Taste Testing in Business

The vegan menu launched in January. Better salads came in February. The beginning of 2018 is shaping up to be a time to retool.

Which is perfect for a new business.

Anyone remember Facebook when it first came out. There were no photos, let alone videos, emojis, etc. And Google was second to …. just about everyone. Anyone still use Bing? FIrefox?

If you are  in business, any business, you must be attuned to what the audience wants. Nut-free was always in my business plan (my father has a nut allergy), so when the request from a celiac suffer for gluten-free came in, I did my best. I can’t say every dish is a hit. There are some restrictions to GF foods – the replacement flours still have a gritty taste so they don’t work with all baked goods, for example. There are some professional baking companies – such as Udi’s – which does a wonderful French bread. You need to know when to turn to the experts.

But for some GF offerings, nut flour is the way to go. Hazelnut flour, almond flour, coconut flour, are all great. They aren’t really “Flour” in the way that wheat flour has gluten, which gives it an elastic quality that traps air bubbles and gives cakes and breads their rise (not just the yeast).

For my vegan customers – flour is just fine. But eggs and dairy are not. Once again, some of the nut flours and milks are the secret ingredients to a lovely sweet. That and flax-seed, which you crush and mix with water. I don’t know how it does what it does, but it works.

So some weeks making a chocolate cake involves 3 different recipes. Good thing I like cake. And the funny thing is some weeks the vegan cake may taste the best of the three. Go figure. The GF cakes, now that I use a lot of nut flours, are also very good. They have a dense and rich quality that traditional wheat flour doesn’t.

And then there was the real surprise recipe – tahini brownies. The recipe below is adapted from Ambitious Kitchen – and made vegan. I love the flavor meld of the nutty tahini and the chocolate for the brownies. It’s a more adult flavor than adding peanut butter.

Meadballs is still a work in progress, but I like to think each week is another step in the right direction. There are other requests that I haven’t been able to meet just yet, but I’m working on it.

A year ago, this wasn’t even a blueprint. So I know that things can change quickly. You just have to adapt.

And, this winter, wear snowshoes. I can’t believe I picked the snowiest winter on record to launch a business that involves delivery! Beats the year, I launched a magazine, that was followed by a stock market downturn and housing market “collapse.”

That magazine is still  in business.

Sometimes good ideas can outrun bad markets (or winters).

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

 

Coming soon – Meadballs in Ireland.

Print Recipe
Tahini Brownies
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
squares
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
squares
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9 square baking pan with foil or parchment. Coat with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the tahini, coconut sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract and flax eggs.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, almond flour, salt and baking soda.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet, mixing to combine. Add chocolate chips into the batter.
  5. Spread batter evenly in prepared baking pan.
  6. Bake for 22-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake.
  7. In the meantime, make chocolate drizzle by melting coconut oil and chocolate chips in a glass bowl in the microwave. Start with 30 seconds and stir. If chocolate is still chunky, microwave another 30 seconds and stir. Everything should be melted together.
  8. Drizzle over warm brownies. Optional: Sprinkle sea salt on top.
  9. Cut into 16 squares.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

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Crazed Chef Craves Squash (really!)

Things have been a little hectic here in the Meadballs kitchen. Big news is that I am finally certified. This seemed liked the hugest hurdle back in the spring. But when the day finally came on Friday, Aug. 4, it really was just he beginning. Because of three things:

  • Most of my pots and pans didn’t work with induction. So I had to buy new ones.
  • I have to wash dishes now. (Dishwasher not in the budget).
  • The ventilation project wasn’t totally finished.

The last is probably the biggest issue because it is August. And while it has been pretty chill so far, it isn’t all that cool in my basement digs with three fridges, two freezers, two ovens, and three induction cooktops going. Sometimes all at once. So the electrician returned to install a big fan, some vents in the ductwork and a cooler for the wine room. As a result, my shiny new kitchen is a mess of dust, dirt, power saws, and electrical things. It is loud and dirty. So I haven’t been in the kitchen much since I picked up my lovely certificate.

But, never fear, it should all be done by tomorrow morning and I’ll be cooking away. If you have signed up for my newsletter – there is a sign-up on this website – you will find the specials for next week. They will also be posted on the Meadballs Meals facebook page. Order by e-mailing marnie@meadballs.com, messaging me on Facebook, or by texting 814.470.8688. Orders need to be received by Sunday at noon for Monday delivery.

In the meantime, I’ve been in my home kitchen working with what to do with a truckload of yellow squash. I love this bread with blueberries. Don’t skip the glaze, it makes the cake and helps keep it fresh.

Print Recipe
Lemonade Blueberry Squash Bread
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
loaves
Ingredients
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
loaves
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 2 regular loaf pans.
  2. Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.
  3. In another large or medium bowl, combine melted butter and sugar. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Whisk in eggs.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Add squash and stir just to blend. Toss blueberries with the remaining flour. Add to mixture.
  6. Pour into prepared pans and bake at 325 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.
  7. Allow the pan to cool; remove the bread and place top down on a serving plate.
  8. In the meantime, make the glaze by combining all the ingredients and mixing until smooth. Pour over top of bread.
  9. Serve.
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Counting Days to Meadballs Delivery

Just as the agricultural season is getting into full swing, so is construction on the new Meadballs kitchen. Indeed, just a week until the Erie County Department of Health inspection, and Meadballs will be open for business.

This week has been a flurry … but – and I find this hard to imagine – the most exciting thing is the concrete floor. Yes, I am excited about a concrete floor.

The kitchen space is a former playroom, which had Berber carpeting to keep the tiny knees from getting skinned. The the small noggins from bouncing off concrete. The carpeting added a bit of cushion.

The carpet has been gone for a couple of weeks, but today Advanced Concrete Floor put the design/paint/finish on. It looks spectacular. You may have seen the company’s work at Twig in the Colony Plaza.

Let me tell you, I had no idea concrete could be so beautiful. The final polyurethane finish comes tomorrow, but this is what it looks like now. It’s like Lake Erie met my basement in a good way.

There are bubbles, and waves, and sand … and it’s really cool.

On Monday, the equipment will be delivered. And then it is all about the plumbing and electrical. And I get to go shopping for things like spatulas, immersion blenders, and mixers. I expect to be moving in on Wednesday and Thursday in order to be ready on Friday.

That’s not all that’s going on. I’m still sampling in the market. Thank you to this week’s volunteers Karen Ducato and Jill Starr. Their input is appreciated. The logo bags should be arriving early next week to finish my look. Then, it’s time to start cooking for real.

This week at Post Apples CSA, the bags contained bok choy, collard greens, kale, zucchini, corn, Chinese cabbage, green beans, peppers, cucumber, and kohlrabi. I will be making more stuffed collard greens this week, along with some zoodles and meatballs, and some salads that I am still pondering. Nothing like a deadline to figure things out.

Speaking of which, my goal will be to post the week’s upcoming meals on Friday mornings. My goal is to have you contact me if you want in that week or be a subscriber. I’m working on a contact form that generates a notification to me – but the fastest and easiest way is to message me at 814.470.8688, e-mail marnie@meadballs.com, or contact me on the Meadballs Facebook page.

One of the highlights this week – other than the floor – was picking blueberries in North East at Conn’s Blueberry Farm. Took me about 90 minutes to pick 10 quarts. And 10 quarts of blueberries means pies, pies, and more pies.

 

I like this recipe because it isn’t all flour as a thickener. I am partial to tapioca starch or minute mini tapioca instead of all flour as a thickener. I also am a fan of the lattice top, so here’s an easy YouTube video that shows a hack on how to do it by making the lattice on parchment and then putting on the pie. Don’t forget to brush with egg and sprinkle with some turbinado sugar for a lovely finish.

My blueberries this year were a tad tart, which was fine with me. I don’t like an overly sweet pie. If you like your pies a little sweeter, I would suggest adding another tablespoon or 2 of sugar. But if you are going to serve your pie with ice cream, which is what I adore, then don’t add too much sugar or the combination with be more sweet than blueberry.

Happy eating

Marnie

Marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Blueberry Pie
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees (400 if you have a convection oven). Take one crust out of the fridge. Give it about 10 minutes before you try to roll it out, or unroll it if it is a premade rolled crust.
  2. Place the crust into bottom of 9-inch pan. Trim any excess hanging over the edge. Place in the refrigerator while you complete the rest of the steps. If you have a premade crust, then take the second one out of the fridge to get the chill off so you can easily place it over the blueberries to top the pie, or cut into a lattice if you desire.
  3. In a large bowl, mix blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, thickener, sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Gently mix to combine. Pour into pie panand evenly distribute.
  4. In a small bowl, mix egg and water.
  5. Place second crust on top (or follow the YouTube instructions above to make a lattice crust). Crimp edges. Cut 2-4 slits in the top if crust covers the entire top. Brush all exposed pastry with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar.
  6. Place on a baking sheet covered with foil.
  7. Bake at 425 or 400 for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 30 to 40 minutes (or longer) until the blueberries are bubbling. If the crust begins to brown too quickly, cover with foil part way through baking.
  8. Sometimes I start with the pie covered - very loosely with foil - and then take the foil off for the last 30 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven. Allow to cool before serving.
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Meadballs to Open in August

Sometimes you just have to take that step, even if it feels like you are walking off a cliff. You just have to trust you have put something there to support you.

Anyone starting a small business, buying a home, starting a new job knows the feeling. It’s a step  faith into the financial unknown.

That’s the way it is with Meadballs (nickname for the four Mead kids, my blog, and now my business). After months of trying to find a kitchen to rent – I’m going to renovate to create my own space. The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind on that front. I’ve been working with the fabulous kitchen designer Keegan Leehan at South One, who is coordinating with in A. Caplan Co. in Waterford on the equipment.

So what is Meadballs? I will cook seasonal dinners and deliver them. They will be fresh, not frozen, and ready to reheat or serve cold (or you can freeze). Meadballs is a subscription service for three meals a week, for either 2 or 4 people; but I’m open to what the market wants. Discounts will be for those who sign up for multiple weeks (such as 6 or 12), but you can opt out of consecutive weeks if you expect to be busy or on vacation. You’ll still get 6 or 12 weeks, just not in a row.

The driving ingredients will be what’s fresh on the farm that week. If you are familiar with a CSA (boxes of fresh vegetables delivered each week from local farms), then you will grasp the concept. I take those vegetables and turn them into dinners. No deciding, chopping, or cooking for you.

You’ll find my seasoning influences come from many cultures I have visited – Italy, France, Greece, Spain, and Mexico. Plus those I haven’t, yet, such as India and Asia.

As I get closer, I’ll post some sample menus.

Until then, there’s a lot of work to do.

By the end of last week,  Erie County Department of Health and my wonderful inspector is Lisa Susann, who is making sure everything is in compliance, gave initial approval for the site work. Zoning laws in Fairview permit for no-impact home businesses in residential areas (meaning no customers coming and going from the kitchen). And on Friday, we met with Tom Kovach from Longo Plumbing and Joe Dobrich from Dobrich Electric to go over the plumbing and electrical needs. These will be among the two largest expenses because of the number of sinks and the power supply needed to run a commercial-grade kitchen.

I’ve covered business as a journalist for long enough to learn 3 rules that I am standing by:

  1.  Start small. Do what you can afford to do. That means used equipment where I can get it and repurposing what is permitted.

2. Rely on people you have done business with – or friends have done business with. When your business hinges on a Health Department inspection – you want  everything done right (and everyone shows up on time).

3. If you don’t have a back-up plan, then you don’t have a plan. This is advice from my father, and I’ve always carried it with me. Whether I was planning for newspaper articles, magazine start-ups, or the redesign of an entire newsroom. Plan – and then have a back-up plan. Sometimes I would be on Plan D before things worked out.

There are all kinds of other fun things I’ve been learning along the way – such as filing with the state to register as both an LLC and for my sales tax license. The rules regarding licensing and selling of food (thankfully I took an excellent class in October offered by the Health Department).

I have wonderful suppliers – the Post Farm in North East and Parable Farm in New York state. I will be picking up my first load this week to start testing recipes, which is the actual fun part.

Marketing, etc., is on the list of things to do – but I need a firm start date. The opening goal is the first week in August. When I know more, you’ll see more posts by me, as well as some sponsored postings on social media.

I’ll keep you posted. Let me know your thoughts, too.

In the meantime, I’ve been picking berries. Lots of berries. Here’s a crisp/crunch I just love (especially for breakfast with yogurt).

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Fresh Strawberry Crumble
This is a fresh tasting-strawberry crumble. It is best eating within 2 days, otherwise the crumble gets soft. I love the combination of strawberries and ginger, but you can omit it if that's not your thing. You can also swap out some of the strawberries for blueberries or peaches when they come into season.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
  2. In a large bowl, combine white sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and strawberries.
  3. Place strawberry mixture in a greased 9x13 baking dish.
  4. Combine the rest of the ingredients until crumbly. Scatter over strawberry mixture. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
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