My Communal Table

Gramma Schuler’s Pasties

My family has deep roots in Northern Michigan and its rich mining tradition. The Pasty was a traditional savory meat pie that was cooked in the morning, wrapped up and placed in a tin, so that lunch would be warm for the miners. Initials that were placed in the pies crust were to tell the difference among the different mens pasties and the thick crust edges were so the miners dirty hands had a place to grab without getting their lunch covered with soot.

I have always had it served with ketchup, but in Quebec they serve it covered with brown gravy.The blend of beef and pork with sweetness of the rutabega really make this perfect rich fall dish. This is my kind of comfort food.

I often make it in classic pie form with two crusts.Today I made it in traditional form, but I have made them the size of a twinkie as well. The possibilities are endless. It is great to take for a potluck or tailgating. I usually serve a green salad with a tart vinaigrette to compliment this savory meat pie.

My mother remembers her gramma cutting a large amount of lard into flour and placing it into a huge crockery that went in the cellar. My grandmother would walk to the cellar in the morning to gather all the things that need to cook that day and would take a bowl with her. She knew exactly how many handfuls of the lard filled flour she need for what she was making that day. In the end, there seems to nothing flakier then a lard crust and my son is allergic to dairy, so lard it is.

Serves 4
Gramma Schuler’s Pasties:

1/2 pound small diced sirloin
1/2 pound small diced pork steak
1 cup russet potato, peeled and small diced
1 cup rutabega, peeled and small diced
1 cup onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper, to taste, be generous

1.Preheat oven to 400F.

2. Prepare Gramma’s Pie Crust in the quality you desire. Cover and let rest.

*Note: see crust recipe to see the correct quantity. Depending if you make your pasty in individual pies or in traditional pie form.

3. Mix all the ingredients in mixing bowl.

4. Roll out crust. Fill with meat mixture. Dab mixture with butter. Fold over top crust. Vent.

5. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Gramma’s Pie Crust:

1/3 cup lard
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup ice cold water

1. These ingredients make one nine-inch pie shell. If you are making a traditional pie, double the ingredients. If you are making four individual pies, triple the ingredients.

2. Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the lard and butter into the flour using a fork or cutter until the fat pieces are the size of peas.

3. Add water gradually, gently mixing with your hands until dough hold together. Do not overmix or the crust will be tough. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill before using.

Some of my earliest memories are how much I loved my grandmothers. My Gramma Schuler just shined. She loved her friends and was a fabulous cook. I just remember how much I felt loved by her. Here is to all the food memories that remind us of beautiful moments in our life. Here is to the food memories that teach us how our ancestors lived and let us know just a little more about ourselves.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth


School Lunches…getting back into the grove.

Gabriel is only given twenty minutes for lunch in first grade. What? Imagine standing in line for hot lunch ten of those twenty minutes. On top of it, imagine that is may be the only meal that I have all day and I have to inhale it in ten minutes. Of course, at this point, why would I care about its nutritional value. I just want to feel full. This scenario plays out everyday for hundreds of thousands students in the US. Now this thought strikes terror and deep sadness straight to my foodie heart.

I pack Gabe’s lunch everyday. We pack it all in a eco-friendly lunch box called Laptop Lunches. I highly recommend it. Super durable and we are now into our second year of using it with little wear and tear. I also have a bento thermos lunch kit that we use for hot pasta dishes or soup in the winter months.

Roasted chicken from the evening before is the main part of this meal. Gabe loves crackers, so I will put them in his lunch instead of making a sandwich. Veggies and fruit round out our meal. Because of Gabe’s dairy allergy, we always pack rice milk.

Chicken and soy cheese quesdilla on a whole wheat tortilla with BBQ sauce are on his main menu today. Grated carrot with raisins, lemon juice and touch of sugar for his salad. (This is so good!) I also use lemon juice on his cut apple. Special treat that day is having two Oreo’s in his lunch. Load with chemicals, but none of them that he is allergic to.

HLT aka Ham, Lettece, and Tomato sandwich on whole wheat roll. Oh, no, we ate the last piece of fruit for breakfast. Hey, I will make air popped popcorn in the microwave. No oils and huge amount of fiber make this one of our family favorites.

Gabe calls this “mac and tease” since he can not have cheese. Cooked pasta leftover heated up with some vegan butter, garlic, peas and ham. Seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. I make this the morning of and stick it in the thermos hot, so that it is warm still at lunch time. He gets well over a cup of pasta and veggies in this thermos. An apple rounds out the meal. He will eat this for breakfast as well, if I let him.

I love the thought that Gabriel is eating food he loves the moment that he opens his lunch box. He doesn’t even need to take the time out of his short lunch break to stand in line or to throw anything away.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

Creamy Cauliflower Sauce & Pasta

In my never ending search for the perfect comfort food that is low in fat and calories, I decided to make the much talked about whipped cauliflower. It is rumored that it would replace my cravings for the much more fat ladened mashed potatoes. I started out by roasting the cauliflower with garlic in the oven, then I blended in chicken stock with my emursion blender. There was not one sign of it even resembling my beloved mashed potatoes, but what emerged was a pasta sauce. Hey, the flavor was good… I started the pasta water to boil.

I have made this as a pasta sauce over and over again. Super creamy, super satisfying, and has become a comfort food for my son. With his allergy to dairy, I realized that Gabriel had not had much of that creamy texture pasta comfort that good plate of mac and cheese would give you. This has become his mac and cheese and I have some gratification that I have figured out a beautiful healthy comfort food that my son is going to carry with him through his life. Maybe he will tell the story of the disaster that turned into his favorite pasta recipe to his children. Okay, okay, I am a total sap. Get used to it!

Serves 6

1 head of cauliflower, seperated into florets
3-5 gloves of garlic, smashed
3-4 T. olive oil
fresh thyme sprigs, 3 or 4
3-4 cups chicken stock
2-4 T butter, I use Earth balance, which is vegan friendly
1 lb. pasta, traditional or whole wheat works great
1 15 oz can of butter beans, drained
big handful of fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Place cauliflower florets on baking sheet with the smashed up cloves of garlic.

2. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Throw the sprigs of thyme on a baking sheet then toss all the ingredients together, making sure everything is coated with the oil.

3. Place in preheated oven at 400F for about twenty minutes. You will know it is done when the cauliflower is roasted a light brown and cooked through. Remember, brown adds flavor.

4. Place everything from the baking sheet into a large sauce pan or blender, except the wood of the thyme springs. Pop the garlic out of its peels, then add.

5. Add some chicken broth and start emulsion blender or stand blender slowly. Keep adding chicken broth until you get a smooth consistency. I throw in some butter to blend into the sauce to give it a nice finish.

6. If you are using a blender, put the sauce in a sauce pan to keep heated. Adjust flavors with salt and pepper. Taste, adjust. Taste always while cooking.

7. Start your pasta water boiling. Drop pasta in water when ready. Cook through.

8. Place drained beans into sauce. Heat through in pasta sauce.

9. Add drained pasta to sauce. Throw in hand fulls of fresh basil. Toss.

10. When I plate it, I drizzle some very virgin olive oil on the top.

I have made this ahead of time and put in a lightly greased baking dish, then topped with cracker crumbs and baked as a casserole. I have added tomatoes and spinach in it. I have grated cheese on it when I served it or just added it to casserole.

So for leftovers…

I love to add a few things to leftovers to make them different. I added red peppers (from a jar), chopped purple onion, peapods, capers, drained tuna, and a tablespoon of mayo to the cold pasta and you have a delicious tuna pasta salad for lunch.

By the way, I still think mashed potato is perfect comfort food and there really is no subsitute.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

Molly’s Hot Mustard
August 26, 2010, 4:24 pm
Filed under: sauces and condiments | Tags: , , , ,

If you want your clear out your sinuses next time you make a panini or have some spiral ham, this is your mustard. This mustard is sweet when you first taste it, then it has a big hit of heat after that. It is so addicting.

This has been a family favorite for years, but my sister-in-law, Molly, faithfully made it often and would even gave it as gifts. Her father was crazy for it and she would always make sure that he got a jar of it. Here’s the deal, Molly was not a big cook, but now I can not make this mustard without thinking about Molly and how often she made it. So I have taken it upon myself and renamed the family “hot mustard” after Molly. Our family lost Molly 4 1/2 years ago to cancer. I know that we will never stop missing her, but I know that she would get such a kick out of me renaming the recipe after her. Here’s to you, “Miss Molly”…

Makes 2 1/2 cups

1 cup malt vinegar
1 cup dry mustard
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar

1. Soak the vinegar and dry mustard together in a glass or stainless steel bowl overnight.

2. Place mustard mixture in double boiler and start heating over medium-low heat.

3. Whisk in egg yolks and sugar.

4. Whisking constantly, until thick, about 10 minutes.

5. Store in refrigerator or freezer.

Just a note: When I was young this was my spicy thing I ate, now that my palate is quite accustom to heat, it isn’t as OMG spicy as it used to be for me. Maybe too much thai food as desensitized my palate. Who knows, but if you are a spicy heat monger, this will be super delicious for you and give you some punch, but it won’t blow your socks off. If you are a light weight when it comes to heat, still venture here. It has so many complex flavors to it.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

Corn Risotto garnished with Bacon & Anchovy Sage Bites
August 17, 2010, 7:22 pm
Filed under: Budget Meals, Main Entree | Tags: , , , , , ,

I used to make risotto with lots of cream and cheese, but with my son being allergic to dairy, I had to change it up. Risotto has the ability to absorb liquid then release starches while it is cooking, leaving the rice with a creamy texture without even using adding dairy. I do finish with butter, but in my case, I use a vegan butter called earth balance. I like the taste and it has no cholesterol . I feel quite satisfied just adding a little grated romano on top of the risotto at the end.

The creaminess of the risotto with the sweetness of the corn is a perfect foil for the crispy saltiness of bacon. Simply crumble on the top, but a really fun addition to the top of this dish is Anchovy Sage Leaf Bites. I learned about this recipe from an elderly client that would come in every Wednesday morning to get her hair done for her afternoon card game with the ladies. She as rail thin and didn’t eat much, but she would make these every week with a big pitcher of Martinis. Hilarious. These little explosion of salty flavor could be used a lot of different ways. They are just fun.

Serves 6

Corn Risotto:

6 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup Chardonney
2 ears of fresh corn, cut from cob
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
4 strips of bacon, cooked crispy, chopped
Romano cheese, grated

1. Bring chicken stock to boil in saucepan and keep simmering while cooking risotto.

2. In another sauce pan, heat up olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions until translucent.

3. Add rice and stir until opaque. About 1 minute. Add wine to rice, stir until absorbed.

4. Add chicken broth one ladle at a time. After each ladle is absorbed, add another. Stir constantly. I prefer to have the rest of the bottle of Chardonnay next to me, keeping my wine glass filled during my risotto stirring. My favorite way to make risotto.

5. When you have about 1 cup of chicken stock left, add remaining stock, corn, and sage.

6. When absorbed, finished with butter, salt, and pepper. Add cheese if you please Note: be careful with salt, if you are going to add bacon, cheese, and/or sage bites.

7. Serve and garnish with bacon and Anchovy Sage Bite for fun.

Anchovy Sage Bite:

sage leaf
rice flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
canola oil

1. Mash anchovies in dish. Approx. 1/2 anchovy per sage leaf. You can make one or a dozen. Spread on one side of leaf.

2. Roll leaf in rice flour with pepper. Shake off excess.

3. Dip leaf in beaten egg.

4. Place egged leaf in canola oil that has been heating in a sauce pan.

5. Brown, drain and serve. I like to use them for garnish.

I love how risotto can showcase a summer vegetable off perfectly. You can make it healthy and budget friendly. My son feels super special being served a beautiful plate of risotto with extra handful of bacon. Hope that risotto can make it ways to your table.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

Melting Pot Meatballs

Meatballs, meatballs, meatballs. Love them. Who doesn’t love them? Whether it is a swedish meatball, pork meatball slow cooked in ragu, or a chicken meatball floating in a beautiful broth, meatballs are just solid comfort food. My families’ century old restaurant still has BBQ meatballs on the menu after decades of being a customer favorite. I suspect that there might even be a revolt if it were ever to be removed. I am telling you it is comfort on a plate.There is even a restaurant devoted to them in NYC. Who can resist a unctuous meatball sitting in front of them? The good news is that meatballs are not complicated and you can make them in a huge batch and freeze them to use in different ways at a latter date.

I originally dream up these meatballs to go with the large amount of Oxtail Ragu that I had frozen in the freezer. I tried to mimic the flavors of the ragu by adding some of the same ingredients to the meatball. A chef would say he is layering the flavors to add intensity. I usually bake my meatballs, but they taste great fried as well, but it is a healthier choice to bake them.

Click here for Oxtail Ragu

Makes 24

Melting Pot Meatball:

1 cup milk
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup bread crumbs
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
2 eggs
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated romano cheese
2 teaspoons fresh oregano
2 teaspoons fresh sage
1 teaspoon creole seasoning
salt & pepper, to taste

1. Heat up milk until it just starts to bubble.

2. Pour over bread and raisins. (Note: It can be a couple slices of bread or bread crumbs. Whatever you have on hand.) Make sure that all the raisins are covered. Set aside to cool, while prepping your meat.

3. In a large shallow bowl, place the meat and all the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. Mix together.

4. Mix the milk mixture now that it has cooled. Raisins should be plumped up and milk soaked up in the bread. Add to meat mixture and blend well.

5. Form into balls. Size can vary depending on personal preference. I like them about the size of a plum.

6. Place on a ungreased cookie sheet and bake for about 30 minutes in a 350F oven. (I like baking my meatballs. Easy clean up, browns from oven. Brown adds flavor. Can freeze them and vary the sauce to suit the dish I am cooking at the time.)

Now for the explaination of “Melting Pot Meatball”… A couple of days have passed and longing for comfort food, but more ragu and meatballs are not going to hit the spot. No way am I going to the grocery store at this hour. Oh yes, I can change the sauce that I put over the meatball and satisfy my need for something different. Asian influenced..yeah, that’s it. With some heat…yes.

So I pull meatballs out of the freezer and defrost in microwave. Start the sauce cooking, then toast the bread for my meatball sandwich. Oh, I have some dinner roll size ciabatas in the freezer, so it looks like I am going to have Meatball sliders. Oh, now I am getting hungry. Lettece, jalepenos and some pickled cabbage are placed on the bread for the base of the slider. I toss the meatballs in the finished sauce and place on top of the base. Top it and serve…OMG. I usually have the handy bottle of Sriracha on the dinner table for the people that want more heat. I am one of those people. Love spicy heat.

Tangy Asian sauce:

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons water
3 ginger, large slices
2 scallions
3 slices jalapeno
3 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon sriracha
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1.Place all the ingredients in a sauce pan and heat over low heat until cooked down slightly. Approx. 15-20 minutes.
2.Strain sauce through sieve. Use on meats or veggies. Will store well in fridge for about 10 days.

Hope that you can see how you can stretch your food dollars and your time with a little prep and forethought. I got several meals out of few recipes. Plus, meatballs are just the best.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

Summer Peaches and Apricots

My son and I have a beautiful peaceful habit on Sunday mornings. When we wake up we break the fast by gobbling down whatever seasonal fruit we have on hand. I make the important first cup of coffee and heat up Gabriel’s apple juice with lemon slice. I read the newspaper and Gabriel watches the TV he has been long denied all week.

An hour or two later, we have our second course of the morning. It usually consists of eggs, bacon, and crispy bread. Sometimes its pancakes or a frittata. This tides us over until the late afternoon when I make our Sunday dinner, hopefully with more of the tribe around our table as well.

On this particular morning I had apricots and peaches on hand. I have grilled fruit before, but never for breakfast. I had always made it for a dessert, but heck, why not? When I announced that I was going to grill the peaches and then cover them with warm honey. I received a big hooray. Gabriel has several food allergies (dairy being one of them), but it does not stop me from slathering my grilled fruit with greek yogurt, then the warm honey. Amazingly simply, but huge flavor. It was great way to start the day.

Grilling stone fruit is a no brainer. Whether it is plum, peaches, or apricots.

1. I just heat up my grill pan with just a little butter over medium high heat.
2. Place flat side down for just only 2-3 minutes.
3. Zap honey in the micro for about 30 seconds just to get it warmed up

Serve with greek yogurt for a touch of tangy cream and slather with warm honey on top. You will lick your plate. I have also put blue cheese on the top of the fruit with honey on top and it taste amazing. It makes a great first course as well as a dessert, depending on your mood.

This bowl of fruit was demolished in about 5 minutes on that sunny Sunday morning. We have nectarines for next week.