Last week some unexpected changes in the convent work areas resulted in a brand new kitchen staff with fresh new ideas and increased emphasis on healthy wholesome meals that will be simpler and require less preparation time. The two cooks assigned to the first new meal had no advanced time to plan a menu or select a recipe, and were simply told to use chicken breasts, rice pilaf, two vegetables and pantry ingredients of choice.
Dinnertime found the sisters enjoying a bright colorful delightfully seasoned meal with a different look and flavor than our usual chicken dinners. Low in fat yet surprisingly full of flavor this cheerful meal was a promise of very good things to come out of our convent kitchen, and we eagerly look forward to our meals as a result of this change!
Fast and Easy Weekday Chicken
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F)
- Sautee onion and garlic in a pan over medium heat until the onions become translucent.
- Add tomatoes and olives to the pan and stir together, and transfer into an oven-safe pan.
- Place the chicken breasts on top of the olive and tomato mixture.
- Mix salt, paprika, cumin and pepper in a separate bowl and sprinkle over chicken.
- Bake the chicken in the oven until juices run clear, 25-30 minutes.
- Serve warm and garnish with fresh parsley.
Fast and Easy Weekday Chicken
Just out of High School I was working in our city’s leading flower shop. The owner of the shop was Jewish and from time to time his mother would surprise all of us employed there with one of her home cooked Jewish dishes. Her chicken Matzo Ball soup with its distinctive flavor was my favorite.
When the sister cooking our convent lunch this week agreed to make this for us I could not have been happier. For many of the sisters this was a brand new taste experience. For me it was a reviving of one of my happiest early life memories.
Original Streits Matzo Ball Recipe
- Beat eggs in a bowl. Then add water, margarine/oil, salt and pepper to the beaten eggs. Mix well. Add Matzo meal and stir.
- Refrigerate at least one hour.
- Form into balls and drop into pot soup or boiling water. Cook 20 minutes.
- Mince the garlic and dice the onion, celery, and carrots.
- Sauté the garlic, onion, celery, and carrots with the vegetable oil in a pot
- until the onions become transparent.
- Add chicken broth, 2 cups water, pepper, and one or two sprigs of dill to the pot.
- Place a lid on the pot and let it come up to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes.
- After the soup has simmered, add the shredded chicken breast to soup.
- Add matzo balls to the soup and let them simmer for 20 minutes without removing the lid.
- Garnish with fresh dill before serving
The crispness of fall is all around us. This past Monday, the Sisters rose early to put our gardens to bed for the winter. It’s always bittersweet for me, as working in the earth, getting my hands dirty and seeing the fruits of our labor and God’s creative act are moments that I treasure. We decided not to put our “chef garden” to bed, as the tomatoes, chard, beets and kale are still growing, and a late crop of peas is sprouting their heads above the earth. So, as a tribute to summer, I wanted to share this wonderful recipe with you. You can use any vegetables for grilling, so don’t feel limited by the ingredients here. If you’re anything like me, your grill stays outside until it snows! Take advantage of the beautiful fall weather and enjoy.
Honey Balsamic Grilled Chicken with Grilled Vegetables
- Marinate chicken with pesto, garlic, red pepper flakes, lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt at least 1 hour, or overnight for best results.
- Mix oil, balsamic vinegar, honey and 1/4 tsp salt in a small bowl.
- Heat a grill over medium-high, be sure grates are clean and well oiled to prevent sticking.
- Brush oil on each side of the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper
- Put vegetables on 1 large grill tray or directly on grill, and cook, turning constantly until the vegetables are cooked and golden, about 6 to 10 minutes. Set aside on a dish.
- Put the chicken on the grill and cook about 4 to 5 minutes on each side until grill marks appear and the chicken is cooked through. If you prefer to finish them off in the oven, I suggest a grill pan or cast iron skillet - cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
- Transfer the chicken to a platter with the vegetables and pour the balsamic dressing over everything and serve.
What is a sister to do when she is supposed to prepare a lovely meal for a special guest that is gluten free, does not eat meat and dislikes seafood? Not the easiest assignment, but if she prays and uses a little ingenuity she always comes up with not only a solution, but often a very remarkable one. Last week the sister doing Bethany guest cooking actually faced this challenge. What did she do? It was the first day of Autumn and she wanted the meal to reflect that.
She chose a plump little Cornish Hen for the star of the meal, and served it chock-full of healthy, wholesome selection of wild rice, dried fruits, and nuts. Roasted with fresh garden herbs, garlic and lemon, some butternut squash and fresh broccoli accompanied the plump little bird, and the result: great satisfaction all the way around.
PS: No need to reserve this meal for the gluten free and those who abstain from meat and fish!
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Gather a small bunch fresh herbs of your choice, 1 peeled garlic clove, half a lemon and 2 tablespoons of butter. For this meal we used fresh Rosemary and Thyme from the garden.
- Place the chicken in a roasting pan and gently separate the skin from the top of the hen.
- Place a small bunch of the herbs and butter under the skin, and put the garlic clove, lemon half and another small bunch of herbs in the chicken. Lightly drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Roast the chicken for 1 hour or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Baste occasionally with chicken broth and white wine.
- Serve on a bed of wild long grain rice with cranberries, sunflower seeds and walnuts for a festive autumn meal!
To me, the perfect sandwich is one that awakens all the senses at once: the crunch of the lettuce, the creaminess of the cheese, the zip of the spice, and the smokiness of the grill. This recipe fits that bill and has become our favorite summer ‘go-to’ sandwich. It’s a feast for the eyes and easy to prepare, packed with flavor. If you can’t get to Italy this summer, let Italy come to you!
This week, we have five young women working as sous-chefs in our kitchen to help us with a week-long retreat. They’ve had some great lessons as they’ve learned how to: pick the proper herbs, chiffonade basil, properly dice tomatoes (yes, it’s a technique!), grill chicken so it is moist and delicious, and many others. I expect them to return to their families with some great new recipes and skills at the end of this week. We hope you enjoy this sandwich for one of your functions this summer. It’s going to be a staple on our menu!
Tip: make a jar of the pesto sauce to have on hand in the freezer any time you need it!
Summer Grilled Chicken and Bruschetta Sandwich
- Make bruschetta topping: in a medium sized bowl. Combine the red onions, garlic, tomatoes, ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon olive oil, oregano, and basil. Set bruschetta to the side. Drain slightly before using.
- Grill your chicken: season with salt and pepper and rub with about 1 tsp. of olive oil and grill over low flame until 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Meat is ready to turn when it no longer sticks to the grill. Do not overcook
- Split your rolls in half then stack back together, lay on a sheet pan and toast for 5 min in a 350 degree oven.
- To assemble, spread pesto sauce on each half of the roll, then layer with lettuce or arugula, mozzarella, grilled chicken then drizzle with balsamic reduction and top with the bruschetta topping. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately.
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.