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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Tell-All Tuesday: What Does a Blogger Do?

Today, I am sitting here drinking day-old coffee, reheated, and munching on ginger cookies. The coffee is still better than anything I can get at most restaurants. The ginger cookies are part of my baking marathon from Sunday and Monday.

That doesn’t answer what a blogger does. Mainly because every blogger is a little bit different. It’s the same as in the news business. Every reporter has his or her own routine. I knew one reporter who had to wipe off his desk, line all his pens and pencils up in order, and then begin to write. Another kept apples lined up on his desk, and ate his way through them during the day. I used to smoke. It would take at least 1 cigarette before I could start a story, and then I would smoke my way through half a pack to finish it. When smoking was banned, I was afraid I’d never be able to write a story again.

I could. And I did. I developed other writing tics. I would walk around a lot. Sometimes I played loud dance music in my earbuds, while bouncing on a chair ball at my desk. I had a drawer filled with chocolates.

When I left the corporate world, I set up a desk at home. It’s a dedicated writing space. I live in a two-bedroom condo with a teen daughter, so there’s not a lot of spare room. I could have put my spot in the basement, but I need natural light and a window to work. My desk is a lot neater now, mainly because it is visible from just about every part of the condo, except the bedrooms. I still like to walk around a lot. I try not to have the TV on, but sometimes I like the company.

Even though I write about food and travel, I don’t watch the Food Network or the Travel channel. I used to love the Food Network, but the transformation into competitive cooking doesn’t feed my soul. I will sometimes tune into Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) because I would like to be her. Although not really. Marriage and I don’t agree. I’m not a Hamptons kind of girl. I could never figure out the coded language of the super wealthy, whether it was cocktail conversation or wearing the right sandals. I’ve been called refreshing, which I did figure out was code for she doesn’t fit in.

But I do like her recipes. They work, unlike Martha Stewart’s, which I always have trouble with. I’m working my way through a fourth revision of a muffin recipe of hers that I SOOOO want to work. It will. Although I will be sporting a muffin top until I get it right and can stop eating the rejects.

But I’m still not answering what a blogger does.

We share. Sometimes we share personal stories of parenting, recipes, dating, vacations, fashion, beauty, etc. These are like online diaries. Some write for money, blogging about products or services. Some mix the two, ideally telling you that they are writing about this particular mascara or retirement planning community because they are compensated for it. That’s usually when you see the “sponsored” label.

For those who aren’t paid to push a product, like me, blogging is like “Living Out Loud,” to borrow from a book title by Anna Quindlen. In the ancient pre-Internet days, newspapers picked certain people to write about particular topics. They are columnists. And their audience was the typical newspaper reader. Women were assigned, primarily, to the LifeStyle sections until Quindlen came around.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1992 for her New York Times column, Public and Private.

The difference is bloggers have no built-in audience, like a newspaper has with its subscribers. So we sit at our desks, or on our couches, or in our beds, and write into space. Then we push publish. Sometimes we get comments. Sometimes not.

So, to answer the question of what is a blogger, the answer is we are writers. Like most writers, we fall into different categories: cooking, self-help, memoir, sports, etc. Some of us are more successful than others financially. Some of us are better than others.

But none of us have to rely on a white middle-aged guy in a corner office deciding whether we have something to say. Anyone with an e-mail account and some basic Web skills can become a blogger. Ultimately, it’s the readers/followers who decide if we have something to say.

I joined a group recently of women entrepreneurs. We meet every week in small groups, and twice a month in a larger group. We are the Black Diamond Divas, part of the Coffee Club Divas started and run by Heidi Parr-Kerner. I have accountability partners now – women to talk to. I asked them to give me some feedback. One of the suggestions was to try adding themes to my writing. So Sunday is Sunday Suppers now. Tuesday will be a Tell-All day, to give you more about the person and motivation behind this blog. I am working on an idea for the third blog of the week, but don’t have it down yet. All will have a recipe.

Today’s is about ginger. (Writer trick – tying this back to the lede paragraph). I’m a ginger fiend. I like it in teas, cookies, kombucha, cookies, and cake. The pickled ginger that comes with sushi is among the many reasons I order it. If you don’t eat yours, I might not be polite enough to ask before nabbing it with my chopsticks.

I love this time of year when I have every reason to make gingerbread cakes. My daughter isn’t as big a fan, but she does love cream cheese frosting. So I combined the two, along with some spiced pears   that I had in the fridge from another blog post last month.

I’ve included the recipe I made for ginger cake from Fine Cooking.  But, in all honesty, I love the King Arthur Flour Gingerbread Cake and Cookie mix, which is on sale right now. Plus, spend there is a promotion if you spend $50 , you get shipping for $3.95 (normally $10 or more).

Happy baking

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@MarnieMeadMedia.com

Print Recipe
Ginger Cake Trifle
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour or overnight
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour or overnight
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch square cake pan, or line with aluminum foil or parchment (have a small overhang) that is coated in cooking spray. If you line the pan, then you can just pull the cake out once it is baked and cooled.
  2. Whisk flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed using an electric mixer (hand or stand) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add both sugars and beat on medium speed until well combined. With mixer on low speed, add molasses. Slowly add one-third of dry ingredients and combine until just mixed. Add one-third of the buttermilk and mix to combine. Repeat until you have used all the dry ingredients and the buttermilk. Do not over beat. Scape into baking pan.
  4. Bake in center of oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Remove from pan and cut into small cubes.
  5. In the meantime make the Cream Cheese Whipped Cream by whipping the cream cheese in a small bowl until soft and fluffy.
  6. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer (stand or hand) to whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Scrape in the cream cheese and continue whipping on high speed until it forms stiff peaks. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  7. I had some spiced pears, http://meadballs.com/recipe/fall-pairs-well-with-pears/, in the fridge and used these as well. Or you can add some leftover cranberry sauce.
  8. To assemble, put a cube of cake in the bottom of a glass or cover the bottom of a trifle dish with gingerbread cubes. Put a dollop or two of Cream Cheese Whipped Cream in the glass, or cover cake with dollops in trifle dish. If you desire, add a layer of spiced pear or some cranberry, then repeat until you are at the top of your glass serving dish.
  9. This will make 4 to 8 servings, depending on the size of your glass. I used very large red wine glasses, so it made 4, with leftovers.
Recipe Notes

NOTE: I used 1 tablespoon gingerbread spice mixture instead of the ginger, cinnamon, cloves.

Adapted from theKitchn.com and FineCooking.com

To make the spiced pears, peel pears, cut in half and core. Place into a pot that has come to a simmer with:

Cook for about 10 minutes, or until soft but not falling apart. Remove from syrup, reserving it. Slice or dice pears you are using. Any you are not can be stored in a glass jar with the syrup.

 

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No Shrimping on Taste

heron-on-roofFlorida for Thanksgiving is a somewhat surreal experience. The sky is blue, the temperature is 80, and I’m kayaking between crab pots.  Dolphins played in the Gulf of Mexico, and we watched the herons and egret watching the fishermen.

It was delightful. Certainly I’m fond of the crunching leaves and dashing through the snow, but blue skies and sand between my toes was far more delightful than dealing with the weather outside being frightful.

On one of those glorious mornings, we headed into St. Petersburg for the Saturday Morning Market with a cooler bag full of ice in the back of the SUV. The first stop was the new fish vendor, who had lovely pink Key West shrimp in his stall, as well as a variety of stone crab claw. We filled our bag with both and put it back in the car. Then it was time to enjoy the rest of the market, especially the show around the pineapple stand. That was my treat for the day. It was also the first thing I tasted this morning; I packed it in my carry-on bag for the trip back north.

kombuchaWe sampled some other new products at the market as well. New meaning since the last time we were there in April. There was a ginger beer cart, more smoothie makers, and kombucha. I tried the Thai, with lemongrass and galangal and coconut. Unfortunately, the coconut oil was overwhelming the lemongrass and ginger flavors, but I can count it up to a new flavor I’ve tried. Next time, I’ll try tropical.

We stopped by to visit Juan and Chichi Garanton. Juan is an artist whose work is inspired by the colors and scenes around him in Florida. His work now hangs on three generations of Mead walls. My daughter is his newest fan.

It was Saturday, so we were trying to embrace the Shopapalooza spirit in downtown St. Petersburg. Alas, we didn’t find anything more to buy that day. This meant time for a nap before making dinner, which was as easy as chopping garlic, peeling shrimp, and serving.

This dish is perfect for those nights when you are trimming the tree and don’t have much time. Or have some unexpected company. Just put these out with dishes of Marcona almonds and some olives for an impromptu tapas party.

Print Recipe
Shrimp in Garlic Oil (Gambas al Ajillo)
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
people, appetizer
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
people, appetizer
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Mince 3 cloves of garlic. Slice remaining 9 cloves.
  2. In a nonractive bowl, mix shrimp with minced garlic. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and baking soda. Toss to combine thoroughly and set aside for about 20 minutes.
  3. Add remaining olive oil to a cast iron skillet. Add sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until garlic becomes fragrant and pale golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, tossing and stirring constantly until shrimp are pink and just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Add lemon or sherry and parsley. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt. Serve immediately with crusty bread.
Recipe Notes

Red pepper flakes vary in heat, in part based on how long they have been on the shelf. Start with a pinch. You can dip a little bread in the olive oil before adding the shrimp and taste - this will give you a sense of the heat. It will get slightly more intense with time, but not a lot. If you want, add more red pepper flakes. Or just serve them on the table.

The best way to serve this is to give everyone 4 to 5 shrimp in a bowl with the olive oil and juices. Have loaf of sliced crusty bread on the table for dipping.

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