From a purely religious perspective, today is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics. While not rooted in scripture, today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The term Immaculate Conception often confuses people, even some Catholics.
Often confused with Christ’s divinity, the Immaculate Conception requires two separate beliefs. The first is the acceptance of Original Sin. This is the belief that every person since Adam and Eve are marred by their sin in the Garden of Eden. It is why man has never returned to the garden. It is also why Catholics baptize their babies. The idea of original sin is rejected by most Protestants. It is why they are baptized later in life, as teenagers or adults. For Catholics, that commitment to faith comes in the form of Confirmation.
The second is the acceptance that Mary, as the future Mother of God, was conceived without the stain of original sin. For God to come into the world as Christ, He needed to be made flesh in a vessel that was pure, removed from sin. Mary was that vessel. But she was so much more. She sets the tone and example of a mother’s unconditional love.
Today is also National Time Travelers Day. More precisely, it is Pretend to be a Time Traveler, since the day does not subscribe to the notion that time travel is actually possible outside the experience of pretend. Attending a Titanic Dinner Party is a form of pretending. Attending Renaissance Faires (our personal favorite) is another great example. If time travel were possible, and you could travel to any point in time to spend an hour chatting with someone, where would you go? And who would you talk with? Whenever I see that question posed on Facebook, often people say they would speak with a parent or grandparent that is no longer living. That is understandable. I would love to talk with my mother again. Or spend just one more hour with my daughter. Some people say they would sit on a bench in time and talk with Jesus. Wow. That would be amazing. But if I were to pick someone of faith, it would be Mary.
Mary’s Immaculate Feast
Salmon Mousse Cups
Champagne or Sparkling Wine
Chicken Breast with White Mushroom Sauce
Creamy Lemon Linguine
Caesar Salad with Herb Croutons
Salmon Mousse Cups
Cream Cheese Cups
3 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 cup Butter, softened
1 cup Flour
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 24-cup mini muffin tin. Set aside.
In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add flour and mix well. Shape into 24 balls; press onto the bottom and up the sides of greased miniature muffin cups.
Bake in heated oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
1 (7 oz) can Pink Salmon
8 oz Cream Cheese, softened
2 tablespoons Chicken Stock
2 tablespoons Sour Cream
1 teaspoon Lemon Juice
Pinch Sea Salt
For filling, drain salmon. Pick over salmon well, removing any visible skin or bones. Set aside. Peel shallot. Slice shallot as thinly as possible, stack slices and mince. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add the salmon, stock, sour cream, onion, lemon juice and salt until blended. Spoon into the shells. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Fresh Dill, garnish
Snip some dill and sprinkle over the salmon just before serving.
Serve with a sparkling white wine or champagne.
Chicken Breasts with White Mushroom Sauce
1 medium White Onion
4 Garlic Cloves
12 oz White Mushrooms
1 lb boneless Chicken Breasts
Kosher Salt to taste
White Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Butter
1 tablespoons Flour
1/4 cup White Wine
1-1/2 cups Heavy Cream
Italian Parsley for garnish
Peel and chop onion, set aside. Peel and mince garlic, set aside. Clean mushrooms, slice and set aside.
Slice chicken breasts in half lengthwise. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.
Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter, melt, swirling the pan to coat.
Place chicken breasts in skillet and cook until no longer pink, about 4 or 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and keep warm.
Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook for a couple minutes until onion is translucent and soft. Add the mushrooms and stir. Season mixture generously with salt and pepper. Let cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the wine and deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom of the skillet. Let all the flavorful brown bits mix with the mushroom sauce.
Sprinkle flour over the mushroom sauce and stir. Cook over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes for the raw flour flavor to disappear.
Add the cream in a slow, steady stream, stirring to blend. Let the sauce continue to cook another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally or until sauce reduces and thickens. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as needed. Add the chicken back to the skillet and spoon sauce over the chicken.
Chop parsley, sprinkle over chicken for a splash of color. Serve and enjoy.
Creamy Lemon Linguine
1 lb Linguine
1-1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt, divided
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 cup White Wine
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
Fresh Black Pepper, garnish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and one teaspoon salt. Cook pasta according to directions, about 9 minutes. Drain, reserve some of the pasta water. Keep pasta warm
While the pasta is cooking, heat cream in a large pan over medium heat. Let cream simmer until thickened, about 5 or 6 minutes.
Zest lemons, divide zest and set aside. Cut lemons in half, squeeze juice into the simming cream. Add half of the zest, wine and remaining salt. Cook, stirring constantly, for a minute more. Sprinkle with Parmesan Cheese, stir to blend.
Add pasta and toss to coat. Let cook until pasta has absorbed a bit of the sauce and is nicely coated, about a minute. If the pasta appears too dry, add the reserved pasta water, a tablespoon at a time.
Transfer to individual bowls or one large serving bowl. Garnish with fresh black pepper, remaining lemon zest and a few basil leaves.
Serve with warm bread and chilled white wine.
Caesar Salad with Herb Croutons
1 loaf French bread or another crusty bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Cut the bread in half crosswise to make two manageable pieces. Slice each piece in half lengthwise. Then cut each half into strips. Now cut through the strips crosswise to form cubes about 3/4 inch per side.
Important: Do not discard the crust! Remember, the crust is what gave croutons their name. Spread the bread cubes out on a rimmed baking sheet and allow them to dry-out for about an hour.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven heats, transfer the cubes to a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with the herbs, salt and pepper. Toss, so that the cubes are evenly coated.
Return the cubes back to the baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until golden. This process can go very quickly — to prevent burning, which would ruin the croutons, peek into the oven after 10 minutes and keep checking frequently until they are done.
Allow the croutons to cool completely before using on salad.
Note: If you don’t need all the croutons at once, you can store them in a covered plastic container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Simply reheat gently before serving. These croutons can also be made in advance, warmed when needed.
2 Egg Yolks
1/2 Lemon, juiced
2 Garlic Cloves
2 Anchovy Filets, optional
2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard
Pinch Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1/2 cup Olive Oil
3 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese
Separate the egg yolks from whites. Reserve whites for another purpose or discard. Place yolks in a blender. Cut lemon in half, squeeze half of the lemon over the yolks. Peel and roughly chop the garlic, add to the yolk mixture. If using, chop anchovies and add to the mix. Add mustard, salt and pepper. Blend to combine. With motor running, slowly add olive oil. Once added, pulse until you have a thick, emulsified sauce.
Transfer the dressing to the bottom of a large salad bowl. Stir in the cheese. Set aside until ready to serve.
1 Head Romaine Lettuce
Caesar Dressing (above)
1 cup Herbal Croutons (above)
Fresh Parmesan Cheese
Chop the Romaine lettuce crosswise into strips about 2 inches wide. Wash, spin dry and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Five minutes before serving, spread croutons out on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in a 300-degree oven just to warm.
Place the chilled Romaine Lettuce on top of the dressing in the salad bowl. Toss lettuce with dressing. Add warm croutons and toss again.
Serve on chilled salad plates. Grate Parmesan Cheese for final garnish just before serving.
1 cup Water
1/3 cup Vegetable Oil
1 (15.25oz). box French Vanilla Cake Mix
1 cup fresh Blueberries
3 tablespoons Flour
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray three 9-inch cake pans lightly with cooking spray. Dust with flour, shaking out any excess. Set prepared pans aside.
In the bowl of a standup mixer with paddle attachment, beat eggs with water and oil until foamy. Add cake mix, beat on low for 30 seconds. Slowly increase speed to high and beat for 2 minutes. Remove bowl from mixer, set aside.
Zest lemon, add to cake batter. Cut lemon in half, squeeze juice directly into batter. Set aside.
Note: If you do not have a juicer that will prevent seeds from falling into the batter, juice lemon in a small bowl and remove any seeds first or squeeze lemon through cheesecloth.
In a small bowl, toss blueberries with flour until completely coated. Gently fold blueberries into the batter.
Divide cake batter evenly among prepared cake pans. Place in heated oven and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 18 minutes.
Let cake cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely.
1 cup Butter, softened
3 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
1/4 cup Heavy Cream
1 teaspoon Vanilla
Pinch Kosher Salt
While the cake bakes and cools, let butter soften on the counter. Sift the powered sugar, set aside. In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, cream butter. Whisk in 2-1/2 cups powdered sugar about a cup at a time, scraping down sides between additions. Zest lemon, add to the creamed butter mixture. Add the juice of the lemon, cream, vanilla and salt. Whisk, then slowly add remaining powdered sugar until desired texture is reached.
Place a dab of frosting on cake plate to hold first layer of cake in place. Trim crown from the top of the cake, then place cut-side down on the plate. Spread a layer of frosting over the top and sides of the first cake. Trim second layer, place cut side down on top of the first layer. Frost the top and sides of the second layer of cake. Place the third layer of cake, crown side up, and frost the top and sides, blending sides to create a smooth finish.
3/4 cup fresh Blueberries
1 small Lemon
To finish the cake, cut lemon in half. Zest half of the lemon, scatter over the top of the cake. Decorate the rim with blueberries. Cut a few thin slices of lemon from the remaining half. Arrange slices in an attractive way on top of the cake center.
Slice cake and serve or hold in the refrigerator until 20 minutes before serving.
Serve with chilled cordales of Lemonchello.
Oh, and one last thing. The featured photo is the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. It is considered by the church to be a point of pilgrimage for American Catholics. We were fortunate enough to made that pilgrimage for Easter many years ago. The beauty of the Shrine was moving beyond words.