Our Gregorian Chant Retreat has just come to a close today, ending on a very positive and productive note, with a number of first timers wanting to return! Always a rewarding finale to any retreat.
In addition to the new faces in attendance were a number of new menus that brought many sincere compliments from the eaters. One of the new dishes was this warm autumn salad, featuring golden roasted butternut squash topped with smooth soft goat cheese.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine butternut squash, pecans, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, and brown sugar.
- Spread on rimmed baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees 15-20 minutes.
- Remove from oven and cool on pan.
- Assemble salad by topping mixed greens with squash mixture, dried cranberries, goat cheese, and green onions.
- Drizzle with maple mustard vinaigrette.
Easter! A day of joy! A day of celebration! That’s why we have been planning a festive Easter Sunday brunch this year. And that’s why we have been experimenting with a number of fresh new ideas to make this an uplifting meal of praise and thanksgiving that will set the tone for the week ahead.
One of the new dishes we put together is a colorful asparagus fritatta. This starts with a tasty potato and onion crust that is filled with a mixture of eggs, cheese, and bacon bits, and then topped with fresh asparagus spears, strips of zucchini, and colorful peppers. To dress it up we garnished it with a couple of crisp bacon curls. We were very pleased with its appearance and we loved its combination of flavors. It is definitely now on our menu, and I am almost certain once it has made its debut in the convent on Easter Sunday it will return for many repeat performances in the days ahead — not only as a brunch or breakfast dish, but as a lovely spring lunch or light supper.
Festive Asparagus Frittata
- Drizzle oil over the base of a 9 inch quiche dish, then spread with onions and top with potato slices.
- Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes or until potato is tender.
- Steam asparagus until tender.
- Arrange asparagus spears and red pepper and zucchini strips like the spokes of a wheel onto top of potato, then pour over eggs and season with black pepper to taste.
- Scatter with Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until frittata is firm.
Sometimes an interesting or unusual side dish can turn an otherwise plain or ordinary meal into a memorable one and take it to another level. This happened recently when I was preparing dinner for a guest who was on a very limited diet. She had requested plain broiled fish with no sauce and steamed vegetables. Along with this we offered her our crispy roasted lime infused sweet potato wedges, that had been brushed with marmalade just before going into the oven. “My meal could not have been more satisfying,” she told someone. “What I asked for was cooked perfectly to my liking. But what made it so extraordinary was that special and surprising taste sensation of those zesty citrus sweet potato wedges.” These are also great with a beef or pork roast, ham or chicken.
Zesty Citrus Sweet Potato Wedges
- Wash potatoes leaving skins on and cut into wedges. Marinate in the juice from the lime and it’s zest.
- Toss in oil with onion salt and pepper to taste. Spread out on baking sheet.
- Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes or until crispy and golden on outside and tender inside.
After having had so many special meals over Christmas and New Year’s
we wanted to come up with a simple yet satisfying supper on New Year’s
day. Remembering that we still had some leeks braving the cold out in our
almost barren gardens we decided on a potato leek soup, homemade bread
and a hearty salad. Since there was also some kale fighting for
survival out there why not add that to the soup making it even
healthier and giving it yet another dimension?
Our decision turned out to be a good one and everyone enjoyed it! They especially
appreciated its being light as well as very flavorful and heart-
warming,(the flavor was even better the next day) so when we make
it again I will suggest we make it a day or two before actually serving it.
We garnished it with a dollop of sour cream and chopped kale. A few bacon bits
or curls, if desired, could also add to its look and flavor.
*Whether you get your leeks from your garden or your grocery store it is important
to wash them ever so thoroughly because they often have soil hidden between the leaves
at their stems.
- Heat the oil in a large (6-plus quart) stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek and potato and kale . Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have begun to soften and brown slightly, about 8 to 12 minutes (this time will vary greatly depending on the surface area of the bottom of your pot).
- Add the vegetable stock and bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
- Blend until smooth, either using an immersion blender or by carefully transferring to a blender in batches.
- Add the cream, and season to taste with salt (I start with 1 teaspoon and go from there, tasting frequently) and lemon juice and freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Ladle into bowls, and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a healthy sprinkling of kale or bacon bits.
I have been exploring “superfoods” for a while now, wanting to incorporate some healthier eating habits into our Convent diet. We live a very active life-style within our Benedictine motto: Ora et Labora (Pray and Work). My task is to make sure we are all eating well and taking care of our bodies (since we are called to be temples of the Holy Spirit).
In my research, I learned about the wonderful nutty grain-like seed quinoa. Quinoa is native to Bolivia and a relative of swiss chard, spinach and beets. We usually think of quinoa as a grain, but it is actually the seed of a plant. It’s also a complete protein, which means it provides all nine essential amino acids necessary for good health, hence the name “essential.” Your body can’t produce these nutrients itself, so you have to get them frequently through food. Quinoa’s slow-releasing carbohydrates help to maintain blood sugar levels. It can be eaten on its own as a side dish, with a bit of butter or oil, salt and pepper, or other seasonings. Quinoa also makes a great breakfast dish mixed with dried fruit, cinnamon, milk, and maple syrup or honey. A healthy substitute for rice, it also makes a tasty pilaf.
I found and adapted this flavorful and surprising salad side dish recipe for the Sisters and everyone loved it. Last weekend we served it to our Oblates who were here on retreat, and promised that we’d share it with all of you. Enjoy!
Quinoa Salad with Pears, Bacon and Baby Spinach
- Prepare the quinoa according to the package directions. 1 cup dry quinoa should yield over 4 cups of cooked quinoa. Cool quinoa.
- In a large bowl add the cooled quinoa, diced pears, green onions, spinach and bell pepper. Reserve the crumbled bacon and toasted almonds for later.
- For the dressing: Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and pour over quinoa mixture. Toss gently. You might not want to use all of the dressing depending on how wet you want your salad so add a little at a time. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving so that the flavors can meld.
- Mix the crumbled bacon and toasted almonds into the salad just before serving, reserving a bit to garnish the top as well.
Note: To toast almonds, brown them for a couple of minutes in a skillet over medium high heat. To roast them, bake them in the oven for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees. When you smell them, they are done!