Spring brings change to Meadballs

Meadballs is undergoing some changes. The weekly delivery service is finished. Instead I plan to offer fresh salads using seasonal greens, veggies, and grilled protein at area farmer’s markets. The locations and dates will be posted here, and e-mailed out to subscribers of my newsletter.

Why the change?

The main reason is that I will be going to nursing school full-time at Mercyhurst North East, graduating in 2020. Ideally I will be taking a couple of classes this summer to get back into the groove of the classroom – a place I haven’t spent any serious time since graduating from Boston University more than 30 years ago.

In the time since then, and even during college, I was a journalist. When the time came to leave the newspaper business two years ago, I was looking for my part 2.0. I applied to nursing school then – a different university – but didn’t get into the program.

So I stuck to what I knew – writing, freelancing, blogging. That worked for nearly a year, until my income source ceased accepting my freelance pitches.

Why? The company knows the answer. It wasn’t shared with me.

That meant it was time to consider 2.1, which included a food truck selling baked goods. Given the negative health effects of sugar, I switched it up to something healthier, which eventually became Meadballs. Three meals, featuring regionally sourced foods – delivered once a week.

My customers were/are great. They were incredibly supportive. They suffered through some of my experiments (some items don’t travel well, or work well in large quantities); and I learned about the many underserved health and dietary concerns  – such as offering gluten-free foods (like salad dressings, soups, etc), and vegan prepared foods that don’t star tofu- or soybean-based impersonations of cheeses, meats, etc.

My business model was built on this being a 15-hour-a-week job, with a related income. This was to give me time to travel, be a mom, and enjoy hiking, kayaking, and the like (in no particular order). The the plan to deliver Wednesdays (like Blue Apron) was replaced by demand for Monday (who wants to cook on Monday?), and limited weekend getaways.

January is always a time to look forward – so I looked at where I wanted to be in 2020 when my daughter graduates from high school. I needed work that could go anywhere in the country – or world. And that was in high demand (not true of journalists). And I was back at nursing.

And that also meant taking an entrance exam. For three weeks I  immersed myself  in algebra and biology. I can’t tell you how incredible Khan Academy and Crash Course were. Combined with a print study guide, I relearned subjects that  hadn’t paid any attention to in 35 years (and I swear some of the stuff I never learned at all, clearly). In February, my score was high enough to get me into the RN program, instead of the LPN program I originally applied for.

So here I am. I will be starting version 2.something just after I turn 55. I will graduate from Mercyhurst at the same time as my daughter does from Fairview High School.

And then we will both be packing our bags for the next chapter.

Bake Madeleines for April in Paris

I’m head over heels in love – with spring. Everything about it renews my soul. The sound of the birds fills my head with song – sweeping away some of the darker thoughts of winter. On my walks I inhale the perfumes of the daffodils, the hyacinths just coming up  – even the dark, dampness of the soil.

The creeks are filled with purpose, rushing by the willow trees with the laughter of a young child. That same creek will meander like an old man by the time August comes around. But, for now, it reminds me of a toddler in a bathtub.

Out on the lake, the ducks, geese, and gulls are chatting away with their honks, squawks, and dives into the water.

The flowering tree outside my widow is showing small white flowers. If I look away too long, I suspect they will burst forth into bloom.

Yes, the the world is alive again.

Springtime reminds me of Paris. The last time I visited we were on the cusp between spring and summer – having the honor of experiencing both seasons (according to the calendar). In truth, the first day was gorgeous – and we were jetlagged. I think it was rainy and 50 degrees every day after. The Seine was threatening its riverbanks.

I visited during all four seasons – fall, winter, spring, and summer. And will be returning in early June. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to revisit during all the the seasons again. But, at the same time, there are other countries to visit as well.

In any case, it is spring. And I am thinking of Paris. Which makes me think of sitting at café outside, eating and drinking my way through one of my favorite cities. And this makes me think of the famous French madeleines, the little cakes shaped like shells that are famous in Paris.

Being very American, I was at first disappointed in madeleines. They weren’t cakes. They were cake-like cookies. I expected CAKE. American cake. Big slices of cake.

Over time, I appreciate how the French eat. They eat sweets, and croissants, and butter, and sauces, and French fries (called frites), and steak, and, and, and. And they aren’t fat. That’s because they eat in moderation.

So just one (or two) madeleines should take care of that sweet tooth after dinner.

They don’t keep. They are best eaten the day they are made. Don’t put into plastic or a container to try to save them. It won’t help. The batter keeps well in the fridge, so you can just make a small batch for a craving.

Like all things French, there is a debate about the correct way to make them. At issue is whether to use baking powder or not. If you do, use one without aluminum (so there is no tinny flavor), such as Rumsford (red and black label). I don’t use baking powder for mine because I don’t like the taste. As a result, my cakes are a little denser than those made with the baking powder.

I do use cake flour. Most recipes call for all-purpose flour. It’s up to you. I find them to be a little more delicate with the cake flour. If you do use AP, I like Gold Medal for baking. It’s a Cook’s Illustrated favorite.

Madeleines are made in a specific pan, which violates my code not to buy pans for just one purpose. Sometimes you just have to break the rules. If you are buying one, buy nonstick. Otherwise, I like to melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter with 1 tablespoon of flour. Then I brush that into the indentations in the pan to keep them from sticking. Remove the little cakes from the pans about 3 minutes after they come out of the oven.

You can glaze them with lemon and powdered sugar. Or I just sprinkle with powdered sugar.

TIP: Use a tea ball with a handle as a go-to powdered sugar spinkler for cakes, cookies, etc. It sifts, sprinkles, and can be stored in the container with the sugar.

Enjoy.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
French Madeleines
Course dessert
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Use an electric mixer to beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla, lemon peel and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Stream in 10 tablespoons of the cooled melted butter in into the batter, beating just until blended.
  2. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
  3. In the meantime, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the melted butter. Stir to combine. Use a pastry brush to coat the indentations in your pan. (Don't use it all. This recipe makes from 24 to 30 cookies). Place madeleine pan in freezer for 1 hour.
  4. Spoon batter into each indentation in pan, estimating it to be about 3/4 full. Do not spread it out. This will be about a scant tablespoon, depending on the size of your molds. Mine take about 2 teaspoons.
  5. Bake for 8 minutes. Turn pan. Bake for another 3-5 minutes. The madeleines should be browned around the edges and slightly golden on top. Remove from oven and cool 3-5 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch.
  6. Dust cookies with powdered sugar.
Recipe Notes

You can make a batch of the madeleines and then refrigerate the remaining batter to make more the next day. This will keep for about 3 days.

Some people will decrease the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and add 1 to 2 tablespoons each of honey and brown sugar; add 1 more egg; add baking powder; add lemon juice, etc. This is a recipe, once you make it, that you can then make your own. I sometimes use almond extract instead of vanilla. Or you could add lemon extract to boost the lemon flavor.

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Rhubarb and Strawberries perfect pair

strawberry rhubarb

The French almost spoiled rhubarb for me forever. There are very few foods on my “do not eat” list, and rhubarb was on there. I couldn’t fathom why anyone wanted to eat what I perceived to be a tart version of celery. I only eat that when it is chopped finely like a mirepoix. No ants on log in this house.

But I like to test my dislikes every now and again. So on a trip to Paris a few years ago, I gave it a try as a dessert choice during prix fixe three-course meal. Stewed. That should have given it away. It tasted like tart limp celery.

Fortunately, the relentless press of rhubarb recipes in the late spring caught my eye a year ago and I gave it a try again – chopped finely and paired with strawberries in a crisp or crumble. The fine chop eliminates my texture issue, while the tart flavor pairs deliciously with strawberries.

Now, when it comes into season I buy it. I don’t always know how I am going to prepare it, but I buy it anyway. It keeps for a bit, like celery, so you can wait for inspiration. In my case, it came in the form of Tuesday night dinner. My beau was coming over and he has a sweet tooth (as do both my daughter and I). I temporarily exhausted the chocolate category for his birthday.

Borrowing a recipe from Food52, I chopped up 1 pound rhubarb, 1 pound strawberries and added them to a pot with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and let it sit for an hour. Then I brought it to a boil and simmered for about 20 minutes, until it was nice and thick. I put into into jars, add lids, and refrigerate until ready to use. I dollop spoonfuls in my yogurt in the morning and put it on ice cream at night. It’s strawberry jam at the next level.

For our dessert, the strawberry rhubarb jam topped a fluffy cheesecake baked in a Mason jar, a recipe I adapted from Martha Stewart. I made a few minor alterations.

I can tell you I converted two rhubarb haters into lovers, both asking for some extra jam to top their cheesecakes as they dug in.Cheesecake an a Jar

This seems like a lot of eggs compared to my normal cheesecake recipe, which calls for 1 egg per 8 ounces of cream cheese. The eggs make it fluffy instead of dense, which is perfect in these jars.

Filling

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 ounces mascarpone or sour cream (1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon fruit preserves or jam
  • 6  6-ounce jars

Crust

  • 4 chocolate or regular graham crackers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

 

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Fill a small pot or a teakettle with water and get it ready to boil. You are going to bake these cheesecakes in a bain marie (water bath) to keep the temperature even.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and mascarpone (or sour cream) until smooth with an electric mixer. Add sugar and beat until it is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Mix in salt (1/4 teaspoon), lemon juice and vanilla.

Divide batter among six 6-ounce jars, filling each about half full first then using any remaining batter to even them out.

Put a baking dish large enough to hold the jars, a 9×9 square dish will work, on the middle rack in the heated oven. Place jars in the baking dish. Fill the dish with boiling water until about halfway up the side of the jars.

Cover with foil that has had 4-6 large slits cut into it to vent. Bake until set in the center, about 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate overnight to set.

You can serve these the same day, as I did, by gradually changing the hot water to cold once the cheesecakes are baked.  When you remove them from the oven, place the hot pan in the sink. Remove foil. Add tepid water to the dish to gradually lower the temperature. Once the dish has the tepid water in it, gradually add ice cubes to chill down the cheesecakes. Go slowly – don’t dump a bunch of ice all in at one time, or you risk cracking the baking dish and the cheesecake jars. Add ice as it melts. They should be ready to eat in about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, turn graham crackers into crumbs in either a blender or food processor (or buy crumbs). Add sugar and pulse several times to combine. Then add melted butter and process until just incorporated. Spread onto a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes.

When cheesecakes are ready to serve, spoon some preserves on top and sprinkle with graham topping. Place any extra preserves and topping in separate bowls and serve along with the cheesecakes so guests can replenish as they scoop out the cheesecake.

Contact me at marnie@marniemeadmedia.com.