Monday, December 09, 2019

Short and Sweet: Chai-Spiced Shortbread Cutout Cookies

Every year, I like to make a lightly-spiced shortbread cookie, cut into seasonal shapes for holiday gifting—and eating! In previous years, I've used cinnamon, cardamom, or ground ginger for the main flavoring. This year, I decided to make a thoroughly warming, comforting, chai-spiced version. These cookies are rich, delicious, and will last several weeks stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Sprinkling the tops of the cookies with a little granulated sugar before baking allows them to twinkle in the light, and provides a little burst of crunch and sweetness as well. These are perfect for the holidays, or any day when you need a special treat!

Chai-Spiced Shortbread Cutout Cookies

Chai-Spiced Shortbread Cutout Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons chai spice mix (or see notes below)
2 Tablespoons (or so) granulated sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

In a small bowl, stir together flour, salt, and chai spice mix. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla, then blend in flour mixture until smooth. Divide dough in two and wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap, flattening into discs as you go. Chill dough for several hours, or overnight.

When ready to make cookies, remove one disc of dough from the fridge about 30 minutes beforehand, line baking sheets with foil or parchment paper, and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unwrap and roll dough out on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin (lightly flour the rolling pin and the dough as well). Roll out evenly to about 1/8" thick, then cut using shapes of your choice with cookie cutters dipped in flour. Transfer cutouts onto prepared sheets an inch or so apart, and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar, if using. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until cookies are lightly golden around the edges (cookies will puff up during baking, but settle back down when close to being done). Re-roll scraps, flouring as needed, and keep cutting shapes until the dough is completely used. Repeat with the other disc of dough.

Chai-Spiced Shortbread Cutout Cookies

Notes: This recipe will yield about 4 dozen cookies when using two-inch cutters. If you don't like chai spice, use whatever spice mix you enjoy, like pumpkin or apple pie spice. Before starting, I like to scoop out some plain flour into a small dish for my "bench" flour, sprinkling where needed and for dusting the cookie cutters. I don't have a pastry board or any other special equipment, so I simply roll my dough out on a piece of wax or parchment paper. This actually makes it very easy to rotate the dough when rolling to achieve an even thickness!


Friday, September 20, 2019

Fall for It: Creamy Pumpkin Sauce with Pancetta and Baby Greens

Earlier this month, I was thinking it was too soon to talk about pumpkin or anything #PSL (I'm looking at you, Starbucks). Yet one day, as I held a package of dainty porcini mushroom ravioli, I suddenly found myself craving a creamy pumpkin sauce to go with them. I don't know where this came from - I've never had pasta with a pumpkin sauce before - but I knew I had to make it. Did I know how? No, but that didn't stop me. Did I fall for all that pumpkin advertising? Yep, I sure did!

creamy pumpkin sauce with pancetta and baby greens

Creamy Pumpkin Sauce with Pancetta and Baby Greens
Olive oil
Two garlic cloves, minced
4-5 oz. diced pancetta
Ground nutmeg, to taste (optional)
Fresh or dried rosemary and sage, to taste (optional)
5 oz. baby greens (like spinach, Swiss chard, arugula)
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
8 oz. filled pasta (ravioli, tortellini, or other; gnocchi would also work here nicely)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, drizzle in about two Tablespoons of olive oil, and add minced garlic and pancetta. Saute for a few minutes, and add nutmeg and herbs, if using. Continue to saute gently, stirring often, until pancetta is crispy on the edges and has rendered most of its fat (cover pan with lid to help this process along). Add baby greens and cook until wilted, then stir in pumpkin puree and cream cheese. Keep stirring to combine and heat all the way through, then turn off heat.

In a medium pan, cook pasta according to package directions (omitting salt) until just done. Turn heat on low under sauce, then scoop out and add pasta to sauce, adding as much pasta water as needed to thin sauce to desired consistency (I like mine quite thick, but you may want a looser sauce). Stir to combine and remove from heat. Server and enjoy!

Notes: You could certainly substitute sliced mushrooms for the pancetta if you prefer not to have meat; likewise, you could substitute cooked cannellini beans or cooked diced/shredded chicken for the pasta. Butternut or acorn squash puree would also be lovely here instead of pumpkin. The cream cheese works really well, but I bet an herbed goat cheese would be fabulous!

winter squash at the farm market


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

THM Picks: Modern Holiday Classics

Some friends noted that, while my list of classic holiday films was all well and good, I was overlooking quite a few modern classics from my roundup! So to pick up where I left off, here are some modern holiday favorites that need to be on your viewing list this season:

Die Hard (1988) - How awkward could your estranged wife's office holiday party be?!?!?!?!?!

A Christmas Story (1983) - This quirky and endearing look at childhood in the 1940s initially bombed in theaters, but has become a cult classic ever since. Subtle and engaging performances make this film a timeless favorite.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) - Clark has worked hard all year, and just wants to give the entire Griswold family the Christmas they deserve! This is Chevy Chase at his best, with the kind of supporting cast you won't find anywhere else.

The Holiday (2006) - A gentle wink and nod to the craft of filmmaking, with an absolutely charming supporting performance by Eli Wallach, this movie shows us that sometimes we need to take a holiday from our comfort zones...and that it's definitely worth the trip!

Love Actually (2003) - An outstanding ensemble cast portrays a delightful array of characters with interconnected story lines, all leading up to the local school's Christmas Eve pageant. Love is found, love is lost, hearts are broken and mended again, and one thing remains clear through it all: love (not to mention Christmas) actually is all around!

love actually dvd cover