Chestnut Stuffing: Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

Last month Elements Theater Company presented two memorable weekends of Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol in our church. Favorable comments were made about each little detail of the production, including one delightful feature that added much to my own enjoyment of the experience. This was the roasting of chestnuts out in the cold night air over an open fire in the church atrium before and after each performance.

 I think of Christmas time as chestnut season and since childhood chestnuts, along with pomegranates, have to me always been as essential as holly and ivy to its celebration. Not only did we enjoy eating the nuts warm out of the shell, but at our house they were always considered a necessary ingredient to our holiday stuffing. That’s what made it so special and different from the stuffing we had the rest of the year.

The combination of sausage, chestnuts, apples and savory herbs still remains in my memory as a most extraordinary culinary Christmas experience. But there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyed, even after the holidays while chestnuts are still available. Here’s my  suggestion for a cold winters night……stuff a nice crown or loin of pork and roast it for an unexpected, out of the ordinary dinner. I guarantee you rave reviews.

Chestnut Stuffing

1 pound crumbled sausage meat
4 ounces butter
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced celery
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 quarts bread, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes
4 ounces chicken stock
4 ounces cider
1 cup diced apples
1 pound roasted, peeled, and cleaned chestnuts cut into quarters
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put sausage meat and butter into a hot casserole. Add onions and celery and cook until soft, but not brown. Remove from heat and add marjoram and thyme. In a bowl combine bread, vegetables, hot stock, cider, apples and chestnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Place in covered baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or stuff into roast. Add a sprinkling of pomegranate at serving time for a touch of color and extra flavor.



Calypso Dips: Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun

I did something very enjoyable today that I haven’t done in a while. I dipped into an old recipe box and pulled out a former favorite….one I hadn’t made in years. As much as I enjoy trying new recipes, I get pleasure out of going back and reviving old ones, so today it was like opening a Christmas card from an old friend that I hadn’t been in touch with for some time and recalling memories from the past.

As I started measuring ingredients, a stream of familiar faces came to my mind’s eye while I recalled using this recipe for many Bethany guests, retreatants and teas, and sometimes for Christmas gift giving. In this particular case, the “old friend” in my recipe box happened to be a little fun cookie called a Calypso Dip which was very popular in its day. Much of its appeal comes from its novel shape and unexpected flavors, just a little different from the usual cookie. Give it a try and you might decide to add to your own collection of Holiday goodies.

Calypso Dip Cookie

Sift together:
2          cups flour
½         teaspoon baking powder
½         teaspoon salt

½         cup butter.  Gradually add ¾ c firmly packed brown sugar, creaming well.

Add to butter mixture:
¼         cup cream
¼         teaspoon maple flavoring

 Blend in dry ingredients.Chill dough for at least 1 hour.Shape into sticks 3”x ½ “ long.Bake in oven 375 ˚ degrees on un-greased cookie sheets, 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Dip one end into frosting then into ¾ cup chopped nuts.

Melt ½ cup chocolate chips, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 2 Tablespoons water and ½ teaspoon rum flavoring in the top of a double boiler over boiling water.


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. 


Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun

Autumn and butternut squash, in my mind, are almost synonymous. I am happy to say that we have a generous harvest of them stacked on wooden slats ready to be taken to the root cellar for storage. It’s safe to say that much of it will be turned into butternut bisque, which for years now has also been synonymous with autumn, at least here at the convent. However, roasted winter squashes are also regularly featured in our cold weather menus, and they now rival the bisque in popularity. Such a simple way to prepare them, and so many variations that can add color and flavor to most any meal. Here is one of my simplest and most favorite.
Orange glazed squash
Cut squash into desired size and shape and spread out on a parchment line baking sheet.
Melt together:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1 teaspoon orange
1/4 teaspoon onion salt
Stir in a dash of  Grand Marnier or any orange liquor of your choosing (optional). Brush squash with mixture and roast in 400 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 10 minutes, or until golden brown and tender. For a festive holiday touch sprinkle with pomegranate kernels just before serving if desired.
Enough glaze for 2 medium sized squash.


Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun

I went out to the gardens the other morning to see them-after they’d been put to bed a few weeks ago. This is always a  bittersweet moment for me each year. They were nicely raked and  everything all carefully harvested (which is to me the sad part).  That is, almost everything harvested, because I did spy something that suddenly gladdened my heart. …….a vibrant green patch of kale in the farthest corner. This means that one of the healthiest of green vegetables will be available to us all winter long. No need to rush and gather it  before the frost because the frost simply sweetens it and makes it more  flavorful.
I grew up on kale when it was not so widely recognized and used as it is today. Just during this past year kale has rapidly increased in popularity as awareness of its nutritional value has been discovered. One of the richest sources of vitamin C, it is a perfect  winter food.
I love it simply sautéed in fresh garlic and olive oil and  simmered till soft and tender the old Mediterranean way, but it also  makes a marvelous hearty Tuscan soup for a cold weather meal when served with good crusty bread.
Hearty Tuscan Kale Soup

2  Tablespoons olive oil
1  pound Italian sausage, cut into 1-inch slices
1  large onion, thinly sliced
2  ribs celery, chopped
2  cloves garlic, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper
6  cups chicken broth
1  14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
2  15 ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper
1  small bunch kale, stems removed, leaves chopped
2  Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Warm oil in a pot over medium heat. Saute sausage until browned, about 10 minutes; set aside. Add onion and celery; saute until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper. Saute 1 minute. Pour in broth, raise heat to high and bring just to a boil, scraping up brown bits. Return sausage to pot; stir in tomatoes and beans. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to low, then simmer for 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper. Stir in kale, cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in parsley and top with Parmesan, if desired.
kale picture




Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun

By now you have most likely planned your entire Thanksgiving dinner, but even if you have, I’d like to suggest a simple side dish you might want to consider adding to the meal, or taking with you if you’ve been invited to someone else’ s home for dinner. The idea occurred to me as I passed our rather empty gardens and spied several rows of leeks still standing strong and holding their own out in the cold.

Since the earliest days in the Community, it has been our custom to serve the traditional Cape Cod Thanksgiving meal, which always included creamed onions. Then, when our gardens began to produce beautiful leeks we started using them instead. Many people prefer leeks because of their milder and more subtle flavor, and now they have become a “must have” addition to our holiday menu.

If you have never been introduced to leeks cooked in this particular way, they might very well become a favorite with you once you give them a try.

Creamy Festive Leeks

1/4 cup  butter
4 cups chopped leeks (about 2 pounds)
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped sage or 1/2 teaspoon dried
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sherry
Rinse leeks well, as soil can often be caught between leaves. In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the leeks and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 30 minutes. Add the thyme, sage, white pepper, flour and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add sherry, and season with salt.



Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun

Whenever we have Shepherd’s pie for dinner I know for certain that there will not be any leftovers for lunch the next day. Simple as it is, people love its old fashioned goodness, and even those who never take seconds can’t seem to resist having just a little bit more.

Just yesterday, I learned that sweet potatoes may be one of the greatest sources of beta carotene and Vitamin A – thus very good for you. So why not put a little autumn spin on our Shepherd’s pie and top it with tangy orange-zested sweet potato instead of white? I gave it a try and to my delight it did exactly what I what I hoped for……a thick golden crust that was gorgeous to look at and mouthwatering to eat.   

Served alongside a mixed green cranberry vinaigrette salad this became a most satisfying homespun November supper.

Autumn Shepherd’s Pie

*2 cups or more of leftover roast lamb, beef or pork
2 onions, chopped
1 Tablespoon onion salt
Pinch of thyme
Bone and pan drippings, if there are any left
½ cup white wine
Frozen peas (optional)
**4 cups seasoned mashed sweet potatoes

Put meat, onions, salt, thyme, pepper and if available bone and pan drippings, in a pot or pressure cooker and cover with water. Cook or boil them until the meat and onions are both soft.  Boil the liquid down until flavorful. Add the wine and thicken with flour. Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Place meat mixture in a pie dish (the peas may be added) and top with mashed sweet potatoes. Bake until golden brown and bubbling through, about 30 minutes.

* Cooked ground meat or turkey may be substituted.

** Season sweet potato with salt, pepper, nutmeg, orange zest and butter to taste.




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.




Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun

Next week we start harvesting apples. How the year zips right along, from planting to harvest to seed again. We haven’t quite finished dealing with the pears yet, but we are getting there. Many more jars of chutney, and maybe some cordial to warm us in the winter months. I wanted to try the pear chutney in my favorite hot ham and cheese sandwich, so I made up some bread dough, slathered in some of our homemade mustard and a good dollop of the pear chutney, baked it until the cheese was oozing out the sides and it was quite good! Served with a nice bowl of butternut squash soup, who could ask for more on these nippy fall days? 


Hot Ham and Cheese Pockets with Mustard and Chutney

Bread dough:
1 cup very warm water
1 Tablespoon yeast
sprinkle of sugar
1/2 Tablespoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
2 1/2 – 3 cup flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water, add sugar, and let sit until bubbly. Add salt, olive oil and enough flour to make a just-sticky bread dough that springs back to the touch after kneading for about 5 to 10 minutes. Keep adding flour until not sticky. Put back in bowl, and cover. Let rise about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
1 lb. thin sliced ham
3/4 cup grated cheese; (swiss, cheddar, or other)
1/2 cup chutney
3 Tablespoons coarse grained mustard, or Dijon
Olive oil
Divide dough into 6 lumps. Roll out into 7 inch circles. Spread center of each circle with mustard, then grated cheese, chutney, and finally ham bunched on top. Pull up edges of circle, and press edges together to form a ball. Place with seam side down on a pan lined with parchment. Let sit about 15 minutes. Brush tops with olive oil, and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until bubbly and golden.

Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

I am a cold weather girl. Yesterday was one of those crisp fall days, and I was actually cold! It’s a promise of things to come — apples being picked and pumpkins rolling in — so I do look forward to it. I love autumn! This year we have a bumper crop of pears. Last year was plum year — we had hundreds of pounds of the purple beauties. I don’t think we have as many pears, but it is a respectable harvest, enough that one starts wondering how many pears a person can eat? I love pears off of the tree, and I love to make upside cakes, poached pears, and pear muffins…. I also love chutney, so I decided to make up a few jars of a fiery pear one. Perfect for pork, or ham, turkey or chicken. Great in a ham and cheese sandwich on the griddle, or in the oven. But be warned — this one has a kick!

Golden Pear Chutney

3 pounds hard under-ripe pears, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 cups light brown sugar
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (less if you prefer not so much kick)
1/4 pound crystallized ginger, chopped (about 2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Quatre – Epices (see below)
1 cup dark raisins
1 cup golden raisins
2 cups chopped onion
1 lemon, peeled and thinly sliced

Cook the pears in enough water to cover until they are medium soft. Drain, saving the water, then make a syrup of the water in which the pears were cooked and the brown sugar by boiling in a large nonreactive pot until thick, about 20 to 30 minutes. While the syrup is boiling, add the remaining ingredients to the pears, then mix everything together and cook for about 30 minutes or until the raisins are softened, the onions are transparent, and the chutney has a good thick consistency. Transfer to sterilized jars and seal, process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, or store in refrigerator.
(Quatre – Epices: equal amounts of white pepper, nutmeg, ground cloves and ground ginger. Cinnamon can also be added, but for this recipe I left it out.)