Book Review: Saints at the Table

I never expected to transform into a total foodie, but somehow it happened. My mom was an amazing housewife, but she’d be the first to admit that she was no Rachael Ray. Once when my younger brother returned home from college, he told her how much he’d missed her homecooking.

"Well, what do you want me to make?"

"Some Rice-A-Roni," he replied hungrily.

To her credit, cooking for our family wasn’t easy. I gave up eating all meat at a young age (I abandoned vegetarianism after getting married); my dad is definitely a meat and potatoes guy; and my younger brother has about four foods he regularly eats. I think the poor woman just gave up because whenever she did try to make something creative, at least one of us would eye it like it was a science experiment instead of dinner.

I always loved baking and in college I had a roommate who religiously read Gourmet magazine and Cooking Light . Inspired by her, I started cooking more and found it to be extremely enjoyable. When I got married, I prided myself on cooking for Dave every night and trying out new recipes.

Since having kids I’ve gotten even more into it. I’ve always been a relatively healthy eater (although I have a weakness for all things chocolate) and am always trying out new recipes that are both tasty and nutritious. Just recently, Dave and I have decided we want to start experimenting with more spices, especially those popular in Indian cooking like turmeric and saffron.

I’m also a cookbook junkie and have a huge bookshelf devoted to gustatory tomes. I’ve put together two big binders with clipped recipes as well that include everything from fun finger foods for kids to favorite recipes of my beloved and deceased papa, someone who loved food, cooking, and expressing his love for his grandchildren through their palates.

In fact, I realize now that my grandpa and even my unchef-of-a-mom both played a big role in fostering my own love for cooking and recipe mongering. I’ve found it’s in the kitchen and often at the dinner table where we have the opportunity to serve our families and to connect with them. Even when my mom served up Rice-A-Roni, there was something very nourishing about my family’s dinnertime. We were there together, talking about our days, and my mom was the one who had brought us all together, not so much with her cooking but with her commitment to her family.

It’s no wonder I was eager to dig into Saints at the Dinner Table by Amy Heyd (St. Anthony Press, $19.95). Not only did I discover a generous helping of delicious recipes within its pages — from delectable desserts to family-friendly main dishes — but I also learned a thing or two about some of the book’s featured saints.

Heyd chose 12 saints — from well-loved saintly figures like St. Joseph and St. Clare of Assisi to less notorious ones like St. Josephine Bakhita — and created complete menus based upon their lives.

Each chapter is dedicated to a different saint and includes a brief historical account of his or her life, an inspired menu and a mealtime prayer as well as prompts that provide food for thought on our faith and our lives that are sure to spark dinnertime chitchat.

The book’s intro includes several creative ideas for employing the book, including cracking it open for weekly family meals or using it to start a supper club where each member takes turns "hosting" a different saint, preparing a meal, and leading the discussion about the chosen "guest" of honor.

I thoroughly enjoyed Saints at the Dinner Table and look forward to trying out many of its tasty recipes and inviting saints into my family’s dining room.

The first recipe I plan to try is Saint Margaret’s Charity Meatball Tortellini Soup , although I plan to make my own turkey or all-pork meatballs (I don’t eat red meat so by default, my family doesn’t either unless Dad cooks up an occasional steak for him and the girls). I received permission to reprint the article and share it here. Enjoy!

Saint Margaret’s Charity Meatball Tortellini Soup*

Serves: 10-12
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Preheat oven: 350º

Meatballs

You will need:
1/2 pound ground sirloin
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl and gently mix with your hands. Once combined, roll into balls about the size of an acorn. Place on a baking sheet that has sides and bake for 15 minutes. Set aside. (Time saver: Instead of making homemade meatballs, buy frozen ones. They will be a little larger, but still good.)

Soup

You will need:
1 batch of cooked meatballs
1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 (32-ounce) cans chicken broth
1 1/2 cups carrots sliced in 1/2-inch coins
1 bay leaf
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite-cut tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 cups of frozen baby peas
1 bag frozen cheese tortellini

In a large soup pot, sauté onions and celery in olive oil over medium heat for 5-10 minutes. The onions should be translucent. Add chicken broth, carrots, bay leaf, tomatoes, and meatballs and garlic. Bring to a boil and cook on medium for 10 minutes. When the carrots are al dente, add basil, peals and tortellini. Bring to a boil again and cook for another 7 minutes until the tortellini is cooked.

*Taken from Saints at the Dinner Table , copyright 2008 by Amy Heyd, reprinted with permission of St. Anthony Messenger Press, 28 W. Liberty St., Cincinnati, OH 45202. Please do not publish this recipe without written permission from St. Anthony Messenger Press.

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Kate Wicker

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Kate Wicker is a regular guest on Relevant Radio, speaker, health columnist for Catholic Digest, and the author of Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body. She also has a novel in the works that she cobbles together in between nursing, searching for rogue socks, and reading storybooks to her four young children. Learn more about her speaking, writing, and life at KateWicker.com.

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  • noelfitz

    Interesating article.

    One often thinks about the asceticism and fasting of the saints. It is interesting to speculate what were the favorite dishes of Saints Margaret, Clare and Joseph.

    What did the Holy Family eat? The marriage feast at Cana, the Last Supper and the fact that Jesus ate with sinners shows that Our Lord enjoyed company and food.

    May we do likewise and thank God for his gifts.

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