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Tag Archives: olive oil

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

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Italian Green Beans

28 Aug

 

Italian Green Beans 2

I often find myself paging through my memory for a “good” side dish to whatever I’m making that evening. As Ina Garten has said many times in effect, you have to figure out what the “star” of any given meal is. Is it the main course? Is it that odd potato recipe you had at Chez Sexy that you tried to replicate and for which you want your family to salivate? Is it simply a kick-ass veggie dish that’s good for you AND complements the main dish? What’s the new trick you have up your sleeve?

Most of us aren’t entertaining every night, so it follows that mealtime can be repetitive. I admit, I get bored easily with repetition. It’s a drummer thing, I think, so I’m always looking for variation on least one part of the meal. I could be making a solid main course, one I make every week, in fact. But my curiosity makes me wonder how I can add some oomph to whatever I’m cooking. Does my day revolve around it? No. But, it spices dinnertime up for me. It’s part of being creative. It’s part of living.

I’ve had these green beans regularly since I was a lad, and every member of my family knows how to make them. If I’m making a heavy main dish, often I will forgo the veggie or salad just because I know I’ll be full and, truth be told, I want to scarf more pasta or steak or whatever instead of obligatory greens. These green beans fix that problem. I want to eat these as much as the main course.  They can serve as the “star” of what would have been an ordinary meal. Moreover, they’re good for you. A lot of veggie recipes get their flavor from adding tons o’ fat in the form of cheese or butter, but not so with these guys. A little olive oil is the only indulgence.

Italian Green Beans

Serves 6, I would think

Ingredients:

1 pound green beans, regular or French, trimmed

3 tbsp. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes, or use diced tomatoes, undrained, and crush them by hand

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 cup water

salt and pepper to taste

Makin’ It:

First you need to parboil the green beans, which means you have to cook them partially before you finish them in the tomato sauce. How long you parboil them depends on how big the green beans are; for example, thin French green beans will be quick to parboil. So, get a pot of salted water boiling, add the green beans, and cook them until they’re fork tender but still retain a crispness to them. Drain them and set them aside.

In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic slices. Saute them until they’re golden. Then add the tomatoes, oregano, water, and the drained green beans. Get this to a simmer and cook them for about 10 minutes, until the sauce reduces a bit. Season with salt and pepper and you’re in business.

Italian Green Beans 1

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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

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 (https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2012/12/26/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

Ingredients:

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

Ingredients:

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

Ingredients:

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

Sauteed Mushrooms a la Jonny

13 Nov

I used to be scared of mushrooms.  There are so many of them, and a lot of the varieties are friggin expensive, and there is a sort of aura (even a corona, I dare say) around them.  I keep learning about them as the years pass.  Morels, the $19 a pound scrotum-looking variety, are good, no doubt.  But the crimini and white button mushrooms are ubiquitous to normal prols like me, so it has paid off that I learned how to use them.

Sauteed mushrooms is one of the easiest appetizers or side dishes for which one could hope.  It’s basic and good.

Sauteed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

1 carton of mushrooms (the square box of them in the supermarket…it’s like 4 oz. or something), quartered

1 tablespoon or so of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup white wine, madeira, marsala, port, champagne or sparkling wine…whatever is open and goes with your main course

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 to 1 tsp salt

fresh cracked pepper

Makin’ It

In a large skillet, heat the butter and the olive oil:

Add the garlic and saute it for 2 minutes or so, but don’t let it get brown or black (bitter).

Add the mushroom and get them going.  Toss them with everything and let them meet, greet, and hook up with the garlic, oil, and butter.

Add the wine at this point (tonight, I made a marinated steak, so the madeira wine in my cabinet bridged that gap quite well, but most often I use sparkling wine).  It will steam and make fun, exciting sounds.  Scrape up the bits on the bottom of the skillet as you do this.  Add the thyme, salt, and pepper.  Get it simmering and turn the heat down a bit.  Let it go for about 5 minutes, stirring every so often.

Now here’s the key.  TASTE IT!  If you need salt, add a little at a time.  After about five minutes, they should be softish and savory and slick. When you bite into it, it should be tender but firm.

From here, I transfer them into a serving dish with a slotted spoon and then top with the sauce because I don’t want to to drown them with liquid.

They don’t scare me anymore.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

“Like” it if you like it.