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.

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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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Thankful for a “Renegade”

The sun is shining and for that I am most thankful today.

I am thankful every day just to waking up and greet the morning. I am thankful that I see my daughter every morning (except those when she doesn’t come out from under the covers until afternoon). I am thankful for walking the dog with my mum on the shores of Lake Erie. I am less thankful when it is snowing or in the driving freezing rain – but it sure beats the alternative of not being able to go out in the snow or freezing rain.

The list could go on and on – dad, brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, friends, Coffee Club Divas, Heidi Parr Kerner … but you have your own list. And we don’t have all year.

So thank you for reading this.

And I would like to introduce you to someone else I am thankful for. Her name is Tammy Lyn Fox, and she helped guide me toward creating Meadballs. Tammy has her own catering business, Taste of Zion, and a vision to create a community kitchen where all the little foodies around town could start their businesses.

In the meantime, she has launched a Kickstarter campaign for Renegade Butters, which are outstandingly delicious compound butters.

Here is an outtake from her Kickstarter:

“My name is Tammy Lyn Fox and I’m a reckless renegade. A renegade goes against the grain, breaks out of the box, and blazes a new trail. Renegade Butters rebel against the plain butter experience and gives you something that is at once both very old and very new — Beurre Composé, the compound butter.”

She has both sweet and savory butters – her garlic Parmesan is divine, as is the Mediterranean, which has sweet peppers, Kalamata olives, herbs, and feta cheese. You can spread it on bread, or toss with pasta, or just eat it out of the jar.

Just kidding. Sort of.

You can read more about Tammy’s Renegade Butters project at Kickstarter.    You can also check out her Facebook page.

If you are a Meadballs customer, you will be sampling some of her products after the Thanksgiving break. Since I started making breads, I will include samples of her butters for you to taste.

I hope you enjoy your holiday. See you in December.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Cranberry Apple Ginger Relish/Chutney
I love this yummy fresh cranberry relish/chutney. It is just the right balance of sweet, spicy, tart, and the balsamic adds just that mystery. I use it on top of yogurt in the morning with granola. But with the turkey is good too!
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients, including orange juice and zest, in a nonreactive saucepan (I use an enamel pan with a blue interior; if you use one that is white, you may need to bleach afterward).
  2. Cook over medium-low heat for 18-20 minutes, until the fruit is tender and the liquid has thickened. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Remove cinnamon stick.
  3. Best chilled. Can be kept in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.
Recipe Notes
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Business is Cooking Along

Meadballs opened its doors – officially as an inspected and certified kitchen – on August 4, 2017. Bits and pieces of construction continued for another month, and I had a lot of kinks to work through.

Anyone who has moved will be familiar with some of this story. And anyone who has started a business will be nodding as well. First, I had to put everything away. And then I had to move it after I didn’t like where it was. I still can’t always locate things – and the kitchen is less than 1,000 square feet.

There were things I found I needed along the way. Like all new pots and pans. I don’t have a range – or open flame – because I didn’t want to have to vent with a kitchen hood (think $10,000). So I have induction burners. Which are great – but require a particular material and pot bottom to work. 

Then I bought the wrong sized sheet pans for the ovens.

Then it was soooo hot that the freezer kept sweating – even more than I was.

But after about 6 weeks, I started to get the hang of the place.

From a business standpoint, there are always things to work out. And from a personal point, I know it takes a minimum of six weeks to learn a new routine. Indeed, it took about six weeks to figure out what that routine was.

Originally, I thought I would deliver food on Thursdays and have the weekend to myself. Hah. Most people go out on the weekend. They want food for the week – meaning Monday. So that means cooking on the weekend.

Do I go to the farm on Thursday, or Friday? When do I get the other stuff? How do I know what I need? 

There’s a big difference between sometimes cooking for 20 people (family gatherings), and always cooking for 20 people. My sister didn’t mind sometimes getting the short-end of the salad bowl. People who pay do mind.

Then there were the times I would load up the bags and just cry. I was tired. I was dropping things. I had to reopen containers that I thought were finished and add the finishing touches that I found in the refrigerator just as I was about to leave.

Then there were the dishes. Loads of dishes. Mounds of dishes. Piles of dishes. And no dishwasher, except me. Because dishwashers for commercial kitchens are expensive. And I am not. And I would still need a 3-bowl sink whether I had a dishwasher or not. Sometimes I cried just looking at the dishes.

And then there is the farm, Post Farm, in North East. Where they are incredibly generous with their knowledge. And helpful. And pretty much anything you could ask for in a farm. But it’s a farm and there are things on the farm that I am allergic to. Only I didn’t know that. So one week – the first week they trusted me in the fields by myself – I had on shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. By the time I finished with the broccoli, welts covered me. Up my arms. Down my legs. And I was crying again.

Keep in mind, I am 54 years old. I have started 4 magazines. I had to close one of them. I have done financials. I have done budgets. I have cooked since I was 9.

And I’m crying.

Because being in business for yourself is hard. You can put something off until tomorrow, but it is still waiting for you then.

But I love it.

I love the freedom to  paddle board on Lake Erie when I have something i

n the oven for an hour. I love that I can walk the dog along Walnut Creek each morning before I start business. The dog does not go into the kitchen.

I love my customers, who look at my menu sometimes and ask if I really meant to add cheese to every single dish. Politely. And with concern – that perhaps I might be clogging all of their arteries and then I would have no customers. And then I can laugh. And adjust. And thank them.

And crying is OK. And hard work is OK. And washing the dishes is OK. And mopping the floors is OK. Cutting myself is not OK, but now I put down the knife when I realize I am too tired. And I make bread. Because making bread is about the most relaxing thing I can think of some days (after walking the dog on the beach).

And you realize the world doesn’t end when you have welts all over your arms and legs. Take 2 Benadryl and go to sleep for 14 hours. You will be amazed at how you feel. And how thankful you are to have a lovely 15-year-old daughter who brings you a ginger ale. And who doesn’t think you are crazy for starting a business. And incredibly supportive parents who let you convert a basement space into a business (that you paid for out of your retirement stash).

And you are thankful that all these people believe in you. Indeed, they actually pay you to make them dinner. And deliver it.

I am blessed.

Thank you all.

And if you want to order, just message or e-mail me on Facebook from Meadballs Meals.

Best

Marnie

Marnie@Meadballs.com

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Business is Cooking Along
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
pancakes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
pancakes
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Salad Days with the Meadballs

More than half of the Meadballs gathered this weekend in Erie for the annual Camp Cousins. My daughter was born during one of these gatherings 15 years ago.

But as the kids get older, their schedules become more complicated. The eldest is 18 and the youngest is 13. They live in New York, Virginia, and St. Louis, Mo. You can’t just haul them around wherever and whenever you want to go anymore.

I’m thankful for any opportunity to see the Meadballs, v2 (we are the originals) have a blast in Lake Erie and catch up. Although with SnapChat, etc., they stay in touch with one another pretty regularly.

As a result, I was also thankful for a slow start to Meadballs Meals. But now I’m ready to serve.

A couple of people have commented that this seems like work.

Indeed, it is work. But it is work I enjoy. It is work to go on vacation – you need to plan, pack, and do. Then you come home and pay the bills and do laundry. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to go on vacation. Sometimes doing what you love requires a little hard work.

Are there parts I do not like? You bet. I do not like the dishes. I do not like that I do not have a mechanical dishwasher. The dishwasher is me. Why? Because commercial dishwashers are expensive and complicated. And I am neither (some ex-boyfriends may disagree, but that’s another issue).

Are there parts I adore? Absolutely. I love the challenge of going to the farms and seeing what is seasonal – and then having to come up with a plan. This engages both the math side of my brain (portions, measurements, multiplying, etc) and the creative side (will it taste good, be pretty). And then there are the logistics. Some recipes I know from experience must be made and served immediately. There’s nothing like a poached egg served on a bed of roasted vegetables and topped with hot peppers and cheese – now that’s comfort food. But it won’t make it out of the kitchen, into the cooler, and to your doorstep.

That’s the experience I have from cooking for the past 45 years.

That’s a lot of cooking. But I”m always intrigued by new possibilities and combinations. Twenty years ago I never would have made an Asian chicken salad with tahini and toasted ramen. Yet that was on the menu last week. This week I will feature a flank steak with nectarines; and a flatbread with figs.

Some of these inspirations come from traveling to Italy, Greece, France, and Spain. Some are courtesy of the millions of experimental cooks sharing recipes on the Web.

The possibilities are endless. And that’s what I’m loving right now.

That – and all those little Meadballs growing up.

Didi and Pater surrounded by (clockwise from top) Jack Mead, William Hickey, Nicole Mead Oberle, Emily Mead, and David Mead. Missing are James Hickey, Michael Mead, and Alexandra Mead.

XOXOXO

Order soon!

Marnie

Marnie@Meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Thai Chicken Salad
The original recipe calls for almonds and peanut butter, but because of nut allergies in my family, I substituted toasted ramen noodles or sunflower seeds for the almond topping and tahini paste for the peanut butter.
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Add oil to a small skillet over medium heat. Add the broken up (really break these up) ramen noodles. Cook, stirring, until toasted. Remove from heat. If you are going to make this dish ahead, store cooked ramen in an airtight container, and add them just before serving.
  2. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, tahini, soy suace, honey, fish sauce or Braggs, rice vinegar, and chili garlic sauce. If you are just using hot sauce, I suggest you mince a clove or 2 of garlic and add that. Mix well. If it is too thick, add a little water. Taste and adjust seasonings (like more soy or lime).
  3. Toss chicken with about 1/3 of the dressing.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the cabbages, carrot, onion, and cilantro. Pour the remaining dressing over this and toss to combine. Serve on plates. Top with chicken, and then ramen noodles. If you have any leftover cilantro, use it to garnish.
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