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.
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…
COOKING FUNDAMENTALS: 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.
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.
“Hope Chest” Root Vegetable Baskets
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
6 ounces salmon, smoked
6 ounces sour cream
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
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.
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.
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).
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.