Above the sounds of car doors opening and closing, luggage being loaded, and 30 women exchanging “goodbyes and well wishes,” comments regarding their retreat could be overheard. They were all very positive, especially those regarding their meals. Many of these women love to cook, and are very attentive to—and appreciative of—what they are served.
From what I overheard, their final dessert was the ultimate perfection, and had made quite an impact, sending them off on a high, happy note. As I thought on all of this someone quietly appeared offering me a luscious looking lime creation garnished with a fresh mint leaf and whipped cream on a crystal clear glass dessert plate. Suddenly I was reminded of a favorite verse of scripture in the Old Testament where God in referring to prayer says: “Before they call, I will answer.”
- Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
- Add graham cracker crumbs and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until blended. Transfer to a medium bowl and add coconut flakes and melted butter. Toss to combine completely. Pour the crumbs into an 8-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the crumbs into the bottom and sides of the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until browned. Set aside to cool completely.
- In a large bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and lime juice. Stir until thick and well incorporated. Set aside.
- Place the gelatin in a small bowl and cover with water. Let stand two minutes to bloom. Microwave in 10-second bursts until gelatin is dissolved. Cool the gelatin to near room temperature, but do not let it set—very important.
- Add the whipping cream to the bowl of a stand mixer. (If you don't have a stand mixer use a large mixing bowl and a handheld mixer.) Whip the cream for one minute on a medium speed. Slowly add the sugar to the cream. Turn off the mixer and check to see that the gelatin has cooled, but not set. Add the gelatin and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Separately reserve about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of whipped topping for garnish.
- Spoon about 1/2 cup of whipped cream into the key lime filling and lightly stir to combine. Add the rest of the whipped cream and fold completely into the mixture, careful not to deflate the cream too much.
- Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust and smooth over with a spatula.
- Garnish with whipped cream and thinly sliced lime as desired. Refrigerate for at least two hours for a cloud like dessert. For a frozen tart, freeze at least two hours.
- To serve, remove the tart from the freezer and let it sit out on the counter for 10-15 minutes to soften a little before slicing it.
Now that the warmer weather is definitely here, most people are wanting lighter meals and a menu that includes more salads. With this in mind we wanted to come up with a light “Warmer Weather” salad dressing. This was a first attempt that most of us felt succeeded at doing just that.
First we chose a light olive oil and a mild rice vinegar as our base. To this we added a touch of spring from our herb garden by blending in a bit of fresh mint and several tender young green scallions. Into this, a little onion salt, some frozen orange juice concentrate, and just a hint of lemon zest gave our mixture just the right touch of brightness we were hoping for.
Spring Citrus Mint Vinaigrette
- Blend all ingredients together. Toss with your favorite salad greens and veggies.
“Who wants to take on care of the rhubarb patch?” This question went out a few days ago to the sisterhood from the sister in charge of our vegetable gardens. Before the day was over the question had been answered, the patch had been watered, and the fertilizing process begun.
We love our rhubarb patch. We love to watch it come into fruition producing its rich beautiful leaves and stems. We love to see it harvested and prepared for the many different ways we use it.
For this year’s Easter dinner various sisters volunteered to make a variety of very special desserts. There were several decadent chocolate wonders. There were tortes and trifles piled high with tantalizing toppings. There were brand new gourmet creations anyone of which could have taken a prize, and then there were a number of humble pies. So…which dessert do you think was most requested? You’re absolutely right. It was our old-fashioned, flavorful strawberry rhubarb pie. Unfortunately, some had to go without!
- Preheat oven to 425° Fahrenheit.
- For the pie crust: Combine the salt and flour together.
Cut the shortening into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter until it is about pea-size pieces.
- Add the water to the flour a little at a time using a fork to lightly mix it. Continue to add the water until the dough just comes together – don’t over work the dough or it will become tough.
- Shape the dough into a flat disk, cover it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Once it is ready divide the dough in half and roll out the bottom crust and place in a pie dish.
- Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, flour, and salt.
Turn into the unbaked pie shell.
- Roll out the top crust and place over the filling. Crimp to seal edges and make a few slits along the top.
Brush with egg white wash and garnish with large granule sugar.
- Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
Decrease temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 45 to 50 minutes, or until the filling starts bubbling.
Note: Rhubarb is tart. The strawberries provide sweetness but, depending on your taste, you might want to add more sugar.
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.
I’ve had the great joy of working side-by-side with an Italian chef over these last few weeks. The other Sisters who have lived and worked at Via Sacra have also had the tremendous privilege of learning from her. Chef Laura has been so generous with her time and energy as we try to absorb all that we can about Italian cooking. Below is one of her recipes that she taught me this past week and I went home and made it for the villa. These crepes are so delicious and light! Chef Laura serves this as a first course at her restaurant, but we enjoyed it as a light supper served with a fruit salad and a tossed green salad on the side.
All Chef Laura’s recipes are in her head, so I tried to reproduce it here by just observing her. If the quantities seem a little off, just adjust them to your liking! We can still get squash blossoms in the market this time of year in Italy. If you have any zucchini plants in your garden, just pluck the blossoms off and you are all set!
Crepes filled with Zucchini Puree and Topped with Squash Blossoms
- Make the filling: Over low heat, melt your butter in a saucepan and add the zucchini and red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until both vegetables are very soft. Continue cooking until most all of the moisture is removed (the zucchini will let off a lot of water while it cooks). While the zucchini mixture is cooking, prepare the crepes.
- Make the crepes: In a blender, combine all the crepe ingredients above and blend until smooth. Let rest about 5 min.
- Heat a lightly oiled Teflon frying pan (omelet size pan) over medium heat. Pour or ladle the batter into the pan, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly. Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side for 1 minute. Remove to a plate, put a square of wax paper on top and repeat until all the batter is used up. This recipe should make 8 crepes.
- Remove the filling from the heat and mash with a potato masher. Let cool slightly and add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. This mixture should be the consistency of pesto or a little thicker.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. (or broiler)
- To assemble, in one quadrant of your crepe place a heaping tablespoon of the filling and spread to fill that quadrant. Fold the crepe into quarters and place into oblong serving ramekins (2 per person) or a casserole dish. Repeat, until all the crepes are filled.
- Dot each crepe with butter and lay the squash blossoms over them to cover the crepes. Again, dot butter over the squash blossoms and sprinkle the grated cheese over the entire crepe.
- Place the crepes in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and golden, about 5 min. If you prefer, you can also broil them at this step.
- Remove from the oven and serve.
Years ago before pita pockets, as we now know them, had become so common and readily available commercially, they were a regular everyday staple in our home. We called these Syrian bread, because we had an authentic Syrian neighbor who baked it regularly for her household and taught my mother how to make it. I have many happy memories of helping my mother shape the dough into the round loaves. I loved watching these magically puff up into inflated discs in the oven as they baked; and then settle back down into their original shapes after they came out of the oven and cooled.
Always we would roll some of the bread up into towels while still warm; when it cooled this way it had a much chewier texture which I especially liked just with plain butter. However there are so many ways to enjoy it. Sisters particularly love it stuffed with fried or roasted eggplant and fresh sliced tomatoes, roasted onions, peppers, and zucchini or yellow squash slices, with a sprig of fresh basil.
Another favorite way we eat it is split in half, brushed with oil, herbs of choice, onion salt and grated Parmesan. Then baked in 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes until brown and crisp. It is a fun bread to bake and a fun bread to eat in whatever way you like.
- In a small bowl dissolve the yeast and the sugar in the water and allow to get bubbly.
- In a food processor, pulse the flour with the salt.
- With the machine on, pour in the yeast mixture and then the oil and process until the dough forms a ball.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times.
- Form the dough into a ball.
- Lightly oil a bowl with olive oil.
- Transfer the dough to the bowl and turn to coat
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Take the dough and divide it up into 6-8 sections.
- On a floured surface, shape the dough into little flat circles.
- Heat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Baking the breads 2-3 at a time bake them for 5-7 minutes. Just till they turn a nice golden brown.
- Take them out the oven, let them cool and then ENJOY!