Archive | April, 2013

Brocco-Chicken Pie

29 Apr

Brocco-Chicken Pie 010

The central coast of California produces some exemplary items.  For example, some 75%+ of the strawberries consumed by the United States are grown right here.

Santa Maria, the city in which I live, also had the honor of having the state’s worst drivers; in the last few years, there were more hit-and-run accidents per capita than anywhere else in the state. Almost every day, I see people stopped directly underneath “No Stopping Anytime” signs. Ironically, we moved away from Orange County to escape traffic, but here some drivers will stop in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, blocking traffic, to say ” ‘s up” to a friend meandering along the street, thus creating a voluntary gridlock along Broadway at which most people (not me) just shrug.

If you’ve never had Santa Maria tri-tip, put it on your bucket list. Moreover, our wine has its fair share of acclaim, especially after the movie Sideways was filmed here. Unlike another area in California that rhymes with “Mapa,” there are still many wine tasting rooms that haven’t been discovered by metropolitan-based weekend wine-pricks who pontificate on any given wine either to supplement their Viagra or to rationalize their alcoholism.

Empty beaches still exist here, and people still drive El Caminos here with a vengeance.

My wife is the office manager of a large greenhouse facility in Nipomo, California; chances are that, if you have bought a poinsettia at a California Costco during Xmas,  my wife was responsible for getting it there. Working in the agriculture business has its benefits.  She often comes home with bags full of freshly picked produce that one of her colleagues brought in.  At my school site, boxes of lemons, oranges, broccoli, or lettuce regularly adorn the break room tables with a sign saying to take as much as you want. A five minute drive yields farm fresh eggs costing next to nothing, and the strawberries that we get to buy at local stands are the best available in the world.

Today, a sack o’ fresh broccoli greeted me from my kitchen island.  Also greeting me were vapid boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  What to do, what to do…?  Pie!  Any time’s a good time for pie, so I got to thinking that a cheesy-broccoli-chicken-y thing would work.  Recipes for this exist all over the web, and I must have read about 6 to 9 of them.  But when it came down to it, like Luke Skywalker turning off his targeting computer to blow up the Death Star, I just went with the force and winged it.

The result, my very own Brocco-Chicken Pie, is pretty spectacular in terms of taste and ’tis pretty easy to make. I made the pie crust from scratch (and I nailed it, I might add, which is a first for me), but if I had the pre-made ones from the supermarket fridge, I would have used them instead.  The taste reminds me of the 50’s, gingham aprons, and home-cookin’.  You could easily make the filling beforehand and assemble the pie when you’re ready.

Brocco-Chicken  Pie

Serves 8

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 onion, chopped

2 tbsp. flour

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup milk (low fat or whatever)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (Swiss, Havarti, jack, or whatever would work here)

1 lb. fresh broccoli florets, steamed to the point where they’re not quite done, trimmed of most of the stems, and roughly chopped

2 cups cooked chicken, chopped (you could use canned chicken, but you’d be really ghetto, and I’d love you for it)

Salt and pepper

1 double pie crust for a 9″ pie

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a medium saucepan or skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and saute the onions until they’re tender, about 4 minutes.  Add the flour, mix it well, and cook it for a minute, stirring constantly.  Using a wire whisk, add in the black pepper and broth. Whisk it all together until it’s creamy.  Add in 1/4 cup of the milk and whisk it again until it gets bubbly, and then add in the rest of the milk and whisk it until it’s bubbly again.

Add it the cheese, chicken, and broccoli.  Cook it until the cheese is melted and it’s a steamy, happy pie filling. Taste it for salt and pepper and adjust, if needed.

Line a 9″ pie dish with one of the crusts and pour in the filling, spreading it evenly.  Top it with the other crust and, pulling the bottom crust lip over, pinch it together with the top crust lip again the top inside rim of the dish until it’s all sealed and looks like mom made it.  Cut a few decorative slits in the top to let steam escape.

Bake this at 400° for 40 minutes, or until the crust is done.  If it starts getting too brown, put foil on it.  The juices will start to bubble up on the crust when it’s done. Let it cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes. Slice into 8 pieces and serve.

Brocco-Chicken Pie 008

While my pie might be ugly to the master pie-maker’s eye, it sings home-cookin’ to me.  This is easy to make and is great lunch for the next day.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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Slow Cooker Country Captain Chicken

27 Apr

Country Captain Chicken 003

Being a California native, I asked myself in my head, “What the hell is Country Captain Chicken?” the first time I heard of it. During my first years of teaching, one of my colleagues, originally from West Virginia, said she was making this for her son that night because he was coming home from college for the weekend and this was his favorite.  When I heard this, I asked her, “What the hell is Country Captain Chicken?” I received but a nebulous answer that it was chicken. And lastly, when I was looking through my Weight Watchers cookbook, I saw a Country Captain Chicken recipe, and I therefore inquired aloud, “What the hell is Country Captain Chicken?”  I am somewhat implacable concerning some things.

Briefly, Country Captain Chicken is a full-on American dish comprised of Chicken (told you), mushrooms, tomatoes, raisins, and curry over rice.  I would never have guessed, based on the ingredients, that it would be a southern tradition, but ’tis, and ’tis another reason I love the south.

Wikipedia, a reference that I mock and scorn as a teacher teaching research (yet I embrace as a lover of easily-accessible information in my private life), indicates that Country Captain Chicken could be regarded, as Chef Mamrej Khan has said, as one of the world’s first fusion foods.  Wow.  Wikipedia also describes that it was brought over here by the British probably through the port of Savannah with which the British East India Company traded.  Therefore, my Anglophilia is satisfied by this account and it is an Indian-British-American South dish.

Now with Weight Watchers, stews are very prominent because they fill you up, they can made without a lot of fat, and they still pack tons o’ flavor.  The Country Captain, whoever he is, does that job brilliantly here. The curry ties everything together, and you get a huge portion (2 1/4 cups) on rice (1/2 cup) for only 7 points on the old WW system (Points Plus and 360° can both fuck off indefinitely).  Moreover, it’s a slow-cooker recipe, so you can put this baby together before work and, when it’s time to eat, all you have to make is the rice.  Easier than a curious college student on Mardi Gras.

Slow Cooker Country Captain Chicken

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 cups mushrooms, sliced (any mushroom variety would work)

1 cup onion, chopped

1/2 cup celery, chopped

1 chopped bell pepper, seeded and membranes removed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken (breast or thighs), chopped into bite-size pieces

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/2 cup chicken broth, fat free if possible

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp.  black pepper

1/2 tsp. paprika

3 cups canned crushed tomatoes, or diced tomatoes crushed by hand

1/4 cup raisins or dried fruit

2 cups cooked rice, white or brown

fresh basil leaves (optional)

Makin’ It:

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and coat it with cooking spray or a tiny bit o’ olive oil.  Add the mushrooms, onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic. Saute these guys until they’re tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Add these to the slow cooker along with the chicken and mix it all up.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and the broth until it’s smooth.  Add it to the slow cooker. Add in the curry powder, salt, pepper, paprika, tomatoes, and raisins.  Stir this together until it’s well-blended.

Cover and cook on the low setting for 5 hours.  Spoon 1/2 cup o’ rice on four plates (use a measuring cup to make the cool rice dome you see in my pictures). Ladle the chicken and sauce on each plate. You can serve it with fresh, torn basil leaves too, and it’s wonderful.

Country Captain Chicken 009

This has been a regular in my house for years.  Taste it and you’ll know why.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Chicken and Chickpea Chili that’s Good for You

26 Apr

Weight Watchers Chicken and Chickpea Chili 1

Good ol’ American chili is an art-form.  I quote the famous curmudgeonly sleuth, Nero Wolfe:  “Chili is one of the great peasant foods. It is one of the few contributions America has to world cuisine. Eaten with corn bread, sweet onion, sour cream, it contains all five of the elements deemed essential by the sages of the Orient: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, and bitter.” Couldn’t have said it better me-self.

In the States, annual chili cook-offs are a tradition in which almost every American has participated at one time or another.  I don’t know any American who doesn’t love a kick-ass bowl o’ chili. To boot, any given family’s chili recipe is secret, kept hidden but to a privileged few of the succeeding generations, to be passed on thereafter in covert meetings by the stove on an autumn day to worthy kin. Chili is diverse in its content in that it can contain any meat imaginable, or no meat; lots o’ beans, or no beans; veggies galore, or simply meat and sauce.  In essence, it represents America even more than the hamburger; chili can be any color, any personality, and created by any culture or creed, and we will accept it, love it, and welcome it into our homes and our lives. That’s why I love chili, and that’s why I love that I’m American.

Funnily enough, my family doesn’t have a chili recipe.  In fact, I don’t even have a “this is my chili” recipe, which kind of bums me out.  I keep working at it, though, and when I hit on one that reflects me, I will start there, tweak and revise, and eventually post it here.  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t made some good chili along the way.  This Chicken and Chickpea Chili recipe will make the insides of your thighs tingle.  Is it you exactly?  Maybe, maybe not.  You have to make it you, of course.

A few years back,  I got the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook as a housewarming present (with a message about how my weight loss is inspiring, no less (aw shucks)), and I have used it fairly often since then. This recipe is in there. I did take a few liberties with it, of course, but not enough to alter the points.  1 1/2 cups of it is an 8 on the old Weight Watchers system (Points Plus and 360° can both fuck off profoundly).  Check out that it has cocoa powder; you’ll be surprised at how much it heightens the flavor. Moreover, it doesn’t take too long, in terms of chili. You have to find a cornbread recipe that will limit the points, of course, but the chili on its own is good enough.

Chicken and Chickpea Chili

Serves 4, 1 1/2 cups for each serving

Ingredients:

4 tsp. olive oil

1 bell pepper, any color, seeded, membranes removed, and diced

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 medium red onion, diced

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 lb. or so), diced

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. chili powder

1 tbsp. ground cumin

1 heaping tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 to 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional and dependent on your love of heat)

1 can diced green chilies

1 28 oz. can crushed tomato

1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (or thereabouts)

1/2 cup chicken broth (low sodium and no fat would be best for WW)

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

a few dashes o’  hot sauce, like Tabasco (optional)

1 15 oz. can (or so) chickpeas (garbanzos, drained and rinsed)

1 15 oz. can (or so) pinto beans (drained and rinsed)

Makin It:

In a dutch oven (translation: pot), heat the oil over medium to medium high heat. Add the bell pepper, celery, and onions.  Saute them until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the diced chicken and cook until no longer pink, about 7 minutes.

Sprinkle this with the flour, chili powder, cocoa powder, and cayenne and stir this constantly for a minute.  Add in the chilies, tomatoes, broth, vinegar, and hot sauce, if using.  Bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer it for 30 to 40 minutes uncovered, stirring fairly frequently, until it’s thickened to your liking (hehe).

Next, stir in the chickpeas and pinto beans.  Simmer until it’s heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve in bowls with corn bread or alone.  Pass the low-fat sour cream and sing the National Anthem with gusto, kiddos.

Weight Watchers Chicken and Chickpea Chili

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

The Best Chicken Caesar Salad

20 Apr

Chicken Caesar 002

One of the most embarrassing experiences I have ever had occurred because of a salad.  It took place in the west of Ireland after three nights at an Irish blues festival that changed both my view of the world and my capacity for drink. My best friend Pat, I, and my boss at the time, Dick, were eating at a luncheonette.  We had been in Europe for only about five days, but Dick was already feeling a bit homesick for some good ol’ American food staples, like Cheetos, Twinkies, and Del Taco.

The tension had been building for a day or so, but its breaking point came when Dick got the salad he ordered.  The plate consisted of a small pile of lettuce, a wedge of tomato, a dollop of mayo, and 1/4 of a hard-boiled egg.  At the time in Ireland, this was salad; ranch dressing didn’t exist in Ireland (I’m not sure if it does now, either, come to think of it) and salad didn’t figure prominently at any restaurant.  But Dick had had enough of European cuisine.  When the dish was set in front of him, the tiger was unleashed: “This isn’t a fucking salad!  I’m so sick of this shit!  I want a real salad with ranch and I want a goddamn hamburger! What kind of backward-ass country doesn’t know how to make a salad?!?” Obviously from this, anyone can see no reason at all why Europeans might call Americans pushy.  I mean, Dick was right, wasn’t he? He was just being (an) honest Dick and Ireland should be honored to receive such eloquent advice.

Holy mother I cannot even begin to express my mortification in that luncheonette. We ended up ditching him in Paris at the first opportunity and that did not serve me well when I came back to my job two months later.  Yet the gods close one door to open others, and this whole story needs to lead up to a Chicken Caesar salad recipe, somehow. I suppose it reminds me that salads for dinner are an American creation. Do I daresay a California invention?  I’m not sure. Regardless, the Chicken Caesar salad reigns king of the American dinner salads.

The reason this recipe kicks ass is simply due to the dressing.  I got it from a book called Glorious Italian Cooking by Nick Stellino, and even people who don’t care for Caesar salads have opened up to mine and have been titillated.

Lastly, don’t be afraid of the anchovy used in the dressing.  It gives a salty flavor and that’s about it, and if there is someone who hates even a hint of a fishy taste, it’s me.

The Best Chicken Caesar Salad

Serves 4

Dressing Ingredients:

4 anchovy fillets, or the equivalent amount of anchovy paste

6 whole, peeled garlic cloves

6 tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise

4 tbsp. white wine vinegar or rice vinegar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

4 tbsp. olive oil

Makin’ It:

Put all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and process it until it’s smooth.  Open the feed tube and add the olive oil slowly in a steady stream while the motor is running.  This will make the dressing creamy and beautiful.  Scrape out the bowl and set it aside until you assemble the salad.

Salad Ingredients:

2 grilled chicken breasts, cubed (the pre-grilled chicken from the supermarket works too, but you’d be ghetto)

3 heads romaine lettuce, washed, drained well, and chopped up

2 cups of croutons (store bought or homemade) or parmesan goldfish crackers (don’t knock it until you try it)

1 cup shredded parmesan

freshly ground black pepper

Caesar dressing

Makin’ It:

In a giant bowl, toss all of the ingredients together until everything until everything is well coated with the dressing.  Divide this amongst four big salad bowls and serve, like this:

Chicken Caesar 014

I am of the opinion that, when you taste this dressing, you’ll never buy Caesar in a bottle again.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash: The Perfect Side

19 Apr

Weight Watchers Roasted Butternut Squash (3)

When it comes to keeping a healthy weight, I think 95% of people have an Achilles heel that makes it difficult to maintain the ideal weight and figure (the other 5% are actresses, supermodels, men named Troy, and women invariably named Jenni, spelled with an “i”).  Through the years, I’ve noticed that many people’s downfall is sweets; when 9 p.m. rolls around, the ice cream beckons, the cookies croon, and the snack-size candy bars bare their chocolaty nipples (both male AND female candy, I might add).  I’m lucky in that I can take or leave sweets.  Every so often, I go through a peanut butter and chocolate kick, but it doesn’t last long and I remember that beer is much more fulfilling on so many levels.

No, my bad eating habit is primarily carbs.  I love them.  And I love bad carbs, too, like chips, French fries, bread, potato salad, more chips, and beer.  I have actually made a ham and potato salad sandwich for lunch, and added a healthy side o’ Doritos to round it out, and I had no guilt whatsoever because I was too busy marveling at my hill-billy ingenuity.

In Ireland, for example, when the pubs close, often a food truck waits outside for its progeny.  In this remarkable institution, they make something called a “Chip Butty.” It is basically a hamburger with French fries substituted for meat. I think I almost cried the first time I had it because it was like we were meant for each other and I had to go all the way to Clifden, Ireland, to consummate the serendipitous meeting.  *sigh*

Anyhow, when I started trying to lose the weight, I realized that the potatoes and carbs had to go, not totally, but mostly.  Whole grain breads and crackers (if any) are the norm for us now, and when I’m just maintaining weight (rather than losing), those Pop Chips or any baked chips do it for me.

But what the hell is a good substitute for potatoes?  For us, it’s butternut squash.  It’s high in fiber, counts as a veggie, is flavorful, and still has the “weight” of a carb-heavy potato.  I probably butchered 3 of these a week for a year. When I lost a lot of weight, I attribute it partly to eating hardly any potatoes and a lot of squash.  It makes a good mash (which I will share later), but to simply roast it with some spice is magic.  It’s a staple on my Thanksgiving table and I never have leftovers.

Roasted Butternut Squash

Makes 4 servings depending on the size of the squash; 1 cup is an old Weight Watchers 1

Ingredients:

1 good size butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and cubed (see below)

1  to 2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

2 tsp. chili powder (or cayenne (careful), paprika, or smoked paprika)

Cooking spray (Pam works, but the olive oil one is best)

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Spray a baking sheet with some cooking spray.

To peel a butternut squash, lay it on its side, cut off the ends, and then slice it into disks.  Peel each disk, spoon out the seeds of the disks that have them, and then cut them into 1″ cubes.

Make one even layer of squash on the cooking sheet and give it a good spray to coat all of the squash well.  Sprinkle on the salt and chili powder.  Mix this up by hand to distribute the spice evenly. Spray a little more spray on it for good measure.  Put it in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, tossing them after 20 minutes of roasting.

Remove from the oven and serve immediately.  ‘Tis a piece of cake.

Weight Watchers Roasted Butternut Squash (4)

The keys to losing weight are cutting the carbs, upping the fiber, keeping the portion sizes down, and walking a bunch.  It’ll work for you….and this recipe will make it more enjoyable for sure.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Sesame Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

13 Apr

Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

I have mentioned many times that joining Weight Watchers yields some exemplary recipes and materials.  What’s interesting, though, is that a lot of their published recipes do not seem to be made by people who cook a lot.  Timing and portion sizes, particularly, are often off a bit, which is fine if you know how to adjust accordingly…or if you read Dinner with Jonny, which seeks to ameliorate those deficiencies.

This recipe a goddamn keeper because of it’s versatility.  It can be a main dish served warm or, served cold, an easy crowd pleaser for a pot luck or a side in an Asian feast.  It’s best if you put it together and let it get happy in the fridge for a while so the flavors mingle and intensify. I love doubling the recipe, portioning it out, and eating it for lunch during the week.  It’s light, filling, and packs wonderful flavors.

The booklet from which I gleaned this recipe gives each portion a 5 on the old WW points system (Points Plus and 360° can fuck off) if you use 2 oz. of noodles.  The noodles are the best part, so I double the noodles and add 2 points, making it on or about a 7. Serve it with a green veggie of some sort to round it all out. Easy as a porn star with a car payment due.

Sesame Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients:

5 oz. buckwheat soba noodles (any thin noodle will do, even spaghetti, but adjust the points accordingly for WW)

1 tbsp. rice vinegar

1 tbsp. honey

3 tsp. soy sauce

2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1 tsp. sriracha (optional)

1 tsp. sesame oil

1 grilled or roasted boneless chicken breast, sliced

1 bunch green onions, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into very thin coins

2 tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional)

1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Makin’ It:

Boil the noodles according to the package.

While the noodles are a-boiling, in a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, honey, soy sauce, ginger, and sriracha (if using). Set it aside.

Drain the noodles and quickly toss them with the sesame oil.  Add in the vinegar mixture, the chicken breast slices, the carrots, and the green onions. Toss with well and make sure you get the veggies mixed in there thoroughly (it’s a bit tough to do, as you’ll see). Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and cilantro (if using).

Chicken Soba Noodle Salad 4

This is a perfect spring or summer dish, and it’s virtually guilt free.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Israeli Couscous

13 Apr

Israeli Couscous 3

In one of my first posts, I shared an Israeli couscous recipe attached to a recipe for tandoori chicken pitas.  The pictures were horrible and did not do the dish justice.  Moreover, it was part of a very convoluted post and it was the first time I made it.  Since then, I have made it a few times, tweaked the recipe, and I am now certain that this will make anyone’s nipples erect and tingly.  So I decided to do a separate post on it.

This dish could be a meal in and of itself.  If you grill up some chicken breasts, slice them, and put it on top of this, you have a very healthy and tasty dinner.  Use vegetable broth and it’s vegetarian.  Any sort of candied nuts will do, and they are easily made if you have plain ol’ nuts in the pantry (“Nuts in the Pantry” sounds like a great album name or a Three Stooges episode, no?).

This recipe was originally inspired by the recipe on the back Trader Joe’s Israeli Couscous.

Israeli Couscous

Serves 6 at least

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup red onion or shallots

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable would be best)

1/2 tsp. salt

a handful of chopped parsely, chopped

lemon zest from 1/2 of a lemon

1/4 cup chopped candied nuts (I got the candied walnuts from Trader Joe’s and they’re unreal) or pine nuts

1/4 cup of raisins or similar dried fruit (figs, cranberries, etc.)

black pepper to taste

Makin’ It:

In a medium sauce pan over medium to medium high heat, heat the olive oil and saute the onion until it’s golden, about 7 minutes.  Add the couscous, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf, and saute until the couscous starts to get golden, about four minutes and stirring often.

Slowly pour in the chicken broth and add the salt.  Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and let cook for 12 minutes or until tender.  Uncover, fluff, add in the parsley, lemon zest, nuts, raisins, and pepper, and mix well. Sprinkle with additional parsley and you’re rockin’, like this:

Israeli Couscous 2

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013