Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

A Tale of Two Tilapia

Posted: July 28th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 15 Comments »

I love tilapia. I love it for several reasons. #1 – it’s cheap. Cheap is good. #2 – A little goes a long way. Where you only get 2 servings out of a pound from many fish because they’re so dense, you can get 4 solid servings out of a pound of tilapia. #3 – It doesn’t really taste like much. You can use it anywhere that you don’t want to use cod, anywhere that you want to eat some fish, but notthing fishy.

TaDaaa - Tilapia!! As I may have mentioned before, I am extremely susceptible to suggestion, especially when it comes to the kitchen. After reading all day about Julia Child and her wonderful days in Marseille and the Cote d’Azur, I had mediterranean flavors in my brain. Also, I’d been cringeing earlier in the morning over hearing Rachel Ray say “Cod in a Sack” over and over, along with “Lunch Sack” and “Brown paper sack”. (I don’t like the word “sack”.)

So, when attempting to figure out what on earth we were making for dinner in Whole Foods, I blurted out, “What about tilapia en papillote with fennel, tomato and olives?”

Mind you, I’ve never cooked anything en papillote before. I’ve also never eaten fennel. But hey, I’m adventurous! So we went for it. Plus, I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy more parchment paper, and en papillote is as good a reason as any. So, home we went, prepared to crank up the oven despite the heat, in search of papillote.
I pulled some of the fennel fronds off, to add an aromatic base to the packets. Then, I thinly sliced the fennel bulb, Flavorful!halved some cherry tomatoes, and chopped up a couple handfuls of pitted (by me) marinated olives.
I preheated the oven to 400, and pulled off 2 sheets of parchment paper (you could also use pieces of brown paper bag from the grocery store, brushed with vegetable oil so it doesn’t burst into flame). On each sheet, I layered half the fennel fronds, half the fennel, olives and tomatoes. Then, I put a tilapia fillet on top, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and lemon zest.
I squeezed some lemon juice over the lot, and drizzled some olive oil over as well. Then, I folded and crimped the parchment into a little packet, by pulling the long edges together, scrunching them together, and then folding the bottoms up. I put the packets into the oven for 20 minutes, and that was that! I’d say this one was a win, and obviously, it can be done a million different ways. Asparagus, broccoli, little teeny tomatoes, corn, whatever you feel like, and any white fish. Since Jesse told me to hurry up and take the picture because he wanted to eat quickly, I’m pretty confident this one is delish. Plus….. NO DISHES!!!

Spicy TilapiaLast night, we flipped the script, and ate the rest of our tilapia with some Asian flair! I bought a whole bunch of veggies (carrots, green peppers, rainbow chard, scallions) and soba noodles. I boiled the soba noodles, rinsed them, and drained them. I julienned the carrots and peppers using my new tool of death: The Mandoline my mom got me for my birthday!!! All fingers still intact, I then chopped the chard and a shallot, and started sauteeing those together.
The tilapia marinated in a combination of sriracha, sesame oil and soy sauce, until the chard was done. Then, it went on the grill pan, while the veggies got a quick saute with the chard. I combined all the vegetables with the soba noodles, and mixed up a vinaigrette of sorts, using soy sauce, honey, and sesame oil. This needs some work. I think next time, I’ll use the hot veggies, cold noodles, and a mix of thinned out peanutbutter, sesame oil and soy sauce. Maybe some hot sauce if we’re feeling feisty.

The fish was nice and hot, although not tongue-burning spicy. Just…. warm heat. The side needed some work, especially considering I’ve never cooked with soba noodles before. But in general, we see that Tilapia is multi-purpose, can go from Frenchy frenchishness to Spicy Asianness in 24 hours. JOY!!!

Yes you can can can!

Posted: July 22nd, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 33 Comments »

Chana masala yumyum!

I have had a love for Indian food. A big one.

In fact, my friend Dipali may be talking to her mother about getting me some recipes and doing Dipali’s Dinners as a guest post. Because it’s that amazing. And I’m so excited about it!!!
Until I get some hard recipes, I have to approximate. And I make a pretty mean curry for all my approximation (although if someone has a source for curry paste they’d be willing to recommend, let me know), but sometimes you want something different. When you’re me, what you want is chana masala — chickpeas stewed in tomatoes (although sometimes not) and chiles, garlic, all manner of fantastic things. So… Saturday night I got the urge for chana masala.

Since I wasn’t exactly sure how to make it, and didn’t have many fresh ingredients, it went a little somethin’ like this:
1 onion and 1 clove of garlic diced and sweated in some olive oil.
When they were soft, a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas was added into the pot. They sauteed for a minute, to get all the onion and garlic flavor in, and then I added a 15 oz. can of Muir Glen chopped tomatoes with Medium Chiles and half a can of vegetable broth. Also, a tablespoon of cumin and 2 teaspoons of chili powder.

I let that simmer, covered, for about an hour. Then, I tasted, stirred, re-covered, and let it simmer again. Basically, the goal is to let the flavors get all yummy together, and cook as much of the useless liquid out as possible. You also want to cook the chickpeas, because they’re much better when they’re smushy.
If the liquid appears to have cooked ALL the way out, though, add in a quarter of the leftover veggie broth. (save the rest for the rice). I added half a cup (ish) of frozen peas when I started my rice cooker, so about 40 minutes before serving.
When everything tastes rich, pour in about a quarter-cup (tops) of coconut milk and stir it in. This will ease the heat of the chilis. Plus, it’ll make things creamy and thick and delish.
And you’ll be left with this:

You can almost taste it!This is completely vegetarian, and can obviously easily be doubled, tripled, frozen in portions, or eaten all by yourself. It’s also delicious cold in the pot the next morning, although I wouldn’t know anything about that……

Excuses, excuses

Posted: July 18th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 34 Comments »

Ok kids, I have a confession to make. This past week has been pretty rough food-wise. I have failed to post anything in this blog in over a week. I am not, honestly much of a gang leader of late. But….. there is a reason:

Light through the canyonSummer, sweet gorgeous summer, has finally…finally arrived in New York. There have been golden days at the beach, amazing sunsets, comedy shows, best-friend visits, and many many other things that have sucked me in.

And of course…. one illicit picnic on a lawn in Union Square after said lawn was technically closed. We just won’t talk about that part. Or about the bottle of wine that we hid in its paper wrapper, and drank out of solo cups. But, we CAN talk about the fact that I have indeed still been messing around in the kitchen. I threw together a recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies from a personal favorite regular cookie recipe. Last night, I put together a variation on my Lemon-Ricotta Orzo for Jesse and my college roommate (and one of the best friends) – Alex.
My typical Lemon-Ricotta orzo involves boiling 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound of orzo in salted water.
When the pasta is nearly done, scoop about a third of a cup of ricotta into a big bowl, and zest a lemon into the bowl. Add salt, and squeeze the lemon in. Then, add a scoop of the pasta water, and whisk it all together. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Stir, season, and add some parm and parsley.
It’s a perfect side dish for chicken, fish, pork, or just as a main dish.

Last night, I sauteed some asparagus and green beans, and added them to the dish along with the pasta and a little extra ricotta.

And tonight, we’re attempting something akin to channa masala. I’ll report back on the success level. HOpefully.

I’m back. I promise. But even you couldn’t resist this…..
Summer Nights

No, not THAT meatloaf

Posted: July 9th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna, delish, meatloaf, slow but worth it, sneaky veggies | 26 Comments »

I’m posting this from my office, so I’m not leading with a picture. You’ll just have to wait for the update.

The first time I ever ate meatloaf, I was 23 years old. I made it after seeing the meatloaf that my boss made for her daughter. And I mean a few months after I saw my boss’s meatloaf. Because you see…. I didn’t know from meatloaf.
My grandmother (hi Gie!!) is a wonderful cook. An amazing cook. And everything about her food is so filled with love, with care, that it makes things 10 times better.
For all this, my mother never enjoyed Gie’s meatloaf. I don’t know why, having never had it. So when I was growing up, we never ate meatloaf. I guess that’s part of being a parent — you don’t ever have to cook or eat the shit you don’t like again. But seriously. I am 25. I can remember every single time I’ve ever eaten meatloaf. Because it’s 5 times. (For the record, one of those times was a Rachael Ray recipe for Mini Meatloaves with Gorgonzola-Sage Gravy and Garlic Proscuitto Mashed Potatoes. The meatloaves tasted like baked hamburgers. Disgusting. )

My way of approaching meatloaf is different than most people’s, I guess. I figure this, since everybody that I’ve ever given meatloaf to has said “It’s really good, but it’s not meatloaf” — I think I’ve mentioned before that I understand their disbelief — no ketchup. An actual flavor. Not what they’re used to. But I feel like these things make us have a narrower view of food, instead of broader. Why does it have to have ketchup or bbq sauce or orange marmalade or whatever on top? Meat tastes good on its own! Especially when it’s cooked correctly! Why go covering it with sugary, salty, sodium-infused STUFF?

On Thursday night, I made meatloaf. As I’ve mentioned, I approach it differently than most. Back over the winter, I found a recipe for braised short ribs from Anne Burrell. After the ribs are browned, a whole bunch of pureed vegetables are browned, and then tomato paste is added and also browned, and the whole thing is deglazed with wine and set as the base for the sauce for the braise.

Thinking of a meatloaf as a roast with a funny texture, as I do, lead me to thinking that preparing vegetables like in a braise (up till the deglazing part) could give me a way to sneak as much veggie goodness as actual MEAT into the dish!
Since I am susceptible to the power of suggestion, and based on Lyssa’s Leek Week, I pureed 1 leek, 2 ribs of celery, 1 shallot, 4 cloves of garlic, 2 carrots, and one orange bell pepper. You can really go out there with this — use as many veggies as will fit in your food processor, do it in two batches, basically go to town. I loved the extra something that the bell pepper gave – maybe add a cubanelle/fryer pepper. If you’re feeling brave, perhaps a jalapeno! Basically puree a ton of vegetables, and put them in a hot skillet with a tablespoon or two of oil. Season liberally with salt.

Then, just let them sit, until browned gunk forms on the bottom. Scrape the veggies up, flip them around, and let gunk form again. Repeat one more time, and after the third round of gunking, add a teaspoon and a half of tomato paste, stir, and let that all brown for a minute or two.
I was using a non-stick skillet, so I was of course terrified that I would get no browning. I needn’t have feared, although I would recommend a cast-iron or stainless one. Better browning, more even heat.
When the tomato paste has gotten all nice and incorporated and browned, feel free to pour in a little deglazing liquid of your choosing. I used about 2-3 ounces of Jesse’s Sam Adams Blackberry Whitbeer. But whisky, red wine, any kind of beer, stock…. anything would be good. You just don’t want the veggies to get too wet – they’re going IN something, after all.

Scoop the veggies out of the skillet, and spread them on a plate or a cookie sheet to cool in an even single layer.

Once the veggies cool, combine 1 pound of ground beef (we used 85/15, I believe), some salt and pepper to taste, a tablespoon of Bisto (it must be Bisto) sprinkled over the meat, and the veggies. Add some breadcrumbs, until you have the proper consistency, and form into a loaf on a sheet pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

There is no glazing. There is no egg, although there could have been. I used plain old seasoned dry breadcrumbs from the cardboard container. I’m out of Worcestershire, and I decided not to add anything else fancy this time.
It was delicious. Delicious. I am going to make this again, seasonal appropriateness be damned. This is good enough that I will gladly turn the oven on in July for it. I urge you to try to make this. It is good. It is healthy. You could seriously add about a pound of vegetables, and use sirloin, and feel really good about yourself. Just get the puree done.

Do not touch this with ketchup. Or BBQ sauce. Not even mine. Just try it first. I promise you, it is worth it. Do not believe my friend Nicki, who once said, “Meatloaf doesn’t taste like anything. It’s not supposed to. It’s all about the sauce, about what you put on top of it.”
Because if that’s true then why not eat a hamburger?

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

Posted: July 1st, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 24 Comments »

TherapyMeet my shrink.
When I’m at work, when I’m on the subway, whenever I’m not here, not in this place, I’m thinking about it. I’m wondering what I’m going to cook. I’m thinking about who I can feed. I’m thinking about my readers, about what they’ll think, about whether they’ll try my recipes, whether they even can understand my recipes.

When I’m here, everything else goes away. Work doesn’t stress me out. Messes don’t bother me. Here, I’m in therapy. Just thought you should know.
Tonight, I re-created a recipe that I made a few weeks ago but didn’t get a chance to enjoy while hot, because I was taking my girl Marla out to celebrate finishing fashion school and all that is wondrous about her. So off-the-cuff I decided that since I had all the components, I’d try it again. It was a wonder. It was everything I thought it could be. I’m SO happy that I ate it cold first, because eating it cold was delish. Eating it hot was…… amazing. Amazing.

Adapted and borrowed from Luisa and Molly who are two of my blog inspirations, both for their recipes and their honesty.

Preheat your oven to 350. Take 2 (or 4) lovely ripe tomatoes. Cut the tops off and scoop all the guts out into a bowl. Reserve the liquid, chop up the guts, and put them in the bowl with the juice and the seeds, and put the tomato hulls into a baking dish of some sort. I used a glass pie plate:

Then, dice half an onion (or a whole one if it’s small) and put it in a small-to-medium saucepan on medium heat with around a tablespoon of butter. You want to let the onion sweat. Or at least, I do, so I add a wee bit of salt, to help the onion give up its juices. Once the onion has sufficiently softened, add 1/3 cup of arborio rice, and cook for a minute or two. You want the rice to give off some of its starch. *Then, add the tomato guts and 1/3 cup of water, and of course a pinch of salt. Stir, and if you’re following the recipe, add basil. If you’re me, and you’re in need of a support group, add dried oregano, cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 10 minutes:

OnionOnion + RiceRice + Guts

After the simmering and sweating and sauteeing and whatnot, put the rice mixture BACK into the tomatoes, top with breadcrumbs (I used a mix of panko and seasoned Italian breadcrumbs) and a grating of parmesan (not in the original, but as previously mentioned…..I meddle). Bake for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. If the tomatoes fall apart, they’re done. Mine did, and the cheese didn’t brown up, so I put them under the broiler to do just that.


From humble beginnings, to gooey tomatoey ricey cheesey goodness!!!! BEHOLD!!!!


Alright, I admit, these look kind of fugly. And my pictures seriously don’t do them justice, since my tomatoes fell apart and gooed everywhere. But look at the pictures on Luisa’s blog for an idea of what they look like when you’re as awesome as the Wednesday Chef of course is. Mine…. were ugly. But delicious. And even better, they were hot. And I do love things when they’re served at the proper temperature.
These don’t have a lick of garlic in them, but they could of course take some without adverse effects. And if you added some stock in with the tomato guts instead of water, things would only get better.

This combines two of my great loves, and I sincerely hope you try it because while they may not be the prettiest girl on the planet, what’s inside is some of the most wonderful stuff. :)

*I’ll admit that I’m a little afraid every time I add all that water in with the tomato guts all at once. It goes against all my risotto sensibilities. But this is the only way to make it cook properly IN the tomato. You need the rice partially cooked. So do it. It’ll be ok. I promise.