Stuffed Mushrooms: Practically Perfect in Every Way!
Recently, we had the joy of celebrating the 80th birthday of one of our Sisters. What better way to celebrate this milestone than a Mary Poppins-themed party? Beautiful table settings, colorful flower arrangements and fanciful kite decorations added to the festivities, and the food was not far behind! Among the offerings that evening was a favorite of many of our Sisters: stuffed mushrooms. Warm and savory, this appetizer is reserved for special occasions and doesn’t last long on the plate!
The message came to our Guest House cooks: Luncheon for two on Friday—and they would prefer to have no meat.
With Spring on the way, the first thing that came to me was a Shrimp Salad plate—quick, easy, delicious!
If you were a Moroccan housewife planning a family meal, in all likelihood it would include couscous. This inexpensive yet highly nutritious food, often thought to be a grain, is actually made from wheat. Rich with religious and symbolic meanings, the making of it traditionally is a female activity during which prayers are said invoking blessings and prosperity.
It is a very time consuming, labor-intensive task involving much hand labor: sifting, rolling, and re-rolling again and again until granules of similar sizes appear. Then it is sun dried and stored until its time of cooking. Fortunately most of us can simply purchase it at any grocery store in its ready-to-cook form at any time and its popularity rapidly continues to increase in the food world.
As in many other countries it is served differently from one area to another. My favorite way is simply hot with a little oil or butter and onion salt. However guests who had it at last weekend’s dinner theatre with many added seasonings and various vegetables and herbs as we are showing it today said it was the best ever!
Prepare the dressing by whisking 2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, 1 garlic clove, and lemon peel in small bowl and put aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add couscous, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until most of couscous is godlen brown, about 5 minutes. Add broth, incease heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover the pot, and simmer until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender (about 10 minutes). If couscous is not fully cooked and seems dry, add more broth by tablespoonfuls until couscous has cooked all the way through.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. Add remaining garlic, onion, bell pepper, and zucchini and sauté until tender (about 3 minutes).
Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Transfer vegetables to large bowl and add chopped mango.
Add couscous to bowl with vegetables and mango. Drizzle with dressing and toss with chives and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Who doesn’t want to sit down to a fresh, colorful and crispy salad topped with your favorite dressing? The simplicity, the beauty, the different textures all combine to make this lunch time treat such a pleasing and healthy option.
Recently we served this for a retreat, and it received such rave reviews that we thought we’d share our salad bar ideas with you. We haven’t included amounts, because you can make as little or as much as you want. As a guide, people would probably want to plan on 1 Tbsp. of toppings per person. It’s also the perfect “to go” meal – just prep all the toppings, throw them in zip-lock bags or containers and then dish up before serving.
We hope you enjoy some of these ideas as much as we do.
Salad Bar Suggestions:
Lettuce – a blend of iceberg, romaine, bibb and red leaf is nice
diced turkey or chicken
hard boiled eggs
cheese – Havarti, swiss, cheddar – all recommended
tomatoes, wedged or grape or cherry tomatoes
roasted beets, julienned
broccoli and/or cauliflower flowerets
sliced red onion
diced cooked bacon
sunflower seeds, roasted and salted
toasted nuts – such as walnuts or pecans
An Assortment of Homemade Dressings – click on the link for the recipes
Homemade Bleu Cheese Dressing
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
English Garden Salad Dressing
Makes 1 cup (250ml), about four servings
If you can’t get buttermilk, mix one part milk (whole or lowfat) with one part plain yogurt (regular or lowfat) to approximate the taste. Any kind of blue cheese, domestic or imported, should work well.
In a medium bowl, mash the blue cheese with the salt and pepper with the back of a fork until the pieces of cheese are finely broken up.
Stir in the chives, sour cream, buttermilk, and lemon juice or wine vinegar until well mixed.
Add a few drops of red wine vinegar. Taste, and adjust any of the seasonings to your liking and if the dressing too thick, add a bit more buttermilk.
*Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
Place the mayonnaise, scallions, basil, lemon juice, garlic, anchovy paste, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth.
Add the sour cream and process just until blended. Refrigerate the dressing until ready to serve.
English Garden Salad Dressing
Combine all but the oils in a bowl and whisk. Slowly whisk in the oils to combine.
Combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, salt, and black pepper together in a glass jar with a lid.
Replace lid on the jar and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined.
This is the time of year when Eggplants are bountiful.. at least in our garden. I find it funny that you either love eggplant or you hate it. During my time at Villa Via Sacra, one of the Brothers told me that he had his whole birthday menu ready for me… 2 months early! It included his favorite dish, Eggplant Parmigiana – I wasn’t surprised. This Brother, like me, has a real appreciation for good food, cooked well. Every time I made the dish, his eyes would practically well up with tears, he loved it that much. So, I figured EVERYONE would like my eggplant parmigiana and took great pride in making the dish. But, visas expired and we had a new rotation of Brothers from our community at the Villa. I thought I’d make them this special dish for their first night in Italy, and was expectant to hear the “oooo’s” and “aahh’s” emanating from them. One of the new Brothers walked into the kitchen and asked what was for dinner. I tightened my apron strings, smoothed out the wrinkles, stood a little taller and declared “My eggplant parmigiana!”
The brother blanched before me, his usual sunny disposition turned to stone, the room went quiet. He HATED Eggplant. I was devastated, my ego deflated; this was going to be a long three months…
Italians love the concept of involtini… something filled and rolled up. I love it too. The time it takes to make this recipe is minimal, and the presentation is delightful, especially if you take the time to wrap each eggplant with a chive before baking. I didn’t have the chives on hand when making this dish for the family, but I still thought the simplicity was beautiful and a different ‘take’ on “eggplant parmigiana”.
P.S. – this Brother became an eggplant lover and I learned more about the meaning of pride!
Preheat the oven to 400* F. Oil a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the eggplant slices on the pan and brush on both sides with 4 Tbsp. of the olive oil. Sprinkle on the oregano, salt, and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes, turning once. They will then be supple and slightly golden.
While the eggplant is in the oven, make a simple tomato sauce by whirring the tomatoes briefly in a food processor or break up with your hands. In a skillet, over low heat, sauté the onion for another minute in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the tomatoes and cook the mixture briefly, just to blend flavors, about 2 minutes.
Remove the eggplant from the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 350*F.
On each eggplant piece, place a piece of prosciutto or ham, a whole basil leaf, a slice of cheese and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. Roll pieces from the small end forward, and secure the bundle with a toothpick or tie a chive around it.
Slather the bottom of a 9x13” baking dish with some of the tomato sauce, and arrange the involtini seam-side down. Over each bundle spread some more tomato sauce and a scattering of the Parmigiano. Warm well in the oven, about 15 min. Andiamo mangiare!
Recipe adapted from Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
I think the biggest event of this past week (well, maybe not, but it seems that way…) was the visitation of the wild turkey. I was talking with a friend in one of the offices and she suddenly jumped up and said “there’s a wild turkey!” and ran out the door. He appeared in the entryway to our common, and proceeded to climb up onto the guest house patio, as if he belonged there. What a handsome fellow! I had never seen one close up, and it was a real treat to see him strutting back and forth, admiring himself in the windows.
For a recent brunch type reception, I was asked to come up with a mini egg dish that was similar to quiche, but not heavy. We tried a number of things, and discovered a delicious breakfast option. We tried it first in pastry, which is nice, but then switched it to a ham cup and…oh my!!! Here they are in a breakfast-sized form, which we made for a retreat this past weekend, but you can also do them mini-size, which are delightful for a brunch reception!