Archive | December, 2012

Toffee for Idiots, or Men’s Toffee

30 Dec

Toffee 005

Today is a lazy Saturday.  The sky swells with clouds, the clouds billow with expectant rain, the wind whistles through the leaves, my nerves shake as I deal with my four-year-old whining about everything, and the veins in my temples pulsate as I notice that this kid has made massive dents in our best piece of furniture and has put chisel marks in the oak cabinets in our dining room.  Thus, I look forward to cocktail hour, dinner, heroin, and maybe some dessert.

When I started writing this blog a few months ago, I made a very breakable vow to never write about desserts or cookies or cakes or cupcakes or anything that someone with actual artistic ability makes.  I’m a guy.  I can frost a cake out of the box, I’ve even made a pie or two (and “seen my head (grown slightly bald), brought in upon a platter”), but the end result is a sheer utilitarian dessert: it will taste awesome, but it will look like I made it on the 405 during rush hour. No, I will leave dessert to those who make it their life’s work, who make beautiful treats for people like me to buy.

But then I came across this recipe in a totally bitchin’ cookbook.  Some years ago, one of my best friends, Tree, who then lived in Birmingham, Alabama, bought me a book called Tables of Content (you can order it on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Tables-Content-Junior-League-Birmingham/dp/0977468801).  It is a compilation of recipes from members of the Junior League of Birmingham, Alabama, so you know it has to be damn good.  I am probably the only person in California with this cookbook, and I am lucky to have found many great recipes in it.  Its recipes are 100% from southern women, so you can imagine its beauty.

I often tell my students when I give them an outline to write an essay that it’s “idiot-proof,” meaning that they can’t not do it correctly if they follow the directions (whether they follow the directions is another story).  This is an example of an idiot-proof recipe that’s sure to please.  It’s perfect for a man to make because, well, a lot of us are idiots, to be sure.

Toffee for Idiots, or Men’s Toffee

Ingredients:

3/4 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 tsp. salt

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup more of chopped pecans

Makin’ It (You won’t believe this.  I didn’t until I made it.):

In a 9″ buttered (or greased) round baking dish, sprinkle the 3/4 cup of pecans  on the bottom evenly.

Use some of the butter to grease the sides of a 2 to 2 1/2 quart glass (pyrex) bowl.  Put the remaining butter in the bowl.  Add the sugar, the water, and the salt. Don’t stir it.  Microwave this on high for 9 to 11 minutes (it took me 9) or until the mixture just begins to turn light brown.

Using care and oven mitts, pour this mixture over the pecans in the baking dish.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over it and spread them evenly with a knife.  Top with a 1/2 cup of pecans, pressing them into it if you need to.  Chill this in the fridge until it’s firm, about an hour. Seriously be careful with the dish that was in the microwave because it will scorch you if you’re not careful.

After it’s chilled, you should get this:

Toffee 007

Break it into pieces in a manly fashion and enjoy.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

p.s. This is my made-up title. In the book, it’s called “Our Favorite Toffee.”

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Baked Penne with Butternut Squash and Ricotta

26 Dec

Baked Butternut Squash Pasta

‘Tis the day after Christmas, and all through my home,

I felt bloated while cursing

My gut, quite the dome.

(and English teachers, yes, I know it’s a forced rhyme, so piss off)

The first time I went on Weight Watchers, it was right after the holidays.  That year, I relieved myself of the guilt of overindulging in the festivities by promising myself that, indeed, once the holidays were over, I would seriously commit to losing some weight.  I followed through with it and, as I have mentioned many times, it totally changed my lifestyle.  But most importantly, it changed how I cooked and the range of dishes to which I became exposed.

The above dish is straight from Weight Watchers (http://www.weightwatchers.com/food/rcp/RecipePage.aspx?recipeid=140421).  This is definitely in my top 5 WW recipes of all time.  It’s vegetarian (not vegan, though), but it still has some substance to it.  It’s filling, tasty, and the leftovers make excellent lunches.  I will admit, this recipe takes a bit of work (fun for me!), and your timing has to be on.  For whatever reason, too, you will use a lot of dishes making it, but whatever.  It’s worth it.

One change I make with any Weight Watchers pasta dish is that I use low-carb pasta instead of the whole-wheat stuff they always suggest.  The wheat pasta sucks, in my opinion, and the low-carb pasta at least is semblable to regular pasta.

A few years ago, some colleagues and I met at my house to work on a project, and I happened to be making butternut squash as a side dish for dinner that night.  While everyone was chatting, I figured I’d get some of the prep work done for dinner.  One of my colleagues, Brooke, wanted to watch me specifically butcher this butternut squash.  She said that it was one of her favorite vegetables, but she only used the already-cubed kind (found at Trader Joe’s or Costco).  She had no idea how to actually cube it herself.  I have had other people mention this to me a few times since then, so I figure I’ll explain the easy way here for posterity.  It takes 5 minutes, your squash will always be fresher than the pre-cut kind, and it’s cheaper.

How to Peel and Cube a Butternut Squash:

1.  With a big knife, cut the ends off of the squash.

2.  Lay the squash on its side, and slice it into 1″ to 1 1/2″ thick disks.

3.  With a soup spoon, scoop out the ganglia and seeds from the disks that have them.

4.  With a paring knife, peel each disk.

5.  Cut each disk into 1″ cubes.  Easy as a two-bit hooker.

Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash and Ricotta

Ingredients:

Cooking spray

1 butternut squash cut into cubes (the recipe says 20 oz., but I use as much as I have)

1 lb. low-carb penne or something similar

1 1/4 cup low fat or fat free milk

2 tbsp. flour

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper or to taste (I like a lot)

2 tsp. dried thyme, or 1 tbsp. fresh thyme, if you’ve got it

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and put the squash on it in one layer. Spray the squash with more spray and sprinkle it with salt and pepper, like this:

Baked Squash Pasta 1

Cook this for 30 minutes, or until they are tender enough to be mashed easily.  When they are done, put them in a bowl and mash them like potatoes.  Keep the oven on, wise guy.

Get a pot of salted water boiling before you get the squash in the oven so it’s ready when you need it.  Penne usually takes 10 minutes to cook, and you want the penne and the creamy squash sauce all done at roughly the same time, so keep that in mind. When you’re ready, cook the pasta according to the box, drain it, and return it to the pot.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, flour, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Get this to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking regularly so it doesn’t burn.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer a few minutes until it’s thickened, about 2 minutes.  Stir in half of the thyme.  Add this sauce to the mashed squash and stir it together well.  It will look like this:

Baked Squash Pasta 2

Then, add this mixture to the pasta and mix that well.  Take a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and spray it with cooking spray.  Transfer the pasta to this dish and make it all level, like this:

Baked Squash Pasta 3

Now for the fun part.  Spoon dollops of the ricotta over this (if you can’t tell, I use a bit more ricotta than the recipe, like a cup total, because that’s how I roll).  Then, sprinkle the parmesan, walnuts, and the other half of the thyme over it.  It will look like this:

Baked Squash Pasta 5

Bake this for about 20 minutes, until the top is browned and glistening and jovial as the day is long.  A serving is supposed to be 1 cup, which would make it a 5 on the old Weight Watchers system, but I divide this into eight.  I am guessing this is more like a 7 or 8 the way I make it and serve it.

Baked Butternut Squash Pasta

Add a side salad or a veggie and you’ve got yourself a very healthy and tasty meal.

Note:  You might think to add chicken to this to give it some protein.  I have done it and, meh.  The chicken takes away from it a bit, in my opinion, but it’s still good.  The points would have to be adjusted accordingly.

So, as you contemplate your resolutions for the coming year, remember that good food can be had without adding on the pounds.  This dish is an example of it.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

© Jon Marino, 2012

Rib Roast and Yorkshire Pudding for a Night of Good Wine

23 Dec

Rib Roast 2

Christmas is two days away, so the smell of roasting meat should be in many homes all over the world.  Deals for good cuts of meat and large birds abound throughout the marketplace, as well as people whistling, smiling, giving the finger to people who drive slowly or park in stupid places, telling the Salvation Army guy to piss off…ah!  the spirit of Christmas!

The picture above is of a 5+ pound rib roast that I made last night for my family and our friend Marcy, who owns the famous Big Belly Deli in Newport Beach (if you haven’t been there, go and you’ll be a regular).  She has a knack for bringing up some pretty fancy wines, and last night was no different.  It is also the reason that I write this post today rather than right after I made it, like I normally do.

I think about my late mom every day of my life, and this is especially true during Christmas.  This was her season, and she could have faced up to Martha Stewart with aplomb any day of the week.  My mom’s favorite meal was prime rib, and Christmas was one of the times she made it.  It’s so simple to make and such a crowd-pleaser.  When I went outside to find my child in the afternoon, I reentered the house to the wafting aroma of beef roasting with salt and pepper.  I welled up a bit for the memories, of course, but mostly because I was going to eat that damn beast in a few hours with Yorkshire pudding.

One last thing:  in yesterday’s preparation, I made a major mistake on the Yorkshire pudding, that I will explain later.  Did it piss me off?  Yes it did.  Did it ruin my evening?  No, it didn’t.  But I will splay my stupidity before you on Dinner with Jonny to make a point:  fucking up during a special meal happens, and while ’tis disconcerting, I’ve learned to move past it very quickly, make my apologies (which are seldom needed), and continue drinking wine like a medieval lord.

Rib Roast

Ingredients:

a 5 to 10 lb. bone in rib roast

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons pepper

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Rub the rib roast all over with the salt and pepper.  Set the rib roast bone side down in a baking pan or dish that’s big enough to hold it well.  You did it!  Sing the Dora song!

For about 30 minutes, roast that guy at 450°.  After 30 minutes, turn the oven heat down to 350°.  Cook it at this temperature for (according to Emeril) 18 minutes per pound for rare and 22 minutes a pound for medium.  I wanted in between that, and I had a 5 pound roast, so I guessed 20 minutes a pound, which turned out to be 1 hour 20 minutes.  It came out medium, too, which was perfect.  I took the roast out of the oven and transitioned it to a serving dish.  I let it rest for about 30 minutes while I made the Yorkshire Pudding. When you’re ready, slice thinly and serve.

Yorkshire Pudding:

Note:  Before I tell you the recipe (which I got from Alton Brown on foodtv.com), I will tell you how and why I flubbed this one.  A Yorkshire pudding, if you didn’t know, is an oven baked pancake thingie made with the leftover beef drippings from the baking pan.  I had salted and peppered the roast generously in the baking pan (rather than on a cutting board), so all of the excess salt and pepper was at the bottom of the baking dish.  Thinking that I’m hot shit, I decided to put the batter directly into the baking pan, which would have worked had not so much salt been in the pan.  The result was awesome in texture, and my sodium intake for the next week is covered.  It was bloody salty and I was quite bummed because that is what I look forward to when eating prime rib.  Alas.  SO, if you make this, either make sure the roasting pan is not all salted up, or use a different pan altogether.

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp. salt

4 eggs as close to room temp as you can get them

2 cups milk

1/4 beef drippings, divided

Makin’ It:

Heat the oven up to 400°.

Take 2 tablespoons of the drippings and put them in the pan you will be using for the pudding.  Put it in the oven to get it smoking hot as you make the pudding batter.

In a food processor, blender, or with a quick-whisking arm, blend all of the ingredients plus the other 2 tablespoons of beef drippings.  It should be a bubbly fluffy batter when it’s ready (in a processor or blender, about 30 seconds).  When the drippings and the pan are hot enough, pour this batter into the pan, like this:

Yorkshire Pudding 1

Bake this 30 to 40 minutes while your roast rests.  When it’s done, it’ll look like this:

Yorkshire Pudding 2

(Mine could have been browner on top, to be honest)

Cut this into slices and serve immediately with the meat and the juices from it.

Horseradish Mustard Sauce (this is based on Ina Garten’s “Sunday Rib Roast” recipe)

Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

3 tablespoons dijon mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

3 tablespoons prepared horseradish (less if you’re scared of horseradish)

1/4 tsp. salt

Makin’ It:

Mix all of the ingredients together well and let it chill in the fridge for a while until you’re ready to serve.

Horseradish Mustard Sacuce

Serve this with the roast beef slices.

Drinks!  Holy mother of god did we have good wine with this:

Stags Leap Justin Daou

Stags Leap 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon:  This needed to open up in a decanter for a while.  In fact, we all agreed that it needed to not be opened for some years, but it worked well with the food after it aired a bit.  It’s got a lot of tannins and pepper.  Very full bodied.

Justin Temperanillo:  This wine brought me to my knees.  If you get the pleasure of ever trying this, embrace the opportunity.  If you like European reds, this is for you.  Well balanced, peppery, but tempered with a good plum-ness.

Daou Reserve Zinfandel:  Again, just a testicle masseuse of a wine. Big berry flavors but light on the palate.

The exact details of each wine are bit hazy today, truth be told.  Still, I remember feeling more jubilent as the evening wore on…

All three just made this meal a memorable one, but the company of my wife, kid, and Marcy made it unforgettable.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino, 2012

Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs #1

18 Dec

Sauce and Balls 2

The picture above displays a bit of my soul. I have had meatballs and sauce on a weekly basis since I was born, I think.  I remember my mom starting the sauce around noon, and then the house would smell of tomato and garlic for the rest of the day.  As we came in and out of the house while playing, the aroma got stronger the closer we got to dinner.  My brother Chris had (and still has, I would guess) a penchant to take whatever bread was around, drench it in sauce, and then eat it with gusto, maybe even with a meatball on it.  In time, I acquired the same habit.  Simply put, this spaghetti sauce and meatballs is THE representative Italian-American dish.  We all do it in some shape or form.

(On a side note, The Sopranos got the “Sunday Gravy” idiom into the American vernacular when referring to sauce; I myself had never heard it called thus until I watched The Sopranos. Then again, my family emigrated from Naples straight to Los Angeles, so perhaps if I lived in New Jersey or Brooklyn, I might have a different experience of this.)

Any Italian who makes sauce has their own variation (kind of like how everyone has their own version of meatloaf, as I noted a few weeks back).  We might have learned it from our moms or grandmas or pops, but at some point we diverge from them and start playing, as Italians are wont to do.  I have my own recipe for sauce and for meatballs based on the one my mom taught me, which she learned from my nonna.  My brother Andy has his recipe for sauce and meatballs, probably based on my mom’s, and then suffused with his own interpretation.

My brother Chris gave me the recipe below a few weeks ago.  He has a few recipes for sauce and balls, but he told me that I need to make this and then, after I taste it, to try not to play with myself.  Go figure, I changed it a bit when I made it yesterday, and it is quite different from MY sauce (I will post MY sauce sometime in the near future…all good things to those who wait).  Still, I stayed pretty close to what he sent me and, no joke, it’s one of the best I’ve ever made and/or eaten.  What is superior in this recipe compared to mine is that it takes 1/3 of the time, which is a beautiful thing for people who are busy.  He told me that he got it from a New York Times cookbook, and I tried to find it online.  Alas, I found nothing near it, but my mentioning it here will serve as the equivalent of documentation.  If I come across it in the future, I will notate it then.

Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs

Note:  Start making the balls when the sauce has been cooking for about ten minutes or so.

The Balls

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground veal (you could probably use beef if you’re in a pinch or if you’re anti-veal)

2 tsp. olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon dried dill, crushed, or 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsely, or 1 tsp. dried

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (use dried if needs be)

1/4 cup flour

2 to 5 tbsp. of oil (veggie or olive) for frying

Makin’ It:

Heat the 2 teaspoons o’ olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the onion and garlic.  Cook this until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes, and then set it aside to cool.

In a large bowl, add the veal, dill, parsely, nutmeg, salt, pepper, cheese, egg, and bread crumbs.  Add the cooled onion and garlic mixture now.  Wash your hands well.  Then, mix this puppy up with your hands (it’s the only way) and don’t be afraid to handle the meat too much.  Just get it all mixed together very well.

Have a glass of cold water next to you for you to keep your hands moist as you roll the balls.  Take about a 1/4 cup of the meat mixture and shape it into a ball.  Repeat until you have roughly 15 to 18 balls of fairly equal size.

In a large skillet, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat.  When it’s ready, a drop of water will sizzle and pop; don’t put in the meatballs until this happens.

Dredge each meatball in the flour and shake off the excess.  Put in half of the meatballs in the hot oil in a single layer, and cook these guys until they’re quite brown on every side.  Use a fork and tongs or some combination like it to move the balls around in the oil.

Shake off any excess oil (or drain them on paper towels) and put them directly into the simmering sauce.  Once they’re all in the sauce, cook them for about 30 minutes longer and they’re ready to go.

To serve, remove the balls to a separate bowl and pass them around the table with a serving spoon.

The Sauce

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife

1/2 cup white wine (or red, if that’s what you have)

2 28oz. cans crushed tomatoes (if you have diced, put them in a bowl and crush them with your hands)

1 tbsp. dried basil

1 tsp. salt (and then to taste as it cooks)

1/2 black pepper (and then some more to taste)

Makin’ It:

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan or pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat until hot.  Add the onions and cook them for a few minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium low and add the garlic.  Cook the onions and the garlic slowly for 20 minutes or so until the onion is golden brown (note:  This is KEY!  Browning the onions is where a lot of the flavor comes from, so don’t rush it).

Once they’re golden, raise the heat to medium high again and add the wine.  Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan if there are any.

Add the tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper and get it boiling.

Reduce the heat and let it simmer, partly covered, for 30 minutes.  Stir it once in a while. Add the meatballs and cook for another thirty minutes or longer, until the pasta is ready.  If the sauce gets too thick, add some water to it.

Make whatever pasta you want according to the package instructions, drain, and then put it back in the pot.  Immediately add about a ladle or two of sauce and mix it well into the pasta.  It coats the pasta.

Fill a bowl with pasta, top with a ladle of sauce, and pass the parmigiano and the meatballs.  Serve it with some good Italian or French bread, and end it all with a light salad.  Everyone’s happy.

Drinks!  You drink red wine with this.  The chianti with the basket around the bottom of it?  Go for it.  It’s made for this meal.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

p.s.  Thanks to my brother Chris for sharing the love by throwing this recipe our way.

©Jon Marino 2012

Chicken Parmesan

15 Dec

Chicken Parmesan 021

As a first-generation Italian, I have had the pleasure of eating some unbelievably beautiful food made with passion by my aunts, my nonna, my pop’s aunts, my aunt’s relatives visiting from Italy (etc.), my pop, and my mom.  Yet out of all of the dishes made for us, no one ever made chicken parmesan, at least that I can remember.  I think the first time I had it was at Maggiano’s or some such place, and I loved it, and still do.

Chicken Parmesan looks daunting to make, but ’tisn’t.  It also looks very fattening. It kind of is, but it’s not that bad, truth be told. You can bake the chicken, of course, and cut the calories and fat that way, but this is one dish where I feel that trying to make it “Weight Watchers Friendly” does it a disservice.  I have tried to cook this a bunch of different ways, but the way I will show in this post kicks the other recipes in the coglioni.

I usually serve this with Italian Green Beans (I will write about this in a later post), or a salad of some sort to cut through it a bit.  Tonight, as often I do, I made a Caesar salad, a salad made famous by Scungilli Caesar, a Roman obstetrician who felt that Romaine lettuce, hardened bread, parmesan, and a creamy dressing were crucial to prenatal care.

In any case, here goes…

Chicken Parmigiano

Serves 2 (double everything to serve 4, wise guy)

The Sauce:

(Note:  If you’re short on time, use a jarred sauce and you’ll be fine.  I love the Trader Joe’s Basil Marinara for $1.79.  Is it as good as the homemade one below?  Your call.  Try both.) 

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. butter or olive oil (butter massages the taint here, IMHO)

1/2 cup diced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. sugar

A few leaves of fresh basil, chopped, or a teaspoon of dried basil

Makin’ It:

Heat the butter or oil in a medium saucepan.  Add the onion and garlic, and saute until they’re a bit brown (that’s where the flavor comes from, my mom and brother would say, and they’d be right).

Carefully add the undrained tomatoes, salt, pepper, and sugar.  Get this to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Cook it like this for at least 10 minutes, or even longer, while you make the chicken and the pasta.

Right before you serve it, stir in the chopped or dried basil.  Taste for salt (and add some if you need to) and you’re ready to go.

The Chicken:

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts

1/3 cup bread crumbs

1/2 tsp. dried oregano, crushed

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1 egg

2 tbsp. milk

1/4 cup of canola or vegetable oil for frying (I do not suggest olive oil here; it’s too heavy)

A few thin slices of fresh (best) or regular (still good)  mozzarella

A few tablespoons of parmesan

Makin’ It:

Wash, dry, and cut off the fat and bad parts from the chicken breasts.  Take a piece of plastic wrap and put it on a cutting board and lay one of the breasts on it.  Take another piece of plastic wrap of equal size and put it on top.  Take a mallet or small pan and beat your chicken until it’s about a 1/2″ to a 1/4″ thickness and mostly even.  Repeat with the second breast.  It will look like this, yo:

Chicken Parmesan Pounding

In a bowl, beat the egg and the milk.  On a flat plate, mix the bread crumbs, oregano, and parmesan.

Heat the oil in a large skillet until hot over medium to medium high heat.  If you put a drop of water in it and it pops and sizzles, it’s ready.

Coat each chicken breast well with the egg mixture and then coat each with the breadcrumb mixture, like this:

Chicken Parmesan Breading

Place it carefully in the hot oil.  Fry for 4 minutes on each side (or until cooked through), and each should be golden brown on each side (a bit darker is OK too…I’m always careful to cook my chicken through).  You might have to do this in two batches.

Drain them on paper towels.

Preheat your oven to broil.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Place each breast on the foil.

On each breast, add a few slices of mozzarella and a tablespoon or two of parmesan, like this:

Chcken Parmesan Before the Oven

Put this under the broiler for a few minutes, and make sure you don’t burn them.  2 to 3 minutes works for me.

To Serve:

Put a portion of freshly-cooked pasta (thin spaghetti works for me here) mixed with some of the sauce on a plate.  Put a chicken breast with melted cheese on it with finesse, and then spoon some more sauce on top of it. It looks like this:

Chicken Parmesan 018

Put a napkin, knife, and fork out on the table and make a toast (see below).

Drinks!

Trentatre Rosso

I got this at Trader Joe’s tonight.  It’s one of the best Italian wines I have had in a while from there.  It was not expensive, perhaps $7?  I forgot because my 4 year old was running amok with his own little cart at that point.

The Italian Toast

I worked at a “fine dining” Italian restaurant as a bartender before I started my penance as a high school English teacher.  The owner and chef taught me this toast one night as we were closing and having some vino.

A few years later, I made the toast in front of my dad, who came to the U.S. from Naples in the 1950’s.  He asked me where I learned it, and then he proceeded to tell me that, in Italy, it goes back to the time of Dante (1200’s-1300’s, that is).  I can’t verify it, but my pop’s from there, so I’ll take his word for it.  I invoke this toast as often as I can in mixed company, the more conservative, the better.  Make everyone repeat after you as you say each part with passion, glasses raised high.  Translate it for them only after they’ve drunk a sip:

Acqua Fresca, Vino Puro,

Fica Stretta, Cazzo Duro

(notice how it rhymes in Italian)

English Translation:

Fresh Water, Pure Wine,

Tight Pussy, Hard Dick

(alas, no rhyme)

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino, 2012

Potatoes Lots o’ Ways: Roasted and Good for You

14 Dec

Mustard Potatoes #2

I love potatoes.  In the U.S., they’re the quintessential side dish for everything, whether they’re fried, mashed, baked, roasted, boiled, barbecued, made into chips, or made into salads. We put them with everything at any meal at any time of day.

A few years ago when we decided to go on Weight Watchers, the potatoes in this house, alas, had to get the fuck out of Dodge.  If you’re trying to lose weight (rather than maintain), substituting squash and veggies is the way to go.

Still, I make potatoes at least three times a week, and I still loosely (and this XMas season, I mean loooooooooosely, unlike my belt) follow some sort of weight control regimen.  This general directive is a sort of guiltless recipe for potatoes that has lots of options and still gives one that “potatoes on the side feeling” without sacrificing the potatoes themselves or the flavor and richness of them.

Roasting potatoes is easy.  The scheme upon which I elucidate below can be molded into whatever “theme” you’re cooking that evening.  The best part of this is the experimentation.  If it sounds good, go for it.  The basic method still applies.

Roasted Potatoes a Lot o’ Ways

Ingredients:

2 to 3 lbs. of any type of potato you want or have, cut into 1″ to 1 1/2″ chunks (really…any potato works, peels on or off, for that matter)

a few teaspoons of olive oil, if you’re cool with the extra fat and calories

-or-

a bunch of cooking spray, the olive oil kind is best for it

salt and pepper to taste, a good dusting of each…but remember, as my mom always told me, you can always add later, but you can’t take it out!

Makin’ ‘Em:

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Spray a baking sheet or baking dish with cooking spray or just grease it somehow.

Whatever preparation you choose above or below, roast them in a single layer on the baking sheet for 40 minutes.  They look like this going in:

Mustard Potatoes before baking

(Mustard Crusted with Onions)

Turn them once or twice to brown them evenly.  They look like this coming out, in case you forgot:

Mustard Potatoes #2

(I might enter this picture in the county fair next year, now that I look at its beauty…)

Serve.

Different Ideas Before Roasting

(Note: each variation expects that you will toss them with either a tablespoon or two of olive oil or a bunch of cooking spray.)

Salt ‘n’ Pepa:  a really bad ’80’s band, but a great classic way to roast potatoes. Toss with a good dusting of salt and pepper…a teaspoon or more of each.

Mustard Crusted (shown in the pictures):  Toss with salt, pepper, 2 tbsp. whole grain mustard, and some parsely, dried or fresh.  Add a quartered onion into this and you’ll have people offering you reach-arounds.

Smokey: Toss with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or two of smoked paprika, which is very cheap at Costco.

Paprika-y: Toss with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or two of regular paprika.

Indian:  Toss with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or two of Garam Masala or curry powder.

Mexican:  Toss with a bit of salt and a packet of taco seasoning (or homemade taco seasoning, which is what I do: https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2012/10/27/10-26-12-faco-friday-faco-means-taco-in-proto-indo-european-or-so-i-heard/)

Carribean:  Toss with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or two of jerk seasoning.

Scandinavian:  Toss with salt, pepper, and a few teaspoons of dried dill (this is especially good if you roast carrots, parsnips, and onions with them, but up the dill to a tablespoon or two if you do it).

Herbed:  Toss with salt, pepper, and a few teaspoons of dried thyme or marjoram or something herb-y.

New Orleans:  Toss with salt, pepper, creole seasoning (like Tony Chachere’s), and some cayenne, depending on how spicy you want them.

In all cases, good, healthy additions are onions, carrots, parsnips, fennel bulb slices, etc.  Just make sure they will be done at approximately the same time as the potatoes.  Green Beans, for example, don’t work because they will get burnt before the potatoes are done.

The sky’s the limit with the variations  on roasted potatoes and, truth be told, I’m guessing most already know this.  But, this is Dinner with Jonny, and through the years, I have been amazed when people ask me, “How did you DO that?”  And when I tell them, they’re like, “You’re joking, right?”  Nope.  I’m serious.  ‘Tis easy.

Until later, east, drink and peace out.

Animal-Style Burger for Man Night

7 Dec

As I wrote in my first post on dinnerwithjonny, every Thursday is “Man Eats Alone and Watches Whatever He Wants” night, or something to that effect.  I have run out of the British Sherlock series, so my favorite murder mystery, The Midsomer Murders, on netflix will suffice just fine.  As we are having a guest tomorrow and I will be cooking steaks, tonight I had to come up with another idea for my solitary man-dinner.

Animal Style Final

Meet the homemade “Animal Style” Double Double inspired by In-N-Out.  Besides Texas and Toronto, it would seem, In-N-Out is mostly a California tradition.  It is spreading east for sure, which is good for them, as they will find out.

If you’ve never had In-N-Out, there’s nothing like it.  They make the best hamburgers around, flat.  If you’ve ever traveled around California and tried to go to In-N-Out at any location, it is always busy.  Always.

One of the many bitchin’ parts about In-N-Out is that they have a secret menu, sort of.  Their menu is basic, but if you know what to ask for, you can get all sorts of fun sides (hot peppers individually wrapped being one) and preparations.

One such preparation is called “animal style,” which can be had on both burgers and fries.  Basically, they smear mustard on the patties before grilling them, and then they add grilled onions with extra secret sauce, pickles, and cheese.  If you order fries like this, these extras are all dumped on top of them sans pickles.

Now I will be the first to admit, nothing replaces or can hold a candle to an original In-N-Out Animal Style Double Double.  That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t try at home when you have all of the ingredients on hand.  There is nothing exotic about how it’s made, and it’s pretty friggin’ good even if it isn’t the same thing.  It’s kind of like mom trying to imitate McDonalds.

The best part is that it’s easy.

Animal Style Double Double at Home

Serves 1 (double this recipe to make two)

Ingredients:

2  1/4 lb. beef hamburger patties (use whetever fat content you want, but I would go with 85/15)

Yellow mustard

1/4 cup grilled onions (in a small skillet, heat 1 tbsp. butter and brown the onions over medium heat, about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring here and there)

1000 Island dressing or a comparable secret sauce

2 slices American cheese

Meat Seasoning (I use Suzy-Q’s, the Santa Maria style BBQ secret)

A few leaves of iceburg lettuce

2 slices of tomato

1 regular hamburger bun

Makin’ It:

Once you’ve got the ingredients done and ready, like the grilled onions, it’s basically cooking a couple o’ burgers and putting it together.

Animal Style 1

First, though, coat the patties with the seasoning.  Then, smear a good amount of mustard on one side of the patty.  In a hot skillet (medium high heat), put the patties mustard-side down.  Then, smear the up side of the patties with more mustard, like this:

Animal Style 3

After about 5 minutes or so, flip them and cook another 5 minutes.  Put a slice of cheese on each right before they’re done and get the cheese to melt a bit, but not totally.

For the bun, smear a good amount of 1000 Island on each side of the bun.  On the bottom part of the bun, lay the leaves of lettuce, and then put the two tomatoes on that.  Mix some 1000 Island with the grilled onions and put those on the top part of the bun:

Animal Style 4

Lay the finished patties on the tomatoes, and cover with the top bun.  You will get a pseudo-Animal Style Double Double that looks like this:

Animal Style Final

Is it the real thing?  No.  But is it good?  To quote Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, “I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars but it’s pretty fuckin’ good.” And it’s a snap to make.

Drinks!  From Trader Joe’s I got a Chilean carmenere (that’s the name of the grape) called Found Object.  It’s pretty good and not expensive.  Give it a try sometime.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino, 2012