CSA Challenge with Meadballs

If you follow my Facebook page, either Marnie Mead or Meadballs Meals, my Instagram account, or Twitter account, m_meadballs   then you have seen some of my postings labeled #CSAchallenge or #Meadballs.

The point of these is to show what produce is arriving weekly at Erie County’s farms, or at least the farms I shop, and how I cook with it. This is to give you a taste of what Meadballs will be all about.

So on the first week that Post Farm’s CSA had produce, this is what I cooked:

The most fun was turning collard greens into wraps for enchiladas. Plus I learned to make a red enchilada sauce from scratch, which tastes a lot better than the canned stuff.

Each week there are some of the same products as the week before, scapes and kale, for example, have been consistent. But as the season progresses, more color starts coming into the basket.

This past week I turned bok choy into a noodle bowl topped with Alaskan salmon. While the salmon isn’t local, I do buy from local sellers. And the dish is built around the bok choy, with the salmon as a complement. For the garlic scapes and the lettuces, I created a grilled steak salad topped with chimichurri sauce, which is a sauce made with garlic, cilantro, parsley, other herbs, a dash of lemon, red wine vinegar, and olive oil.

Quiche is one of my favorites for breakfast, lunch, or dinner – especially when it is warm out. The greens come together nicely with some garlic, olive oil, and hot pepper. They get a swirl of kale pesto and land in a homemade crust with local eggs (Taylor Farms just down the street) and cream.

The final dish, bottom right, was a grilled pizza with caramelized cabbage and onions, which I finished with with some cognac-soaked golden raisins and some vinegar. This created a dish that had the right notes of sweet, sour, crunch, melty. The homemade crust was topped with smoked gouda and mozzarella cheeses and then finished with the onion/cabbage. Cabbage is divine this way, developing a rich flavor and sweetness. I have no idea why my Irish relatives insisted on boiling cabbage when they could do this.

Good thing I didn’t learn to cook from my Irish family. The Italians (by marriage) and my Jewish neighbors were much more influential. I’ll credit a college boyfriend for introducing me to real Chinese food in Boston, where I also learned how to prepare fresh seafood.

What this all stirs up are meals from Meadballs, which will be priced at about $10 to $12 per person for dinner and delivered either to your home or to a central drop spot. There will be three meals each week in a cooler bag. All of them will be prepared in my new kitchen, which currently is under construction. The plumber was here this week putting in the lines for the sinks; the electrician added the lighting and the outlets. Next up – paint and a polished concrete floor. Then the equipment will be delivered from A. Caplan in Waterford, which will be hooked up by Dobrich Electric and Longo Plumbing. If all goes according to schedule, I will clear the Health Department by the first week in August.

I have to admit, it was pretty frightening dipping into my savings to do this. While a relatively simple renovation, wiring, plumbing and equipment add up. My research showed anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000 – depending.

That’s a pretty wide swing – but when you are talking about a kitchen exhaust hood costing $25,000 or more, it does add up. Since I’m not frying food, nor cooking over open flame indoors, that was an expense I could avoid. I still wound up on the lower side of the middle of that figure.

This is a no-loan operation. That is one thing I get from the Irish family. Invest in yourself first – don’t grow beyond what you can afford. That’s what started my grandfather in the newspaper business in 1888, and that’s what I’m doing nearly 130 years later. Although his investment was more like $250.

I digress. What if you want dinner from me?

Well there will be a couple of ways to do this:

I will post on Facebook what the weekly menus on Wednesdays or Thursdays. You can PM me, call me, e-mail me, or come to http://Meadballs.com and place an order. I will be able to take credit card/debit card orders using Square. You will be able to sign up for a flight of 6 or 12 weeks of meals (to take a break, just let me know), or 1 week at a time. Prices will be lower for those who sign up for multiple weeks. I’ll have an introductory

Some friends will be testing meals out over the next month. I’ll expand sampling beyond immediate friends and family once I have my license. You’ll be able to contact me and we can make arrangements to try out a sample meal then.

I’ll keep blogging details. And photos of the construction, as it comes along.

In the meantime, I picked up week 4 from Gordon Post’s farm in North East. Lots more greens, but more colorful veggies are coming soon; the tomatoes are between golf balls and baseballs. Blueberries from Conn’s Blueberry farm just down the road from Post should be ripe next week too. I picked up cherries from Mobilia Farms in North East and will be working with pork chops in a cherry sauce.

In the meantime, here is the recipe for the cabbage and onion pizza, which was inspired by Blue Apron.

Enjoy

Marnie

Marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Caramelized Cabbage and Onion Pizza with Smoked Cheese
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Bring dough to room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit or prepare grill.
  3. In a large saucepan, melt butter with the olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add onion and cabbage, along with about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and a few grindings of fresh pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes until the cabbage and onions have turned a golden color and lost all of their liquid. Stir in raisins in cognac, vinegar, red pepper flakes (start with half and add more if you like), and thyme leaves. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, until the cognac's alcohol has cooked off. Allow to cool. Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired.
  4. While the cabbage cooks, lightly oil a rimmed cookie sheet. Or prepare your grill with a pizza stone.
  5. On a clean counter, use your hands or a rolling pin to gradually stretch your pizza dough to the desired shape (either the size of the sheet pan or your pizza stone). If it springs back while you are stretching/rolling - give it a 5 minute rest, and roll or stretch again. Repeat until the dough is the right size. Transfer to the sheet pan or to a pizza peel coated with cornmeal.
  6. Top the dough with the two shredded cheeses, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Top with the cooked cabbage combo. Brush exposed edges with olive oil.
  7. Bake or put on the grill either in the pan or on the stone, and cook for about 15-18 minutes, rotating the sheet pan halfway through, Remove from the heat and brush crush edges with more olive oil. Let stand about 5 minutes before cutting.
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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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Celebrate Each Birthday

My birthday is a time for personal reflection. Some people use the calendar year, but mine restarts every May 27. In the week leading up to the big day, I check in on how I have used my last 365 days on the planet.

Were they a wise use of this gift of time? Because it is a gift. Every day. Every morning that the birds are singing. Every morning when the sun shines (or at least tries to). And every evening when I tuck myself into bed. Each day I ask if I was good to my daughter. To the planet. To myself. To my family. Did I accomplish anything? Or at least do no harm?

I don’t plant to go through life just skimming along, however. It’s not enough just to know I tried to keep my carbon footprint low, my optimism contagious, and my contributions on the plus side of the abacus. On birthdays, I want  to measure whether I have hit goals that are important to me.

I wasn’t always like this. For awhile there (like maybe 20 years), I told myself I was content to get up each morning, have a coffee or Diet Coke, go to work, go home, make dinner, go to bed. Repeat. Throw in a Sunday dinner with family. An occasional evening out with friends. But really, at the end of the year, I measured my worth by my job title, and accompanying raise or bonus.

Then the raises and bonuses stopped, not because of my work, but because of the industry. And I was mad. Mad at the industry, bosses, etc. A complete and total waste of emotional investment. Yet I did it anyway.

I would like to report that I read a book, or attended a lecture, or saw a counselor who gave me an a-ha moment. But life doesn’t work like that. There are clues dropped along the way to a better path. You can either pick them up or ignore them.

Finally, I started picking them up.  I started really listening to friends – not just preparing a monologue of a reply in my head. I was present. I dug out books recommended by a career counselor, but ignored. I found poignant passages. Then I bought more books. Did more Internet searches. Listened more.

And, eventually, I climbed three mountains with my sister. Those mountains in Colorado were the start of setting goals – and reaching for them. I didn’t master the 14,400-foot one, but I did enjoy a day climbing to nearly 13,000 feet. The old me would have insisted on the Fourteen-er, no matter how miserable I would have been (and the guide assured me I would have been). Instead, when he recommended a compromise that would have meant enjoying the scenery, I accepted that challenge instead.

Since then, I’ve traveled to France, Greece, Italy, and England. I started riding a bike again. I adopted a wonderful dog from the A.N.N.A. Shelter. And my relationship with my daughter, and my family, is a blessing with challenges that I embrace.

I’m single – and that’s a good thing. I am now old enough to know what I want out of life, and I’m going after it. My friend Claudette jokes that men just need to meet me to realize that clingy, needy female I am not. I tried that shoe on, and it just didn’t fit. Another friend said she loves her 50s because now she can say what she has been thinking all along. The fabulous 50s.

I’m loving them.

So what’s a birthday girl do for her dinner when she doesn’t have a “date?”

She makes dinner for her daughter – which we eat in our PJs – and then make plans to go to Creamland for ice cream.

Damn right 50s are fabulous.

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Crab Topped Flounder
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
people
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
people
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and red pepper. Saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together mayonnaise, mustard, egg yolk, seafood seasoning, Worcestershire, lemon juice, a dash or so of hot sauce (optional). Stir. Add in onion and pepper mix. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.
  4. Fold crabmeat (picked over for any shell, and rinsed if you are using canned) into mayo mixture. Gently. You want lumps of crab.
  5. On a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment, place the flounder fillets. Top with equal portions (4 in this case) of crab meat, to cover entire length of fish.
  6. Dot with butter, if using. Sprinkle additional seafood seasoning. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Serve with lemon wedges.
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Binging on British TV for Baking Inspiration

The progress of creating a food business have many odd twists and turns. As I gear up for a July launch of Meadballs – my farm to your table dinner service – I have different avenues to pursue for both inspiration and boredom.

Sometimes the two are intertwined.

Starting  a business, even a simple one with a sole proprietorship, requires some tedious work. It’s not all shopping, chopping, and Bakewell Tarts (more on that in a minute). It started in the fall when I took the Erie County Department of Health food safety course, and subsequent exam, to become certified. The point is not to learn the basics of the restaurant business, but to learn the basics of not harming your customers. Quite rightly, there is a lot of focus on hand washing, cooking foods to proper temperatures, and the proper heating, cooling, and refrigeration techniques.

Kudos to the Health Department because this could all have been deadly dull. But the instructor was most engaging. And you’ll be happy to hear that I passed with the high school equivalent of an A.

In the months since then, there have been papers to file with the Pennsylvania Department of State to register the business, kitchens to check out because you can’t cook food to sell in your home kitchen (some states you can get a cottage kitchen license), suppliers to check out, etc.

Some of this happens while I sit on the computer scrolling through rules, regs, and pricing of product. It’s rather dull work, so the television is often on in the background. Lately the BBC series priest-detective “Father Brown,” based on the short stories of G.K. Chesterton, has been my Netflix pick of choice. It’s set in a rural English parish in the late 1950s. Aside from the mystery in each episode, there is also a fair amount about English country life during that period, especially the church fetes, flower shows, bake sales, and the like. I’m fascinated by tea – I think it’s a right proper thing to do. I’m not into the beans-on-toast sort, but the ones with cakes.

In the summers, there are strawberry scones, fruit crisps, and the like. But during the late spring, before anything starts to produce, there are cakes make with preserves. One episode included something called a Bakewell Tart, which the “Great British Bake Off” featured on several episodes. I only know this because I had never heard of a Bakewell Tart, so I Googled it. And found several recipes on BBC.

Essentially, it is a shortbread crust, topped with a bit of jam (raspberry is the preferred, but some have gone so far as to use – gasp – cherry), and then a frangipane, which is not marzipan. Similar, in that it is almond and sugar based, but it also has butter and eggs.

So, while filling out the latest form from the state (Department of Revenue, for sales tax collection), I popped a Bakewell Tart into the oven.

And here, dear readers, is the recipe. In a couple of months, I hope to give you an actual sample instead of just this virtual one. I do have to tell you – it is divine. And I might just have to tart it up when cherry season comes!

Until then – toodle pip!

Marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Bakewell Tart
Course dessert
Cuisine American, British
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American, British
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make the pastry, measure the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter (and salt, if needed) with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water, mixing to form a soft dough.
  2. Press dough into a tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, heat oven to 400 degrees (F).
  4. Bake pastry for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Spread with jam.
  5. Melt the butter in a pan, take off the heat and then stir in the sugar. Add (salt, if using) ground almonds, egg, and almond extract. Pour over crust. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
  6. Bake for about 35 minutes. If the almonds brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil to prevent them burning. Remove tart from oven to cool.
  7. Put powdered sugar into a bowl. Stir in extract. If the mixture is too thick to drizzle over tart, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time.
  8. Drizzle icing over top. Or place icing into a zip-top baggie with one corner snipped off, and pipe the icing over the top.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from several recipes on http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes

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