Tonight, our Convent was humming with Christmas cheer as we readied our home for Christmas. Some wrapped presents to send to families, other Sisters spent time catching up with old friends as they penned their lovely cards. In the kitchen, we turned on Bing Crosby and poured over old fashioned family recipes as we pondered which cookies we would make this year. The royal icing was prepared and crispy butter cookies were being decorated with sprinkles covering every surface. I remembered a cookie that I hadn’t baked in years and a favorite to be sure. In fact, you won’t find this anywhere else on the internet, at least I couldn’t. Cut from an old magazine, pressed onto an index card and covered in plastic, this shows how treasured this recipe is. Sometimes baking can restore wonderful memories of times past and other times it just puts a smile on your face, honey in your belly and much joy for the adventures ahead. I love Christmas. The beauty, the magic and most of all the precious gift that is awaiting us in the form of a little baby on Christmas morning.
May the season of light be yours this year. Blessed Christmas!
To make the filling: In a small saucepan, combine the apricots, sugar and water and simmer for 15-18 min. or until the liquid is reduced by half and add the rum or brandy. Let the mixture cool slightly and in a food processor or blender, puree it.
Make the shortbread cookie dough. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate standing mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and the egg, beating the mixture until it is well combined. Slowly, add the flour mixture in stages and mix until just combined, but don't over mix or your shortbread will be tough.
Form the dough into a log, wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hr. Divide the log into 4 pieces.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, place the dough in plastic wrap and roll into an 8 inch long rope - place on a parchment covered sheet pan and make a canal down the center with your finger so the log becomes a 8 x 2" rectangle with a channel in the middle.
Spread the apricot puree in the canals.
Bake the cookie sticks in a 350 degree oven for 18-20 min. until the edges are slightly golden.
Transfer to a rack and let them cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together the glaze ingredients and add just enough water to make a thick but pour-able icing - you want it to be on the thick side.
If desired, transfer the glaze to a squeeze bottle or piping bag and drizzle the icing over the cookies.
Cut the rectangles diagonally into 1" strips.
The cookies will keep in the freezer or in an airtight container for 1 week.
Since St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) is just around the corner on December 13th, we thought we’d share this special Swedish bread with you – fantastic for the Holidays. The celebration of the day comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. “St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head, so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name.” (see note below**)
December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old ‘Julian’ Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day. It is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Thus, the wreath of bread dotted with candied “berries.” If you’d like you can also add small candles to the cake as well for a more festive look.
Every time our lace making sister comes home from Belgium, one of the first things she’s eager to do is cook something from her adopted homeland for all the sisters here at home. Not only does she want to introduce us to Flemish cooking, she also wants to be able to share the response of the sisters “here” with those “back there.”
This time, she’s chosen to make Flemish Beef stew, a simple stew with a unique flavor provided by one key ingredient, which is beer. Frequently when referring to this meal it will be said “The better the beer the better the stew.” Now beer is not something we regularly have on hand in the convent, but only when its given to us as a gift for some celebratory occasion, but our determined sister would not be put off by lack of one ingredient, even though it be the most important one in the recipe. She is known for having everything fall into place at the right moment regardless of the odds. So it was no surprise to anyone when a 6 pack of Stella Artois appeared on the kitchen counter. Without skipping a beat, she continued working on her stew while quietly throughout the convent sisters could be heard quietly chanting “The better the beer, the better the stew.”
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add half the beef and brown on all sides, turning frequently, about 5 minutes
Transfer to a slow cooker and drain any fat from the pan.
Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and brown the remaining geef and add to the slow cooker.
Add mushrooms to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until they give off their liquid (5-7 minutes).
Sprinkle flour over the mushrooms and cook for half a minute. Add beer and bring to a boil, whisking constantly to reduce foaming, until thickened and bubbliing, about 3 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture to the beef in the slow cooker.
Add carrots, onion, garlic, mustard, caraway seeds, salt, pepper and bay leaf to the slow cooker and stir to combine.
Cover the slow cooker and cook on low until the beef is very tender, about 8 hrs.
Flemish Beef Stew made by Sisters of the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod
All the convent sisters continue to work on preparations for Spirit of America Band’s participation in the Dubai workshops at the end of this month. Whether or not they play an instrument or are even going on the trip themselves every sister is very involved and supportive of the endeavor in whatever way they are able to contribute.
Last week the emphasis was on sewing. All who could helped with the job of fitting, altering and adjusting each uniform. This week when the participants from all over the country come together for rehearsal, we will be feeding about 200 people for the entire weekend; so much help will be needed in Paraclete House Kitchen. One of the meals that has hit the spot with most of the group and received a lot of praise is this hearty beef stew that not only provides them with needed energy but also satisfies their taste buds in a special way.
Who doesn’t want to sit down to a fresh, colorful and crispy salad topped with your favorite dressing? The simplicity, the beauty, the different textures all combine to make this lunch time treat such a pleasing and healthy option.
Recently we served this for a retreat, and it received such rave reviews that we thought we’d share our salad bar ideas with you. We haven’t included amounts, because you can make as little or as much as you want. As a guide, people would probably want to plan on 1 Tbsp. of toppings per person. It’s also the perfect “to go” meal – just prep all the toppings, throw them in zip-lock bags or containers and then dish up before serving.
We hope you enjoy some of these ideas as much as we do.
Salad Bar Suggestions:
Lettuce – a blend of iceberg, romaine, bibb and red leaf is nice
diced turkey or chicken
hard boiled eggs
cheese – Havarti, swiss, cheddar – all recommended
tomatoes, wedged or grape or cherry tomatoes
roasted beets, julienned
broccoli and/or cauliflower flowerets
sliced red onion
diced cooked bacon
sunflower seeds, roasted and salted
toasted nuts – such as walnuts or pecans
An Assortment of Homemade Dressings – click on the link for the recipes
Homemade Bleu Cheese Dressing
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
English Garden Salad Dressing
Makes 1 cup (250ml), about four servings
If you can’t get buttermilk, mix one part milk (whole or lowfat) with one part plain yogurt (regular or lowfat) to approximate the taste. Any kind of blue cheese, domestic or imported, should work well.
In a medium bowl, mash the blue cheese with the salt and pepper with the back of a fork until the pieces of cheese are finely broken up.
Stir in the chives, sour cream, buttermilk, and lemon juice or wine vinegar until well mixed.
Add a few drops of red wine vinegar. Taste, and adjust any of the seasonings to your liking and if the dressing too thick, add a bit more buttermilk.
*Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz
Green Goddess Salad Dressing
Place the mayonnaise, scallions, basil, lemon juice, garlic, anchovy paste, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth.
Add the sour cream and process just until blended. Refrigerate the dressing until ready to serve.
English Garden Salad Dressing
Combine all but the oils in a bowl and whisk. Slowly whisk in the oils to combine.
Combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, salt, and black pepper together in a glass jar with a lid.
Replace lid on the jar and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined.
Apple Fritters… crunchy, sweet, and melt-in-your-mouth on the outside, cinnamon-y dough with apple chunks on the inside. I can’t think of a better use for our apple drops that we are collecting in the early hours of the morning. A delightful early morning treat to pair with a steaming cup of coffee on a crisp fall morning.
Pour oil into a cast iron or other heavy duty skillet so that it is approximately 1 ½” deep. Heat oil on medium high. Oil is ready when dough floats to top. (don’t let it get too hot or the fritters will burn!)—do a little tester with the dough to be sure the oil is hot enough.
Prepare the glaze by stirring the milk (or half and half) and sifted powdered sugar together in a small bowl—you want it to be a fairly thick glaze.
Prepare the fritter by combining the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir in milk, vanilla and egg until just combined (add enough milk to make a thick batter).
Fold in apple chunks
Carefully add dough to the oil in heaping tablespoons. Cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes, then flip. Cook another 1-2 minutes, until both sides are browned.
Transfer briefly to paper towels to absorb excess oil, then transfer to cooling rack.
Drizzle glaze over the apple fritters while they are still warm. Wait approximately 3 minutes for glaze to harden, then flip fritters and drizzle glaze over the other side.
Best served warm. Enjoy!