Tag Archives: Trader Joe’s

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

Ingredients:

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

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T.J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

15 Sep

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 10

In his book Heat, Bill Buford chronicles his adventures as an amateur slave cook for Mario Batali, and his immersion into the professional cooking world. Amongst the people he mentions in the novel is Lidia Bastianich. If you’ve never seen her show, try to find it. She is about as close to one of my Italian aunts in the kitchen as one could get. Her recipes will make your legs shake and you’ll get that squishy feeling like you did when your crush passed you in 2nd grade or when you straddled a swing too long.

I mention Lidia because one of my favorite pieces of wisdom comes from her in Buford’s book. He talks about the link between food and sex, and he refers to a conversation he had with Lidia on this very subject. When pressed to explain further, Lidia states that, of course food is like sex, and then throws him a rhetorical question, “‘What else do you put in someone’s body?'” I never thought of it that way, but it’s dead on when you think about it, and it’s why good food and wine can lead to a euphoric, erotic level of being.

And the connections can be drawn from there. Perhaps the encounter is a fifteen-minute exercise in lust on the kitchen counter, or a quickie in the front seat of your car as you take a break from a long road trip, or the clumsy first time when all the ingredients are there, but you’re unfamiliar with timing and how everything works together. Or maybe it’s a languid evening that requires four hours of musical ambiance, punctuated by the brief recognitions of humanity’s inherent beauty and the privilege you feel in recognizing it, or maybe you’re just starving and you tear open everything and scarf it all down while closing the front door with your back left heel. This could be food. This could be sex.

This recipe effuses sexuality in that it’s indulgent, but also smooth and simple. Most importantly, it’s easy. When I first read it over, I was uneasy about using a whole stick o’ butter, but it was the perfect complement to these ravioli. Serve this with some greens in a light vinaigrette, and you’re getting lucky on two levels.

I mentioned Lidia because it so happens that this sauce is from her book, Lidia’s Family Table. Also, I use Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli for this, but I think any good filled pasta would work famously with it. The recipe below serves 4, but I usually halve it since there are only two of us.

T. J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

Serves 4 or so

Ingredients:

2 packages Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli, or a filled pasta of your liking

2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs

8 tbsp. butter (1 stick)

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup of the pasta-cooking water

2 tbsp. chopped parsley, Italian would be optimal

1 cup Parmesan or Grana Padano

Makin’ It:

Get a big ol’ pot of salted water boiling for the pasta.

In a small skillet, toast the bread crumbs over medium to medium-high heat, tossing them often so that they get browned evenly. When they are almost all brown, drop in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl the pan around to melt the butter and stop the crumbs from getting too brown. Set this aside.

In a big skillet, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. Grind in the black pepper generously. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot pasta water and get it simmering. Keep stirring and simmering it as it reduces a bit while you wait for the pasta to finish.

Remove the cooked pasta from the big pot o’ water and add it to the skillet. Toss it with the sauce. Off the heat, toss in the Parmesan and parsley. Plate your pasta portions (dividing the sauce among the four plates, obviously) and sprinkle the toasted bread crumbs on top of each right before serving, like this:

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 2

Make and serve this, and it will be one of those encounters you remember in the wee hours of an insomniac night.

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

Ingredients:

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.

Assemblage:

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

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

T.J.’s Butternut Squash and Ravioli with Béchamel Sauce

21 May

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Bechamel 3

This seemingly over-indulgent and altogether gorgeous dish will beguile you. You might think that you can’t possibly eat this without guilt. Believe it or not, this dish, with shaved cinnamon-crusted Toscano cheese, béchamel sauce (pronounced bay’-sha-mel), butternut squash ravioli, and passion, is but 10 points on the old Weight Watchers Points system (Points Plus and 360° can genuinely fuck off).  When I tabulated the points, I was blown away myself.

Yesterday, Sunday, we took our kid to his first big league ball game at the Big A and watched the Angels actually beat the White Sox under the Southern California sun. Since it’s a 3 1/2 hour drive for us each way, we decided to take the next day off, drop the kiddo off at daycare, and ponder the niceties of life.  Like date nights, these simple days off once in a while are important for families and general sanity, I’m realizing.

For example, non-holiday Monday morning shopping at Trader Joe’s cannot be more peaceful. It’s insightful, really, to realize that just the space of no kid or regular public around can truly make you see another angle in this life-journey that we travel. The rigmarole of wrangling with a kid who doesn’t want to get dressed, putting the kid in the car as they remark on the cracks in the sidewalk and that there are wipies on the floor of the car, having inane conversations about the construction equipment lining the streets, acknowledging that, yes, the back seat window is completely covered with melted stickers, dealing with glutted small town traffic replete with old people braking when they see leaves on the street, getting the kid out of the car without s/he running rampant through the parking lot, and finally chasing the kid around Trader Joe’s as he aims for every Achilles tendon to maim with his kid-cart…these activities make us forget that there was once a time when shopping always seemed to be accompanied by the old Price is Right music when Johnny was explaining each item upon which to be bid. It’s still there. I promise. I heard it today.

And with it, I found this:

Trader Joes Butternut Squash Triangoli

Of course, homemade ravioli are always superior, but they’re a pain in the ass to make. Alternatively, these are pretty awesome in my opinion, and I think you’ll agree.

When I calculated the WW points, each portion is a 4.  I knew that I had a WW béchamel sauce recipe that turned out to be a 3 for 1/2 cup o’ sauce, which is a good amount of sauce, I might add. We also topped it with a T.J.’s cinnamon-coated Toscano cheese, of which we only took a few shavings for each portion. A 10? Could it be true? ‘Tis.

And then it all struck me in an epiphany. The butternut squash ravioli with a nutmeg-flavored béchamel sauce, topped with shaved cinnamon Italian cheese, there is no need to say more; it’s a nut-buster on every level. Moreover, it’s light. Lastly, to make it, it’s as easy as a cougar in a fit of whimsy with a new dress from Nordstrom Rack.

T.J.’s Butternut Squash and Ravioli with Béchamel Sauce

Serves 3

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup flour

3 cups 1% milk

1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 white pepper

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 package Trader Joe’s Butternut Squash Triangoli

shavings of Toscano, grana, or parmesan cheese (again, the cinnamon coated Toscano cheese totally works with the squash and the nutmeg; it’s a match made in the heavens)

Makin’ It:

Note: You need to constantly whisk the sauce, kiddo, no joke. So give yourself 20 minutes or so to do it. If you don’t whisk it constantly, you will have a burnt milk mess on your hands. I’m just sayin’.

Get a big pot o’ water boiling for the pasta. When it’s boiling, add a few tablespoons of salt right before you put in the pasta. Get the sauce almost done before you start cooking the ravioli; timing is kind of key in all of this.

For the sauce, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat Whisk in the flour and it will get cake-y and crumbly. No worries. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly, until it’s totally smooth and those lumps are gone.  Add in the salt, white pepper, thyme, and nutmeg. Get this to a simmer to thicken it, which will take about 10 to 12 minutes (or more), as you whisk. When it’s a creamy consistency and it’s boiling a bit, you’ve nailed it.

Drain the cooked ravioli and toss it with some of the sauce. Divide the ravioli between three plates and top each with 1/2 cup of the béchamel sauce. Top this with some shaved cheese, and then sprinkle a bit of dried thyme on there to keep it real. You’ll get this:

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Bechamel 1

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Bechamel 4

Say it loud alone, but obnoxiously in mixed company:

Acqua fresca, vino puro,

Fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Until later, eat drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Israeli Couscous

13 Apr

Israeli Couscous 3

In one of my first posts, I shared an Israeli couscous recipe attached to a recipe for tandoori chicken pitas.  The pictures were horrible and did not do the dish justice.  Moreover, it was part of a very convoluted post and it was the first time I made it.  Since then, I have made it a few times, tweaked the recipe, and I am now certain that this will make anyone’s nipples erect and tingly.  So I decided to do a separate post on it.

This dish could be a meal in and of itself.  If you grill up some chicken breasts, slice them, and put it on top of this, you have a very healthy and tasty dinner.  Use vegetable broth and it’s vegetarian.  Any sort of candied nuts will do, and they are easily made if you have plain ol’ nuts in the pantry (“Nuts in the Pantry” sounds like a great album name or a Three Stooges episode, no?).

This recipe was originally inspired by the recipe on the back Trader Joe’s Israeli Couscous.

Israeli Couscous

Serves 6 at least

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup red onion or shallots

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable would be best)

1/2 tsp. salt

a handful of chopped parsely, chopped

lemon zest from 1/2 of a lemon

1/4 cup chopped candied nuts (I got the candied walnuts from Trader Joe’s and they’re unreal) or pine nuts

1/4 cup of raisins or similar dried fruit (figs, cranberries, etc.)

black pepper to taste

Makin’ It:

In a medium sauce pan over medium to medium high heat, heat the olive oil and saute the onion until it’s golden, about 7 minutes.  Add the couscous, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf, and saute until the couscous starts to get golden, about four minutes and stirring often.

Slowly pour in the chicken broth and add the salt.  Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and let cook for 12 minutes or until tender.  Uncover, fluff, add in the parsley, lemon zest, nuts, raisins, and pepper, and mix well. Sprinkle with additional parsley and you’re rockin’, like this:

Israeli Couscous 2

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Maple Cereal-Crusted Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Blue Cheese

21 Mar

Maple Cereal Crusted Chicken Stuffed with Blue Cheese 2

This recipe is an example of an invention arising from shopping whilst being hungry.  Generally, I think it’s a bad idea to shop when you want some sustenance because I, for one, will buy everything that sounds good.  The next day, I will look in the fridge and cupboard like I would at the tousled sheets of an erroneous one-night-stand and, similarly, might say to myself, “What the hell was I thinking?”

On this occasion, though, I came through a winner, no double entendre intended.  At Trader Joe’s, I had the puritan-esque boneless chicken breasts awaiting me at home, and I chased around my 4-year-old as he hurtled his dwarfish “future shopper” cart towards the Achilles tendons of every calm, optimistic shopper without a 4-year-old with them (the ones with them tend to congregate near the wine and spirits area).  One area that he found quite interesting was the cereal area; I noted his interest because of the six boxes of cereal crammed in his cart.  As I began to put them back, I noticed the Trader Joe’s Maple Pecan Clusters cereal.  For whatever reason, be it my stress at the store or my hunger or both, a light came on in my head.

I remembered a maple syrup chicken thingie that Emeril made some years ago.  Blue cheese was involved and I was rendered a drooling fool at the finished product.  Now that I can improvise a bit, I got to thinking that this might work for me.  I had some blue cheese crumbles in the fridge, so it was high-time to experiment.  The flavors of maple and blue cheese seem to work together, almost like they would likely be common in Vermont or something, like a natural selection.

Speaking of Emeril and culinary improvisation, I also remember him making quite a complex dish on his show.  One comment he made has stayed with me through the years and has calmed me down in the kitchen every time I cook, especially for guests.   Midway through the dish, he said something along the lines of, “If this works out, you’re a star.  If not, don’t worry about it!  Order some pizzas and everyone’s happy!”  To this day, if I make something that truly sucks, I will look at my wife and ask, “What do you want on your pizza?” and it’s all better immediately.  No regrets, just education.  And that is how I approached this dish as well.

Lastly, any Maple cereal will do for this.  In fact, cereal crusted chicken can take on many forms, I am guessing, so the limit is your imagination.

Maple Cereal-Crusted Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Blue Cheese

Serves 2 (for 4, double it, wise guy)

Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/4 cup blue cheese

3 tbsp. butter

1 sliced green onion (parsley would work here in a pinch)

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp. milk

2 cups maple cereal with nuts (any will do)

1 tsp. salt

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

After washing, drying, and trimming the breasts, lay each one flat and cut a 2 to 3 inch pocket into the thickest part in the side of each.  Try not to cut through the top or bottom, but if it happens, big whoop.  You’ll survive.

In a small bowl, combine the blue cheese, butter, green onion, and black pepper.  Smash this all together with a fork well so it’s like a blue cheese butter (duh).  Divide it and stuff each breast with the mixture. With a small metal skewer, close and secure each pocket so it won’t open in the oven.

Mix the beaten egg and the milk.  On a large cutting board, use a rolling pin (or something similar) to make the cereal into crumbs.  Season this with the salt and toss it a bit.  Dip each breast in the egg mixture and then roll it in the cereal crumbs and coat generously.  Place each breast in a baking dish (glass or metal).  If you have left over crumbs, sprinkle them on top of the breasts in the dish.

Roast this for about 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 165°.  Remove from the oven and let them sit for a few minutes.  Remove the metal skewers and serve.  You’ll get this:

Crusted Chicken 1

Notice the mashed potatoes and gravy.  Fuckin’-A.  It was all to die for and it passes for an any weather dish.

So, my adventures and hunger brought me a winner.  If you try this, I think you’ll be pleased.  If you aren’t, pizza and sex are the same: even if it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013