This past weekend, Donnette and I drove to Baltimore to help our friends Andrew and Jenni put on a dinner for the elders of their church. Andrew is the associate pastor of his church, and he and Jenni do this dinner once a year as a means of saying thank you to those men and their wives. They asked us, half jokingly I think, if we wanted to come and help them do it, and since we’re a little crazy and can’t ever say no to a good invitation, we loaded up the car *1* and made our way north. Jenni is an excellent cook in her own right, but she’s five months pregnant and usually prefers baking to cooking anyways, so I (Chris) did the savory portion of the evening, and Jenni handled all the desserts. We did a five course meal, with me cooking the first four and Jenni taking the last one. It was a little hectic, as the dinner was Friday night and we didn’t get in until late Thursday evening, but everything went really well, the meal was good *2*, and we were able to enjoy our time with people who we count as some of our best friends.
Jesus spoke about food a lot during his ministry, although his disciples never quite caught that he wasn’t actually talking about physically eating, that he had something grander in mind. He spoke of bread, and all they could think of was their empty stomachs, never quite catching that he was more interested in something grander, more permanent. Paul would make the same point, yeah, food is okay, but don’t focus on it, it goes in, it goes out, it isn’t central, there are more important things to concern yourself with, things that will last long after your body has returned to the dust. The entire New Testament takes the realities of the old covenant and turns it on its head, driving us towards deeper, richer blessings than land, temples, wine and bread, as good as those things are. I love cooking, I love being a good cook, but, to me, there are so many more important things to be concerned about as we prepare to do ministry, even in a food centered country like France. Knowing the Word, being able to love people with it, being able to speak it into people’s lives, these things are far more important than being able to get the proper rise on a chocolate soufflé.
With that being said, it is remarkable to read the gospels and consider how much time Jesus spent eating with people. He ate with the Pharisees, he ate with tax collectors, and, likely, everyone in between. Jesus preached to the people, but when they got hungry, he fed them too. And while the latter was meant to testify to the former, it was still a miracle in its own right. One of the last things Jesus did with his disciples before his death was share a meal with them. It’s that same meal that is one of the only visible means by which he communicates grace to us. Broken bread, poured out wine, great grace. The New Testament ends with this same sort of imagery, the great wedding feast of the Lamb. There are many more important things than food and wine, but there is something that happens when Christians gather around the table; it’s a taste, a glimpse, even if it is fleeting, of what is to come.
So it was our joy to get to cook for the elders of New Covenant this past weekend. It was fun to make the food, fun to send it all out, fun to hear people laugh and talk for the hours they were gathered around the table. I promised them pictures and recipes of from the meal, so we’ve posted them below.
Thank you all for your prayers.
The menu from the evening was as follows:
Course 1: Sweet potato blini *3*, maple cured pork belly, candied pistachios, maple butter sauce
Course 2: Salad of goat cheese mouse, spice poached pears, pickled red onions, walnuts, rocket, and cranberry vinaigrette
Course 3: Shrimp Gumbo *4*, andouille madelines
Course 4: Six hour pork shoulder *5*, corn pudding, roasted brussels sprouts and potatoes, popcorn shoots
Course 5: Tiramisu, Chocolate mouse cake, stuffed strawberries
*1* Rental car. It was a Dodge Charger, which got surprisingly good gas mileage (+30 per gallon). Don’t know if I’d buy one, but it wasn’t a bad rental.
*2* I’m hesitant to brag, as there are always things that could’ve been better. With that said, I usually measure the success of a meal based on how much food goes from people’s plates into the trash can, and by that metric, the meal was a hit.
*3* For the sweet potato blini, roast 2 lbs of sweet potatoes in an oven until tender, 1.5-2 hours. Put in blender. Add to blender 2 eggs, 1.5 cups of butter milk, two tblspns melted butter, 1 tspn vanilla, .5 cups milk and blend until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and ass 1.5 cups of flour, 2 tblspns each of baking soda and powder, and a good pinch of salt. Stir until combined. Add enough water to make a thick but pourable batter. Cook on an electric skillet for one to two minutes on each side, and serve immediately.
*4* For the shrimp gumbo, combine 4 oz of canola oil with 4 oz (by weight) of AP flour in a heavy bottomed, oven safe pan, and place in the oven at 350 until it is a dark brick red, about 1.5-2 hours. While the roux is cooking, make the shrimp stock by boiling the shells of 2 lbs of peeled shrimp in 4 cups of water for about 30 minutes. When the stock is done, strain it off and add 1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce and a tspn of hot sauce. When the roux is ready, place on the stovetop over medium heat and add 1/2 cup each of diced onion, celery and bell pepper, two cloves of diced garlic, and cook carefully (roux will be very hot and sticky) until just softened. Begin to stir the shrimp stock into the roux, and allow to come to a soft boil. To this, add a tspn of chili powder, black pepper, garlic and onion powder, and salt, 1 bay leaf, and an 8 oz can of crushed tomatoes, and then let them all simmer for 1-2 hours, or as long as 8 in a slow cooker. About an hour before cooking, slice and brown two andouille sausages in a pan, and then add them to the gumbo. About 30 minutes before serving, add 2 cups of chopped okra to the soup. Adjust salt to taste. Serve with rice or roasted potatoes.
*5* For the slow roasted pork, combine 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup salt and rub over a 7-8 lbs pork shoulder, then refrigerate over night. The next day, discard the liquor in the bottom of the pan and place the pork in an oven set to 250 and roast for six to seven hours, basting once with the pan drippings once every hour or so. Pork is done when it can be easily pulled with a fork from the bone.
If you’d like any of the other recipes from the evening, or to clarify any of the above recipes, please feel free to message me anytime. Thank you again!