With all of the preparations completed – food cooked, decorations aglow, and presents wrapped. The only thing left to do was to celebrate Christmas Eve Mass and then go to my parent’s home for a big Christmas Eve dinner and gift exchange. I’ll tell you more about the menu, especially the 7 dishes that I’m preparing for a BIG Christmas Day Dinner at my brother’s house – with family and friends from all over! It should be a wonderful time, filled with family, food, faith and fun!
From my family to yours and to all of our Grace Before Meals Family and Friends, I wish you a very blessed Christmas!
Creamy Cauliflower Soups was a perfect start to last nights dinner – second only to some delicious wine!
Cold weather, a little snow, a ton of traffic, and a ridiculously busy schedule didn’t prevent some of Baltimore’s Food Bloggers from getting together for a great meal to celebrate the Holidays, friendship and of course, really good food! It was followed by the Creamy Cauliflower Soup, a roasted veggies in pan seared pepper cup and Wendi’s chocolate, coffee and spice rubbed pork roast, accompanied with chipotle sweet potatoes. I’d say it was a perfect meal for a cold Bal’more night.
Wendi Mosteiko from Bon Appetite Hon, her husband Jay, Lan from Angry Asian Creations, and myself got together for a little “reunion of sorts.” A little background: a few of us food writing nerds met at the IFBC (International Food Bloggers Conference) in Seattle, WA a few months ago. Realizing we were from the same part of the country, we just HAD to get together. After all, that’s what I encourage people to do at Grace Before Meals. While we are all very different, we definitely have one thing in common: We will always make room for others at our dinner tables! Primarily because we can’t eat it all!
I think I got my “making more food than we really need” from my mom. Look at all that food we had at Thanksgiving. And that was only 1/2 of the table. I couldn’t fit the side on which the Turkey was within my camera lens. I think my mom got that “more food than we really need” from Jesus, Himself!
I don’t want to bore you with details about the night – although there was nothing boring about it. As dinner conversations should be, our food blogging discussion enlivened our delicious dinner. We discussed almost everything, from the weather, upcoming vacations, Wendi and Jay’s very, very fat cat, to Lan’s flirting with Bobby Flay when she met him to get his book signed. Angry Asian Creations: this picture is for you. YES! That is Bobby Flay hugging me. But don’t be jealous Lan. After all, my Fajitas “threw down” his on his show.
FYI: While many people think that Bobby has no real personality, he’s actually an incredibly nice guy – at least the little I know of him. It’s not like we’re “bro-friends” although he did give a major shout out to me on one of his news segments to intro his book. Check out this little news clip that shows Bobby Flay talking about the Steak Fajita Episode on National TV!
This picture was shot at Wegman’s in Hunt Valley. I was invited to come to a private luncheon with Bobby. And then, I was asked to sign books next to him. And then, I’ve been asked to come back to do a cooking demo on February 2nd, 2011!
But, back to our Food Blog Dinner. Let’s just say that our gathering – which I hope and pray will be regular as possible – was a perfect example of Grace Before Meals. Food brought strangers to become better friends. At dinner, we also laughed alot – something we need to do more, everyday. And we had food that warmed us up in body, mind and spirit.
My contribution was a cream of cauliflower soup, with a hint of carrots, and topped with soy seared onions and apple dices. I know the color looks like a butter nut squash soup, but it’s the carrot that gives it the bright summer sun kissed hue – perfect for a snowy night. This recipe will actually be featured in my next monthly recipe section called, “Inspiring Family Menu’s” (Or something like that – I’m still working on the changes I’m making to the website).
I also made a grilled yellow pepper cup stuffed with roasted veggies. If the topping of the veggies look a little too brulee’d, it’s because I didn’t realize just how powerful is Wendi’s broil feature on her fantastic oven.
When I went to the Seattle Conference a few months back, I had no idea what to expect. I should have known however that food has power to bring people together in celebration – even if we have our differences. I don’t want to moralize, but I honestly think that if the leaders of nations, and at least our republican and democratic officials sat down, shut up, and opened their mouths to good food rather than debate, we would have a way (not ‘the way’, but ‘a’ way), to have more civil and productive conversations. Maybe they could even say Grace Before Meals, too. I still think our nation is “one nation, under God.”
At one point before the meal, I sensed God’s goodness at work: I was very thankful for Wendi’s husband Jay, who asked if I would say some ‘something’ after the toast and before the meal. And so I offered a brief prayer. No one was offended as I kept it to a simple but sincere remark of gratitude and prayerful recognition of our good fortune and a reminder to keep in mind those who go without. I didn’t lead a litany of prayers and I didn’t need to “prove” I was a priest to them. They know it, respect it, and even are happy that I’m happy to be one. I have to remember that there aren’t many priests in our world, and we’re always so busy we may not take the time to eat with others, even our ‘non-parishioners’ who also need to be fed too. Jesus did that too. I was grateful that they gave me a chance to express myself at their table. We need to do more of that at our table.
For that reason, tune into my last radio show for the Advent Season: “Stirring the Pot with Fr. Leo” on Sirius 159/XM 117 this Sunday at 7-9:00pm EST. It’s a show about bringing controversial issues to the dinner table, but not to pick up fight, but simply to have a conversation. From a “conversation” we can experience a “conversion.”
What gracious evening, with gracious hosts and guests. While I was not sure, and still not sure, what spiritual practices are exercised before a Food Blogger Meals, I am perfectly confident that each person at the table knew that the only thing better than the food on the table was the blessing of the growing friendship around it, which I “blessed” in Thanksgiving!
Thanks to Pham for the awesome pop-rock chocolate lolipop (inspired by Top Chef Runner Up Bryan Voltaggio at his private screening of the Top Chef 2009 Finale) – yet another picture to make Lan jealous!
And special thanks to Jay and Wendi for hosting our event, the little take away treat, and the opportunity to celebrate what we food bloggers hold near and dear to our hearts: sharing the blessing of food!
Thanks to Maria Bedford for submitting a recipe as part of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish Mission reception. These delicious sweet treats will make wonderful gifts for families and friends.
Double Delicious Cookie Bars:
½ Cup butter
1 ½ Cups graham cracker crumbs
1 (14 ounce can) condensed milk
2 Cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 Cup butterscotch chips
Preheat oven to 325 Degrees. In a 13 x 9 x 2 baking pan, melt butter in oven (apx. 3 minutes). Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs evenly over butter. Drizzle condensed milk evenly over crumbs. Top with chocolate chips and butter scotch chips. Press down firmly with spoon. Bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool completely. Cut into bars and serve.
Ingredients (Serves 4-6)
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups cauliflower florets
2 cups sweet potato, pealed and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 Tbs olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray an oven-safe sheet pan with nonstick spray. Combine all ingredient in a bowl and mix together. Spread ingredients in bowl onto the sheet pan. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the veggies begin to lightly char. Remove from oven and pour ingredients into a bowl to continue to steam together, releasing the natural juices. Let veggies rest about 5 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Use a ring mold or a measuring cup to create a circular mold for presentation purposes. Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper to taste.
This letter came to me the other day. It’s reading such inspiring and beautiful messages that keeps our Grace Before Meals team motivated for doing this work. It’s not easy to travel, to speak, to write, and to do the videos. It’s hardly easy for the rest of our team to keep up with us too. But, I had to share this one message with our subscribers to let you know that feeding one another is the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks Bob for your message! Peace! Fr. Leo
So here’s the deal. I have two grown, married children and five grandchildren. Me, wife, son & daughter are all “foodies”. Grandkids (4-12) vary in food adventurism. The food low water mark is ten year old Nathan. He eats nothing. A straight PBJ and hot dog kid. My wife and I joke that one day when he was “healed” we would send him to CIA (the Culinary Institute of America.)
His brother Josh (12) is going through confirmation in Tiverton, Rhode Island and part of their program is a monthly family experience during which you recently made your rather impressive presentation including cooking, some martial arts and inspiration. Apparently, you made Penne alla Vodka and this greatly impressed young Nathan.
Thanksgiving is our annual family reunion and I spent time with the two boys and both talked about your presentation.
Now, it is Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend and I have bought some lobsters for dinner, but Nathan begins to talk about Father Leo’s Penne alla Vodka and I ask if he knows the recipe. He recites it clearly. “Do you want to make it for us, Nathan?” “Yes”. “Okay, let’s go”. What followed (on my birthday, no less) was watching this handsome young guy cook his very first meal for his family! It turned out wonderful. I counseled that the cardinal rule is that you must taste everything. He tasted from the pan and rightly determined the sauce needed a bit more hot pepper. “Taste the pasta, is it done?” “No, needs a little more.” He was the pride of us all and you must undoubtedly take the bulk of the credit. You gave me a great birthday present! Thanks. Nathan’s cooking photo is attached.
If you’re in the downtown DC area and looking for a place to get some upscale “approachable Americana foods,” you can go to the Marriott Hotel at Metro Center. Fire and Sage a perfect location, even though parking will cost you an arm and a leg, or at least a night’s stay at the hotel just to make the meal worth while. The vibe reminded me of an ongoing happy hour for business dressed professionals, with modern decor, rustic Tuscan colored furniture and very suggestive-looking appointments. The seminarians who dined with me felt the vibe as well.
While they didn’t feel their chastity and modesty being compromised, it did feel like it could easily turn into a “bar” feel with a lot of wandering eyes. In fact, a whole section of seating were bar stools at individual tables, which were completely occupied during the dinner rush hour.
Service left much to be desired. Walking in dressed as a priest commanded just as much inquisitive looks as respect. The table/booth provided enough privacy. The table was somewhat cluttered with hard to use utensils, and I found a left over candy wrapper on my place mat, which the waiter didn’t pick up until after the bill was paid, even though I put it on the corner of the table. Waiting for the waiter to come by became a test of patience, and when he finally came, he didn’t seem helpful.
The food tasted good and looked delicious and the menu fit the restaurant’s motif. The mussels provided a savory appetizer, with a broth infused with white wine, garlic and lemon to make the lips smack. The crusty bread, combined with plump and soft mussels, gave a nice contrast of texture for a satisfying first coarse.
The main entrees, well plated, came hot and appealing. Since no one ordered red meat or poultry, I can only evaluate the seafood preparations. The scallops, a Fire and Sage specialty, were perfectly cooked, but not perfectly clean. I felt grit with almost every bite of these plump and savory scallops. I wish they included a few more sprigs of the micro-greens because the richness of the cream sauce that oozed from the risotto needed something to lighten up this hearty dish. The mushrooms offered a bit more firmness, which aided the textural experience of this satisfactory meal.
The grilled grouper and the linguine pasta with seafood ordered by my dinner companions carried the same “typical” flavors – tasty, and “as expected” tastes, but with a touch more heaviness.
Desserts provided some interesting combinations, including a “bag of donuts”, creating a whimsical finish to an overall a nice meal, reasonably priced (for a hotel restaurant in DC), within an atmosphere conducive to conversation and vibe.
On a scale from 1-10 Hail Mary’s, 1 being the best and 10 Hail Mary’s meaning there were that many “sins” that need a firmer “penance”, I would rate Fire and Sage with 4 Hail Mary’s, which roughly translates to 3 out of 5 stars/halos. The service needed much improvement. No one came across as rude, only ambivalent and untimely; entry into the restaurant required too many stairs or to go through a hotel lobby, which is never any fun. The utensils were useless and unmanageable. Finally, the “vibe” would be more conducive to a business worker’s happy hour than a family friendly meal.
If you’re in a pinch and just looking for some standard American fare, give Fire and Sage a try. While you won’t be disappointed, you won’t be wowed either.
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