My Communal Table


Beet Samosas with Mint Sauce
November 2, 2010, 11:14 am
Filed under: Appetizers, sauces and condiments | Tags: , , , ,

Beets! Yes, you read it correctly. They have to be the most beautiful of the root vegetables and I just adore them. These samosas have a nice flaky crisp when you bite into them. The beets are so naturally sweet that is almost could be served as a dessert. Then you put some mint sauce with it and you have fresh taste with a big kick. Being a member of the spinach family its loaded with tons of nutrients, fiber and low in calories and fat. Without even trying, I made a wonderful vegan dish. It is always good to have a few of those up your selves.

I had my youngest son’s two best buddies and their families over for Sunday dinner and I served these. The samosas were a hit with the kids because they were sweet and then with the addition of the mint sauce… it makes it far more sophisticated for the adults. One of keys to successful entertaining is to have your most of your meal prepared ahead of time. These take a little time to prepare, but hold wonderfully while you are pulling together your meal.

We gobbled down the leftover samosas the next morning with lots of strong tea and it was a fabulous breakfast.

Makes 12

Beet Samosas:

2 beets, medium size
3 cloves garlic
3-5 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
8 sheets of filo
1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated
1 lime, juice of

1. Peel beets and quarter them, placing in foil.

2. Add garlic, salt & pepper, then cover beets with oil. Secure foil around beets.

3. Cook in foil at 400F for about 40 minutes. Make sure the beets are tender.

4. When beets cool, grate them and place in a bowl.

5. Add soft garlic from foil, grated ginger, and lime juice. Then salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

6. Place 1 filo sheet on work surface, brush with olive oil, place next filo sheet on top, brush with olive oil, repeat for a total of 4 sheets of filo.

7. Cut filo into 6 equal strips along the width.

8. Place a heaping tablespoon of beet mixture on one end of strip and fold like a flag, forming a triangle. Place on baking sheet.
Repeat with the next four sheets of filo.

9. Bake at 350F for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown and flaky. Serve with mint sauce.

Mint Sauce:

1/2 cup mint, fresh
1/4 cup cilantro, fresh
1 jalapeno, deseeded & deveined
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoon white onion
1 1/2 tablespoon Water
1 teaspoon sesame oil
salt & pepper, to taste

1. Add mint through water in food processor and blend until finely chopped. Put in bowl.

2. Add sesame oil, salt and pepper. Serve with beet samosas.

This dish is inexpensive to make, but packs a bunch in presentation and flavor. It is a little labor intensive on the beginning end, but super easy to make in advance. I love how everyone was so appreciative of the effort I made for the meal. Everyone felt so taken care of. Now that is what makes entertaining fun for me.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

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Chicken with Creamy Dijon Mustard Sauce

My friend, Sarah, has been known to say, “Food is just the vehicle for the sauce.” This is one of those dishes. Twelve garlic cloves and lots of sage make this creamy mustard sauce the kind of stuff that you sop up with your bread and pour over your mashed potatoes. I was inspired by a fabulous Portuguese chef and restaurant owner, Marie Teresa Jorge. She also has a farm in Tuscany. I know, right… a farm in Tuscany. How cool is that?Her original recipe is on Food 52. I changed it up a bit, but what I still add wine and cognac and make a cream slurry in the end to give it a smooth finish. It is just so good.

I bought five amish sourced chicken thighs and legs for $3.17. Not organic, but no horomones or steroids were added. I made mashed potatoes with vegan butter and ricemilk, then topped with fried leeks. A simple salad with lemon vinaigrette compliment the creaminess of the chicken and potatoes. My friends brought the bread and wine. The lettuce and potatoes were from a local and organic source. This entire meal easily fed four adults and two children and was made up of under $8.00 of ingredients. This rustic lip smacking meal was fresh, easy to make and cheaper then feeding six people at McDonald’s. When I do the math and think about the health of my family, I can not believe that I ever go out for fast food. Oh and then I remember that I have moments of pure laziness. Oh, the guilt…

Serves 6

8 chicken thighs or 5-6 leg and thighs
12 garlic cloves with skin on
10 sage leaves
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tablespoons Dijon Classic Mustard
2/3 cup White wine
1/3 cup Cognac
1 cup Chicken stock or water if you don’t have stock
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
salt
black and white pepper

1. In a large enough pan, add the butter and the olive oil, the sage leaves and the garlics with the skin on them. When the butter starts to sizzle add the chicken thighs skin side down and let them get golden brown over medium low heat. Turn them with a spatula without damaging the chicken and brown the other side. They will be cooking later so you just want to get the nice golden brown color now.

2. Heat the chicken stock.

3. Remove the chicken from the pan, add the white wine and the cognac and deglaze the pan, scraping any pieces of meat stuck on the bottom. Let the alcohol evaporate completely, then add the mustard and dissolve in the sauce with a whisk.

4. Place the chicken in a baking pan in a 375F oven and let it cook through and crisp up the skin a little. Approximently 30 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, add the hot chicken stock to sauce pan. Season with salt and freshly ground white and black pepper and let simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Squeeze the garlics and sage in the pan with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula to release more flavour, then discard them.

7. Sift the flour and dissolve it in 3 tablespoons of cream using a whisk. Add the remaining cream and whisk. Keep whisking so the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom. Let the sauce reduce again to the amount you need, always stirring.

8. Remove chicken from oven and place on plate or platter. Pour the hot sauce over the chicken and serve immediately with some mashed potatoes.

By the way, you should really fry up some leeks to put on the top of the mashed potatoes. Adds a whole flavor and texture element that puts it over the top. Just toss the sliced leeks in a little flour, shake off excess and drop in some oil. Brown, drain on paper towel, and salt. So good.

So, I am working on it. You know… putting myself on the list of things that I need to take care of. I know in my heart and soul it is just as fast to stay home and make dinner, then to hop in the car and go out for fast food. My family and the planet deserve the attention that I pay to preparing meals at home. It saves money, it is healthier, and I produce a lot less waste and conserve energy by cooking fresh locally sourced food. So.. l am working on it and it does seem to be getting easier. You all are keeping me honest.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth



Wacky Cake

I am not baker by any means. Actually, I do not even have much of a sweet tooth, but do expect a quick fork jab in your hand if you even try to take a french fry from my plate. Now, I have a son with real sweet tooth and I have a inclination of indulging it because he is allergic to everything else. He is so patient when we are at school or social events and the food that is served is nothing he can eat due to his allergies. He’ll say, “It’s okay, mommy. I was not hungry anyway.” Ohhh, it just breaks my heart a little, but my pride of how well he handles these situations everytime heals the heart break immediately. So I bake…so I indulge.

Wacky cake, crazy cake or depression cake are some of the names that I have heard it called. This spongy rich cake is made with oil, cocoa, and vinegar, but no eggs and dairy. Eggs and dairy were not readily available during the Depression, so the wacky cake was born. You can make it with everything you have in your pantry. It was present at almost every Methodist potluck I attended in my childhood. I also remember that is was the only cake my mom ever made right it in the same pan that she baked it in. I revisited this recipe when I learned that my son had allergies. I have heard it touted as a vegan cake, but giggle at the thought of explaining to the ladies at the church social back in the 70’s-80’s what the word “vegan” meant. How the world has changed, huh? This cake is just good, fast and easy to make and my son can eat it.

Original Version:
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
4 T. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1 T. vinegar
6 T. vegetable oil
1 cup water

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a 9inch square baking pan, mix all the ingredients through salt. Make sure that it is all blended well.
3. Then add vanilla, vinegar, oil and water. Stir well.
4. Bake in oven for approximently 25-30 minutes. You want to make sure that is not over cooked.

My version:
Add 1 banana mushed
Use only 5 T. oil
Replace 1/2 of the water with coffee

Glaze:
4 T. butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 T. Cocoa powder
1-2 T. Milk/Rice Milk

1. In microwave safe dish, melt butter in microwave.
2. Stir in the sugar and cocoa.
3. Slowly add in milk until smooth

Banana Cake version:

Omit cocoa powder
2 mashed bananas added
only 4 T. oil
add extra 1/2 t. vanilla
a few grates of nutmeg

Note: We placed a few ripe pear slices on top before we baked it. Turned out great. Do not know why you could not add strawberries or blueberries. Endless possibilities.

I am here to say Wacky Cake is one sane and satisfying cake. I would love to hear about your different takes on this recipe and about the wacky family members you make it for. Super good and cost effective on top of it.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth



Greens and Potato Soup for Meatless Monday

“Meatless Mondays!” An intiative with the goal to reduce meat consumption by 15% to improve personal health and the health of our planet. I just love the idea and found out that “Meatless Mondays” is not a new concept. It was first introduced to Americans during World War 1 by the US Food Adminstration, though is was reintroduced in 2003 for health, as a way to reduce the consumption of key staples to aid the war effort. “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” were born. According to Meatless Mondays.com

The effect was overwhelming. Some 10 million families, 7,000 hotels and nearly 425,000 food dealers pledged to observe national meatless days. In November 1917, New York City hotels saved some 116 tons of meat over the course of just one week. According to a 1929 Saturday Evening Post article, “Americans began to look seriously into the question of what and how much they were eating. Lots of people discovered for the first time that they could eat less and feel no worse – frequently for the better”.

Now do not get me wrong, I have said often the I am unapologetic carnivore, but working towards better health and safer planet is really a no-brainer. I make an effort to know where my meat comes from and I no longer desire to have an entire side of beef at one sitting to feel satisfaction. So we, as a family, decided to start not having any meat one day a week. No beef, chicken, pork or fish, so when you have a son that is allergic to dairy and eggs its more like vegan Mondays.

Okay, I was a little scared about doing this, but it has turned out surprisingly well. I have never allowed my child to eat something different then what the adults are eating unless is has to do with his allergies. I am not a short order cook to meet his every whim when it comes to food. I also believe that this really helps with the ability to try new things in many aspects of life. Have you ever know a super picky eater that loves to travel and explore new things? Gabriel know that what is served is what he gets for dinner or he doesn’t eat that evening. That being said, I do try to find things that he will find pleasurable. Soup is my best vehicle for going meatless for my six-year-old. He loves soup.

Super fast, super tasty, super healthy is Greens and Potato Soup. My six-year-old actually ate two bowls full.

Serves 2-4

Kale, one big bunch
3 medium potatoes, peeled & cut into chucks
1 large leek, thinly sliced
2 gloves of garlic
3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 big handfuls washed spinach
fresh dill or other herbs that you have on hand.
few pinches hot pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
Finish with purple onion,olive oil, and peashoots.

1. Put a pot of salted water on to boil.

2. Remove heavy thick stems from kale and slice up.

3. Place kale in boiling water for about ten minutes. Take a test bite of the kale and make sure that it is tender. When tender, drain.

4. In second sauce pan, place potatoes, leeks, and garlic with broth. Put enough broth in to cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil. Cook until tender.

5. Use a potato masher to mash-up the potatoes in the broth.

6. Add cooked kale, spinach, herbs, and seasonings.

7. Add more broth if necessary, then heat through.

8. Taste and adjust seasonings.

9. Serve and garnish as desired. Today I garnished with purple onions, a drizzle of olive oil (would have loved pumpkin seed oil, but I can not find it), and a few sweet pea shoots.

Note: a. You can make this super thick or soupy. I have made it thick like mashed potatoes as well. Just use less broth.
b. You can also mix up your greens. Use whatever ones you have on hand.
c. I have also added curry powder to this soup as well for a different flavor sensation.

Think about Meatless Mondays you and your family. When you join me and my family on Mondays at my communal table you will find us enjoying the bounty of vegetables and grains. I seem to make a new recipe every week to learn more and more about how to cook this way. I would love to hear about your favorite Meatless meals.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth



Spicy Rice Cakes
September 20, 2010, 1:12 pm
Filed under: Appetizers, side dish | Tags: , , , ,

The neighbors have congregated on the back porch of our three flat while we chat and watch the kids run around the yard and alley… typical Saturday afternoon in Chicago. Beer and wine are a part of this meet up, but man, I could use a little bite of something and I have nothing. Wait, I always have something. Hmm, I have leftover rice. My mind started racing… I told the congregation to hold tight and I would be out with a quick bite in about ten minutes.

What I found in the fridge:

cooked rice
sofrito (blend of green pepper, garlic, onion, & cilantro)
fresh hot pepper
egg
baking soda
Mexican melting cheese
bread crumbs
canola/vegetable oil

The amount of ingredients depends on how much leftover rice you have.

1. Place rice in bowl. Separate with hand.

2. Chop up hot peppers and add to rice. I like mine spicy, so I put almost a whole one in.

3. Grab the sofrito. I am lucky that I live close to nice size latin grocery store. I buy a nice amount of super fresh sofrito for about $2. I use it in a lot of things. From soups to chicken dishes. It works perfect here, but you can easily make up your own a batch to use yourself. This is my idea of a convenience good. Totally fresh. I add enough to add some color to the rice.

4. Add beaten eggs. Add one at a time until your rice is covered like mayo covers tuna for a tuna salad. Mix well.

5. Mix in grated Mexican melting cheese or any nice melting cheese through out the rice mixture.

6. Add about a tablespoon of baking soda. You will see a little bubbles forming. That is great. It is working at making things puffy. Salt and pepper to taste.

7. Scoop up a nice little patty of rice and then roll in bread crumbs.

8. Heat up a saute’ pan over medium high heat, then add oil. Let that get hot, then place patty in oil.

9. Brown both sides. Should not take long and you may have to turn your burner down to medium. Salt when you take them off the heat.

10. Serve immediately. I served mine with salsa verde. They would taste great wrapped in a little lettuce and cilantro as well. Yum.

This literally took ten minutes. I came back outside and was huge hit. Oh, I mean my spicy rice cakes were a huge hit. An ice-cold beer and good conversation were the perfect accompaniment to this amuse bouche on a Chicago Saturday afternoon.

Pull up a chair, Elizabeth



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