Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

 by Gourmet Nun

I do love potato salad. My earlier version started with a vinaigrette marinade on the potatoes, and finished with mayonnaise — a little lighter than the norm. This past Labor Day weekend, I wanted to do something even simpler and lighter. I remembered a salad using red potatoes, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and basil. So simple (you don’t even have to peel the potatoes), but so tasty. Add that to our nice crop of red potatoes straight from the garden, and you have the beginnings of a great picnic! From the clean platter that came back, I could tell everyone liked it!

Red Potato Salad with Balsamic Vinegar and Basil
 

2 # Red Potatoes, sliced a chubby 1/4 inch
1/2 of a small red onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste, preferably kosher

Cook sliced red potatoes until tender, but not falling apart.
Allow to cool slightly. Combine vinegar and olive oil, and add to potatoes.
Chiffonade the basil, and add that and the red onion to the potato mixture. Season to taste with salt. Can be served at room temperature, or chilled and enjoyed later.

Serves about 6

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Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun 

Sometimes color can be almost as important as flavor in producing a successful recipe.  That is one of the reasons I find so much joy in using fresh garden vegetables, whether they are cooked into the dish or simply used as a garnish or an accompaniment.  Fresh herbs can also enhance an otherwise plain or ordinary entrée. 

Right now our gardens are rich with a profusion of healthy herbs — so lush and fragrant that when I am in the midst of them I understand why Paddington, the cat, would often lie right down and roll around in a bed of them. I love to keep a collection of freshly picked herbs in front of me on the kitchen counter where I can bury my face in them from time to time and remember to include them in whatever I may be cooking. 

Today I am making savory herbed chorizo chicken breasts using both garden vegetables and herbs to notify both the eye and the palette.

 Savory Herbed Chorizo Chicken
 4          (6 ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
½         teaspoon salt, divided
¼         teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
            Cooking spray
¼         cup Mexican pork chorizo, casings removed
¼         cup sliced onion
2          tablespoons diced carrot
¼         cup diced yellow bell pepper
¼         cup diced red bell pepper
¼         cup white wine
1          tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
 
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Add chicken to pan; cook 6 minutes on each side or until done. 
While chicken cooks, heat a large skillet over medium – high heat.  Add chorizo; cook 1 minute, stirring to crumble.  Add remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, onion, and carrot; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add bell peppers; cook 1 minute or until crisp-tender.  Add wine, cook 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.  Spoon chorizo mixture over chicken; top with cilantro or any choice of fresh herbs ( rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage)
 
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Recipes From a Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun

August is eggplant time — the plants are big and beautiful, and their purple fruit heavy with promise. And then there are the tomatoes — not flooding in yet, but just starting. There is nothing quite like a garden tomato warm from the sun.  I was remembering an eggplant and tomato salad I used to make from an international cookbook, called caponata. I looked everywhere for the cookbook, but it seems it has moved elsewhere…then I thought I would find a duplicate of what I used to make online, but not so. It seems that what I used to make was more of a pickled eggplant salad. Light and delicious. Here is the closest to what I remember:
 
Eggplant not really Caponata Salad
 
1 large eggplant, about 1.5 lbs, peeled in stripes and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 lb. ripe tomatoes, cut in cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 Tablespoons White wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons good olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
 
In a medium pot, boil the eggplant in salted water for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until tender. Remove from heat, and place in a colander to drain. Transfer to a bowl, allow to cool slightly. Add the rest of the ingredients, and let meld together for a couple of hours at room temperature.
 
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Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

 by Gourmet Nun

We are exceptionally fortunate to have a variety of fruit trees so close to the convent where we can actually see the fruit daily ripening on their branches. I never tire of watching them, year after year, as they develop from buds and blossoms to fully formed peaches, plums, pears and apples. Right now nectarines are the main attraction and center stage in all their beauty, with peaches just behind waiting in the wings to make their appearance.

There is a sweet little cake with a zesty fresh lemon flavor that lends itself perfectly as an accompaniment to any fresh fruit.  It is a simple to mix batter into which you add slices of your choice of fruit according to the season; apricots, peaches and apples. It is surprisingly versatile and appealing and can be served in many ways.  Lovely all by itself with a cup of tea, or alongside a dish of fresh fruit, it also packs nicely into a lunch box or picnic basket. This morning a beautiful basket of freshly picked nectarines appeared on the kitchen counter, some of them still on their leafy branches. This afternoon we made little nectarine cakes. They all disappeared in no time.
 
Little Nectarine Cake
1 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
4 nectarines medium sized, pitted, cut into ¼” wedges
2 Tablespoons raw sugar.

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat 12 muffin cups with non-stick spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in another medium bowl, until light and fluffy about 2 minutes. Add egg, lemon zest, and vanilla and beat until combined. With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.  Divide batter among muffin cups (cups will be only 1/3 full) and smooth tops.  Top with nectarine slices and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until cakes are golden and toothpick comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let pan cool 5 minutes, then transfer cakes to a rack and let cool completely. Cakes can be made one day ahead.  Store airtight at room temperature.  Makes 12.

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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

by Gourmet Nun

Vegetable Stack Sandwich on Homemade Focaccia with Pesto and Ricotta

 Focaccia:

 2 cups warm water
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
5  to 6 cups unbleached all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoons salt
cornmeal for sprinkling
1/3 cup olive oil
3 to 4 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
Coarse salt, if desired

 Pour the warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast, sugar and 2 Tablespoons of the flour over the the water. Stir until dissolved, and then let sit until foamy, about 15 minutes. In a large bowl, place the 4 Tablespoons olive oil, salt, 1 cup of the flour and the yeast mixture. Whisk hard until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until a soft, sticky dough is formed. Turn onto a floured surface and knead to form a springy ball, dusting with flour to prevent sticking, about 3 minutes. Place the dough in a greased deep container, and let rise until triple in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. 

Grease a 17 x 11 inch baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place the dough ball on a lightly floured surface. Press and flatten the dough. Lift and pull gently, stretching to fit the baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk. Meanwhile combine herbs and 1/3 cup olive oil, let sit for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Using fingertips or knuckles, gently poke indentations all over the surface of the dough about 1/4 inch deep. Drizzle the oil/herb mixture over the surface of the dough, letting it pool in indentations. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until nicely browned. Sprinkle with salt if desired. 

 Stack Sandwich:

 I large eggplant,cut crosswise into slices
2 red onions, cut into slices
2 red peppers, cut into strips
3 zucchini, cut on an angle into slices
about 4 Tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt for sprinkling
2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into thin slices
2 cups pesto
2 cups ricotta cheese
about 4 oz baby spinach

 Lay the eggplant out onto trays lined with paper towel, sprinkle with salt, and let sit for about 10 minutes. Blot with more paper towel. Place eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and onion on baking sheets greased with olive oil. Brush all vegetables generously with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake in a 400 degree F oven until tender. 

 Cut Focaccia into squares, and then cut into 2 layers. Spread each layer with pesto, and the bottom with 2 teaspoons ricotta. Place baby spinach next, then a slice of eggplant, onion, tomato, a couple of slices of zucchini and finally some strips of red pepper. Place top layer of focaccia on this and you have a great sandwich!

 
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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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Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

 
My favorite time of day is early morning especially whenever I am able to spend any of that time out in the gardens.  The thrill of discovering something fresh and new poking up through the soil, opening of buds and unfolding of leaves all give me incentive for the day.  It makes me expect good things to happen and encourages me to look for new life developing around me. Right now we are harvesting mostly lettuce. Big, full, beautiful leafy heads — Boston bib, Buttercrunch and several other red leaf types for variety of texture and flavor.

There is no end to the beautiful salads that can be created with these crisp tender leaves and we’ve been using them in that way for most of our meals. We also enjoy them for a main meal in the form of Asian lettuce wraps, a favorite at the convent year-round, but especially nice in this warm weather.

 Asian Lettuce Wraps

16 Boston Bibb or butter lettuce leaves
1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
¼ cup hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons minced pickled or fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Asian chile pepper sauce (optional)
1 (8 ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 teaspoons Asian (dark) sesame oil

Rinse whole lettuce leaves and pat dry, being careful not to tear them.  Set aside. In a medium skillet over high heat, brown the ground beef in 1 Tablespoon of oil, stirring often and reducing the heat to medium, if necessary.  Drain, and set aside to cool. Cook the onion in the same pan, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar and chile pepper sauce to the onions, and stir.  Stir in chopped water chestnuts, green onions, sesame oil, and cooked beef; continue until the onions just begin to wilt, about 2 minutes.

 Arrange lettuce leaves around the outer edge of a large serving platter, and pile meat mixture in the center.  To serve, allow each person to spoon a portion of the meat into a lettuce leaf.  Wrap the lettuce around the meat like a burrito, and enjoy!

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Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun 

Don’t you love it when something unexpected thwarts your plans forcing you to take a different course which then turns out to be a blessing in disguise?  I do!  That’s what happened to me the other night. Dinner was scheduled to be barbequed ribs, corn-on-the-cob and salad.  The sister unfortunately had to be elsewhere and there was no one available to replace her.  What a predicament! What to do about the ribs was the big question. I ran down the list of possible substitutes but nothing clicked or felt just right. I flipped on the oven to 450 degrees seasoned the meat generously with onion salt and spread them out on a baking sheet and left them alone for 45 minutes.  The result??? Gorgeous golden ribs, crisp and crunchy on outside, tender, juicy and succulent on the inside.  They had simply cooked themselves with no help from anyone! Served with a choice of our favorite prepared chutney, sweet and sour sauce or barbeque sauce and a sprinkling of fresh chopped mango they made a huge hit.  Everyone had a great time dipping and trying each sauce to their own liking and some chose to have them just as they were straight out of the oven. If anyone was terribly disappointed at not having our usual, fall off the bone saucy cooked ribs they soon forgot it or at least never mentioned it. What most of them asked was  “How come we don’t have ribs this way more often?”

 
 Fast Crispy, Crunchy Ribs
 
St. Louis spare ribs cut into serving size pieces
Onion salt
Assorted prepared sauces
Fresh mangoes, pineapple or fruit of choice
 
Season ribs generously with onion salt, roast on baking sheet or roasting pan at 450 degrees for 45 minutes. Garnish with fruit if desired.
 
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Recipes From a Monastery Kitchen

by Gourmet Nun

As I write this, it is raining. I think not too long ago I was writing about all of the rain and cold we were having. (I will never complain about that again!) It’s finally been so dry that the garden could be tilled, and the tomatoes are being planted. I feel like having a party! Its the time of year that I try and think of what I can cook with the least amount of stove or oven usage.
 
I was recently cooking for a group, and not in the kitchen I am used to, which did not have a fully stocked pantry. I wanted to make a broccoli salad, so found a couple of recipes that looked promising, but of course did not have exactly what was called for, especially in the vinegar department. So, of course I would have to improvise.  It was a no cook broccoli salad with a mayonnaise, vinegar sugar dressing. I remembered that there was a bottle of white balsamic vinegar in the cupboard – ah sweet! I also wanted to cut down on the amount of mayonnaise, and use it more like the oil in the dressing, and I must say that balsamic can cover a multitude of sins. So, here is my version of fresh broccoli salad, improv style.
 

Improvised Broccoli Salad

Serves 6 to 8
 

1 head broccoli
6 to 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar, or a little more, depending on how sweet you want the dressing
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes

Trim off the large leaves from the broccoli stem. Remove the tough stalk at the end and wash broccoli head well. Cut the head into bite-size flowerets and the stem into bite size pieces. Place in a large bowl. Add the bacon, onion, raisins, and carrot. In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients, stirring well. Add to broccoli mixture and toss gently. Last of all add in the tomatoes and toss again gently. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

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