking, Love Actually, and Buble’s Christmas crooning – what else is there to get me in the mood?

Malls are stressful, the post office tries one’s patience, and every women’s magazine is telling you to avoid canapés, load up on crudités and choose low-fat turkey breast (no skin!) over ham to avoid that holiday bloat!

My response is simple: butter, molasses and brown sugar. I seek solace and holiday cheer in the kitchen and bake like there’s a freaking blizzard outside.

Boldly spiced and chewy, these are my ultimate festive cookies. They taste like Christmas, even if it doesn’t totally feel like Christmas.

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Slow Cooker Moroccan Eggplant

voraciousvander -eggplant

Oh hey slow cooker, hey.

You’re looking really great over there on the counter, all warm and stuff.

But not too warm that you heat up the whole dang apartment like that gauche oven. No. You’re super classy and independent  You take your time, do your job well and I don’ t even have to supervise you.  You’re like the perfect job candidate.

Sorry.

I was just…ah, having a fake conversation with my slow cooker to provide a weird/funny introduction to a recipe that I cooked in my slow cooker. NBD, guys.

Slow cookers make me think of meaty stews and thick soups, so at first, they don’t really seem to fit in with summer cooking. But they’re actually pretty perfect for summer (and obviously winter, spring, and fall.) No oven, no stove. Just toss a bunch of things in there, leave it alone, and come back to find a whole meal of cooked food!

Great right?

I love our slow cooker, it’s easy to clean and takes everything from pork neck to big summer eggplants to flavor nation.

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Orange Gingerbread Cake

voracious vander - gingerbread

I know the last thing you want to hear me talk about is how I STILL cannot deal with being in the opposite season of what I’m used to.

But it just doesn’t feel right, you guys.

The symbols of the holiday season are all out of place, for starters. There are no snowmen (or women), disposable pine trees or need for a yule log. And Santa’s apparel makes me sweat just looking at it. Get that man some shorts! Or at least some capri pants.

I started to wonder if the usual heady holiday baking spices were appropriate for the summertime?

I feel like the whole point of using lots of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves is to warm me up when it’s cold and I’m looking for some comfort wrapped in sugar wrapped in cake.

But really, the point of all of these awesome spices is to make it taste unmistakably like holiday time.

So short answer: they’re totally appropriate.

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Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

Simple things that will always always brighten my day:

  • This picture of kangaroos hugging
  • A cheap manicure
  • Soul music
  • Unexpected flowers
  • A new book
  • A good margarita
  • Treat yo self. And all things Amy Poehler is involved in
  • Dinnertime with Mr. F
  • Making lists of completely unimportant things

This soup is a brightener too – in color and flavor. It’s hearty and almost a little rich, without actually having anything rich in it. Depth is added to the sweetness of the carrots and sweet potatoes by roasting and the addition of earthy cumin and a little spice from Cayenne pepper balance it all out.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-2 inch chunks
– 4 medium carrots, washed well and roughly chopped
– olive oil
– 6 whole cloves of garlic (skins on)
– 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
– 1 large yellow or brown onion, finely chopped
– 1 teaspoon cumin
– 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
– 6 cups vegetable stock/ broth
– salt and pepper

Heat oven to 400 F/205 C.

Chop the bottom off of 6 cloves of garlic, but keep them in their skins.

Arrange the 6 garlic cloves, sweet potatoes and carrots on well oiled baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 25-30 minutes until the sweet potatoes and carrots are soft and golden. Remove garlic cloves from their skins.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot. Add chopped onion and a little salt and saute until softened and translucent – about 5 minutes. Add the 2 cloves of chopped garlic and cook for another minute.

Add stock and bring to a boil.

Add roasted carrots, sweet potato and garlic to the stock and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and then carefully blend with a stick blender or in batches in a blender, until smooth.

Serve warm with fresh ground pepper and a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Fennel and Pear Quinoa Salad

I’m beginning to write myself a life handbook. Basically it’s just an Evernote list that I can refer to when I need a confidence boost, or some real-talk from myself.

I add to it in those moments when I’m feeling inspired or insightfully self-possessed and think I’ve figured out something about life…so yeah, it’s a slooow process.

Sometimes I curse in this list to get my point across. That’s something you should definitely know about me: I have a terrible mouth, which I inherited from my Grandma. I’ll do my best to not curse when I’m talking about quinoa.

One of my most important life bullet points is: Be nice to yourself. Seriously, stop being so hard on yourself.

I wish it didn’t require the seriously.

But I don’t think I’m alone on this one. I think we can all be a little hard on ourselves. We’re not making all the right moves in our careers, we’re not making enough money, we’re not fit enough, thin enough, cool enough, good enough. And all of that crap kind of has to stop.

It’s important to set goals for yourself and do your dang best, but it’s also important to ease up and show yourself a little love, kindness and leeway. Be good to yourself starting…now.

Start by packing a picnic with some fresh bread, avocado, fancy salt and this salad and heading somewhere pretty and peaceful. Roasted pears and fennel with nutty quinoa and peppery arugula will make you feel like you’re doing the right thing. Seriously.

Roasted Fennel and Pear Salad (serves 2-4)
– 1 fennel bulb cut into 1 inch/2.5 cm thick sections
– 1 pear, cut into 1/2 inch/1 cm thick sections
– olive oil
– salt & pepper
– 1 cup of cooked quinoa
– 1 cup arugula
– 1/4 cup goats cheese, crumbled

Honey Dijon Dressing:
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
– 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
– 1 teaspoon honey
– splash of water

To cook quinoa: Rinse 1/2 cup of quinoa in a mesh colander. Place 1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and let stand (covered) for 5-10 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork and serve.

Heat oven to 450 F/230 C.

Lightly oil a baking sheet and arrange the fennel and pears on it. (Keep the pears on one side and the fennel on the other, so that if you need to remove the pear before the fennel is ready, it can be done easily)

Roast for 15 minutes and check on your baking sheet. Pears should be soft and golden – this is your cue to take them out. Place the fennel back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes until soft and browned in places.

While your pears and fennel are roasting, make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together in a small bowl or pouring them in a jar with a lid and shaking vigorously.

Once the fennel is roasted, toss your quinoa and greens with 1 or 2 spoonfuls of dressing. Stir in some of your fennel and pear, reserving some to arrange on the top of the quinoa and greens. Top with crumbled goat cheese and drizzle a little more dressing on top.

Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

I hate it when people say they “HATE surprises!”

Ummm, no you don’t.

You’re going to tell me that if I (or someone else you adore) showed up to your front door on a random evening with a quality baguette, cheese, wine and some fabulous conversation you’re going to be totally miffed? I highly doubt it!

Everyone loves a pleasant surprise – like a free coffee, unexpected flowers or getting a card in the real-life mail – but some people just prefer to feel in control of a situation they’re unsure of. And that’s completely okay.

But sometimes you just have to ease up and roll with the surprises. They’re probably going to be awesome ones.

This soup was a surprise – and a damn fine one. The surprise part came from adding some jarred roasted red peppers which gave the soup an excellent sweet-smokey flavor and generally tszujed the whole thing up.

Also, I suggest adding a tiny pinch of (surprise!) baking soda to your tomato soups (and sauces) – it reduces the acidity of the canned tomatoes allowing their sweetness to shine through.

If you’ve got some stale bread lying around, make some pan-toasted croutons to top this soup off – they’re super easy, thrifty and will impress the person who’s eating with you.

Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup (serves 2-4)
– 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more if needed
– 1 medium yellow onion, diced
– 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
– 1 can of whole tomatoes (I used canned cherry tomatoes, but plum tomatoes are good too)
– 2 whole (or 1/2 cup chopped) roasted red peppers (from a jar)
– 4 cups vegetable broth
– salt and pepper
– a pinch of baking soda

Heat olive oil in a large pot over a medium high heat. Add onions and a sprinkle of salt and cook stirring for 5 minutes until soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute until fragrant. Add a little more olive oil if the pan goes a little dry.

Add tomatoes, red peppers and vegetable broth. Crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon as you stir everything around a bit. Add a small pinch of baking soda and stir into the soup. The fizzy action means its working.

Bring it all to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

All the soup to cool for about 10 minutes and then puree it in a blender in batches. I left a  ladleful or two out, so keep a little texture. Do whatever you’d like!

Serve warm with chopped herbs (I got in on some chive action!) and pan-toasted croutons or bread.

Pan-Toasted Croutons
– 2 pieces of slightly-to-moderately stale bread (I used 3 day-old sourdough)
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 garlic clove, minced
– smoked sea salt
– cracked pepper

Cut bread into bite-sized squares and heat olive oil in a medium pan over a medium heat.

Add bread, garlic, salt and pepper to the pan and toss to coat the bread in seasoning and oil. Arrange the bread pieces in a single layer and cook them for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden. Store in an air-tight container for 1 day.

Pumpkin and Yogurt Pita Pizza with Dukkah

Really good things: Finding that extra button that came with your blazer right when you need it. Wearing bright colors. Buying the perfect birthday card for someone. Pasta nights. Walking somewhere new. New dresses. Green juices that don’t taste like green things. Planning trips. Planning parties. Planning outfits. Pizza shortcuts.

These are pita pizzas – the easiest kind of cute, individual pizza. And also, my favorite kind of pizza shortcut.

I don’t like most pre-baked pizza crusts – they tend to be too doughy and cardboard-y. And when I’m feeling entirely too lazy to deal with a dough rolling/stretching situation, I want something that – once taken out of the freezer – is ready to be smothered in toppings. I try to buy pocketless pitas for this purpose – so they don’t puff up in the heat of the oven.

As you can see, I was a little heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes here – because…well, I always do that. I also sprinkled it with dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend that you can either make yourself or buy.

I love roasted pumpkin, so I made a whole big batch and used only a portion of it for this recipe. Just make sure you have about 1 cup of chopped pumpkin to work with for each pizza.

Roast that pumpkin.

Mash it up and smooth it out on your pita.

Dollop that situation with some plain Greek yogurt and sprinkle with dukkah, salt, pepper and some chili, if you’re so inclined.

Baking time is super quick. Then, you slice.

Then you eat.

Pumpkin and Yogurt Pita Pizza with Dukkah (Makes 2 pizzas)
– 1 1/2-2 cups roasted Japanese pumpkin
– olive oil
– 2 pitas (mine were about 9-inch/23-cm wide)
– 3-4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
– 1-2 tablespoons dukkah (either homemade or store-bought)
– salt & pepper, to taste
– dash of red pepper flakes

First roast your pumpkin: Heat oven to 425 F/220 C. Cut pumpkin into 1 inch/2.5 cm chunks – you can take off the shin before or after roasting (I do it after – super easy!). Toss the pumpkin with a bit of olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pumpkin is golden and soft enough to mash with a fork. This can be done a day or two ahead.

Heat oven to 400 F/205 C

Mash the pumpkin on the pitas until they are covered as the base (the pumpkin is like you tomato sauce on a traditional pizza here).

Dollop with yogurt and sprinkle with dukkah, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and bake for about 7-8 minutes until the pita is a little golden and crispy around the edges.