Three cheers and a resounding bravo to the Holy Family Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Florida! Why? Because this parish offers a unique parish-wide cooking ministry to all those with a passion for assembling meals. Its focus is to help those with jobs in a commercial kitchen to improve their skills and to help parishioners who want to host a food-related event to learn the basics.

As its online description notes: “Our members get the opportunity to learn how to prepare a new dish and how to use the various commercial equipment in the kitchen. We also meet when we are helping to put on an event for the parish.”

Three volunteer parishioners help to guide this program, but one person in particular, Donald Moynahan, gets credit for starting this ministry in 2016, when the church opened a new kitchen on its property. As it turns out, Moynahan, a lifelong Catholic, had been cooking since childhood, making the project a good fit. “I am the youngest of seven children,” he said. “Mom wanted all of her children, even the boys, to be able to cook and when Mom got home from work, she wanted dinner on the table.”

And later as a volunteer at the church, Moynahan was involved in cooking, and the first meal he prepared there was a Thanksgiving dinner in 1994 with his then-priest, Father Logan. “We made it for the young at heart, and I have been cooking ever since then,” adding that he even cooked a birthday dinner for a retired priest who turned 90 this past year. 

For many years, he has been blessed to work with different chefs, who taught him many kitchen skills, including meal presentation. “If it looks good, it will taste good,” he said. One that stands out for him is Chef Robert Tulko, the former corporate chef at Winn-Dixie supermarkets. “He was featured on television on First Coast News morning shows for many years prior to his retirement, doing different cooking projects. He also did desserts at the White House during the Clinton years. Moynahan has worked with other local chefs who came to help me out with events and teach me, too.”

But Moynahan credits Chef Robert for his instrumental cooking help. “Chef Robert taught me about working with the tilt skillet,” he said, “and he also taught others.” Chef Robert passed away in March 2017 and Moynahan has continued the cooking ministry to teach others how to make new dishes and to use the equipment in the kitchen. But Moynahan noted that his cooking now is so very different than it was 20 years ago.

He admitted that his best cooking skill is making desserts. “I do that most often, but I also cook a lot of different things, too,” he said. As a computer programmer, he noted, he can easily scale a recipe for meals for different numbers of people. “Like for an Irish dinner for 300 people, or if it is for a party for 50 or even for 6 people, I can scale the recipe up or down.”

He said that because of the pandemic, his colleagues Linda Springsteen and Diana Najm and he must take a break, so the parish might not hold any classes this year. “Hopefully we can do more classes in the new year,” he said, “but I don’t know if we will have a Thanksgiving dinner this year.”

Linda Springsteen added that people in the parish love to cook, pointing out that people help prepare luncheons for funerals. There is a parish soup kitchen, and the parish hosts an annual vacation Bible school. “Throughout this past year, we held a cooking class once a month,” she added, “with cooking a meal, people could eat it there or take it home.”

Diana Najm added that her role with this program is as the Chairperson of the Fellowship Committee, of which the Cooking Ministry is a part. “We work together with other social ministries when needed to create social opportunities for everyone to develop a Christian culture where people are welcomed, wanted and valued. 

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Lemon Bars (“Ooey Gooeys”)

Chef Donald Moynahan says, “This is a recipe I got from a coworker over 10 years ago, that through trial and error I have modified to the one below. It is now an expected dessert at any function that I do at the church. Although any flavor cake mix can be used Lemon has proven to be the favorite.”

Items needed:

  • One aluminum 13 x 9 or 12.75 x 10.375 (1/2 hotel) pan
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Toothpicks to test that bars are cooked

Cake base ingredients:

  • 1 box lemon cake mix
  • 1 egg
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened

Topping ingredients:

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (don’t use imitation)
  • 2 eggs

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray aluminum pan with non-stick cooking spray – be sure to coat sides of pan. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl combine cake mix, egg, and softened butter – please note this will not look like a normal cake batter; it should look like yellow Play-Doh .
  3. In a separate bowl combine softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, eggs and vanilla. Spread cake base in pan so that it makes an even layer throughout. Spread topping over cake base, covering it entirely.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Please note the amount of times is due to different types of ovens. Using the gas commercial ovens at the church, 25 minutes is enough, but with my electric oven at home it is almost always 35 minutes. Allow to cool.
  5. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight (this make the next step easier). Cut and serve – bars can be as small as 1-inch bite-size squares to 4-inch squares that you can serve with a side of vanilla ice cream.