Unit office employees enjoy sharing healthy treats

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Employees at the Geneseo School District’s Unit Office eat an assortment of treats brought in by co-workers. Pictured are, front row, from left: Jill Patten, Terri Vandersnick and Joni Swanson. Back row, from left: Natalie Haugse and James Roodhouse.

Geneseo School District No. 228 Unit Office has several very talented and diverse employees. Not only do they organize, multitask, coordinate and arrange schedules for administrators and staff,  they also bring a variety of treats to work with them regularly.

“When we have snacks, everyone usually brings something,” said employee Natalie Haugse. “But, on our birthdays, we bring our own treats.”

Special homemade goodies abound in the newly-refinished kitchen area of the office. After a face lift last summer, the former work room/lunch room now sports new flooring, a fresh coat of paint, new cupboards and  much-needed counter space.

Employees Jill Patten and Terri Vandersnick painted the area with the district’s maintenance crew putting it all together.

“We had to remove the floor tile anyway since it was buckling, so we thought that was a good time to give the room an update,” Jill said. “And we’re very happy with it.”

The room now also offers a perfect setting for the many treats that make it to the office regularly.

“Every once in a while, we’ll have special theme lunches, but for the most part we just bring in things when we feel like it,” Jill said, adding she can’t seem to cook small quantities for she and her husband. “I like to cook for the masses,” she laughs. “So when I make something, I usually divide it up with my family or neighbors and then I bring any extra to work the next day to share.”

On a recent day, the kitchen was filled with goodies such as hot reuben dip, BLT Lavash, black bean and corn bites and crab dip. No special celebration was planned — it just seemed like a good day to share treats with their co-workers.

According to those who work at the unit office, superintendent Scott Kuffel often organizes the food, and the treats they bring to work are increasingly health conscious.

“Scott is all about the food,” Jill laughs, adding that director of operations Jack Schlindwein is the “eater” in the office. “He can put us all to shame!”

According to Scott Kuffel, the office is full of wonderful cooks. “I think it really reflects their own personalities, they are very giving people. It’s great for us to be able to share once in a while, for birthdays and special occasions,” Scott said. “All good food has a community aspect to it, but I admit I’m more on the consumer end of it than the producer.”

Scott said they have different kinds of soups and chili during the winter months and during the summer they have a lot of salads. “We’ve thought maybe this summer we would try to do some grilling outdoors once in a while,” he said. “Jill and I are usually the early people here, so we get the coffee going and get the people started for the day.”

As part of the District’s Wellness 228 program in cooperation with the Geneseo Park District Scott says all of the employees are trying to make better food choices.

“This kitchen used to have lots of high fat and high calorie snacks in it, but now we  have things like oatmeal and Fiber 1 bars,” Jill said, adding whenever possible she tries very hard to make a dish as low fat as possible. “Sometimes it’s not possible, but I always try to keep as much fat out of a recipe as I can.”

In keeping with her low-fat choices, Jill said she makes her popular crab dip with low fat mayonnaise. “I make the crab dip often and it is very healthy. The dressing is just low fat mayo and a little sugar, lemon juice and black pepper,” she said. “Everyone seems to like it and it takes no time at all to put it together.”

Jill notes the dressing she uses for her crab dip is the same she uses for various pasta salads. “I always use low fat mayo and salad dressings. That’s all I have in my kitchen at home. I compromise a recipe as much as I can, down to where it’s almost healthy,” she said. “It’s a conscious effort, we’re trying to be healthier about our (food) choices.”

The group admits, though, at one time they tried not filling the candy dish in the front of the office, but that idea didn’t last long. “The kitchen cupboards, though, are full of healthy treats for snacking on at work,” they say.

Although most of the women who work at the unit office say they really do like to cook, Terri admits she has “about five” basic recipes she uses regularly. “I don’t like to cook that much, so when we sign up for what we’re going to bring for a special lunch, I get to choose first,” she laughs. “And I usually rotate those five things.”

Natalie enjoys cooking and says she especially likes to cook for her family’s evening meals. “I love it when we can all sit down to a meal together. That is my favorite time of the day,” she said, adding she likes to make “real” food. “I  like to use the crock pot or do things  like a roast in a cooking bag. If I put a roast in a cooking bag, I can have a meal on the table in 1-1/2 hours.”

Following recipes is sometimes difficult for Jill. “I might start with a recipe, but then I like to modify it if I can,” she said. “I try to make all recipes low fat, if possible.”

Food Network gives Jill a lot of good ideas and techniques. “I’ve learned a lot from the food channel and I’ve experimented with a lot of recipes that way,” she said. “I especially like 30-Minute Meals with Rachel Ray and I love to watch Paula Deen’s ‘Paula’s Home Cooking’, but she uses a lot of heavy cream sauces and I don’t do that. I am big into the food network though.”

Since she began watching food network Jill says she has begun using a lot more olive oil, rather than oils higher in fat. “I’ve picked up a lot of tips from food network,” she said. “Like one time I got an idea from Rachel Ray who said if you put slices of bread on the bottom of a meatloaf while it’s baking, the bread would soak up some of the fat and then you throw the bread away before you serve the meal.”

Jill said she prepared the meatloaf and put it on a layer of bread. “The meal, however, didn’t get served as soon as I thought it would so in the end I added some chicken broth to the baking pan because I thought that would keep the meat from drying out,” she said. The only problem was when she added the cold chicken broth to the hot glass baking pan, the whole thing exploded in her oven. “The bread idea worked out well though,” she laughs.

Since she loves to cook but admits she isn’t a baker, Jill says she often sends food across the street to her Atkinson neighbors, Bob and Bonnie Park, and they reciprocate by sending back cookies and other sweets. “That works out very well for me,” she said.

Because her family and friends know she enjoys working in the kitchen, Jill says she often receives kitchen items as gifts and that is just fine with her. “I love to get those kinds of gifts,” she said. “I just got a microplain grater and I’ve gotten things like knives. I really like all those kitchen gadgets.”

The group working together daily at the Unit office enjoys sharing recipes and ideas with each other along with tips and techniques for making the meal preparation process as easy as possible.

“One time, I did a beer can chicken in the oven from an idea I got at work and my family really liked it,” Natalie said, admitting she was a little nervous about trying something she had never attempted before. “But it turned out very good and it didn’t even dirty my oven!”

Natalie said she likes to try new dishes and is constantly looking for new and different recipes.

Terri’s recent contribution to a luncheon, and one of her five favorite dishes to make, was a BLT Lavash made on a flatbread crust and layered with cheese, bacon bits and chopped tomatoes. “I do it in the oven at home, but I brought a pizza cooker to do it here and that worked out well also,” she said.

According to the women, the group goes through stages as far as the food they like to bring to work. “One time we got into parfaits and we brought in sliced strawberries and other fruit along with granola and low fat yogurt,” Natalie said. “We just layered the fruit, granola and yogurt and it was a  very refreshing and healthy snack.”

It was virtually impossible for Scott to try and choose a favorite dish when asked. “I don’t think there’s anything they’ve brought in that I haven’t liked,” he said about the tasty dishes brought to the kitchen at the unit office. “One of my first questions when I interviewed for this position was ‘How do you celebrate birthdays,’” he laughs. “And I haven’t been disappointed.”

Jill recalls introducing her co-workers to Rolle Bolle Chicken, a hot chicken sandwich that she says was served for many years to crowds attending the annual rolle bolle

celebration sponsored every summer by St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Atkinson.

“I brought the hot chicken sandwich to work one time and it is so simple,” she said, adding she simply puts boneless chicken breasts and/or thighs in the crockpot or in the oven with chicken broth and cooks them until the meat shreds easily. Jill said she uses the chicken in a variety of ways besides making it into sandwiches.

“I’ve made barbeque chicken pizza with the leftover chicken and added pineapple to the top of the pizza, I think that’s my favorite pizza,” she said.

Jill also does her version of a popular chicken pita sandwich. “I saute chunks of chicken in olive oil then add green pepper and onions and kind of stir fry it,” she said, adding she uses a soft Greek flatbread that she heats first in the microwave covered with a damp paper towel. “First I spread a layer of low fat mayo on the warm bread, then I add a layer of chopped tomatoes, sometimes I just use canned diced tomatoes that I warm slightly. Then I add the chicken mixture and roll up the bread.”

With the summer grilling season coming up, Jill says she does a lot of outdoor grilling. I even have a grill garden with vegetables that can be grilled, like zucchini and tomatoes,” she said, adding she simply slices the zucchini fairly thick, drizzles it with olive oil, sprinkles it with a little salt and pepper and grills it.

She says she also seasons meat or chicken to be grilled with a little olive oil to keep it moist. Admitting she really enjoys everything about cooking Jill says she likes to do quantity cooking so she has lots of leftovers to share and to take to work.

“We bring food in for our birthdays and for special occasions like Boss’s Day,” Natalie said. “I think we do it more in the winter when we have a little more time but we never discourage anyone from bringing in snacks — anytime!”

Some of the employees at the Geneseo School District Unit Office share their favorite recipes.

BLT lavash

Terri Vandersnick

1 soft lavash cracker bread crust

1 lb. Havarti cheese, sliced

1 C. Hormel crumbled bacon bits, pre-cooked

1-1/2 C. finely shredded lettuce

diced cherry tomatoes

3 T. olive oil

Preheat broiler. Place lavash crust on baking sheet. Brush with 1-1/2 T. olive oil. Broil until  it starts to crisp, about one minute. Reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Turn lavash over and brush other side with remaining olive oil.

Layer the lavash crust with slices of cheese, cover completely.

Sprinkle with bacon bits and bake until cheese is melted, checking often, about 10 minutes.

Pull from oven and layer lettuce and arrange sliced tomatoes on top.

Note: Lavash cracker bread crust can be purchased at Jewel/Osco in the deli department. Comes in package of seven and may be frozen.

Swiss mushroom loaf

Holly Stone

1 unsliced loaf Italian bread

8 oz. Swiss cheese, cut in cubes

1 C. sliced mushrooms

1/2 C. butter

1 small onion - chopped

1-1/2 t. poppy seeds

2 cloves garlic - minced

1/2 t. seasoned salt

1/2 t. ground mustard

1/2 t. lemon juice

Cut bread diagonally into 1 inch slices to within 1 inch of the bottom of the bread. Repeat cuts in opposite direction.

Place cheese cubes and mushrooms in each slit.

In a microwave safe bowl, combine the remaining ingredients; cover and microwave on high for two minutes or until the butter is melted.

Spoon mixture in the slits and over the top of the bread.

Wrap the loaf in foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Yield: 10-12 servings.

Crab dip

Jill Patten

3-12 oz. pkgs. imitation crab (chunk or flake)

1 medium onion, diced

2 ribs celery, diced


1-1/2 C. reduced fat Hellman’s mayo

1/4 C. sugar

squeeze of lemon juice

black pepper

Place two packages of crab in food processor and pulse into pieces. Don’t over process.

Course chop the remainder package of crab by hand.

Mix dressing until sugar is dissolved. Mix all ingredients together.

Best if refrigerated overnight. Serve with crackers, bagel chips or pita chips.

Reuben dip

Jill Patten

4 pkgs. Buddig corned beef, chopped

1 bottle (16 oz.) lite Thousand Island dressing

1 lb. Swiss cheese, cubed

1 can (32 oz.) sauerkraut, drained, squeezed dry and chopped

Combine all ingredients in crock pot. Heat one to two hours.

Serve warm on  party rye bread.

Note: This makes a large batch - a crock pot full.

Savory poppers

Carrie Schlindwein

1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese

1 C. grated parmesan cheese, divided

2 cans refrigerated crescent dinner rolls

1 C. chopped red pepper

1/2 C. chopped jalapenos

1/4 C. chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix cream cheese and 3/4 C. of the parmesan cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.

Add the peppers and cilantro to mixture.

Separate crescent rolls into 8 rectangles. Press perforations together to seal.

Spread 3 T. of the cream cheese mixture on each rectangle. Fold long end of dough up over the filling to center. Fold up again to enclose remaining filling.

Cut each into four equal size squares.

Place seam sides down on baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 C. of the parmesan cheese.

Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Black bean and corn bites

Natalie Haugse

2 C. frozen sweet corn (thawed)

1/2 C. canned black beans (rinsed thoroughly)

1 C. Tostitos All-Natural salsa

1 bunch green  onions, diced

1/2 avocado, sliced

juice of half a lime

1/4 C. cilantro, chopped

Combine all ingredients and toss well in a glass bowl.

Let set for one hour in the refrigerator to meld flavors.

Spoon into Tostitos Scoops tortilla chips and serve.