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Working with Extension

A smiling woman wearing a blue shirt stands in front of a frozen food aisle in a grocery store.
Karen Kurr, business owner

No Time 2 Cook brings home southern specialties

It’s been a little more than 10 years since Karen Kurr stood behind her array of slow cookers at a North Mississippi farmers market and offered samples of savory meals from the bayous of her native Louisiana: spicy gumbo, crawfish étouffée, and red beans and rice.

At the time, Hurricane Katrina had devastated the coast, and many survivors had come north.

“It smells like my mama’s kitchen,” one customer told her.

When she tasted Kurr’s home cooking, her eyes welled with tears.

“I haven’t tasted gumbo like that since I left New Orleans,” the customer said.

Sold out by day’s end, Kurr realized she had a new business opportunity on her hands, and she named it No Time 2 Cook.

Helping Hands

Like many home-based entrepreneurs, Kurr had a lot to learn about running a business, especially one as heavily regulated as the food industry. She turned to the Mississippi State University Extension Service and began learning everything she could about turning No Time 2 Cook into a profitable operation.

From the “Food as a Business” workshop to personal consultations with food science and business experts, Kurr had a network of professionals she could rely on to help her get her business off the ground.

“When I had to have FDA-approved labels, I turned to Dr. Anna Hood with the Extension Service,” she says. “I have a degree in home economics but little formal foods training. I was at the mercy of those with expertise, yet fortunate to be building a food business in a state with one of the strongest food-support systems in the country.”

Extension offers a wide variety of services to those in the food industry, from holding classes on best practices, food defense, and safety, to working with MSU scientists on product analyses and consumer preferences.

“I went to classes required for licensing and got help from MSU agricultural economists on pricing and cost analysis. Without their help, my dream would have been impossible,” Kurr asserts.

A True Home Business

Kurr’s business, like her love of cooking, started at home. But if she had lived in town, zoning laws would have kept her from expanding.

“As we grew, we turned a room attached to our house into a commercial kitchen,” she explains. “Then we took over my daughter’s bedroom, the sunroom, my husband’s office, and the entire garage. I hired several friends to help with the cooking, and my driveway began to look like a car lot.”

Kurr cooked, froze, and sold her signature Cajun dishes at flea markets and farmers markets. Over time she expanded the menu to include casseroles, side dishes, desserts, and appetizers, including downhome favorites, such as shrimp and grits, old-fashioned meatloaf, and home-style chicken pie.

A Commitment to Family and Quality

Kurr's passion for quality food and family mealtimes changed both her cooking habits and her career. After she had her second child, Kurr spent weekends batch cooking so she’d have suppers on hand.

“When I got home from work, I’d pull dinner out of the freezer, add steamed vegetables, a salad, and bread, and we would sit down together as a family and eat,” she remembers. “The idea behind No Time 2 Cook’s frozen foods actually came from the way I fed my family as I tried to keep up with our busy lifestyle.”

Her own childhood experiences also inspired her business. When she was growing up, Kurr’s family spent their weekends on the family farm.

“My daddy’s hobbies included raising Black Angus cattle, tending his grape vineyard, and making homemade wine,” she says. “My mother was an organic gardener before anyone knew about organic gardening, and we grew up eating her fresh vegetables in the summer and home-canned and frozen vegetables through the winter.”

Because of Kurr’s dedication to fresh, high quality ingredients, all of No Time 2 Cook’s original recipes are cooked from scratch.

“We try to keep our ingredients list as short and simple as possible, and we stay away from added preservatives and extenders,” she explains. “We use real dairy products, such as butter, milk, cheese, and cream. We also avoid MSG and hydrogenated oils.”

No Time 2 Cook is proof families do not have to sacrifice flavor or quality to eat a quick, family-style meal at home.

A Blessing in Disguise

One day Kurr got a phone call that changed her life and almost put her out of business. She had been renting spaces in antique malls around North Mississippi and keeping freezers in those spaces stocked with her products for sale. Unfortunately, selling meat products this way violated U.S. Department of Agriculture rules.

Kurr faced a big decision: To expand her business, she had to be able to wholesale all of her products. But without a facility regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she would be limited to nonmeat products.

“I had to build a bigger house and move, build a food plant and move the business out of the house, or just shut down altogether and find another use of my time,” she says.

Kurr decided to build what is now the only USDA-approved small casserole plant in Mississippi.

Once again, she turned to the MSU Extension Service for help.

“Anna and Ken Hood helped me with all kinds of issues, and I toured the food production facilities at MSU,” she says.

The Taste of Success

Today, buying this Mississippi-made product has never been easier. No Time 2 Cook products can be found with the family-sized meals in freezers at 300 Kroger grocery stores across the Southeast, and plans are in place for continued expansion. No Time 2 Cook offers mail order delivery nationwide.

“When I began this business 11 years ago, hauling coolers to local farmers markets, I had no idea we would end up in one of the largest grocery chains in the world,” she reflects. “At the time, I was just thrilled to see my customers returning every week to buy more of my family favorites. In looking back at the company’s growth, it seems like it should have been an impossible task—and it would have been, if not for the support and knowledge I gained from the Mississippi State Extension Service.

“Every call and visit I made to campus was met with valuable information, new resources, and encouragement. I think one of the most important things Drs. Anna and Ken Hood gave me was their belief that I could be successful, but they also gave me the tools to do so. I will forever be grateful to them and to the Extension Service for being there for me.”

Beyond her commercial success, Kurr’s heartfelt hope is that her business will help her customers.

“Studies have concluded that the single most important thing families can do to cut down on drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity among their teens is to sit down at the family table, share meals, and really talk to each other,” she says. “By providing affordable, home-style meals, I hope No Time 2 Cook can strengthen American families by helping to bring them back to the dinner table.”

To learn more about No Time 2 Cook, including product descriptions, recipes, and a store locator, go to http://www.notime2cook.com.

Karen’s almost homemade TAMALE LAYERED DIP

Prep time: 15 min.

Cook time: 15 min.

Total time: 30 min

Serves 12-15 appetizer servings

  • 1 No Time 2 Cook Tamale Pie— Available at Kroger in the frozen family meals section
  • 8 oz. Sour cream
  • 8 oz. Guacamole
  • 8 oz. Chunky Salsa or fresh Pico de Gallo, drained if too watery Lettuce, shredded Tomato, chopped Cheddar cheese, grated Green onions, chopped
  • 4 oz. Black olives, drained Tortilla or corn chips

Microwave the Tamale Pie for 15 to 18 minutes, and stir every 3 to 4 minutes. [May bake according to package directions, which takes about 60 to 70 minutes.] Stir the tamale topping and filling occasionally while it’s cooking.

Spread the tamale mixture on the bottom of your serving dish.

Spread the sour cream, then the guacamole, and then the salsa over the tamale mixture. Layer the lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions, and olives over the salsa.

Serve with chips. Enjoy!

By Keri Collins Lewis

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Extension Matters volume 2 number 3.

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