Every now and then when our convent dinner is some kind of a one dish meal, Sisters like to have it served right from the big skillet in which it has been cooked. This is especially so as the weather becomes cooler. When we are a little chilled around the edges nothing comforts one as much as a piping hot bowl of savory soup or stew. Today was such a day, cool, wet and rainy out of doors. Warm, dry and welcoming inside, with the aroma of a tasty combination of the day’s harvested vegetables.
Our convent chef has been eager to make a hearty chicken stew with an Italian twist. Using the last of our autumn garden vegetables she produced a most flavorful dish and chose to serve it from the skillet, which gave everyone a warm comforting sense of generously being cared for in a special way. A along with some crusty home baked bread and a beautiful kale salad we shared a dinner which magically lifted our spirits and pleased us all.
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Hearty Italian Chicken and Autumn Harvest Veggie Stew
Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with foil.
Place the split chicken breasts on the baking sheet, and drizzle them with a little oil, and a couple of good pinches of salt and pepper.
Cut the tops off of the heads of garlic, drizzle each head with a little oil, plus a pinch of salt and pepper, and wrap each head in a small piece of foil; place on the baking sheet next to the chicken.
Roast the chicken, along with the garlic, for 45 minutes; then allow both to cool until they can be handled.
Once they are cooled, shred the chicken, and set it aside; then, squeeze the roasted garlic from the papers, and using your knife or a fork, make the cloves into a paste; set the paste aside for a moment.
Place a medium-large pot over medium to medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons of the oil, plus add in the tablespoon of butter; once melted together, add in the onion and allow it sweat for about 3-4 minutes, until translucent and softened.
To the onion add the roasted garlic “paste”, and stir it in to combine.
Next, add in the diced carrots, parsnips, celery and butternut squash and stir to combine; add in the Italian seasoning, plus a pinch or two of salt and black pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and stir to incorporate.
Add in the tomato paste and stir, and allow it to cook with the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes, or until the “raw” flavor of it is cooked out of it.
Next, add in the chicken stock and stir, cover with a lid and simmer very gently on low for about 20-22 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender.
Turn off the heat, if using; add in the kale and stir to incorporate it, and allow it wilt into the soup for a few minutes; then, finish the soup by adding in the shredded chicken, the basil and the parsley (also, check your seasoning at this point to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed).
To serve, add about ¼ cup or so of cooked gnocchi to your bowl, and ladle some of the stew over top; garnish with some grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve with warm bread.
Saturdays in the Community call for a lot of physical participation, especially for our band members — 20 of which are sisters. Morning Beehive, the weekly time when all Community members gather to work together on whatever jobs need most to be done, starts at 8 am and continues until noon, with a half hour coffee break at 10 am.
Following lunch our convent band sisters pack up and take off with the rest of the band for a full afternoon of serious rehearsal often requiring considerable concentration as well as physical activity.
Everyone knows that when the band comes home they will come home very hungry and be looking forward to a substantial dinner. That’s why we always plan a hearty meal for that evening for all of us.
This week’s Saturday night dinner cook chose to do pork ribs with creamy polenta, chard, yellow squash and salad, but instead of grilling the ribs as we often do she surprised everyone by choosing to braise them…and…the result? Not a rib leftover and she has now been branded “Best Saturday night convent dinner cook!”
Pat the ribs dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown the ribs on all sides, working in batches if needed. Remove the ribs and set aside. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven and reduce the heat to medium. Add the carrots, celery, onions and some salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, to remove the raw flavor, about 3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and wine, and then add the red pepper flakes and bay leaves.
Add the ribs back to the pan and add enough stock to reach halfway up the sides of the ribs. Bring the pan to a simmer, cover and place in the oven. Braise until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. During the last half hour, uncover to allow the liquid to reduce and the pork to brown. Remove ½ of the veggies and blend to a thick puree- return to pan juices to thicken the sauce.
Serve the ribs with Creamy Polenta, spooning the sauce on top, and garnishing with parsley.
Spray the insert of a slow cooker with cooking spray (for easier clean up) and preheat on high.
In a medium saucepan, add 1 cup of the half-and-half, the milk, 1 tablespoon of the butter and the polenta. Season with salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to keep the mixture lump-free. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and cook on high for 2 hours, stirring once or twice per hour.
Once you are ready to serve, open the slow cooker and whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, the remaining 1/3 cup half-and-half and the Parmesan. Salt and pepper conservatively since the polenta will be served with a robustly salted dish.
Our Lenten journey has begun. The church has been dressed in violet and our promises to God for these forty days have been made. The chants for the season speak of hope, transformation and a return to God. In the monastery, it is traditional to simplify life, not only in our work but also in our attitudes and our eating. Many monastic houses fast from meat during Lent – a simple soup and bread for lunch and dinner are the norm. As we harvest the last of our winter squash from our garden, this simple yet hearty soup is the perfect beginning to this special season of the church year.
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Vegetable and Lentil Soup from a Monastery Kitchen
Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot. Add the diced leeks, celery, carrots, parsnips, butternut squash and a small amount of the dill and parsley and sauté until golden and the vegetables are beginning to soften, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat so the vegetables are sauteing, but not burning.
Add the lentils and continue to sauté for a few more minutes.
Add 6 cups of hot chicken or vegetable stock and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
Cook for about 8 min. over medium heat, simmer, but do not boil.
Add the diced zucchini and continue simmering until the lentils are cooked and the vegetables are softened, about 15 min.
Remove from heat and add the baby spinach, the herbs and the lemon zest and juice and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. If desired, serve with grated parmesan cheese.
As we head into the cold, long days of winter, I find myself craving comfort food that warms every part of you. A bowl of steaming stew, perfect buttery mashed potatoes or even a simple bowl of spaghetti Bolognese can fill the bill on any particular day.
I found lamb shanks on sale at the store this week and was delighted to pair them with this ossobuco style recipe for the ultimate comfort food. Usually made with veal, lamb is a nice change and the succulent meat falls off the bone when made overnight in your slow cooker. The word literally means hollow-bone and refers to the middle part of the hind shank, which has tender meat around the marrowbone. Served with risotto or polenta, ossobuco makes a delicious and satisfying meal.
Cut through the tendon that connects the meat to the bone at the bottom of the shank -this will allow the meat to bunch up nicely. Season the shanks generously with salt and pepper.
Heat a large frying cast iron skillet or heavy fry pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and brown the shanks a couple at a time, turning until dark brown all over (browning creates a great depth of flavor you get once they’re cooked). Set the shanks aside in a slow cooker.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the 3 Tbsp. olive oil, butter, onions, carrot, celery and garlic to the same frying pan. Cook, stirring, for 10 minutes until the vegetables are golden and soft.
Turn up the heat to high, add the wine, bring to a rapid simmer and let it bubble for 30 seconds or so to burn off the alcohol.
Add the tomato paste, thyme, rosemary, stock, tomatoes, bay leaves and sugar to the pan and stir to combine. Pour or spoon carefully over the shanks. Cover with the lid and cook in the slow cooker on low for 6 hrs., spooning liquid over the shanks every now and then. The meat should be almost falling off the bone by the end.
Gently remove the shanks using tongs or a large spoon (careful as they will be very delicate) and set aside in a dish covered in foil.
Put the cooking into a large saucepan, add the butter to the sauce and boil for about 10 minutes to reduce slightly, or until it’ a nice pouring sauce. You may need to add 2-3 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup cold water to thicken it up. Season to taste with salt and cracked pepper.
Serve the shanks over creamy mashed potatoes, polenta or risotto alongside steamed green vegetables. Pour the sauce generously over the top. Sprinkle with parsley and lemon zest if you like.
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.
We are still picking kale and digging up parsnips in our garden, and both are tasting so so good. From the garden straight to the stove….how much fresher could you ask for your vegetables to be, and what could taste better with these wonderful vegetables than a nice plump whole roasted chicken smothered with herbs and filled with your favorite stuffing? It seems we can never have this too often at the convent.
Most people seem to be sold on roasted vegetables these days and they are great. But to me the magic key to making them better than ever, is to roast them together with the meat or poultry with which they are being served.