Tag Archives: side dish

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

Advertisements

Mashed Butternut Squash a la Weight Watchers

3 Oct

Weight Watchers Mashed Butternut Squash 5

Since I’m Italian, I get to tell Italian jokes. So there’s an old joke that goes something like this:

A Frenchman, an Englishman, and an Italian are lined up at the pearly gates to get into heaven. When they approach the gates, St. Peter says to them, “To gain admittance to heaven, each of you much pass a spelling test.”

The Frenchman, never daunted, goes first. “Spell ‘house,'” says St. Peter. “House. H-O-U-S-E. House.” The gates open and he enters.

The Englishman comes next, cocky bastard that he is. “Spell ‘goal,'” says St. Peter. “Goal. G-O-A-L. Goal.” The gates open and he enters.

Guiseppe walks up next and St. Peter asks him, “You’re Italian, right?”

“Yes.”

“Spell ‘onomatopoiea.'”

I felt like this a few weeks ago when I and my student partner were dismissed from the podium for my misspelling of the word “cromlech” (pronounced crom-lek) in my first spelling bee since I was probably ten. “Cromlech,” you see, is a word that describes prehistoric megalithic structures. Stonehenge would be an example of a cromlech. And of all of the people that could have been asked to spell it in that room, I would guess that I would be most qualified to do so correctly; I majored in English, my specialty is medieval and Renaissance British literature, I watch archaeological documentaries on ancient Europe whenever I can find them (I remember at least three focusing on Stonehenge, no less), I am an anglophile to the hilt. I actually touched a cromlech in Ireland, I later learned.

I spelled it “c-h-r-o-m-l-e-c-h,” and was thus stripped of a potential trophy for a good cause (“ch” at the end, so it should be at the beginning, too, right? No. It’s Welsh, and therefore makes little sense linguistically). What’s worse is that the team after us got the word “hoary,” as in hoarfrost, or the lichen and mossy stuff that hangs off of old trees. It’s also used to describe old, grizzled people, like Gandalf. Hoary I read regularly. It’s actually one of my senior English class’s vocabulary words because it’s so common in British literature. Cromlech vs. hoary? What the fuck. It’s my beard they distrust, I know it.

So how does this figure into a recipe for mashed butternut squash? I think that when I first started the Weight Watchers program, I would sincerely pine for certain items, mashed potatoes being one of them. How can there be a substitute, a worthy substitute, for buttery, starchy goodness? I was biased against them at first, saying to myself, “Those can’t possibly be good. And they’re hard to make, I bet. Too much work,” etc. In essence, I was treating the substitutes as the Italian at the pearly gates and I at the podium were treated: I didn’t give them a fair shake. And if I continued to be slanted against those recipes, I surely should have gone to hell, just like the whore-y female announcer, the one who picked “cromlech” for my team and “hoary” for the next team, should and will.

This recipe will have your cockles tingling. It’s got some substance, it’s unbelievably tasty, and it works well with roasted or grilled chicken. It screams “autumn,” which can get annoying when I’m trying to cook. I got it from a website called skinnykitchen.com and didn’t mess with it much. Each 1/2 cup serving is a 2 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can go fuck themselves).

Mashed Butternut Squash a la Weight Watchers

Serves 5 or so, 1/2 cup servings (2 points on old WW)

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds peeled and cubed (if you want to know how to do this, go to the bottom of this recipe: https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2013/02/15/pasta-e-zucca-squash-and-pasta/)

2 tbsp. brown sugar

3 tbsp. lite margarine or reduced fat butter, melted

a dash o’ cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt or to taste

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 cup low-fat milk (I use 1%), heated a bit

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Put the cubed squash in a big bowl and sprinkle on the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Pour on the melted margarine and toss this all together well.

Pour this onto a cookie sheet and spread it out evenly. Make sure you pour out all of the liquid over it, too. It’ll look runny, but that’s ok. Put this in the oven for 40 minutes, tossing them with a spatula after about 20 minutes.

Once they’re cooked, put the cooked squash, the pan liquids, and the heated milk in a food processor (a masher doesn’t work, kids. A blender? Maybe.).  Process this until the it’s pureed. Transfer it to a bowl and serve it hot. Bob’s your uncle.

Weight Watchers Mashed Butternut Squash 1

May you find a hoary cromlech on the road ahead of you.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino

p.s. This post is dedicated to the friend and colleague who got me to compete in the spelling bee and has been an inspiration in so many ways.

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

Chipotle Spanish Rice

29 Jun

Chipotle Spanish Rice Top

Chipotle peppers have made quite a name for themselves over the last few decades or so. The eponymous restaurant chain has obviously spread the name a bit, but even before it, these little smokey chiles began popping up all over the place in recipes. Have you ever had Subway’s chipotle mayo? Do so. It kicks ass.

Over ten years ago, I remember reading recipes in Bon Appetit that called for “canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.” So I bought a can and looked/ marveled at it for some time, wondering what to do with it. Until then, I thought that the “chipotle” was the area that everyone else calls the “taint” on the human body. I guess I was out of the loop on this. Personally, I like chipotle better, you know: it imparts more of a spicy flavor profile, if you catch my drift. The taint, well, ’tain’t much soul there.

In any case, the first time I used these in a recipe, it was for enchiladas or something of the like, back in the early days of my learning to cook.  I remember the distinct smoky aroma as I chopped them up and I did notice a lot of seeds. “Bah,” said I, “seeds will give it more flavor. These can’t possibly be spicy.” Wrong. I can handle spice, but my wife, then my girlfriend/ roommate, looked as though her alabaster skin had been assaulted by scrub pads. Between trying to take bites and wiping her brow, she indicated that she could go on no further. While the enchiladas were great (lie), the chipotle spice had done her in, she said. I noted mentally to remove seeds from chiles and peppers thenceforward.

I posted a Spanish rice recipe a while back (https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2013/01/18/idiot-proof-spanish-rice/), and I make this regularly. But as often happens, I started thinking. I wanted some variation on it. I looked in the pantry, saw that can o’ chipotle peppers, and my mental gears started cranking noisily, like a rickety North Korean space shuttle. The recipe below is what emerged, and it blew our socks off. Like my other rice recipe, this is simple to make and quite healthful, too.

Remember, remove the seeds from the peppers as you mince them. It’s a messy job, but the appearance of the peppers isn’t important because they blend in with everything else.

Chipotle Spanish Rice

Makes about 8 servings

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. oil

1 tsp. chili powder

2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained

1 cup water

1 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeds removed and peppers minced, reserving some the sauce

3/4 cup uncooked, washed rice

1 cup frozen green peas, somewhat defrosted or not (not that important), or fresh, if you have them.

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/2 cup black olives, sliced

Makin’ It:

In a large skillet, heat the oil  over medium- high heat and cook the onion until tender, about 6 minutes. Add in the minced garlic during the last minute so as not to burn it. Add the chili powder and cook another minute.

Next, stir in the undrained tomatoes, rice, water, chipotle peppers, peas, salt, and pepper. Add in a tablespoon or so of the reserved adobo sauce, too. This is key to the overall flavor. Get this boiling. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer it 20 to 25 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through and the liquid it absorbed.

(Note: A good trick for checking if the liquid is absorbed is to run a wooden spoon along the bottom of the pan. If the spoon leaves a path without juice filtering onto it, you’ve nailed it.)

Add in most of the black olive slices and stir. Check for salt and pepper and adjust, if needs be. Transfer it to a serving dish and top with the remaining black olives. You’ll get this:

Chipotle Spanish Rice

‘Tis easy to make and ’tain’t bad for you or your chipotle. 3/4 cup of this is a Weight Watchers 3 on the old system (Points Plus and 360° can fuck off to an alarming depth). Top with some grilled chicken, and you have a meal unto itself.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Easy Asian Coleslaw

9 May

Asian Slaw 015

I have written a few times that Asian food is like a new frontier for me.  I wasn’t raised eating much of it, and in the 70’s and 80’s, most of the Orange County, California, food scene did not have a wide array of Asian restaurants. Thankfully, an influx of Vietnamese, Lao, and Korean families started populating the area, so it has since exploded into an Asian food wonderland of sorts.  While I will often berate the ubiquitous fake tits and humvees that festoon much of O.C. and which, consequently, led my wife and I to bid it adieu, I will say that now it has some balance by the soul brought in from different cultures and their cuisines.

But in my Carter and Reagan era childhood, Chinese food consisted of magenta-colored sweet and sour chicken from the only local Chinese place, The Golden Something.  Funnily enough, bean sprouts and duck scared me as a kid, but the unnaturally infrared gelatinous mess of carrots, pineapple, and chicken welcomed me with open arms.  I think my teeth looked like a photo negative by the time I left the restaurant, actually.

I have since learned to cook a variety of Asian main dishes, but I am sorely lacking in the side dish category.  Yesterday, I had an extra bag o’ coleslaw mix from a party we had on Sunday.  I knew I was making chicken satay (https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2013/01/24/ww-chicken-satay-with-peanut-sauce/), so I started googling.  I found quite a few Weight Watchers recipes calling for crushed raw ramen noodles for the crunch effect.  As I am not in the habit of having ramen around, this wasn’t going to work.  Instead, I found a recipe here: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe-Tools/Print/Recipe.aspx?recipeID=14297&origin=detail&servings=10&metric=false.

It goes perfectly with satay, as you will see, it is easy to make, and it is altogether wonderful.  I did make some changes, though…

I had no fresh ginger on hand last night.  But what I did have was some crystallized ginger left over from the holidays, which stays good for a decade or something.  It worked marvelously.

Easy Asian Coleslaw

Serves 6, I would think

Ingredients:

5 tbsp. rice vinegar, or white vinegar in a pinch

5 tbsp. oil

5 tbsp. creamy peanut butter

3 tbsp. soy sauce

3 tbsp. brown sugar (how come you taste so good?)

2 tbsp. minced crystallized ginger or fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 bag (about 8 to 10 cups worth or so) coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks

one bunch green onions, chopped

1 chopped bell pepper (optional)

chopped cilantro (optional)

Makin’ It:

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic.  Whisk it well so it’s all combined as a happy family.

In a large bowl for tossing, add the veggies and pour the dressing over it.  Toss this baby like you mean it and so everything is coated well.  Cover this and put it in the fridge to chill if you still need to make the main course, or serve right there. It’s kick ass both ways.

Asian Slaw 007

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino

Sesame Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

13 Apr

Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

I have mentioned many times that joining Weight Watchers yields some exemplary recipes and materials.  What’s interesting, though, is that a lot of their published recipes do not seem to be made by people who cook a lot.  Timing and portion sizes, particularly, are often off a bit, which is fine if you know how to adjust accordingly…or if you read Dinner with Jonny, which seeks to ameliorate those deficiencies.

This recipe a goddamn keeper because of it’s versatility.  It can be a main dish served warm or, served cold, an easy crowd pleaser for a pot luck or a side in an Asian feast.  It’s best if you put it together and let it get happy in the fridge for a while so the flavors mingle and intensify. I love doubling the recipe, portioning it out, and eating it for lunch during the week.  It’s light, filling, and packs wonderful flavors.

The booklet from which I gleaned this recipe gives each portion a 5 on the old WW points system (Points Plus and 360° can fuck off) if you use 2 oz. of noodles.  The noodles are the best part, so I double the noodles and add 2 points, making it on or about a 7. Serve it with a green veggie of some sort to round it all out. Easy as a porn star with a car payment due.

Sesame Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients:

5 oz. buckwheat soba noodles (any thin noodle will do, even spaghetti, but adjust the points accordingly for WW)

1 tbsp. rice vinegar

1 tbsp. honey

3 tsp. soy sauce

2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1 tsp. sriracha (optional)

1 tsp. sesame oil

1 grilled or roasted boneless chicken breast, sliced

1 bunch green onions, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into very thin coins

2 tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional)

1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Makin’ It:

Boil the noodles according to the package.

While the noodles are a-boiling, in a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, honey, soy sauce, ginger, and sriracha (if using). Set it aside.

Drain the noodles and quickly toss them with the sesame oil.  Add in the vinegar mixture, the chicken breast slices, the carrots, and the green onions. Toss with well and make sure you get the veggies mixed in there thoroughly (it’s a bit tough to do, as you’ll see). Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and cilantro (if using).

Chicken Soba Noodle Salad 4

This is a perfect spring or summer dish, and it’s virtually guilt free.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013