tuesday motivation meal: mad chicken parmesan

Wham!  Tax season reality is certainly setting in quickly.  It’s amazing what two days can do in terms of workload.  We’re already busy with incoming clients now that e-filing has officially begun.  The best part is that the new clients coming in are overall the right ones for our business, making it that much more rewarding to see.

I’m tweaking our marketing efforts just a bit, and it seems we’re in really good shape to take on the season!  We’re really excited for the new interns that will be helping us this year.  And I can’t wait for my new computer to come in, finally, which will be faster that this laptop.

I also heard from my good friend Zoe out in San Francisco… her mom snail mailed some our old photos and I hadn’t seen them in so long.  We are both laughing so much.  Since we didn’t have them when I wrote the original post with Zoe and our culinary adventures with empanadas… we’re sharing a classic one here.  I don’t want these to be misplaced again!

Since it is Mardi Gras this photo is timely! Zoe and I at the IBM dance for families. I remember we both didn’t want to pose for that photo!

This time of year challenges me not only to discipline myself making meals for one or the two of us (when Anna is home), but also to find the time to cook food in a a healthy and tasty way.  One of the mad cafe’s favorite meals is chicken parmesan.

I’m sure this is a classic for many families, whether they enjoy this dish in a restaurant or at home.  Since this is heavy on sauce and cheese, I try to make it a little bit lighter.

 

 

MAD CHICKEN PARMESAN

Prep time: 20 minutes  Cooking time:  45 minutes  Yields:  4-6 servings

Ingredients

4 chicken breasts

It may be odd to substitute part of the panko with hemp seeds, but it gives the Chicken Parm really good texture and flavor

1 jar of spicy marinara (make your own, or your favorite brand)

3-4 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup hemp seeds

4 oz fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp cayenne pepper

2 eggs, beaten in a bowl

2/3 cup shredded mozarella, part-skim

1/2 cup shredded Parmegiano cheese

Salt and Pepper

1 box of pasta, we prefer penne or ditalini – you can opt for whole grain… (to me it tastes like cardboard, so I go for the real thing!)

Directions

Preheat the oven 350F

Mix the whole wheat flour with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Also, mix the panko and hemp seeds in another bowl.

Wash the chicken breasts, dry with paper towels and lay flat on a glass or non-porous cutting board.  With a sharp knife, carefully cut the breasts horizontally – in half.  Dredge each breast in the flour mixture.  Next, dip into the beaten egg, and then coat well with the panko and hemp seeds.  Repeat the process for each chicken breast and set on a platter.

In a skillet heat the olive oil and cook the breasts just enough to turn lightly brown on each side.  Remove and set aside on paper towels.

Meanwhile, make the pasta.  Opt for al dente about 5-7 minutes of boiling in a pot with 1tbsp of olive oil and salt.  Drain.  Mix the pasta with the minced garlic and half of the spicy marinara and layer evenly in an oven safe dish.

Lay the chicken breasts on top of the pasta layer.  Add the rest of the sauce to cover the chicken.  You don’t have to drench it in sauce, just enough to cover it somewhat.  Sprinkle the parsley, mozzarella and parmesan cheese on top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 45minutes.  Remove the cover and set to broil until cheese is brown and sauce is bubbling – about 3-4 minutes.

Serve immediately!

 

 

Pull the rug, sweep the dust, then enjoy shrimp Mykonos style

I hope most of you are off in observation of the holiday, whether catching up on reading, chores, or just enjoying the day.  It’s another absolutely dreamy day here in Palm Beach, with a light breeze coming from the east and low humidity.  A fun day to talk a long walk, but we actually have tax work to do first before heading out to enjoy the outdoors.  On days like this, I like to read, clean and ease into the day – avoiding phone calls as much as possible.

I spoke to Anna this morning, who is with her father this weekend and she’s been productive too!  Per her request, we always set a specific time for our morning and evening call, and today it was 8:21am.  So, we chatted about her homework, Chinese work, the new cookbook she bought yesterday, the new math game they’re all into in school now, and how she’s going to handle swim practice now she has lightly sprained her ankle.  I don’t remember doing so much at her age.

My favorite part was when we talked about the South Florida Fair, which takes place here every January.  We’ve made it a tradition in our family!  I just love going to fairs and tasting the food, watching the shows and people’s reactions — it’s fascinating!  Aside from the pig race, they’ve added a dog trick show this year and it will be so much fun to see.  The dogs are rescued and trained, and rescuing animals is one of fair’s highlights every year.  I hope they will have the vintage candy store again this year!

Othos, Karpathos “tou Xristou” 1980 – on our verandah

And after I spoke to Anna and did some reading, I wondered what story I could share on the blog today.  Too many stories in my head, so I thought I would sweep the floor for some inspiration.  I always prefer a regular broom to vacuuming the floor, and it’s a cathartic experience for me.  Yes, it’s actually not only constructive, but very soothing to sweep away thoughts while revealing a clean surface.  I also rather lift the rugs and sweep underneath whenever possible, than just vacuum the top.

So, here’s a question: how often do you lift the rug and sweep the dust?

I’ve been doing that a lot lately.  It takes a lot of emotional strength and resilience and it isn’t easy, because as you reflect, you really do confront yourself.  My grandmother and I had that in common.  We shared a love for thinking, with a purpose, deeply and with meaning.  We both needed time on our own to center and reflect quietly.

I can still picture her sitting here in the living room (where I’m now writing away) with a very pensive look, her right hand placed on her face and her eyes fixed looking out the window.  You might think she was over analyzing things or overthinking the past, but her thoughts were specific and crystal clear.  She had the ability to zero in and focus with razor sharp precision, which helped her never feel stuck.

In deep thought (Botanical Garden, DC)

So, my yiayia and I would have endless conversations about life when I moved to the States for school.  She’d ask my opinion and then she would share hers, and we’d talk for hours.  I remember it was such a satisfying conversation every time, despite our age difference of nearly seven decades.

Yiayia Aphrodite had opinions about everything, and they had all been well thought out.  If she wasn’t ready to share, she’d be upfront and tell you that she needs to think about it first.  Boy, she was a blunt lady who knew how to set boundaries and was tough.  She knew how to say no, and mean it.  She taught me the importance of having a strong work ethic, respect, and setting limits and boundaries.  She would say that I should dream “with my head in the clouds and my feet planted on the ground.”  I always loved that reference.

And this is Anna’s take on deep thought.  Each generation improves!

So, I’ve taken that to mean imagination and reality are both necessary to live a fulfilling life.  One is meaningless without the other, and achieving balance is an ongoing process.  I’m no where near it, personally, since I still have so many questions and things I want to explore.  I can only hope that I’m constantly trying to improve, while setting a good example for Anna.

One of our favorite meals that my yiayia and I really enjoyed is Shrimp Mykonos style.  My mom actually makes a killer dish, as it falls under her extensive repertoire of her “half hour meals.”  This was always my favorite and I would request it every time I visited from school for a long weekend or spring break.  If you’re a seafood lover, you’ll enjoy this!

MAD SHRIMP MYKONOS STYLE

Prep time: 10-15 minutes  Cook time: 20-25 minutes  Yields: 5 individual servings

Ingredients

If you love shrimp and feta, you’ll instantly fall in love with this dishAbout 20 jumbo raw shrimp, peeled and devained

1 jar of Puttanesca sauce (you can make your own, my mom buys it!)

12 oz. of good feta cheese

2 tbsp butter, melted

1 cup of Panko bread crumbs

1 tbsp dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven at 375F.

You’ll oven safe dishes for this recipe, to fit about 4-5 shrimp in each one.

Using a spoon, put a layer of sauce in each of the baking dishes.  Dry the shrimp using paper towels and carefully layer 4-5 in each one – it’s fine if they touch each other.  Sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper.  Add another layer of sauce to cover the shrimp.

Using good feta will make all the difference in shrimp mykonos

 

Crumble the feta on top with the oregano.  Be generous with the feta!  In a bowl, mix the melted butter with the panko crumbs, add salt and pepper.  Layer the mixture at the top of each of the baking dishes, making sure each is well covered.

Place all the dishes on a large baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the panko topping is golden brown.

Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.  This dish works well with fresh warm baguette to dip into the sauce.

Voila! Shrimp Mykonos with a seasonal salad and fresh bread

Share only with your favorite people, especially with the ones you can have awesome conversations 🙂

Here’s to half hour meals!

 

 

 

 

Roasted veggies and memories of Greek night in Boston

While I was initially hopeful for 2017, it has started off as a sidekick to 2017.  It’s only January 7th and already we had a mass shooting in Fort Lauderdale that’s left us so saddened.  We were all glued to Twitter, TV and any media available that had the latest info as the story was breaking.

The PR practitioner in me keeps revisiting the Creeping Cycle of Desensitization theory of our old beloved BU professor, Mel DeFleur (Amanda, weren’t you his grad assistant?).  Not going into too much detail, the theory predicts our behavior and tolerance to what is acceptable vs. not in the media.  For example, decades ago a steamy kiss in a movie was not acceptable whereas today we would hardly notice, much less be shocked.  So, our culture’s tolerance to what is acceptable or not has undergone a slow and steady pace over the years and this will not stop since the shock factor always has value in the media world.

I do have some fun food memories from Boston during my grad school days.  We were a small group of PR majors and it wasn’t a shock that we all communicated well and got along.  A favorite memory as a group was when I hosted Greek night at my tiny apartment in Allston (15 Carol Ave).  I cooked all day!  I can’t remember the whole menu, but it was a spread.  My friend Jill really loved the pastitsio, which I’ll share one day now that I’ve somewhat perfected the recipe.  My Italian friend Marta, who I swear is like a soul connection to me, felt like she was back home, and it was just a special evening.  We had little money and tons to do, but there was a sense of camaraderie with all of us as we plowed through projects and schoolwork.

Greek night with the BU PR clan, Boston 2001

So, I’m holding out that 2017 will gradually improve.  Or I’m realizing that we become desensitized to tragedies and constant bad news that make headlines.  And fake news has enabled our vulnerability to misinformation.  Do we shut off our laptops and phones and tv and live in our cocoon?  Do we stay connected 24/7 instead and drive ourselves mad with things that happen and out of our control?  Can we really achieve long-term balance?  And since balance is never, ever permanent, how do we win the daily battle?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the people I love and care about as we all continue to age.  Lucky enough, most of us are aging fairly well.  Aside from the physical outlook I’m much more interested in their take on things, their feelings, and their thought process as they consider life now… and all the choices that have come with it.  Do we run out of gas?  Do we switch gears?  Do we stay stuck in traffic?  Do we change direction?  Or, do we just ditch the car and walk freely?  Do you walk alone or always need a sidekick?  What are you trying to discover?  What are you learning?  So much symbolism, so many fascinating scenarios to examine.

Well, I am always pondering similar questions, but meanwhile eating healthy helps!  Here’s one that I’ve embellished since Greek night 2001.

MAD ROASTED VEGGIE ENSEMBLE

Prep time:  15 minutes  Roasting time:  30-40 minutes

Ingredients

Turmeric is an awesome spice that I love on roasted veggies

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

1 vidalia onion, roughly chopped

1 red pepper, julienned

2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes

about 15 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 box of mushrooms (whatever variety you like)

1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into cubes

3 garlic cloves, halved

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped

Note: The best part is that you can use mostly any vegetable you like for this dish.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp oregano

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp turmeric

Juice of 1 lemon plus 1 tsp of zest

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the over at 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  In a bowl toss all the veggies together and add the spices and olive oil.  You can add more olive oil too if you like, just make sure all the veggies are well coated and seasoned.  Even out the mixture on the baking sheet.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until potatoes are tender.  Sometimes I’ll place under the broiler for a couple of minutes, but this is optional.

Served best with tzatziki on the side!

 

veggie talk: cauliflower holds its own

I love how every year or two health experts, supported by chefs re-introduce the “in” veggie for the season.  In the past five years or so we went from sweet potato, to kale, to Brussels sprouts and most recently to cauliflower.  Thankfully, I’m noticing kale is being replaced slowly by chard and mustard greens.  I’ve also been reading that asparagus is coming to the forefront now and so are beets (two of my favorites).

A humble veggie, cauliflower has great flavor potential

However you slice the veggie, it’s just fun going produce shopping.  I remember growing up going to the “laiki agora,” the public local farmers market that shut down one of the main streets every Wednesday in Kifissia.  There were so many local markets and I recall the yelling, the negotiating, the curse words from the farmers to the shoppers.  I loved observing people at the farmers market.  And it always amazed me how, after yelling at one another in negotiating prices, at the end of the transaction both the shopper and farmer would be calm and thank one another till next week.  Fascinating.

Local farmers markets in Greece take place once or twice a week in most neighborhoods (photo: bestofathens.gr)

Later on, when I moved to Boston in 2001 for grad school, I would go to the Haymarket downtown on most Saturdays.  It’s not that it was the best produce, but I was on a budget and the Haymarket reminded me a lot of the markets I grew up with in Greece.  It was all very familiar to me.  I would sometimes negotiate, though it really depended on the person.  Since I don’t like getting yelled at, I would generally just pay the price if it was low enough.

I also noticed that a genuine smile went a long way back in those days.

One Saturday, I went to the Haymarket to buy tomatoes and remember that the farmer was smiling and staring at me as he just kept filling up the bag of tomatoes to the top.  It was really funny.  He only took $1.50 and I think I ended up with 15 delicious tomatoes!

The Haymarket near Government Square (photo: Destination Guides, Boston)

Like most of us, I had my share of not liking some veggies growing up.  Cauliflower? Yuck.  Okra?  Double yuck.  Sweet potato?  That was such a foreign vegetable to us in Greece and always tasted to me like a wannabe potato.  As I learned how to cook on my own, I realized that there wasn’t just one or two ways of preparing a vegetable.  What I love about cooking is the fundamentals are hard core strict, but creativity is endless.  No rules apply to the creative process of cooking… you can add and take away, explore as much as you want.  What’s not to love about that?

Anyway, specifically with cauliflower, I tried so many different recipes… I grilled, boiled, braised, broiled and sauteed the heck out of it.  I know many chefs cover up cauliflower with tons cheese and cream to make it into mashed or mac-n-cheese.  While delicious, for me that’s a cop out.  The cauliflower is not the star.  And if it can be yummy, why shouldn’t it be?  So, I’ve come up with a cauliflower recipe that I love and happy to share with you.  Warning: I constantly improvise this one, so… you can adjust the spices to your taste.

MAD CAULIFLOWER AND TOMATO RELISH

Prep time: 20 minutes  Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 head of organic cauliflower

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can of organic diced tomatoes (if using fresh, you’ll need at least 3 large tomatoes cut into small cubes)

2 scallions (green part only) or chives, diced up

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Cut the cauliflower into florets.  I know it smells the kitchen, but I like to steam the cauliflower just enough so that the bite is gone – steam for 5 minutes and drain.

In an ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil on medium-high and toss in the chopped onion and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic and crushed pepper and stir in for another minute.  Be careful not to burn the garlic.  Set skillet on medium heat and add in the steamed cauliflower.  Coat with the olive oil until it is lightly brown.   Stir in the tomato, turmeric and vinegar.

Semi-cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender to the fork.  Meanwhile, while the cauliflower is cooking, preheat the broiler.

This is one of my favorite ways to make cauliflower the star of the veggie dish

Uncover the skillet and place under the broiler just enough so that the cauliflower and tomato relish obtain a bit of color, no more than 2-3 minutes.  If you really want to add cheese, this is the time.  I would sprinkle feta or Gruyere before placing under the broiler.

Sprinkle the chopped chives or scallions for effect.

Serve warm and in only awesome company who appreciate you 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

a twist on tuna melt for meatless monday

Today, felt like Christmas morning!  My mom came back last night from Greece and she said one of the two suitcases was basically for Anna, my brother and me.  She was too tired to organize everything by the time we came home, so I impatiently waited until this morning to knock on the door of her apartment.

Would this justify for meatless Monday? Loving my Greek treats :)
Would this justify for meatless Monday? Loving my Greek treats 🙂

I think I just barged in, actually!  My mom knows better, and wasn’t surprised by that at all.  In fact, as promised, everything had been separated in bags.  Just like a little kid I could not wait to see my treats.

So, I have laid them out on my work station at the mad cafe, and love looking at all the Greek goodies

George and I on Christmas morning, Pireaus, 1979... not sure who I am pointing to, but it looks exciting
George and I on Christmas morning, Pireaus, 1979… not sure who I am pointing to, but it looks exciting

that remind me of my childhood.

She also brought back a lot of old photos and I am looking forward to going through them.  Most of them are family photos, but some of them have food shots and birthday party photos that I’m sure will inspire plenty of stories.

 

It’s meatless Monday time

Meanwhile, I owe you a recipe!  Since it’s meatless Monday, I thought I would share with you a healthy twist on tuna melt that we enjoy making at the mad cafe.  It’s super tasty and easy to make.

MAD TUNA MELT

Prep time: 15 minutes  – Cook time: 10 minutes – Yields: 2 servings

Ingredients

2 cans of white albacore tuna in water, drained

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1 medium onion, finely chopped

5 tbsp light mayonnaise (we use the olive oil variety)

2-3 tbsp pickle relish

1 tsp horseradish

Juice of half a lemon

1 tsp sriracha

1/2 garlic powder

4 slices of aged cheddar, or sharp provolone

2 naan, regular size

Arugula, avocado slices and tomatoes for garnish

Salt/pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven 375F

In a large bowl, mash the drained tuna with a fork until fish is in small flakes.  Stir in the mayo, horseradish, lemon juice, sriracha, garlic powder, relish and chopped onion and mix well with a large spoon.  If you like more mayo, add to cater to your taste.  Sprinkle salt and cracked pepper to taste and mix until well combined.

This version is topped with black sesame seeds!
This version is topped with black sesame seeds!

Let mixture sit for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

On a baking sheet lined with foil, lay the two naan side by side.  Brush the edges of the naan with olive oil.  Divide the tuna mixture and spread evenly on each naan.  Top with slices of cheese, enough to cover the tuna.

Place in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes until cheese is melted.  Turn on the broiler for 2 minutes, until cheese turns lightly brown.  Serve immediately with arugula and tomatoes on the side.

Happy meatless Monday!