“Spring is on the way!” the kitchen sister sings. Outside the convent door the crocuses agree and now tonight’s evening meal reflects the happy thought by bringing a touch of Spring to the dinner table. During this Lenten season we have been serving lighter meals which have included a wide variety of new soups — mostly vegetable-based and surprisingly successful and satisfying. Our brand new fresh green pea soup is making its debut tonight and we shall see how it tastes.
Today in the bush outside my window I saw a baby robin and now there’s not a doubt that Spring is on its way!
- Sautee onion, celery and garlic in a large pot.
- Dissolve the vegetable stock in the water and add to pot with onion, celery and garlic.
- Add the peas and stir occasionally, bringing everything to a boil.
- Cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
- When peas are tender, remove from heat and let cool.
- Add mint leaves to the soup and blend with either an immersion blender, or in batches in a counter-top blender.
- Serve either warm or cold and garnish with fresh mint leaves if desired.
Lent inspires most of us to not only pause and reflect on our spiritual life but also time to choose a simpler and healthier lifestyle – away from the sugars and fats that infiltrate our daily life. Our Convent has been scaling back this lent and doing just this. It has made us more grateful for what we have and savor the more special moments.
One of our Sisters, who spent some time in Germany, is a big fan of homemade Muesli. I got inspired to take this idea into a bread. Since one of our most visited recipes is a gluten free oat bread, I thought readers might enjoy this hearty and beautiful muesli bread which is also gluten free! Packed with fiber, dried fruits and nuts, it’s so hearty that one slice will easily take care of your morning hunger pangs. If you are on a low fat, low sugar diet, this is the recipe for you. Blessed Lent!
Fruit and Nut Muesli Bread
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 7-by-3-inch loaf pan with pam and dust with almond flour or lined with baking paper.
- In a large bowl, mix the almond butter and agave nectar with a handheld mixer until smooth, then blend in the eggs. In a medium bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot powder, salt, baking soda, and flax meal. Blend the almond flour mixture into the wet ingredients until thoroughly combined. Fold in the apricots, cranberries, pistachios, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Pour the batter into the loaf pan.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven, until a knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for 1 hour, then serve.
Sisters birthdays are a special day of celebration in our Convent. Much prayer and discussion goes into the place setting at the table, the beautiful word that is specially picked just for her and then a few carefully and lovingly wrapped gifts (which are usually a few treat foods that she rarely gets). The Sister gets to choose her dinner entree and dessert from a menu. It’s really such fun – some sisters take up to a week deciding what they’re going to ask for on their special day. This past week, I had the great fun of cooking for one such occasion. I made my signature shrimp dish – a little like a scampi, but made richer by the fettucine tossed with cream and parmesan. The fresh lemon in this recipe is a must – don’t skip it. The Sister slowly savored her meal, a smile emanating after every bite. What a blessing it is to bless others – that’s what I love so much about the gift of cooking.
Stella's Shrimp and Fettuccine
- Boil salted water for pasta
- Meanwhile, sauté ¼ c. diced onion and crushed garlic clove until translucent over medium low heat. Watch carefully so you don't burn the garlic. Add chopped basil leaves and chopped tomato – lightly toss, sauté and remove from heat and into a dish to hold.
- Cook your pasta and when finished, toss with 4 Tbsp. butter, warmed heavy cream and 1/2 cup fresh parmesan until you have an “Alfredo” – add onion salt and fresh ground pepper - seasoning to taste.
- Quickly sauté your shrimp in butter, once golden on both sides, add white wine and juice of one lemon. Simmer slightly and then add the tomato mixture back to the pan and combine - season to taste.
- Serve fettuccine with the shrimp tossed over – sprinkle with the lemon rind, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
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.
One of our favorite breakfast recipes is a special Swedish crepe called Plattar. With Shrove Tuesday just around the corner, we thought it was the perfect time to share this special recipe.
I’ve always wondered why we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. After some quick research on the internet, I learned that since the 1500s, people have been making pancakes on “Shrove Tuesday” or “Fat Tuesday” as a way to use up all of the eggs, butter and fat in the home before the beginning of Lent, a time of fasting.
This recipe comes from Sr. Madeleine who is currently studying lace making in Brugge, Belgium. We asked her how this Swedish crepe came to be one of their family recipes, a recipe she makes for her two daughter’s birthdays every year. This is what she wrote me.
“Swedish Plattar is a recipe from a collection of Swedish recipes celebrating the seasons of the year. The author of the recipe remembers her mother preparing these recipes to remind her family of the goodness of God. Personally, when I was young I had not learned to cook or bake; I too, like the writer, wanted to both cook for my young family and to emphasize the love of God and His goodness. Swedish plattar was by far the biggest hit! I made it regularly every Saturday morning for my family, standing patiently beside the electric frying pan (popular in those days) until many Swedish Plattar were made and the the hungry mouths of all were filled. Swedish Plattar takes time to fry, so the making is a labor of love (due to the sheer volume of the batter, and the number you need to fill someone up!). The smudges and dribbles on the page make the recipe easy to find in the cookbook, and also attest to its perennial popularity. My daughters and I are all three nuns now and they as well as I continue the practice of making Swedish plattar for celebrations of God and His goodness.”
You can read more about Sr. Madeleine’s experiences in her blog Belgian Prayers and Lace.
Swedish Plattar Pancakes - Shrove Tuesday
- Beat the eggs add the milk, then the flour and whisk well. Add the melted butter, sugar, salt and vanilla and whisk.
- Let the batter stand for two hours or overnight
- Preheat a griddle to 325 degrees and brush with butter
- When the skillet is hot, drop in two - three tablespoons of batter for each pancake – about 4” in diameter
- Cook until golden on one side, and then flip to the other side (about 2 min. on each side)
- When golden, fold into thirds and remove to a plate and continue with the rest of the batter.
- The pancakes can be kept warm in a low oven. One recipe makes 30 - 4” pancakes.
Serve with the jam and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Fresh fruit on the side makes a lovely presentation.