Stamping the snow off of my boots I came into the convent from the windy cold outdoors. As I shed my coat, I thought “Nothing could be more comforting than the warmth of being indoors right now.” But then I entered the refectory where I was met with something else even more comforting. It was the unmistakable aroma of one of our favorite meals, simmering in the skillet. Cooked with just the right combination of spices and seasonings, few, if any can resist this Southwestern chili especially on a chilly night like this.
As mealtime arrived the Sisters all gathered in the dining room where a glowing fire crackled in the fireplace. Each of us had a bowl of chili with our own favorite choice of toppings. Nothing could have warmed our hearts or satisfied our pallets more. We ate our meal with gladness and gave God thanks for all His many, many blessings to us.
Make-ahead note: The flavors continue to develop as the chili sits, so go ahead and make it up to 2 days in advance and refrigerate it in a container with a tight-*fitting lid. It can also be frozen for up to 1 month.
- Sauté the vegetables, ground beef, and spices, then put the mixture into the Crockpot or covered skillet along with tomatoes and kidney beans. Simmer until it’s thickened and has a nice beefy flavor, and then stir in jalapeños. We like this served with cornbread.
- To use dried beans in place of canned, start with 1 cup dried beans, soaked and cooked to yield 3 cups.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and bell pepper, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chili powder, and cumin, stir to coat the vegetables, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ground beef and measured salt and cook, breaking the meat into small pieces, until the beef is browned, about 7 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker or covered skillet, add the diced tomatoes and their juices, tomato sauce, and beans, and stir to combine. Cover and cook on lowest possible heat until the chili thickens and the flavors meld, adding small amounts of the beer and coffee as needed to keep mixture from sticking. Stir in the jalapeños or green chiles. Taste and season with salt as needed.
Last week we started “putting the gardens to bed” for the season.
This end of an era always seems to creep up on us before I expect it
to. For me it is always accompanied with a certain sadness. No more
beautiful early morning sights of garden tubs overflowing with choice red
tomatoes, crisp green lettuce and chard, gorgeous shiny eggplants and
colorful summer squashes ushering in the new day. What did arrive
this morning were some wonderful prizewinning heads of cabbage, a goodly
amount of green beans and plenty of assorted tomatoes. So tonight we
will enjoy a favorite old world classic for our dinner: Stuffed
cabbage rolls with fresh garden tomato sauce along with tender whole
- Cut up tomatoes and simmer with olive oil, onion salt, oregano and sugar until reduced to 1 cup or 8 ounces of sauce. Can be done while preparing cabbage.
- Leave cabbage whole, but cut around the stem, and parboil for 5 minutes; let steep for another 5 minutes. Remove cabbage from water and drain; separate cabbage leaves. Chop the small inside leaves and the core and use to line a Dutch oven.
- Combine all the stuffing ingredients and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place 1 tablespoon stuffing on each of the larger cabbage leaves, fold ends of leaves over the stuffing, and roll leaves.
- Arrange the stuffed cabbage leaves in rows in Dutch oven; sprinkle each layer with olive oil, tomato sauce, and crushed bay leaf. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper; add remaining tomato sauce, beef broth and enough water to cover. Place a plate on top of cabbage rolls, and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Serve the cabbage rolls with the pot sauce pored over them.
This is definitely the season for soups and we are adding them to our menus at the convent every week. There are so many kinds to choose from, they are so much fun to make, and so satisfying to eat. One of the suppers which sisters most love is a big hearty soup served right out of the skillet in which it has been prepared and then simmered a good part of the afternoon. Each person goes by and dips out a bowlful just to their liking to take back to their table where home baked bread and salad is waiting for them. This simple experience almost always puts everyone in a jovial mood that makes for a good time at the table with a warm “homey” atmosphere filling the refectory. One of our most popular choices is this goulash soup with a light Hungarian accent.
- Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the meat, onion, garlic, and carrots and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until lightly colored. Add the cabbage and bell pepper and cook stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes.
- Sprinkle in the flour and paprika and cook, stirring continuously, for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the vegetable stock, a little at a time. Increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring continuously. Season to taste with salt, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the potatoes and bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat, re-cover the pan, and simmer for another 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are soft but not falling apart.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. Stir in the sugar, if necessary. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls, swirl a little sour cream or shredded cheese on top of each, and serve immediately.
This weekend, we will be harvesting the last of our peppers from our garden. We have been so blessed to have such an abundance of beautiful vegetables this year, so much so, that we are still reaping the benefits of the eggplant, leeks, butternut squash, and pumpkins. My brain goes into overdrive, as recipe after recipe comes to mind.. what magical combination can we concoct next?
We had a special request for stuffed peppers from one of our Sisters. She adores them, and has happy childhood memories from her Pennsylvania roots. I was delighted to fulfill her request. While in Italy, I came across this wonderfully spicy stuffed pepper recipe. I modified it with the ingredients I had on hand. I’ve never been a big fan of green peppers, but I love the sweet, colored varieties, as recommended here. The flavors of Italy abound: balsamic, red pepper flakes, fennel and spicy sausage. This is sure to be a family favorite.
Villa Sacra Stuffed Peppers
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Bring rice and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the rice is tender, and the liquid has absorbed, 20-25 min. Remove from heat and set aside
- Cook the chopped leek in olive oil over medium low heat until the leek begins to soften (watch that it doesn’t burn), about 5 min. Transfer half of this mixture to a large bowl and set aside.
- Stir tomato sauce, beef broth, balsamic vinegar, and red pepper flakes into the skillet with half the leek mixture; cook and stir for 1 minute.
- Pour tomato sauce mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish and set aside.
- Combine the ground beef, Italian sausage, fennel seeds, diced tomatoes, parsley, garlic, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper into bowl with reserved leek; mix well. Stir in cooked rice and 1 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano. Stuff bell peppers with beef and sausage mixture, heaping slightly.
- Place stuffed bell pepper halves in the baking dish over tomato sauce; cover baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
- Remove aluminum foil, sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano, and bake until the meat is no longer pink, the peppers are tender and the cheese is browned on top, an additional 20 to 25 minutes. Andiamo Mangiare!
“Please, could we have Salisbury steak for dinner sometime? My mother made it all the time and I love it.” I found this note on the convent kitchen counter a few days ago.
Now how does one ignore a request like this? Immediately, we set out to find a good recipe for this old favorite, and served it a few nights later. I’m not sure it was exactly like “Mom made it,” but it certainly made the sister who requested it, as well as many others, very happy. We served it with mashed potatoes (as they always do down South), roasted carrots and zucchini.
How long has it been since you served Salisbury steak?
- In a mixing bowl, combine the beef, black pepper, onion salt, Worcestershire Sauce, bread crumbs and egg.
- Mix well. Shape into 4 equal patties.
- Heat a skillet over medium heat for about one minute, and then add butter.
- Place meat patties in skillet and brown on both sides for about 4-5 minutes each. Remove from skillet and set aside.
- Add the sliced onion to the skillet, right on top of the browned bits.
- Reduce the heat and cook the onions on medium-low heat until the onions turn translucent and brown. Don’t rush this step: Cook the onions low and slow for about 20-25 minutes
- Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of flour over the onions. Stir.
- Let cook and brown for about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups beef broth. Stir well.
- Raise the heat back up to about medium. Stir well.
- Place the meat patties back in the pan. Cover.
- Reduce heat just a little and let simmer for about 15 more minutes.
- Remove from heat and serve warm.
My favorite time of day is early morning especially whenever I am able to spend any of that time out in the gardens. The thrill of discovering something fresh and new poking up through the soil, opening of buds and unfolding of leaves all give me incentive for the day. It makes me expect good things to happen and encourages me to look for new life developing around me. Right now we are harvesting mostly lettuce. Big, full, beautiful leafy heads — Boston bib, Buttercrunch and several other red leaf types for variety of texture and flavor.
There is no end to the beautiful salads that can be created with these crisp tender leaves and we’ve been using them in that way for most of our meals. We also enjoy them for a main meal in the form of Asian lettuce wraps, a favorite at the convent year-round, but especially nice in this warm weather.
Asian Lettuce Wraps
- Rinse whole lettuce leaves and pat dry, being careful not to tear them.
- Set aside.
- In a medium skillet over high heat, brown the ground beef in 1 Tablespoon of oil, stirring often and reducing the heat to medium, if necessary.
- Drain, and set aside to cool.
- Cook the onion in the same pan, stirring frequently.
- Add the garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar and chile pepper sauce to the onions, and stir.
- Stir in chopped water chestnuts, green onions, sesame oil, and cooked beef; continue until the onions just begin to wilt, about 2 minutes.
- Arrange lettuce leaves around the outer edge of a large serving platter, and pile meat mixture in the center.
- To serve, allow each person to spoon a portion of the meat into a lettuce leaf.
- Wrap the lettuce around the meat like a burrito, and enjoy!