CPA INSIDER

Recipes to get through busy season

Feed the team on deadline with these tips.
By Dawn Wotapka

We've previously detailed ways to stay sharp during busy season, with its long days spent racing toward the big deadline. But here's another important topic: how to stay nourished along the way.

As with any industry, food remains a great way to keep workers happy.

With that in mind, here is a sampling of shareable dishes served up every busy season in these CPA firms, which were kind enough to share their advice — and their recipes.

Set it and forget it

If you want to make something satisfying in advance and keep it warm, try slow-cooker macaroni and cheese, as Karen Castle, CPA, owner of Castle Business Accounting in Olney, Md., does.

"We eat a lot of Crock-Pot dishes during the busy season," she said. This recipe is "easy to make and my family loves it." 

Slow-Cooker Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 2¾ cup half-and-half
  • 1 can (15 oz.) cheddar cheese condensed soup
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika, smoked or plain
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 cups uncooked elbow macaroni pasta
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 cup shredded Colby cheese, divided
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

Directions:

Combine the half-and-half with the cheddar cheese soup, and mix until smooth. Sprinkle in the paprika and black pepper, and mix.

Pour the elbow macaroni into the slow cooker and add half of each of the cheeses, the butter, and the soup mixture. Mix until well incorporated.

Top with the remaining shredded cheese.

Cover and set the slow cooker on low for three hours.

Add salt and pepper based on preference.

Bake ahead of time

Lily Tran, an enrolled agent with TaxUSign in Kent, Wash., makes banana bread each busy season to share with colleagues.

"This has been a tradition since I taught my son, Amir, how to cook and bake," she said. "At that time, he was only 10 years old, and we experimented with different ingredients. He suggested to add the cinnamon and vanilla extract."

Lily Tran's Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, with extra for greasing the pan
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 medium-size bananas (ideally overripe), mashed
  • Sprinkle cinnamon 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan with butter.

In a large bowl, combine wheat flour, baking soda, and salt.

Melt butter and add to the flour mixture. Add vanilla extract and brown sugar.

In separate bowl, mix eggs and mashed bananas. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture until well blended.

Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon. 

Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Turn up the heat

This Chex mix is a very spicy take on the classic, and one that Ryne Brackmann, CPA, tax director with public accounting firm CLA in Oak Brook, Ill., makes for his adventurous colleagues.

Be careful with this fiery snack by wearing gloves and not touching your face while preparing it. And be sure to leave a note alerting potential snackers about the heat. "This is extremely spicy, so be sure to warn people before they try it," Brackmann said.

For those looking to tone down the heat, leave out the Carolina Reaper pepper powder and 3AM extract. The ghost peppers will still add plenty of spice.

Spicy Chex Mix (makes about two gallons)

  • 2½ sticks butter, melted
  • 9 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons seasoned salt (Lawry's preferred)
  • 4 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoons cayenne pepper powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Carolina Reaper pepper powder (available online)
  • 1 teaspoon Blair's 3AM Reserve extract (available online)
  • 4 dried ghost peppers
  • 4½ cups Rice Chex
  • 4½ cups Corn Chex
  • 3 cups pretzel sticks (recommend gluten-free pretzels, they are much crunchier)
  • 4½ cups garlic rye chips (swap with gluten-free bagel chips, if desired)

Directions:

Mix butter, Worcestershire sauce, and all seasonings in a two-quart saucepan and simmer on low for one hour.

Once the hour is up, blend the sauce with an immersion blender, taking care not to splash it in your eyes.

Mix the Chex, pretzels, and garlic chips in a large bowl, then evenly mix the dry ingredients with the sauce. Be careful not to touch with your bare hands.

Spread onto baking sheets (suggested size: 17.25 inch × 11.25 inch × 1 inch); typically, it will fill two to three large sheets.

Bake in oven at 250 degrees, stirring on the baking sheet every 30 minutes until mixture is fully dry. It can take two to four hours, depending on how thinly spread the Chex is on the baking sheets.

Once dry, spread out on paper towels to soak up any extra butter until cool. Bag and share once cooled off.

Whip up something hearty

Adam Boatsman, CPA, co-founder of Charlotte's BGW CPA, makes sure firm staff is well fed during the busy season.

Boatsman often breaks out the grill, and staff members eat on the rooftop patio of their building overlooking Charlotte's South End neighborhood. Other times Boatsman brings in treats from his own kitchen, including these sliders.

"We eat well during busy season," he said.

Foolproof, No-Brainer Sliders (serves 12)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds ground beef (suggested fat content of 80/20)
  • 2 tablespoons McCormick Grill Mates Worcestershire Pub Burger seasoning
  • 1 package Hawaiian rolls (do not separate rolls; cut lengthwise when they're all together)
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, optional
  • 1 pound sliced cheese (American, cheddar, or whatever kind you like)
  • 6–8 strips precooked bacon
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix ground beef and burger seasoning in a bowl.

Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray.

Spread hamburger meat flat onto sheet pan almost to the rim. Ideally, the size should be about 1 inch wider than the package of Hawaiian rolls, as the meat will shrink when cooked.

Cook hamburger meat for 20 minutes in the oven.

Slice Hawaiian rolls in half, still in one complete package (do not separate the rolls; just slice the entire package in half lengthwise). If using, spread mayonnaise on the inside top of the rolls.

Drain fat from cooked hamburger meat.

Place bottom layer of Hawaiian rolls on a clean sheet pan sprayed with nonstick spray.

Place hamburger meat on top of the Hawaiian roll bottom. Top meat with cheese and bacon.

Place top side of rolls on top of the meat, cheese, and bacon.

Soften butter and spread on top side of rolls.

Place the pan in the oven for 10 minutes — or until cheese has melted.

When done, slice rolls into separate sliders and serve.

Foods that offer fuel are welcome additions

If you want to prepare something that can be made ahead and can fight those afternoon slumps, make these no-bake energy balls submitted by George Birrell, CPA, co-founder of TaxHub, an online tax preparation service.

"No-bake energy balls are great for staff snacks and loved by all," he said. "They were made by a founding partner's wife several years ago and have become an office tradition for more than 10 years."

No-Bake Energy Balls (makes 18–20)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats (uncooked)  
  • 2/3 cup toasted sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup ground golden flaxseed meal
  • 6 tablespoons chocolate chips

Directions:

In a mixing bowl, stir together peanut butter, honey, and vanilla extract.

Add remaining ingredients and stir until evenly coated.

Transfer mixture to refrigerator or freezer, and chill until mixture has firmed up a bit, about 30 minutes. Remove from refrigerator and shape into 1-inch balls.

Store in refrigerator in an airtight container.

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, associate director–Content Development at the Association of International Professional Certified Accountants.

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