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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:


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.


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


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


Pesto Pizza

19 Jun

Pesto Pizza 9

The other day, I bought a pre-made sourdough pizza crust with the intention of having an easy meal option during my hectic summer break. Puttering between playing Candy Crush Saga, harvesting my crops on Farmville 2, and reading the entire list of Santa Maria news items (3 minutes, tops) can be daunting, to be sure, but I somehow manage to make it to cocktail hour every day. Continue reading

Cucumber-Ginger Fizz Cocktail

10 Mar

Cucumber Ginger Fizzy

Last night, we set the clocks forward and, after a week of cold rain, it has been perfect weather here on California’s central coast (perfect=mostly sunny, 70°, slight breeze).  This paradisaical atmosphere began this morning when I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and thought ’twas Monday.  I started my morning routine of reading both the local and global news and then, of course, getting onto Facebook. It was then that I realized my error.  It’s Sunday, dammit.

To make the most of it until the house woke up, I watched two of the Up series films (28 Up and 35 Up (, which began my day existentially.  It would follow, then, that a cocktail would need to be made both to embrace the fantastic weather and to enhance my connexion with the universe and life’s journey.  For that, I turned to Martha Stewart, of course.

I have said numerous times that, before I began teaching high school, I was a bartender at T.G.I. Sodium’s for a few years.  During that time, I acquired quite a working knowledge of making drinks.  But nowadays I feel sorely out-of-date.  It seems that “mixology” became the trend at some point in the 2000’s, and dickheads calling themelves “mixologists” were making infusions and syrups and wacky martinis and everything else under the sun to get people’s drinks on.  For the record, I am a bartender, not a “mixologist,” as I consider bartending more than just making drinks; a bartender provides an atmosphere of comfort, understanding, patience, meticulousness, promptness, and jocularity. A “mixologist” sounds like a pompous asshole, truth be told.

My wife and I found this cocktail a few years ago and I make the ingredients a couple of times a year.  It’s very simple, really, and the cocktail itself is one of the most refreshing drinks for which one could ask.  I have served this at cocktail parties and people can’t seem to get enough of them.  I figured I’d share both my existentialism and a great warm weather drink.  Cheers!

Cucumber-Ginger Fizz Cocktail (thanks to Martha Stewart)


Makes a bunch o’ cocktails

750 ml bottle o’ vodka

2 or 3  English cucumbers, 1 or 2 peeled and coarsely chopped, 1 left whole

lime wedges

soda water

ginger simple syrup

Makin’ It:

For the ginger simple syrup, over medium-high heat, bring 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water, and 1 big chunk of peeled, sliced ginger to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cover, turn off the heat, and let it sit for 30 minutes.  Strain it, discarding the ginger, and you have it.

In a glass bowl, combine the vodka and cucumber chunks.  Cover it and chill it for at least an hour.  Discard the cucumber and you have it.

To make one cocktail:

Fill a collins glass (or whatever glass you have) with ice. With the leftover whole cucumber, peel it and shave some of it, but not the seeds.  In other words, make cucumber strips and put them in the ice. Add 1 shot o’ cucumber vodka, 1/2 shot of ginger syrup, and fill it with soda water.  Squeeze one lime wedge into the drink, stir it with a straw, and you have it.

I haven’t had one person not fall in love with it.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

3 Mar

Carrot and Avocado Salad 010

I think one of the biggest compliments I have ever received on a dish I have made was for this one.

A few years ago, I made this as a side for my Baked Penne with Butternut Squash and Ricotta (  I had a meeting that evening at school, and I knew that my principal probably had her nose to the grindstone the entire day, so I decided to bring her some dinner (I AM Italian, so I want to feed everyone if I can).  I showed up a bit early for the meeting, gave her the dishes, and went to grade some papers until the meeting started.  About ten minutes later, I heard, “Jon!  What did you put in that salad?  My mouth is dancing with flavor right now!” I explained the recipe below and told her I would send it to her.  I even got a thank you note for this with similar sentiments on how much she loved the salad.  The reason this was such a big compliment to me is because I know that she’s a foodie, and I managed to impress her with some flavors that she hadn’t experienced.

If anyone makes this salad, you will totally understand why anyone would be impressed.  This is not a pussified salad either; it borders on a main course, and its flavors will titillate the erogenous zones of an entire party, if you make it for them.  The substance of the roasted carrots, avocado, and grilled bread, kissed with the seeds and the dressing, create pure pleasure and satisfaction.  It took me about an hour and a half to make it the first time, but now that I got the hang of it, it’s 45 minutes tops.

By the way, this recipe, with only a few modifications, is straight from Jamie Oliver, that British kid whose food show is quite bitchin.’  But, he’s British and therefore writes in a funny accent and he uses the metric system.  I write using the U.S. Customary Unit, which isn’t nearly as confusing as the metric system, that 10-based thingie where everything translates logically and easily. Most importantly, I do not write in a funny accent, so I have an edge on him.

A few years ago, Jamie would do a half-hour show (Jamie Does…wherever) that focused on dishes of a particular region.  The recipes from Morocco totally intrigued me because I was almost completely uneducated as to the culture and cuisine. So I went on sort of a Moroccan kick for a while, and I will write about those recipes in the coming months because they tend to be more springy and summery dishes (Africa can be hot, from what I hear).

In any case, this would be a great salad to make and serve a while (like an hour) before dinner because it is filling.  It will give people more incentive to drink good wine and loosen their jaws a bit.

Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

Serves about 4


1 lb. carrots, the neato heirloom ones are best, but regular ones are fine too

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. each of salt and ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1 1/2 tsp. dried

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 orange, halved

1 lemon, halved

2 or 3 ripe avocados (I love more, but it’s up to you)

Ciabbata or a rustic-type bread, cut into about four slices, and grilled a bit

Enough mixed greens for four small salads, washed and drained

1/2 cup sour cream

4 tbsp. mixed seeds (I used poppy and sesame, and I would have used pepitas if I had them)

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 350°.

You can peel or not peel the carrots, depending on your preference.  Cut the ends off of them and put them in some boiling water (to parboil them) for about 10 minutes.  While they’re boiling, make the seasoning for the roasting part.

Using a mortar and pestle (I am guessing a spice grinder would work here too, but not when you add the garlic and wet ingredients), smash up the cumin seeds, chilies, salt, and pepper.  Add the garlic and the thyme and smash all of this up into a kind of paste.  Add in the olive oil to cover up the paste (add more if you need to)  and the vinegar.  This is the marinade for those carrots when they come out of the boiling water.

Put the halved oranges and lemons face down in a roasting or baking dish.  Drain the carrots, add them to the baking dish, and carefully coat them with the herb-y paste-y marinade. Roast this for 30 minutes.

While everything’s in the oven, cut the peeled and pitted avocados into slices.  Wash the greens and get your act together.

When the carrots are done, remove them and divide them amongst four plates.  Carefully and using tongs, squeeze the orange and lemon halves well into a bowl  (I mean carefully because the fruit will be fucking hot).  Add an equal amount of olive oil and a swig of red wine vinegar (1 tbsp. or so, but taste and adjust if you need to, kiddo).  Season it with salt and pepper.

Divide the avocado between the four plates.  Take the greens and toss them with some of the dressing.  Top the avocado with the greens, dollops of sour cream, and the seeds.  Tear pieces of the grilled bread around it too.  Drizzle  more of the dressing over the salads and serve.  You will get this:

Carrot and Avocado Salad 016

The colors alone warrant a collective thrill and hug-fest.  Get some wine involved and lifetime friendships will be made, to be sure. There are lots of Moroccan chicken soups and stews that would compliment this salad well.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

A Panty-Dropping Bruschetta and a Panty-Dropping Cocktail

26 Feb

Panty-Dropping Bruschetta

Today, you get a two for one, and both will drop your panties, if you’re even wearing them.  The recipes will follow.

When I was a bartender at T.G.I. Chotchki’s, I made a drink called a Panty Dropper.  In essence, it’s a raspberry lemon drop.  I got more ladies buzzed on that shot than I can remember, and I believe my lovely wife was one of them.  Every time I made one, ladies would order a few right after it, not thinking that they were potent because they tasted like a raspberry lemonade.  After about three of them, they realized the error of their ways and the levity around the bar began.  If you ever want a solid night’s entertainment, bartend at a hopping place and watch the dynamics after people grease their necks a bit.  Wedding rings disappear, vows are made, promotions are given, politics are discussed, crushes get revealed, bets are made, and, you guessed it, panties drop, the most impetuous instance, I would guess, being in the parking structure behind the restaurant.  The human condition is rarely quite as transparent than at any good bar.

That being said, now that I don my husband/ father/ teacher/ grown-up hat in the world these days, such libidinous revelry isn’t had.  But, I still have found an appetizer that might get panties to drop considering that, every time I’ve made it, I hear sighing, moaning, and disbelief issuing from the females enjoying it.  No joke.  I hear that barely audible behind-the-bedroom-door-only “oh my god,” and I know I’ve nailed it.  Chicks dig the Panty-Dropping Bruschetta, and I think I know why.

This has everything for which ladies long in terms of ingredients, and the portions are small and light.  Guys, if you’re reading this, this appetizer is what the ladies order when they go out for a “girls’ night” and talk about feelings, chardonnay, Macy’s, Downton Abbey, candles, and sex (they ARE more lascivious than we are, I have learned through the years). When we go out with them, they’ll eat the jalapeno poppers and wings to nurture our egos, but those are not their first choices.  If poppers and wings equal the hardcore porn mostly consumed by men, then this Panty-Dropping Bruschetta is a romance novel with Channing Tatum modeling for the cover while mending his lover’s blouse.  Make it and you will see.

So without further ado…

Panty-Dropping Bruschetta 

Makes enough for about 6 to 8 people, I would think


2 French baguettes, sliced on an angle into 1/2″ thick slices

1 large log or 2 small logs of plain chevre, better known as goat cheese

8 Roma tomatoes, sliced about 1/2″ thick

Salt and Pepper

good olive oil (it matters in this recipe because it’s part of the overall flavor)

good balsamic vinegar (same thing with this stuff)

fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade (Roll the basil leaves together tightly and slice the basil log thinly.  This will make thin wispies of it.)

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Arrange the baguette slices on some baking sheets in an even layer.  Take a little bowl of the olive oil and brush each slice daintily with the oil, just to kiss it and not to drown it.  Put them in the oven for about 5 plus minutes, until the edges are a bit brown, but be careful not to burn them.  They just need to get a bit crisp.  You might have to bake these in batches, by the way.

Once the bread (crostini, if you will) is done, smear each slice with about 1 to 2 teaspoons of goat cheese.  You know, a good schmear.  Top this with a tomato slice.  Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the tomato itself.  Try one to see if you have the right amount of salt and pepper.

Take a few wisps of the basil and drape it over the tomato.  Drizzle this with more olive oil and some balsamic vinegar (again, use restraint…you just want to tickle them with the flavors and balsamic can take over quickly).

Bob’s your Uncle.  After I get one down the way I like it, I set up an assembly line and it goes much more quickly.  Arrange them sexily on a platter and prepare for the ensuing licentious sound effects.

The Panty Dropper a la Jonny Precious

(I know there are lots of versions of this drink.  This is just my version, but it’s still the best one.)

Makes 1


1 1/2 oz Stoli Orang

1/2 oz. Triple Sex, oops, I mean Triple Sec

1/2 oz. Chambord or a comparable raspberry liqueur

the juice from 1/2 a lemon

Makin’ It:

Chill a martini glass and then coat the rim in sugar.

Squeeze the lemon into a mixing tin and then add all of the liquor.  Add in a good scoop o’ ice, top the mixing tin with a glass or topper, and shake the hell out of it.  The idea is to get the ice to chip off into the drink, so when you pour it, the surface will have ice crystals on it.

Strain it into the martini glass and, again, watch what happens with the ladies.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Frittelle di Cavolfiore (Cauliflower Fritters)

17 Feb


Cauliflower Fritter 2

I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern when I make my comfort food.  I always think that no one will like it. Yet when I bring it into the English teacher workroom, everybody wants to try it, and lo and behold, they dig on it.  I’ve never had anyone, and I mean anyone, not like these fritters unless they’re lying bastards, which they could be without a doubt, especially in my English department.

For whatever reason, I think my pessimism is residual bashfulness from my childhood.  My family was different from the “normal” American family, whatever that means.  My pop, who has a thick accent, never watched football on Sundays because he was rebuilding classic MGs and couldn’t care less about football.  I could be late for anything, including church and school, but not for dinner.  I might belabor this point if I didn’t know there are a shitload of “You know you’re Italian if…” lists out there, so you get the point.

Personally, I never brought a girlfriend to a family gathering until my late teens/ early twenties. I think I was self-conscious because I thought she wouldn’t like the food or would think I was abnormal based on the family.  That first time I did bring her to a family party, right after we left she said to me, “You know how different your family is, right?”  I realize now that she meant it as a compliment…something of which I should be proud.  I got offended.  I told her that America is a melting pot, goddammit, and that we are part of the fabric.  I was right, but we are “different” too. I have since lightened up quite a bit, obviously.

After My Big Fat Greek Wedding came out, I remember my cousin asking me, “Did you see that movie?!?  It’s our family!”  So true was she, except that we’re Italian and not Greek.  At our family gatherings, everyone yells and gets passionate, yet we’re not pissed at each other…most of the time.

Even now at our family gatherings, everything centers around food and drink, and I think the biggest difference between my parents’ generation and mine and my brothers’ is that the guys cook in this generation.  And with only one girl in this round of grand kids,  I think that tradition will continue.

My pop said he and his buddies would buy fried treats in Naples at little fry shops called friggitorie.  My aunts, nonna, and mom made these regularly and they are absolutely delightful.

Frittele di Cavolfiore (Cauliflower Fritters)

Makes a bunch of ’em…enough for six I would think.


1 big head o’ cauliflower, stemmed and broken into florets (I am guessing a bag o’ florets would work too, but you’d be ghetto and lazy, of course)

1 to 1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup of milk

2 eggs

salt and pepper to taste (1/2 tsp. of each works for me)

Vegetable oil for frying

Makin’ ‘Em:

First, you need to parboil the cauliflower, so steam the florets for about 10 minutes and drain. They’re ready when you stick a fork into a floret and it splits, but it isn’t mushy; they’ll have a moist firmness to them.

Then, as my mom told me, you need to make a savory pancake batter.  Mix the flour, eggs, milk, salt, and pepper.  It shouldn’t be too thick, so that’s why you have to feel how much flour you need. Add in the drained cauliflower and mix it well, breaking up the florets with a metal spoon’s edge so there are chunks, rather than florets, of cauliflower in the batter.

In a big skillet, pour enough oil to fry, about 1/2 cup.  Get it hot enough so that a drop of water pops, dude.  Working in batches, drop 1/4 cup or so of the batter mix in the hot oil, and let it get golden brown on one side, about 2 minutes or so.  Using tongs and a fork, flip them carefully and brown the other side.  Drain them on paper towels and season them more with salt and pepper, but be careful not to over-salt them.  You should get this:

Cauliflower Fritter 3

Everyone except me eats them as is.  I love to dip them in ketchup mixed with sriracha or tabasco because I’m ghetto like that.  Truly, they need nothing, as you will taste.

Raise the glasses! Say it aloud and make the guests repeat!

Acqua fresca, vino puro, fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Buon Appetito!

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Mini Buffalo Balls

7 Feb

Super Bowl Fun 019

My view of Super Bowl Sunday forever changed after I read Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All, wherein he sets forth that, as  Americans, we share this one holiday, whether or not you like football, almost on a religious level.  I might argue that Thanksgiving is another one, but I think he’s right about the devotion part.  I’m not a football fan at all.  In fact, when Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, I am thinking about what I should cook rather than which team has the edge.  But I always look forward to it, even if I only notice who’s playing because has a headline about it.

Super Bowl Sunday is about relishing the “naughty” parts of U.S. gastronomy, namely nachos and wings and guacamole and chili dips and bad beer and little sausages (which are both to eat and which are possessed by many gut-toting football fans in the Santa Maria, California area, complete with big trucks and Raiders stickers).

I generally loathe the American football culture (and I even played the sport in high school for a year), mostly because, for 4 months every year, the restaurant bar that my wife and I normally go to on date night is taken over by hoochie mamas and dickheads wearing Raiders and Cowboys jerseys.  We usually go to play the trivia game on the television there. Just once, when I feel like getting my ass kicked for whatever reason, I’m going to demand that they keep the trivia game on for me during the playoffs just because I’m a paying customer and just to fuck with the football fans there. I’ll post it on youtube for sure.

But Super Bowl Sunday is special.  Last year, I made Frito Pie with all sorts of unhealthy sundries for the masses.  This year, I made a few dishes, like guacamole and lil’ Smokies warmed in chili sauce and grape jelly.  But the star of the show was not the sausages.  The balls. The balls reigned supreme this year.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a book called The Meatball Shop Cookbook which my brother got me for XMas.  I will be making my way through these recipes for the next year, to be sure, but the Buffalo Chicken Balls recipe caught my attention quickly, and I again have a keeper. Moreover, their recipe for bleu cheese dressing is, pardon the expression, so good I want to put my balls in it.

More to the point, these little bite-size balls are like crack and you won’t want to stop after you eat your first one.  They’re also simple to make.  I used turkey instead of chicken and it was fine.

Mini Buffalo Balls

(It says it makes about 40 3/4″ balls, but I got more like 50 1″ balls)


2 tbsp. vegetable oil

4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/3 cup Frank’s Red Hot or any wing-like sauce

1 lb. ground chicken or turkey

1 large egg

1 celery stalk, minced

3/4 cup breadcrumbs

1 tsp salt

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 450°.  Drizzle the oil in a 9 x 13 baking disk and coat the entire surface of the dish.

Combine the butter and the hot sauce in a small saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking until the butter is all melted and happy together with the sauce.  Remove from the heat and let it cool for about 10 minutes.

Then, combine the hot sauce mixture, the ground meat, egg, celery, bread crumbs, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Wash your hands and mix it by hand until everything is fully mixed.  Don’t be afraid to handle the meat too much, kiddo.

Roll the mixture into round 3/4″ to 1″ balls and make sure they’re well-packed.  Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, and line them up snugly so that they form a grid vertically and horizontally. They all should be touching each other.

Roast these for 20 minutes, until they’re cooked through (165° on the meat thermometer).  Let them cool for a few minutes before serving.  Serve with celery sticks and bleu cheese dressing.

Bleu Cheese Dressing (so simple to make)

Makes 2 cups


3/4 cup sour cream

1/3 cup crumbled bleu cheese

1/3 cup whole milk

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

dash of black pepper

Makin’ It:

Put everything in a medium bowl and whisk it well until well combined.  Taste for seasoning.  Transfer it to a serving bowl and dip your balls into it.

Super Bowl Fun 015

These are perfect for people who don’t like chicken on the bone.  Everyone’s happy and Super Bowl Sunday has never been better.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013