We can all use an occasional retreat from cooking

Published 1:46 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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We all could use a retreat from cooking now and then.

The soft ringing of a bell let guests know the meal was ready and about to be served. Guests gathered in a circle outside the dining room where we received a litany of the day’s sustenance, blessings of the food, and prayers for the people. A friend had invited me to a three-day spiritual journey of meditation and deep prayer. I felt grateful.

As in a processional, we filed in, one after another, making our way to a warm buffet that offered ample portions of soul-satisfying, comforting sustenance. Guests were offered a variety of choices for three meals a day. Some foods were old-fashioned favorites like Mama made when growing up – delicious, adequate, and filling. A few others were newly inspired dishes – nothing fancy, mind you, but each was humble and hot.   

Breakfast consisted of Egg Sausage Casseroles, Fiesta Scrambled Eggs, Sausage Gravy, Garlic Cheesy Grits, and Hot Oats with cinnamon and pecans. A mixture of fresh fruit was offered each morning with a selection of flavored yogurts.

Mid-day and evening meals were typical comfort foods with creative spins on flavor – Tilapia with Lemon Sauce, Spicy Pork Tenderloin, Hearty Horseradish Meatloaf, Sausages with Fresh Vegetables, and Beefy Pot Pie with accompanying cooked vegetable side dishes. Large bowls of fresh greens tossed with raw crudite accompanied each meal. Our daily bread consisted of slices of homemade loaves and sweet muffins.

A day’s sweet finale consisted of delicious confections such as Coconut Buttermilk Pie, Brown Sugar Pound Cake, Jumbo White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies, and Strawberry Cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

The retreat was three days of not having to cook. But I can’t say I went without nourishment – the kind that feeds both tummy and soul.  Guests were physically and spiritually fed – and prayed over.  My cup runneth over. I had received more than enough.

From the moment I entered the prayer center, I felt nurtured in a comfortable, peaceful environment. Outdoors, a sanctity of silence was observed amidst a blanket of nature’s beauty. I walked the nature trail – quietly communing with God.

Sometimes we all need a respite. Not just from our kitchens – but one to withdraw from the world.

That’s what Jesus did.

The Bible gives us glimpses into His spiritual practices. At the onset of His ministry, Jesus retreated to the wilderness – and leaned on what is written. He was led by the Spirit into the desert where he fasted 40 days and nights. And even though hungry, Jesus was not tempted by the devil, saying, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Mark 1:35 informs us, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (NIV) So we know Jesus prioritized alone time with his Father. Over and over again, we see Jesus seeking God.

Life’s busy and it’s hard to find solitary moments. But each day, let’s continue to retreat to a quiet place where we can earnestly pray,  receive what is written, and talk to God.   

SPICY PORK TENDERLOIN

¾ cup olive oil

3 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic

1½ tsp. each, cayenne pepper, cinnamon

4½ tsp. cumin

3 lb. pork tenderloin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, combine olive oil, minced garlic, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and cumin. Mix well. Thoroughly rub over the pork. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for 8 hours. In a skillet, brown the meat on all sides for 5 minutes, and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a large roasting pan in a preheated 400-degree oven for 25 minutes or until pork registers 155 degrees on a meat thermometer. When ready to serve, slice into ½-inch pieces. Serve with a fruit chutney.

EASY CHEESY BROCCOLI

20 oz. frozen broccoli

¼ lb. Mexican Velveeta cheese

1 stick salted butter

1 sleeve crushed Ritz crackers

Prepare broccoli according to pkg. directions. Drain and set aside. In a saucepan, melt butter. Add cheese and melt while stirring. In a butter greased, casserole dish, layer ½ of broccoli and ½ of cheese with ½ of crushed crackers, in that order. Repeat the layers. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. You can use steamed, fresh broccoli, as well.

BEEF LOAF WITH HORSEY SAUCE

2 beaten eggs

1 ½ Tbsp. horseradish

½ cup ketchup

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 chopped onion

1/8th cup brown sugar

1 ½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cup panko breadcrumbs

1 ½ lbs. premium ground chuck

water

Sauce

1 ½ Tbsp. horseradish

2 tsp. spicy brown mustard

½ cup ketchup

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

For the loaf, in a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add the horseradish, ketchup, vinegar, onion, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and breadcrumbs. Mix well. Add ground beef and mix well. Add water if necessary to form a loaf. Form into desired shape and place in loaf pan or baking dish. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and evenly pour half the sauce over the top of the meat. Return to oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and evenly pour remainder of sauce over the top. Cook an additional 15 minutes or until done.  Allow meatloaf to sit 10 minutes before serving.

COCONUT BUTTERMILK PIE

5 beaten eggs

1 ¾ cup sugar

½ tsp. salt

1 stick melted, salted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

¾ cup buttermilk

1 cup flaked coconut

2 unbaked pie shells

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar and salt, and mix well. Add melted butter, vanilla, and buttermilk. Mix well. Stir in coconut and mix well. Pour into 2 unbaked pie shells. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for 50 minutes or until pies are set.

CITRUS AND PARSLEY RICE

2 cups chicken broth

1 juiced lemon, plus zest

1 cup long-grain white rice

Lemon zest

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

2-3 Tbsp. salted butter

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, combine chicken broth and fresh lemon juice. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir in the rice. Cover and continue to cook 20 minutes and then stir in the fresh lemon zest, parsley, and butter. Cover and cook an additional 10 minutes. Remove from heat. When ready to serve, fluff rice with fork. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Get creative and try different fresh citrus juices.

STRAWBERRY COBBLER PIE

1 beaten egg

1 cup sugar

¼ cup melted, salted butter

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup self-rising flour

2 ½ cups sliced fresh strawberries

9-inch pie crust

In a mixer bowl, beat egg. Add sugar and mix well. Add melted butter, lemon juice, and self-rising flour. Mix well. Gently fold in strawberries. Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour or until set in center. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

ORANGE GLAZED CHICKEN BREAST

16 oz. drained can mandarin oranges

¼ cup ketchup

¼ cup cider vinegar

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

½ cup brown sugar

1 tsp. fresh ginger

2 chopped cloves garlic

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Skinless, boneless chicken pieces

To a food processor, add drained oranges, ketchup, cider vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, fresh ginger, garlic, salt, and pepper. Process until smooth. Pour over chicken before baking. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Baste with sauce while cooking.

BACON AND ONION SMASH

4 peeled, cut, large Idaho potatoes

water

½ stick melted, salted butter

8 oz. shredded Colby-Jack cheese

½ cup sour cream

4 chopped green onions

2 chopped cloves garlic

8 cooked, crumbled slices bacon

1 ½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Add peeled, 2-inch cut-up baking potatoes to a large pan, and cover with water. Boil for 30 minutes or until tender and drain well. With a fork, mash potatoes well. While potatoes are hot, stir in the butter and cheese until melted. Add the sour cream and mix well. Add green onions, garlic, and crumbled bacon. Mix well. Salt and pepper, to taste.

TILAPIA WITH LEMON SAUCE

6 tilapia loins

5 Tbsp. salted butter

½ juiced lemon, plus zest

½ Tbsp. kosher salt

½ Tbsp. coarse ground black pepper

½ tsp. paprika

¼ bunch chopped, fresh Italian parsley

Slice pieces of tilapia on the diagonal and place on a sheet pan. In a baking dish, add the butter. Place the dish in a preheated 375-degree oven until butter melts. Remove from the oven, and coat fish pieces in the butter with the lemon juice and zest added. Arrange the larger fish around the outside of the pan and the smaller pieces on the inside. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle paprika over the fish pieces. Bake fish covered in the oven for 8-10 minutes. When opaque, the fish is done. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

MEXICAN TRINITY

1 lb. ground beef

¼ cup chopped onion

1 cup yellow corn

1 can refried beans

Small can/fresh chopped green chilies

1 pkg. taco seasoning

1 cup water

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

The Mexican trinity is a combination of beans, corn, and chilies. In a skillet, cook the meat with the onion. Drain and stir in corn. Set aside. Spread refried beans in bottom of a greased 8 x 8 baking dish. Evenly spread chopped chilis over the beans. In the skillet, heat the beef mixture. Add taco seasoning and water and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Pour ground beef mixture over chopped green chilies. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. Evenly spread cheese over ground beef. Heat for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve the casserole with lettuce, chopped tomatoes, black olives, sour cream, and picante sauce.

BROWN SUGAR POUND CAKE

2 sticks softened, salted butter

1 cup Crisco shortening

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

5 eggs

2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 cup whole milk

Maple Icing

2-3 boxes confectioners sugar

2 cups butter flavor Crisco

1 ½ Tbsp. both butter, maple flavoring

½ -3/4 cup milk, as needed

In a mixer bowl, cream soft butter and Crisco until smooth. Add brown and white sugars and beat until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, thoroughly mixing between each addition. Add vanilla and mix. Add flour, baking powder, and salt while alternating with milk. Bake in a well-greased tube pan in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until cake tests done. Allow to cool before icing. For the icing, in a mixer bowl, combine confectioner sugar with the Crisco and beat until smooth. Beat just enough milk in to make icing spreadable. Beat in the flavorings. Spread on a cool cake.

PICANTE BEEF PIE

2 Tbsp. olive oil

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped green pepper

1 lb. premium ground beef

2/3 cup each, tomato and picante sauce

1 Tbsp. chili powder

½ tsp. both salt and fresh ground pepper

2 unbaked pie shells

In a skillet, heat olive oil, and saute onion and bell pepper. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Add tomato sauce, picante sauce, chili powder, salt, and ground pepper, to taste. Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Roll out a 2nd pie pastry and cut into strips. Arrange in a lattice pattern over the pie. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 40 minutes or until browned.