This past weekend, I was a joy-filled member of the cooking team for our remarkable and award-winning marching band, Spirit of America. The band is embarking on a very exciting groundbreaking opportunity to travel to Dubai this January (2017) to assist in starting the first marching field band in the United Arab Emirates!
Over the past few months, they’ve had 4 rehearsals together to pull off this enormous project — creating a field show with 150 people from all over the United States! One thing we knew for sure, they needed to be fed well! My job was to cook for those with special diets. It was fun to spoil them and experiment with recipes that were gluten free, lactose free and vegan! When the weekend was over, it got me to thinking about creating more healthy recipes that we could add to our diet. This soup is high in fiber and packed with flavor, especially if you like the tastes of curry and coconut.
Vegan Curried Chickpea, Coconut and Kale Soup
- First, sauté the onion in 2 Tbsp of olive oil until softened.
- Combine all ingredients, except the lemon zest and juice, in a blender and puree until completely smooth.
- Pour soup into a medium pot and heat on medium-high. Allow soup to simmer for 10 min, stirring occasionally.
- Add the lemon zest and juice.
- Adjust seasonings to your liking and add fresh cracked pepper.
- Serve and garnish with the extra garbanzo beans and fresh kale.
One of the beautiful things that I am learning about Italian cooking is that each ingredient is to be savored. So many times, we take wonderful ingredients and throw them all together and miss appreciating them as they were meant to be.
As I walk along the streets of Barga with the dogs in the morning or on my way to the Pannificio to get our bread for the day, I often take photographs of the menus hanging on the restaurant windows. When I return to the Villa and have a moment, I try to find a recipe and recreate them.
A featured item on the menu in the Garfagnana district, and much of Tuscany, is Pecorino pere e miele – Pecorino with pears and honey. Pecorino is a cheese made from sheep’s milk and each district or town here is very proud of their own version of the cheese. The taste of the cheese changes depending on what type of grass the sheep are fed and how the cheese is aged. Most popular and well known are those produced in Sardinia. A good Pecorino Stagionato is often the finish of a meal, served with pears and walnuts and drizzled with a strong chestnut honey or one of the lighter acacia honeys farmed locally. Their food is simple, but in this simplicity can be found tremendous beauty and taste. Savor the moment.
- 1 pears
- 4-5 oz. pecorino fresco, semi-stagionato or stagionato (fresco is a mild and soft form, semi-stationato is also soft but sharper and stagionato is the hardest and sharpest form)
- 1/4 cup honey
- walnuts either in the shell or toasted halves - as many as you prefer
- Slice the pear in quarters from top to bottom and remove the core carefully with a pairing knife. Then slice each quarter into three or four thin slices, depending on the thickness you prefer.
- Slice the cheese into small thin wedges.
- Fan the pears on the cutting board or serving plate with the cheese slices in between the pear.
- Set a dish of honey in the center of the board and place your walnuts around.
- Enjoy sharing this with your friends and family. Andiamo mangiare!
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
Homemade Bleu Cheese 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.
Meals at the Convent are planned and prepared by the Convent kitchen staff for each day of the week—except Sundays, when rotating groups take turns making dinner. This gives Sisters who don’t normally cook an opportunity to do so, and to select a favorite dish they particularly enjoy. Often these meals turn out to be “fun” or ethnic in nature, such as last night when an abundance of chopping, chatter and laughter resulted in a tasty, colorful Thai meal enjoyed by all.
Crunchy Tofu Noodle Salad
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Cut tofu into chunks about 1” square or ½” strips. Marinate in soy sauce and fry in oil in a sautee pan until slightly brown and semi firm or line sheet pan with aluminum foil, coat with a layer of oil and cook tofu at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until brown and semi firm.
- Meanwhile, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil, add the sugar snap peas, return to a boil, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp tender. Lift the sugar snap peas from the water with a slotted spoon and immerse them in a bowl of ice water. Drain.
- For the dressing, whisk together the vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds and peanut butter in a medium bowl.
- Combine the spaghetti, sugar snap peas, peppers, scallions, fried tofu in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the spaghetti mixture. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and the parsley and toss together.
When I was a child, there was a peacock that used to strut through the back yard of my great-grandmother’s house. He would time his performance perfectly; as soon as all of us were gathered at the window, he would throw his head back, arch his feathers into a magnificent fan, and do a little pirouette as graceful as a king. It is like this with figs — they must be showcased.
I can’t pass up a fresh fig in a grocery store, especially when I’m doing holiday baking. Our local grocer had a nice selection of figs this past week, and I thought they would make a handsome and tasty dessert for a holiday luncheon we were preparing. Flamboyant as they are with their velvety exterior and intricate, seed-filled interior, they beg to be shown off.
The marriage of figs, mascarpone, and walnuts makes a fabulous winter dessert, and I would recommend this one for any dinner party. You can make the tart shells ahead and freeze them. When you are ready to use them, fill them while still frozen, and they will thaw in time for dessert. Since fresh figs are one of the most perishable fruits, they should be purchased only a day or two in advance of your meal. Look for figs that have a rich, deep color, and are plump and tender, but not mushy.
Fresh Fig, Walnut and Mascarpone Tart
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy for 3 minutes, using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, scraping down the sides and bottom occasionally. Add the flour and mix on low speed until fully incorporated, about one minute (don’t over mix). Add the egg yolk and continue to mix on low speed until the dough comes together, about 30 seconds.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour (or up to 4 days).
- Remove from refrigerator and let soften until pliable. Flour your work surface so dough does not stick, and sprinkle the top of dough with a little flour. Roll out dough, starting in middle and rolling outward, to a 1/4 inch thick disk or rectangle, depending on your tart pan.
- Don’t worry if dough tears or crumbles, it’s easily pressed together in the tart pan. Lift over the rolling pin and place in tart pan with removable bottom. Patch holes or tears by pressing dough with fingers. Press dough into sides, corners and bottom. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the tart pin for a clean even edge. Refrigerate 30 minutes -this is important.
- Bake at 350 for 30 -35 minutes, positioned in the center of the oven, until golden. Be sure to keep a careful eye so that it doesn’t over cook. If using individual tart pans, these will take about 12 min. to bake. Let cool before filling.
- While these are baking, spread your walnuts onto a sheet pan and toast in the oven – once you smell them, remove them, they will be done!
- Put the jam in a microwaveable bowl, and heat in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds until the jam is of a more spreadable consistency. Add the brandy, a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Spread this over the bottom of the tart shell (s) but not up the sides. Let cool.
- In a stand mixer with the beater attachment, whisk together the mascarpone, whipping cream, vanilla, powdered sugar and salt until soft peaks form. Be careful, especially if you are using an electric mixer, because the mixture will thicken very quickly.
- Spread this mixture over the fig jam leaving about 1/4 “ of space of the jam showing on the edges, so not completely covering the jam base.
- Decorate the top w/ some toasted walnuts mounded in the center, a couple of quartered figs and right before serving, drizzle with some light honey.
If making ahead, have your components ready but don’t assemble until close to serving time.