Herb Crackers: Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun         

I love this time of year of cold and snow (not so much the sleet and rain!) All the lights on trees and houses remind us that this is the season of light while we await the coming of Light. And it’s the season of get-togethers — family, friends, businesses, and  most of us have a favorite dish we like to bring to these gatherings. I have lately become enamored with homemade crackers. I had never made them before, convinced it was a big laborious floury mess, but nothing could be further from the truth! They are easy, delicious, and cost effective! I tried out several, but here is my favorite, which is wonderful with cheese, or a dip or spread, or just as it is!
 
Herb Crackers

Makes about 100 small, or 50 to 60 free-form crackers
2 cups flour, plus more as needed
3/4 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 Tablespoons butter, at a cool room temperature
1/2 cup hot tap water, or as needed
1/2 to 1 teaspoon herbes de provence
 
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
Combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse several times to combine. With the machine running, add enough hot water to form a smooth soft ball, stopping to check the texture before you add all of the water (you might not need it all). Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead it quickly and lightly. Divide into fourths and wrap in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes.
 
Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out as thinly as possible on the work surface, re-flouring as needed. Ideally, the dough should be translucent enough so that you can see the work surface through it. Pick up and rotate dough as needed. Sprinkle dough with a little flour. Fold the dough carefully into 2 or 3 pieces, transfer it to a baking sheet and unfold it to cover the sheet. At this point you can cut the dough into squares, or bake in a sheet and break up into random pieces. Sprinkle with the herbes de provence, press in with hand. Prick each sheet or cracker several times with the tines of a fork. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes or until the crackers are golden and light brown around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cool completely, and store in an airtight container. 
 
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Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

 
I had an unexpected surprise this week. I was invited to one of our Advent Teas for a friend’s special birthday.  I have always loved the teas and this one was especially lovely. So beautifully and tastefully decorated for the season with rich colors, varying shades of red and burgundy with a pomegranate tucked in here and there. Just sitting in the room drinking in the beauty and listening to lovely music presented by the string players was so enjoyable that I almost forgot food was going to be served until I spotted the menu.
 
In addition to the plated selection of special tea sandwiches and scones, a lovely variety of choice desserts was also offered.  It was a hard decision to make but after carefully surveying each of the various elegant creations, I chose the Lemon glazed sponge cake garnished with fresh raspberries and was so happy that I did….  a perfect ending to a perfect tea, and a perfect dessert to keep in mind when you may want something that’s not overly rich yet luscious and attractive for a holiday meal.

 Sponge Cake

6          eggs, whites and yolks separated
1          cup sugar
1          Tablespoon lemon juice
1          cup flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Separate egg whites and yolks. Beat egg whites until peaks form. In separate bowl, beat yolks and sugar until light yellow. Add lemon juice to yolk mixture. Fold in sifted flour. Fold in egg whites just until mixed. Put mixture in ungreased tube pan or individual small cake or muffin tins. Bake 35-40 minutes for tube pan or 15-20 minutes for individual tins until golden brown or until cake springs to touch. Cool.

Lemon Curd
6          lemons zested to equal 2 Tablespoons + juice of lemons to equal 1 cup
½         cup butter, softened
2          cups sugar
4          eggs

Grate zest from lemons. Cut lemons in half; squeeze juice into a measuring cup. Beat butter and 2 cups of sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Gradually add lemon juice to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended after each addition; stir in zest. Mixture will look curdled. Transfer to a 3 quart microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high 5 minutes, stirring at 1 minute intervals.  Microwave at 30 second intervals, 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon and starts to mound slightly when stirred. Place plastic wrap on top of warm curd to keep film from developing and chill 4 hours until firm.

Garnish cake as desired with curd, whipped cream and berries.

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Advent

by Renaissance Girl

 
I stood outside this weekend welcoming guests who were coming for our Advent Teas, Bake Shop and Advent Service of Lessons and Carols. It reminded me why Advent is my favorite season. It’s not the shopping and sales and pressure to get all the right things. It’s the feeling of hope – the anticipation of something good being on its way, something that will change your life for the better. I could see it on people’s faces and it moved and inspired me – an open, child-like expectancy. Not frivolous but confident.
 
One woman came up to see the life-sized nativity with her 3-year old son. After spending some moments with the shepherds, we walked into the church. An almost inaudible “oh boy” escaped him and it was like watching a child in a toy store. He ran around exploring and touching mosaics, the bronze bowls of the font – full of questions and exclamations – seeing everything for the first time. Maybe this is what this season is about – letting go of the pressures and expectations we have on ourselves and our families, and being open to a new and hope-filled expectation of the one who is coming to save us.
 
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Bee Alive

by Sr Nunother  

Recently, as I served breakfast to a guest, he politely asked, “So what happens here on Saturday morning?”  I assumed he referred to the stream of people hurrying by the window with shovels, brooms, garden carts, ladders and paint cans.

“Oh, that’s work crew”, I answered.  “There’s a job for everyone, from folding church bulletins and jam making, to mowing grass and renovating buildings. 

He replied that it looked just like a beehive.  Exactly!  Beehive is the name given to our Saturday morning endeavor and I was glad he made the analogy. The conversation led me to do a little research and I found these significant facts:  1. Honey bees are altruistic social insects that band together for the good of all;  2. The basis for division of labor within a hive is the age of the worker and is designed to prolong life;  3. Hives continue to develop and survive as long as every member functions well at his/her particular tasks.  It occurred to me that the beehive is a living symbol of I Corinthians 12, the scripture that speaks of the interdependence of the parts of the body of Christ and the necessity of all.

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Recipes From a Monastery Kitchen

 
This week I am in an unfamiliar kitchen that is “equipment-challenged.” Anyone that has worked with me will tell you I am a “from-scratch” cook and have been known to look down on packaged mixes and ready made products. However in my older years I am mellowing in my opinions… So when I wanted to make chicken-pot-pie for a crowd this week and knew I lacked a pastry cutter and rolling pin, I realized that this was one of those moments to put aside pride! So off to the store for some pre-made pie crust. I did however make my own broth. Why waste boiling a whole chicken? Chicken-pot-pie is almost the first thing I think of when the leaves start to turn in earnest.
 
Chicken pot pie
 
3 1/2 lb whole chicken, giblets removed

1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
1 whole onion cut in half

Put all of these ingredients in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked. Remove chicken and set aside. Keep simmering broth. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove meat from the bones and return the bones to the broth. Continue cooking until you have about 4 to 6 cups of broth, after straining through a colander.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

6 Tablespoons butter
1 large onion diced
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 carrots , peeled and chunked
3 parsnips peeled and chunked
8 oz mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half or quarters
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 cup flour
2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
3/4 cup frozen green peas
1 ready made pie crust
1 egg whisked with 1 Tablespoon water

Melt butter in a stock pot. Add onion, carrots, celery, parsnips and mushrooms and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes. Add thyme and cook another minute. Add flour and cook again another couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add 4 cups of the stock and bring to a boil to thicken. Turn heat down and simmer a few minutes until vegetables begin to get tender. Chop chicken into chunks and add that and parsley to the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pile into a 9″ glass pie plate. Sprinkle peas on top. Place crust over all, crimp edge decoratively. Brush egg wash over crust. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

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Love Unexpected

by Renaissance Girl     

 
I was a docent after church yesterday and a woman came to see the church at the recommendation of a friend. I met her in the atrium and we talked for a few minutes about the Community and the church before we headed inside.
 
On a side note, one of the things that means the most to me as a docent is that I get a chance to see the church with fresh eyes through people who come to see it for the first time. Sometimes I am caught off guard by their response and taken aback again at what I have the privilege to live with every day. God knew I needed this, especially yesterday morning when I was feeling completely consumed with myself.
 
We walked through the doors of the church and the woman froze and gasped audibly. She took a moment to just be in the space and then said, “I feel so….so….overwhelmed.” I felt my eyes tearing as I looked at her face — an utter expression of experiencing God. And then she said “I just have such a warm feeling.” I felt awed to be in the presence of God’s personal love for this woman.
 
We walked around the church, taking it all in and talking about it.  When we reached the end she turned to me and said “thank you so much, I feel so blessed by this, can I give you a hug?”  And there it was – God’s love for me.  Through the eyes and arms of a stranger.
 
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Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun

As I helped clear the Retreat lunch tables, one of the leaders, a good friend (and one of my most honest) looked up at me with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. “Delicious, Sister Irene,” he said, “But why is it that people in general seem to think that the only way to cook eggplant is with tomatoes?” Well, here was a question I’d never before been asked that made me stop and think. I didn’t feel it was a complaint or criticism so much as a challenge. He appeared to have enjoyed my eggplant Parmesan because his plate was clean. He’d even had a second helping!

His forthrightness set me on a course that expanded my eggplant repertoire. Up until then I had pretty much settled for recipes I’d felt comfortable making and knew most people liked. But he was a Southerner and his tastes were more towards creamy-styled dishes than Mediterranean. I asked him for suggestions and then launched into an exploration of tomato-less eggplant dishes. After trying multiple ones I settled on several favorites that I’ve stuck with over the years, this being one that both he and I like—you may, too.

Eggplant Souffle
2 large eggplants
2 Tablespoons or more butter
3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
½ cup thin cream or rich milk
Onion salt and pepper
½ cup soft bread crumbs
Milk
4 egg whites
2 Tablespoons blanched almonds, toasted, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons bread crumbs, toasted

 Makes 6 to 8 servings

Cook eggplants in 2 quarts salted, slightly boiling water for 15 minutes or until tender. Remove skins and mash pulp; add 2 Tablespoons butter, yolks, cream, and season to taste with onion salt and pepper.

Soak bread crumbs in milk and squeeze crumbs in a dry cloth to remove moisture. Add crumbs to eggplant. Fold in egg whites and turn into generously buttered soufflé dish. Sprinkle with almonds mixed with the same amount of toasted bread crumbs and a little melted butter. Bake for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Serve immediately in the baking dish.    

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Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

When I got up this morning to go to Lauds, I thought I might need a jacket…wow, how things change. Last time I wrote we were in the middle of a humid heat wave. Last weekend was Transfiguration Sunday, a feast reflecting the name of our church. We always have a coffee hour after church to celebrate. I found a blueberry pie filling and wrapped that in the dough we had made the day before. They were really delicious, and moist! Of course the huge amount of frosting I drizzled on helped, but it was a very light moist cake and the filling was perfect. There were lots of compliments on this latest adventure.
 
Blueberry Coffeecake Ring

For Dough:
2 packages dry yeast
1/2 cup very warm water
1/3 cup butter, slightly softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup hot milk
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon mace
3 additional cups flour
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

For the blueberry filling:
4 cups blueberries (we used frozen, but fresh are great, too)
3/4 cup sugar
5 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 Tablespoons butter

Glaze:
1 cup powdered confectioners sugar
1 Tablespoon milk, or more as needed
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
 
Filling:
Combine 1 cup blueberries with 3/4 cup sugar in a pan, and simmer on low heat until the sugar is melted and mixture is very liquid, about 5 minutes. Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl, then add to pan with blueberries. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil and is clear and thick. Pour hot mixture into a large bowl and cool until warm. Fold in remaining 3 cups of blueberries, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter. Set aside to cool completely.
 
Dough:
Dissolve yeast in warm water. set aside. Cream butter and sugar, add salt, hot milk and one cup of flour. Add dissolved yeast and 2 eggs. Combine. With wooden spoon, mix in 2 1/2 cups flour, grated zest, and mace. Knead until smooth, adding remaining flour as needed to make a soft dough, about 5 to 8 minutes. Place in a bowl greased with the oil, turn to coat. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and kitchen towel. Let rise until doubled.
 
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a long 7″ x 22″ rectangle. Spread with 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the filling, leaving 1 1/2 ” border around edge. Roll up from the long side like a jelly roll, carefully pulling dough up and over the filling, being careful not to tear. Crimp seam at bottom. Shape this long rope into a ring and pinch ends together. Carefully transfer to a baking sheet lined with baking paper. With sharp knife or kitchen shears, make cuts in the ring, to within 1/2 inch of bottom of ring, at about 3  inch intervals. Cover the ring with plastic wrap and let rise 40 to 45 minutes. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees, until slightly golden.
 
To make the glaze:
Whisk together confectioners sugar, butter, milk and vanilla. Drizzle over finished cake while slightly warm.
 
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Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

 

Fresh summer fruits and berries are a dessert maker’s delight.  Cool, colorful and light they are the perfect compliment to any warm weather meal without doing a thing to them.  But with a minimal amount of work they can also become a stunning offering of charm and elegance to send a meal over the top. What I am describing is a Pavlova-like cream filled meringue that showcases a few choice favorite fruits as a breathtaking jewel of a dessert, a striking finale to any lunch or dinner that can take the meal from ordinary to sublime. 

Fresh Fruit Meringue
 
Meringue:
1 ½ teaspoons
  pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cream of tartar, or 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar
1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup (6 ounces, about 6 large egg whites), preferably room temperature
Pinch of salt

Topping:
Assorted fresh fruits
Whipped cream

Place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 275°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour the vanilla and vinegar (if using) into a small cup. Stir the cornstarch into the sugar in a small bowl. In a large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment, whip egg whites, cream of tartar (if using) and salt, starting on low, increasing incrementally to medium speed until soft peaks/ trails start to become visible, and the egg white bubbles are very small and uniform, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high, slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour in the vanilla and vinegar (if you didn’t use cream of tartar.)  Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy, and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 4 to 5 minutes. Pipe or spoon the meringue into rounds that are 3 inches wide on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon liner. With the back of a spoon, create an indentation in the middle of the mound for holding the filling once meringue is baked. Place baking sheet in the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 250° Fahrenheit.  Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until the meringues are crisp, dry to the touch on the outside, and white—not tan colored or cracked. (The interiors should have a marshmallow-like consistency.) Check on meringues during the baking time. If they appear to be taking on color or cracking, reduce temperature 25 degrees, and turn pan around. Gently lift from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack. Will keep in a tightly sealed container at room temperature, or individually wrapped, for up to a week if your house is not humid. Serve topped with whipped cream and crushed or whole berries and your choice of assorted fruits.

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Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

 
The vegetables are really pouring in from the gardens now.  Every year it seems to happen all at once. Last summer I never got around to using one of my most favorite tomato zucchini recipes, and I don’t want that to happen again this year. I used this frequently for guest meals and retreats for many, many years and it was always very popular. It is definitely old fashioned but definitely good!  Plus it is a very attractive and savory compliment to any plate, especially when all the fresh tomatoes and summer squash are at their peak. 
 

Zucchini-Stuffed Tomatoes

 4 tomatoes
½ pound yellow squash
½ pound zucchini squash
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup Swiss cheese, grated
1 Tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

 Yield: Makes 4 servings 

Cut tops off tomatoes, scoop out pulp, and drain upside down on paper towel or a rack. Grate squash. Mix in salt. Let sit ½ hour; squeeze out liquid. Add cream, cheeses, and white pepper. Cook squash mixture in frying pan until liquid is absorbed and mixture is thickened. Fill tomatoes. Bake at 375˚F until hot and golden brown on top.  Do not overcook.

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