New cookbook celebrates the spirit of the Sunday dinner

09/25/2013 12:00 AM

09/25/2013 10:58 AM

Sunday, in the Christian tradition, is the intersection of food and religion. It’s the high point of the workweek for most pastors, and the dinners that follow provide time to rest and enjoy family, friends and fellowship.

“Sunday dinners,” thought Houston Chronicle food and religion editor Diane Cowen,“ are America’s tradition of grace and good food.” And, what better tradition than Sunday dinners to include in a new cookbook?

Houston is home to the largest church in the country, as well as the largest Southern Baptist and United Methodist churches. Naturally, Pastors Joel and Victoria Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston – the largest church of any denomination – came to mind as a couple who relaxed after church with family.

So did The Rev. Mike Glenn and Jeannie Glenn (a Columbia native) of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn., and Pastors Ron and Hope Carpenter of Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville.

These couples – and others from San Antonio and Dallas as well as California, Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and New York – are featured in the finished product,“ Sunday Dinners – Food, Family, and Faith from Our Favorite Pastors” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $24.99).

Victoria Osteen wrote the foreword and contributed recipes steeped in Southern tradition. Several, including her recipes for roast turkey, sweet potato casserole, cornbread dressing and banana-berry cream pie, are holiday favorites. Texas fudge cake, on the other hand, is a staple in the Osteens’ kitchen.

“We’ve always been people who sit around a table and talk and eat,” Victoria Osteen told Cowen. “The table is a real gathering place.”

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell and Suzette Caldwell of Houston, who have built the largest United Methodist church in the country, are usually busy with church matters well past the traditional Sunday lunch. But the afternoon and evening are reserved for the nuclear family.

The three Caldwell children love their mother’s marinated grilled chicken, cinnamon-raisin biscuits and spritz cookies. Their dad’s best dish is his old-fashioned macaroni and cheese.

“As a relatively older dad, I am particularly aware of being involved in the children’s lives,” Kirbyjon Caldwell said. “When life is testy to them, later and always, I want them to know they can come to Mom and Dad.”

Cowen tested all of the recipes in “Sunday Dinners.” Some needed tweaking because she could only guess at the measurements – recipes handed down through the generations called for a pinch of this and a scoop of that.

Many Sunday evenings, she invited friends over to sample the results. A cake that called for strawberry Jell-O and a cake mix in the ingredients – from the Jeannie Glenn – had friends demanding more.

“Get your own. I’m not sharing,” one friend said.

Bishop T.D. and Serita Jakes of the Potter’s House in the Dallas-Fort Worth area often host a houseful of their children’s friends after church, with T.D. Jakes joking that he can feed an army from his refrigerator. Everyone in the Jakes family loves to cook, but they all know that when dad does the cooking, it’s going to be a meal you don’t want to miss.

Collectively, the families in “Sunday Dinners” are ambassadors for great food, strong families and deep faith. Cowen, a native of Indiana, experienced the power of all three as she was growing up, and that helped her tell the stories of the pastors.

One chapter is devoted to the Rev. Martin Lam Nguyen, who fled his native Vietnam in a small boat after the fall of Saigon. Even as a boy, he was deeply religious and relished the culinary traditions of his home country. Today, he lives on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, where he teaches students they can and should mix food and faith to form familial connections.

Nguyen is adviser to the college’s Vietnamese Student Association, and on Sundays he conducts Mass in Vietnamese, then shares a meal with the students. Sometimes he cooks, but sometimes, he says proudly, they cook for him.

“It’s a blessing, a great blessing,” he told Cowen. “When I gather with people, food is another medium to communicate.”

Another chapter focuses on the Rodriguezes of California. Sam Rodriguez is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which serves 15 million Hispanic Christians and more than 40,000 member churches. He and wife, Eva, are senior pastors at New Season Christian Worship Center and Cantico Nuevo, Assemblies of God churches.

During Sunday dinner, however, the Rodriguezes focus on their kids.

“Our family dinners are a constant affirmation of our core values,” Sam Rodriguez said. “I want my children to see transparency, to see what integrity looks like. Life at home should not differ from life in the pulpit. We want them to see that we are living out the Gospel and not just preaching it.”

When Cowen was growing up, she and her family went to church, then shared Sunday dinner at home, with relatives or, as a special treat, in a restaurant.

But wherever they ate, Sunday was the day to focus on family.

It’s a simple message, Cowen said. “Life is better because we’re all in it together.”

Pulled Pork Tacos

10 servings

3 pounds boneless Boston pork butt roast

1 (28-ounce) can whole fire-roasted tomatoes

1 (14-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes

1 chipotle pepper

1 tablespoon adobo sauce

1 medium-size yellow onion, minced

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 bay leaves

Corn or flour tortillas, for serving

Sour cream, for serving

1 bunch fresh cilantro, for serving

Shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, for serving

Lime slices, for serving

Put the pork roast in a slow cooker, then add both cans of tomatoes.

Mince the chipotle pepper and add it and the adobo sauce to the slow cooker. Add the onion, salt, pepper, oregano and bay leaves.

Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.

Remove the roast from the slow cooker and place it in a shallow baking dish or on a cutting board.

Remove any excess fat, then pull apart the meat using two forks.

Serve the pulled pork on tortillas with sour cream, cilantro, cheese and the juice from the lime slices.

Recipes from “Sunday Dinners: Food, Family, and Faith from Our Favorite Pastors” by Diane Cowen (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Senator Russell’s Sweet Potatoes

12 servings


10 medium-size sweet potatoes

2 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted


2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Make the potatoes: Bake the sweet potatoes until soft, 35 to 40 minutes. Allow them to cool enough to be handled, then peel and mash them. Push the potatoes through a ricer or sieve and place in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, milk, and butter. Add to the sweet potatoes and mix.

Pour the potato mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Make the topping: Whisk together the brown sugar and flour. Stir in the melted butter until crumbly, then add the pecans. (If the mixture isn’t crumbly, add more sugar.)

Sprinkle the topping over the potato mixture and bake for 50 minutes or until the topping is bubbly.

Strawberry Cake

12 servings


1 (18.25-ounce) box yellow cake mix

4 large eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 (3-ounce) package strawberry-flavored gelatin

1/2 cup frozen strawberries, thawed

1/2 cup water


1/2 cup frozen strawberries

1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine or butter

3 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray.

Make the cake: In a large bowl, mix all of the cake ingredients until combined. Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Set on wire racks to cool.

Make the frosting: Put the strawberries in a small, microwave-safe bowl and microwave briefly to thaw. Drain off the juice from the berries and brush the juice over each layer of cake. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on low speed, combine the margarine with the confectioners’ sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Add the strawberries and continue mixing until the strawberries are completely incorporated and the frosting is pink. Invert one cake layer onto a cake plate. Spread 3/4 cup of frosting onto the top of the cake.

Invert the second layer of cake onto another plate, then transfer it to the top of the frosted bottom layer of the cake.

Cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Cut into 12 slices and serve.

Cinnamon-Raisin Biscuits

12 servings

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon coarse salt

5 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup raisins

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

3 tablespoons whole milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cinnamon. Using a pastry blender or fork, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Add the cream and stir just until the dough comes together. (The mixture will be sticky.)

Add the raisins and incorporate into the dough gently and quickly. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and, with floured fingers, knead the dough until it forms a ball. Sprinkle flour on the work surface and lightly dust the dough to keep it from sticking.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 1-inch thickness. Use a biscuit or cookie cutter to cut out biscuits.

Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

To make a glaze, sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small mixing bowl, then add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach a thin, but not runny, consistency.

Allow the biscuits to cool for a few minutes, then top with the glaze and serve while they’re still warm.


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