Dinner Discussions from the Grace Before Meals movement gives “food for thought” for your family meals by combining some aspects of faith, food and family fun. Hopefully this little article gives you something to talk about with your family at the kitchen table – a blessed place that enhances family communion. If you have a comment, question, or a topic you would like to discuss, be sure to contact us at www.gracebeforemeals.com.
Pink in the Middle
(Roasted Lamb – medium rare with sautéed greens.)
Pink in the middle, at least for a nice juicy steak, describes a medium rare, tender and juicy – and in my opinion – a perfectly cooked piece of meat. However, there’s another type of “pink in the middle,” which many Catholic Christians experienced this past Sunday. Laetare Sunday – a day when priests often make a joke about having to wear “pink” vestments. Although the official color is in fact “rose” (not pink), it’s almost humorous that priests have to prove their confidence in their own masculine identity by wearing this bright and festive liturgical apparel.
(Pope Benedict XVI wearing “rose” colored vestments for Laetare Sunday.)
But what does this color mean, and how does this relate to our food movement?
These vestments are worn only twice in a liturgical calendar year – during Advent and Lent. During Advent we call the celebration when the priest wears rose-colored vestments “Gaudete Sunday,” which means, “rejoice.” Similarly during Lent, we call this past Sunday, “Laetare Sunday,” which also means to be happy and rejoice!
In both cases these unique Sunday celebrations fall in the middle of the season, when priests vest in purple – a color that evokes penance, such as the Lenten practice of fasting, increased prayers and almsgiving. The lighter, happier pinkish-colored vestment worn in the middle of the season reminds Christians that despite our Lenten practices, we have reason to rejoice. We’re halfway through the 40 days of the desert! This lighter and brighter color is a sign of life, happiness, and joy!
(Happy Mount Students! I recently cooked for the student body at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. The lines – as you can see – were quite long. They were happy for some tasty variety!)
The foodie side of me, however, sees this “pink in the middle” of Lent as an invitation to consider another perspective – a culinary perspective. A pink center assures that a cut of beef is not overcooked, tough, or dry. Whereas a well-done steak would be grayish brown, the pink color indicates a juicy and tender center. Some even compare eating overcooked beef to chewing on leather. It’s obviously NOT my preference for cooking beef! There is literally no life blood or tenderness in it. A pink center, cooked medium rare, guarantees goodness, flavor, and above all tenderness!
(Steak salad over sautéed spinach and topped with blue cheese crumbles.)
That’s the connection: tenderness. There is a great Bible quote from the Canticle of Zaccharia that says, “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace!” (Luke 1:77-79) Yes, we need more of God’s tender compassion!
Yes, this color – both in food and in liturgy – reminds us of our call to be more tender with one another. We may be tough on the outside. This tough world sometimes demands it! But deep down inside, we all can admit the soft spot that makes us capable of loving one another with gentleness.
(A “tender” side of me. Me with some Grace Before Meals friends from Fort Meade Army Base after a recent event. I’ve got a real "soft spot" for babies!)
Are we a little pink in the middle? Or have our busy lives turned us dark and gray, spent, overcooked, dried up, and hard? This liturgical season also encourages our Grace Before Meals family to consider how tenderly we treat the people around our dinner table. Do we encourage our young children to be appropriately tender and sensitive to others, while maintaining the balance to make sure they can take the heat of the frying pan of life?
To help us find that “tender” spot in our lives, I offer these cooking techniques as an analogy for our spiritual life. One way to achieve tenderness is to pound the meat out with a mallet. These little thumps are like the normal daily challenges we face and accept as a way to mold our character. When you feel like you’re being pounded on by the world, it may be God’s way of making us tender and compassionate to others? Another way to assure tenderness is to sear the meat over high heat, which locks in juices. In a way, the burning fire of the Holy Spirit can do the same for us if we ask God to send the Spirit into our lives. And yet another way to assure tenderness is to cook a piece of meat sous-vide. Sous-vide is a French technique of placing the protein in an airtight plastic bag and cooking in a warmed water immersion circulator for a long time. For me, that would be similar to spiritually immersing ourselves in the waters of Baptism as a reminder that we are always God’s special children, whom He looks on with tenderness.
(Searing seasoned meat in a slightly oiled but highly heated cast iron skillet for 1 minute on each side, and then finishing off in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes creates a beautiful crust and pink tender inside!)
Parents can ask children if they know what tenderness means and how to manifest this important human characteristic. I consider the recent debacle of a high school ice hockey game that turned into a big brawl, seriously injuring many players. There have been more episodes of young women getting arrested due to lewd conduct and gang-type fighting. Police reports tell us the major cause of accidents is due to road rage, i.e., a lacking respect and gentleness while driving! These examples force us to consider what’s happening to us on the inside? Are we being hardened and toughened to the point of being incapable of love or being lovable?
(Archbishop Dolan of New York City, with his aunt and mother after a radio interview on Sirius 159/XM117. Even though he’s the powerful Archbishop of one of the most prominent cities in the world, he’s also still a “mamma’s boy” – a real sign of his strength and devotion to his family!)
We’re now in the middle of Lent – a time to return to the tenderness of God! Now that we’re halfway to Easter, we can ask just how “pink” we are in the middle?
(Me eating Bobby Flay’s Skirt Steaks after the Throwdown! taping. Look at the beautiful pink color of that beef! And notice how happy I am to eat it!)
Let us pray: Father in Heaven, help us remember our call to be more like You, gentle, loving, and kind. When we find our hearts turning hard like stone, may this season of Grace remind us to rejoice, knowing that our struggles in this life won’t last forever. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Please tell us what you think of this dinner discussion. Have you talked with your children about this important human/relational quality of gentleness, and what do you say without sounding “corny”? Do you have any other cooking tips to help keep proteins tender and juicy? Your comments and questions are both helpful and encouraging to me and our Grace Before Meals Family. Please post your comments BELOW.
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“See” Food Diet – Lenten Special
It’s a corny joke, but true: I see food, I want to eat it. That’s my diet! But on this Ash Wednesday, “Sea” food is the primary protein for our menus.
Last week’s E-Blast provided me a chance to share some insights about humility through the lens of food. I know people who love food, like myself, have to approach food with a great sense of humility – especially since today’s Ash Wednesday “feast” begins a period of fasting and abstinence. In fact, the entire 40-day season, leading up to the celebration of Easter, is filled with opportunities to grow in humility – through prayers, fasting, and abstinence.
On Fridays in particular, the day of the week that we recall the suffering Jesus endured on Good Friday, we commemorate our compassion with Him by making little sacrifices, such as not eating meat (abstaining) and fasting (i.e., having less food than normal). There are several links to help develop a better understanding of the importance of this discipline that not only helps the body, but more importantly the spirit.
So this month’s dinner inspiration is all about Lent-friendly meals. Now today (Ash Wednesday) and Fridays of Lent are days of fasting and abstinence. But that doesn’t mean family’s can’t “celebrate” a family meal together. And even though you’re technically fasting and abstaining, nowhere does it say you also must endure a flavorless meal.You just shouldn’t eat it in abundance as you would any other day.
Consider these recipes as part of your own Lenten “See” food diet. When you see your dish, you will automatically think of God’s goodness! These recipes are Lent Kosher, but so delicious to the eyes and palate that you may wonder if it’s okay to eat this during Lent. Admittedly, these recipes are quite delicious, but you’re also not going out of your way to make them. And I’m glad to say these recipes follow the letter of the law (and the spirit of the law if as long as you don’t overeat) of our Lenten season.
To see the recipes and ingredients to the WONDERFUL dishes below, CREATE AN ACCOUNT for FREE on the Grace Before Meals website to have ACCESS TO ALL RECIPES and other exclusive information. And be sure to subscribe to Fr. Leo’s “Food for the Body, Food for the Soul” weekly email blast. Go here and register now.
First menu: Seafood Stew
Ingredients: Serves 4
Instructions: Boil pasta according to instructions. When cooked al dente, drain water, drizzle some olive oil, divide among the different serving bowls, and set aside. In a large pan or pot, heat olive oil and sauté pepper flakes and garlic. Add the mussels (get ready for a little sizzle action), white wine, water, and tomato paste. Stir together until the liquids begin to simmer. Add the lime, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. As soon as mussels begin to open up, add the rest of the seafood and gently stir all together, making sure the seafood is almost completely submerged in the broth. When shrimp turns pinkish white, the dish is finished cooking. To serve, ladle broth over the pasta. Distribute the seafood into each bowl.
During a recent gathering for priests I made this same dish, but I also shaved a little parmesan cheese on top. I know I broke an Italian culinary “rule” by adding cheese to seafood. But the salty and creamy cheese provided a nice complement to the briny flavors of the broth. I also served sautéed, grilled broccoli rabe and some crusty bread. It was a delicious Lent-approved meal. It was easy to make, with very little stress, but still quite flavorful. The penitential aspect of this dish is that you’ll want to eat more, but will need to exercise moderation!
Lemon Pepper Crusted Sea Bass
Instructions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Score the fish 2-3 times on both sides. Season with salt and pepper inside the cavity and on the fish. In the cavity of the fish, place lemons, garlic, and rosemary. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of the fish. Heat oven-safe pan over high heat. Be sure to heat the pan until sufficiently hot. You can test by sprinkling some water on it so that the water beads, dances, and quickly evaporates. When sufficiently heated, carefully place the fish, searing one side for about 1-2 minutes. Then carefully flip the fish to the other side, and transfer the entire pan to the oven for 10-12 minutes. To test if the fish is cooked, try pulling one of the fins off the fish. If the fin comes out completely without resistance, the fish is perfectly cooked. Use HEAT-RESISTANT potholders and remove the pan from the oven. Let the pan cool before transferring to your plate. Obviously you’ll want to learn how to fillet a fish, which is why I’ve included a link to help you make a simple fish dish into deliciously beautiful art!
I’d serve this with a simple risotto or some of the potatoes I suggested last month. A few greens of your choice will make this a great dish for your Lenten Friday meal.
Dish # 3: Bruschetta topped with caramelized onions, apples and blue cheese
Finally, here’s a Lenten-friendly dish vegans may think is a bit decadent. But again, it’s perfectly acceptable for Lent. So move over cheese pizza, this veggie-inspired recipe can transform our minds and remind us that non-meat recipes can be more than a side dish.
This simple plate is definitely healthy and surprisingly simple to prepare.
Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly brush bread with olive oil. Place bread in oven for only 2-4 minutes until golden brown. Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté onions until translucent. Add the apples and gently fold into the onions. When bread is golden brown, place two pieces on each plate. Top off with some of the onion and apple combination. Spoon on some fresh blue cheese crumbles. Serve with a side of oven-grilled asparagus and viola, a vegetarian’s delight!
Father in Heaven, food is Your gift. During this season of Lent, we abstain from certain foods as a way to help us hunger for truth. Even with delicious food eaten with moderation, help our families develop greater faith and trust. Remind us at every meal that You feed us with the food of everlasting life! Amen.
Do you have any Lenten Friendly recipes? Give these recipes a try and let us know what you think! Your critique and comments are so helpful to our movement, and they truly encourage families to do something different and bring inspiration to your family meal! If you have a recipe that you’d like to share, please post your comments below.
Ask Fr. Leo for fatherly advice.
Penne della Palma (serves 3-4)
1 pound penne pasta
1 can hearts of palm
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
¼ cup parsley, minced
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs butter
½ cup brandy
½ cup starchy pasta water
½ cup whipping cream
½ Tbs salt and pepper (or to taste)
Boil pasta until al dente. Drain water, but reserve ½ cup of starchy pasta water. Drain water from palms and cut into ¼ inch pieces. In a large pan, heat olive oil and butter, then saute garlic, parsley, tomatoes, and palm. Add cheese and breadcrumbs, and combine. Add brandy, water, and cream (attention: cooking with liquor is flammable). Add pasta and mix together. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of grated Parmesan cheese for more flavor.
This Lent, we have an opportunity to fast and sacrifice from certain foods. Yet Lent also provides us a chance to be creative, bold, and daring in our attempts to follow the letter and the spirit of the Lenten Practices. So I’ve provided a rather delicious, not so simple, but definitely family-friendly recipe fit for a true food lover.
Scallops (Serves 2):
6 scallops per serving (3 per person)
½ cup sweet corn flakes
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Sweet Pea Risotto (Serves 2):
1 cup arborio rice
1 Tbs butter
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup sweet peas blanched and pureed
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
3-4 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups white wine
1 quart vegetable stock (or more depending on desired consistency)
Instructions for Scallops:
Rinse scallops in cold water and dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge both sides of the scallops in the corn flakes. Heat olive oil in a nonstick pan. Place scallops in the oil and sear both sides of the scallops, 3-5 minutes on each side. Remove from oil and rest before serving.
Instructions for Risotto:
Heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Sweat shallots and garlic. Add rice, and mix and stir until rice becomes slightly translucent. Add white wine, and stir until wine practically evaporates. Add the pea puree and one cup of broth at a time until rice is fully cooked. Before serving, add Parmesan cheese.
To make this little can of albacore come to life, I created my version of Italian tuna pasta that I ate in Florence during my seminary days. I’ve made it for several other people and they say it’s definitely the opposite of penitential! But, it’s still in the Lenten rulebook for fasting and it sure beats the texture and blandness of those sandwiches!
Ingredients: Serves 1 portion
1 cup of dried fusili pasta, boiled and cooked al dente
1 can of albacore tuna
1 Tbs olive oil
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 Tbs fresh capers
½ tsp green peppercorns
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ cup tomato sauce
Sauté garlic in pan of hot olive oil. Add tuna (including the liquid in the can), capers, and peppercorns. Mix until tuna is warm. Add tomato sauce and let simmer for 1 minute. Add pasta and allow some of the pasta water to help “cream” the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Enjoy this delicious meatball recipe in this season of snowballs, courtesy of Mark Bello and Pizza-a-Casa.
PIZZA-A-CASA SPICY SALSICCIA MEATBALLS
Ingredients: (makes about 30-40 meatballs)
Per 1 lb. of ground pork in a 3 to 1, lean to fat, coarse grind
1 Tbs fennel seed
1 tsp fine crystal sea salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 egg, beaten
1/2 C breadcrumbs
30-40 strips of roasted red pepper (optional)
Mix all ingredients (except red pepper strips) well. Form mixture into ping-pong sized balls and place in roasting pan. Bake at 350F until browned and just above pink inside (about 10-15 minutes). Serve on toothpick topped with a roasted red pepper strip (optional).
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