Archive | Mediterranean RSS feed for this section

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

Advertisements

Chickpeas and Pasta

19 Oct

Chickpeas and Pasta

“Just go away.”  I have uttered this often to my teenage students, in a variety of contexts, over the last twelve years since I started teaching high school English. I’ll say it as I attempt to take roll and a student asks me for the fortieth time if they need to skip lines when writing an essay, even though I have a large poster at the front of the room that clearly asserts, “Yes! Skip lines!” I’ll say it as I am but three words away from totally explaining the most impassioned and profound concept, which will alter their lives invariably thereafter, when one kiddo raises his hand and asks if he can go to the bathroom. I’ll say it when everyone is taking a final exam and the antsy, gregarious, loquacious student who finishes first asks me what I’m cooking for dinner that night. Loudly.

But truly, the context in which I most often say “just go away” relates to what they do after high school. I tell them to travel, to get away from their familiar environs, and just go away. You want to see South America? Good! Just go. Castles where knights rose and fell? Go. You want ninjas? Go. Where Napoleon died? Why? Never been to San Francisco? Go. You want to see hot Spanish chicks and dudes? Go. Make it happen and don’t wait.

Usually this is precipitated by me sharing about my backpacking trip around Europe when I was 23, fresh out of college. For two months, my best friend Pat and I went from Ireland, to Spain, to Germany, to Austria, to Czech Republic, to Netherlands, back to Spain, to France, and then home. We partied every night, slept on the floors of trains, saw Europe before it was the EU and before the internet localized the world, partied more, ate stuff that I still can’t identify, and basically changed our lives for good.

Physically, mentally, economically, or realistically, I cannot and will not ever be able to do this type of trip again. It was once in a lifetime, and I try to instill this in my students. “Do it now, kids, because you won’t be able to later. Trust me.” No money? I didn’t have much either. It took me until I was thirty to pay it off, but it was interest well bought. Just get out of town. Just go away.

As usual, I tangentially bring this up because, until that trip to Europe, chickpeas were something I refilled in the salad bar at Straw Hat pizza in my teens, not something I ate knowingly. Amsterdam changed that. Without going into details, I will posit that Amsterdam’s “coffee” shops are intentionally and strategically located next to shwarma and falafel stands (and KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, for that matter), so patrons succumbing to the munchies have no choice but to belly up to some serious grub on every side of them. They’ve got you by the balls convincingly. Before this time, I had never even heard of falafel, which is ground chickpeas and spices rolled into balls, deep fried, and then served in a pita with veggies and sauces. But after leaving a coffee shop and letting the holy grail of street food create new universes in my expanded mind, I ate them every day for a week. Sublime.

As the Food Network Empire and Darth Rachel came to power, chickpeas (garbanzos, or if you’re a pretentious prick, ceci, pronounced che’-chee) started getting some coverage in a variety of contexts. Unbeknownst to me, “chickpeas and pasta” are an Italian staple all over the boot. Although I personally had never had the dish, Darth Rachel’s scratchy voice assured me that it is “yum-o,” which of course comforts me in the recesses of my mind, Sand People pursuing or not.

In any case, this is a Weight Watcher’s recipe and I took only a few liberties with it. A good-size portion is a mere 7 on the old system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off frenetically). It’s vegetarian, filling, and good for you. It’s easy as hell to make, too, so it’s a perfect weekday dinner. And you will see that, as you eat this, you will tell people to just go away.

Chickpeas and Pasta

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups serving is an old Weight Watchers 7

Ingredients:

4 tsp. olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly

1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or a teaspoon dried, I’m guessing)

2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, divided

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 14 1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 16-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed well

1/4 tsp. each of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 zucchini or yellow squash, peeled and made into ribbons (I used the peeler to make thick ribbons, but only shave the meaty parts rather than the seedy parts)

2 cups cooked pasta, like rotini, penne, or ditalini

1/4 cup parmesan

Makin’ It:

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Saute the garlic for a minute and then add the carrots, rosemary, red pepper, and 1 tablespoon o’ the parsley. Saute this for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the tomatoes and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Start cooking the pasta about halfway through this.

Then, add the chickpeas, salt, pepper, and squash.  Simmer this for another 5 minutes, stirring here and there. Add in the pasta, parmesan, and the other tablespoon of parsley. Divide into four bowls and serve. Bob’s your uncle.

Chickpeas and Pasta 7

Now just go away.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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

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

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

Walnut Gorgonzola Fettuccine

8 Aug

Walnut  Gorgonzola  Fettucine 007

Things I’ve learned upon turning into a 40 year-old man

1.  If you have children, everything you did as a child comes back to haunt you amplified times 7.

2.  There is no shame in spending a good amount of time in Bath and Body Works searching for a pleasant smelling hand cream. No need to be nonchalant about it; it will make your day better.

3.  The grass isn’t greener. It’s a mirage brought on by your terrible thirst.

4.  The 1940’s and 1950’s never go out of style. Ever.

5.  Many of the “good” people who married young didn’t sow their oats enough when they were young, so they succumbed to #3 and are now either miserable or divorced.

6.  Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” sucks in every way and no one should play it ever again.

7.  Human nature’s predictable repetition is a beautiful thing. I made it through 1980’s style, so its resurgence is a bottomless source of amusement and laughter for me.

8.  Man-scaping is not necessary; it depends on what your partner wants.

9.  On the whole, most people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, especially the overly-zealous religious ones.

10.  “Violent antipathies are always suspect and betray a secret affinity.” -William Hazlitt

11.  The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Rush are that good. So is Neil Diamond.

12.  Don’t trust farts.

13.  Technology is my friend, but I’ve earned that friendship through the years: no garage door opener, no remote, Pong, Atari, cable switch box, 8 track cassettes, cassettes, vinyl, typewriters. I could go on for quite some time here, but if you lived through it, you get it.

14.  Making a tape or even a CD for someone was a labor of love and an art form that cannot be replicated now.

15.  Punch a bully in the nose once and they’ll usually leave you alone.

16.  Check your pockets before throwing them in the washing machine.

17.  The difference between pink and purple is your grip.

18.  Buy American. They get everything from China.

19.  There was only one Johnny Carson. Alas.

20. Making a light meatless pasta doesn’t emasculate me; it makes me even sexier and more worldly.

#20 leads into the recipe. And without further ado, here’s a pasta that’s meatless, sexy, worldly, and a 6 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off wontonly).  I admit, I double it and suffer a 12 because it’s so good, but that’s me.  It’s one of their recipes that’s actually excellent and made by someone who knows how to cook, an often rare concept in the WW world.  While this has a light taste, it’s filling and wonderful, and it’s beyond easy to make.  Try it and you’ll see. You’ll also see that it’s a perfect get-laid-dish for a male (40 year-old or not) with few cooking skills.

Walnut Gorgonzola Fettuccine

Serves 4, 1 cup each

Ingredients:

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese.

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 tsp. lemon zest

6 oz. fettuccine

1/4 cup walnuts, toasted lightly

1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

2 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

Makin’ It:

1.  In a bowl, whisk together the ricotta, chicken broth, and lemon zest until ’tis smooth.

2.  Cook the fettuccine according to the package or to your liking. Drain it and return it to the pot. (Note: don’t totally drain and dry the pasta. A little of the pasta water is good to keep it all moist. Just don’t overdo it.)

3. Add in the ricotta mixture and toss it well. Add in the walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, and parsley. Toss it all again. Using tongs, grab a portion (1/4 if serving four smaller portions, 1/2 if serving two bigger portions) and twirl it into a bowl or onto a plate. Make sure you evenly distribute the walnuts and cheese as they have a tendency to settle at the bottom of the toss pot (British folks may laugh at this point). I usually will top each portion with the extra nuts and cheese.

Walnut Gorgonzola Fettucine 001

Easy as turning 40.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013