mad quiche for a mad schedule!

It’s Thursday again and noticing that my posts have gone from daily to twice a week now as tax season takes a firmer hold on my time and schedule.  There are several recipes I want to explore and share, but the truth is that priorities this time of year totally shift with little warning.

Anna is such a trooper during this crazy time of year.  As she grows she becomes more helpful, not only around the house but understanding and managing the levels of stress.  So, for example, if it’s a weeknight and we’ve been running around all day we will both settle for breakfast for dinner.  We both have the same mindset that eating at home is important, so take out is a big no-no at the mad cafe.  The occasional pizza delivery happens if we’re traveling or come home late, and eating out is for special occasions.

I remember when we first got the Audi S4 cabrio back in 2013.  It was a used car and it sort of fell into our lap at the time.  Michael treats cars with such precision and care, washes and waxes them to relax and it’s always been his passion.  But, I remember when we would take it out for a drive around the island with Anna and she would make us all dress up.  According to her, jeans were not allowed in Ladybug, because it was a special outing.  It was so cute!

Dressed up and ready for a ladybug drive!

This time of year also signals what’s coming next.  In our case, after tax season we usually spend a few weeks on building renovations (this is when Anna is away with her father on vacation).  This year we have a fun renovation plan in our building and I’m really excited about it.  The really fun part of renovations is that I was completely clueless of how to do anything before I met Michael.  He’s remarkably handy and I’ve learned how to do a lot of things now, but mainly I’m his apprentice.  We’ve installed tile on our floor together, recess lights in the ceiling, reconfigured walls, upgraded bathrooms, and other major projects.  And we are still married!

While we work out throughout the year, during “renovation season” we are probably in the best physical shape.  It’s grueling physical work and age takes hold at times, but not too much.

Redoing my mom’s kitchen cabinets to give them an edgy look that she still can’t get used to!

After tax season, when all we do is work on screens, it is a much needed release to do physical work for a purpose.  And after the renovation project wraps up, then we reward ourselves with a trip, or a vacation, or doing something relaxing.  By then, both body and mind need a break!

Last summer, when we were renovating my mom’s unit I made the extra effort to make sure we ate well.  We needed the calories more that time of year, and it was important to me that we ate homemade meals.

Yes, I’m crazy!  It was tiring to fire up the oven, chop vegetables or do any cooking but I found it relaxing and rewarding at the same time.

Michael relaxing after tax and reno season. This was when we drove the Pacific Coastal Highway somewhere near the Big Sur

I didn’t have the energy to spend all day in the kitchen making meals, so while we worked I would think up recipes with what we had in the fridge.

That saved a lot of time when we feel hungry by the end of the day as I knew what to make.  From that point, I made all kinds of fun and tasty dishes relatively quickly and also fuel my creative side!

Post tax and reno season in Hawaii… while we both weren’t thrilled with Maui, I literally had to stop and enjoy this lava rock beach – shoes and all!

One of the meals I made often during renovation season is a quiche.  It was hearty, tasty and could stretch for dinner and breakfast.  The best part about a quiche is that it’s a base for many flavors and ingredients… as long as you get the cheese right!

 

MAD HAM & LEEK CHEESE QUICHE

Prep time:  15 minutes  Cook time: 45 minutes  Yields: 6-8 servings (depending on how hungry you are)

Ingredients

2 leeks, chopped (discard the rich green top, or save to make veggie stock)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3-4 scallions, chopped finely

You can also add tomatoes, bacon, cauliflower into a quiche

1 cup of ham, cut into small strips or tiny cubes

3 eggs, beaten lightly

1 1/2 cup skim milk

1/2 cup of heavy cream (Note: you can probably get away with using half and half and whole milk instead of skim)

1 cup of Gruyere cheese, shredded

1/2 cup of good feta, crumbled

2 tsp fresh dill, chopped

2 tbsp butter

Olive oil for sauteing

Salt / pepper to taste

1 package of rolled out pie crust (I use Pillsbury).  There are two in each package, you’ll just need one.

Directions

Preheat the oven at 350F

First, make sure the dough is room temp and have a quiche dish ready.  Make sure the leeks are well washed… several times so that the dirt and sand are washed away.

In a skillet, saute the onions in olive oil until they sweat and toss in the leeks and the white part of the scallions.  Cook on medium until the leeks are soft.  Add the butter and ham and cook on medium high until ham is cooked through.  Adjust seasoning as needed.  Turn off the heat and let cool.  Set aside.

In a bowl mix the feta and Gruyere, milk, heavy cream and eggs.  Add the green part of the chopped scallions (you can use chives here if you have them).  Toss in the fresh fill and mix.

Spread the dough on the quiche plate evenly so that no air bubbles come up.  Crimp the sides.  Poke with a fork around the bottom.

When the leek, ham and onion mixture is cool enough to handle, spread on the bottom of the quiche dish.  Don’t over fill because you will be adding the liquid over it.  Add the liquid milk/egg/cheese mixture and gently fold into the leek/ham mixture.  Spread until it’s even.  It’s important not too overflow!

Bake for about 45 minutes.  The quiche is ready when the eggs are cooked and golden brown.  For extra color, you can set under the broiler for a couple of minutes.  This makes a delicious meal for dinner, breakfast or a hearty snack!

Happy cooking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

mad impromptu pasta for one

It’s official now, we’re in tax season mode!  Michael is in Boston through the end of April since most of our work this time of year comes out of that location, and I am here taking care of… well, everything else.  My friends ask me how I feel every year when January rolls around, and now it’s been the fifth tax season I know what to say:  at least it is familiar at this point!

I am aware of what will happen over the next three months.  The stress will gradually mount, endlessly testing my limits.  Our workload will quickly become overloaded only to seem unmanageable, until we figure out how to manage it somehow.  And I’ll get used to cooking for two, or three – or one – depending on the day. It’s likely that I’ll have even less time this season, but I’m determined to stay healthy and fit regardless of the piling workload.

Tax season can mean unlimited coffee time at the mad cafe.  This machine and the white one in Boston definitely get their workout this time of year.

And April will come before we know it.  Again.  Tax season is so compressed.  It sometimes seems like a dream that will never end until you wake up suddenly and realize you have your life back!

But, as with most things, there are definite upsides.  It’s awesome to measure the growth and success, and helping people plan their tax strategy soundly is very satisfying.   It’s amazing how we are able to make a difference in people’s lives when we help them with something as mundane and boring as taxes.  And the really good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel… one deadline wraps up, and then the next one toes the line.

Basically, it is what it is.

Acceptance is a big life lesson and one I still resist from time to time.  I think it’s a personality trait I carry since I was little, but I’m improving and learning to embrace things as they come.  There are times when I feel so confused, asking questions actually confuses me more.  Or there are times when I really want an answer, and I won’t get it… ever.  And that is frustrating when trying to gain insight.  So, in those situations, the only sensible answer is to accept – and learn to leave some things alone.  That’s always been difficult for me because it’s my nature to feel and explore things, and I’m just endlessly curious.

With time I am learning that things are what they are in life, and I just have to stop asking questions when there is no purpose or resolution.  Gosh, it’s still so hard to go against yourself, but in the end, accepting things can be quite liberating!  Or it might be stupid.  I’m not sure yet.

After yesterday, though, I’m glad I’m not in Sean Spicer’s shoes having to talk to the press and outright lie and sound like a dictator.  It feels like we’re not in 2017, but 1984.  I need to re-read the book.. though Orwell’s Animal Farm was my favorite.

Anyway, since today was a Sunday I cooked for myself… creating an impromptu pasta dish was simple and delicious!  It’s amazing what you can do with a few simple ingredients.  I’ve adapted the recipe for 4 servings. Happy cooking 🙂

MAD IMPROMPTU PASTA WITH VEGGIES

Prep time: 15 minutes  Cooking time: 20 minutes Yields: 4 servings

Impromptu pasta is awesome! It allows so much creativity. The simplicity of pasta is extraordinary.

Ingredients

1 package of egg noodles (or any pasta you like)

1 small package grape tomatoes, cut in half

1 small sweet onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 handfuls of fresh spinach, washed and roughly chopped

1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped

1 tbsp of mascarpone cheese (or 1 tbsp butter)

4 oz good feta cheese, crumbled

Optional: 1/3 cup of white wine, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Yes, I’m actually boiling the pasta with the cauliflower. These are egg noodles… so it only takes a few minutes.

In a large pot, bring to a boil 6-8 cups of water with a dash of olive oil and salt.  Toss in the pasta and the cauliflower.  Boil uncovered until both are tender, about 7 minutes (al dente), or however long for your preference.  Drain and set aside.

In a wok or a large skillet, heat the olive oil and sweat the onions, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the grape tomatoes and garlic, stir for about 2 minutes.  Stir in the spinach, a handful at a time.  The greens will wilt quickly.

Add the crushed pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Anything fresh in the kitchen can work with impromptu pasta

Toss in the crumbled feta and mascarpone (or butter).  Pour in the wine, if using, and cook the sauce on medium for 2-3 minutes.  Cook on low until sauce thickens slightly.

Mix the pasta with the sauce and serve immediately.

Whether eating on your own today, like me, or with company remember that pasta is made for sharing 🙂

Good Riddance 2016 with mAd Spicy Feta Dip

It’s finally evening and I have stolen a few moments to relax and gather my thoughts after a very busy Christmas weekend.  It was very fun this year at the mad cafe.  My uncle Nick and aunt Jill drove across the state from Tampa, my brother and Jim came from Denver and my mother in law is visiting from Northern Greece.  Our friends, Lia and Amanda also joined our festivities and it was just relaxing and happy.  Aside from all the finger food and cookies and sweets, we enjoyed delicious wine, bubbly and each others’ company.

Wishing you and your family peace, love, health and happiness

I’d say the highlight of the cooking was roasted veggies with garlic and turmeric along with the spicy feta dip and the au jus roasted pork loin.  The main topic of culinary discussion this year was over the desserts and specifically, Amanda’s first (and successful) attempt to a chocolate ombre cake!  It was such a thoughtful surprise dessert to bring, and it was so sweet of her to mention that I inspired her to make it.  This is why I love my friends so much 🙂

Reflecting on 2016, so much has happened and not all of it was great.  In fact, many in our circle suffered a great deal; some lost family or friends to illness or accidents, others lost their jobs and had to move.  Two who are my age bravely worked through serious health problems, including surgery and forms of chemo.  And others in our circle lost their spouse to death or divorce.  Some sounded so stressed out because of the economy in Greece.  Most recently, a dear friend on the east coast was so upset because she realized the person she loved so much didn’t feel the same – and wouldn’t be upfront with her.  2016 is one of those years that has left me wondering about all the challenges the people I care about were facing and thinking of ways I can help bring a smile to their face.

Personally, 2016 has been overall an ok year.  From a business perspective, it’s been hugely successful and rewarding on many levels.  Watching Anna grow into a fun, quirky 10 year old, who is taller than her mom, has been such a privilege.  I’m blessed to have peace and love in my tiny family as we continue to mindfully work together towards common goals.  And it hasn’t been without personal challenges and struggles.  I am happy to reconnect with people who I realized mattered to me, and at the same time I’ve chosen to let go of those who don’t want to be happy.  It’s one thing when you don’t know how to be happy… it’s another when you don’t want to be.

If I have a wish for 2017 it is to be more human; to learn, to appreciate, to not be afraid to try new things, and to refuse to sit idly in contentment.  I have such dislike for the word contentment.  Feeling content is responsible for so much inaction, and lack of enthusiasm.  It feeds off of fear, insecurity and a sense of dependence.  Being content is feeling not quite happy, but not unhappy either.  It’s that limbo state of “happy enough.”  Who sets the “happy enough” standard, if it’s not you?

Make it count in 2017:  cherish your loved ones, appreciate your blessings, hold onto a solid support system with people who cheer you forward and reach higher!

The mad cafe Christmas Eve spread! Anna circled the spicy feta dip to help out 🙂

On the food front, I have several recipes lined up to share with you.  Since it was a success at the mad cafe, the spicy feta cheese dip makes for a special treat anytime.  A note about feta: we can have a lot debates about feta, but as with most ingredients, the quality of cheese makes all the difference.  Opt for the real deal… Dodoni is my favorite feta and Kolios is a close second.

MAD SPICY FETA DIP (TYROKAFTERI)

Prep time:  15 minutes   Idle time:  at least 1 hour refrigeration before serving

Ingredients

1/2 lb Greek feta

Tyrokafteri (spicy feta dip) can be really spicy so make sure you warn your guests (photo credit: brittneyg.typepad.com)

3/4 cup of Greek yogurt

1 small hot pepper, finely chopped (size depends on how spicy you want the dip!)

1 tbsp paprika

1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes

1 tsp of red wine vinegar

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt/pepper to taste

Serving suggestions: warm pita bread, raw veggies, olives

Directions

Mash the feta in a bowl with a fork and mix in the yogurt.  Add the rest of the ingredients until well combined.  Adjust the seasoning as needed.  If the mixture is too solid, add more yogurt and olive oil.  Like the tzatziki, don’t be fooled with the garlic… a little goes a long way and will taste stronger as the flavors work together.  Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

 

 

 

are you stuck eating leftovers?

Are you so done with cooking, cleaning and listening to everyone’s stories already?  Hopefully, you’re spending the day out and about, whether Black Friday shopping is for you or not.  I don’t mind doing some online shopping that I’ve planned for a while, but avoid the malls entirely today!  Michael and I had a productive day so far though.  We took a drive at a landscape depot and purchased some new fox tail ferns for the front of the building!

It was fun doing some gardening today, the weather is absolutely beautiful here and the more we can be outdoors, the better!  I spoke to Anna earlier this morning and she had a fun Thanksgiving with her cousin in NC and she was going to a community pool to practice her swimming strokes this afternoon for the upcoming swim meet in Fort Lauderdale next weekend.  She’s been trying to add more strokes to hit the junior Olympic time for her age.  So far she has 50m freestyle, and I know she will achieve some of the others soon!

Fox tail fern is super vibrant and made for a great choice to plant for the holidays! Now I just need to get on a watering schedule.
Fox tail fern is super vibrant and made for a great choice to plant for the holidays! Now I just need to get on a watering schedule.

I remember when I first started the mAd cafe… which is, essentially, my traveling kitchen.  I say traveling, because wherever I go, my cooking skills and curiosity follow me.  Specifically, I remember when Michael had received his blood work results and his cholesterol was borderline… if it continued this way, the doctor said we’d have to discuss medication.  So, I made it a point to re-focus not only what we ate, but everything from portions, to frequency of meals, leaner ingredients, etc.  We also made a commitment to go to the gym every other day.

This was about a year and a half ago, and I’m happy that we stuck with that routine, even through tax season (Michael is in Boston, and I’m here working remotely…) and I worry about what he eats in order to stay productive.

This is one of my favorite dishes to make, because you don't need anything to pair it with! It has all you need.
This is one of my favorite dishes to make, because you don’t need anything to pair it with! It has all you need.

Usually, his tax season meal routine includes a can of tuna and non-rinsed black beans out of a can, or boiled cauliflower, ugh).  However, when the most recent blood results came back a month ago, it was great news that Michael had dropped over 10 cholesterol points!

I’m not saying that eating this salad below will achieve those results, but I do believe that a routine combining exercise, a balanced lifestyle that includes a healthy mindset with a positive outlook, and a healthy diet… we can definitely help prevent or delay plenty of health problems as we age.

After enjoying a delightful Thanksgiving feast, I’m sure you’re ready for something fresh and crunchy, and most of all healthy and EASY to make.  Happy to share with you my recipe for black bean veggie salad.  It’s simple, colorful, and delicious!

MAD BLACK BEAN SEASONAL SALAD

Prep time: 10 minutes  –  Yields: 4-6 servings

This is a version with feta :)
I love the version with feta 🙂

1 can of black beans, rinsed

2 cobs of fresh corn, roasted or grilled and cut off the cob

2 heads of romaine lettuce, rinsed, spun to dry, and chopped

1 medium hot house cucumber

2-3 heirloom tomatoes

3-4 radishes cut in circles

1-2 scallions chopped

2 tbsp fresh dill

Crumbled feta (optional)

For the dressing:

2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)

good pinch of oregano

good pinch of garlic powder

chopped fresh parsley (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Assemble, in a large salad bowl, the lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, scallions, and top with the black beans.

I love the colors of this salad!
I love the colors of this salad!

In a medium bowl, mix the oil, vinegar, chili flakes, garlic power, s/p and oregano… keep mixing with a spoon until well incorporated.  Toss in the corn and mix well.  Pour on top of the salad and mix together.

Add crumbled feta if using… it’s a must in the mad cage!

Great to serve with warm crostini, naan bread or on its own 🙂