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.
Years ago, there was a collaboration between all the cooks in the Community, resulting in a lovely little cook book, “Recipes that Bear Repeating.” The creation of this book was a true labor of love. For months, recipes were written out, exchanged, and “tested” in all the households. Many notes and conversations later, such as “What do you mean by one can? What size can?” or “What does ‘until done’ mean? We need a time estimate!”, this treasury of favorites was pulled together and printed, including traditions for holidays and special occasions from the Community. This Marinade for Steaks and Chops is definitely an All-Star from the book! Right now, at Priory Books & Gifts if you buy one of the Sisters’ hand-made aprons, you get a copy of your own for free! Don’t miss out on this little treasure.
Marinade for Steaks and Chops
- Combine all ingredients and mix well.
- Cover meat with marinade and chill for several hours. Turn meat several times to allow the flavor to penetrate more evenly. If stronger flavor is desired, refrigerate overnight.
- Let meat come to room temperature before cooking.
- It may be stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for two weeks or in the freezer indefinitely.
At our Convent and Community each year, it is tradition for us to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. Advent is a time of waiting and the twelve days that follow Christmas allows time for us to reflect and live the “Incarnation of Christ” as we journey towards our yearly profession of Vows on Epiphany. It’s a time of Enclosure for us when we can withdraw from the busyness of our daily lives and set aside time of quiet for Christ and community.
This Christmas, each of us cooks decided we’d make one special gift for the sisters over each of the twelve days. I chose Monday the 26th and couldn’t wait to make this decadent candy. We have lots of chocolate lovers in the Sisterhood, so I thought it might just be ‘the bomb’ and it was! With just a couple tweaks, it is now going to become my favorite holiday indulgence. I had to quadruple the recipe in order to make enough for 65 Sisters and have some extra for gifting, so it will multiply out well. This recipe is just too special to make for just “any” time of year, so save it for a special occasion.
Blessed Twelve Days of Christmas to you!
- In a large, deep heavy-bottom saucepan, melt the butter.
- Stir in the salt, sugar, water, and corn syrup, and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil gently over medium heat, without stirring, until the mixture reaches hard-crack stage (300°F on an instant-read or candy thermometer). The syrup will bubble without seeming to change much for awhile, but be patient; all of a sudden it will darken, and at that point you need to take its temperature and see if it's ready, about 10 to 12 minutes. Pay attention; too long on the heat, and the syrup will burn.
- While the sugar mixture is gently bubbling, spread half of the toasted nuts (1 cup), in a fairly closely packed, even single layer, on a lightly greased baking sheet or 1/2 sheet pan.
- Top with half the chocolate chips (1 1/3 cups).
- When the syrup is ready, pour it quickly and evenly over the nuts and chocolate. Immediately top with the remaining chocolate (1 1/3 cups).
- Wait several minutes for the chips to melt, then gently, using the back of a spatula, spread the chocolate evenly and top with the remaining toasted nuts (1 cup).
- Allow to cool at room temperature and the chocolate will harden. When cool, break it into uneven chunks.
- Store cooled candy tightly wrapped; it'll stay fresh for a couple of weeks at room temperature. Freeze for longer storage.
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.
I’ve heard it said that the sense of smell is the earliest and strongest to develop in humans. I remember once at a restaurant there was a special on oysters that came from the town where I grew up. I splurged and ordered them just for fun. When they arrived and the fresh, salty smell wafted up to me, tears came to my eyes along with so many wonderful memories of my childhood there on the water.
I think it’s the same for many of us at Christmas. There are certain scents that transport you directly into this season of celebration and joy. Take ginger for instance! I love baking days here at the Community — as you cross the common, in addition to the beautiful lights and wreaths and garland, the smells drifting from the kitchen put smiles on everyone’s faces. It actually seems like another way to spread the good news: Christmas is coming! Jesus is on his way, and we’re getting ready — with Ginger Cake!
Upside Down Pear Ginger Cake
- Start with your ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9" springform pan or a cake pan that's at least 2½ inches deep.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar; mix well and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Tilt the pan a little from side to side to help the mixture spread all the way to the edge.
- Arrange the sliced pears side-by-side over this brown sugar mixture, making sure that they cover the entire bottom of the pan. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well with a whisk until airy and fully combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, beat the the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs and beat again until pale and airy.
- Incorporate the apple sauce and molasses, mix until well combined, and then add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated, no more.
- Pour over the pears and spread all the way to the edge.
- Place a piece of aluminium foil under or around your pan to catch any eventual leakage and bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes or until it's cool enough to be handled safely then flip it onto a rimmed cake plate.
- Serve warm, garnished with vanilla ice cream, chopped nuts and a drizzle of honey or caramel sauce, if desired.