×

Local women provide creative meals perfect for those always on the go

  • Molly Merrett works on preparing meals for Atlas Farm’s store in Deerfield. Merrett says by leaving meat out of her dishes, she is able to keep their costs down. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Some recent offerings from Your Family Chef include a pulled pork sandwich on focaccia bread, front, and stuffed eggplant.

  • Betsy Hennemann of Chesterfield renovated half of her basement in order to cook out of her house and create a food preparation and delivery business called “Your Family Chef.” gazette staff/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • Meals prepared by Molly Merrett for her delivery service. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



For The Recorder
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A bowl of curried sweet potato soup with cilantro, lime and coconut milk. A cheese pizza made from scratch. A beefy burrito with salsa. These are the sorts of meals that warm your belly and your soul. They are comfort foods that conjure up thoughts of lazy afternoons spent cooking. The trouble is, there seems to be a shortage of lazy afternoons.

Time is a luxury that many people just don’t have.

That’s where Betsy Hennemann, 46, and Molly Merrett, 36, come in. These two are each part personal chef and part delivery woman.

Hennemann is a one-woman band, an entrepreneur who runs the business Your Family Chef out of her Chesterfield home. Merrett runs Beets & Barley in Haydenville, with one part-time employee, which provides vegetarian and vegan meals. They are part of a niche market that caters to people throughout western Massachusetts who don’t have the time to cook for themselves, but still want to eat nutritious, farm-fresh food.

“I feel like I am giving my customers more time to do the things that they love,” Hennemann says. It means less time worrying about food and more time eating it, the women say.

Merrett alternates dishes seasonally. Hennemann’s menu changes each week.

They both offer reliably affordable meals that range in price from $7 to $10. They say that their services can cut down on waste and customers can even save money on their grocery bills. Neither of them have a culinary background. They just have a love of food and a passion for feeding people.

The Beets & Barley menu is listed online. Hennemann, who doesn’t yet have a website, creates a new Your Home Chef menu every week that she shoots out by email to her subscribers every Friday. Some of Hennemann’s dishes are old favorites like the enchiladas, others like salads with homemade dressing make an occasional appearance. Both deliver up to a week’s worth of food, depending on customers’ orders, one day a week.

The concept is similar to the slew of national meal delivery services like Blue Apron, that delivers ingredients and a recipe to customers’ doorsteps. Then there is Plated, which promises chef-designed recipes and precisely measured ingredients delivered each week. As these national meal delivery services have sprung up over the years, local entrepreneurs have taken notice and have opted to offer consumers something the big companies can’t: “It is very personal and that is the way I like it,” Hennemann says.

Hennemann and Merrett often see their clients at their front doors. They meet their families. They know their dietary restrictions, offering gluten-free, and vegetarian options. There is also no long-term commitment. Customers pay for meals as they go each week, unlike many of the national companies that require an ongoing subscription.

“There was nowhere for local, scratch-made food around here, so I thought, ‘all right let’s give it a shot,’” says Hennemann, who launched Your Home Chef almost two years ago. “Cooking has always been my art.”

Your Home Chef

A 2-foot-tall caldron of beef chili is simmering on the stove in Hennemann’s work kitchen in a renovated part of her basement. She stirs, barely looking up from the pot, a baseball cap low on her forehead. She spends hours down here every week hovering over hot plates. Sometimes it gets lonely with just her creations, like savory cheese pies and veggie lasagna, to keep her company, she says.

But after a 22-year career as a preschool teacher, she needed a change, she says, and took a risk to launch her business. To get the word out at first, she told friends around town and advertised through social media. It caught on fast: She has a few dozen regular customers. About 200 people get her weekly menu and about 30 to 45 orders — which usually includes multiple meals each — come in every week. Some people buy a week’s worth of food, others just want lunch or dinner for that day. Right now, she says, she can handle making only 120 meals per week. This is all on top of regular catering jobs.

She hasn’t established geographic boundaries for her delivery service yet. So far, most of her customers are in the hilltowns, but she has customers as far away as Greenfield. She spends a whole day each week driving around to make deliveries. “It is such a challenge, but I'm happy,” she says.

Her husband Wayne, 51, and her son Jack, 11, get what she’s cooking for her customers. “If my son wants something now he will ask me to put it on the menu because he knows that's the only way he will get it. My husband started sending me his order by email so I don't forget about him.”

Since Hennemann is at capacity now, she plans to hire a few employees and open a small grab-and-go store front in Williamsburg within the next few months. Though she will still deliver and her services will not change, this will enable her to cut back on driving, so some of her customers can come to pick up their meals on the way to or from work.

One of her customers, Barbara Simpson of Easthampton, says she eagerly awaits Hennemann’s new menu each Friday morning.

“I tell people I have a personal chef,” she says.

The offerings are limited but creative and the ingredients come from local farms — like the beef from Fuller Farm in Chesterfield. Hennemann doesn’t use recipes, so nothing ever quite tastes the same.

On a recent week’s menu, she had listed just one breakfast item and two entrées:

The “breakfast scramble” came with organic eggs, house-made turkey sausage, potatoes, broccoli and cheddar scrambled together for $7 a serving.

Then there was the “Turkey Crust Pizza,” which, as advertised, has ground turkey in the crust as well as mozzarella cheese and eggs. It is topped with marinara sauce, a bit more mozzarella, pepperoni, sweet peppers and broccoli. A single serving is $8, a double $16 and family size costs $32.

The second entrée was BBQ ribs with mashed potato waffle cakes. The pork ribs came with house-made BBQ sauce. The potato cake batter is a mixture of mashed potato, eggs and flour. The waffle cakes are served with sour cream and chives. Farm fresh zucchini and summer squash came on the side.

“When I tell them it is also affordable, they are surprised,” Simpson says of her friends and acquaintances.

When they’re available, Simpson often goes for the low-carb choices like the salads, but the whole family, which includes her husband, Scott, 56, their son, Kyle, 27, and daughter, Sarah Luce, 25 — who is an emergency room nurse in Springfield, and likes to drop in on short notice — tend to like the Mexican dishes like enchiladas.

Since all of her family members have hectic schedules, it helps to have ready-made food on hand, she says. “Ideally it’s good to eat together, but when you are hungry, you eat when you can.”

As an insurance company manager in Westfield, Simpson has to travel a lot for business, she says, so she wanted to cut back on cooking. She first looked into getting a Blue Apron subscription, but didn’t want to make a long-term commitment. Around that time, she was sitting in a nail salon in Southampton, when she overheard a conversation about Your Family Chef. She found Hennemann’s price to her liking — Simpson spends just $48 for six meals every week — and became hooked right away.

“It’s delicious, healthy, convenient, reasonable — Why wouldn’t you do it?”

Beets & Barley

Like Hennemann, Merrett also buys her ingredients for Beets & Barley from local farms, like Atlas Farm in Deerfield and Stone Soup Farm in Hadley.

Her meals, too, are simple, comfort foods, like pad thai or baked macaroni and cheese with butternut squash and kale. All of her dishes are vegetarian, with many vegan offerings mixed in, like the black bean and sweet potato chili or the kale Caesar salad and roasted root vegetable. By cutting out meat, she says, she is able to keep her meals at about $10 per serving.

Merrett works in the industrial kitchen she rents in the back of a church in Haydenville.

She typically delivers about 10 to 20 meals per week from her menu which has about eight entrees. All of the dishes are offered in either a 16-ounce or 32-ounce container for $10 and $18.

For dessert, customers can order cookies like double chocolate or ginger molasses.

Merrett divides her time between delivering meals, catering and selling her dishes at local farmers markets. She also wholesales food to local establishments like the Atlas Farm Store in South Deerfield.

She started Beets & Barley in 2013 after studying sustainable agriculture at Hampshire College and then spending several years as a farmer. During her time on the farm, she says, she encountered people who said they often wanted to eat healthy, plant-based diets and support local farmers, but just didn’t have the time. That, she says, inspired her to start Beets & Barley.

“I found that there was a disconnect between people having all these great veggies available and no time to prepare them,” she says.

She put up a few fliers and word spread fast, she says. “This is a way for people to access quick meals made with locally grown produce.”

To order or get on Your Family Chef’s weekly menu, email: yourfamilychef@yahoo.com

Beets & Barley offers free delivery to Northampton, Easthampton and Williamsburg. Delivery is available to other towns for an additional fee of $1.50 per mile from the town center of the nearest above mentioned town. Orders must be placed by 9 p.m. on Wednesday for delivery the following Monday

To order meals from Beets & Barley, visit http://www.beetsandbarley.com.

Massaged kale salads with apples and almonds (from Beets & Barley)

Beets & Barley typically uses one bunch of green kale and one bunch of dinosaur kale in this recipe, but any variety that is not too tough or mature can be used.

Ingredients:

2 large bunches kale, about 1½ pounds

2 firm apples such as macoun or cortland

½ cup chopped almonds

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions:

Wash the kale and shake dry, then remove the leaves from the stems, and tear leaves into bite-sized pieces. Heat a small skillet on the stovetop, and toast the almonds until they are fragrant and just starting to brown — set aside.

Cut the apple into ¼-inch cubes, and toss in a little lemon juice to prevent browning.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining lemon juice, oil, maple syrup and salt. Pour the dressing over the kale, and massage with your fingers until the kale has softened and darkened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Taste and add more salt if needed. Top the kale with the apple and toasted almonds.

Turkey crust pizza (from Your Home Chef)

Ingredients:

For the crust:

1 pound ground turkey

1½ cup mozzarella cheese

2 eggs

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

½ teaspoon salt

Instructions:

Mix all ingredients well. Spread into your preferred pizza pan, pressing with fingers until about ½- to ¾-inch thick.

Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned (about 15 minutes).

Remove the crust from the pan and wipe the pan with paper towels to absorb the moisture to allow the crust to crisp up a bit.

Top with your favorite sauce, cheese and toppings, then pop back into the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese melts.