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Bitchin’ Chicken Salad

15 Jun

Weight Watchers Chicken Salad

We all have our secret food indulgences that we are reticent to divulge. Now these guilty pleasures could be weird combinations, bastions o’ fat and calories, fast food, or items that are simply “wrong.” For example, there’s a reason why 7-11 sells rolled meat things filled with all sorts o’ stuff: people eat them!

One of my oldest friend’s weird indulgence is to have rocky road ice cream topped with halved green grapes. She then eats this using yogurt-covered pretzels. WTF? “It’s a texture thing,” I was told, and after having watched my wife go through a rough pregnancy, I totally understand this now.

My brothers and I swear by the 1970’s bologna sandwich, which is white bread (the Gemco brand, Lady Lee, no less) with generous mayo on it and two layers of American cheese and bologna. Heaven. How about a peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwich? How about Kentucky Fried Chicken? Watch Louis CK talking about Cinnabon ( and you will identify with him on some level. Lastly, if you follow this link,, you will see some beautiful creations by people who have thrown off the yoke of decorum and set forth their food exhibitionism with grandeur. I am thinking that most people reading this post won’t get past these links, but oh well.

I have a food indulgence about which I am embarrassed, I admit. I have told very few people about it, and I know it’s wrong, but I still do it whenever I’m on a road trip. I love, and I mean love, the pre-made chicken salad sandwiches at gas stations or liquor stores. And I love to eat them whilst driving with an open bag of puffy Cheetos by the stick shift. If you ever happen to see me on the 101 south around the Las Virgenes exit, you will espy me doing this while maintaining beautiful SoCal driving control; with my knees I can almost pull off a 3-point turn in between bites of sandwich and puffy Cheeto.

Funnily enough, this whole diatribe leads to a chicken salad recipe that’s probably the best I’ve ever had, and it does NOT taste like the gas station sandwiches. In fact, this is based on a Weight Watchers recipe, and while I sometimes wonder if WW can pull off certain dishes, I admit that this one tastes as good or better than any non-WW chicken salad recipe I’ve had. The cider vinegar in it gives it a good kick in the pants, which is why I like it.  Moreover, one cup is a 4 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can both fuck off egregiously), and with 2 slices of wheat bread, you’re looking at a 6 for lunch.  Not bad at all.

Bitchin’ Chicken Salad

Makes 4 servings


1/4 cup light sour cream

1/4 light mayonnaise

1 tbsp. cider vinegar

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

2 cups cooked, shredded or chopped chicken (Tip: Roast a whole chicken (450° for an hour) or some cut up chicken (400° for 35-45 minutes) coated with some olive oil and salt and pepper. Let it cool, discard the skin, remove the meat from the bones, and you’ll have the juiciest, most beautiful chicken ever. Or buy a rotisserie chicken from the market, take off the skin and bones, and you’re solid.)

2 stalks celery, diced

2 tbsp. finely minced onion

Makin’ It:

For the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the sour cream, mayo, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper.

In a bigger bowl, combine the chicken, celery, and onion. Add the dressing and mix it all up well. Cover it with plastic and chill it for at least an hour. Serve it as a sandwich or alone. Avocado works well with it, too, but adds on a few points.

‘Tis a piece o’ cake, good for you, and perfect for summer lunch.

Weight Watchers Chicken Salad 2

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013


Easy Asian Coleslaw

9 May

Asian Slaw 015

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

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

I have since learned to cook a variety of Asian main dishes, but I am sorely lacking in the side dish category.  Yesterday, I had an extra bag o’ coleslaw mix from a party we had on Sunday.  I knew I was making chicken satay (, so I started googling.  I found quite a few Weight Watchers recipes calling for crushed raw ramen noodles for the crunch effect.  As I am not in the habit of having ramen around, this wasn’t going to work.  Instead, I found a recipe here:

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

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

Easy Asian Coleslaw

Serves 6, I would think


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

5 tbsp. oil

5 tbsp. creamy peanut butter

3 tbsp. soy sauce

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

2 tbsp. minced crystallized ginger or fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, minced

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

2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks

one bunch green onions, chopped

1 chopped bell pepper (optional)

chopped cilantro (optional)

Makin’ It:

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

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

Asian Slaw 007

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino

The Best Chicken Caesar Salad

20 Apr

Chicken Caesar 002

One of the most embarrassing experiences I have ever had occurred because of a salad.  It took place in the west of Ireland after three nights at an Irish blues festival that changed both my view of the world and my capacity for drink. My best friend Pat, I, and my boss at the time, Dick, were eating at a luncheonette.  We had been in Europe for only about five days, but Dick was already feeling a bit homesick for some good ol’ American food staples, like Cheetos, Twinkies, and Del Taco.

The tension had been building for a day or so, but its breaking point came when Dick got the salad he ordered.  The plate consisted of a small pile of lettuce, a wedge of tomato, a dollop of mayo, and 1/4 of a hard-boiled egg.  At the time in Ireland, this was salad; ranch dressing didn’t exist in Ireland (I’m not sure if it does now, either, come to think of it) and salad didn’t figure prominently at any restaurant.  But Dick had had enough of European cuisine.  When the dish was set in front of him, the tiger was unleashed: “This isn’t a fucking salad!  I’m so sick of this shit!  I want a real salad with ranch and I want a goddamn hamburger! What kind of backward-ass country doesn’t know how to make a salad?!?” Obviously from this, anyone can see no reason at all why Europeans might call Americans pushy.  I mean, Dick was right, wasn’t he? He was just being (an) honest Dick and Ireland should be honored to receive such eloquent advice.

Holy mother I cannot even begin to express my mortification in that luncheonette. We ended up ditching him in Paris at the first opportunity and that did not serve me well when I came back to my job two months later.  Yet the gods close one door to open others, and this whole story needs to lead up to a Chicken Caesar salad recipe, somehow. I suppose it reminds me that salads for dinner are an American creation. Do I daresay a California invention?  I’m not sure. Regardless, the Chicken Caesar salad reigns king of the American dinner salads.

The reason this recipe kicks ass is simply due to the dressing.  I got it from a book called Glorious Italian Cooking by Nick Stellino, and even people who don’t care for Caesar salads have opened up to mine and have been titillated.

Lastly, don’t be afraid of the anchovy used in the dressing.  It gives a salty flavor and that’s about it, and if there is someone who hates even a hint of a fishy taste, it’s me.

The Best Chicken Caesar Salad

Serves 4

Dressing Ingredients:

4 anchovy fillets, or the equivalent amount of anchovy paste

6 whole, peeled garlic cloves

6 tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise

4 tbsp. white wine vinegar or rice vinegar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

4 tbsp. olive oil

Makin’ It:

Put all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and process it until it’s smooth.  Open the feed tube and add the olive oil slowly in a steady stream while the motor is running.  This will make the dressing creamy and beautiful.  Scrape out the bowl and set it aside until you assemble the salad.

Salad Ingredients:

2 grilled chicken breasts, cubed (the pre-grilled chicken from the supermarket works too, but you’d be ghetto)

3 heads romaine lettuce, washed, drained well, and chopped up

2 cups of croutons (store bought or homemade) or parmesan goldfish crackers (don’t knock it until you try it)

1 cup shredded parmesan

freshly ground black pepper

Caesar dressing

Makin’ It:

In a giant bowl, toss all of the ingredients together until everything until everything is well coated with the dressing.  Divide this amongst four big salad bowls and serve, like this:

Chicken Caesar 014

I am of the opinion that, when you taste this dressing, you’ll never buy Caesar in a bottle again.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Sesame Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

13 Apr

Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

I have mentioned many times that joining Weight Watchers yields some exemplary recipes and materials.  What’s interesting, though, is that a lot of their published recipes do not seem to be made by people who cook a lot.  Timing and portion sizes, particularly, are often off a bit, which is fine if you know how to adjust accordingly…or if you read Dinner with Jonny, which seeks to ameliorate those deficiencies.

This recipe a goddamn keeper because of it’s versatility.  It can be a main dish served warm or, served cold, an easy crowd pleaser for a pot luck or a side in an Asian feast.  It’s best if you put it together and let it get happy in the fridge for a while so the flavors mingle and intensify. I love doubling the recipe, portioning it out, and eating it for lunch during the week.  It’s light, filling, and packs wonderful flavors.

The booklet from which I gleaned this recipe gives each portion a 5 on the old WW points system (Points Plus and 360° can fuck off) if you use 2 oz. of noodles.  The noodles are the best part, so I double the noodles and add 2 points, making it on or about a 7. Serve it with a green veggie of some sort to round it all out. Easy as a porn star with a car payment due.

Sesame Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

Serves 2


5 oz. buckwheat soba noodles (any thin noodle will do, even spaghetti, but adjust the points accordingly for WW)

1 tbsp. rice vinegar

1 tbsp. honey

3 tsp. soy sauce

2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1 tsp. sriracha (optional)

1 tsp. sesame oil

1 grilled or roasted boneless chicken breast, sliced

1 bunch green onions, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into very thin coins

2 tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional)

1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Makin’ It:

Boil the noodles according to the package.

While the noodles are a-boiling, in a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, honey, soy sauce, ginger, and sriracha (if using). Set it aside.

Drain the noodles and quickly toss them with the sesame oil.  Add in the vinegar mixture, the chicken breast slices, the carrots, and the green onions. Toss with well and make sure you get the veggies mixed in there thoroughly (it’s a bit tough to do, as you’ll see). Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and cilantro (if using).

Chicken Soba Noodle Salad 4

This is a perfect spring or summer dish, and it’s virtually guilt free.

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

Easy Homemade Croutons

10 Feb

Easy Homemade Croutons 002

In one of my first posts, I mentioned that croutons are one of the items that I no longer buy.  I found a recipe by Guy Fieri years ago and I haven’t messed with it much.  But in those early posts, I put links instead of actual recipes.  As I made some of these nuggets o’ splendor today, I figured that it’s high time to write the actual recipe down and post it.

Guy’s recipe calls for stale bread.  I rarely have that around because crouton-makin’ bread usually gets eaten before it can get stale in this house.  A regular baguette works just fine for it; it has the right “inside,” too, because it doesn’t have too large of air pockets in it.  If you want to spice it up, add more cayenne to the seasoning blend.

The hardest part, if there is one, is making the garlic paste.  You can buy it, of course. But making it is simple. For this recipe, I use 4 cloves of garlic.  All you have to do is peel the cloves, cut the stem part off, and smash it with the side of a chef’s knife.  Then, sprinkle some salt on the smashed cloves (like 1/8 tsp.), and start smearing it across the cutting board with the side of your knife, back and forth, until it gets sticky and paste-y.  There will still be a few garlic fibers in it, but that’s okay.  Easy as a hooker with an oral fixation.

Easy Homemade Croutons (based on Guy Fieri’s recipe)

Makes A Lot (How’s that for specifics?)


1 regular baguette, cut into 1″ cubes (or enough bread to make 4 to 5 cups o’ cubes)

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

1/2 tsp. paprika (I have used smoked paprika, too, and it’s pretty damn good for a variation.)

2 tsp. dried parsley

1 tsp. dried basil

2 to 3 tsp. garlic paste (see above in the intro)

1/3 cup o’ olive oil

Makin’ ‘Em:

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Combine all of the ingredients except the bread in a small bowl.  Put the bread cubes in a big tossing bowl (a toss pot, if you will).  Pour the oily herby mixture over the bread cubes.  Using your hands or a big ol’ spoon, toss the bread with the seasonings until all of the bread cubes are well covered in it.

Spread the cubes out on a baking sheet in an even layer.  Bake these for 30 minutes, turning them once after 15 minutes of baking.  Remove them from the oven and let cool until you’re ready to use them.  Store whatever you don’t use in an airtight container.  Piece of cake.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Cornbread Chicken Chili Casserole with a Caesar Salad

5 Dec

Cornbread Casserole Served 2

My mom used to make a cornbread casserole on a regular basis, but it was the beef and kidney bean variety.  The idea is to make a chili of some sort, and then pour cornbread batter over the top of it and bake it for a while.  In the end, you have a cornbread crust on top and some savory chili underneath it.  You spoon this puppy out and it’s ridiculously good.

I’ve had a hankerin’ for some white chicken chili for a while now, especially since the winter months are upon us in the northern hemisphere.  I also wanted cornbread because who doesn’t want cornbread on a regular basis?  I also had taken chicken breasts out of the freezer two days ago, so I had to use them.  All of these elements played into what I created tonight.

This Cornbread Chicken Chili Casserole is an excellent example of “Dinner with Jonny.”  I found this recipe at about 3 p.m.  on the Betty Crocker website: (  I had to go to the store anyway, so I printed this up, put it in my pocket, and bought what I needed for it, and what I wanted to add to it, by 4 p.m.

By 5 p.m., I had some chicken breasts cooked, a glass of Johnny Walker Black poured, and all of the parts assembled on my counter.  I just needed to find out when my wifey would be coming home to know when I needed to put it in the oven.

I also wanted to have some green with this, so I made my caesar salad dressing beforehand (recipe to follow) and chopped some romaine lettuce.

Lastly, I felt like this needed to be lightened, somewhat.  So I substituted lighter versions of some of the ingredients to make it thus.  The Weight Watchers training pervades my cooking…and I feel less guilty.

From start to finish, it takes an hour.  But, a lot of it is inactive cooking time where you can chill with the kid or kids, do a load of laundry, make a cocktail, and/or grade some papers.

Cornbread Chicken Chili Casserole


3 cups cooked chopped chicken breast meat (you can buy the precooked stuff, of course.  You can also rub a few chicken breasts with olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, and cook them in a 375° oven for 35 minutes, and you’ll get some juicy meat.  If you use a bone in chicken breast, cook it for 45 to 50 minutes.)

1  4 oz. can diced green chilies

1  15 oz. can white beans

1 tsp. poultry seasoning (You can buy it or make it.  This is a recipe how to make it:

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 1/2 cups light sour cream (use regular of you’re of that “I can eat anything” body type)

1 cup low fat milk (use whole milk if you have no qualms about calories)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 1/2 cups Shredded Cheddar (who opens for Cheap Trick next month at The Grove)

3 green onions, sliced

Cornbread Topping:

1  8.5 oz. box of Jiffy Cornbread mix or something comparable

1  15 oz. can creamed corn

1 egg

2 tbsp. melted butter

Makin’ it:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray a 13″ x 9″ inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together the chicken, beans, chilis, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, sour cream, milk, salt, and pepper (adjust the salt and pepper to taste, by the way).  Mix in the cheese and green onions.

Spoon this evenly into the baking dish.  You’ll get this:

Chicken Casserole filling

For the cornbread, make it like the box says, except use the creamed corn instead of the milk.  Add in the butter and egg.

Now you need to spoon this over the filling.  I would suggest putting dollops of it over the whole thing and spreading it out evenly like that.  If you don’t, you will mix too much of the filling with the cornbread mixture, resulting in an angry cook.  If you do it right, you’ll get this:

Chicken Casserole topped with corn bread mix

Put this in the oven for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the cornbread and it has a tannish crust on it, like this:

Cornbread Casserole Served 1

This serves 8, it says, but I’m thinking 6 would be more likely.  We took half as much filling and doubled the amount of cornbread to eat.  This is how we roll.

Cornbread Casserole Served 4

This is unbelievably good and hearty.  The caesar salad worked well with this to give it some green.

The Best Caesar Salad, Ever


3 cloves garlic, peeled and whole

2 tbsp. white wine or rice vinegar

3 tbsp. mayo (low fat is best)

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. anchovy paste or 2 anchovy filets

2 tbsp. olive oil

Makin’ it:

In a food processor, add all of the ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil.  Get the food processor going and, through the chute, slowly pour the olive oil as it mixes.  Let it go for a minute or two and you will have a creamy, beautiful dressing that kicks bottled salad dressing in the nuts with force and mercilessly.

This is enough for 4 servings, so chop up some romaine lettuce, add about 1/4 cup of parmesan, add some croutons, and you have a caesar salad fit for a Roman emperor or an obstetrician.

On a lighter night, make two bigger caesar salads and add a grilled sliced chicken breast on top of each.  You’ll be cryin’ yourself to sleep on your huge pillow it’s so good.

Drinks!  I tried the Kirkland Cabernet from Costco this evening because I saw it there today.  Meh.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

p.s.  I know my pictures suck.  I’m working on it.