Sisters birthdays are a special day of celebration in our Convent. Much prayer and discussion goes into the place setting at the table, the beautiful word that is specially picked just for her and then a few carefully and lovingly wrapped gifts (which are usually a few treat foods that she rarely gets). The Sister gets to choose her dinner entree and dessert from a menu. It’s really such fun – some sisters take up to a week deciding what they’re going to ask for on their special day. This past week, I had the great fun of cooking for one such occasion. I made my signature shrimp dish – a little like a scampi, but made richer by the fettucine tossed with cream and parmesan. The fresh lemon in this recipe is a must – don’t skip it. The Sister slowly savored her meal, a smile emanating after every bite. What a blessing it is to bless others – that’s what I love so much about the gift of cooking.
Stella's Shrimp and Fettuccine
- Boil salted water for pasta
- Meanwhile, sauté ¼ c. diced onion and crushed garlic clove until translucent over medium low heat. Watch carefully so you don't burn the garlic. Add chopped basil leaves and chopped tomato – lightly toss, sauté and remove from heat and into a dish to hold.
- Cook your pasta and when finished, toss with 4 Tbsp. butter, warmed heavy cream and 1/2 cup fresh parmesan until you have an “Alfredo” – add onion salt and fresh ground pepper - seasoning to taste.
- Quickly sauté your shrimp in butter, once golden on both sides, add white wine and juice of one lemon. Simmer slightly and then add the tomato mixture back to the pan and combine - season to taste.
- Serve fettuccine with the shrimp tossed over – sprinkle with the lemon rind, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
Every time our lace making sister comes home from Belgium, one of the first things she’s eager to do is cook something from her adopted homeland for all the sisters here at home. Not only does she want to introduce us to Flemish cooking, she also wants to be able to share the response of the sisters “here” with those “back there.”
This time, she’s chosen to make Flemish Beef stew, a simple stew with a unique flavor provided by one key ingredient, which is beer. Frequently when referring to this meal it will be said “The better the beer the better the stew.” Now beer is not something we regularly have on hand in the convent, but only when its given to us as a gift for some celebratory occasion, but our determined sister would not be put off by lack of one ingredient, even though it be the most important one in the recipe. She is known for having everything fall into place at the right moment regardless of the odds. So it was no surprise to anyone when a 6 pack of Stella Artois appeared on the kitchen counter. Without skipping a beat, she continued working on her stew while quietly throughout the convent sisters could be heard quietly chanting “The better the beer, the better the stew.”
- Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add half the beef and brown on all sides, turning frequently, about 5 minutes
- Transfer to a slow cooker and drain any fat from the pan.
- Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and brown the remaining geef and add to the slow cooker.
- Add mushrooms to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until they give off their liquid (5-7 minutes).
- Sprinkle flour over the mushrooms and cook for half a minute. Add beer and bring to a boil, whisking constantly to reduce foaming, until thickened and bubbliing, about 3 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture to the beef in the slow cooker.
- Add carrots, onion, garlic, mustard, caraway seeds, salt, pepper and bay leaf to the slow cooker and stir to combine.
- Cover the slow cooker and cook on low until the beef is very tender, about 8 hrs.
This past week, we did a pot-luck lunch at Paraclete Press to celebrate the season and get our company decorated for Christmas. Several of us brought crock pots of goodness to the table – each excited to try someone else’s creation. I think this one received the most ooh’s and aaah’s, as it was completely emptied by the end of lunch and given back to me, clean as a whistle as if begging for more. This is such a great recipe – so easy to make the night before, let the crock pot do the magic during the night and finish it off in the morning. This is a perfect recipe to pull out over the holidays when you want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with friends and family. Blessed Advent!
Slow Cooker Loaded Potato Soup
- Add diced potatoes, diced onion, minced garlic, 10 slices of chopped cooked bacon, parsley and chicken broth to the slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper. Stir and cook for 6-8 hours on low or on high for 3-4 hours, until the potatoes are fork tender.
- Once the soup has cooked, make the béchamel sauce. Add butter to a medium saucepan over medium heat and melt, whisk in the flour until completely combined and gradually add in the half and half or heavy cream (or milk, whatever you prefer). Whisk until smooth. Over low heat, let the mixture cook until it starts to simmer, stirring occasionally.
- Immediately add the béchamel to the slow cooker and stir to combine.
- Using a potato masher, mash about 3/4 of the potatoes until you reach the desired consistency for your soup.
- Stir in 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup sour cream. Stir well, until fully combined and creamy. Taste for seasoning, adjust salt and pepper to taste. If you want to thin the soup a bit, you can add more milk, cream or chicken broth. Continue cooking the soup on low for 30 minutes or on high for 15 minutes. Serve warm with the toppings of your choice.
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.
Thirty some years ago, before today’s current interest in food and cooking, a group of young men attending a culinary institute in Connecticut asked to schedule a retreat at Bethany. None of them were known to us except for one, but it took no time for all of us to feel at home with each other. I have fond memories of that experience.
I was of course pleased that they appreciated the food prepared for them, in particular a chicken dish which we served for many retreats back then and which they unanimously praised. It was my version of a recipe adapted from an old homemaker’s paperback of prizewinners. It still amuses me to remember these “professional chefs in the making” as they left, each of them clutching a copy of this recipe from a housewife’s collection of favorites, and featuring a bottle of store bought salad dressing.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place chicken, skin side up, in baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with margarine; broil until brown.
- Combine salad dressing, peaches, cherries, onion and chili sauce; spoon over chicken.
- Bake for 1 hour or until chicken is tender. Serve over hot cooked rice or noodles.
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.