Tag Archives: pine nuts

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 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


3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 cup Israeli couscous

2 cups water

1/4 tsp. salt or to taste

2 tbsp. minced shallot (use onion in a pinch)

2 apples, cored, peeled, and diced (Use whatever kid you have; I have Granny Smith and they work famously.)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (I omit them to cut the fat and calories)

1/2 tsp. oregano (1 tsp. freshly chopped, if you have it)

4 oz. crumbled Feta cheese

Freshly ground pepper to taste, about 1/2 tsp.

Makin’ It:

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the couscous and get it golden brown, shaking the pan occasionally, about 3 minutes or so. Add in the water and the salt and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer it until it’s tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the couscous.

In the same pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Add in the shallots and saute them until soft, about 3 minutes. Add in the apples and the drained couscous and let them get happy for a few minutes, stirring a few times. Remove this from the heat and transfer it to a large bowl.

In that bowl, add in the lemon juice, chopped mint, pine nuts (if using), and the oregano. Stream the last tablespoon of olive oil over it and toss it all together lightly. Transfer it to a serving dish. Top it with the Feta crumbles and pepper. Serve. Easy as a hippie needing a beer at Burning Man.

Isreaeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta 7

And if you need apples, I got a ton. You’ll find me hiding in the garage.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013


T.J.’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli with Easy Homemade Pesto

23 Aug

Arugula and Parm Ravioli with Pesto (10)

As the years progress, I keep adding to my list of items that I will no longer buy in a grocery store: croutons, pot pies, Brut Aftershave, certain salad dressings, frozen cream pies, pizza rolls, Texas toast, last minute gifts for family members, anything from Little Debbie, lingerie, et al. Amongst these items is pesto sauce.

I admit, I used to think pesto was pretty highfalutin when I first started cooking. It’s probably because of how it was first marketed. I remember around the time that I actually read Under the Tuscan Sun (in the ’90’s at some point), the whole summer-in-Tuscany-while-dining-al-fresco-with-really,-really-sexy-people became ubiquitous in t.v. commercials, cooking shows, and advertisements in general. To indulge in pesto, I believed, meant that I had to be not just a “foodie,” but I had to be a foodie cool enough and affluent enough to buy most of my home furnishings from yuppie catalogs and then practice recreating the pictures in those catalogs with any skinny, sexy white friends that I might have had (I had maybe 2, total, at the time. Now, none.). I imagined I’d have to be fluent in Chardonnay, sweaters, nanny-comparison-talk, South Orange County faux-Mediterranean architecture, and the brief history of Irvine north of the 5 freeway. Alas, I was, and still am, horribly deficient in these categories, so I felt that pesto was beyond my reach socially, intellectually, and sexually.

But as I learned my ways around the kitchen, the mystique around pesto started to dissipate for me, probably in part due to the Great Recession sending the once al-fresco-dining-really,-really-sexy-people to shop at WalMart instead of Eddie Bauer. Furthermore, my wife lived in Florence, Italy, to study abroad in her early twenties, and she has had a love affair with pesto ever since, so I had to get it on the menu somehow. I started cautiously with the store bought stuff and it pleasantly surprised me. “I’m loving this and I’m not nearly that sexy,” thought I at the time.

After a few more years in the kitchen, I finally decided to tackle homemade pesto. Searching for recipes assuaged my fears; pesto is probably the easiest, quickest pasta sauce to make if you have the ingredients, which can be found at any grocery store nowadays. I nailed it the first time I made it and I had an epiphany about something I already knew: Italian food is generally simple to make. Advertisers and marketers would have you think differently, though, so fuck them. Thus, pesto is now on my list of items never to buy at a store.

On another note, I have a deep love for Trader Joe’s, and generally every pre-made item I get there tastes fantastic. The Trader Giotto’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli are marvelous and this homemade pesto sauce perfects them. Top it with a few shaves of Parmesan or Grana Padano, and you’re gettin’ laid.

Easy Homemade Pesto

Serves 4


2 cups packed, fresh basil leaves

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup raw pine nuts

2/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Makin’ It:

Put the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor (or blender, if you’re ghetto like that) and pulse it until it’s chopped. Add in the olive oil and process this until it’s smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Add in the salt and pepper and pulse a few times more. Transfer this to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Easy as a divorcee with oats to sow.


You’ll need:

1 package of Trader Giotto’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli (or any ravioli or pasta that tickles your taint at the time)

1/2 recipe or more of the above pesto recipe

Shaved, shredded, or grated Parmesan, Romano, or Grana Padano

Assemblin’ It:

Cook the ravioli according to the package instructions. Drain and toss the ravioli with about 1/2 of the pesto recipe until each ravioli is well coated. Use more pesto if it blows your hair back. Top with the cheese and you get this:

Arugula and Parm Ravioli with Pesto (1)

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Pesto Pizza

19 Jun

Pesto Pizza 9

The other day, I bought a pre-made sourdough pizza crust with the intention of having an easy meal option during my hectic summer break. Puttering between playing Candy Crush Saga, harvesting my crops on Farmville 2, and reading the entire list of Santa Maria news items (3 minutes, tops) can be daunting, to be sure, but I somehow manage to make it to cocktail hour every day. Continue reading

Tandoori Chicken Pita Sandwich

10 Nov

Look at this beautiful thing.  I won’t even get into why, for a guy, this looks inviting or even obscene.   This is a tandoori chicken pita with all sorts of good stuff in it.  On a Friday night when I’m tired from the week and I need an easy dinner, this nails it every time.

A few months back, I was doing the perfunctory search through to find chicken breast recipes.  I find myself often looking at chicken breasts in a state of ennui, trying to give them some respect and pizzazz.  On this night back then, the foodnetwork gave up a gift, and it has been a staple ever since then.

It’s from Bobby Flay who, if you are not familiar with him, is the real deal in terms of being a chef and a teacher.  His recipes almost always kick ass (by comparison, Sandra Lee’s recipes almost always suck frog penises), so I was down with it from the start.  Here is the original recipe I found:

I have always served this with couscous from the box by a company called Near East, which is 1) fantastic and 2) so simple that even full-time four-leaf clover searchers could make it successfully.

Tonight, I diverged from that path and bought some Israeli couscous from Trader Joe’s.  The recipe on the box looked good, so I went with it and got yet another staple recipe to be sure.  But more importantly, I now understand Israeli couscous a bit, so I have a new medium for side dishes too.  I love when that happens because it’s not often. Here are two of my Israeli couscus recipes that I have since created since I first posted this:


The Chicken Situation

The first few times I made the chicken, I followed Flay’s recipe to a tee and it’s good, no doubt.  But I had a few execution problems because of my kitchen/ grill situation.

First, this recipe is intended for someone who is working solely off of a grill.  I do have a giant Santa Maria style barbecue pit in my backyard made of brick from the old Guadalupe, California, bank that was knocked down some years ago.  While it’s impressive and does its job when needed, I am not going to fire up an oak fire pit for two pita sandwiches, obviously.  So, most of my “grilling” is done on a grill pan in the kitchen.

The tandoori spice paste in his recipe does not work well on chicken in a grill pan; the spices get too blackened and thick (I also think his measurements are off, but perhaps I need to see how he makes it himself).  So, I treat his spices as a dry rub instead and it works marvelously.  The recipe for the dry rub below is enough for about 6 to 8 chicken breasts (even more, really)

I also stopped making the tomato jam thing; it’s too rich for me and the tandoori spice is enough.  In its place, I slice up some fresh tomato; it gives it a fresh taste and crunch.  I also like avocado slices on mine for an added element.

The yogurt sauce recipe is perfect for this and other dishes.

Here are the components of Tandoori Chicken Pita my way

Chicken and dry rub:

1 pound boneless chicken breasts

  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

Makin’ It:

Blend the spices and keep them in an airtight container (how Flay uses all of this spice in his one recipe is beyond me…I think it’s a typo or something).  In any case, rub it on the chicken breasts and heat up a grill pan on medium high heat.  Spray it with cooking spray or put some oil in there.  Grill it until done, usually 7 to 9 minutes each side for me.  Take it out of the grill pan and let it rest for at least 5 minutes, but hopefully a lot more. When grilled, rested and sliced, you should see this:

Yogurt Sauce:

1 cup non-fat Greek yogurt

a handful o’ mint leaves

a half-handful of parsley

1/4 tsp. salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender.  Process it until its smooth and check for taste.  It should have a minty taste but savory too.  Here is what the final sauce looks like:

Slice up some tomatoes and avocado.  Get some pita breads and heat them either on the grill with some oil (good but fatty) or in the microwave (also good, but not fatty and thus not as sexy). Open a pita and fill it like…

Me:  a smear of yogurt sauce and a squirt of sriracha, a layer of chicken, tomato, avocado, more yogurt sauce, and another dab o’ sriracha


The Wife: a smear of yogurt, a layer of couscous, chicken, tomato, and another dab o’ yogurt.

Mine is the picture that opened this meandering exposition.

When you actually lay it all out, it might look like this.  Have everyone assemble their own, like a taco bar.  If you’re creative, I’m sure you can add some more condiments and sides for kicks.

Drinks:  Notice the wife’s sangria on top, and my Mondavi cabernet on the bottom.  If I was younger on a Friday night, this would be beer and whiskey.

It really only takes about 15 minutes prep and 30 minutes of cooking, if that…and totally worth it.  Kind of like a one night stand after lots o’ pints.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino