Lunches a prescription for a happy workplace

Staff members of Cedar Creek Clinic in Grafton bond over food, share dishes that reflect their ethnic heritage

SHOWING OFF THE foods staff members made for a recent international lunch at Cedar Creek Clinic in Grafton were (from left) Sharon Litke with pierogi casserole, Jennifer Kiesling with Italian bread, Terri Hintz with Greek cucumber salad, Michele Weiss with African salad, Jolee Dumman with lasagna and Ellen Kneiss with Oriental salad. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The employees at Aurora’s Cedar Creek Clinic have found truth in the saying that people bond over food.

It happens there once a month as employees enjoy a full meal or a special treat, courtesy of the clinic’s Spirit Committee.

“Food always works to bring people together in a fun and happy way,” committee member Michele Weiss said. “It makes us feel good when we see co-workers from departments that rarely see each other socializing and communicating.”

In January, staff members shared foods that reflected their heritage, everything from authentic Italian lasagna to Polish pierogi casserole to Russian Cream to East African cucumber and tomato salad — and yes, even that Luxembourg delicacy mustreipen.

In February, the committee provided fresh strawberry water and chocolates to celebrate Valentine’s Day and in a few weeks the staff will enjoy a baked potato bar with a variety of fixings to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

They’ve had taco lunches and chili dinners, meals that celebrate the fall harvest and soup specials to warm the body in winter.

The lunches are something the staff looks forward to, committee members said.

“I think we’ve really accomplished our goal,” committee member Terri Hintz said.  “People will come up and ask, ‘What’s the next theme?’”

That goal was to bring the staff together, promote teamwork and keep communications between the various departments open.

It was a goal born of necessity. When the new clinic opened a decade or so ago, the two wings of the building separated the staff in ways that hadn’t been anticipated.

“People wouldn’t see each other,” Weiss said. “You would pass people in the hallway and wouldn’t know them.”

So the Spirit Committee formed to try and bring the staff members together.

“What better way than with food?” committee member Sharon Litke asked. “Everybody likes to eat.”

The clinic doesn’t have a lunch service, so the meals provide a way to bring people together.

“It was an opportunity to get everyone to eat together and maybe sit with someone different, someone they didn’t know before,” Weiss said.

Litke said that on lunch days, the staff intermingles in a way they hadn’t previously.

“These are people you don’t see everyday,” Hintz said. “It’s nice for people to be able to put a face to a name, to get to know each other.”

The committee generally provides the main dish for the meals, and staff members sign up to bring side dishes and complementary items.

Even if someone forgets to sign up, they can still dine at the lunch, the women said. They can donate a few dollars, money that’s used to purchase the paper plates, napkins, cutlery and other supplies used by the committee for the meals. A bake sale supplements those funds.

 Initially the committee held meals every month, but members recently decided to host them on alternate months. On the months without a meal, they usually provide a treat of some sort.

Seventy to 80 people on the staff of about 100 people enjoy the lunches each month.

One of the most popular meals was the international lunch. It was suggested by Litke, who remembered that as a child she and her brother danced at the Holiday Folk Fair and loved to get tickets to try different offerings at the food court.

“When I first presented it (to the committee), they all looked at me like I was crazy,” Litke said.

“It’s turned out fantastic,” Hintz said.

Not only did the staff members get to share their favorite ethnic dishes, they got to share their heritage, the women said.

And the variety of foods was a bonus, they said.

“I’m not a very adventurous eater, but I tried almost everything,” Weiss said.

The lunches have been so successful that the Spirit Committee has expanded to other things, holding special dress up days — red, white and blue for Veterans Day, pink during October, breast cancer awareness month, green and gold for Packers season.

“People really seem to like it and look forward to it,” Litke said. “It’s gotten everyone from the different areas involved, and that was our goal.”

Following are some recipes from the international luncheon.



Polish Old World Mushroom Barley Soup

1-1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups water
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 cup sliced carrots
1/ cup sliced celery
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced 1/2 cup pearl barley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 14-1/2-ounce can beef broth
1 14-1/2-ounce can chicken broth

    Cook meat in oil until no longer pink inside. Remove from oil. Set aside.
    Saute onions, carrots and celery in drippings about five minutes, until tender. Add Mushrooms, garlic and thyme and cook three minutes. Stir in broths, water, barley, salt and pepper. Return meat to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1-1/2 to two hours, until barley and meat is tender. Add parsley and serve.
    Makes 11 servings.


Cabbage Sauteed With Chicken

3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces
1 medium cabbage, sliced into thin strips
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon hot sauce, optional
Chopped fresh parsley

    Warm a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and chicken and fry five to seven minutes, until browned. Add paprika and tomato paste, stir and saute five minutes.
    Add cabbage and cook five minutes. Add shredded carrots, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Stir and cook, uncovered, about 40 minutes, until there is no liquid remaining.
    Add hot sauce, if desired. Garnish with fresh parsley.
    Makes eight servings.


Haluski (Polish Fried Cabbage and Noodles)

8 ounces wide egg noodles, uncooked
8 tablespoons butter
1 small white onion, roughly chopped
1/2 large head cabbage
Crisp, crumbled bacon, optional

    Fill a large pot halfway with water. Lightly salt water and bring to a boil. Add noodles, stir and cook according to package directions. Drain noodles in a colander.
    Place six tablespoons butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. When melted, stir in cabbage and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until cabbage is caramelized and tender.
    Melt remaining butter in pot and add cooked pasta, stirring. Cook just long enough to heat noodles through.
    Stir in bacon and season to taste with pepper.
    Makes four servings.


Russian Cream

1 cup half and half
1/2 cup sugar
1 envelope gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1 pint sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Fresh fruit

    Combine half and half and sugar in saucepan. Heat until lukewarm.
    Soften gelatin in cold water. Add to half and half mixture and stir. Remove from heat, add sour cream and vanilla and chill.
    Top with fresh fruit and serve.
    Makes four servings.


German Potato Salad

3 pounds medium red potatoes
5 bacon strips, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1-1/4 cup sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced

    Place potatoes in a Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 25 to 30 minutes, until tender. Drain and cool.
    In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels and reserve 4 teaspoons drippings.
    Saute onion in reserved drippings until tender. Stir in flour, salt, celery seed and pepper until blended. Gradually add sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then cook, stirring, for two minutes, until thickened.
    Cut potatoes into 1/4-inch slices. Add potatoes, bacon and eggs to the skillet. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until warmed through. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm
    Makes eight servings.



Oriental Salad

16 ounce bag coleslaw mix or cabbage
2 packages ramen chicken-flavored noodles, uncooked and crushed
4 6-ounce packages sunflower or sesame seeds
1 small package slivered almonds
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 package sugar snap peas
2 bunches green onions, sliced
For dressing:
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce

    Mix cabbage and onions in plastic bag, then chill.
    Melt butter in a frying pan, then toast noodles, sesame seeds and nuts in butter until light brown. Cool.
    Toss cabbage and nut mixture together just before serving.
    Boil dressing ingredients for one minute. Cool, then refrigerate. Toss with salad just before serving.



East African Mango and Cucumber Salad

1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon peanut oil
2 cups chopped, seeded tomato
1 red or green jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Dash cinnamon
2 champagne mangoes, pitted and diced
3 tablespoons chopped, unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

    Toss cucumber, onion, salt and garlic in colander. Let stand 20 minutes to drain.
    Toss together peanut oil, tomato, jalapeno, cumin, cinnamon and mango in a large bowl. Add cucumber mixture and toss. Garnish with peanuts, cilantro and lime juice.
    Makes six servings.


Bacon Pierogi Bake

1 16-ounce package frozen potato and cheddar pierogies
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces cream cheese, softened and cubed
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup cheddar cheese
2 to 3 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped, seeded plum tomato

    Arrange pierogies in a lightly greased nine-inch square baking dish.
    In medium skilled, cook bacon until crisp. Drain on a paper towel.
    Add garlic to pan drippings and cook 30 seconds. Add cream cheese and cook until it begins to melt, stirring frequently. Gradually whisk in chicken broth until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    Pour cream cheese mixture over pierogies. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes, until bubbly and heated through. Top with cheese and bake five minutes, until cheese is melted. Top with bacon, green onions and tomato before serving.
    Makes six servings.


Green Avocado Salsa

2 avocados
4 green tomatoes
3 jalapenos
2/3 cup diced onion
2/3 cup diced cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons salt
Pinch sugar
4 garlic cloves
1 cup water

    Place all ingredients in a bowl and blend until smooth.





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