The Food Column: This Catholic priest who cooks wants to spice up your marriage


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In a bit of a departure for a Catholic priest, Father Leo Patalinghug records TV and radio shows, has written cookbooks and even once appeared on "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," where he defeated the famous chef in a fajita cook-off.

Fr. Patalinghug will bring his lively blend of relationship advice, cooking demos and spiritual teaching to Upper St. Clair and McMurray this Saturday, Nov. 9, at St. Benedict the Abbot Catholic Church.

He'll offer a martial arts program for teens at St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Upper St. Clair and celebrate Mass with Fr. Robert Miller at St. Benedict the Abbot in McMurray. But the keystone of the day will be his "Spicing Up Married Life" presentation and cooking demo at 6:30 p.m. at St. Benedict the Abbot. The presentation shares its name with his recently published second cookbook.

He sees his mission as teaching people "not only how to cook, but why we cook" -- to strengthen relationships around the table.

His movement, dubbed "Grace Before Meals" (also the title of his first cookbook), has produced two cookbooks, a blog, YouTube cooking shows, a series on Sirius Radio's Catholic Channel and a pilot for a TV show endorsed by PBS.

It all started, he said, after Sept. 11, 2001.

He vividly remembers the Food Network canceling its programming for a day or two, encouraging viewers instead to gather around the table and just be together.

It moved him enough to build a faith message around the same principle.

Growing up in a Filipino-American household, he always was surrounded by good food.

"I joke that the only reason I had friends is because my mom cooked so well," he said.

So when he moved to Italy for six years, he both missed his food-centric family and felt at home, all at the same time, because in Italy, "they have these three-hour meals."

He began to develop an idea of food as a "universal connector."

He also spent his vacation time taking cooking courses at schools like Le Cordon Bleu in Perugia, Italy.

In McMurray, he'll demonstrate "Bacon and Butternut Squash Brandy Creamy Penne Pasta" (see recipe), a dish from his recent cookbook. He'll probably invite one of the couples in attendance --maybe a couple celebrating a special anniversary -- to taste the dish after the demo.

And he'll interweave a lot of relationship advice.

He says his target audience is "people who are married, or people who are seriously thinking about getting married."

He'll encourage them to set aside times to meet together around the dinner table -- perhaps a "monthiversary" celebration to make their special celebrations more frequent than yearly events. He'll suggest conversation topics that help them to connect -- their first meeting, their understanding of "'til death do us part," their relationships with their in-laws.

"It's a fun way to get couples talking and keep them dating all through life," he said.

Often, he even offers renewal of wedding vows during his presentations.

He calls his style of cooking "fusion" and develops all his own recipes, aspiring to "elevate the accessible" -- to make special meals from everyday ingredients and cooking techniques.

But his message is about so much more than the food, he said.

"Even if you have to order a bucket of chicken, do it together as a family."

Oysters

Oyster Festival: Samples, sales, tips and recipes all of November at Wholey's in the Strip District, with demos, entertainment and shucked oysters on weekends. For each shucked oyster sold from the store's oyster bar, a dime will be donated to the Children's Institute. wholey.com.

Guinness Oyster Festival: Fresh oysters on the half shell, fried oysters, oyster stew. Noon Saturday, Nov. 16, through 2 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 17, at Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle in the Strip District. 412-642-6622.

Charitable events

Music and Meatballs: Spaghetti dinner benefiting the Eastern Area Youth Chorale. 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, at Mt. Hope Church in Penn Hills. $7 ($5 for children under 8). eaycpgh@aol.com.

Holiday Wine Tasting & Sale: Samples from Pennsylvania wineries, hors d'oeuvres and entertainment. Noon to 4 p.m. or 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 16 in the Home Economics Building at South Park. Proceeds will be used for park improvements. Tickets: 412-655-2420 or 412-417-5736.

Thanksgiving and Holiday Rum Cake Sale: Order rum or apricot brandy cakes through Dec. 13 for shipping or pick-up; proceeds benefit The Woodlands Foundation, a charity benefiting individuals with disabilities. mywoodlands.org or 724-935-5470.

Etc.

CRAFTED: Opening celebration for a display of drinking vessels made by more than 35 American ceramic artists. 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District. Tickets are $30 or $40 (VIP), and the event includes cocktails served in handmade ceramicware and food from Bar Marco. Reservations: 412-261-7003 or crafted2013.eventbrite.com.

City Dining Cards Launch Party: Free beers and snacks to celebrate the new decks of City Dining Cards (coupons for area restaurants and food businesses). 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, at The Beer Hive, Strip District. Information: facebook.com (search for City Dining Cards -- Pittsburgh).

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Bacon and butternut squash brandy creamy penne pasta

½ pound penne pasta, cooked al dente

Olive oil, to taste

4 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into thin strips

1 cup butternut squash, diced into ⅛-inch cubes

1 small white onion, diced

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 cup brandy

1 tablespoon butter

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken stock

2 teaspoons parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley

Boil pasta according to package instructions. When pasta is cooked al dente, drain water completely and add a light drizzle of olive oil so the pasta stays separate. Toss pasta together and set aside.

Cook bacon in a large saute pan over medium high heat until fatty parts of the bacon become crispy. Remove bacon and drain some of the grease, leaving about 2 teaspoons of bacon grease in the pan.

Saute the butternut squash, onions and garlic in the remaining bacon grease until squash becomes soft and onions become translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add brandy and either flambe or cook away from an exposed flame for 2 to 3 minutes. Add butter and flour and mix together until sauce thickens. Add chicken stock and stir together. Return the bacon and pasta to the pan and saute until sauce thickens. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and minced fresh parsley to finish the dish. Serves 2.

— “Spicing Up Married Life” by Fr. Leo Patalinghug (Leo McWatkins Films, 2012)


Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.

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