Tag Archives: Food and Fellowship

Surviving season of mayhem through simplicity

In cooking, as in life, there’s a season for everything. There’s a season for crafting fine cuisine, with ingredients sourced from the local farmer’s market. And there’s a season for microwaving frozen dinners from Trader Joe’s. There’s a season for feeding crowds. And there’s a season for parties of one. There’s a season for spending hours in the kitchen. And there’s a season for spending 15 minutes readying a simple meal.

Right now, even 15 minutes feels generous to me.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve taken on more than any sane person should, attempting to write multiple books, restore a three-story, 128-year-old house, and start a family with my husband. With the latter hope still eluding us, we’ve moved on to adoption, with all the madness that entails, from running the gauntlet of a home study to solving the housing problems of birth parents living 3,000 miles away.

In the midst of all the “crazy,” cooking fancy food and hosting impressive dinner parties has fallen by the wayside. These days, if you come to my house for dinner, prepare yourself for pizza night.

But that’s okay. That’s how life goes. There’s great joy in cooking and baking and serving the people we love. But, there’s also great joy in not having nervous breakdowns. If simplifying things in the kitchen can add to our sanity, it’s okay to lean into that, knowing that someday, this season, too, shall pass.

Over the last year, I’ve made my peace with this. I still try to keep our diet healthy; nourishment remains the basic goal. I also still try to have friends and family around our dinner table… although I have no shame in serving pizza…or skipping the meal altogether and just serving wine and cheese. But beyond that, I’m surviving through simplicity.

In practice, this means that on some weeknights, we take advantage of delivered meal kits. For our family of two, services like Blue Apron enable us to have delicious dinners, without the stress of meal-planning, shopping, and hours in the kitchen. On other nights, we hit “start” on the rice cooker, roast some veggies with garlic, oil, and salt, and pretend we’re vegan. Just as often, I dip into my arsenal of simple recipes (like the Bacon & Egg Salad featured here) that make me feel like I’m spending more time in the kitchen than I am.

All those tricks help. So too does knowing that someday, this season of crazy will end, and the days of risotto and fine wine will return. That might take a while—especially if God answers those prayers for a baby. But, that will be yet another season, and like all of them—each in their own way—a blessed one.

EMILY STIMPSON CHAPMAN is the author of The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet. She blogs at TheCatholicTable.com.

 

Bacon & Egg Salad
Serves 2
Prep time: zero minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

4 strips thick-sliced bacon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
4 large handfuls of greens (spinach, kale, or arugula)
Olive oil
Kosher salt

Instructions: In a large frying pan, cook bacon until desired level of crispness; drain on paper towels. Once it’s cool to the touch, roughly chop.

While the bacon cools, heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan; when it’s hot enough to make water sizzle, crack two eggs into the pan. Fry until the whites are set, but the yolks are still runny. While the eggs cook, divide the greens, walnuts, and goat cheese between two plates. Add chopped bacon. When the egg is just done, flip it onto the greens, so that the yolk runs on the lettuce. Drizzle olive oil onto the salad and add just a pinch of salt. Serve warm.

Sparkle of Louisiana Christmas traditions

Le Réveillon, or the awakening (the morning feast following Midnight Mass on Christmas or New Year’s Eve) is an age-old custom inherited by the Louisiana Creoles from their European ancestors and adopted by the Germans who settled in the River parishes of Louisiana. Réveillon was a time of family reunion and thanksgiving, which began early in the evening with family members converging on households for hours of conversation. In the French Quarter of New Orleans when the church bells began to ring at about 11 o’clock, the Creoles and their families strolled to St. Louis Cathedral for Christmas Mass. A man might miss any service during the year, but he would be certain to join his family for Midnight Mass at Christmas.

Christmas Eve was recognized as a day of fasting and abstinence by most Catholics. By the end of Midnight Mass the Creoles were hungry and ready to celebrate with a Réveillon feast. Family members returning from church were greeted with an elaborate meal of daube glacé, chicken and oyster gumbo, salmis or game pies, egg dishes, sweetbreads, soups and soufflés, grillades, grits, hominy, homemade breads, crystallized fruits, fruitcake and lavish desserts, wine, brandy, eggnog and New Orleans coffee. The Creole table emulated what might have been found on the tables of France during that same hour.

In rural South Louisiana, Le Réveillon was celebrated though in admittedly more humble circumstances. People gathered at the house of the family matriarch or patriarch to visit, then to walk to Midnight Mass. Often, the trip was lighted by bonfires along the levee, and a hearty breakfast always followed. It is actually the bonfire tradition that has stood the test of time. St. James Parish, where I grew up, was settled in the 1700s by French and German settlers from the Old World. It seems that the bonfire tradition was inherited from these generations past. As necessity is so often the mother of invention, many surmise that because there were no churches on the east bank of the Mississippi River at that time, those living there had to cross the river to attend Mass. So, bonfires were lit on the west bank to guide their skiffs safely across the muddy waters.

The Folse family certainly participated in the annual bonfire tradition. The day after Thanksgiving, we started gathering timber to create the bonfires that we would enjoy in the weeks ahead. Much to our father’s dismay, we put willow branches within the wooden pyre so that once lit, there would be popping and sparks like fireworks.

Today, it is believed that the bonfires light the way for Papa Noel and his team of swamp gators. Bonfire festivities are accompanied with a celebration of food. Most commonly served are steaming bowls of Chicken and Andouille Gumbo served over rice. Faith, family and food – then, as now – is a mainstay of Louisiana life.

Chef JOHN D. FOLSE is an entrepreneur with interests ranging from restaurant development to food manufacturing, catering to culinary education. A cradle Catholic, Chef Folse supports many Catholic organizations including the Sister Dulce Ministry at Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, LA.

 

Daube Glacé – A festive Creole hors d’oeuvre

Daube glacé is a classical Creole hors d’oeuvre, traditionally beef braised with vegetables; this one is made with leftover cooked daube, which is seasoned and set with gelatin. Any combination of leftover meats can be used – such as chicken, turkey, ham, or pork – along with any terrine mold. During the holidays, try a festive shape to add flair to your table.

Prep Time: 2.5 Hours, Yield: 12-15 Servings

Ingredients:
1 (3-pound) cooked daube, cut into (1-inch) cubes
2 quarts beef stock reserved sauce from precooked daube
½ cup minced onions
½ cup minced celery
½ cup minced red bell peppers
¼ cup minced garlic
½ cup minced carrots
½ cup chopped parsley
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
3 (1-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin, dissolved in ¾ cup warm water

In a cast-iron Dutch oven, bring beef stock and sauce from precooked daube to a light boil. Add daube, onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic into sauce, stirring to combine. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until meat becomes very tender and easily shreds apart. Strain all ingredients from liquid through a fine sieve and set aside. Return liquid to heat and reduce to 1½ quarts. Add carrots and parsley then season to taste using salt and cayenne pepper. Whisk dissolved gelatin into sauce. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Break the meat into small pieces and place equal amounts into two terrine molds. Divide cooked vegetables from the original sauce evenly between the two molds. Ladle stock over the meat, cover with plastic wrap and allow to set in the refrigerator. Daube glacé is best when allowed to sit 24 hours for flavors to develop. When set, slice daube glacé and serve with garlic croutons.

Let love flavor your holiday table

It’s that time of year when our hearts and thoughts focus on family gatherings, and the food we will share. We bring out favorite recipes, plan menus and gather the perfect ingredients.

Growing up on a small farm in the Campania region of southern Italy, we celebrated a sort of Thanksgiving every day. The ancient Romans used to call this area Campania Felix, Happy Valley. The harvest there made for happy meals. We worked the land with the constancy of the seasons. The earth’s fruits were our livelihood, so we cared for it with the same attention you might extend to a dear family member. Hard work was a part of everyday farm life, and we were careful not to take for granted the gift of a good harvest, food on the table, or the family gathered together. In Italy, we take our time preparing food … and enjoying it! Meals stretch for several hours, lingering into the night with drinks and lively conversation. As a child, I remember meals around our worn, crowded table, often boisterous with my father’s stories and our laughter, and it made every hour working in the hot sun worthwhile. We cherished the earth because we cherished time together, and each other.

Our little village was very poor. Before emigrating to America in 1972, we had no running water, refrigerator or automobile! We didn’t have modern plumbing for cooking or cleaning. The local ladies would meet at the village fountain, then return home carrying big tubs of water on their heads. Looking back, it seems so archaic, but we didn’t know any differently; we were poor materially, but rich with family love!

Mt. Vesuvius, the ancient but still-active volcano, presides quietly and moodily over the Campania valley, giving the soil its unmatched fertility. Vesuvius serves as a constant reminder of the beauty and unpredictable power of nature, that the only time we have is the present. As St. Augustine says of time, “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.” Therefore let us embrace the now, the present, with a sense of eternity.

This appreciation for time and food is also an appreciation for the earth itself. In Campania, we know the land is not truly ours, no matter how many hours we spend tilling its soil and picking its crops. It is a gift, which we care for knowing it has been entrusted to us. We know we cannot call our food, or the crops produced from our labors, our creations. We merely put together what has already been created by the Creator.

As St. Thomas Aquinas describes in his Five Ways: there must be a First Cause, one that was uncaused and made everything else to exist. Our appreciation for existence and nature becomes an appreciation for that First Cause: God, who has spread the earth before us like a table … who has caused this abundant feast and invited us to it. And since it has all been shared with us, our greatest joy comes in sharing it with others. Let us always place LOVE as the main ingredient at every table!

Chef NEIL FUSCO is founder of Cucina Antica Foods, Corp., a specialty Italian food-products company. Raised on a farm in San Marzano in southern Italy, he learned his family’s production and cooking with the renowned San Marzano tomatoes they’ve grown there since the 1800s.

 

 

Pasta Rosa

3 cups Cucina Antica La Vodka or
Tuscany Pumpkin sauce
1 lb. fresh or dried lasagna sheets
¾ lb. fontina cheese, thinly sliced
½ lb. prosciutto, thinly sliced
½ cup Pecorino Romano, grated
Fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 450 F. Cook lasagna sheets al dente, drain, and cool in a chilled water bath. Once cooled, remove and dry. Layer lasagna sheets with prosciutto and fontina cheese.

Roll each sheet into a 2-inch thick tube. Slice each tube into 2-inch wide “cartwheels” and lay them on their sides. Place the cartwheels in a medium-sized baking dish. Add ¼ inch of water to the pan and cover with foil. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, simmer sauce in a small saucepan. Remove the lasagna cartwheels from the oven and plate 3 per dish. Top with warm sauce and Pecorino Romano. Garnish with fresh basil leaves

Harvesting virtue with season’s bounty

Food is an occasion for vice. Most of us know that, having succumbed to the temptation of an extra piece of cheesecake now and again.

Emily Stimpson Chapman

Food, however, is also an occasion for virtue. It’s an occasion for temperance—for mustering the gumption to say “no” to that extra piece of cake. It’s also an occasion for prudence— for recognizing our need to eat Brussels sprouts more than cupcakes. It’s an occasion for justice—for providing our body everything it needs to sustain health. And it’s an occasion for fortitude—for adhering to wise choices over time about what we eat daily… not just for 28 or 30 days of goal-driven dieting.

Those virtues—temperance, prudence, justice and fortitude—are what the Church calls the cardinal virtues.

They’re good habits which lay the foundation for all the other virtues and help us live richer, fuller, more deeply human lives. The more we cultivate these virtues, the stronger those virtues grow within us, and the more we mature into the men and women God intends. Food, however, isn’t just an occasion for honing the cardinal virtues. It also allows us to exercise the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.

Unlike the cardinal virtues, which we develop through practice, the theological virtues are gifts of grace. God freely gives them to us and helps them to grow strong within us. Likewise, while the cardinal virtues help us to live a more human life, the theological virtues help us to live a more divine life; they prepare our souls for the life God made us to live, in eternity, with Him.

While we can’t grow in the theological virtues through eating, like we can with the cardinal virtues, what we can do is allow the gifts of faith, hope, and charity to shape how we approach food.

Faith, for example, can help us see food as a gift from God and a sign of His love. It reminds us to give thanks for what’s before us and not take even one bite of a delicious donut for granted.

Hope helps us to keep our eyes on the prize— heaven—and not make gods of our appetites. It also strengthens and consoles us when we fail to exercise prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice at the dinner table, reminding us that each day, God gives us the grace to begin again.

And charity? Charity reminds us to think of others before ourselves. It helps us to cook with generosity—liberally loving others with the gift of food—and to give with generosity—sacrificing something we want so that others might have the food that they need. It also helps us to eschew pickiness at the table and receive what others cook for us with gratitude.

Seeing every meal through the lens of the virtues isn’t trendy. You won’t find challenge groups for it on Facebook. But it comes with its rewards, helping us to make appropriate choices every day, maintain proper perspective on food, and grow in virtue as we eat. Most importantly, using our virtues when we eat frees us — to eat, to cook, and to enjoy every single bite of that one piece of cheesecake.

EMILY STIMPSON CHAPMAN is the author of The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet. She blogs at TheCatholicTable.com.

 

Pumpkin Tortellini Soup

2 Tbsp. butter
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
29 ounces chicken broth
1-15 ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 bag tortellini

Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add onions, cooking until tender. Add half the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Transfer the broth mixture to a blender; blend until smooth. Return the mixture to the pan, adding the remaining broth,
pumpkin, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and
simmer, covered, for at least 10 minutes.

While the soup cooks, cook the tortellini according to package
instructions. To the soup, add the whipping cream.

Just before serving, add tortellini. (Serves 6-8)

Table lessons … with bacon

Our God is a God of love. The proof is in the pudding. Literally. It’s in chocolate pudding, banana pudding and caramel bread pudding with whiskey sauce. It’s also in coffee, wine, creamy sage risotto and bacon… especially in bacon.

stimpson

Emily Stimpson Chapman

In every sweet, salty, peppery, savory morsel we put into our mouths, God’s love is manifest. Food is a testimony to his desire to nourish us, nurture us, comfort us, teach us, delight us and live in relationship with us. Saint Paul tells us so: God “gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your heart with food and gladness (Acts 14:16-17). 

The bread we eat — smothered in butter, dipped in oil, toasted and topped with a good goat cheese — was, from the beginning, meant to bear witness to God. Food does this first on the natural level. Chicken soup nurtures us back to health when we’re sick. Cookies cheer us when we’re down. A fine meal of salmon and roasted potatoes, cooked for us by our sweetheart, tells us we’re loved.

Food also does this on the supernatural level. In the Mass, Jesus gives himself to us as food: bread and wine become his Body and Blood, and that Body and Blood accomplish on a supernatural level everything that ordinary food accomplishes on a natural level. When we eat the Bread of Angels, we can be healed, comforted, nurtured and nourished with the very life of God. This is all by design. From the beginning, he poured out his love for us in food — manna — knowing all the while that one day he would nourish us with Heavenly Bread.

food-stimpsonFood’s job is to give us a foretaste of the Supper of the Lamb. Our job is to let food do its job: to let it draw us together in friendship, delighting, comforting, pleasing, and nourishing us, never abusing the gift by intemperate or fastidious eating, and sitting down to every meal with a spirit of gratitude.

In a fallen world, that is sometimes difficult. But grace flows both ways. Just as our daily bread can teach us truths about our Heavenly Bread, our Heavenly Bread can give us the grace to appreciate our daily bread. The Eucharist can help us eat everything eucharistically — with thanksgiving, joy and love. And whenever possible, with bacon.

EMILY STIMPSON CHAPMAN is the author of The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet. She blogs at TheCatholicTable.com.

 

Bacon and Sage Risotto

8 slices bacon
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp bacon grease, reserved
3 tbsp butter
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
6-8 cups chicken broth
1 small bunch of sage, roughly chopped
2/3 cup parmesan, shredded

Chop onion, mince garlic, shred cheese, roughly chop sage, then set them aside. In a medium stock pot, bring broth to a simmer. Chop bacon into 1-2 inch pieces. Fry in large pot until it’s done to your liking. Drain bacon on a paper towel. Pour oƒ grease, reserving 2 tbsp.

Heat reserved bacon grease plus 1 tbsp butter in same large pot over medium heat. When butter is melted, add onions. Cook until translucent (3-5 min.), add garlic and cook 30-60 seconds more. Add rice, mix in with onions and garlic. Allow rice to toast for 1-2 min., stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high. Add wine, stir until absorbed.

Add broth slowly, one ladle at a time. After first ladle of broth, stir rice until liquid is absorbed (about 1 min.), then add next ladleful. Repeat until rice is creamy and soft, but firm to the bite, stirring almost continuously. Remove from heat, add remaining 2 tbsp butter and parmesan. Stir vigorously until combined. Add sage and bacon, stir, salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Serves: 6-8.