Living the Church Year, One Meal at a Time
Jennifer Miller helps Catholics put the feast in each feast day.
If you are a follower of the website Catholic Culture and you like to cook, you have likely scrolled down under the heading of Liturgical Year. At the end of that list, you will see the title “Recipes.” A click on that opens up a treasure trove of — guess what — Catholic recipes for the liturgical year.
The staff member who deserves applause and thanks for compiling and organizing the recipes is Manassas, Virginia, resident Jennifer Gregory Miller. “I started working with Catholic Culture and Jeff Mirus,” she said, “when I got out of high school. At first, he was a book publisher, and one of our ventures was to make a Catholic imprint in the internet world.” That would mean that out-of-print Catholic books would be more accessible to Catholic readers, she added. Visitors to the website can pull up any day of the year and find the link to recipes, activities and prayers of the day. They can click on it and see how to celebrate the particular feast.
She initiated the recipe idea back in 2000 because she wanted to help others follow the liturgical year in their homes. “There were no publications breaking down liturgical living in an easy way,” she said. “I was scanning and editing texts before posting them online.” When Catholic Culture unveiled their Liturgical Year section in 2003, users could easily follow the Church calendar and find inspiration on how to celebrate any particular feast day. She added that cooking the special liturgical recipes connects one with the Universal Church, past and present.
Her focus on recipes and cooking is not surprising, because this Houston native pitched in as a teen to help her mom cook for the expanding family. “When my mom was up to her ears in diapers,” she said, “I started taking over the cooking and reading her cookbooks.” The most inspirational was Florence Berger’s original Cooking with Christ (1949). Miller embraced Berger’s ideas of following so many different culinary traditions and liturgical seasons. Other Catholic sources include Helen McLoughlin, Maria Von Trapp and Evelyn Vitz, all of whom have written passionately about cooking following Catholic liturgical traditions.
Even in college she wrote her thesis on the influence of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference that focused on the connection between Christ and the family. “The book, Cooking with Christ, gives a glimpse into the Liturgical Movement that was very strong in the 1930s through the 1950s,” she said. “So my contributions to the web were a second layer of how to bring the liturgy into the home.”
As Miller moves forward, she said she is trying to refine the recipe section, and eventually, she and Mirus want to put out an e-cookbook. She also writes on living the Liturgical Year for the Commentary section.
And her favorites? “I do go back to the tried and true.” she said. “For St. Nicholas’ feast day on Dec. 6 we make the Dutch speculatius (or speculaas) cookies from Florence Berger’s book. These are a family tradition. I even had the cookies with a recipe card as our wedding favors. … I have used liturgical cooking as evangelization for many years.” Her children are certainly tuned into the liturgical calendar she said, adding that they wake up each day and ask which feast day it is.
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Stracotto al Caffe (Beef Braised in Coffee)
Serves 6 to 8
As Miller said, “I adapted this recipe from an Italian cookbook for the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. I won a little recipe contest on a blog years ago for this. This is an example of finding cultural recipes and using them for certain feast days. Italy has such a great devotion to St. Joseph and so I chose an Italian dish for this second feast of St. Joseph. My son has food allergies to dairy, wheat and tree nuts. I also wanted to be able to use my slow cooker on days I’m not home. I now make my pot roast in my heavy cast iron Le Creuset pan in my oven if I’m at home in the afternoons.”
Simmering the beef in red wine and espresso produces a rich, dark gravy with very tender meat. This is a type of recipe one would find in northern Italy. If you have no espresso, strong black coffee works fine.
Serve with noodles, rice or potatoes.
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 to 4 pounds boneless beef roast (various cuts work fine: rump, chuck, eye of the round — whatever is on sale)
- About 3 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
- 1 large thinly sliced red onion
- 4 to 6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 cup strongly brewed Italian espresso coffee
- Loosely chopped celery and carrots (optional, for flavor)
- Add salt and pepper all over the roast and rub in. Set aside.
- Add olive oil and butter, covering the entire surface of a large pan or pot. Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the meat to the pot. Sear the meat on all sides, turning occasionally to make sure every part is brown. Remove the meat. Add the wine to pan to deglaze it.
- To a slow cooker, add coffee, wine, meat, onions and optional carrots and celery. Cook for 6 hours on High, or longer on low heat. Turn the meat occasionally and cover with juices.
- Remove the meat. Serve with the gravy poured over the meat. Strain the garlic cloves, celery and carrots before serving. Serve hot. The meat is usually just fork tender and can be pulled apart, instead of sliced.
- To cook in the oven, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a large Dutch oven or pot. Prepare the meat as above, but after deglazing, add the meat and all the other ingredients to the pot. Cover and put in oven. Cook for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, then reduce the oven to 275 degrees. Cook in oven for about 3 hours. Occasionally check and turn meat. Meat should be fork tender.