A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
Catholics browsing the internet for recipes and culinary tips have likely come across the Catholic Foodie website. With its bold design, thoughtful food/faith articles, and dazzling recipe collections, the website will inspire anybody who loves the Catholic connection between food and faith to rush to the kitchen and to read Scripture. Even non-Catholics will get a big kick out of it.
Credit goes to its founder and producer, Chef Jeff Young, who grew up in an intensely food- and faith-oriented household in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an area noted for its love and attentiveness for great meals. “I just grew up in a family who loved to cook” he said. “We ate dinner together every night, and on Sundays, all the relatives got together to eat. I always have had a love of food and cooking.”
His culinary passion elevated to another level when, at the age of 18, Young entered the seminary of Mother Teresa’s priests, the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, in Tijuana, Mexico. Fifty young men were there, he said, and during the week a cook came in daily to prepare lunch and dinner meals. “Dinners were prepared ahead, and we would reheat them at dinnertime,” he said. But on weekends, kitchen and cooking duties were spread among the seminarians. “We were on our own,” he said. “So we divided ourselves into five groups, and each group had its own ‘captain.’ Here I was at 18 and they all thought I knew how to cook.” It was obvious to the others that Young’s love for cooking was very special.
“When I was in seminary,” he said, “I was in an awkward position. It’s a big deal today for people to cook ‘local.’ But that is where I came from. The cuisine in Louisiana represents many different cultures, but all our cooking was based with what we had on hand—fresh fish and shellfish, okra, tomatoes, rice… Back when I was in Tijuana, I could not find the ingredients for what I love to cook. My mom mailed me a cookbook and newspaper recipes, but I always had to modify… It was like putting a puzzle together, and cooking is always like that… We make mistakes, sometimes a happy fault, and… Hallelujah, I learned something new!”
After his time in Mexico, Young did not consider making working as a chef his career. He did work as a bartender in a local seafood restaurant. “But I didn’t think I wanted to go into an industrial kitchen,” he said. “A lot of places in New Orleans are owned and run by Catholics, and so many people are active members of local parishes, whether they are chefs or restaurant owners.”
Young, however, found that the restaurant industry was all-consuming, and the schedule can make family life difficult. ”I just always loved to cook,” he said, “it is like prayer and therapy. And cooking is prayerful, so making that into a job would rob me of my joy of cooking.”
Instead, Young chose to teach in a local Catholic high school, and realized that as technology advanced, he could incorporate it in the classroom by recording lessons live and turning them into podcasts. “I thought let me do something that is fun,” he said. “Food and faith are the two things I love in life. That connection is what I learned when I studied theology—how prominent food is from Genesis to Jesus giving Himself to us in the Eucharist, and we have to eat…From podcasts to a website—I started putting recipes up, and that is how Catholic Foodie came about.”
Note: From Young’s website: “God created us to seek communion – with himself and with others – and one of the primary ways we experience communion is around the table… the table of the Eucharist at Mass, and also the family dinner table at home. From Genesis to Revelation, food plays an important role in God’s relationship with his people and in our relationship with each other.”
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 or 5 yellow onions, chopped
- 2 green bell peppers, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 6 strips of bacon (I prefer Applegate Farms)
- 2 lbs frozen okra, cut and thawed
- 2 cans Rotel Diced Tomatoes with Chilis
- 8 cups shrimp stock (can substitute chicken stock)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons Konriko Creole Seasoning (or similar seasoning)
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 lbs medium or large shrimp, peeled and deveined (if the shrimp are too big, you can cut them into chunks)
- 1 cup green onions, chopped (will need extra for individual bowls)
- ½ cup parsley, chopped (will need extra for individual bowls)
For the roux
- Heat your skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add canola oil and heat until it begins to sizzle.
- Add flour and whisk to incorporate. Continue whisking until the roux reaches the color of dark chocolate. Be careful not to burn the roux.
- Once the roux has reached the desired color, add the onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic. Stir well, and allow to cook down for about five minutes or so. You want the veggies to soften and become translucent.
- Once the veggies have softened and become translucent, remove from heat and set aside.
For the okra
- Heat a high-sided skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the bacon and cook until it's crispy.
- Remove the bacon and set aside.
- In the drippings from the bacon add the okra and cook down ("brown") for about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add Rotel Tomatoes (including the juice)
For the gumbo
- In a gumbo (stock) pot add the roux and the stock.
- Heat on medium-high heat.
- Add the okra.
- Stir well to help incorporate all the ingredients.
- Add the wine, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, salt, and Konriko.
- Stir well, and bring to a simmer. Allow the gumbo to simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium low, continuing to allow the gumbo to simmer.
- Taste for seasoning and thickness. Make adjustments as necessary.
- When your rice is made and you are getting close to dinner time, you can add the shrimp. You have to be careful not to overcook the shrimp. They will only need about five minutes of cooking.
- Once the shrimp are cooked, you are ready to eat! Serve gumbo over rice in an bowl. Keep Tabasco or Crystal on hand in case anyone wants to add it to their bowl. Also have chopped parsley and chopped green onions available to add to individual bowls.