Stamping the snow off of my boots I came into the convent from the windy cold outdoors. As I shed my coat, I thought “Nothing could be more comforting than the warmth of being indoors right now.” But then I entered the refectory where I was met with something else even more comforting. It was the unmistakable aroma of one of our favorite meals, simmering in the skillet. Cooked with just the right combination of spices and seasonings, few, if any can resist this Southwestern chili especially on a chilly night like this.
As mealtime arrived the Sisters all gathered in the dining room where a glowing fire crackled in the fireplace. Each of us had a bowl of chili with our own favorite choice of toppings. Nothing could have warmed our hearts or satisfied our pallets more. We ate our meal with gladness and gave God thanks for all His many, many blessings to us.
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Make-ahead note: The flavors continue to develop as the chili sits, so go ahead and make it up to 2 days in advance and refrigerate it in a container with a tight-*fitting lid. It can also be frozen for up to 1 month.
Sauté the vegetables, ground beef, and spices, then put the mixture into the Crockpot or covered skillet along with tomatoes and kidney beans. Simmer until it’s thickened and has a nice beefy flavor, and then stir in jalapeños. We like this served with cornbread.
To use dried beans in place of canned, start with 1 cup dried beans, soaked and cooked to yield 3 cups.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and bell pepper, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.
Add the garlic, chili powder, and cumin, stir to coat the vegetables, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ground beef and measured salt and cook, breaking the meat into small pieces, until the beef is browned, about 7 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker or covered skillet, add the diced tomatoes and their juices, tomato sauce, and beans, and stir to combine. Cover and cook on lowest possible heat until the chili thickens and the flavors meld, adding small amounts of the beer and coffee as needed to keep mixture from sticking. Stir in the jalapeños or green chiles. Taste and season with salt as needed.
For some time now, our theater group, Elements Theater Company, has been doing their theater productions with a dinner added prior to the show. Traditionally, this has been a plated meal tying in with themes from the play. This summer, the show was unique – Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads. This award-winning series of solo pieces is considered a classic of contemporary drama, universally hailed for its combination of razor-sharp wit and deeply felt humanity. The menu for this production conjured up images of an upscale Cape Cod pub food feel with a classy fish taco. I started searching for recipes, and the one I hit on was just the right one. The result was a colorful “box” dinner with the best fish taco I have ever tasted. Filled with crunchy cabbage, spicy mayonnaise, sweet and sassy mango salsa and a light and crispy panko- crusted cod – this is party food at its best – all served up in a glossy black box. Accompaniments included sweet potato fries, fresh corn and bacon salad and a homemade coleslaw. I’d recommend this for any summer gathering.
Prepare the mango-radish salsa. Remove the peel and pith from the limes and cut between the membranes to remove the segments. Put these "supremes" into a bowl and squeeze over the juice from the membranes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Season and refrigerate until ready to use. You can also place all of the ingredients into a food processor and puree for a smoother salsa.
Prepare the pink chile mayonnaise. Put the chipotles in a blender and puree until smooth. Add the sour cream, mayonnaise, adobo sauce and lemon juice and continue to process until the mixture is consistent and creamy. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare the fish. Cut the pieces of fish into 1-ounce strips or to your liking. Set up a breading station of flour, lightly beaten eggs with water, and seasoned panko bread crumbs. Season all with salt and pepper. Dredge the pieces of fish in flour, egg then bread crumbs. Once all the fish is breaded, deep-fry in small batches in (375 degrees F) oil. Drain on paper towels and season with salt. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Place tortillas on a damp towel on a single layer on a cookie sheet, cover with another damp towel and place in a warm oven until ready to use.
To serve, set up the tacos "family-style". Start with your warmed flour tortillas, assemble the fish in a pile on a plate; the pink chile mayonnaise in a bowl; and mango-radish salsa in another. Set a pile of shredded cabbage, cilantro leaves (opt) and lime wedges next to the fish. Have fun building your own tacos.
Leaving the noon church service today I got into a conversation that resulted in my late arrival for lunch. As I entered the refectory I heard happy exclamations regarding the meal…”What a great lunch! I loved this…so fresh and beautiful so colorful and tasty.”
What was it they were raving about? It was a brand new crisp, crunchy tofu recipe and it was all they described it to be! Truly sensational and remarkably satisfying.
Drain tofu of excess water. Let sit 20 minutes to drain.
While waiting for tofu, mix together the first 7 ingredients and set aside.
Heat a skillet on medium with about a 1/2 inch of vegetable oil inside. While heating, slice tofu into 1/2" slices, then cut each slice into thirds. Coat each cube lightly with cornstarch using a sifter and then place into pan until browned and crispy. You may have to turn up the heat under the pan a bit. Remove from frying pan sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and set aside on paper towels.
Wipe pan clean with paper towel and add sesame oil, onions, and
chopped ginger. Cook about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add sauce mixture to pan, bring to a boil, and simmer about 2 minutes. Add tofu back to mixture, toss to coat. Top with green onions if desired.
Put the cabbage in a large bowl, with the celery, cut the skin and pulp from the oranges ...slice them into wheels (cut out any seeds) and add to the cabbage. Whisk the oil, lemon juice, balsamic and oregano and salt and pepper and pour over the cabbage.
Mix well. Let it settle then mix through a few more times so that it is completely coated. Toss prepared tofu over salad before serving.
Our Monastic Bake Shop opens for Advent, just in time for people to select delicious home-baked goods for their Christmas table. One of the favorite sweet breads that people return for is the lovely St. Lucia Bread. A rich, dense dough filled with citron, saffron and almonds, and decorated like a wreath, has been a long-standing tradition for our Bakeshop, started by one of our own Sisters, Sr. Lucia.
Traditionally, when we make our first profession as Sisters, we also take on a new name – symbolizing our new life wedded to Christ. Sr. Lucia became a novice in early December. When she was preparing to take her vows, she prayed about what her new name should be. One of the Sisters told her that she had an idea of a name for her. The Sister next to her said, “Now don’t overwhelm our new novice with another big decision!” But she couldn’t bear the suspense, and she told her the name: Lucia. A bit later, a different Sister mentioned that she had received a name for her, and it was the same one! She decided to learn more about who St Lucia was, only to discover that her feast day was celebrated on December 13th — the exact day that the name had been suggested to her! She couldn’t deny that God was speaking. It turns out that her middle name had been Lucille after her maternal grandmother, and years later it was discovered that her actual given name had been Lucia!
Some meals can be almost as enjoyable to prepare as to eat. Short ribs are an example of this, especially in cold blustery weather as we have been having this winter. Cooking them is a most pleasurable culinary experience, engaging all the senses from start to finish.
Thick well cut ribs are a joy to handle while rubbing in the seasonings. Then there is the visual thrill of watching them beautifully brown before your eyes in the sizzling hot skillet. This begins to produce a mouthwatering aroma to savor, while slowly nursing them along to desired tenderness.
As a final treat to the senses, I hear the sound of delighted exclamations from those coming to dinner whose appetites are peaked from shoveling snow out in the cold. Could anything be more heartwarming and rewarding than that? Well yes….sitting down and eating one of my most favorite meals with them!
When I got up this morning to go to Lauds, I thought I might need a jacket…wow, how things change. Last time I wrote we were in the middle of a humid heat wave. Last weekend was Transfiguration Sunday, a feast reflecting the name of our church. We always have a coffee hour after church to celebrate. I found a blueberry pie filling and wrapped that in the dough we had made the day before. They were really delicious, and moist! Of course the huge amount of frosting I drizzled on helped, but it was a very light moist cake and the filling was perfect. There were lots of compliments on this latest adventure.