Advertisements
Archive | September, 2013

Ginger Apple Cocktail

29 Sep

Ginger Apple Cocktail 3

Hard ciders have been popular around the U.S. for almost two decades now. The Matilda Bay, Bartles and James wine-cooler-drinking crowd of the ’80’s started getting options in the ’90’s, and hard ciders were one of them. Beer drinkers also will tear into a cider, too, or even use it to make a shandy, which is half beer and half cider.

In Ireland, they have a cider that’s not too sweet called Bulmers, and in the states it’s named Magners. My wife fell in love with this on our last trip to Ireland and, until a BevMo opened in our area, we were hard pressed to find it.

But this post, short and sweet as it will be, is about a cocktail I created using my old bartending skills and a little ingenuity, AND it tastes like a hard cider! My kid went on a field trip to a local apple farm and brought back a gallon of regular fresh cider, which is unbelievably tasty. Of course, being the upstanding father-figure that I am, my thoughts started straying towards how to integrate it into an alcoholic beverage.

The best part is that this is 2 to 3 points on the old Weight Watchers system if you use diet soda (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off beyond recognition). In any case, this is a refreshing fall cocktail that just works and will tickle you more than leaves on your taint.

Ginger Apple Cocktail

Makes 1

Ingredients:

1 1/2 oz. vodka (that’s one shot to common folks)

2 oz. apple cider or apple juice

2 oz. diet or regular ginger ale

Apple slice for garnish

Makin’ It:

This is too easy to make.

Fill a collins glass with ice. Pour in the vodka and the apple cider. Top it with the ginger ale. Either put the apple slice on the rim or into the drink itself. Give it a stir with a straw and you’re rockin’.

Note: This would be bitchin’ as a martini, too. Just shake the vodka and juice in an ice-filler shaker and strain it into a cocktail glass. Then, top it with the ginger ale and garnish.

Ginger Apple Cocktail 2

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Advertisements

WW Chinese Pineapple Chicken

27 Sep

Weight Watchers Pineapple Chicken 015

How many wagons have you fallen off of? Have you fallen off of the sweets wagon? The alcohol wagon? The Friends reruns until 4 a.m. wagon? The “I’m tired of being treated like shit” wagon?

Eventually, we all find ourselves looking at the tread indentations of that friggin’ wagon trailing away from us while mud is kicked up into our faces. We’ve fallen off. A particularly erotic eclair spreads its legs like an elusive crush, or that box o’ See’s candies bares its nickel-shaped nipples like a shameless Brad Pitt seducing Geena Davis; or a bad day requires a friend named Martini and the rest is Absolut history; or a sleepless evening can only be comforted by Ross and Rachel and Phoebe and Janice; or perhaps you don’t know what being treated nicely feels like, so you’ll take shit over nothing.

The expression is an old one (early 1900’s, to be exact), yet we apply it to so many areas in our lives that require restraint, reflection, admission, and determination, at some point. Should you feel misery and self-loathing when you fall off? Fuck no. Get back on when you can and try not to make the same mistake twice, and if you do, get back on and try not to make the same mistake thrice, and if you do, get back on and don’t make the same mistake…..you get it. Keep tryin’, kid. You’ll get there.

I fall off of the Weight Watchers wagon regularly. Do I get pissed at myself? Yeah, but not enough to damage me permanently or make me wallow in a maelstrom of guilt. I’ve learned to enjoy dusting myself off, to be honest. It builds character.

I mention this because this Chinese Pineapple Chicken dish was the first Weight Watchers meal I ever made when finally, at 60 pounds above my “normal” weight, I got on the wagon and actually tried to help myself. I signed up for Weight Watchers, weighed in, went to meetings, stopped being a pussy, started walking a lot, and, fifty pounds later, was healthier.

And I’m glad this dish was the first because it’s excellent. If it sucked, I would have fallen off the wagon within a week. This dish gave me some hope, and it also made me realize that my “cooking” mind was way, way too narrow. There are plenty of ways to enjoy and indulge in good food without feeling after every meal like a goose being prepped for foie gras harvesting.

I got this recipe out of one of the first brochures that I received when I signed up for Weight Watchers. This recipe serves four, and each portion is a 6 on the old WW system (PointPlus and 360° can fuck off non-haltingly).

Note: Asian Black Bean Sauce favors vary, so find one that you dig, and go with it.

Chinese Pineapple Chicken

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Cooking Spray

1 bunch of scallions (green onions), trimmed and sliced thinly

1 tbsp. chopped, fresh ginger (do not substitute for this)

1 tbsp. minced garlic

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ cubes

2 cups crushed pineapple or pineapple chunks, packed in juice

1/4 cup Asian black bean sauce

2 cups cooked brown or white rice (I used brown rice in the pictures; it has more fiber, holmes.)

Makin’ It:

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and coat it with cooking spray. Add in the scallions, ginger, and garlic. Saute and stir this for about 4 minutes until it’s nice and pungent. Add in the chicken and saute it until it’s browned and almost cooked through, about 7-8 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add in the pineapple (juice and all) and the Asian black bean sauce. Stir it all together well. Get this to a simmer, lower the heat to medium, and cook it, stirring often, until the chicken is cooked through and tender, about 5 to 8 minutes more.

Put 1/2 cup of rice on each plate, and divide the Chinese Pineapple Chicken amongst the four plates. You might get this:

Weight Watchers Pineapple Chicken 010

I put sriracha on the rice because I like spice to kick me in the nuts a bit.

It’s easy, fantastically tasty, and a good place to learn how to stay on the wagon.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

T.J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

15 Sep

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 10

In his book Heat, Bill Buford chronicles his adventures as an amateur slave cook for Mario Batali, and his immersion into the professional cooking world. Amongst the people he mentions in the novel is Lidia Bastianich. If you’ve never seen her show, try to find it. She is about as close to one of my Italian aunts in the kitchen as one could get. Her recipes will make your legs shake and you’ll get that squishy feeling like you did when your crush passed you in 2nd grade or when you straddled a swing too long.

I mention Lidia because one of my favorite pieces of wisdom comes from her in Buford’s book. He talks about the link between food and sex, and he refers to a conversation he had with Lidia on this very subject. When pressed to explain further, Lidia states that, of course food is like sex, and then throws him a rhetorical question, “‘What else do you put in someone’s body?'” I never thought of it that way, but it’s dead on when you think about it, and it’s why good food and wine can lead to a euphoric, erotic level of being.

And the connections can be drawn from there. Perhaps the encounter is a fifteen-minute exercise in lust on the kitchen counter, or a quickie in the front seat of your car as you take a break from a long road trip, or the clumsy first time when all the ingredients are there, but you’re unfamiliar with timing and how everything works together. Or maybe it’s a languid evening that requires four hours of musical ambiance, punctuated by the brief recognitions of humanity’s inherent beauty and the privilege you feel in recognizing it, or maybe you’re just starving and you tear open everything and scarf it all down while closing the front door with your back left heel. This could be food. This could be sex.

This recipe effuses sexuality in that it’s indulgent, but also smooth and simple. Most importantly, it’s easy. When I first read it over, I was uneasy about using a whole stick o’ butter, but it was the perfect complement to these ravioli. Serve this with some greens in a light vinaigrette, and you’re getting lucky on two levels.

I mentioned Lidia because it so happens that this sauce is from her book, Lidia’s Family Table. Also, I use Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli for this, but I think any good filled pasta would work famously with it. The recipe below serves 4, but I usually halve it since there are only two of us.

T. J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

Serves 4 or so

Ingredients:

2 packages Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli, or a filled pasta of your liking

2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs

8 tbsp. butter (1 stick)

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup of the pasta-cooking water

2 tbsp. chopped parsley, Italian would be optimal

1 cup Parmesan or Grana Padano

Makin’ It:

Get a big ol’ pot of salted water boiling for the pasta.

In a small skillet, toast the bread crumbs over medium to medium-high heat, tossing them often so that they get browned evenly. When they are almost all brown, drop in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl the pan around to melt the butter and stop the crumbs from getting too brown. Set this aside.

In a big skillet, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. Grind in the black pepper generously. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot pasta water and get it simmering. Keep stirring and simmering it as it reduces a bit while you wait for the pasta to finish.

Remove the cooked pasta from the big pot o’ water and add it to the skillet. Toss it with the sauce. Off the heat, toss in the Parmesan and parsley. Plate your pasta portions (dividing the sauce among the four plates, obviously) and sprinkle the toasted bread crumbs on top of each right before serving, like this:

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 2

Make and serve this, and it will be one of those encounters you remember in the wee hours of an insomniac night.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Toad in the Hole

11 Sep

Toad in the Hole 2

I’m an Anglo- and Hiberno-phile (a lover of things English and Irish, that is).  I’ve been to Ireland twice and I have seen Toad in the Hole on a few pub menus, but I never ordered it.  For whatever reason, one day I remembered it on the way home from work…sausages in a pastry with gravy.  How can that be bad?  It can’t.  It’s one of the best dishes ever on an autumnal or wintery evening.  I mean, just look at it!  It’s just tits!

When I remembered the dish, I started doing some research.  I found a few recipes and sort of blended them all together (if you want the individual ones, let me know and I will look them up).  Toad in the Hole is traditionally made with bangers, English pork sausages made with breadcrumbs.  They are just not found around the central coast of California, except for one butcher in Arroyo Grande, who makes exceptional ones.  So, I thought that perhaps chicken and apple sausage might work  (I use Aidell’s from the supermarket…foodies can piss off).  Indeed, they do work famously, and I have thus created a new California/ English/ Irish fusion comfort food I actually call “Cock in the Hole” because of its chicken sausage.

This post, by the way, is a revised version of one of the first recipes I posted, which I altogether called “Cock in the Hole,” but I think I put some people off with the title. I have to admit, though, the search terms that brought up my blog because of that title were worth it. People search for some weird shit on the internet, let me tell you.

It might look daunting, but it’s totally easy. The readiness is all.

Toad in the Hole

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter melted

3 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon canola oil (or something equivalent)

1 pound of cooked chicken and apple sausages (or whatever your little heart desires in the sausage category) *Note: if you use uncooked sausages, brown them in a pan first to make sure they get cooked through!

For the gravy, you need:

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon of oil

1 teaspoon of superfine sugar or regular sugar

2 cups vegetable stock

2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon of mustard powder

2 teaspoons of flour

salt and pepper to taste

Makin’ It:

Whisk together the flour, salt and pepper, and then make a well in the center of it.  In the well, pour the melted butter, beaten eggs, and milk, and whisk it until it’s smooth like a pancake batter.  Cover it and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

Make sure you have two racks in your oven. When you’re ready, coat an 8 x 12 baking dish with the tablespoon of oil, put it in the oven, and preheat the oven to 425° F (the dish and oil will be piping hot when you put in the sausages and batter).

Toss the sliced onions with the sugar and oil, and put them in a single layer on a baking sheet.  When the oven is ready,  put the onions on the top rack.  In the heated baking dish on the bottom rack, carefully place the sausages in there and watch so you don’t get splattered.  (If you are using uncooked sausages, make sure to brown them first before you put them in the oven pan!) Spoon the batter over the sausages in the dish evenly, scraping the bowl so everything is used.  Close the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile for the gravy, heat the stock (or make the stock from bullion cubes) and add the Worcestershire sauce and the mustard powder to it, mixing well.

After 15 minutes, remove the onions, which should be roasted and brown and even black in some parts. In a saucepan, heat a teaspoon of oil and add the onions and the flour.  Cook it about a minute or two until it’s paste-y, and then start adding the stock little by little, scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pan.  After all of the stock is added, let it simmer and thicken until the Toad (or Cock depending on the sausage and your sauciness) is ready.  Season it with salt and pepper to taste.Toad in the Hole 1

(Note: I made a half version of a Toad in the Hole in these pictures, obviously.)

After the 30 minute timer goes off, it should be golden brown and fairly firm, as the picture above shows.  Let it rest a few minutes, and then slice the Toad between the sausages, and serve with gravy with which to smother it.

I love roasted potatoes and green beans smothered in the gravy with it.  Britons say that mashed potatoes are the key.  Whatever blows you hair back will work fine.

Drink:  Beer makes this heavenly, especially a Bass or a Harp.

One of the best parts of being American is that I get to simulate, interpret, and amalgamate.    I have served this to people and they have been blown away.  They might say it’s an inside-out hot dog, but I think that’s oversimplifying, like we Americans tend to do.  In any case, this has become a regular menu item in our house, and perhaps it will be in your house too.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Balsamic Glazed Chicken with Mushrooms, Polenta, and Goat Cheese

2 Sep

Balsamic Chicken and Mushrooms 003

This would seem complex, but ’tis quite easy, and I have a story that illustrates this concept.

While seven of my years were in the 1970’s, and my late teens and twenties were in the 1990’s (and I am quite thankful for it, too), my formative, jackass years were in the 1980’s. During the mid to late part of that period, I had a pseudo-Flock of Seagulls hair style where only the front was bleached blonde and I sported a “step” in the back. I had only my left ear pierced and wore a silver ankh dangling from it. I always pegged my pants and I wore broaches, creepers, and eyeliner when warranted. At the time, neither I nor my friends could imagine another style that could possibly surmount such sophistication and sexiness. We also wore excess Drakkar and Quorum to enhance this chic.

Yesterday on Facebook, a childhood friend and neighbor, Eddie, posted his recent high score on a pinball game. It reminded me that, yeah, he used to rule at pinball, and a bunch of other games too. This, in turn, caused me to reflect on my own video game prowess back in the eighties. I’m being honest when I say that, until my early twenties, I probably spent upwards of $20 a week in various arcades (they were ubiquitous, if you were around at the time). Centipede, PacMac and Ms. PacMan, Donkey Kong, Tempest, Asteroids, Dig Dug…these were the environs of the eighties for me and the sounds of those games still bring me solace.

My specialty was Galaga. I could “flip it,” meaning that I could score so many points that it got back to zero again, on ONE quarter. This takes at least an hour and, in my neighborhood, very few of us could do this. If someone was playing, I would haughtily put my quarter up on the screen, indicating that I had next game, and wait patiently for this amateur to end his feeble attempt at gaming. I then would take the helm and play for the next hour, at least, and gather a “crowd,” meaning that three people were watching me because they had nothing else to do or had run out of money. But it gave me confidence and a video game mini-ego.

A year ago, my family had gone to a local pizza place for my kid’s birthday. Sitting patiently for the pizza to arrive was not in the cards for my four-year-old kiddo, so he spent his time going from video game to video game, grabbing knobs, pushing buttons, and generally wreaking havoc in their retro arcade. I was surprised that the place actually had a few classic games. Specifically, they had Ms. PacMan and Galaga on one of those old school sit-down table screens. Noting that grandma had taken to following my kid around, I slipped a quarter into Galaga, sat down, and started on what I thought would be a brief foray into what was once a specialty of my youth.

About twenty levels into it, I noticed a heavy-fisted, sweaty-lipped young lad of 10 or so approach the other side of the table and literally slam a quarter onto the table top. “Next game,” he posited abruptly, and I replied, “Right on,” and kept on as he watched. Then, a change took place. His friend came by and I heard him say the equivalent of, “Look at this guy. I’ve never seen that level. Holy shit.” A few minutes later, he picked up his quarter but didn’t leave.

“Dude, aren’t you playing next?” I asked.

“No, man. I’ll just watch.”

Ego boost.

At this time, my wife informed me that the pizza was ready, so I told the kid that he could have my game. He replied, “Seriously?” And I assured him that it was cool. He lasted about 4 minutes, and I hadn’t lost a ship when I handed it over. The ego was stroked.

What the young man DIDN’T know, and what all of my gamer-playing comrades from the 1980’s DO know, is that the key to those old games is the pattern you prepare for and the timing, and usually both are quite simple. Once you know what’s coming in the pattern and get timing down, you can play the game endlessly in autopilot. It seems impressive, but it’s not an Olympian feat that warrants awe (except maybe in the case of Asteroids, the pattern of which still eludes me).

This Balsamic Glazed Chicken with Mushrooms, Polenta, and Goat Cheese? Preparation and timing. There are three disparate dishes here, but each one accents the other one and makes a nut-buster of a dish together. And each dish is easy, too, so while your guests might “pick up their quarter” and not want to cook for you out of intimidation, after they eat this, you can let them know that it’s just a trompe l’oeil.

Balsamic Chicken and Mushrooms 009

Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms, Polenta, and Goat Cheese

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, put between two pieces of plastic wrap and pounded to a 1/4″ to 1/2″ thickness. Cut each breast in half so you have four flattened breasts. Note: You could also use pork chops.

6 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. chopped, fresh rosemary, plus four sprigs for garnish

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tube pre-made polenta, sliced into 8 rounds (Trader Joe’s has a great one that’s cheap)

Cooking spray or drizzles of olive oil

4 oz. goat cheese at room temperature (Silver Goat Chevre, for example)

10 oz. package of mushrooms, quartered (I used crimini in the photos, but white mushrooms would work too)

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup white wine or champagne

Salt and pepper, about 1/2 tsp. each or to taste

Makin’ It:

This dish is all about getting everything prepped.

Polenta:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay the polenta rounds on it. Spray the rounds with cooking spray or drizzle a bit of olive oil on them. When the oven’s ready, bake these guys for 15 to 20 minutes. They’ll be golden and beautiful. Make sure they’re done right when you are ready to plate everything.

Chicken:

In a small sauce pan, bring the balsamic to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook it until it reduces by half, about 5 minutes. You should have a light syrup. Set it aside until you’re ready to grill.

In a small bowl, combine the chopped rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic. Rub this evenly over the flattened chicken breasts.

When you’re ready, heat a lightly-greased grill pan (or you can use an actual grill) over medium-high heat. Grill one side of the breasts for a few minutes and brush the other side with the balsamic reduction. Turn them after about 4 minutes, and baste the other side as well.  When finished (4 to 5 minutes each side), baste the chicken with the rest of the balsamic. That’s done now.

Mushrooms:

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the mushrooms. Cook for about 3 minutes until they get a bit brown and add the garlic. After another minute, add in the white wine and get it simmering. Lower the heat, add about 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper and let it reduce for abut 5 minutes. Taste a mushroom to check the salt and pepper levels, adjust accordingly, and then remove them from the heat. Done.

Assemblage:

Place two polenta slices on each plate and smear about 1/2 ounce (1 tbsp.) of goat cheese on each slice. Divide the mushrooms between the four plates. Lay the chicken breast on the mushrooms and you’re in business. Garnish each breast with a sprig of rosemary, if you so desire.

Balsamic Chicken and Mushrooms 010

Again, what appears complex is just preparation for what’s coming and timing. Start to finish, it’s about an hour. The readiness is all.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013