Recently a friend drove me to a medical appointment. As we left to return home she asked, “How about lunch?” This had not been in the plans but it was lunchtime and a nice suggestion so I said, “Sure.” The next question was what did we feel like having: a burger, a taco, pizza, Chinese? None of them moved either of us, so I offered another idea, “Further on there is a nice little French bakery that serves lunch, if you wouldn’t mind driving an extra bit.”
Within minutes both of us were savoring the richest flavored onion soup out of individual black wrought iron pots overflowing with melted cheese and boasting a gorgeous golden crusted crouton. Almost simultaneously, we both had the same thought: Why don’t I ever make this at home? Within days she made it for her family and the convent sisters served it for two different retreats. In each case it met with overwhelmingly positive responses.
How long has it been since you served French onion soup?
- In a heavy-bottomed pan, slowly brown the onions and garlic in butter and sugar until the onions are golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Add flour and cook, stirring for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add stock or consommé and water, and simmer partially covered for 1 hour.
- To serve, place a small slice of French bread on top of each bowl, and cover generously with Swiss cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, then bake covered at 325 degrees for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake another 10 minutes.
The other day someone asked me about our Convent meals. “Who decides what you eat?” was one of the questions. It just so happens that at this particular time we are doing something a little different than usual about our menus.
Each week a different sister is asked to submit a suggested menu for approval. This has been quite successful. It is a help to the chef and an almost sure guarantee that there will be variety in our meals. For instance yesterday we were totally surprised to be served potato latkes for lunch, something we have not had in a long time and never for our noon meal. The genuine cheers of delight and energy in the food line were a joy to all. We are not sure how long this method of meal planning will last but for the time being everyone is enjoying it.
- Finely grate potatoes with onion into a large bowl. Drain off any excess liquid.
- Mix in egg, salt, black pepper and bacon bits. Add enough flour to make mixture thick, about 2 to 4 tablespoons all together.
- Turn oven to low, about 200 degrees F (95 degrees C).
- Heat 1/4 inch oil in the bottom of a heavy skillet over medium high heat.
- Drop two or three 1/4 cup mounds into hot oil, and flatten to make 1/2 inch thick pancakes.
- Fry, turning once, until golden brown.
- Transfer to paper towel lined plates to drain, and keep warm in low oven until serving time.
- Repeat until all potato mixture is used.
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.
All the convent sisters continue to work on preparations for Spirit of America Band’s participation in the Dubai workshops at the end of this month. Whether or not they play an instrument or are even going on the trip themselves every sister is very involved and supportive of the endeavor in whatever way they are able to contribute.
Last week the emphasis was on sewing. All who could helped with the job of fitting, altering and adjusting each uniform. This week when the participants from all over the country come together for rehearsal, we will be feeding about 200 people for the entire weekend; so much help will be needed in Paraclete House Kitchen. One of the meals that has hit the spot with most of the group and received a lot of praise is this hearty beef stew that not only provides them with needed energy but also satisfies their taste buds in a special way.
- Place in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker.
- Add half of beef to skillet; cook, turning to brown on all sides, about 8 minutes.
- Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high.
- Repeat procedure with remaining beef.
- Add wine to skillet; scrape to loosen browned bits from bottom of pan.
- Bring wine to a boil, and cook 1 minute.
- Add to slow cooker.
- Stir in tomato paste, salt, pepper, carrots, garlic, celery, onions, and 2 cups beef stock.
- Add thyme sprigs and bay leaves.
- Cover and cook on LOW until beef is tender, 7 1/2 to 8 hours.
- Whisk together flour and remaining 1/2 cup stock.
- Add flour mixture and to slow cooker.
- Increase heat to HIGH; cover and cook until bubbly and thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves.
- Garnish with parsley, if desired.
One of our Sisters has been living with the Benedictine sisters at the Beguinage in Bruges, Belgium where she has been learning the art of lace making, an old and ancient monastery craft. Recently she came home for a visit, and before returning she wanted to make a treat for all of us, something she often did from time to time while at home.
We were all looking forward to it, anticipating it to be a pastry of some sort which is what she usually did. Instead she surprised us with a traditional Belgium dessert called Pannekoeken. This is a very popular tearoom item for late afternoon or dinner dessert. It can be served in many ways from fresh fruit and whipped cream to ice cream with chocolate sauce or the original way sprinkled with a coarse natural brown sugar. The Pannekoeken is sprinkled with the sugar, folded in half and sprinkled again, and folded in quarters before wrapping it in waxed paper so that it can be held in the hand and eaten while still walking along the streets. What a perfect ending this was to a very meaningful visit.
Madeleine’s Belgian Pancakes
- Stir milk and eggs together.
- Add to flour stirring all the while.
- Add melted butter then soda and salt.
- Prepare a hot griddle or skillet with a little bit of butter.
- Pour about 1/3 cup of batter, and swirl it to form a circle (like a crepe).
- Turn when bubbles appear on the surface of the pancake.
Our Convent bakers are always thinking ahead and experimenting — their thoughts and ideas are often very innovative! This week they were totally into Thanksgiving and enjoying it thoroughly. They assured me that I would be pleased with the final outcome of their efforts and how right they were! I had heard pumpkin being mentioned so I was expecting a pumpkin dessert of some sort. Instead they produced the tastiest dinner rolls which could not have pleased me more — whimsical little pumpkin-shaped creations, each complete with its own stem. I can’t wait to see the smiles on every person as they gather around the table this year.
- In a bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Sprinkle with sugar; let stand for 5 minutes. Add milk, brown sugar, pumpkin, butter, salt, spices and 2 cups flour; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 24 evenly-sized pieces. Working a few at a time, roll each piece of dough into a 12-inch rope on an un-floured surface. Before shaping, lightly dust ropes with flour, and then, with floured hands, turn each one into a pumpkin.
- Create a small loop in the rope with a long tail on one side and a short tail on the other. Wrap the long tail around the edge of the loop 2-to-3 times. Hold the remaining end of the long tail on the bottom-side of the loop with a finger to keep it from unraveling as you continue to work. Wrap the other tail around the edge of the loop, tucking it through the center of the loop.
- Pinch both of the ends together where they meet on the bottom side of the loop. If you’re not happy with the look of any of the rolls, simply set them aside for about 10 to 15 minutes and reshape. Place finished rolls on parchment lined baking sheets. Cover rolls loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for about 10 minutes.
- Just before baking, brush rolls with an egg wash for a shiny look or butter for a matte finish. Insert a sliced pecan into the center of each roll, pressing so the pecan touches the pan. In an oven preheated to 400° F, bake rolls for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating halfway through baking time. Rolls should be golden brown and gently firm to the touch. If not serving right away, shorten the baking time by several minutes and finish baking right before eating.