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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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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CSA Challenge for Meadballs, Week 1

Starting a business – or any project, really – is a lot like gardening. You plant a seed, tend to it – water, fertilizer, good light – and it grows. Ignore it, even for a couple of days, and it could die, or weaken to the point where it will never be as fruitful.

Same with a project or business. You can have the greatest idea, but it needs tending or it will never sprout. Meadballs is my little seed. My hope is that it grows so I can use local products to make you dinner, delivered. You get three at a time – which you can eat right away, put in the fridge for another day, or possibly freeze.

For quite a few months, Meadballs was just a little seed in a packet. Every time I thought I could plant it somewhere, it just didn’t work out. If you’ve ever been an over-anxious gardener and plopped a plant in the ground – only to watch it struggle to survive, then you will understand. Before you plant something, you need to understand if it gets enough light, if the ground needs amending, or even if the hose reaches. I have a rhododendron facing that fate. I bought the condo in February and planted that poor bush in May. Neither the soil nor the light is right. I’m working to amend the soil, but it takes more work than if I had done it correctly the first time.

But now I have done the work to get the right location for Meadballs. The Erie County Department of Health has signed off on the beginning of construction of the new kitchen. I met with Keegan Leehan of South One on Monday and went over the details – gasp – of the plumbing, electrical, etc., work to be done. Plus the appliance costs. I think my parents first home in Erie cost less.

 

I’m following the advice of fellow small business owners and I’m not borrowing to do this. When I plant a garden, I only plant what I can manage. If my bounty is in excess of what I can eat, then I consider the hard work and the believe I was blessed by weather. But I don’t count on that happening every year.

Just a variation of you reap what you sow. And I don’t want to be sowing with someone else’s money right now.

So the construction will begin. And I will have firm dates within a week. And I want to thank everyone who is patiently waiting for my garden to grow.

In the meantime, the farm where most of my produce will come from has started delivering. The first weeks are always slow – and now we are experiencing a lot of rain and cool temperatures, which will slow things down a bit. Even my own tomato plants, which were growing overnight, have stalled with the lack of warmth and sunshine.

The CSA basket from Post Farms contained mostly green items: Lettuce, garlic scapes, collard greens, kale, and some purple potatoes left from last season. (The potatoes were perfectly fine and cooked up deliciously.)

Each week is a challenge. These are the practice weeks before I start cooking for you. I will get a basket of seasonal foods from the farm, and then be challenged to create three meals for you.

It’s terribly exciting.

I get the baskets on Thursdays. So deliveries will begin on Mondays (nobody likes cooking on Mondays, right?).

This week I took the ingredients and created: Enchiladas wrapped in collard greens and filled with sausage and onions; garlic scape (that curly guy in the lower right corner of the photo) and kale pesto, which I tossed with some homemade pasta and topped with seared scallops; chicken gyros salad wrapped in red lettuce leaves; and purple potatoes with greens and garlic (and served with grilled chicken breast).

The most challenging dish was what to do with collard greens – other than the traditional long cooking with ham or bacon. It became my favorite dish because it was creative and really tasty. The filling included sausage from Urbaniaks, a sweet onion, black beans, and salsa. The red enchilada sauce is from CookieandKate.com.

My parents served as testers this week. And the greens come Didi approved, which is saying a lot because my mother isn’t a fan of greens. Others will get a chance to serve as test kitchen subjects, including Jennifer Smith, Pam Parker, Rebecca Styn, Kate McCune Nash, and others.

The seed is being planted. I can’t wait for you to taste the fruits of this labor.

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@Meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Red Enchilada Sauce
Mise en place - meaning get your ingredients together and ready to use - is an important part of this recipe.
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Put dry ingredients - the flour, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano, salt, and cinnamon - into a small bowl. Stir with a fork. Set bowl near the stove. Have tomato paste and broth ready.
  2. In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, warm the oil until it’s it’s hot enough - you will see the oil slightly ripple and give off heat. Check with a sprinkle of the flour/spice mixture - it should sizzle.
  3. Add the remaining mixture. Whisk constantly until toasted, about 1 minute. Whisk in tomato paste. Slowly pour in the broth - whisking constantly to remove any lumps.
  4. Raise heat to bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook, whisking, for about 5 to 7 minutes, until it has thickened. Reduce heat if the mixture begins to boil instead of gently simmering.
  5. Remove from heat; whisk in the vinegar. Allow to cool and taste, adjusting with more salt and pepper if needed.
Recipe Notes
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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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