Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Year Ahead

 When January rolls around, I usually like to do a little reflection on the past year, and also my hopes for the upcoming year.  I feel like it's a nice little grounding exercise to gage where you're at with everything, feel good about what you've done, and pick out a few things that you'd like to see change.  I'm working on keeping things simple for this year: focus on a few things, but doing those few things well.

Gardening.  This is the first year I'll be able to plant seeds into the ground, instead of a pot.  Our garden space gets lots of sun (hurrah!), but also lots of foraging animals (boo).  I'm looking forward to planting lots of edibles, and learning what works and what doesn't.

House.  Continue to build our new home into a happy, useful, beautiful space for our little family.

Craft.  Start an heirloom recipe collection.  We have a number of recipes we use all the time (Alice Waters' Roast Chicken! Smitten Kitchen's crepes! Jim Lahey's pizza dough!), and I'd love to write them down, store them well, and share them with my kids and their kids.  Also, I'd like to try to improve and develop recipes I've tried, instead of always using new ones every time.

Photos.  Learn to take better photos by taking more photos.

Family.  Set aside weekly 1-on-1 time for each person, including myself.  Speaking of which, I've been really enjoying my new mid-morning ritual of tea and snack.  More on that another time.

These pecan sables are the last thing I'm going to bake until the baby arrives.  I made milk chocolate chip sables over Christmas for gift giving, and at first I was unimpressed at how bland they tasted.  But over time, they became my favourite cookie of the lot, and I've made lemon sables and pecan sables since.  I've quite grown to appreciate their simplicity: a tender crumb of butter, flour and sugar, blended in harmonic proportions.  Seems like a fitting edible mascot for my 2015 resolutions.

Pecan Sables
Adapted from Orangette and A Taste of Home.  Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
a pinch of kosher salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup (130 g) all-purpose flour - I like to use half whole wheat, half white
1/4 cup pecans, toasted (350F for 5 mins), cooled and finely chopped

In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar, salt and vanilla together with a wooden spoon until well combined and smooth.  Add flour and mix until just combined.  Add pecans and mix until just combined.  The dough will look crumbly, but if you squish it between your fingers, it will stick together nicely.

Dump the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, at least 16" long.  Form the dough into a log shape as best you can, using the wrap to help ensure the dough is packed tightly and dense.  The cookies don't spread much, so your log diameter should be the size you want your cookies to be.  I usually like my cookies about 1-1/2", and so my log ends up being about 10" long, but you can go larger or smaller if you like.  Just make sure you adjust your baking time accordingly.  Wrap the dough log in the plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for at least an hour, and up to a week.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F.  Remove the dough from the fridge, and slice into 1/2"-thick rounds with a very sharp knife.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until their bottoms are golden brown and the edges are turning slightly brown.  Remove from oven, and move onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week, or wrapped in the freezer for up to a month.

*Feb 25/15 UPDATE: Sesame Sable variation - substitute pecans for 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds, and vanilla for 1 tsp toasted sesame oil.  Before slicing the dough, brush 2 tsp milk all over the outside of the log, and sprinkle 2 tsp raw sesame seeds on top.

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