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Archive | May, 2013

T.J.’s Butternut Squash and Ravioli with Béchamel Sauce

21 May

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Bechamel 3

This seemingly over-indulgent and altogether gorgeous dish will beguile you. You might think that you can’t possibly eat this without guilt. Believe it or not, this dish, with shaved cinnamon-crusted Toscano cheese, béchamel sauce (pronounced bay’-sha-mel), butternut squash ravioli, and passion, is but 10 points on the old Weight Watchers Points system (Points Plus and 360° can genuinely fuck off).  When I tabulated the points, I was blown away myself.

Yesterday, Sunday, we took our kid to his first big league ball game at the Big A and watched the Angels actually beat the White Sox under the Southern California sun. Since it’s a 3 1/2 hour drive for us each way, we decided to take the next day off, drop the kiddo off at daycare, and ponder the niceties of life.  Like date nights, these simple days off once in a while are important for families and general sanity, I’m realizing.

For example, non-holiday Monday morning shopping at Trader Joe’s cannot be more peaceful. It’s insightful, really, to realize that just the space of no kid or regular public around can truly make you see another angle in this life-journey that we travel. The rigmarole of wrangling with a kid who doesn’t want to get dressed, putting the kid in the car as they remark on the cracks in the sidewalk and that there are wipies on the floor of the car, having inane conversations about the construction equipment lining the streets, acknowledging that, yes, the back seat window is completely covered with melted stickers, dealing with glutted small town traffic replete with old people braking when they see leaves on the street, getting the kid out of the car without s/he running rampant through the parking lot, and finally chasing the kid around Trader Joe’s as he aims for every Achilles tendon to maim with his kid-cart…these activities make us forget that there was once a time when shopping always seemed to be accompanied by the old Price is Right music when Johnny was explaining each item upon which to be bid. It’s still there. I promise. I heard it today.

And with it, I found this:

Trader Joes Butternut Squash Triangoli

Of course, homemade ravioli are always superior, but they’re a pain in the ass to make. Alternatively, these are pretty awesome in my opinion, and I think you’ll agree.

When I calculated the WW points, each portion is a 4.  I knew that I had a WW béchamel sauce recipe that turned out to be a 3 for 1/2 cup o’ sauce, which is a good amount of sauce, I might add. We also topped it with a T.J.’s cinnamon-coated Toscano cheese, of which we only took a few shavings for each portion. A 10? Could it be true? ‘Tis.

And then it all struck me in an epiphany. The butternut squash ravioli with a nutmeg-flavored béchamel sauce, topped with shaved cinnamon Italian cheese, there is no need to say more; it’s a nut-buster on every level. Moreover, it’s light. Lastly, to make it, it’s as easy as a cougar in a fit of whimsy with a new dress from Nordstrom Rack.

T.J.’s Butternut Squash and Ravioli with Béchamel Sauce

Serves 3

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup flour

3 cups 1% milk

1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 white pepper

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 package Trader Joe’s Butternut Squash Triangoli

shavings of Toscano, grana, or parmesan cheese (again, the cinnamon coated Toscano cheese totally works with the squash and the nutmeg; it’s a match made in the heavens)

Makin’ It:

Note: You need to constantly whisk the sauce, kiddo, no joke. So give yourself 20 minutes or so to do it. If you don’t whisk it constantly, you will have a burnt milk mess on your hands. I’m just sayin’.

Get a big pot o’ water boiling for the pasta. When it’s boiling, add a few tablespoons of salt right before you put in the pasta. Get the sauce almost done before you start cooking the ravioli; timing is kind of key in all of this.

For the sauce, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat Whisk in the flour and it will get cake-y and crumbly. No worries. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly, until it’s totally smooth and those lumps are gone.  Add in the salt, white pepper, thyme, and nutmeg. Get this to a simmer to thicken it, which will take about 10 to 12 minutes (or more), as you whisk. When it’s a creamy consistency and it’s boiling a bit, you’ve nailed it.

Drain the cooked ravioli and toss it with some of the sauce. Divide the ravioli between three plates and top each with 1/2 cup of the béchamel sauce. Top this with some shaved cheese, and then sprinkle a bit of dried thyme on there to keep it real. You’ll get this:

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Bechamel 1

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Bechamel 4

Say it loud alone, but obnoxiously in mixed company:

Acqua fresca, vino puro,

Fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Until later, eat drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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Revived Pizza

18 May

Revived Pizza 2

I said in an earlier post that pizza’s like sex: even if it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. But one of my brothers-in-law disputed me on this, stating that bad sex can be, um, bad. I neglected to get the details of this, but I concurred that he might have a point, philosophically.

Since then, I have pondered, cogitated, and thought (all at once I might add) how to surmount this rub. So I revised my statement to him, stating that pizza is still like sex: some is better than none. I cannot imagine anyone arguing with that.

I got this recipe idea from the Eat Like a Man cookbook I received for an XMas present a year or two back (cool blog: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/food-for-men/).

To be brief, don’t just throw a piece of pizza in the microwave, and I again get philosophical on you: we cut too many corners these days, myself included, while the alternative is well worth the few extra minutes (resorting to masturbation chimes in here somehow, I think). Just like a cooling fall day that’s warmed by mom’s oven baking something, an oven-heated pizza slice warms the heart and only takes  few extra minutes.

Revived Pizza

Ingredients:

1 slice o’ left-over pizza

Parmesan, or a cheese that gets your pheromones a-flaring and your thighs a-tinglin’

1 egg, poached (best), basted (excellent), fried (good), scrambled (o.k. but somewhat ghetto), or hard boiled (ghetto)

Ground black pepper

Makin’ It:

Heat the oven to 450°.

Sprinkle the pizza slice with the parmesan. Put it in the oven for a good 8 minutes until the cheese is bubbly but not burnt.  Meanwhile, get the egg ready.

Remove the slice from the oven, place the egg in the center, and then douse it liberally with black pepper.

Eat it with a knife and fork, making sure to get that beautiful yolk on every bite.

Revived Pizza 5

I feel guilty in a sense because this is sort of a cheating post in terms of a “real” recipe; rather, this is an idea, but it’s a fucking brilliant one. In any case, some post is better than no post, right?

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Chicken Marsala

11 May

Chicken Marsala 2

One of the best family stories I have (and it will somehow segue into a Chicken Marsala recipe) involves my dad emigrating to the U.S. from Naples, Italy. I called him to verify this, but he told me it was too far back to remember.  Still, whether it’s true or not, it’s a classic story.

Rumor has it that before my pop came here on the boat, he was told how to order apple pie and coffee in English.  It was pretty much all he knew how to say in English when he took the train to Gardena, California, where the family was waiting for him. Now this was in the 1950’s, so we’re talking about a long train ride from New York to LA.

Every time he ordered, it’d be, “Whaddaya want, Mack?”

“Apple-a pie-a and-a coffee.”

“Again? Jeez.”

After a week of apple pie for every meal, he never wanted to see or eat it again. It’s like a story in the “Welcome to America” mythology:  “As a new American, you should know that nothing’s as American as apple pie. So welcome to America, and here’s as much fucking apple pie as you can handle, rookie.” Whether it was my pop or a relative, it still must have happened to someone.

As I have written numerous times, I am lucky to be first generation when it comes to Italian food. I embrace it now, but I don’t think I understood it’s depth until I got into my twenties.  We never went to Italian restaurants when I was growing up.  Why would we?  Even now, if I find a good one, I will go there only to order something that I simply would never make at home because it’s a pain in the ass. Moreover, no Italian restaurant can hold a candle to what anyone in my family makes. So, the first few times I went to an Italian restaurant, I vaguely remember looking at some of the dishes (i.e. Chicken Marsala) and wondering what the hell they were.

I have found Chicken Marsala on almost every Italian restaurant’s menu, yet I never had it growing up. And in my experience, chicks dig this recipe. Before I had ever tried it, it would come up in casual conversation, usually on a first or second date, as we chatted about the Italian food with which I grew up.

“So your dad’s, like, from Italy? Like, from there? I love Italian food. You should, like, make me some one night.”

“I know.  It’s a trip that my dad’s from there. He’s got an accent and everything.”

Really? Oh my god, I love Chicken Marsala. I bet your family, like, makes the most rad Chicken Marsala, right? Oh my god, I’m, like, making myself soooo hungry.”

“Right on. What are you going to order?”

“Like, a California roll. And those edie-mommy beans. They’re, like, totally good for you.” I dated a lot of girls who spoke in italics when talking to an Italian, obviously.

In any case, the first time I tried it, I loved it. It’s relatively easy to make and, truth be told, it’s not that fattening, either. On the old Weight Watchers, half a chicken breast is a 7 (Points Plus and 360° can both fuck off wantonly). You could probably save a few points by subbing non-fat cooking spray for the butter, but you would sacrifice flavor, I’m afraid.

This recipe is straight from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook with few modifications.

One note: use Marsala wine.  It’s cheap, and substituting a dry sherry or Madeira just doesn’t work out as well. I’ve tried. I know.

Chicken Marsala

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp. dried marjoram

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cups sliced mushrooms

4 green onions, sliced into 1/4″ pieces

3 tbsp. butter or margarine

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup Marsala wine

Sliced green onions for garnish

Hot cooked pasta, like angel hair or linguine

Makin’ It:

Place each chicken breast between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a mallet or a small skillet, pound them into 1/4″  thickness and discard the plastic. On a flat plate or in a wide shallow bowl, combine the flour, marjoram, salt, and pepper. Coat each breast on both sides and shake off the excess. Set it aside for a bit.

In a large skillet, melt ONE tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add in the mushrooms and green onions and cook them until they’re tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove them from the skillet and set them aside for a bit.

In the same skillet, melt the two remaining tablespoons o’ butter. Add in the chicken breasts and brown them evenly, turning once, about 6 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat and put the mushrooms and green onions back in it. Add the broth and Marsala to the skillet, return it to the heat, and get it boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer it, uncovered, for about 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt and pepper.

Place a 1/2 cup hot pasta on a plate and place a chicken breast on it. Spoon the mushroom sauce over it all and serve. If you’re sexy, you’ll garnish it with a few more sliced green onions. Bob’s your uncle, and my uncle, come to think of it.

Chicken Marsala 5

You’ll agree that it’s, like, totally bitchin’.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Easy Asian Coleslaw

9 May

Asian Slaw 015

I have written a few times that Asian food is like a new frontier for me.  I wasn’t raised eating much of it, and in the 70’s and 80’s, most of the Orange County, California, food scene did not have a wide array of Asian restaurants. Thankfully, an influx of Vietnamese, Lao, and Korean families started populating the area, so it has since exploded into an Asian food wonderland of sorts.  While I will often berate the ubiquitous fake tits and humvees that festoon much of O.C. and which, consequently, led my wife and I to bid it adieu, I will say that now it has some balance by the soul brought in from different cultures and their cuisines.

But in my Carter and Reagan era childhood, Chinese food consisted of magenta-colored sweet and sour chicken from the only local Chinese place, The Golden Something.  Funnily enough, bean sprouts and duck scared me as a kid, but the unnaturally infrared gelatinous mess of carrots, pineapple, and chicken welcomed me with open arms.  I think my teeth looked like a photo negative by the time I left the restaurant, actually.

I have since learned to cook a variety of Asian main dishes, but I am sorely lacking in the side dish category.  Yesterday, I had an extra bag o’ coleslaw mix from a party we had on Sunday.  I knew I was making chicken satay (https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2013/01/24/ww-chicken-satay-with-peanut-sauce/), so I started googling.  I found quite a few Weight Watchers recipes calling for crushed raw ramen noodles for the crunch effect.  As I am not in the habit of having ramen around, this wasn’t going to work.  Instead, I found a recipe here: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe-Tools/Print/Recipe.aspx?recipeID=14297&origin=detail&servings=10&metric=false.

It goes perfectly with satay, as you will see, it is easy to make, and it is altogether wonderful.  I did make some changes, though…

I had no fresh ginger on hand last night.  But what I did have was some crystallized ginger left over from the holidays, which stays good for a decade or something.  It worked marvelously.

Easy Asian Coleslaw

Serves 6, I would think

Ingredients:

5 tbsp. rice vinegar, or white vinegar in a pinch

5 tbsp. oil

5 tbsp. creamy peanut butter

3 tbsp. soy sauce

3 tbsp. brown sugar (how come you taste so good?)

2 tbsp. minced crystallized ginger or fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 bag (about 8 to 10 cups worth or so) coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks

one bunch green onions, chopped

1 chopped bell pepper (optional)

chopped cilantro (optional)

Makin’ It:

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic.  Whisk it well so it’s all combined as a happy family.

In a large bowl for tossing, add the veggies and pour the dressing over it.  Toss this baby like you mean it and so everything is coated well.  Cover this and put it in the fridge to chill if you still need to make the main course, or serve right there. It’s kick ass both ways.

Asian Slaw 007

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino

Sesame Green Beans

4 May

Sesame Green Beans

One of the things I miss most about tending a bar is the clientele that I got to know over the years.  In the U.S., the term “bar” carries a stigma with it, almost like to frequent a bar means that you drink too much or that you haven’t quite grown up yet.  I disagree generally with this.  Most of the people whom I served over the years came there on the way home from work to take the edge off, to meet a friend to catch up, to wait for a table to open up in the restaurant, or to grab a quick meal before the day’s next adventure: not to get hammered.

At T.G.I. Chotchkies where I worked, one of my favorite people was a guy named Chuck.  When I knew him, he was in his eighties.  Like most men of his age, he had served in World War II, and he only would talk about the places he traveled, not what he experienced or did for this country in the war itself. After he retired from the Firestone Tire Company in his 60’s, he became a security guard at the Balboa Yacht Club in Newport Beach, California.  He stood about 5′ 6″ and was rail thin. He had short cut white hair combed neatly, blue eyes, and his original teeth, brownish and a few laced with silver from past dental work.

Chuck was old school. He came from an era where people rocked suits and hats to travel or to attend a baseball game.  He was always put together respectfully. At my bar, he usually donned old guy slacks with the flat front and no belt, leather shoes, and a tucked in button down shirt; he had a pink one that I remember vividly.  He would come in almost every Sunday and we all knew his order by heart: Smirnoff martini up to begin (shaken a certain way, too; he only wanted certain bartenders to make this), a glass of house white zin with dinner, and a green creme de menthe rocks after, maybe a cup of coffee.  Old school.

My favorite part of serving Chuck was when he ordered dinner. We all knew exactly what he would order, but bartending requires dancing the steps perfectly and repeatedly even though you’ve mastered the dance. Bartenders sell an experience, much like teachers, so structure is key.

“Chuck, you ready to order?”

“Yes sir.” Then he would lean over the bar and address me in deep sincerity with concomitant hand gestures: “Now Jon, I want one of those New York Strips. Medium. And I want a baked potato with some butter.”

Even though I knew the answer to my next question, I would ask it anyway because I could never hear it enough:

“You got it. What vegetable would you like?”

“Jon, don’t even put a goddamn veggie near my plate.  I’ve been around 80 years, and I hate vegetables.  I don’t care if you steam ’em, fry ’em, bake ’em, or put all sorts of shit on ’em, I don’t like ’em. I don’t want ’em. I just want a steak and a potato. OK? No goddamn vegetables.   And a glass of house white zinfandel. No vegetables.”

“You got it, kid.”

What could I say to him? If you’ve lived a great life into your 80’s and you hate vegetables, you are more than entitled. I just loved listening to him finally snap about eating something that he probably had to for the first 75 years of his life.

So why ramble on about Chuck? Well, veggies can be tough customers to cook for a variety of reasons.  We all know we’re supposed to eat a ton of them, yet they’re boring unless you pile on tons o’ fatty stuff or you deep fry them. This recipe is an option that will make most people happy, except Chuck, I suppose.

I posted this green bean recipe attached to another recipe before, but I am posting it now on its own. This complements any Asian dish, and it is great the next day. Costco sells a giant bag o’ French green beans for around $5, too.

Sesame Green Beans

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

1 lb. green beans, trimmed

2 tsp. sesame oil

2 tsp. cooking oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (more if you’re hardcore)

3 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. black pepper

3 tbsp. water

1 tbsp. corn starch

salt to taste

toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Makin’ It:

You want to boil the green beans in a pot of salted water until they’re almost done, being careful not to overcook them.  Drain them, rinse with cold water, pat them dry, and set them aside.

In a small bowl or ramekin, stir together the soy sauce, brown sugar, and pepper. Set aside. In another small bowl, whisk together the water and the corn starch. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oils over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook this for about a minute stirring constantly.  You don’t want the garlic to burn here.

Add the green beans to the skillet and stir fry these babies for about 3 minutes.  Mix the soy sauce mixture again so the sugar doesn’t settle and add it to the green beans in the skillet. Stir it together well and cook for about 3 minutes.  Re-stir the water and corn starch, and add it to the green beans. Cook and stir this until the sauce is thickened, about 3 minutes. Taste for salt. Transfer this to a serving bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Sesame Green Beans 5

So Chuck, wherever you are, I hate veggies too, dude. But these ones are good and you should try them. I’ll have the creme de menthe waiting for you.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013