Spring tips for grilling season

The goslings are in the creek. The fish are spawning. The daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips are up. The tomato seedlings are getting ready for transplant. The radishes and lettuces are sprouting.  I’d say the sun was out, but that may be stretching the truth a bit in Erie. And the Golden Snowglobe contest is finally over.

Spring is here. Erie won.

My non-competitive nature could give a hoot about the latter. I’m ecstatic about the former.

I’m a spring kind of gal. I was born in the spring. I’m like a plant. I thrive on sun, water, and warmth. If I never wear another pair of jeans, turtleneck, or sweater again, I will be a happy camper. That’s because I’m a dress and skort kind of gal. Goes with spring, summer, and even parts of fall.

I’m also a grill kind a gal. Give me fire and I’m a happy cooker. I cook with both the Big Green Egg (charcoal) and a gas grill. Depends on my mood. And tastes.

I have lots of toys for winter cooking. Each year I add another (or two). In the fall I added the InstaPot. Makes a mean broth, mushroom risotto, beans, and more. Sous vide cooking (hot water bath) was also a hit. Makes an awesome poached chicken and salmon. Both devices require little attending (the sous vide even works off an app on my phone).

Yet nothing gives me more cooking joy than fire – whether it be for fish, steak, chicken, pork, lamb, or even vegetables. I make a really mean grilled ratatouille. And pizza. And cobblers.

Each year I’m honored Karen Duran asks me to be a judge for Duran’s Down Home Days Cast Iron Cookoff at the Waterford Fair Grounds – May 19 and 20. The teams cook over an open fire in various categories over the two days – vegetable, dessert, protein, etc – using secret ingredients they find out on cooking day. The competitors are amazingly creative in their use of the secret ingredient (some coming up with 3 variations on one plate) and their dedication. One year it snowed.

5  tips for cooking protein over an open fire:

  1. Pound your chicken breasts so they are uniformly thick, about 3/4 of an inch.
  2. Brine your chicken, turkey, or pork. The night before, fill a zip baggie with 1/3 cup kosher salt and 1/4 cup sugar in 2 quarts  water (Serious Eats). You can add seasonings like lemon, rosemary, thyme, peppercorns. Add your chicken or pork (this works for about 2 pounds) for at least 30 minutes, or overnight. Remove from brine and pat dry about a half hour before cooking. Brush with a neutral oil. You can add a rub at this point.
  3.  For steaks, I like to  dry brine/r. You can read more about it here and  here.I rub the steaks with salt and pepper (or seasoned salt and pepper).  Place on a rack on a baking sheet (or a plate) uncovered in the refrigerator the night before cooking (ideally 24 to 72 hours). Alton Brown wraps his in paper towels and does this 4 days before cooking. I rarely think that far ahead. Remove from fridge 30 to 60 minutes before grilling.
  4. For fish steaks (tuna, swordfish, salmon steaks), make sure it is well oiled. I like a semi-neutral-flavored oil like sunflower/olive oil blend. Or use canola oil. Do not use extra-virgin olive oil because that is not for grilling. I do not use “vegetable” oil because that is soy based and I’m sensitive to soy. For traditional oven-baked fish, I will also use the grill (keeps the smell outside and adds a little extra flavor.) Just cook it on a sheet of heavy-foil with the edges folded or crimped up to keep the juices from running out.
  5. Use a timer. Yes. I use a timer and I’ve been doing this for nearly 4 decades. Cooking times depend on thickness and the protein. In general, I flip after 5 minutes. I then cook another 3 to 5 more minutes. A thermometer will be your best bet for telling the doneness of chicken (technically 165 degrees), but if you take a knife point to the middle of a chicken breast and insert about 1/4 inch – see if the juices run clear. That’s a good sign.

I’m a huge fan of an espresso rubbed grilled steak – sliced – and then served on top of a salad. It’s a sure taste of spring. You can buy the rub – or make this one from Ina Garten.

You can find as many different recipes for grilled steak as there are for grilling it. I’m a big fan of direct heat, high, on both sides. You do need to be mindful because if you are cooking a ribeye or New York strip with a nice fat ratio, you might get grill flare ups. Best to stand by so your steak isn’t cooked beyond repair.

3 tips for steaks

  1. Don’t poke when grilling. Or squish. Or squash.
  2. Flip once.
  3. Don’t cut until the steak has rested for 5 minutes. This allows the meat to settle, relax, and retain those lovely juices.
Print Recipe
Grilled Steak Salad with Espresso Rub
Follow this recipe to grill steak. Then slice thin over your favorite greens, along with some cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, cucumber. Blue cheese crumbles are also an option. A drizzle with balsamic vinegar and some olive oil completes the salad. A loaf of fresh bread rounds out your meal.
  1. Sprinkle kosher salt on both sides of each steak. Not so much that is is encrusted. Think at least 1 teaspoon - remember kosher or sea salt, not table salt. Grind fresh pepper on both sides. Place on a rack over a plate or pan lined with foil. Put in refrigerator 24 to 72 hours before cooking. Do not cover.
  2. Remove steaks from refrigerator about an hour before cooking. Brush steaks with canola oil (or any neutral oil) on both sides. Rub each steak with about 1 tablespoon of the espresso rub. All to sit at room temperature while you prepare your grill.
  3. Over high heat, grill steaks on one side for about 5 minutes. Flip and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes for medium-rare (an internal temperature of 135 degrees F), 5 to 7 minutes for medium (140 degrees F) or 8 to 10 minutes for medium-well (150 degrees F).
  4. Remove from grill. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing thin.
  5. In the meantime. Place a mound of greens in the middle of each plate. Arrange cucumber, tomato, onion slices around the outer edge of the greens. Top with sliced steak, pouring any additional juices on top.
  6. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Sprinkle with blue cheese crumbles if desired.
  7. Enjoy!
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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).





Coming soon – Meadballs in Ireland.

Print Recipe
Tahini Brownies
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Course dessert
Cuisine American
  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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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.




Print Recipe
Caramelized Cabbage and Onion Pizza with Smoked Cheese
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
  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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Market Monday: Exploring a Virginia Farmer’s Market

It was so hot this weekend visiting the Virginia Meads that even the chocolate nor the doughnut sellers decided not to go the farmer’s market in Falls Church this weekend. There are 50 vendors at the market during the height of the season, so there were plenty of other vendors did show up, giving us plenty to choose from among the tomatoes, peaches, berries, cheeses, baked goods, organic meat producers and flowers that braved the 90-degree temps at 9 a.m.

imageWe arrived when it was a few degrees cooler at, oh 86 degrees a little before 8 a.m. By the time we left, it was too hot to even consider making any more decisions.
The stories of most of the vendors are fascinating. There’s the baker from Paris, Bonaparte Breads, of Savage, Maryland, who had exquisite pastries. The pane au chocolate were perfect, but she had selections that included multi-berry tarts, a blueberry and peach tart, quiche, almond croissant and lots of beads. I think standing in the sun for this alone was worth it.

Then there was Chris’ Marketplace, sellers of the most divine crab cakes. Chris Hoge, chef and owner, has been written up in Saveur, Gourmet and the Washingtonian. A fisherman who has worked the entire East Coast and down into the islands, says his secret was a sauce that accidentally fell into a plate of crab. The resulting seasoning was so perfect that is the reason for his success, he said. He’s got a second business going as well, making sopas from a traditional Mexican corn. He didn’t have any samples this weekend.
My sister-in-law Jenna picked up a bottle of wine from North Gate Vineyard, based in Loudoun County, Virginia. We talked wines, including Presque Isle Vineyards. it is a small world. Owned by Mark and Vicki Fedor, North Gate became a fully licensed Farm Winery in 2007. They produced their first grapes in 2002. An interesting dry wine they suggested was the Rkatsiteli, (you pronounce the “R”), which originated in the Republic of Georgia. A crisp white, it would be delish in the summer.
In addition to the fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers, we appreciated the prepared foods, which solved the dinner problem before I had finished my second cup of coffee. Cold Pantry Foods had a half-dozen types of frozen pizza to buy. The owners, Bob and Carol Vogel, started in business by selling pestos. But pesto is a limited product – so they use the pesto in all of their pizzas, which have a broader appeal.
We finished at a stop at Cavanna Pasta, which had a super array of homemade pastas. If I wasn’t traveling to Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon, I probably would have brought a cooler full to take home. We settled on the sausage tortellini and containers of homemade vodka sauce and a ragu.


imageAmong the other highlights were Sexy Vegie, out of Baltimore, which offered lots of hummus along with salads. I bought a beet and apple salad, which would have been great topped with some local goat cheese from a nearby vendor (Sexy Vegie is vegan). Alas, I left before I could enjoy it, but I’m hoping to recreate it later this summer.
Finally, I will get to taste the wares of Stachowski Brand Charcuterie, from the D.C. Metro Area, because Jenna bought some lamb sausage to bring to Erie at the end of this week for my father.

While hot, this was a great way to get a taste of this region of Virginia and have an easy dinner at the same time. Kudos to the folks in Falls Church.
Erie, are you listening?
With all of the bounty of the region, why is it so hard for Erie County to coordinate this effort. I would think as part of the Health Department war on diabetes and obesity, this could be a worthwhile project.
I am in Philadelphia this week watching the Democratic National Convention and will post more from the other end of our state.
In the meantime, this is one of my favorite summer recipes that was inspired by Martha Stewart.

Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad

3 ears of cooked corn, kernels removed
2 cups sliced grape, cherry or other small tomatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons finely diced red onion or 2 green onions, sliced
1 avocado, seed removed, and diced
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 jalapeño, finely chopped (optional)

In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes with lime juice and salt and allow to sit for about 15 minutes to draw out the juices. Add remaining ingredients and serve.


Stay cool. Eat local.