Last week some unexpected changes in the convent work areas resulted in a brand new kitchen staff with fresh new ideas and increased emphasis on healthy wholesome meals that will be simpler and require less preparation time. The two cooks assigned to the first new meal had no advanced time to plan a menu or select a recipe, and were simply told to use chicken breasts, rice pilaf, two vegetables and pantry ingredients of choice.
Dinnertime found the sisters enjoying a bright colorful delightfully seasoned meal with a different look and flavor than our usual chicken dinners. Low in fat yet surprisingly full of flavor this cheerful meal was a promise of very good things to come out of our convent kitchen, and we eagerly look forward to our meals as a result of this change!
Fast and Easy Weekday Chicken
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F)
- Sautee onion and garlic in a pan over medium heat until the onions become translucent.
- Add tomatoes and olives to the pan and stir together, and transfer into an oven-safe pan.
- Place the chicken breasts on top of the olive and tomato mixture.
- Mix salt, paprika, cumin and pepper in a separate bowl and sprinkle over chicken.
- Bake the chicken in the oven until juices run clear, 25-30 minutes.
- Serve warm and garnish with fresh parsley.
Most of the sisters enjoy having falafels whenever they are put on the menu, but we have one sister who absolutely loves them. Just mention the word…her eyes light up, her face beams, and she’s ready to reach for the garbanzos to whip some up! “How did you acquire such a passion for them?” I asked. This was her reply:
“Picture,” she said “a dusty winding street in the heart of Jerusalem that leads to an intriguing shop. The walls are covered with hand-woven rugs, and the atmosphere is alive and warm with people sitting all around on the floor on cushions sipping mugs of tea and eating falafels. Here it was that I first fell in love with them.”
Well, you may not be able to go all the way to the Holy Land to become acquainted with this food, but you may learn to love it yourself by trying out this simple recipe right here at home as so many of us have!
- Blend together egg, onion, cumin, salt and pepper and fresh parsley.
- In a separate bowl, coarsely mash the cooked garbanzo beans, leaving some whole.
- Add egg mixture to garbanzo beans. Stir in ½ cup panko crumbs, and chill for 10 minutes.
- Remove garbanzo beans from the refrigerator and form into a ball, using about 1 tablespoon per ball. Roll in remaining panko crumbs.
- Fill a deep sided skillet with 1 inch of oil, and heat over a medium-high heat.
- Gently drop the falafel balls into the oil and fry until golden, turning occasionally for about 6 minutes. Remove falafel balls from oil and set on a paper towel to drain.
- Serve in a pita pocket with shredded cabbage or lettuce and a savory dressing, top a garden salad, or just eat it plain alongside vegetables, and enjoy!
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.
I hope all of you had a very blessed and happy Christmas. Ours was a quiet celebration with reflection on what Christmas really means. But of course we had wonderful food to help us do just that. And the season continues as we face the new year and the celebration that goes with it. My favorite party is appetizers; small savory bites and wonderful hot cheesy dips. One great dish to prepare that everyone loves is spiced nuts. I love sweet and spicy, but decided to try out some spicy ones. They are easy and delicious and you can adjust the heat according to taste.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a saucepan combine all ingredients except almonds and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about 3 minutes.
- Pour over almonds and combine well.
- Pour almond mixture onto a pan lined with parchment and cook in oven for 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt to taste. Let cool. Enjoy!