A young newlywed couple from Russia came to Bethany for an extended stay. Alexi, the groom, was delighted to discover that an old friend and former mentor from Russia was unexpectedly going to be near enough to spend some time with him while he was in the States. He immediately extended an invitation to him and his friends for dinner – a real, Russian meal that he himself would prepare for them.
The day of the planned dinner Alexi felt ill and was unable to do any cooking. With his permission I prepared a meal that I thought would be close to what he would have made, and I felt one of the dishes should be stuffed cabbage. I prepared them as I remembered my Ukrainian mother always preparing them.
By dinnertime Alexi was well enough to join his guests and no mention was made of his not feeling well earlier. Everyone enjoyed dinner and Maestro Serge was particularly taken with the stuffed cabbage. “This,” he said to me, “is authentic.” Then he added, “A real Russian can always discern whether or not the Russian food he has been served was prepared by a real Russian.”
- Cut up tomatoes and simmer with olive oil, onion salt, oregano and sugar until reduced to 1 cup or 8 ounces of sauce. Can be done while preparing cabbage.
- Leave cabbage whole, but cut around the stem, and parboil for 5 minutes; let steep for another 5 minutes.
- Remove cabbage from water and drain; separate cabbage leaves. Chop the small inside leaves and the core and use to line a Dutch oven.
- Combine all the stuffing ingredients and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place 1 tablespoon stuffing on each of the larger cabbage leaves, fold ends of leaves over the stuffing, and roll leaves.
- Arrange the stuffed cabbage leaves in rows in Dutch oven; sprinkle each layer with olive oil, tomato sauce, and crushed bay leaf.
- Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper; add remaining tomato sauce, beef broth and enough water to cover.
- Place a plate on top of cabbage rolls, and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. If using cooked rice cut final cooking time in half.
- Serve the cabbage rolls with the pot sauce poured over them.
We have quite a number of Sisters in the Convent who have celiac-sprue or gluten allergies. Buying gluten free bread can be extremely expensive and well, frankly, you might as well be eating cardboard! We have wanted to find a recipe for quite a while that is healthy, inexpensive to make and tastes like real homemade bread. This recipe fits the bill. It’s high in fiber from the oat content, easy to make and tastes wonderful! It’s especially lovely toasted with butter and jam. Most oats are gluten free — check the label to be sure. The only reason they wouldn’t be is if they are manufactured in a factory where they also make products with gluten. We are so fortunate to have a company that supplies us with oats, so this bread costs literally nothing to make. You can find xanthum gum in the health food aisle of the supermarket — don’t leave it out — it’s an “all natural” emulsifier and you need it as a binding agent when baking without gluten.
Gluten-free Honey Oat Bread
- Sprinkle the yeast over the hot tap water in the bowl of a standing mixer and let sit for a few minutes, until the yeast is active and bubbles start to form on the surface.
- If you're using whole oats, blend them in a food processor or blender until they're pretty fine (as fine as you can get them) to make the oat flour.
- Once the yeast is active, add the oil, honey, corn starch, white rice flour, xanthan gum, and oat flour to the mixer and beat until combined.
- Add the salt and eggs and beat for a few minutes until fluffy.
- Pour into two well greased 9 inch loaf pans and allow to rise for about 45 minutes until doubled (only fill the loaf pans about 2/3 - 3/4 full - any excess can fill up a smaller loaf pan). Sprinkle the top of the loaves with some oats.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Once the loaves have risen, cut a few slits in the top with a serrated knife.
- Bake for about 45 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing.
Last week one of our convent dinners included a whole head of cauliflower covered with a flavorful cheesy topping that was most enjoyable. Eating this prompted me to begin speculating about a possible Christmas cauliflower creation that might enhance a holiday dinner table. I envisioned something a little more dressed up with a stylish bit of sparkle and festive flare.
Here is what resulted from my culinary day dreaming: One saucy Head of cauliflower steamed whole, then covered with a combination of mayonnaise, etc., adorned with a skirt of rich dark green kale that has been slightly braised in oil and stylishly fluffed out around it. This basic beginning would then be tastefully embellished with bright red jewel like roasted cherry tomatoes. Thus attired my plain head of cauliflower would be stylishly prepared to make her special appearance at a very special meal.
Festive Christmas Cauliflower
- Steam or boil cauliflower until soft but still firm about 20-25 minutes.
- Combine cheese, onion, pimento, and mayonnaise. Spread over cauliflower completely and place in a baking dish or pan.
- Put in a high oven (400 degrees) for a long as it takes to gain a nice golden glaze.
- Let rest a while.
- Toss the tomatoes with a little olive oil and lay out in a single layer on a sheet pan.
- Season with kosher salt and pepper.
- Roast for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees, until tomatoes are soft.
- Chop kale and sauté in oil and garlic.
- Place cauliflower on a bed of kale. Scatter or place tomatoes around it as desired.
Every now and then when our convent dinner is some kind of a one dish meal, Sisters like to have it served right from the big skillet in which it has been cooked. This is especially so as the weather becomes cooler. When we are a little chilled around the edges nothing comforts one as much as a piping hot bowl of savory soup or stew. Today was such a day, cool, wet and rainy out of doors. Warm, dry and welcoming inside, with the aroma of a tasty combination of the day’s harvested vegetables.
Our convent chef has been eager to make a hearty chicken stew with an Italian twist. Using the last of our autumn garden vegetables she produced a most flavorful dish and chose to serve it from the skillet, which gave everyone a warm comforting sense of generously being cared for in a special way. A along with some crusty home baked bread and a beautiful kale salad we shared a dinner which magically lifted our spirits and pleased us all.
Hearty Italian Chicken and Autumn Harvest Veggie Stew
- Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Place the split chicken breasts on the baking sheet, and drizzle them with a little oil, and a couple of good pinches of salt and pepper.
- Cut the tops off of the heads of garlic, drizzle each head with a little oil, plus a pinch of salt and pepper, and wrap each head in a small piece of foil; place on the baking sheet next to the chicken.
- Roast the chicken, along with the garlic, for 45 minutes; then allow both to cool until they can be handled.
- Once they are cooled, shred the chicken, and set it aside; then, squeeze the roasted garlic from the papers, and using your knife or a fork, make the cloves into a paste; set the paste aside for a moment.
- Place a medium-large pot over medium to medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons of the oil, plus add in the tablespoon of butter; once melted together, add in the onion and allow it sweat for about 3-4 minutes, until translucent and softened.
- To the onion add the roasted garlic “paste”, and stir it in to combine.
- Next, add in the diced carrots, parsnips, celery and butternut squash and stir to combine; add in the Italian seasoning, plus a pinch or two of salt and black pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and stir to incorporate.
- Add in the tomato paste and stir, and allow it to cook with the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes, or until the “raw” flavor of it is cooked out of it.
- Next, add in the chicken stock and stir, cover with a lid and simmer very gently on low for about 20-22 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender.
- Turn off the heat, if using; add in the kale and stir to incorporate it, and allow it wilt into the soup for a few minutes; then, finish the soup by adding in the shredded chicken, the basil and the parsley (also, check your seasoning at this point to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed).
- To serve, add about ¼ cup or so of cooked gnocchi to your bowl, and ladle some of the stew over top; garnish with some grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve with warm bread.
Cider, apples, yams, and pork chops. What could better express Autumn in the form of a meal? With a daily collection of apple drops from our trees in the orchard we have been having them in many ways each day: homemade cider, spicy apple butter on crispy warm toast, and tangy applesauce as an accompaniment to most anything, but tonight they made their appearance for the first time in a main meal, and what a successful debut this was! One would hardly expect something so simple to be so successful in pleasing so many.
The yams and apples were simply quartered and roasted on a sheet pan while the chops were seared and simmered in cider — which was reduced to a surprisingly flavorful sauce, tying everything into a perfect expression of the Fall season.
Cider-Glazed Pork Chops with Roasted Yams and Apples
- Preheat oven to 450º Fahrenheit. Mix yams, apples, rosemary, 2 tablespoons oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Spread yam mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until potatoes are browned and tender, about 25 minutes, turning halfway through baking time.
- Season pork with 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Heat remaining oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Add pork, and cook until golden brown and center is barely pink, about 5 minutes per side. Place 1 chop each on 4 individual dinner plates, reserving 1 teaspoon drippings in skillet.
- Reduce heat to medium, and add cider. Bring to a simmer, stirring to loosen browned bits from skillet. Whisk in mustard, and simmer until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter until melted and incorporated. Sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Drizzle sauce over chops. Divide yam mixture among plates, and serve immediately.
Beautiful zucchini and yellow summer squash continue to come in from the gardens every day, and while they do it would be a shame not to have a nice stuffed zucchini boat meal before the season slips by. This is what last night’s convent cook thought as she prepared to make our dinner. She wanted to do something a little different from what we usually do and she turned out a meal that brought applause from the entire sisterhood even though we have had quite a few zucchini meals this summer. Using a combination of sweet and hot Italian sausage and a generous mixture of favorite Italian cheeses she succeeded in satisfying even the most discriminating pallet that evening.
The two things, I think, that put this dish over the top was the combination of cheeses (she used Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Asiago and Gorgonzola) any of which give a distinctive taste, and then the generous use of fresh garden herbs like basil, oregano and Italian parsley.
Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Blanch the zucchini in a large pot of boiling water, 7 minutes, then place in cold water 5 minutes. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then scoop out all but ¼ inch of flesh. Brown the sausage in a small skillet, breaking the pieces into small bits, 5 to 6 minutes, then remove the meat from the skillet.
- In the same skillet, on medium heat, add the onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1 additional minute (add a little bit of olive oil if the pan is dry). Add the meat back to the skillet along with the cream cheese, zucchini pulp and bread crumbs and stir until the cheese has melted. Taste and add salt and pepper or other seasonings as desired; fresh basil, oregano and parsley are nice.
- Place the zucchini boats on a small sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then fill with the meat mixture. Top with tomato halves and grated cheese.
- Place in oven and bake 25-30 minutes until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Garnish with basil.