Ministry chefs whip up holiday favorites for patients, staff

December 15, 2017


No snowman would stand a chance in Santa Cruz, Calif., the week of Christmas, with temperatures expected to average in the 60s all week. So, it is only fitting that employees of Santa Cruz' Dignity Health Dominican Hospital will be enjoying melted snowman cookies as their holiday treat.

Melted snowman cookies will sweeten Christmas week for employees of Dignity Health Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Handing out treats to employees is a tradition for hospital Chief Operating Officer Jim Murray and Director of Food and Nutrition Services Richard Truss. The two will round the entire hospital the week of Christmas, and this year they'll deliver handmade sugar cookies decorated with marshmallow snowman heads in a puddle of icing, for the melted bodies.

Truss says the treat changes from year to year. "I try to find something that will bring a smile to our employees' faces. These seemed perfect.

"We hope these small tokens of our gratitude bring some extra Christmas cheer to our wonderful staff and volunteers," says Truss.

Across the ministry, food service crews are dusting off time-honored recipes or holding true to long-standing customs to help bring comfort and enjoyment to staff and patients who are at the hospital during the holidays.

Local flavor
Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore served Maryland crab balls at the hospital's holiday party for physicians Dec. 5. And another local favorite, crab cakes made from the meat of Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, will be on patients' menus on Christmas day, says Kristan Allman, food service director for the hospital. Facility Executive Chef Willis Stribling and his kitchen staff will make the crab dishes from scratch, and they expect to use about 70 pounds of the seafood in total.

"Mercy prides itself on tradition, and holiday foods are especially important to maintaining these traditions," Allman says.

Season of light
The Jewish Hospital — Mercy Health of Cincinnati is marking Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday of lights, by serving latkes for the eight-day observance, which began at sundown Dec. 12.

The pancakes made of shredded potatoes, eggs, matzo meal and onions are a traditional Hanukkah dish. They are fried in oil to commemorate a miracle that is said to have occurred around 2,200 years ago when Israelites rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Torah, or holy book, called for the temple candelabrum, or menorah, to burn for eight consecutive days, but there was only enough blessed oil to last one day. The menorah is said to have stayed lit for eight days on a day's supply of oil.

Maria Palma dishes up some Christmas ponche. Palma is program director and chef for the Culinary Health Education for Families program at The Children's Hospital of San Antonio.

By popular demand
The cafeteria staff at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif., is following a holiday tradition by making and selling batches of a pumpkin bread with a 56-year history at the hospital, according to information from Carol Granados, the hospital's director of hospitality services.

The bread is from a recipe that is inspired by one used beginning in 1961 by the hospital's founding congregation, the Sisters of Providence, and by the hospital's guild. The sisters and guild members had baked and sold the "Monastery of the Angels Bread" at Christmastime as a hospital fundraiser until the late 1970s.

The pumpkin bread fundraiser tradition ended for a time. The sisters brought it back in the early 1980s, using a revamped recipe with less costly ingredients, according to Granados. The bread disappeared again when the Sisters of Providence's convent was sold and the nuns retired. The hospital kitchen brought back the tradition a few years ago. Each Christmas now, the Providence Saint Joseph kitchen crew makes the popular loaves. By early December, the kitchen already had received 100 orders for the bread. At $6.50 each, the loaves are priced to cover ingredient costs; the bread is not being used as a fundraiser.

Taste of home
John Mone, general manager of food and nutritional services at Saint Joseph East Hospital in Lexington, Ky., dug into his home recipe collection for fresh, healthy fare for this year's staff Thanksgiving meal.

Cook Luis Castro makes pumpkin bread for sale in the cafeteria of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif.

The meal included stuffed acorn squash and blood orange cranberry sauce, the latter a personal favorite of Mone. He adds, "I love the fact that the hospital administration helps serve the meal to all staff — it makes it fun!"

Maria Palma, program director and chef of the Culinary Health Education for Families, or CHEF, program at The Children's Hospital of San Antonio, adapted a beloved recipe from her childhood to share during the holidays.

The CHEF program teaches patients and their families how to prepare meals that are nutritionally sound and tasty, says Palma. CHEF offers cooking classes at a teaching kitchen in the CHRISTUS Health hospital's lobby. Participating families share the food they make at a communal table after their cooking classes.

Maryland crab balls.

This season, in the final class of its six-part Healthy Cooking Techniques class, the CHEF team is cooking up a Palma recipe for Christmas ponche, a warm, spiced drink that is made by simmering apple, pineapple and prunes together with cinnamon stick, cloves and allspice.

Palma brought the family recipe with her from her native Guatemala. She remembers her mother using the ponche recipe passed down from Palma's grandmother to make the Christmas punch.

Palma and her team have adapted her family's recipe for use with the CHEF cooking classes to show families that infused waters can be delicious and nutritious. The adapted version is sweetened more lightly than the original, for a healthier treat. The CHEF team also is sharing the recipe with associates throughout the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System, the hospital subsystem that includes the pediatric hospital.

"The smell of ponche takes me back to my childhood and instantly reminds me it's Christmas," Palma says.



Holiday favorites from the Catholic health ministry

Six Catholic hospitals shred favorite holiday recipes with Catholic Health World.

Bon Appetit!

Blood Orange Cranberry Sauce

Recipe submitted by Saint Joseph East in Lexington, Ky.

Servings: five to seven 3-ounce portions

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar or maple syrup to taste
juice from 2 blood oranges
zest from 1 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine cranberries, sugar or maple syrup and orange juice in a sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook over low heat for 5 minutes or until the cranberries pop and start to soften. Stir in the vanilla and orange zest and cook for 1 minute more.

Allow to cool and serve at room temperature or refrigerate.

The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Nutrition information: 118 calories, 0 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0g trans-fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 mg sodium, 30 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 1 g protein.


Christmas Ponche (punch)

Recipe submitted by The Children's Hospital of San Antonio. The recipe is inspired by a family recipe of Maria Palma, a program director and chef for the hospital's Culinary Health Education for Families program.

Servings: 20  

6 quarts (24 cups) water
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
3 allspice berries
3 red delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut into small cubes
1 pineapple, peeled and cut into small cubes
8 pitted prunes
1/2 cup brown sugar OR 1/4 cup agave

Combine all ingredients, except the sugar, in a medium stock pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Add sugar or agave. Turn the heat off and cover the pot and let sit for at least half an hour.

Nutrition information: Serving size = 1 cup, 60 calories; 0 g total fat; 0 g saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 15 mg sodium; 16 g total carbohydrate; 2 g dietary fiber; 12 g sugars; 0 g protein.


Famous Pumpkin Bread

Recipe submitted by Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, Burbank, Calif.

Makes 3 1-3/4 pound loaves.

3 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs beaten
1 cup oil
2/3 cup water
2 cups canned pumpkin
walnut halves

Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Combine eggs, oil, water and pumpkin and mix well. Stir into dry ingredients. Turn into 3 greased 1 pound loaf pans (8 inches x 4 1/2 inches x 2 1/4 inches) and top with a few walnut halves. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before slicing. (Tastes best slightly warm, spread with butter.)


Maryland Crab Balls

Recipe submitted by Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore.

Yields about 30 crab balls

1 pound Maryland Blue crabmeat (pasteurized or fresh)
1/2 cup cracker crumbs or bread crumbs
1 large egg
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 lemon
peanut or vegetable oil for frying

In a small bowl, beat egg; mix in mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning, mustard and lemon juice. Remove all cartilage from crabmeat and place crab in large bowl, and then fold in remaining wet ingredients. Add cracker crumbs until mixture can be shaped. Shape into about 30 balls about 1 inch in diameter and chill. Gently drop crab balls one at a time into hot (350 F) oil to cover.

Cook until browned; remove and drain. Serve with crackers and cocktail sauce on the side.


Melted snowman cookies

Recipe submitted by Dignity Health Dominican Hospital, Santa Cruz, Calif.

1 dozen baked sugar cookies
6 marshmallows, halved at a slight angle
white cookie icing, for decorating
black cookie icing or melted chocolate, for decorating
12 orange jimmies, for noses
24 mini M&M's, for buttons
chocolate jimmies, for arms

Spread white cookie icing on sugar cookies to resemble melted blobs. Decorate marshmallows with black cookie icing to make dots for eyes and a smile, or expression of surprise. Insert an orange jimmy into the marshmallow for a nose.

Place angular cut of marshmallow on white icing puddle adding more icing around the snowman's neck (base of the marshmallow) to secure it. Push mini M&M's into cookie icing for buttons and add chocolate jimmies for arms.


Potato latkes

Recipe submitted by Eli Stull, executive chef, The Jewish Hospital, Cincinnati.

Servings: 10

5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, grated, and squeezed dry
6 ounces yellow onions, grated, drained
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 large eggs
3 1/2-ounce all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
5 tablespoons whole milk
Vegetable oil, as needed

Mix the potatoes, onions, and lemon juice. Set aside. Beat eggs and mix with the flour, salt, pepper, and milk.

Stir egg/flour mixture into the potato/onion mixture. Batter should be thick. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. There should be about 1/4 inch of oil in the skillet. Use an ice cream scoop to drop the batter into the pan, pressing down to form patties. Fry latkes until golden brown on both sides. Drain on a paper towel.

Serve hot. Traditionally served with applesauce or sour cream.


Stuffed Acorn Squash

Recipe submitted by Saint Joseph East in Lexington, Ky.

Servings:  six

3 medium acorn squashes (about 1 1/2 pounds each), halved lengthwise and seeds removed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 cups cooked wild rice mix
2/3 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

Heat the oven to 450 F and arrange a rack in the middle.
Place the squash cut-side up on a baking sheet. Brush 1 tablespoon of the melted butter over the tops and insides of the squash halves. Sprinkle with the brown sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until just fork tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

While the squash cooks, place 1 tablespoon of the melted butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. When it foams, add the onion, shallots, and celery, season with salt and pepper, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the thyme and cook about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and stir in the rice, pecans, cranberries, and measured salt and pepper.

Divide the rice filling among the roasted squash halves (about 1/2 cup for each) and drizzle the remaining tablespoon of butter over top. Continue roasting until the squash is completely fork tender, the edges have started to brown, and the filling is heated through, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Nutrition information, per serving: 367 calories; 4.37 g fat; 4.46 g saturated fat; 0.23 g trans-fat; 60.52 g carbs; 8.88 g fiber; 8.7 g sugar; 6.85 g protein; 15.27 mg cholesterol; 355.77 mg sodium.


Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.