Tag Archives: onions

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


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


Toad in the Hole

11 Sep

Toad in the Hole 2

I’m an Anglo- and Hiberno-phile (a lover of things English and Irish, that is).  I’ve been to Ireland twice and I have seen Toad in the Hole on a few pub menus, but I never ordered it.  For whatever reason, one day I remembered it on the way home from work…sausages in a pastry with gravy.  How can that be bad?  It can’t.  It’s one of the best dishes ever on an autumnal or wintery evening.  I mean, just look at it!  It’s just tits!

When I remembered the dish, I started doing some research.  I found a few recipes and sort of blended them all together (if you want the individual ones, let me know and I will look them up).  Toad in the Hole is traditionally made with bangers, English pork sausages made with breadcrumbs.  They are just not found around the central coast of California, except for one butcher in Arroyo Grande, who makes exceptional ones.  So, I thought that perhaps chicken and apple sausage might work  (I use Aidell’s from the supermarket…foodies can piss off).  Indeed, they do work famously, and I have thus created a new California/ English/ Irish fusion comfort food I actually call “Cock in the Hole” because of its chicken sausage.

This post, by the way, is a revised version of one of the first recipes I posted, which I altogether called “Cock in the Hole,” but I think I put some people off with the title. I have to admit, though, the search terms that brought up my blog because of that title were worth it. People search for some weird shit on the internet, let me tell you.

It might look daunting, but it’s totally easy. The readiness is all.

Toad in the Hole


1 1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter melted

3 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon canola oil (or something equivalent)

1 pound of cooked chicken and apple sausages (or whatever your little heart desires in the sausage category) *Note: if you use uncooked sausages, brown them in a pan first to make sure they get cooked through!

For the gravy, you need:

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon of oil

1 teaspoon of superfine sugar or regular sugar

2 cups vegetable stock

2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon of mustard powder

2 teaspoons of flour

salt and pepper to taste

Makin’ It:

Whisk together the flour, salt and pepper, and then make a well in the center of it.  In the well, pour the melted butter, beaten eggs, and milk, and whisk it until it’s smooth like a pancake batter.  Cover it and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

Make sure you have two racks in your oven. When you’re ready, coat an 8 x 12 baking dish with the tablespoon of oil, put it in the oven, and preheat the oven to 425° F (the dish and oil will be piping hot when you put in the sausages and batter).

Toss the sliced onions with the sugar and oil, and put them in a single layer on a baking sheet.  When the oven is ready,  put the onions on the top rack.  In the heated baking dish on the bottom rack, carefully place the sausages in there and watch so you don’t get splattered.  (If you are using uncooked sausages, make sure to brown them first before you put them in the oven pan!) Spoon the batter over the sausages in the dish evenly, scraping the bowl so everything is used.  Close the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile for the gravy, heat the stock (or make the stock from bullion cubes) and add the Worcestershire sauce and the mustard powder to it, mixing well.

After 15 minutes, remove the onions, which should be roasted and brown and even black in some parts. In a saucepan, heat a teaspoon of oil and add the onions and the flour.  Cook it about a minute or two until it’s paste-y, and then start adding the stock little by little, scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pan.  After all of the stock is added, let it simmer and thicken until the Toad (or Cock depending on the sausage and your sauciness) is ready.  Season it with salt and pepper to taste.Toad in the Hole 1

(Note: I made a half version of a Toad in the Hole in these pictures, obviously.)

After the 30 minute timer goes off, it should be golden brown and fairly firm, as the picture above shows.  Let it rest a few minutes, and then slice the Toad between the sausages, and serve with gravy with which to smother it.

I love roasted potatoes and green beans smothered in the gravy with it.  Britons say that mashed potatoes are the key.  Whatever blows you hair back will work fine.

Drink:  Beer makes this heavenly, especially a Bass or a Harp.

One of the best parts of being American is that I get to simulate, interpret, and amalgamate.    I have served this to people and they have been blown away.  They might say it’s an inside-out hot dog, but I think that’s oversimplifying, like we Americans tend to do.  In any case, this has become a regular menu item in our house, and perhaps it will be in your house too.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

The Sauce

30 Mar

The Sauce

I can think of no better picture to accompany this blog post than the one above.  It truly says volumes about my heritage, my blood line, my handsomeness, and the true essence of Italian food.  I believe this was the first or second time Tony had eaten my sauce, and he has always done so with gusto, as should everyone.  Funnily enough, this scungillio is a picky eater (unlike his uncles and his pop), but when it comes to my sauce on pasta, he’s at the table waiting with fork in hand as we put the plates together.

I have posted two tomato-based pasta sauce recipes on here before, and in both posts I made sure to note that they aren’t MY sauce.  I have also said that most Italians have their own version of sauce (again, I never heard the term “Sunday gravy” until I saw The Sopranos), which is most likely derived from their mom’s or nonna’s recipe. I am no different in this regard.  My mom taught me how to make sauce eons ago, and after screwing with and tweaking the recipe for years, I finally got to my version which tastes like no other I’ve had anywhere.  I didn’t even write it down until about 5 years ago; a student wanted to make her boyfriend dinner and asked if I knew how to make spaghetti and meatballs.  Writing it down was the tough part because I always had just made it, kind of like singing a tune you’ve known for years under your breath as you work away.

In any case, I truly think that an Italian’s sauce mirrors their soul to a degree, and ’tis true concerning this one.  Me?  I’m sanguine, sweet, complex, thick, and intense.  And so is my sauce.

Another essential element of a good sauce is this:

The Pasta Pot

The pot (and the readiness) is all.  Notice how it’s not perfect like a Martha Stewart ad: it has chips in it, it’s discolored, the lid handle’s a bit loose.  Yet I swear by this cast-iron beast and it’s importance in making a good sauce.  My mom swore by hers, too, which was an ugly olive green monster of a pot that weighed 15 pounds at least.  A good pot cooks everything evenly, so go to T.J. Maxx, drop $20, and you’ll have this buried with you when the time comes. It’s a must.

Half of the time, I make a Bolognese-style sauce, which is with browned ground meat in it; the other half of the time I make a marinara, which is sans meat.  With either one, you can make some meatballs or sausages, of course, which will add to the overall flavor of the sauce.  Personally, I rarely eat pasta because I prefer to make a meatball or Italian sausage sandwich on some good bread.  Make a salad to round it all out and everyone’s happy.

The Sauce

One batch will serve 4 to 6 people, usually


1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 lb. ground beef, pork, or veal (turkey would work too, although ‘twould be sacrilege), browned and drained (optional)

5 cloves garlic, peeled

2- 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes (or whole peeled tomatoes crushed with your hands)

1 1/2 cups red wine

1 1/2 cups water

(*or enough red wine and water to fill one of the big cans, which is what I do)

2- 6 oz. cans tomato paste

1 tbsp. salt

3 tbsp. sugar

1 heaping tbsp. dried basil

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, depending on your spice-whimsy

and about 3 hours of time

Makin’ It:

In a large pot (like the one mentioned in my preamble), heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the onions. You need to get them brown, and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to do it.  This is the most important part, really. It’s where the flavor of the sauce comes from.  When they’re brown, throw in the garlic cloves and, if you’re using it, the browned meat.

Carefully pour in the tomatoes.  Pour the wine and water into the cans and swish it around to get as much tomato as possible from the cans.  (Note:  I wrote 1 1/2 cups of each liquid above, but I guesstimated because I usually use the equivalent of one large tomato can o’ wine and water, as noted above.) Stir.

Stir in the tomato paste, salt, sugar, basil, and red pepper flakes well.  Raise the heat to high and get it boiling.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 or 3 hours until it’s thick and happy.  Scrape the sides of the pot every 15 minutes (or so) so the sauce doesn’t stick to the sides.  Taste for salt, dip some bread in there and mangia while you cook-a.

If you’re making meatballs or sausages, put them in during the last hour of cooking and serve them on the side.  Pour the sauce over your favorite pasta and pass the parmigiano.  Pour some vino, raise the glasses, say it loud, and say it proud:

Acqua fresca, vino puro,

Fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Pasta Genovese, or Genoise

11 Jan

Genovese 012

Throughout the years that my wife and I have been together, I have loved the times where I’ve busted out a dish with which I grew up, only to have her give me that “Holy Shit!” sort of look that one gets when tasting something unforgettable and required regularly from that point forward.  What titillates me even more is that she lived in Italy for some months, studying abroad in Florence, so she is far from naive about Italian food, having indulged in her travels.  She was there and I’ve never been.  But I got the father from the old country, so I have some tricks up my sleeve that travelers might not get to experience.  Genoise, a pasta sauce made primarily of onions flavored with beef, is one such dish.

Genoise, or Pasta Genovese, is as Neopolitan as it gets.  I have never learned why it’s called Genovese  after the city of Genoa.  I know that my nonna was originally from Genoa, and she made this often, and she taught my mom to make it regularly as well.  But the region of Campania, of which Naples is a big part, claims this dish as their own.  I doubt my  nonna was the reason for this, but she would probably claim it if she were alive, the tough, proud lady that she was.  In any case, this is yet another dish I had every week or two until I was a big boy.  I have never made it for anyone except my wife, and I know of no one outside of my family who has tasted it.  Of course, I’m from California, so first generation Italians are about as common as nuns at a rodeo.  In New Jersey or New York, many probably know Genoise.

I learned to make Genoise from my mom and my pop both.  As usual, there is a book I have read, called Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz (   The first time I read this book, it validated that my family is indeed from Naples because it has a great deal of the recipes I have enjoyed since I could hold a fork.  One of its recipes for Genoise is almost identical to my family’s.   It’s peasant food.  It means to take the little meat a family could afford and make it go a long way to feed everyone, which is what Italians do best.  It’s good for you, too. Besides the fat on the meat flavoring the dish, no oil or butter is used to make this, just good ingredients and love.

Without further ado, I give you a taste of me and my family (not literally, of course).

Genoise or Pasta Genovese

Serves 4 to 6


2 lbs. chuck steak, or a chuck roast tied (you can use stew meat, too, if you’re in a pinch)

4 lbs. onions (yes, 4 lbs.), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 12 to 14 cups)

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper (freshly ground always kicks everything else in the nuts, you know)

2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, or 2 tsp. dried parsley

1/2 tsp. dried marjoram

8 cups water

1 cup dry white wine (I used flat, dry sparkling wine, which is wonderful)

1 tbsp. tomato paste

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. ziti or penne, cooked to your liking

Lots of parmigiano (parmesan, wise guy)

Makin’ It:

Place the meat on the bottom of a big ol’ dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot that can hold 8 to 10 quarts. Surround and cover this meat with the onions, carrot, celery, salt, pepper, parsley, marjoram, and the 8 cups o’ water.  It looks like this before I put in the rest of the onions and the water:

Genovese 001

Get this to a slow boil, lower the heat to medium/ medium-low, and simmer it steadily, uncovered, for about 3 hours.  Stir it every 20 minutes and turn the beef so that it cooks evenly.

After three hours, most of the liquid will be evaporated, and the meat should be somewhat tender.  The onions will be very broken down and silky looking.  Remove the meat to a separate dish and keep it warm (like, cover it in foil, dude).

With the pot full of the onions, raise the heat to medium high and add the white wine.  Boil this and stir it often for about 10 minutes until the wine evaporates (and thus leaves the sauce with its kisses).  Continue to boil this for another 10 to 20 minutes and stir it almost constantly.  When it’s done, it should be thick enough to where you can almost see the bottom of the pan when you run a spoon through the sauce.  Add the tomato paste when it’s like this and stir it for another minute or two.

Taste for salt.  I usually add another 1/2 teaspoon or so.  Add lots of black pepper to taste.

Spoon the sauce over the pasta and serve with more pepper and parmigiano.  Slice the meat and serve it on the side with some of the onion sauce on it.  It should look like this:

Genovese 008

And thus I share with you a bit of my life and heritage.  Welcome to a bit of true Neopolitan cooking and enjoy.

Acqua fresca, vino puro,

Fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Halloween and Frito Pie for the Masses

1 Nov

Halloween is a big deal at our house. My son, Tony, was born on my wife Angela’s 30th birthday, which happens to be November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I have always loved Halloween even though, alas, it has changed so much over the years because of creepy people threatening to poison candy…at least, that’s what happened in Orange County, California, for a while. In Santa Maria, where we live, the traditions are still solid, so we always go nuts with decorations…graveyards, hanging skulls and skeletons, spider webs and lairs, lots of moving toys, all with the intention of frightening people, especially teenagers (being a high school teacher, I relish scaring teenagers…they think they’re so cool, so when you actually scare them, it’s like crack and you can’t stop). The hubbub has gotten so large that we have had to enlist help from family and friends to man stations, like handing out candy, the fog machine, the guy who pops up from the grave, falling spiders, etc. Obviously, when there are a bunch o’ people helping out, they must be fed. What’s quick, filling, tasty, and makes everyone happy?

Frito Pie: problem solved.

What is Frito Pie?  It’s a mound o’ Fritos with a scoop or two of chili on top, and with fixin’s on top of that.  Wet undies, to be sure.

If you have never heard of the Pioneer Woman, look her up. I think that her easy-going way of making excellent food is the reason why she has done so well. My recipe for Frito Pie is based off of her Frito Chili Pie. Here is that recipe:

I had to feed 10 to 12 people, and on a mild October night, it was perfect.

I do make some changes to her recipe, though.

  • I use the lower salt Fritos. In her recipe, she even says that one must be careful about the salt in the chili because regular Fritos are so salty. She’s dead on. With the lower salt Fritos, you can control it a bit more.
  • I substitute 1/2 pound of Jimmy Dean sausage for 1/2 pound of the ground beef. That little bit o’ sausage knocks it out of the park. I am thinking that other variations on this could work too.
  • I do not do the Frito bag presentation. They don’t make the lower salt Fritos in little bags (at least, I haven’t looked for them), so I just put out disposable bowls and utensils.
  • I keep the finished chili in a crock pot on “keep warm” in the middle of all of the fixin’s. Put the bowl of Fritos next to it and explain before serving. I am amazed how many people have not been exposed to such a beautiful dish. Teaching how to assemble it is part of the fun, to be honest.
  • Fixin’s? Sour Cream, onions (red or whatever you have), shredded cheddar (sounds like a bad band), a few hot sauces, and maybe even some pickled jalapenos.

I also served this with a caesar salad to cool it down and give it some balance. Not to pontificate, but salad dressing is another easy item to make that kicks any bottled dressing in the nuts, hard and angularly. My caesar dressing takes five minutes to make, and most of the stuff you need to make it you probably already have, except anchovy, and I just keep a tube of anchovy paste around for such needs. This recipe is Nick Stellino’s, and I found someone who already wrote it out:

I also make my croutons from scratch as well, and they indeed kick ass over any store-bought brand. Guy Fieri wrote this one:

(I actually was acquainted with Guy when we were younger; I worked with his wife (then girlfriend) at a chain restaurant and he was there quite often. This was almost 20 years ago, and it totally makes sense that he has done so well. He wouldn’t know me from Adam, of course, but I remember that the dude had an unparalleled charisma. His wife was (and probably is still) a bad ass, tough talking sort of chick. If anything, I wish I could thank them for these croutons.)

Another trick and clever presentation idea for the Caesar is, instead of croutons, to use parmesan-flavored goldfish crackers. It makes sense (parmesan/ postmodern anchovy in a caesar), is a smart presentation (who wouldn’t want to see goldfish crackers that don’t get soggy in their salad?), and it works (you have to try it for yourself, but I promise it does).

Drinks: We had beer, sangria, and red wine all about. This is one of those meals that depends on who’s eating it and what they feel like drinking. I prefer some cheap red, but that’s just me.

This whole meal is a crowd pleaser and can be prepared ahead of time very easily. Make the dressing and wash the chopped romaine a few hours before. Get the fixin’s done and store in the fridge. About an hour before everyone shows up, get cooking, and you get swaths of downtime in between additions, go you can either set up the presentation or drink more. Your choice.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.




Central Coast Cheese Steak

30 Oct

I love steak. Truly, I could eat it every other night as long as it varied a bit. Last week on Steak and Sherlock Night, during which I was a man alone, I actually cooked two steaks: one for dinner that night, and one for my lunch the next day. This happens because I have gotten in the habit of buying an entire beef tenderloin from Costco and cutting my own filets from it. I package the filets for freezing in twos since I cook for my wife and me (the kid’s got a while before he gets his own filet). I get a bunch of really good stew meat out of it too, for pot pies and, go figure, stews (now that we’re in autumn with her russet-colored mantle and the winter’s approaching, more of that hearty good stuff will be on the menu for sure). Do I save money? Perhaps, but not much. I do get to cut up a big hunk of meat, though, which makes me feel muy sexy, but I digress.

When I cooked that other steak for my lunch, I used it to make a sort of cheesesteak sandwich. I toasted some bread, reheated the filet, sliced it, and then melted some cheese on there. I put some horseradish mustard on there for good measure. It was good, but meh. It needed something, so that’s where tonight came into play.

We made what I will name a Central Coast Cheesesteak, for no other reason than we made it on the central coast, where we live. It’s really just a cheesesteak sandwich, and a kick-ass one at that.

For one sandwich:

  • Filet mignon steak grilled to your delight: I am all about the tenderness here, so that’s why filet is best since I don’t have to rip the sandwich apart with my teeth just to get a bite.
  • Cheese: I’m all about Velveeta, the wife’s a cheddar kind of gal.
  • Carmelized onions (a tablespoon of butter in a pan and a few thinly sliced onions until they’re gooey and brown, and you’ll be wet)
  • Sourdough
  • Mayo, mustard, 1000 Island, or whatever you want

We coated the bread with mayo on the outside and grilled it in a skillet. The mix of the crunchy bread and the soft, cheesy filling is ridiculous.

We didn’t even eat sides because the sandwich was so much. And we didn’t drink anything with it because it’s Monday and I had a meeting to which I had to go.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.


Below is a persimmon from my tree in the backyard.  Nature speaks to me, sometimes.