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BBQ Pork Balls

26 Jun

BBQ Pork Balls 2

Look at these guys. It almost makes me tear up just reminiscing about making them, let alone eating them.  I have posted a few recipes for meatballs on this blog, two of which are based on recipes from a book called The Meatball Shop Cookbook, which is a compilation of recipes from the guys who own The Meatball Shop in Manhattan, assuredly a destination on my next trip to NYC. These BBQ Pork Balls are based on their recipe too.

I’ve only been to New York twice: once when I was in my twenties to visit my friend Rich who was getting his Masters in art, and last April with my father-in-law, Bill. Bill is originally from Moonachie, New Jersey, which is across the Hudson a few miles.

On my first trip there about 15 years ago, I was wide-eyed and punch drunk. New York City is way too much to comprehend in a few days. I must have walked 20 miles through Manhattan and dodged 3 taxis for each mile; those fucking guys mean business when you’re crossing the street, as I learned quite quickly. I did get a taste of NYC, but I knew I had to come back at some point.

When I first met Bill (before my wife and I were married, of course), I knew I wanted to go to New York with this guy. I had to. Being a California Italian, I often have pined to have the New York Italian accent, the Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci “What the fuck are you lookin’ at?” edge. Bill owns this. For example, while helping us restore our old house, he once came back from Home Depot and said, “Hey Jonny, I did that thing you needed. No problem,” and I wondered if our room was tapped and if all of my enemies were still around.  It was fucking beautiful.  In any case, while I envy those brought up in New York and New Jersey for the accent, I will settle for having Bill around and, after a few glasses of wine, adopting his accent. I figure, at least it’s in the family and I am Italian, when all is said and done.

So after 11 years, we made it to New York with Bill. I mean, the guy had The Sopranos theme song on the radio as we crossed the bridge like Tony does in the opening of the show. Are you kidding me? It was all bitchin’ from then on out. We saw all of the sites, my 3 year old was speechless (which is a good thing, sometimes), we ate at diners and at Italian family restaurants, and I even got told to “get the fuck outta here” when declaring, with alacrity, that the Angels would beat the Yankees that season. Yankee fans have been busting my balls at the Big A my whole life, so I felt a need to recompense.  In essence, it was the trip of a lifetime.

I mention this story because I can feel New York in this cookbook. The authors are a “couple of fuckin’ guys,” to use my family’s complimentary epithet, and their recipes exhibit this. Moreover, these aren’t classic Italian meatballs; they’re pork balls, perfect if you want BBQ and you don’t have the time or the resources to spark it up in the back (the BBQ, that is).

I served these on sandwich rolls with a liberal amount of BBQ sauce and homemade KFC coleslaw. Nothing more needs to be said.

BBQ Pork Balls

Makes about 12 cueball-size meatballs


2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 lb. ground pork

1/2 cup BBQ sauce (I’m a KC Masterpiece guy, myself)

1 egg

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

Makin’ ‘Em:

Preheat the oven to 450°. Get a, 8″ x 8″ or similar size baking dish and coat the bottom of it with 1 tbsp. of the olive oil.

Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and cook them until they are soft and browned, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Transfer this to a bowl and put it in the fridge to cool (hot onions would make scrambled eggs when you add them to the mixture, so that’s why you chill them, kid).

When the onions are cooled, put them in a mixing bowl with the pork, BBQ sauce, eggs, bread crumbs, and salt. Mix this all together with your hands until everything is thoroughly combined.

Have a cup of water next to you as you roll out the meatballs. A key to making good meatballs is keeping your hands moist as you roll them.  It makes the balls smooth and it’s easier to make sure there are no cracks in them.

Roll the mixture into cueball-size meatballs and make sure the meat is packed firmly. Place the balls in rows and columns in the oiled baking dish. The meatballs should be touching one another.

Bake these guys for 20 minutes, or until cooked through. The meat thermometer should read 165° when poked into the center of a meatball. Remove them from the oven and let them cool for about 5 minutes before you dig in.

Serve them with more BBQ sauce, buns, coleslaw, and whatever your little heart desires. You’ll maybe get this:

BBQ Pork Balls 7


Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013


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

Curried Chicken Salad

7 Jun

Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich 2

I write this post with only one graduation ceremony in front of me before a few months o’ summer break. In truth, one of the reasons that I know that I love my job is that I will miss the classes that I had this last semester (the previous semester is another story). Specifically, the only British literature class I taught this year was one of the best I have ever had; we could engage in discussions about literature or culture or sundry cerebral topics with depth and curiosity.  Moreover, now they have the tools to understand some pretty complex reading, so it’s satisfying on multiple levels. It’s like they’re almost people, I dare say.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to plan an English tea party with them. Granted, this was my first period class, so it was quite an early tea in terms of English norms, but whatever. I fell short of making them dress up in suits and bonnets or having them raise their pinkies when drinking the tea for fear that they would tell me to piss off, but I did balk at it, of course.

I tripped out that, even with the ubiquitous Starbucks enterprise, most of them had no knowledge of a scone. Crumpets? They were bewildered. What the hell are tea sandwiches? Curry? No concept. But that’s why I’m there. So I told them where to go to buy what, and they had adventures.

When I introduced the idea, I explained that an English tea is another meal time across the pond…”very British,” I said. Their response? “You say ‘very British’ about everything in this class,” to which I responded in my best English accent, “Sorry,” which is very British as well. We generated a list of items to be purchased, set the date, and we were on our way. This event went smashingly well aside from a few hiccups, like kids eating un-toasted, cold crumpets, Flaming Hot Cheetos making the rounds, and my principal showing up towards the end of class as Eddie Izzard’s Glorious played on my Smartboard, but it all made it our own. No matter what career you’re in, throw a tea party in the states and people get titillated.

I have no idea where I got this recipe for Curried Chicken Salad, but I have refined it over the years and now it’s all mine. This works well with leftover chicken, too. It just kicks ass. I never order it anywhere now because mine’s better. This is probably not too bad on Weight Watchers, either.

Curried Chicken Salad

Makes enough for 10 sandwiches, I’m guessing


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 put a few boneless breasts in a pot and cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer covered for 30 minutes.)

1/2 medium onion, chopped (whatever kind you have works)

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup light mayonnaise

1/2 light sour cream

2 heaping tsp. curry powder

1/2 to 1 tsp. salt (to taste)

1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or almonds (optional)

freshly ground black pepper to taste

paprika for a garnish

Makin’ It:

In a bowl, combine the chicken, onions, garlic and nuts (if using). In another bowl, whisk together the mayo, sour cream, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the chicken and mix it well, kid. Chill it for at least an hour.

Scoop it on a bed of lettuce and garnish with the paprika, or spread it on soft wheat bread to make a sandwich. For the tea party, I cut the crusts off and then cut the sandwiches into four triangles. Easy as a hippie who needs a ride to a tree sit-in.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Chicken Gyros Easy Peasy

20 Feb

gyros 006

In Santa Maria, California, where we live, the food scene flat out sucks.  If you want steak, we have the best damn steakhouses around.  Mexican food?  Ubiquitous.  We have burger joints that will make your knees shake.  But beyond these types o’ places, you need to travel a bit.  For example, the best Italian food, besides my house, is at Olive Garden.  I suppose that I’m spoiled from living in Southern California for the first 33 years of my life.  The irony is that, down in O.C., we had problems figuring out where to eat because there were too many options.

Every time I see a new restaurant getting set to open here in the SMC, I wistfully hope for something new, something different, something original, or something that will just make me optimistic about this town.  But 99% of the time, it’s a fucking steak house or Mexican restaurant that opens, leaving me to curse my fate and stomp in circles in front of their “new” restaurant while talking to myself in tongues (I’ve become popular in this regard, at least).

Good Mediterranean food just can’t be found around here.  If a pizza-type Greek place opens up, it usually lasts a year or two and then it folds up without fanfare.  There is a place north of here, in Nipomo, California, called Antonio’s which is about as close to authentic as one could get.  But it is a bit pricey for a young family, so I have to suffer without gyros and moussaka and the like.  On the positive side, it gives me the impetus to branch out and start making Greek food.

I got the gyro recipe below online at

It didn’t  have much in the way of explaining the process, but the recipe itself is a keeper.  I have always wondered what made gyros taste the way they do.  This recipe showed me.  It’s easy and quick, too, kiddo.  The grill pan gets a bit juicy, but it doesn’t burn like a BBQ sauce or Asian sauce does.  An outside grill would have no problems.

Chicken Gyros Easy Peasy

Makes about 6 Gyros

Chicken Marinade Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into slices or strips

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tbsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. chopped garlic (yes, there’s a lot of it)

1 tsp. dried oregano (I am thinking fresh would kick ass here)

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. salt

Makin’ the Marinade:

Mix everything up in a zip-lock bag or a non-reactive dish that you can cover.  Put it in the fridge for an hour or until you’re ready. Mix it up every so often.

When you’re ready, take out the strips and shake off the excess marinade.  Grill them over medium high heat until cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes total.

Tzatziki Sauce Ingredients:

1 cup of roughly chopped cucumber

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tsp. chopped fresh mint

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/4 tsp. salt

Makin’ the Sauce:

Put everything in a food processor and pulse it until the chunks are broken down fairly well.  You still want texture, so don’t go nuts on this and let it puree while you make a cocktail.  If you don’t have a food processor, just chop everything finely and blend them together well.  Either way, put it into a dish in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

If you’re in a hurry, get the tzatziki sauce from Trader Joe’s or someplace comparable and you’ll be fine.  But, the homemade still kicks the store-bought sauce in the nuts with puissance.

Stuff to Build the Gyro

Pita bread

sliced red onion



Sriracha (me only, unless you too are obsessed)

Put it all together and you get this:

gyros 007

I made these Greek potatoes to go with this using Bobby Flay’s recipe:

They were unreal, but be sure to flip them regularly or you’ll have some serious charring going on.  The flavor was perfect with the gyros.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Animal-Style Burger for Man Night

7 Dec

As I wrote in my first post on dinnerwithjonny, every Thursday is “Man Eats Alone and Watches Whatever He Wants” night, or something to that effect.  I have run out of the British Sherlock series, so my favorite murder mystery, The Midsomer Murders, on netflix will suffice just fine.  As we are having a guest tomorrow and I will be cooking steaks, tonight I had to come up with another idea for my solitary man-dinner.

Animal Style Final

Meet the homemade “Animal Style” Double Double inspired by In-N-Out.  Besides Texas and Toronto, it would seem, In-N-Out is mostly a California tradition.  It is spreading east for sure, which is good for them, as they will find out.

If you’ve never had In-N-Out, there’s nothing like it.  They make the best hamburgers around, flat.  If you’ve ever traveled around California and tried to go to In-N-Out at any location, it is always busy.  Always.

One of the many bitchin’ parts about In-N-Out is that they have a secret menu, sort of.  Their menu is basic, but if you know what to ask for, you can get all sorts of fun sides (hot peppers individually wrapped being one) and preparations.

One such preparation is called “animal style,” which can be had on both burgers and fries.  Basically, they smear mustard on the patties before grilling them, and then they add grilled onions with extra secret sauce, pickles, and cheese.  If you order fries like this, these extras are all dumped on top of them sans pickles.

Now I will be the first to admit, nothing replaces or can hold a candle to an original In-N-Out Animal Style Double Double.  That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t try at home when you have all of the ingredients on hand.  There is nothing exotic about how it’s made, and it’s pretty friggin’ good even if it isn’t the same thing.  It’s kind of like mom trying to imitate McDonalds.

The best part is that it’s easy.

Animal Style Double Double at Home

Serves 1 (double this recipe to make two)


2  1/4 lb. beef hamburger patties (use whetever fat content you want, but I would go with 85/15)

Yellow mustard

1/4 cup grilled onions (in a small skillet, heat 1 tbsp. butter and brown the onions over medium heat, about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring here and there)

1000 Island dressing or a comparable secret sauce

2 slices American cheese

Meat Seasoning (I use Suzy-Q’s, the Santa Maria style BBQ secret)

A few leaves of iceburg lettuce

2 slices of tomato

1 regular hamburger bun

Makin’ It:

Once you’ve got the ingredients done and ready, like the grilled onions, it’s basically cooking a couple o’ burgers and putting it together.

Animal Style 1

First, though, coat the patties with the seasoning.  Then, smear a good amount of mustard on one side of the patty.  In a hot skillet (medium high heat), put the patties mustard-side down.  Then, smear the up side of the patties with more mustard, like this:

Animal Style 3

After about 5 minutes or so, flip them and cook another 5 minutes.  Put a slice of cheese on each right before they’re done and get the cheese to melt a bit, but not totally.

For the bun, smear a good amount of 1000 Island on each side of the bun.  On the bottom part of the bun, lay the leaves of lettuce, and then put the two tomatoes on that.  Mix some 1000 Island with the grilled onions and put those on the top part of the bun:

Animal Style 4

Lay the finished patties on the tomatoes, and cover with the top bun.  You will get a pseudo-Animal Style Double Double that looks like this:

Animal Style Final

Is it the real thing?  No.  But is it good?  To quote Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, “I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars but it’s pretty fuckin’ good.” And it’s a snap to make.

Drinks!  From Trader Joe’s I got a Chilean carmenere (that’s the name of the grape) called Found Object.  It’s pretty good and not expensive.  Give it a try sometime.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino, 2012

Pulled Pork, Southern and Easy

29 Nov

I have been to the south (in the U.S., that is) three times now.  Every time I leave there, I am charmed and buttered, literally, both on the inside and outside.  The first time I went to Alabama in the mid 1990’s, I went to my friend Tree’s wedding, and the barbecue they had there was nothing like I had ever tried before: pulled pork on buns with cole slaw and sauce.  I had so many food-gasms during that three day stay that it’s imprint on me is indelible.   Mind you, this is before the ubiquitous Food Network and Travel Channel got really rolling.  In California, this sort of cuisine was not as common then as ’tis now.  The hospitality, too, is unparalleled, even now.

The beautiful part about the t.v. programs now is that they have done a service in conveying these recipes to the masses.  I often ponder if people realize how easy it is to make pulled pork.  So many of the food shows say that we spend way too much money on cuts of meat that are flavorless, but tender, filet mignon being the prime example.  While I tend to disagree with them on some level (filet mignon is a delicacy regardless of their high-falutin-ness), there is something to be said about taking a big hunk of fatty meat and cooking it a long time to make something awesome.  It’s so easy that, even if you work all day, it can be done without even thinking about it.

I searched through the grocery store ads this morning, and I found a pork picnic shoulder for $.99 a pound at Smart and Final.  This was at 7 a.m.  I went and picked up, for $10, a big ol’ pork shoulder with the bone in and fat hanging off of it…just a beauty of a specimen.  What did I do?  I rubbed it with spice and put it in a 300° oven for 9 hours.  Yes, nine whole hours. By the time I took it out (and my house not only did not burn down, but smelled like a palace dedicated to Boss Hogg and the Duke brothers), I had this giant piece of pork falling apart on me, dripping with goodness, and pulled pork sandwiches were waiting for us.  It’s like a slow cooker recipe, but made in the oven.  Get it ready before work, and it’s ready when you get home.  Easy peasy.

Pulled Pork


A 5-10 lb. pork shoulder, picnic roast, boston butt, or some kind of giant cut of pork with a lot of fat on it.  It’s made to roast for a long time.

Dry Rub:

3 tbsp. paprika

2 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tbsp. dry mustard

1 tbsp. garlic powder

3 tbsp. salt

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 300°. Mix all of the spices together. Put the pork in a baking dish or roasting pan and rub that guy with all of the spices.  Your hands will get caked with it, which makes it primal on some level.  It will look like this when you put it into the oven:

Now, and this is important,  just forget about it.  Really.  Let it cook like this for 6 to 8 hours.

When it’s done, it looks like this:

And after you let it rest for at least 15-20 minutes, shred the pork and get rid of the excess fat and skin (unless you’re into to that sort of thing).   To shred the pork, use two forks, and stab a giant piece of pork with one fork and, using the other fork, pull away the shreds of pork piece by piece.

I made some coleslaw for this.  I bought the packaged cabbage and carrot mix at Smart and Final, and then I made a dressing:

Coleslaw Dressing:

1 tbsp. vinegar

1/2 cup light mayonnaise

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. celery seeds

1/2 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground

1 tbsp. sugar

Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl and pour over the slaw mixture, which should be in a big bowl.  Mix it well so every little leaf has some goodness on it.  Cover it and put it in the fridge to chill.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches: The Final Project

Hamburger or steak rolls, soft

Pulled pork


BBQ sauce (if you make one that you like and kicks ass, right on.  If you like a bottled one and it kicks ass, right on.)

Now it’s time to put it all together.  Rub the insides of the bun with bbq sauce. Place some shredded pork on the bun, top it with some sauce, top that with some coleslaw, and you will bust your zipper.  It takes all day to make, but it’s hands off, and it feeds everyone around.

Drinks!  A good, rich red, like a Cabernet, is perfect for this.  But, beer, a Coors Banquet Beer or a Miller High Life, was created for this.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino, 2012

p.s.  I love feedback! Let me know what works, what doesn’t, or what you want.