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Tag Archives: rosemary

Chickpeas and Pasta

19 Oct

Chickpeas and Pasta

“Just go away.”  I have uttered this often to my teenage students, in a variety of contexts, over the last twelve years since I started teaching high school English. I’ll say it as I attempt to take roll and a student asks me for the fortieth time if they need to skip lines when writing an essay, even though I have a large poster at the front of the room that clearly asserts, “Yes! Skip lines!” I’ll say it as I am but three words away from totally explaining the most impassioned and profound concept, which will alter their lives invariably thereafter, when one kiddo raises his hand and asks if he can go to the bathroom. I’ll say it when everyone is taking a final exam and the antsy, gregarious, loquacious student who finishes first asks me what I’m cooking for dinner that night. Loudly.

But truly, the context in which I most often say “just go away” relates to what they do after high school. I tell them to travel, to get away from their familiar environs, and just go away. You want to see South America? Good! Just go. Castles where knights rose and fell? Go. You want ninjas? Go. Where Napoleon died? Why? Never been to San Francisco? Go. You want to see hot Spanish chicks and dudes? Go. Make it happen and don’t wait.

Usually this is precipitated by me sharing about my backpacking trip around Europe when I was 23, fresh out of college. For two months, my best friend Pat and I went from Ireland, to Spain, to Germany, to Austria, to Czech Republic, to Netherlands, back to Spain, to France, and then home. We partied every night, slept on the floors of trains, saw Europe before it was the EU and before the internet localized the world, partied more, ate stuff that I still can’t identify, and basically changed our lives for good.

Physically, mentally, economically, or realistically, I cannot and will not ever be able to do this type of trip again. It was once in a lifetime, and I try to instill this in my students. “Do it now, kids, because you won’t be able to later. Trust me.” No money? I didn’t have much either. It took me until I was thirty to pay it off, but it was interest well bought. Just get out of town. Just go away.

As usual, I tangentially bring this up because, until that trip to Europe, chickpeas were something I refilled in the salad bar at Straw Hat pizza in my teens, not something I ate knowingly. Amsterdam changed that. Without going into details, I will posit that Amsterdam’s “coffee” shops are intentionally and strategically located next to shwarma and falafel stands (and KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, for that matter), so patrons succumbing to the munchies have no choice but to belly up to some serious grub on every side of them. They’ve got you by the balls convincingly. Before this time, I had never even heard of falafel, which is ground chickpeas and spices rolled into balls, deep fried, and then served in a pita with veggies and sauces. But after leaving a coffee shop and letting the holy grail of street food create new universes in my expanded mind, I ate them every day for a week. Sublime.

As the Food Network Empire and Darth Rachel came to power, chickpeas (garbanzos, or if you’re a pretentious prick, ceci, pronounced che’-chee) started getting some coverage in a variety of contexts. Unbeknownst to me, “chickpeas and pasta” are an Italian staple all over the boot. Although I personally had never had the dish, Darth Rachel’s scratchy voice assured me that it is “yum-o,” which of course comforts me in the recesses of my mind, Sand People pursuing or not.

In any case, this is a Weight Watcher’s recipe and I took only a few liberties with it. A good-size portion is a mere 7 on the old system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off frenetically). It’s vegetarian, filling, and good for you. It’s easy as hell to make, too, so it’s a perfect weekday dinner. And you will see that, as you eat this, you will tell people to just go away.

Chickpeas and Pasta

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups serving is an old Weight Watchers 7

Ingredients:

4 tsp. olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly

1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or a teaspoon dried, I’m guessing)

2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, divided

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 14 1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 16-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed well

1/4 tsp. each of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 zucchini or yellow squash, peeled and made into ribbons (I used the peeler to make thick ribbons, but only shave the meaty parts rather than the seedy parts)

2 cups cooked pasta, like rotini, penne, or ditalini

1/4 cup parmesan

Makin’ It:

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Saute the garlic for a minute and then add the carrots, rosemary, red pepper, and 1 tablespoon o’ the parsley. Saute this for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the tomatoes and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Start cooking the pasta about halfway through this.

Then, add the chickpeas, salt, pepper, and squash.  Simmer this for another 5 minutes, stirring here and there. Add in the pasta, parmesan, and the other tablespoon of parsley. Divide into four bowls and serve. Bob’s your uncle.

Chickpeas and Pasta 7

Now just go away.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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Balsamic Glazed Chicken with Mushrooms, Polenta, and Goat Cheese

2 Sep

Balsamic Chicken and Mushrooms 003

This would seem complex, but ’tis quite easy, and I have a story that illustrates this concept.

While seven of my years were in the 1970’s, and my late teens and twenties were in the 1990’s (and I am quite thankful for it, too), my formative, jackass years were in the 1980’s. During the mid to late part of that period, I had a pseudo-Flock of Seagulls hair style where only the front was bleached blonde and I sported a “step” in the back. I had only my left ear pierced and wore a silver ankh dangling from it. I always pegged my pants and I wore broaches, creepers, and eyeliner when warranted. At the time, neither I nor my friends could imagine another style that could possibly surmount such sophistication and sexiness. We also wore excess Drakkar and Quorum to enhance this chic.

Yesterday on Facebook, a childhood friend and neighbor, Eddie, posted his recent high score on a pinball game. It reminded me that, yeah, he used to rule at pinball, and a bunch of other games too. This, in turn, caused me to reflect on my own video game prowess back in the eighties. I’m being honest when I say that, until my early twenties, I probably spent upwards of $20 a week in various arcades (they were ubiquitous, if you were around at the time). Centipede, PacMac and Ms. PacMan, Donkey Kong, Tempest, Asteroids, Dig Dug…these were the environs of the eighties for me and the sounds of those games still bring me solace.

My specialty was Galaga. I could “flip it,” meaning that I could score so many points that it got back to zero again, on ONE quarter. This takes at least an hour and, in my neighborhood, very few of us could do this. If someone was playing, I would haughtily put my quarter up on the screen, indicating that I had next game, and wait patiently for this amateur to end his feeble attempt at gaming. I then would take the helm and play for the next hour, at least, and gather a “crowd,” meaning that three people were watching me because they had nothing else to do or had run out of money. But it gave me confidence and a video game mini-ego.

A year ago, my family had gone to a local pizza place for my kid’s birthday. Sitting patiently for the pizza to arrive was not in the cards for my four-year-old kiddo, so he spent his time going from video game to video game, grabbing knobs, pushing buttons, and generally wreaking havoc in their retro arcade. I was surprised that the place actually had a few classic games. Specifically, they had Ms. PacMan and Galaga on one of those old school sit-down table screens. Noting that grandma had taken to following my kid around, I slipped a quarter into Galaga, sat down, and started on what I thought would be a brief foray into what was once a specialty of my youth.

About twenty levels into it, I noticed a heavy-fisted, sweaty-lipped young lad of 10 or so approach the other side of the table and literally slam a quarter onto the table top. “Next game,” he posited abruptly, and I replied, “Right on,” and kept on as he watched. Then, a change took place. His friend came by and I heard him say the equivalent of, “Look at this guy. I’ve never seen that level. Holy shit.” A few minutes later, he picked up his quarter but didn’t leave.

“Dude, aren’t you playing next?” I asked.

“No, man. I’ll just watch.”

Ego boost.

At this time, my wife informed me that the pizza was ready, so I told the kid that he could have my game. He replied, “Seriously?” And I assured him that it was cool. He lasted about 4 minutes, and I hadn’t lost a ship when I handed it over. The ego was stroked.

What the young man DIDN’T know, and what all of my gamer-playing comrades from the 1980’s DO know, is that the key to those old games is the pattern you prepare for and the timing, and usually both are quite simple. Once you know what’s coming in the pattern and get timing down, you can play the game endlessly in autopilot. It seems impressive, but it’s not an Olympian feat that warrants awe (except maybe in the case of Asteroids, the pattern of which still eludes me).

This Balsamic Glazed Chicken with Mushrooms, Polenta, and Goat Cheese? Preparation and timing. There are three disparate dishes here, but each one accents the other one and makes a nut-buster of a dish together. And each dish is easy, too, so while your guests might “pick up their quarter” and not want to cook for you out of intimidation, after they eat this, you can let them know that it’s just a trompe l’oeil.

Balsamic Chicken and Mushrooms 009

Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms, Polenta, and Goat Cheese

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, put between two pieces of plastic wrap and pounded to a 1/4″ to 1/2″ thickness. Cut each breast in half so you have four flattened breasts. Note: You could also use pork chops.

6 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. chopped, fresh rosemary, plus four sprigs for garnish

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tube pre-made polenta, sliced into 8 rounds (Trader Joe’s has a great one that’s cheap)

Cooking spray or drizzles of olive oil

4 oz. goat cheese at room temperature (Silver Goat Chevre, for example)

10 oz. package of mushrooms, quartered (I used crimini in the photos, but white mushrooms would work too)

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup white wine or champagne

Salt and pepper, about 1/2 tsp. each or to taste

Makin’ It:

This dish is all about getting everything prepped.

Polenta:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay the polenta rounds on it. Spray the rounds with cooking spray or drizzle a bit of olive oil on them. When the oven’s ready, bake these guys for 15 to 20 minutes. They’ll be golden and beautiful. Make sure they’re done right when you are ready to plate everything.

Chicken:

In a small sauce pan, bring the balsamic to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook it until it reduces by half, about 5 minutes. You should have a light syrup. Set it aside until you’re ready to grill.

In a small bowl, combine the chopped rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic. Rub this evenly over the flattened chicken breasts.

When you’re ready, heat a lightly-greased grill pan (or you can use an actual grill) over medium-high heat. Grill one side of the breasts for a few minutes and brush the other side with the balsamic reduction. Turn them after about 4 minutes, and baste the other side as well.  When finished (4 to 5 minutes each side), baste the chicken with the rest of the balsamic. That’s done now.

Mushrooms:

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the mushrooms. Cook for about 3 minutes until they get a bit brown and add the garlic. After another minute, add in the white wine and get it simmering. Lower the heat, add about 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper and let it reduce for abut 5 minutes. Taste a mushroom to check the salt and pepper levels, adjust accordingly, and then remove them from the heat. Done.

Assemblage:

Place two polenta slices on each plate and smear about 1/2 ounce (1 tbsp.) of goat cheese on each slice. Divide the mushrooms between the four plates. Lay the chicken breast on the mushrooms and you’re in business. Garnish each breast with a sprig of rosemary, if you so desire.

Balsamic Chicken and Mushrooms 010

Again, what appears complex is just preparation for what’s coming and timing. Start to finish, it’s about an hour. The readiness is all.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Roasted Herbed Pork Tenderloin

3 Jul

Herbed Pork Tenderloin 7

When my wife and I moved in together after dating for a year, we got an apartment in my home town of Fountain Valley, California, right across the street from Fountain Bowl, the past host of the PBA’s Dick Weber Open and the Cheetah Open, for those keeping tabs on such trivia. The bar inside of Fountain Bowl, a place my friends and I deemed “The Lizard Lounge,” must be seen in person to appreciate its beauty; it simply is a slice of Americana every night, and whether karaoke or a tournament is happening, every walk of life makes their presence known at some point in the evening.

I bring up that first apartment because it’s where I really started learning how to cook. We weren’t allowed to have a grill on our 2nd floor patio, and I was naive to the concept of the grill pan, so I used the communal grill near the Jacuzzi and pool. This thing was gas powered and altogether an insurance company’s nightmare had they known the condition in which it was kept. I basically had to turn on the gas, light a match, and then jump four feet back to avoid the burst of flames that singed my eyebrows and goatee.  All in good fun, and my salon visits were shorter for the few years we lived there.

At this time, I discovered those pork tenderloins that Hormel or the grocery store itself packages, perhaps with a peppercorn or lemony marinade infused with glowing and tasty chemicals. Still, they taste good, so I would grill these babies up fairly often, even for company. What sucked is that, at night, there was no lighting near the grill (besides the embers still smoldering on my clothes, of course), and I had no confidence in whether the pork was truly done or not. Pork (more specifically, trichinosis) used to scare me, so I always felt that overcooking it was better than it being underdone. Once I reentered our apartment and my eyes adjusted to the artificial light, I would realize that my pork tenderloin was now the equivalent of a Chee-to colored with a black Sharpie. The taste was there, surely, but my wife and I had sore mandibles for the remainder of the night from ruminating so thoroughly on the meat.

But pork shouldn’t be this way. And it isn’t now that I know what I’m doing, and I have a little something called a meat thermometer which, amazingly, indicates the temperature at which the meat is done. Who would’ve thunk it?

This Roasted Herbed Pork Tenderloin is probably the moistest, most tender one I’ve ever made. It only needs to marinade for a few hours, and the payoff is huge. It’s cheap, too. I got a nice tenderloin from Trader Joe’s for $6. Moreover, half of a tenderloin (HALF!) is an 8 on the old Weight Watchers system (Points Plus and 360° can go fuck themselves). Add some squash and steamed green beans, as in the picture below, and you have a huge dinner for a 9. Not bad at all. It’s even based on an Ina Garten recipe, which usually means copious butter, but this one is an anomaly in that regard.

Roasted Herbed Pork Tenderloin

Serves 2 or 3

Ingredients:

the zest of one lemon

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/4 olive oil

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 tbsp. chopped, fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 tsp. dried)

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. salt

1 pound pork tenderloin

2 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper

Makin’ It:

In a bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary Dijon, and salt. Mix this well. Get a freezer bag (or something like it) and put the tenderloin in it. Pour the marinade over it, swish it around, and seal it after you get the air out of the bag. Refrigerate this for at least 3 hours up to a day.

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Get an oven-proof skillet or saute pan and add the two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Remove the tenderloin from the bag but don’t shake it off (you want all of the good herbs and stuff clinging to it). Discard the rest of the marinade. Season the pork with a 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Sear this until it’s nice and brown on all sides. Place the pan in the oven and roast the tenderloin for 15 minutes, or until the meat thermometer reads 140° +. It might be pink in the thick part, but that’s a good thing.

Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the tenderloin to a serving platter, and cover it tightly with foil. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, slice it into 1″ thick pieces and serve. Pour the juices over the portions, if you’re a rock star like that. You’ll get this:

Herbed Pork Tenderloin

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Perfect Roast Chicken

8 Nov

For Christmas, my brother Chris gave me a book entitled Eat Like a Man.  It’s a compilation of recipes from a column by the same name in Esquire Magazine, a publication that has the exemplary writing of Playboy without, you know, those other superfluous parts of Playboy, like Hugh Hefner.   The day after he gave me the book, on Christmas morning, I cracked it open and read almost the entire book by noon.  It’s a combination of man logic (a “me like food” and “sex now” sort of angle), stripped down recipes that showcase the reasons to eat with true gusto, and the ways to put them all together, as in pairings, serving ideas, etc.   I also found out that there is a blog for it:  http://www.esquire.com/blogs/food-for-men/.  It continues on from where the book leaves off and provides yet further recipes and cocktails for the balls-out cook and gourmand.  Surely down the road, I will write about many of the recipes therein, but the one I have cooked about six times in as many weeks is the Roast Chicken.

It’s funny.  I have spent years trying figure out how to roast a chicken to make it look like this Norman Rockwell painting:

The guy who submitted the recipe for the book, a legitimate chef named Linton Hopkins from Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, notes that he finally had it down after chef school.  Like him, I put butter under the skin and melted some over it, and rubbed it with herbs, salt, pepper, spices from parts of the world that Ken from Jeopardy would know, cloves of garlic, and lots of genuine love.

I also tried to learn how to truss a chicken; you know, the fancy knot tying trapese act that would inevitably cause the chicken legs to slip out of the loops I had made with the kitchen twine into a position reminiscent of an eastern European porn video, or so I heard.  In any case, unlike Mr. Hopkins from Atlanta, my chickens never looked like Norman Rockwell’s, so I finally gave up and stuck with boneless chicken breasts or BBQ for a while.

And then this book came along with this roast chicken recipe in it, and I can say that I am a changed and much more confident, happier man and cook.  This is the best roast chicken I have ever tasted, honest.   To make sure I wasn’t imagining things upon reading the recipe, I looked up his idea (which is basically to roast a bird at a very high temperature, with just salt and pepper, in a cast iron skillet or roasting pan) for reassurance.

Sure enough, I found this recipe from the main and influential dude, Thomas Keller, of The French Laundry in Napa: http://www.bigoven.com/recipe/161418/roast-chicken-mon-poulet-roti-bouchon.

He too attests to this simplified roast chicken and how it is just how a chicken should be roasted: no bullshit.  I kind of put these two recipes together and got to my version.  So, here goes…

Perfect Roast Chicken

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken, 4 to 5 pounds

1 tablespoon of salt or more to taste

1 tablespoon of freshly cracked pepper or more to taste

2 springs of rosemary or an onion or another herb or a lemon

Dijon mustard or gravy as dipping sauces

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Yes, it’s supposed to be that hot.

Take the gizzard out of the chicken and wash the guy inside and out.

The next part is key:  dry the chicken until it’s bone dry.  As the two above chefs note, if you don’t, you’ll steam it rather than roast it if it’s not dried enough.  Here is our guest of honor before the roast:

(Notice the wine glass hasn’t even been filled yet…the only tragedy in this picture.)

Put this in the oven for an hour and get the side dishes together or do some laundry or play with the kids or grade some papers.

After an hour, it should be done and the thermometer inserted in the thick part of the thigh should be 165° to 170°.  I often was perplexed about this “thickest part of the thigh” thing, so I looked it up.  I took a picture for the world in the hope that it will go viral.  This is what it looks like both done and with the correct placement of the thermometer:

Let it rest for at least 10 minutes before carving and serving it.

The skin you see here is a crisp, salty, and fatty morsel (see also: bar wench).  Underneath is some of the tenderest chicken you will ever taste.  The high heat crisps the skin and traps the moisture. So simple and so genius.

Here is a site to learn you how to carve a chicken, which is easy once you get the hang of it: http://www.finecooking.com/articles/how-to-carve-roast-chicken.aspx .

You can serve this with gravy and mashed potatoes, or anything, really.  The chicken alone is enough to make you cry.  It’s so tender that you will start just using your hands, as Keller points out in his recipe.  His suggestion of dipping your bites in dijon mustard is no joke, either.

This is so easy and good that anyone can do it and make everyone happy.

Drink:  White wine of any sort is excellent, but if you go the red route, stick to a light Pinot or something comparable.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.