Recently a friend drove me to a medical appointment. As we left to return home she asked, “How about lunch?” This had not been in the plans but it was lunchtime and a nice suggestion so I said, “Sure.” The next question was what did we feel like having: a burger, a taco, pizza, Chinese? None of them moved either of us, so I offered another idea, “Further on there is a nice little French bakery that serves lunch, if you wouldn’t mind driving an extra bit.”
Within minutes both of us were savoring the richest flavored onion soup out of individual black wrought iron pots overflowing with melted cheese and boasting a gorgeous golden crusted crouton. Almost simultaneously, we both had the same thought: Why don’t I ever make this at home? Within days she made it for her family and the convent sisters served it for two different retreats. In each case it met with overwhelmingly positive responses.
How long has it been since you served French onion soup?
- In a heavy-bottomed pan, slowly brown the onions and garlic in butter and sugar until the onions are golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Add flour and cook, stirring for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add stock or consommé and water, and simmer partially covered for 1 hour.
- To serve, place a small slice of French bread on top of each bowl, and cover generously with Swiss cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, then bake covered at 325 degrees for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake another 10 minutes.
If you visit any one of Tuscany’s Trattorias, you will most likely find this on the menu as a “contorni” or side dish. Leeks, parmesan and a light sprinkling of nutmeg — all the flavors of Northern Italy combine to make this savory pie a wonderful addition to beef or veal. This past weekend, we served this as a side to Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Vinegar to our Oblates on retreat. As we venture into Lent, this meatless side dish could actually become a main dish for lunch. It’s one of my favorite recipes to share with you. Our prayers are with you for a very blessed Lent.
"Torta di porri" (Leek Pie)
- Make your pastry and leave it to rest in the refrigerator for an hour before rolling out.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the pastry into a 8" pie plate and blind bake it. Click here for instructions on blind baking a pie crust.
- Prepare your filling. Strip away any damaged tough parts of the leek and top extreme ends, and slice the leeks into thin slices.
- Put them into a bowl of cold water and swish them with your hand to remove any dirt remaining. Transfer to a colander to drain.
- Put the olive oil into a saucepan to heat and add the leeks. Saute gently to soften, and season with salt and pepper.
- When the leeks become lightly golden, add the wine and continue cooking over low heat until most of it has evaporated and the leeks are softened. If the leeks are still hard and the wine has evaporated, add 1 cup of hot water and saute for another 10 min. or so until the leeks are soft and there is only a little liquid left in the pan. Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool slightly.
- Lightly whip the eggs in a bowl and add the cream, parmesan cheese and a dash of nutmeg. Add the cooled leeks and stir well. Adjust seasonings if needed.
- Pour the mixture into your par-baked crust, shifting the leeks evenly with a wooden spoon.
- Return the tart to the oven for about 20-30 min. until the top is lightly golden and the filling is set.
- Cool slightly and slice into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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.
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.
Last week in honor of Chinese New Year, a lovely case of fresh baby bok choy — straight from Chinatown — was delivered to our Convent door, a generous gift from the parents of one of our Sisters. In the middle of winter, it’s a real treat to add fresh and tasty vegetables to our dinner. Baby Bok Choy is the tender rendition of a Chinese cabbage and a great source of beta carotene, which has been scientifically proven to act as a dietary antioxidant. Its name is derived from the Chinese name for “soup spoon” because of the shape of its leaves. Baby Bok Choy requires delicate cooking and is a wonderful accompaniment to fish, tofu, pork and poultry. We hope you enjoy this as much as we did!
- Slice baby bok choy in 1/2 lengthwise and place in a large bowl of cold water to soak.
- Using a large non-stick fry pan, melt the butter and add the smashed garlic. Move around in the pan to infuse the butter, but don't let it burn.
- Place the bok choy, cut side down in the pan and saute until golden.
- Add the white wine and sugar and reduce until almost all the liquid is gone.
- Flip the bok choy over and add the broth.
- 6. Continue to cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed.
- Serve the bok choy with the thickened broth spooned over it, and garnish with sliced green onions.