“When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the Angels eat.” —Mark Twain
Have you ever wondered how to pick that perfect watermelon? Well, I have! Faced with a bin of green striped beauties, I never quite know where to start. Let me share some tips with you that I recently discovered, and then go andmake this delicious and refreshing Watermelon, Mint, Blueberry and Feta Salad — a great side dish for a hot summer day.
1. When viewing watermelons, the first thing that sticks out are those weird white spots. However, these spots, called field spots, are quite natural. The field spot is the area where the watermelon rested on the ground. While every watermelon has a field spot, the best watermelons have creamy-yellow or even orange-yellow spots. Go for the gold.
2. The webbing of a watermelon indicates the amount of times that bees touched the flower. The more pollination, the sweeter the watermelon is.
3. Watermelons have genders. The “girl” watermelons are more round and stout — theseare the sweeter ones. The male are oblong and tend to be more watery.
4. The best watermelons are average-sized. Don’t go for too small or too big, but just right.
5. The tail of a watermelon indicates its ripeness. Go for the watermelons that have dried tails for the best taste.
6. Tap the underbelly of the watermelon. A ripe one will have a deep hollow sound. Under-ripe or over-ripe melons will sound dull.
Blueberry, Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad
- In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and diced red onion.
- Add the diced watermelon, blueberries, mint and feta cheese to bowl. Gently toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Above the sounds of car doors opening and closing, luggage being loaded, and 30 women exchanging “goodbyes and well wishes,” comments regarding their retreat could be overheard. They were all very positive, especially those regarding their meals. Many of these women love to cook, and are very attentive to—and appreciative of—what they are served.
From what I overheard, their final dessert was the ultimate perfection, and had made quite an impact, sending them off on a high, happy note. As I thought on all of this someone quietly appeared offering me a luscious looking lime creation garnished with a fresh mint leaf and whipped cream on a crystal clear glass dessert plate. Suddenly I was reminded of a favorite verse of scripture in the Old Testament where God in referring to prayer says: “Before they call, I will answer.”
- Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
- Add graham cracker crumbs and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until blended. Transfer to a medium bowl and add coconut flakes and melted butter. Toss to combine completely. Pour the crumbs into an 8-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the crumbs into the bottom and sides of the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until browned. Set aside to cool completely.
- In a large bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and lime juice. Stir until thick and well incorporated. Set aside.
- Place the gelatin in a small bowl and cover with water. Let stand two minutes to bloom. Microwave in 10-second bursts until gelatin is dissolved. Cool the gelatin to near room temperature, but do not let it set—very important.
- Add the whipping cream to the bowl of a stand mixer. (If you don't have a stand mixer use a large mixing bowl and a handheld mixer.) Whip the cream for one minute on a medium speed. Slowly add the sugar to the cream. Turn off the mixer and check to see that the gelatin has cooled, but not set. Add the gelatin and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Separately reserve about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of whipped topping for garnish.
- Spoon about 1/2 cup of whipped cream into the key lime filling and lightly stir to combine. Add the rest of the whipped cream and fold completely into the mixture, careful not to deflate the cream too much.
- Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust and smooth over with a spatula.
- Garnish with whipped cream and thinly sliced lime as desired. Refrigerate for at least two hours for a cloud like dessert. For a frozen tart, freeze at least two hours.
- To serve, remove the tart from the freezer and let it sit out on the counter for 10-15 minutes to soften a little before slicing it.
This past week, we invited artists to step away for a few days of retreat as they enjoyed renewing their vision and sharing together, in an atmosphere of Benedictine hospitality on the shores of beautiful Cape Cod Bay. Each day was punctuated by two lectures given by renowned art historian, Msgr. Timothy Verdon. He shared his passionate love of art, with beautiful images—both familiar and unknown—in a series of seven post-Easter lectures. Art lovers had the opportunity to fellowship together, while Msgr. Verdon discussed what it means to see with artistic understanding. It was a treat for our entire community and a privilege to be behind the scenes creating meals for them to enjoy. (Read more about the retreat here!)
Oscar Wilde said, “The artist is the creator of beautiful things.” Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, I believe that you are. Every one of us wishes to create beautiful things out of nothing. Take this Lemon-Almond Butter Cake for example…
- For the curd, combine zest, juice, sugar, salt and eggs in a heatproof bowl, and beat well.
- Add butter, and place over a saucepan full of simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until mixture thickens into curd, about 5 minutes.
- Strain into a bowl, and press plastic wrap onto surface to keep skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool, at least 1 1/2 hours.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9-inch spring-form pan with 1 tablespoon butter, and dust with 1 tablespoon flour, shaking out excess.
- With an electric mixer, cream the remaining butter and 1 cup sugar together until light and fluffy. Sift together the remaining flour, baking powder and salt, and stir in.
- In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until they start to foam. Do not overbeat or the cake will be tough. Add eggs and ground almonds to batter, and mix well.
- Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Drop 8 individual tablespoons lemon curd around perimeter of batter, leaving a 1-inch border, and taking care to space drops evenly.
- Drop 3 to 4 tablespoons curd into center of batter. Refrigerate remaining curd for another use. Sprinkle cake with toasted almonds and 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, depending on taste.
- Bake until cake is toasty brown on top and a toothpick inserted into cake (not curd) comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
- Let cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove sides of pan, and cool completely.
- Whip cream with almond liqueur. Present cake at table, and offer whipped cream on the side.
(Recipe adapted from the New York Times)
Our monastery houses a dairy with two lovely Guernsey cows. We often have a surplus of milk, so one great thing we’ve learned how to do (with relatively little work or energy) is to make “crock pot yogurt.” I read about it, but didn’t really believe it would work until I actually tried it. It’s fabulous, easy, inexpensive to make, and tastes better than store-bought yogurt! We also make our own granola — you can purchase that through our gift shop, Priory Books and Gifts, or make your own. I’m not allowed to divulge our secret granola recipe, but will share one that I like equally as well. This breakfast dish is one we serve regularly to our guests at Bethany or those who come on retreat. Since we make our own yogurt, granola and jam, it really is a signature “home grown” go-to breakfast. You can easily make it yourself for a quick and healthy breakfast that’s full of protein.
Granola, Yogurt and Berry Parfaits
- In a glass or parfait dish, layer in the following order:
1/4 cup granola,
1/3 cup yogurt,
1/4 cup of mixed berries,
2 Tbsp warmed jam
- Repeat Layers
In the coming months, you will from time to time be treated to new recipes from “guest bloggers”. These are old and new friends — dedicated chefs and passionate voices who share our love of cooking. After all, we are Recipes from a Monastery Kitchen, and these kitchens extend far and wide, all over the world. Tables that welcome the “Stranger as Christ”, kitchens that “practice the presence of God” as Brother Lawrence taught, and communities that are built by hospitality, love and prayer. Our lives are enlarged as we welcome them and listen to their unique voices, share in their story and try our hand at their creativity.
This week’s guest blog post comes from Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, a Benedictine monk who lives at Our Lady of the Resurrection monastery in Lagrangeville, New York. He is also an internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of several cookbooks. He is also the author of a new book from Paraclete Press, Christ the Merciful.
The son of man came eating and drinking . . .
– Matthew 11:19
The quote above was one of Dorothy Day’s favorites from the Gospels. It reminds us that Christ, in the fullness of His humanity, partook of food and drink and gave us Himself under the auspices of bread and wine.
These thoughts are on our mind as we prepare a simple dessert for the anniversary of the death of Saint Benedict on March 21. Known as the Transitus of Saint Benedict, this is the day that monks and nuns celebrate his birthday in heaven. During evening vespers we hear the story of how he prepared himself for the passage into the next life by receiving communion. Then, with the assistance of some of his monks, he positioned himself in the form of the cross to die like his savior. He insisted on remaining in an upright position with his arms extended in prayer until his final breath.
Saint Benedict is considered the founder of Western monasticism. In this humble dish we celebrate his life while maintaining his Rule of simplicity and moderation in all things.
Oranges for St. Benedict’s Day
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- Cut the oranges evenly in half and, using a spoon, carefully remove the pulp from the inside, keeping the shells intact. Remove the seeds and cut the pulp into tiny pieces. Place in a deep bowl.
- Add the candied fruit kirsch, and sugar to the orange pulp. Mix well and fill the orange shells with this mixture.
- Bake for 25–30 minutes. Serve warm.
I’ve heard it said that the sense of smell is the earliest and strongest to develop in humans. I remember once at a restaurant there was a special on oysters that came from the town where I grew up. I splurged and ordered them just for fun. When they arrived and the fresh, salty smell wafted up to me, tears came to my eyes along with so many wonderful memories of my childhood there on the water.
I think it’s the same for many of us at Christmas. There are certain scents that transport you directly into this season of celebration and joy. Take ginger for instance! I love baking days here at the Community — as you cross the common, in addition to the beautiful lights and wreaths and garland, the smells drifting from the kitchen put smiles on everyone’s faces. It actually seems like another way to spread the good news: Christmas is coming! Jesus is on his way, and we’re getting ready — with Ginger Cake!
Upside Down Pear Ginger Cake
- Start with your ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9" springform pan or a cake pan that's at least 2½ inches deep.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar; mix well and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Tilt the pan a little from side to side to help the mixture spread all the way to the edge.
- Arrange the sliced pears side-by-side over this brown sugar mixture, making sure that they cover the entire bottom of the pan. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well with a whisk until airy and fully combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, beat the the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs and beat again until pale and airy.
- Incorporate the apple sauce and molasses, mix until well combined, and then add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated, no more.
- Pour over the pears and spread all the way to the edge.
- Place a piece of aluminium foil under or around your pan to catch any eventual leakage and bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes or until it's cool enough to be handled safely then flip it onto a rimmed cake plate.
- Serve warm, garnished with vanilla ice cream, chopped nuts and a drizzle of honey or caramel sauce, if desired.