“Hope Chest” Root Vegetable Baskets — Celebrating 20 Successful Years!!

The Hope Chest

The Hope Chest, LaGrange, IL, USA

A group of busy women were looking for efficient ways to raise money for our favorite charity:  the Constance Morris House, a Chicago area shelter for victims of domestic violence.  We had tired of exhausting raffles and holiday events.  But what else could we do??   “Perhaps a second-hand clothing shop?,”  someone suggested — “something sustainable rather than multiple whirlwind events?”  We thought it was a fabulous idea!

Based on the reactions to our resale shop concept, you might have thought we suggested tickets for the next flight to the Milky Way.  A few of the women in our fund-raising group left in protest:  too much work and too difficult to staff, they thought.  Many of our  business contacts were certain we couldn’t manage the start-up costs or cash flow.  Do you really think you can cover expensive Chicago-area retail real estate costs selling $5 used items??  And how will you staff it, when most of you work full-time and/or are busy Moms? Too risky, they said. You’ll never be able to do it.

As you might imagine that was exactly what we needed to hear to muster our determination!

Fast forward 20 years to the Hope Chest, an upscale, not-for-profit resale shop.  Despite early snags (a leaky roof, blown fuses, clogged plumbing and a desperate scramble for clothing donations), there was always someone or something to propel us forward when the chips were down.  Even as we opened the doors on the first night, our jitters turned to celebration as a donor dropped off a gorgeous long-haired beaver coat — ultimately covering our first month’s rent.  Then, as now, the Hope Chest was sustained by generous clothing donations and a small army of dedicated volunteers.

IMG_5261 IMG_5132 IMG_5131 Through the sale of gently-used clothing, the Hope Chest continues to fund living quarters, counseling and health care to residents of the Constance Morris House.  In addition, it provides affordable women’s and children’s clothing to the community and free supplies to the women at the shelter.
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Hope Chest Mission Statement

When I heard about our 20th Anniversary celebration – an open house with drinks, appetizers and cake – I decided a just-for-the-Hope-Chest appetizer was in order.  But with constraints at the congested  shop, this would require a bit of planning…

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COOKING TIPS/TOOLS:  MENU PLANNING FOR A NO-KITCHEN, NO-SEATING VENUE.   What would work??  With no kitchen and no place for guests to sit at the Hope Chest, choices were limited.  

  • The appetizer had to be something that could be made ahead and safely transported to the shop – plated and ready to serve,
  • Without an oven on site, food had to be served at room temperature.
  • Without a refrigerator on site, food had to be food-safe for the duration of the event.  While many foods are safe sitting on a buffet for a couple of hours (food safe maximum is 4 hours between 40-140 F), I avoid items that are risky (custards, raw or uncured meat/fish, mayonnaise, etc.).
  • Stand-up eating requires bite-sized food that you place on a napkin and pop in your mouth – no plates or utensils required.
  • And, as with any buffet food, it had to be eye-catching and festive.

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Requirements in place, I did a bit of experimenting and settled on these little root vegetable baskets – easy to eat, suitable at room temperature and colorful.  I baked them an hour before leaving for the Hope Chest.  After they cooled, I filled, plated and garnished the baskets, and settled them into a clean, flat place in the car (If you can’t find a clean place in your car, a tablecloth will do the trick :-)).

Along with other donated appetizers, the table was empty before the night was over – a sure sign that the celebration was a great success – just like the Hope Chest :-)

FINAL NOTE:  It is a privilege to have been part of the Hope Chest from the beginning and to now have a chance to tell the story here.  But I have really played a very tiny part.  The success of the Hope Chest is on the backs of countless generous people – who have donated time, services, clothing, good will and sense of humor through the ups and downs.  I am so lucky to have been part of this amazing story.

Baked, Filled, Plated and Garnished

Baked, Filled, Plated and Garnished “Baskets”

“Hope Chest” Root Vegetable Baskets 

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Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC Yield: 35-40 tartlets

3 cups potato, russet, frozen shredded (AKA frozen hash browns)

1 1/2 cups carrots, shredded

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon pepper

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons flour, all purpose

2 eggs

6 ounces salmon, smoked

6 ounces sour cream

1/2 cup scallions, chopped

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 deg F.

Measure shredded frozen potato and place in a bowl to thaw while preparing carrots.

(I use frozen potatoes rather than fresh as the frozen variety has less moisture)

2. Peel and coarsely shred carrots, using a grater or food processor fitted with a shredding blade.

Mix carrots into the shredded potatoes.

Add salt and pepper to root vegetables.

Shredded Carrots and Potatoes

Shredded Carrots and Potatoes

3. Check to see that the root vegetable mixture has thawed completely, and melt butter. Stir butter thoroughly into the root vegetable mix.

Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable mixture.   Beat the eggs and stir into the vegetable mixture.

4. Place about a tablespoon of the vegetable mixture into each cup in a non-stick tartlet shell pan.  (Note:  Metal pans do not work – even if buttered as shells are too fragile to remove.)

Demarle’s 20 tartlet pan works great for these vegetable baskets.  The finished baskets are fragile but they release from the Demarle bakeware with ease.

Demarle Tartlet Pan

Demarle Tartlet Pan

After placing the mixture in cups, press up against sides and bottom.  The shell should be about 1/4 inch thick and firm, but not so thin that you can see through the shell (except for the top edges).

Unbaked, Filled Tartlets

Unbaked, Filled Tartlets

5. Bake 400 deg F for about 20 minutes, cooking until the basket edges begin to brown.

Cool slightly and then gently remove from pan.

If you are serving immediately, place the root vegetable baskets on your serving platter.   Place a small piece of smoked salmon on each basket.

Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with chopped scallions.

6. DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS:  Place baked baskets on your serving dish, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.  When ready to serve, bring to room temperature.  Fill as described in #5 above and serve.

CAVIAR VARIATION:  Substitute caviar for the smoked salmon.

WARM BACON/CHEESE VARIATION:  If you have a small crowd and are able to serve these root vegetable baskets warm, try them filled with some cooked chopped bacon and grated sharp cheddar cheese.  Before serving, place them on a jelly roll pan, warm in a 350 deg F oven until the cheese begins to melt and serve immediately.  Garnish with sour cream and scallions.

“Hope Chest” Root Vegetable Baskets

A Malvern Hills Ramble – Sustained by Hearty Granola

Earthworks at British Camp, Malvern Hills

Earthworks at the British Camp, Malvern Hills, England

If the word “ramble” brings to mind someone droning on without focus, you are probably not English.  In England and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, a “ramble” is a walk. One “rambles” the public rights of way that lace through the UK countryside – paths established before the days of Downton Abbey.  And, like many things English, time has done little to change them.   Continue reading

Lille – A Macaron Mecca

Lille, France

Lille, France

Wandering the streets of Lille, you begin to wonder how this small French city sustains a patisserie on virtually every corner. Are the locals required to eat in a patisserie as least once daily? Or is it because the window displays look so good that it is impossible to resist the treats within??  Or is it that Lille is the home of Paul, the famous French pastry shop? Or is it the colorful and ubiquitous macaron that weakens ones resolve?? Continue reading

Rural England at its Best – Including a Shepherd’s Pie

Worcestershire from The Malverns (AKA The Shire)

Worcestershire (AKA The Shire) from the Malvern Hills

When I lived in England, my American friends often inquired about our home across the pond.  My response was that “I live in the Shire” – J.R.R. Tolkien’s magical green land, bordered by rivers and fertile valleys.  The statement, inspired by my mental image of the land of the Hobbits, was in fact remarkably close to the truth.  I later discovered that Tolkien modeled his Shire after rural Worcestershire, where he spent his childhood and where I lived more than a century later.

Mr. Tolkien, you were so right – it was and still is a lovely green land. Continue reading

Easy Outdoor Party with Seasonal Produce (Part 3 of 3)

Summer Berries

Summer Berries

What could be a better finish to our seasonal party than a shortcake with peak-of-season local berries?   Since our party was in June, strawberries were just the ticket. It is August now and, at least here in Michigan, local strawberries have moved over to make room for our luscious blueberries and blackberries.  No worries.  You can use any seasonal berry or mix of berries in this easy dessert.

There are a number of reasons why this dessert is so easy for a party menu: Continue reading

Easy Outdoor Party with Seasonal Produce (Part 2 of 3)

Sangrias at the Drinks Table

Sangrias at the Drinks Table

This summer party was a group effort – a beautiful backyard provided by our hosts, menu by A Global Garnish and food/drink contributions from all attendees.  Don’t confuse this group effort with a potluck, which has the emphasis on luck.  If you’re lucky, a potluck party will have a good distribution of appetizers, main dishes and desserts as well as a mix of ingredients/flavors.  But why leave all this to chance??  If you give out menu assignments, you KNOW the final meal will all come together.  Further, you save your guests the trouble of wondering:  “what should I make?”. Continue reading

Easy Outdoor Party With Seasonal Produce (Part 1 of 3)

Israeli Couscous with Sweet Red Peppers and Asparagus

Israeli Couscous with Sweet Red Peppers and Asparagus

Summer solstice – time to enjoy the glorious evening daylight, the early summer climate, lush gardens and early seasonal produce. Could there be a better time for an outdoor party?  My clever friends thought not. Continue reading

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons, Olives and Artichokes

Chicken with Preserved Lemons, Olives and Artichokes

Chicken with Preserved Lemons, Olives and Artichokes

Memories can be tricky.   My sister and I recently compared childhood memories only to find that, while some matched, many did not and a few were completely contradictory.  So, when I returned to Morocco after a 40-year hiatus, I feared the food would not live up to my seemingly indelible memories of magical scents and flavors. I was wrong.  It was better. Continue reading