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Chicken, Sausage, and Capers on Polenta

29 Oct

Chicken, Sausage, and Peppers on Polenta 001

It was a year ago last Friday that I sat down at my computer and, with a short preamble, wrote down what I had for dinner that night. Thus began Dinner with Jonny. I started it solely for my own amusement, and that’s pretty much the same mindset I retain; I figure that if I’m entertained by what I write and share, then people who read my writing will be as well. If I, an amateur cook, make a kick ass dish, others might have similar success.

I also have kept in mind that a great many people are intimidated by cooking and I seek to ameliorate that problem by showing that a bit of levity and less convolution in trying to cook make the world a better place. The best teachers understand this as it relates to any subject, and as a teacher, I can’t help applying this principle to whatever I do.  For example, language acquisition scholars will tell you that, if you want to learn a language, have some drinks with native speakers of that language; it loosens you up, and after a few beers, you’ll forget that you’re shy about trying to speak another language (you’ll also realize that most native speakers love when people try to learn their language and you’ll make lifelong friends). While I won’t go on record that I promote alcohol consumption in learning new skills, the idea behind it resonates a truth: you learn more if you’re having fun, so lighten the fuck up, world.

Before I share the recipe for this beautiful and healthful dish, I think it’s high time that I share some insights about the general public that I have gleaned since I began writing this blog. You see, WordPress keeps statistics on a great many aspects of a blog: what countries read my blog, the busiest times of day, my most popular posts, etc.

One of the most fascinating features is the record of what search terms people use that bring up my blog via google, yahoo, or any other search engine. So for this blog post, I’ve decided to give you a sampling of the keyword searches that have brought up Dinner with Jonny in some regard since its inception. Just so you know, the three most common terms that brought up Dinner with Jonny are “burritos,” “torta rustica,” and “croutons,” in that order.

But here is a sampling of some less benign doozies, and reader discretion is advised:

  • drop your panties drink: ‘Tis fair enough, I suppose. A man’s gotta eat.
  • drink panty greaser: As an English teacher, I struggle understanding this, yet I’m intrigued. Is it a new form of Spanish fly?
  • forme pussys made of torta (sic): I have spent considerable time processing this one to no avail. If you have an idea, post it in the comments section.
  • cream my tight c**t: I’m guessing one of my creamy dishes helped this lady out marvelously. Hopefully.
  • roast chicken porn video: It must be southern. In fact, it has to be.
  • having cazzo for dinner: “Cazzo,” for your information, is “dick” in Italian. I admit, I have offered this to both my brothers a few times, but never literally.
  • pussy pot pie/ penis pies: If you search long enough, I bet you can find a penis pot pie, too, kids. Don’t limit yourselves.
  • Canada penty hot sexi porno lady (sic): It seems that I actually got Borat to read my blog. I’m honored.
  • make a frog sandwich: This could be a French delicacy or a French porno, if you think about it.

And my favorite,

  • candied nuts and students: It’s must be a fund-raiser or a person with considerable issues.

As always, my gimcrackery leads into an exceptional dish. This is yet another example of a Weight Watchers’ dish that’s easy to make, filling, and damn tasty. 1 1/2 cups of this is a 5 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off very well), and if you serve it with two slices of tubed polenta, you’ve got a huge dinner for 7 points. I’m guessing you can make a sausage and pepper sandwich a la New Jersey just as easily, but you would need to adjust the points accordingly because of the bread.

Chicken, Sausage, and Capers with Polenta

Serves 4

Old Weight Watchers 7

Ingredients:

2 tsp. olive oil

3/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast (two small or one large), cut into 1″ pieces

1 18 oz. tube of pre-cooked polenta (Trader Joe’s has a fine one)

cooking spray

1/4 lb. precooked turkey or chicken Italian sausage, hot or mild, cut into 1/2″ slices

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup chicken broth

2 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp. grated parmesan plus a bit more for garnish

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large non-stick skillet. Saute the chicken pieces until they’re golden and no longer pink, about 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pieces to a bowl and set aside.

Slice the polenta into eight disks. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay the slices on it. Bake these for 20 minutes. They should be ready when the main dish is ready to serve, fyi.

In the same skillet, add in the sausage and brown them briefly. Add the red wine vinegar until it almost evaporates in a minute or two, scraping the fun stuff off of the bottom of the pan. Add in the bell peppers, onion, garlic, and oregano. Cook this until the peppers get soft, about 6 minutes or so, stirring fairly often.

Stir in the tomatoes, broth, and capers, and bring it all to a boil. Return the chicken to the skillet and add in the parmesan. Reduce the heat a bit and let it simmer for about 5 more minutes until it thickens a bit.

Place two polenta disks on each plate and divide the chicken mixture between the four plates. Top with some parmesan and you get this:

Chicken, Sausage, and Peppers on Polenta 006

For those of you that read this blog regularly, thank you for letting me indulge in my passion for cooking, eating, and writing for the last year. Still, I hope none of you is responsible for those search terms above, either.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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Israeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta

11 Oct

Isreaeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta 6

Sometimes, I admit, I take it upon myself to right the wrongs of this world. In many ways, I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten the shit kicked out of me at some point in the last 30 years. I’d like to think that my beard and size make me appear brazen, but probably not. I usually give enough contempt to get my point across while managing to stave off any potential ass-kicking coming my way. Perhaps bringing forth some examples might conjure up the reasons why I still have most of my teeth, only self-inflicted facial scars, and a largely in-tact nose.

In Santa Maria, California, the city in which I live, people generally do not regard “No Parking” signs or red curbs. One afternoon, a gentleman parked his truck right underneath a “No Stopping Anytime” sign to let his wife into the local mall and to enjoy what appeared to be a Marlboro Red. His obstruction basically caused a traffic jam on the little two-lane mall frontage road, and he was oblivious to it all. When it came my turn to pass him, I stopped, rolled down my passenger window, and addressed him thusly:

“I wish I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Like parking in a no parking zone, like you.”

“Me too!” he replied.

“You’re a complete asshole!” I replied, and sped away quickly.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone behind me in a grocery store line starts putting their items on the conveyer belt when I haven’t finished placing my items on there. As the conveyer belt keeps running, their items come towards me and slowly leave me no room for the rest of my stuff; I basically have to hand my groceries to the cashier because there’s nowhere else to put them. One time, a very tall and large man did this to me, and I pointed out his seeming lack of attention to the situation at hand.

“Calm the fuck down,” he generously replied to me.

“Oh! That’s wonderful! And thanks for giving my 3-year-old a new vocabulary word!”

“Get over it, jerk,” was his next insight.

“How about you wait until I’m finished and then put your stuff on the belt, which would be normal and intelligent.”

“Why don’t you just shut up?” he queried.

I said nothing at this point. But when I left, I got his attention and blew on my thumb until my middle finger popped up in his direction. I then left quickly.

Lastly, a few years ago in the autumn, my neighbor Mark alerted me that middle school miscreants were jacking apples from my tree on their ways home from school. “Jon, they’re filling their backpacks and takin’ ’em home. I mean a shitload of ’em.”

“Oh yeah?”

Well, that warranted a bit of stealth on my part. So, the next day, I hid in my garage with a view of the apple tree and my angry beard in tact. I waited until the first pair o’ kiddos was under the tree when I came around and cornered them. I’m guessing one had to do an underwear check at home after I lifted him up by his backpack a foot off of the ground, spewing vitriol and police threats, his friend darting toward the sidewalk. I’ve never seen two teenagers run so fast in my life. After five more confrontations that afternoon, I was exuberant and my tree protected. To this day, almost three years later, kids walk on the other side of my street and eye me suspiciously. The lore has been passed down. Siblings know who I am if they get my class and I get a full load of apples every year now.

So, after reviewing these instances, I realize that cowardice underlies a lot of the reasons why I haven’t gotten a good beating. Alas. But I’m getting braver, so we’ll see…

Most importantly, now that I have all of my apples, I can make all sorts of bitchin’ dishes, such as this Israeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta. This is an easy fall side which pairs excellently with any Mediterranean dish, I would think. I got the base recipe from delish.com and only tweaked it a bit. They make this a cold salad, but I made it as a warm side dish. Both rock, I would guess.

Israeli Coucous with Apples, Mint, and Feta

Serves 6 or so

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 cup Israeli couscous

2 cups water

1/4 tsp. salt or to taste

2 tbsp. minced shallot (use onion in a pinch)

2 apples, cored, peeled, and diced (Use whatever kid you have; I have Granny Smith and they work famously.)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (I omit them to cut the fat and calories)

1/2 tsp. oregano (1 tsp. freshly chopped, if you have it)

4 oz. crumbled Feta cheese

Freshly ground pepper to taste, about 1/2 tsp.

Makin’ It:

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the couscous and get it golden brown, shaking the pan occasionally, about 3 minutes or so. Add in the water and the salt and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer it until it’s tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the couscous.

In the same pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Add in the shallots and saute them until soft, about 3 minutes. Add in the apples and the drained couscous and let them get happy for a few minutes, stirring a few times. Remove this from the heat and transfer it to a large bowl.

In that bowl, add in the lemon juice, chopped mint, pine nuts (if using), and the oregano. Stream the last tablespoon of olive oil over it and toss it all together lightly. Transfer it to a serving dish. Top it with the Feta crumbles and pepper. Serve. Easy as a hippie needing a beer at Burning Man.

Isreaeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta 7

And if you need apples, I got a ton. You’ll find me hiding in the garage.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Mashed Butternut Squash a la Weight Watchers

3 Oct

Weight Watchers Mashed Butternut Squash 5

Since I’m Italian, I get to tell Italian jokes. So there’s an old joke that goes something like this:

A Frenchman, an Englishman, and an Italian are lined up at the pearly gates to get into heaven. When they approach the gates, St. Peter says to them, “To gain admittance to heaven, each of you much pass a spelling test.”

The Frenchman, never daunted, goes first. “Spell ‘house,'” says St. Peter. “House. H-O-U-S-E. House.” The gates open and he enters.

The Englishman comes next, cocky bastard that he is. “Spell ‘goal,'” says St. Peter. “Goal. G-O-A-L. Goal.” The gates open and he enters.

Guiseppe walks up next and St. Peter asks him, “You’re Italian, right?”

“Yes.”

“Spell ‘onomatopoiea.'”

I felt like this a few weeks ago when I and my student partner were dismissed from the podium for my misspelling of the word “cromlech” (pronounced crom-lek) in my first spelling bee since I was probably ten. “Cromlech,” you see, is a word that describes prehistoric megalithic structures. Stonehenge would be an example of a cromlech. And of all of the people that could have been asked to spell it in that room, I would guess that I would be most qualified to do so correctly; I majored in English, my specialty is medieval and Renaissance British literature, I watch archaeological documentaries on ancient Europe whenever I can find them (I remember at least three focusing on Stonehenge, no less), I am an anglophile to the hilt. I actually touched a cromlech in Ireland, I later learned.

I spelled it “c-h-r-o-m-l-e-c-h,” and was thus stripped of a potential trophy for a good cause (“ch” at the end, so it should be at the beginning, too, right? No. It’s Welsh, and therefore makes little sense linguistically). What’s worse is that the team after us got the word “hoary,” as in hoarfrost, or the lichen and mossy stuff that hangs off of old trees. It’s also used to describe old, grizzled people, like Gandalf. Hoary I read regularly. It’s actually one of my senior English class’s vocabulary words because it’s so common in British literature. Cromlech vs. hoary? What the fuck. It’s my beard they distrust, I know it.

So how does this figure into a recipe for mashed butternut squash? I think that when I first started the Weight Watchers program, I would sincerely pine for certain items, mashed potatoes being one of them. How can there be a substitute, a worthy substitute, for buttery, starchy goodness? I was biased against them at first, saying to myself, “Those can’t possibly be good. And they’re hard to make, I bet. Too much work,” etc. In essence, I was treating the substitutes as the Italian at the pearly gates and I at the podium were treated: I didn’t give them a fair shake. And if I continued to be slanted against those recipes, I surely should have gone to hell, just like the whore-y female announcer, the one who picked “cromlech” for my team and “hoary” for the next team, should and will.

This recipe will have your cockles tingling. It’s got some substance, it’s unbelievably tasty, and it works well with roasted or grilled chicken. It screams “autumn,” which can get annoying when I’m trying to cook. I got it from a website called skinnykitchen.com and didn’t mess with it much. Each 1/2 cup serving is a 2 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can go fuck themselves).

Mashed Butternut Squash a la Weight Watchers

Serves 5 or so, 1/2 cup servings (2 points on old WW)

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds peeled and cubed (if you want to know how to do this, go to the bottom of this recipe: https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2013/02/15/pasta-e-zucca-squash-and-pasta/)

2 tbsp. brown sugar

3 tbsp. lite margarine or reduced fat butter, melted

a dash o’ cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt or to taste

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 cup low-fat milk (I use 1%), heated a bit

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Put the cubed squash in a big bowl and sprinkle on the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Pour on the melted margarine and toss this all together well.

Pour this onto a cookie sheet and spread it out evenly. Make sure you pour out all of the liquid over it, too. It’ll look runny, but that’s ok. Put this in the oven for 40 minutes, tossing them with a spatula after about 20 minutes.

Once they’re cooked, put the cooked squash, the pan liquids, and the heated milk in a food processor (a masher doesn’t work, kids. A blender? Maybe.).  Process this until the it’s pureed. Transfer it to a bowl and serve it hot. Bob’s your uncle.

Weight Watchers Mashed Butternut Squash 1

May you find a hoary cromlech on the road ahead of you.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino

p.s. This post is dedicated to the friend and colleague who got me to compete in the spelling bee and has been an inspiration in so many ways.

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

T.J.’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli with Easy Homemade Pesto

23 Aug

Arugula and Parm Ravioli with Pesto (10)

As the years progress, I keep adding to my list of items that I will no longer buy in a grocery store: croutons, pot pies, Brut Aftershave, certain salad dressings, frozen cream pies, pizza rolls, Texas toast, last minute gifts for family members, anything from Little Debbie, lingerie, et al. Amongst these items is pesto sauce.

I admit, I used to think pesto was pretty highfalutin when I first started cooking. It’s probably because of how it was first marketed. I remember around the time that I actually read Under the Tuscan Sun (in the ’90’s at some point), the whole summer-in-Tuscany-while-dining-al-fresco-with-really,-really-sexy-people became ubiquitous in t.v. commercials, cooking shows, and advertisements in general. To indulge in pesto, I believed, meant that I had to be not just a “foodie,” but I had to be a foodie cool enough and affluent enough to buy most of my home furnishings from yuppie catalogs and then practice recreating the pictures in those catalogs with any skinny, sexy white friends that I might have had (I had maybe 2, total, at the time. Now, none.). I imagined I’d have to be fluent in Chardonnay, sweaters, nanny-comparison-talk, South Orange County faux-Mediterranean architecture, and the brief history of Irvine north of the 5 freeway. Alas, I was, and still am, horribly deficient in these categories, so I felt that pesto was beyond my reach socially, intellectually, and sexually.

But as I learned my ways around the kitchen, the mystique around pesto started to dissipate for me, probably in part due to the Great Recession sending the once al-fresco-dining-really,-really-sexy-people to shop at WalMart instead of Eddie Bauer. Furthermore, my wife lived in Florence, Italy, to study abroad in her early twenties, and she has had a love affair with pesto ever since, so I had to get it on the menu somehow. I started cautiously with the store bought stuff and it pleasantly surprised me. “I’m loving this and I’m not nearly that sexy,” thought I at the time.

After a few more years in the kitchen, I finally decided to tackle homemade pesto. Searching for recipes assuaged my fears; pesto is probably the easiest, quickest pasta sauce to make if you have the ingredients, which can be found at any grocery store nowadays. I nailed it the first time I made it and I had an epiphany about something I already knew: Italian food is generally simple to make. Advertisers and marketers would have you think differently, though, so fuck them. Thus, pesto is now on my list of items never to buy at a store.

On another note, I have a deep love for Trader Joe’s, and generally every pre-made item I get there tastes fantastic. The Trader Giotto’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli are marvelous and this homemade pesto sauce perfects them. Top it with a few shaves of Parmesan or Grana Padano, and you’re gettin’ laid.

Easy Homemade Pesto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 cups packed, fresh basil leaves

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup raw pine nuts

2/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Makin’ It:

Put the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor (or blender, if you’re ghetto like that) and pulse it until it’s chopped. Add in the olive oil and process this until it’s smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Add in the salt and pepper and pulse a few times more. Transfer this to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Easy as a divorcee with oats to sow.

Assemblage:

You’ll need:

1 package of Trader Giotto’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli (or any ravioli or pasta that tickles your taint at the time)

1/2 recipe or more of the above pesto recipe

Shaved, shredded, or grated Parmesan, Romano, or Grana Padano

Assemblin’ It:

Cook the ravioli according to the package instructions. Drain and toss the ravioli with about 1/2 of the pesto recipe until each ravioli is well coated. Use more pesto if it blows your hair back. Top with the cheese and you get this:

Arugula and Parm Ravioli with Pesto (1)

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Carol’s Beans and Chips

15 Aug

Beans and Chips 002

As we grew up, my house became a magnet for my brothers’ and my friends in large part because of my mom’s cooking. While I am sure that our gregariousness has attracted multitudes over time, my bros and I know that behind it all lurked the desire for my mom’s lasagna, burritos, pizza, and these here beans and chips. She always made enough and it was always that goddamn good.

For the past few years on Facebook, I’ve posted a picture of a little tradition we have at my house. On my mom’s birthday in March, we set up a mini “Carol feast” with her picture as an effigy, complete with Lipton’s Instant Iced Tea and a pack of Parliament Light cigarettes from the last carton she owned before she passed away (her actual last half-smoked pack of grits is in her coffin alongside a jar of Lipton’s, fyi). This little celebration always features potato chips and onion dip, brie with almonds and honey, and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne to round it all out. She served this to guests 90% of the time she entertained after we all had grown up. Rather than cry, we toast a great woman and try to imitate her cackling laugh as closely as we can.

Inevitably when I post a picture of this, a few of my friends will comment on the post with “dude, Carol’s beans and chips. Best thing ever,” or similar sentiments. The beans and chips, so simple to make, were a staple for me and my friends at least twice a week during my teenage years. The key to their beauty is in the homemade chips; it can neither be fathomed nor appreciated using a suitcase o’ Mission tortilla strips or rounds. You have to fry corn tortilla triangles in oil, salt ’em hot, and dip ’em into seasoned refried beans while warm. Nothing like it.

Another component of this dish involves a Southern California institution: Del Taco. We call it either “Del” or “the Del,” and the chain evolved from another beautiful SoCal institution, Naugles (one can still be found in Fullerton, I believe). I am pretty sure that most truly old-school OC natives will tell Taco Bell to take a flying fuck over the Del, to be honest. We all have our routines when we eat there, too, and can readily identify our friends’ Del routines without batting an eye. For example, Jimmy and Griz always put fries in their burritos. My brother Chris’s go-to is a large red burrito with sour cream. Here’s Griz representing:

Griz

One of the most crucial parts of experiencing Del is the Mild Sauce they serve in packets. I am convinced that they have never bottled it so people will still indulge in their Del addictions. People might kill for this sauce. For example, one of my best friends got a box o’ Del Mild Sauce packets, a whole box, for his birthday and he’d be hard pressed to tell you of a better present. One of my most egregious fouls had to be when I stopped a friend from filling a large bag of Mild Sauce to take back east to college because I thought we’d get in trouble. I now realize that I was being a large pussy, but I have since apologized to him profusely.

Why do I bring this up? Well, that Mild Sauce is the perfect seasoning for the canned refried beans needed for this recipe. And yes, you have to rip open and squirt all 15 or more packets into the beans: it connects you to them. It reminds you of Del’s beauty and singularity. It’s both euphoric and sublime. Still you can use any hot sauce you like and it’ll work; I just wanted to pontificate about the Del for awhile and make this post longer because the recipe itself is short and basic.

Carol’s Bean and Chips

Serves 4 normal people or 2 teenagers.

Ingredients:

2 or 3 cans of refried beans, any type you like

15 packets (or more) of Del Taco Mild Sauce or 1/3 cup of hot sauce of your liking

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup or more vegetable oil for frying

1 package of corn tortillas, cut into triangles

salt to taste

love

Makin’ ‘Em:

In a medium sauce pan, add the refried beans, Del or hot sauce, sour cream, and 1/4 cup of the cheddar cheese. Heat this over low to medium low heat, stirring fairly often to mix it all up and to keep it from burning on the bottom and sides. Keep this going as you fry the chips.

In a large skillet, add the oil and heat it over medium-high heat. When a drop of water cracks in the oil, it’s ready. Working in batches, fry about 6 to 9 chips at a time, turning them as needed to get a golden brown. Be careful doing this as the oil is muy dangerous. I use a fork and tongs for the flipping and removing. When they’re golden, remove them from the oil and drain them on paper towels. Salt them while they’re hot (it melts onto them) and then add another layer of triangles to the oil. Do this until you’ve fried them all. I usually remove the done chips to a serving basket to keep them warm.

Add the warm beans to a serving dish and sprinkle it with the rest of the cheddar cheese. Serve it warm with the chips and thank me (and Carol) later. You’ll get this:

Beans and Chips 006

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013