Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Reindeer Were Schvitzing (or, Holiday Recipe Testing in the Dog Days of Summer)

Much like the fashion industry, many food companies plan ahead for their seasonal offerings. While my friends in the fashion world are figuring out what’s going to be hot in Spring 2011, we’re (literally) getting hot over recipe ideas for our holiday 2010 projects.

In the past couple of years, we’ve been creating holiday specific products for a well loved grocery store chain in town. Until the plans are set (and the favorites chosen), I can’t spill the apples beans too much about the project.

We’ve been spending the past couple of weeks revising recipes from last season as well as working out and refining some new ideas, and if my staff isn’t tired to eating apples and cranberries in 90 degree heat, they will be. (Either that or I will have gotten clobbered with a rolling pin before the next test batch makes it out of the oven).

There are always challenges when thinking about what customers will be interested in eating/purchasing in the coming months. As someone who struggles to meal plan for the week ahead, it’s tough to imagine what I’m going to be eating in October. So we use our best guess, a bit of creativity, sales data from the prior year and put some ideas out there.

Additionally, we find ourselves work out recipes sometimes with less than seasonal (or local) ingredients to get to our decisions. It’s definitely not apple season yet here in Oregon, but I needed a couple of fresh (erm not frozen) ones and was grateful I could find them, even if they were from last year’s crop.

At the end of the day, it’s also a good team building and learning experience. Everyone has a different palate and likes & dislikes. I try to give everyone a chance to input their ideas and feedback and I enjoy watching the process evolve to arrive our final recipes. Obviously not every idea is marketable, but it gets us thinking about the various elements of a recipe.
Besides having an opportunity to contribute, if there’s a chance we’re going to be baking a few hundred of any of these, the process is smoother if we’re excited about the outcome.

Now I need to get back to my costing spreadsheets and finalize the ingredients pricing. I know leather is a hot item in fashion for fall 2010, but how much do you think cranberries will cost?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Weekday Cooking: Tarting Up The Vegetable Left Overs

We’re in vegetable harvest heaven right now (isn’t everyone?) and as much as I enjoy the summer bounty, there are generally left over harvest remnants from the week. A few tomatoes, an extra ear of corn, a partial bunch of basil, I know I’m not alone in this.

During the week, the goal is to find dishes that allow something to simmer/bake/marinade while the rest of the meal comes together (or sometimes just cooks on it’s own while I relax on the couch).

I dislike wasting food, especially during our local growing season when everything is at it’s peak and that encourages me to get creative using up the bits and pieces. It was a pleasant enough day that using the oven wasn’t out of the question, so I arrived at a simple ricotta tart as the base for a simple salad of vegetable remnants.

The tart is simple to put together: 15oz (one small container) of fresh ricotta, 3 eggs, one cup grated cheese of your preference (I used aged parmesan) and two teaspoons of herbs.  I had chives in the fridge and thought they would work well.
Grease a 9” round or square pan and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. (Everyone’s oven is different, so check on the tart after 30 mins).
You’re welcome to use a pie crust as a base if you’d like something more fancy, but I was serving the tart with garlic bread and didn’t want to over starch us up.

While the tart was baking, I diced up the tomatoes, sliced the corn from the cobb and added it to the tomatoes then hand tore up a few leaves of basil. It came out to be a little less than 2 cups of salad. I tossed the mixture with a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, and pinches of salt, pepper and oregano.

After pulling the tart out of the oven and letting it rest for 10 minutes, I cut the tart into wedges and spooned some of the marinating salad over it.

The ricotta tart is a great base for most vegetables as the herbs you add can be tailored to whatever your mood. I’ve made it to go with various vegetable sautees, fresh tomato sauces and in colder weather warm sauces. (And in our house, it’s also great for breakfast!)

Now I just need to work on not photographing things on our black plates… 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Data Geek (or For Once, It's Not My Math!)

I like data, which is interesting for someone who failed badly at math in school.
Unlike my dislike of calculating distances/points/planes/lines to get from x to y (or some days, just simple addition), data gives me answers right off the bat. Basically, someone else did the math and I get to review the outcome.

Mostly I am referring to our various web-tracking services. In running any business, you can never have too much information. For this case, I’m interested in how people are looking at our website and reading our blog (yes even you, good friends!).

Information such as how much time someone is spending and what content they’re looking at while visiting us helps form plans for updating our content (yes, it’s probably time) as well as the types of content users (which could be customers or potential clients) are looking for.

I consider our website a constant work in progress (much like owning anything else) some projects get taken care of and some languish (erm, sorry about the farmers market calendar this year folks!).

However, the average visitor spends 1.5 minutes/90 seconds on our site looking at an average of three pages (I filter out bots like search engines, so it’s not all Google downloading our site). The industry “norm” is about 30 seconds. Yeah, I am awed and impressed.

I also enjoy where visitors are coming from (esp. outside the US). Hello Finland, Australia and Japan!  There’s been many a week when I’ve walked into our kitchen and said “who knows someone in absolutely-no-clue-where-this-is Minnesota?” No one? Cool! Wonder how they found us…

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blog Notes: What We’re Working on/Obsessing/Jingling About

Yes, I know, I managed to change the profile pic here on our blog without posting anything new. There’s just been lots of running around lately (really!). Fuggedaboudit!

Latest Tart: Peach Feta Arugula.

We’re having a great season testing out various fruit flavors at the farmer’s market, I love this flavor combo, but it’s not selling as well as the Strawberry Goat Basil Cheese one did. Looks like it’s time to work on a new flavor.

Latest obsession.
Business cards from Moo arrived! Great way to extend you marketing with a noteworthy product shot.

Latest project: Holiday 2010
Yes, while most of you are planning your last summer get away, we have holiday 2010 projects to plan for. There’s forecasting, labor allocation estimates and cost analysis galore going on in spreadsheets behind the scenes.

I know I’m not alone in this, I started out an email to one vendor we work with quoting the lyrics from “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”  - he answered with the next stance (There'll be parties for hosting / Marshmallows for toasting/And caroling out in the snow).  We all like to eat during the holidays, figuring out how much we’ll all be merrily consuming takes some planning.

So that’s the latest from our corner of tart world. Still waiting on word for tomatoes, they’ve been waylaid by our non-conformist la nina weather pattern this year. And if tomatoes are this late…I can only imagine when our first butternut squash will arrive!