Bless Your Spoon: Epiphany dinner with organ guild

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, February 1, 2024

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Carefully sinking my teeth into a cake square, I hoped to discover a pea. It was at that moment that chocolate cake took on new meaning besides being a favorite dessert. The minute had been my one chance to be crowned and play queen for a night. But, alas, there was no pea in the cake — not in my piece, anyway — nor a crown placed on my head. But often, we do find what we seek and we’re blessed because of it.

Homemade and baked by Alan Reed, the organist and choirmaster for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, the cake contained two tiny surprises. The decadent, cocoa-rich, sheet pan confection — baked with a pea and bean inside — was iced with a sweet, rich fudge frosting and topped with festive, multicolored sprinkles

The cake tradition called a Twelfth Night, or Three Kings Cake, relates to the 12th night of Christmastide — the Epiphany, also called Theophany or Three Kings’ Day. According to custom, the cake was a festival cake traditionally baked for the feast of Epiphany.

As the tradition went, a single dried pea and bean was baked in the cake — and only the baker knew where. A large party was held at which time a slice of cake was handed to each guest as they arrived. Whoever found the dried bean became King, and the pea, the Queen, of the Twelfth Night. That was just one early Christian tradition that included a feast, church service, carols and a bit of merrymaking.

And make merry we did. Celebrating the 75th anniversary this year, the Charlotte chapter of the American Guild of Organists presented a “We Gather” epiphany dinner and worship service. The guild curated a delicious meal for guests — a rolled chicken breast entrée alongside savory, buttery potatoes and fresh, crisp, green asparagus with a buttery garlic roll. Hoping to find the pea or bean in the cake, every guest saved some room for dessert. The Twelfth Night Cake was a delightful combination of moist chocolate with a rich, flavorful frosting — and left everyone craving another morsel.

I enjoy looking back in history to see how early Christians celebrated their faith. One thing remains true — food played an important part. I guess this all means to say that we, too, can bake cakes and share in early customs for seasons and holidays.

But the best was yet to come at the after-supper service of carols that carried worshippers through advent, the birth of Christ, the trusting in the promises of God, and the celebration of time, and a new heaven and earth.

Zach Bowyer, who studied organ under Joby Bell at Appalachian State University, is dean of the guild and director of music at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church — treating guests with a phenomenal performance on organ.

At the end of the service, each worshipper drew a word from a basket — a star gift. The use of star words is a prayer practice connected to Epiphany and the new year. Often called intention or guiding words, they are written on paper stars and then randomly drawn. With my star word being “seek,” I was encouraged to put the star somewhere where I’d see it regularly throughout the year to allow for consistent reflection on how God has moved in my life as connected to that word.

The sacred finale to the service was Zach’s organ postlude, “March on LAUDA ANIMA” — listen on YouTube — the piece is gorgeous. If you love organ music, discover more organ events at the local/regional chapters of the American Guild of Organists.

Mixed Greens with Apples and Pecans

• 12 ounces fresh spinach or mixed greens

• 2 cored, diced Granny Smith apples

• Green leaves vinaigrette

• 1 cup salted pecan halves

• 8 sliced cooked/crumbled smoked bacon

• 2 cups grated white cheddar cheese

• Freshly grated black pepper

When plating for 4, place red leaf, Boson, watercress, spinach or other greens in center of each plate. Evenly sprinkle diced apples over each plate. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Top each salad with bacon, pecans and cheese. Sprinkle each with freshly grated black pepper.

Green Leaves Vinaigrette

• ½ cup olive oil

• ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

• ¼ cup sugar

• ¼ cup ketchup

Combine the ingredients in a jar, and shake up to mix thoroughly. When serving, drizzle over each salad.

Stuffed Breasts with Pear Sauce

• 6 skinned, boneless whole chicken breasts

• 6 ounces flaked crabmeat

• 12 slices, ¼-inch cubed, white bread

• ½ cup minced onion

• ½ cup finely chopped celery

• ¼ cup melted salted butter

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• ¼ tsp. rubbed sage

• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• ½ cup melted salted butter

White Pear Sauce

• 3 Tbsp. salted butter

• 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

• 1 ½ cups chicken broth

• 2 Tbsp. sugar

• ½ tsp. salt

• 2 tsp. fresh lemon sauce

• 8 ounces finely diced fresh pears

Flatten chicken breasts to ¼-inch thickness using a meat mallet. In a bowl, combine the crabmeat, white bread, onion, celery, melted butter, salt, pepper and sage and stir well. Spoon stuffing into center of each breast. Fold long sides of chicken over the stuffing, fold ends over and secure with toothpicks. Dredge each chicken breast in flour. In a skillet, melt butter. Brown chicken on all sides in butter. Transfer chicken to a 15 x 10 x 1 jelly roll pan. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25 minutes or until tender. Serve with white sauce. For the sauce, in a skillet, melt butter. Add flour and stir until smooth. Cook 1 minute while stirring. Gradually add broth and continue to cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in sugar, salt and lemon juice. Stir in pears before serving and heat through.

Creamy Potato Casserole

• 2 pounds refrigerated, frozen or freshly cooked diced potatoes

• 1 pint sour cream

• 1 can cream of chicken soup

• 1 tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly grated black pepper

• 10 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese

• 1 sleeve crushed Ritz crackers

• 1 stick melted butter

In a bowl, combine diced potatoes, sour cream, cream of chicken soup, salt, pepper and cheese. Mix well. Spread in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Top with crushed crackers. Evenly drizzle with melted butter. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until browned and bubbling.

Fresh Asparagus Tart

• 1 pound fresh asparagus

• 3 cups water

• 1 pie crust pastry

• 2/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese

• ½ cup minced fresh parsley

• 4 beaten eggs

• ¾ cup half and half cream

• 1 small minced onion

• 3 strips cooked, drained, crumbled bacon

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1/8 tsp. each cayenne pepper/ground nutmeg

• Sliced tomato/avocado

Trim asparagus spears by cutting at least 2 inches off the tips. Set aside. Cut stems into 3/4-inch pieces. In a pot, bring water to a boil. Add asparagus pieces. Cover and boil for 5 minutes. Drain and place asparagus in cold water to retain color. Drain and dry. Set aside. Roll out the pie pastry crust on a lightly floured surface. Place in an ungreased tart pan with a removable bottom. Press it into sides and bottom. Evenly spread the asparagus stems, half the cheese, and parsley. In a mixer bowl, beat eggs and cream. Add the minced onion, crumbled bacon, salt, cayenne and nutmeg. Pour into crust. Arrange the asparagus tips on top. Sprinkle top with remaining cheese. Bake tart pan on a baking sheet in a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or until knife tests clean. Remove from oven and allow to stand 15 minutes. Cut in slices like a pie. Serve alongside a salad or top with sliced tomatoes and wedge of avocado.

Garlic Bread Sticks

• 1 loaf frozen white bread dough

• ¼ cup softened salted butter

• ¼ cup premium mayonnaise

• ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

• 1 Tbsp. parsley flakes

• 1½ tsp. garlic salt

• Sesame seeds

Thaw bread on a greased baking sheet covered with a towel for 4 hours. In a bowl, combine butter, mayonnaise, cheese, parsley and garlic. Whip until smooth. Roll bread dough into rectangular shape on a baking sheet. Brush dough evenly with mixture. Using pizza cutter, cut dough into strips. Cover dough again with towel and allow to rise until doubled for 1 hour. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 10-14 minutes or until golden brown. You can twist the sticks for a fancier stick.

Twelfth Night Cake

• 1 stick salted butter

• 4 Tbsp. Hershey’s cocoa

• 1 cup water

• 1 cup Wesson oil

• 2 beaten eggs

• 2 cups sugar

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. soda

• ½ cup fresh buttermilk

• A pea and a bean

Frosting

• 1 stick melted butter

• 4 Tbsp. Hershey’s cocoa

• 4 Tbsp. whole milk

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 1 small box confectioners sugar

• 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

• 1 cup flaked coconut (optional)

• Multicolor sprinkles (optional)

For the cake, in a saucepan, melt butter. Add cocoa, water and oil. Bring to a boil for 1 minute while constantly stirring. Set aside. In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar and vanilla extract. Mix well. Add flour and soda while alternating with boiled mixture and buttermilk. Mix well. For the icing, in a saucepan, melt butter. Add cocoa, milk and vanilla. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in confectioners sugar. Add pecans and coconut, if desired, to icing before spreading on cake. Or evenly sprinkle top with colored sprinkles.