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 🙂

orange pound cake in time for tax season

Ah, these are the days we love to be in South Florida.  It’s a beautiful day, 70 degrees and low humidity.  In Boston, where Michael is stationed during tax season for three months, it’s 21F and I’m sure he’s not looking forward to heading up there next week.  It’s hard to believe tax season is here already.  We have started getting calls and inquiries from new clients from our various locations looking for specialized tax professionals.

The tax work and everything that goes with it will only continue to mount from this point on.  While we have learned to roll with the punches and manage the stress, tax season is still a very challenging time.  When I first met Michael, he would tell me that he plans life around tax season and

Just in time for my birthday last year, my brother flew into PB! It was such a fun reprieve from tax season stress.

it’s just become a way of life for him.  At first, this took a lot of getting used to for me.  Winter is the best time of year to be in Florida and he’s meeting clients and shoveling snow in Boston.  And my end of March birthday is probably at the worst time of tax season!  I’m not complaining though.  Last year, my brother flew in just for my birthday and took me to see Sophia Loren at the Kravis Center.  It was such a fun night!

It’s helpful to be mindfully focused on the growth and the rewards of working in the business.  I admit some aspects of tax season are fun, but overall tasks tend to be repetitive while direct focus on them is crucial.  Since it is hard to stay inspired at times, the main reason I started the food and heart blog is to have a creative outlet to offset the mounting stress of tax season.  Let’s see how successful this experiment will be this year!

An orange a day keeps tax season away! Well, not quite, but these are gorgeous from the Green Market in WPB

Not sure about you, but I love the smell of oranges, orange zest and baking with fresh fruit!  I grabbed a bunch the other day and have been making fresh orange juice, grating the zest over yogurt and salads, and just enjoying the flavors.  Anna eats a lot of oranges since she swims and it’s great to share them at the meets with everyone under the tent.

I loooove pound cake… and I love oranges.  So, I married the two in this delicious recipe.  The experiment was a little risky, but like with most things… nothing ventured, nothing gained.  🙂

MAD ORANGE POUND CAKE

Prep time:  15 minutes   Baking time:  1 hour

Orange pound cake screams love!

Ingredients

3 cups of flour

5 large eggs

2 sticks of butter, softened

2 cups of sugar

1 tsp baking soda

3 tbsp orange zest

2/3 cup of milk

2 tbsp orange juice

1 tsp vanilla

For the glaze:

1 1/2 cup of powdered sugar

2 tbsp butter, softened

5 tbsp orange juice

1 tbsp orange zest

Directions

Preheat the oven at 350F

Sift the flour and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.  In another bowl mix by hand together the zest, juice, vanilla and milk together – set aside.

In stand up mixer, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time.  Starting with the flour mixture, interchange with the milk mixture to add into the creamed butter – a bit at a time.  Your mixer should be on medium as you do this and finish with the flour mixture until everything is incorporate.  Beat on high for about two minutes.

In a greased and floured bundt pan, or ring pan, spread the cake mixture.  Bake for about 1 hour until tooth comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the orange glaze (yum, my favorite!).  You’ll need your mixer again.  Beat together the powdered sugar, juice, butter and zest until icing is formed.  If icing is too stiff, add a little more juice.  If icing is too watery, add a little more powdered sugar.

Once the cake is finished, let it cool in the pan for about 3-5 minutes.  Flip over onto a cake plate and try poking a few holes randomly on the top of the cake… immediately, using a spoon, start evenly spreading the icing on the warm cake.  The holes will allow some of the icing to seep in.  Enjoy!

Happy Baking 🙂

 

 

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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

mad apple pie to welcome 2017!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I cannot wait for the last few hours of 2016.  It will be great to wake up tomorrow, after sleeping in a bit, to a fresh new year 2017!  At the market today, at the coffee shop and everywhere I was hearing people wish Happy New Year to complete strangers, their kids and their dogs.

 

Just look at these amazing, crusty breads!

This morning we took Michael’s mom out to the Green Market in WPB.  When I say today was an absolutely gorgeous day, it’s true!  In fact, I want to spend as much time outside today as possible.  There’s no humidity, the sun is bright and there’s a light breeze from the east.  I’m typing this blog outside on our bistro table (this was my Christmas gift from the mad cafe :).

At the Green Market I was in complete foodie heaven!  From pop-up bakeries to organic produce and Cuban coffee from Havana’s, it was just wonderful to walk around, look at everything and watch people as they walk by.

Serious eye candy for the mad cafe chef!

The highlight of the market this time of year is the Christmas tree made from sand.  It will be gone in a couple of days so everyone was snapping photos today.

Gorgeous day to enjoy the last days of the sand Christmas Tree in WPB

After staring, touching and buying some of the local produce, I felt inspired at home and decided to use up the honey crisp apples that have been in the fridge since last week.  I have been meaning to bake an apple pie for a while.  If you are anything like me, which most people aren’t, you take a bite of an apple pie and poke around the crust and leave the rest to waste.  That’s why I never buy or order apple pie… and I don’t make it.  Like, ever.

But, today was different!  Many of you have resolutions, etc… mine is to try to new things, to explore and learn more where I can.  So, yes, the apple pie is ready and out of the oven and cooling.  This experiment came about because I’ve ready SO many recipes and everyone’s is always the best.  Like with many of the Greek treats, pie is one that’s subjective since it’s tied with memories of childhood.

In my family, my mom would hardly ever bake pies, but my grandmother Aphrodite was very fond of apple pie.  In her food diary she was fair in giving recipes credit to those who shared them with her… “Mrs. Vans chicken… Mrs. Vans phinikia, etc.”  She eventually perfected her own apple pie recipe though and proudly called it “Mrs. Karatinos Apple Pie.”  And the crust was delicious.  And I still couldn’t eat the whole piece of pie because the filling was too sweet.  And I would always feel badly…

Mrs. Karatinos’ Apple Pie

So, over the years I studied tons of recipes for apple pie, with the hope that one day I would find one that was not too sweet, or mushy, or sour.  I didn’t find one specific recipe, and therefore I’ve formed my own that I’m happy to share with you: Mad Apple Pie… to welcome 2017!

 

 

 

MAD APPLE PIE

Prep time:  30 minutes  Baking time:  1 hour (convection oven)

Ingredients

About 8 cups of honey crisp apples, peeled, cored and quartered

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

Evening out the apple pie filling

1/4 whole wheat flour

2 tbsp butter

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp mace

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp good salt

3 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp fresh orange juice

zest of a lemon

zest of an orange (or tangerine)

Eggwash (one egg with a little water, lightly beaten)

For the Dough (this is Mrs. Karatinos’ recipe):

3 cups all purpose flour, sifted

2 cups COLD crisco (you can use cold butter instead)

1 tbsp salt

3/4 cup COLD water

Directions

Make the dough first:  Mix the cold crisco and flour by working lightly with fingers into a large ball.  Dissolve the salt in the cold water and pour into the flour mixture all at once.  Work the dough with a large fork until the dough is formed… divide into 4 balls.  You’ll need two for this 9″ pie and you can freeze the rest for another pie.  Refrigerate the dough while you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven at 400F

Make the filling:  cut thin slices of the quartered apples, about 2 mm thickness.  In a bowl, mix together everything else… sugars, salt, flour, spices, butter, juices, zest, etc. and toss the sliced apples until well incorporated.  You don’t have to cook the apples at all.

Mad apple pie… voila 🙂 Out with the old in with 2017!

Prepare the pie:  Take out the two balls of dough and roll out with a rolling pin (use flour as needed to roll out).  Lay the bottom dough in a 9″ deep dish pie pan enough so that there is excess dough over the sides.  Make sure no air bubbles at the bottom.  Pour in the filling and even out.  Lay the other layer of dough on top and work with your fingers to crimp the sides well.  You can use a fork to finish off the crimping.

Brush egg wash on top with a pastry brush.  Cut a few slits around the middle of the pie and sprinkle some coarse sugar on top (optional).

Bake for about 1 hour until the crust is golden brown and filling starts to bubble.  Let the apple pie cool.  Serve warm.

Happy 2017!