Overnight Christmas Blueberry-Pecan French Toast

Today’s post begins a series of offerings from Guest Bloggers at the Monastery Kitchen! We hope you will be doubly blessed (as today’s author was!) by this beautiful story and recipe for a delicious Christmas breakfast.

A new friend and a great recipe: I got a Christmas miracle two-fer!
A funny thing happened on the way to the blueberries…

by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

It was two days before Christmas and I simply did not have time. I couldn’t afford a run to the grocery store and deal with the bustling crowds of last minute shoppers in the midst of all that I was doing. But I’d forgotten the butter, so I was forced to brave the cold and the crowds.

Making my way through the produce aisle, I spotted an elderly woman who was pushing her carriage slowly and seemed a bit lost. She sounded as if she were talking to herself. As I approached her, I discovered she was. I asked if she needed help.

Fumbling through her purse, she pulled out a folded piece of paper and said she was looking for fresh blueberries for a recipe she found in a magazine. I went with the woman – whose name, I learned, was Ellen — to find the tucked-away fruit. We found them, but since the fresh blueberries were not in season and were a bit expensive, Ellen decided to opt for frozen.

I began to walk with Ellen to the frozen food department on the other side of the store. We chatted along the way, and my new friend told me all about the recipe and how it is assembled in one pan on Christmas Eve to enjoy on Christmas morning. She sold me on the idea, so I grabbed a bag of frozen blueberries for my own shopping cart. Ellen and I gathered up the remaining items we both would need for the special Christmas breakfast. Before parting company, we exchanged phone numbers with the intention to chat again.

After Christmas, we spoke on the phone and compared notes about our overnight Christmas French toast and we made a date to get together.

That was several years ago. Since then, we’ve gone out for tea, watched a Christian movie at the theater, and chatted about our faith and families time and time again. I even brought Ellen a rosary from one of my visits to Rome. Though she is not Catholic, she said she appreciated it very much and began praying the rosary. Later on, she would tell me that she wasn’t sure if she was saying it just right, but that praying it brought her much comfort.

We are still friends to this day. And to think that our friendship was born in a grocery store on a blustery day when I was tempted to not leave the house! But, oh, how I marvel over God’s mysterious and wondrous ways. He arranges beautiful serendipitous encounters that can turn into meaningful faith-filled meetings and even long-term friendships. We just need to open our eyes and our hearts—and slow down a bit too.

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is an award-winning author and the EWTN television host of Everyday Blessings for Catholic Moms. A Catholic wife and mother of five, she was noted as one of the Top Ten Most Fascinating Catholics in 2009 by Faith & Family Live and enjoyed a decade-long friendship with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

To read more about Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, or to purchase her wonderful book “Feeding Your Family’s Soul”, follow this link!
http://www.paracletepress.com/Products/8357/feeding-your-familys-soul.aspx

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Overnight Christmas Blueberry-Pecan French Toast
SERVINGS
10people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
45-60minutes
PREP TIME
READY IN

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Coat a 9 x 13–inch baking pan with nonstick spray, and arrange baguette slices in a single layer in the dish. I usually “cheat” and make more than one layer.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, three-fourths of the brown sugar (or honey), vanilla, and nutmeg.
  3. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread.
  4. Cover and chill the mixture overnight. There will appear to be a lot of moisture when the mixture goes into the refrigerator, but most of it will all soak into the bread throughout the night.
  5. Just before baking, sprinkle the remaining quarter cup of brown sugar (or honey), the pecans, and the blueberries over the top.
  6. Bake in a 350ºF oven for about 45–60 minutes or until golden and bubbling. (Check it at 45 minutes and keep an eye on it for the remainder of the time.) It should be a light golden brown on top, and the egg mixture should be completely cooked.
  7. Serve with pure maple syrup. For an added treat, heat the syrup with extra blueberries to make blueberry-flavored syrup. You can serve this dish with fresh fruit on the side and breakfast sausage or bacon, too. Enjoy!

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Overnight Christmas Blueberry-Pecan French Toast

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Serve with pure maple syrup. For an added treat, heat the syrup with extra blueberries to make blueberry-flavored syrup. You can serve this dish with fresh fruit on the side and breakfast sausage or bacon, too. Enjoy! ...

Madeleine’s Belgian Pancakes

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.

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Madeleine’s Belgian Pancakes
SERVINGS
20pancakes
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
pancakes
COOK TIME
20minutes
PREP TIME
10minutes
READY IN
30minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Stir milk and eggs together.
  2. Add to flour stirring all the while.
  3. Add melted butter then soda and salt.
  4. Prepare a hot griddle or skillet with a little bit of butter.
  5. Pour about 1/3 cup of batter, and swirl it to form a circle (like a crepe).
  6. Turn when bubbles appear on the surface of the pancake.

Caramelized Pear Upside-Down Cake

This week at Villa Via Sacra (Mount Tabor Centre for Art and Spirituality), we’ve been hosting Gabriel V Brass Ensemble as they participate in a-two week musical exchange with the world renowned Gomalan Brass Quintet. It’s always a great privilege and joy to “be in the background” serving these groups as they work hard to perfect their art, learning and discussing the music and seeking to bring it alive through both their personal and corporate vision. Music is a wonderful communicator — even though these groups speak two totally different languages, communicating has not been a problem at all. If you are in Tuscany, following the week of study with Gomalan Gabriel V will present a free concert at the Duomo di San Cristoforo in Barga, Italy on Oct. 6 at 21,00. We hope to see you there!

Benedictine hospitality is at the heart of our mission, and we enjoy “spoiling” the artists with great food as they work tirelessly at their art day after day. Pears are in abundance now in Italy, so I made this wonderful cake for lunch yesterday. It’s quick and easy to throw together, and the moistness of the pears doubled with the homemade caramel just begs to be eaten with a big dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg.

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Caramelized Pear Upside-Down Cake
SERVINGS
8people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
45 minutes
PREP TIME
20 minutes
READY IN
1 hour 5 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter the sides of a 9-inch round pan with removable sides (like a cheesecake pan).
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and heat to boiling, then remove from heat. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Arrange the pears over the butter mixture and press down.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until very smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle in the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, and beat 10 seconds. Pour in the milk and beat just until the batter is evenly moistened, about 1 minute. Pour the batter over the pears, then carefully lift the pan and bang back down on the counter once or twice to release any air bubbles.
  5. Bake approximately 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Run a knife along the outer edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Place a plate over the cake, then flip it over to invert the cake onto the pan. Let the cake cool completely before serving.
  6. Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg. Thank you to "Living Well Spending Less" for this wonderful recipe!

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Crepes filled with Zucchini Puree and Topped with Squash Blossoms​

I’ve had the great joy of working side-by-side with an Italian chef over these last few weeks. The other Sisters who have lived and worked at Via Sacra have also had the tremendous privilege of learning from her. Chef Laura has been so generous with her time and energy as we try to absorb all that we can about Italian cooking. Below is one of her recipes that she taught me this past week and I went home and made it for the villa. These crepes are so delicious and light! Chef Laura serves this as a first course at her restaurant, but we enjoyed it as a light supper served with a fruit salad and a tossed green salad on the side.

All Chef Laura’s recipes are in her head, so I tried to reproduce it here by just observing her. If the quantities seem a little off, just adjust them to your liking! We can still get squash blossoms in the market this time of year in Italy. If you have any zucchini plants in your garden, just pluck the blossoms off and you are all set!

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Crepes filled with Zucchini Puree and Topped with Squash Blossoms​
SERVINGS
4people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
5min
PREP TIME
1hour
READY IN
1hour

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. ​Make the filling: ​​​O​ver low heat, melt your butter in a saucepan and add the zucchini and red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally​,​ until both vegetables are very soft. Continue cooking ​until most​ ​all ​of the moisture is removed​ (the zucchini will let off a lot of water while it cooks).​ While the​ zucchini mixture is cooking, prepare the crepes.
  2. Make the crepes: ​In a blender, combine all the crepe ingredients​ above​ and blend until smooth. Let rest about 5 min.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled ​Teflon frying pan ​(omelet size pan) ​over medium heat. Pour or ​ladle​ the batter ​into the pan, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.​ Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side​ for 1 minute. Remove to a plate, put a square of wax paper on top and repeat until all the batter is used up. This recipe should make 8 crepes.
  4. Remove the filling from the heat and mash with a potato masher. Let cool slightly and add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. This mixture should be the consistency of pesto or a little thicker.
  5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. (or broiler)
  6. To assemble, in one quadrant of your crepe place a heaping tablespoon of the filling and spread to fill that quadrant. Fold the crepe into quarters and place into oblong serving ramekins (2 per person) or a casserole dish. Repeat, until all the crepes are filled.
  7. Dot each crepe with butter and lay the squash blossoms over them to cover the crepes. Again, dot butter over the squash blossoms and sprinkle the grated cheese over the entire crepe.
  8. Place the crepes in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and golden, about 5 min. If you prefer, you can also broil them at this step.
  9. Remove from the oven and serve. Andiamo mangiare!​

Braised Pork Ribs

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!”

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Braised Pork Ribs
SERVINGS
4people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
2hours
PREP TIME
50minutes
READY IN
2hours, 50 min

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Serve the ribs with Creamy Polenta, spooning the sauce on top, and garnishing with parsley.
Creamy Polenta
  1. Spray the insert of a slow cooker with cooking spray (for easier clean up) and preheat on high.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Zesty Orange Rolls

One of our Sisters — who is an experienced cook and baker — is teaching one of our Community young girls how to bake, and she is becoming quite successful at it. Not only is she acquiring valuable experience, she is at the same time using this as an effective fund raiser by selling the bread to the Community houses. Proceeds from the sales are divided between the convent and the “young baker in training” to pay for her music lessons and other band related expenses.

I love to watch the two of them together turning out beautiful, fragrant warm loaves of various breads: whole wheat, oatmeal raisin, English muffin, and cinnamon swirl to mention a few – such a wholesome nurturing sight! From time to time they will feature some type of sweet roll such as sticky buns, or cheese Danish. This week they are offering frosted orange rolls. I doubt there will be any left over.

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Zesty Orange Rolls
SERVINGS
30rolls
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
rolls
COOK TIME
25minutes
PREP TIME
2hours
READY IN

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In small bowl, dissolve yeast in water.
  2. In large bowl, mix milk, shortening, sugar, salt, and egg.
  3. Add yeast mix; blend well.
  4. Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough.
  5. Kneed on floured board for about 7 minutes.
  6. Put in greased bowl, turn to grease top.
  7. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
  8. Punch dough down; divide in half.
  9. Roll each into a 15"x10" rectangle.
  10. Mix filling ingredients until smooth.
  11. Spread half on each rectangle.
  12. Roll up, starting with the long end.
  13. Cut each into 15 rolls.
  14. Put in 2 greased 11"x7" baking pans.
  15. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  16. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned.
  17. Mix glaze ingredients, spread over warm rolls.