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

Just so we’re clear

Posted: August 25th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 29 Comments »

This post, it’s not going to be about specific cooking. Because frankly, I’m at my parents’ house and the most cooking I usually do here is scrambling an egg or toasting an english muffin. And that’s great! But it does mean that I sometimes leave my blog unattended for a few days.
However, I’m currently staring down a computer screen that’s about a foot and a half wide, because my parents went out and bought a computer that’s actually part of the 21st century (!!! It’s a Mac!!) and so I can use it to update!
Since I’ll be at a Red Sox game tonight, I won’t be able to post an Alex Runs, Joh Cooks — plus I’ll be SEEING Alex tonight, and her birthday is tomorrow, so hopefully we can all just let this one slide until a little later in the week. However, I will not fail you all. I will post something delicious (and possibly gazpacho-themed) later in the week, especially after I get a couple specifics from Alex as to her dietary rules.

IN the meantime, some food musings that I’ve had recently.
I’ve been thinking about breakfast a lot, and how it’s my favorite meal to improvise with. As much as I like a good french toast or peanutbutter pancake,  I love the more savory, thrown-together omelettes or hashes that really get me going. Anything I can combine with a fried or poached egg and some cheese is good by me. So, on Sunday morning, I woke up with designs on the left-over roasted purple potatoes from our dinner Saturday night. Unfortunately, the trouble with living with an occasional insomniac is that when he can’t sleep, he gets hungry. So, all the potatoes were gone when I woke up. Never one to be deterred by missing ingredients (hello, that’s why they call me the Improviser) I simply continued figuring out what to mess around with, and ended up making a delicious breakfast hash out of maple bacon pieces, chickpeas, a pickled jalapeno chopped into tiny pieces, and the last of the delicious tomato sauce. Oh, and some cumin. Because I’m me.

It’s always fun to decide at 6pm on a Sunday that you want to make a pie. Especially while watching ATK. I am terrified, ATK, by the way. They are my sworn enemy – they encourage you to use their recipes, and to blog about them, but they assert that their recipes are PERFECT and have been tested OVER 100 TIMES, so there’s no need for improvisations or changes. You don’t have cumin? Too bad. Tell the blog readers you did. Or just don’t mention it at all. But for GOD’S SAKE don’t ever say that you used some garam masala instead. Oooohhhh no. They’ll come after you. Nastygrams and all.
Where was I?

Oh right. Watching ATK I decided I really really wanted to make PIE. Not blueberry, as they were making on ATK, because I didn’t have the vodka they recommended for the crust. So instead, I went to Epicurious, who don’t mind at all if you reprint, link to , credit, or modify their recipes based on what you have, and found a recipe for Blueberry Peach Pie. Now, having only eaten 1 peach in my life (we were more of a nectarine family, growing up. Plus, I’m from Massachusetts….what do I know from fresh local peaches???) I didn’t realize how difficult peaches were. I mean, I had to peel 11 peaches. I had to pit them and cut them up and I didn’t know what I was supposed to be leaving in and cutting out. One thing I DO know about peaches, though, is that they go great with BOURBON.

So, I did what any good Improviser who’s not using an ATK recipe would do, and I substituted Bourbon for the vanilla in the pie filling. I also burned the hell out of my ring finger, which I would recommend you NOT do.

I added a tablespoon of arrowroot powder to the pie filling, because another reader mentioned they added cornstarch to their making of this pie. It definitely helped, but the pie was still runny. I did a modified lattice, cutting out little ruffly-edged shapes from the pie with a cookie cutter and layering them on the top, instead of bothering to weave a lattice because I’m lazy. In all, this pie took forever to make, and while it is delicious (VERY delicious), I’m a little underwhelmed. The bottom crust still got soggy. The peaches and blueberries still combined to make enough goo that some of it exploded over onto my cookie sheet, and STILL the pie ran. I have had great success making pies using other berries, even berry mixes, but blueberries appear to be my downfall. Someone PLEASE HELP!!!

How, in the name of Julia Child and all other deities of the culinary realm do I keep my blueberry pies (not even TOTALLY BLUEBERRY) together??? Do I have to use pectin? Do I have to add jam? What on earth do I do?

your suggestions gratefully accepted. I’ll repay you in pie. :)

A multitasker

Posted: August 22nd, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 23 Comments »

*I have not forgotten about the dinner party. I promise. Recipes coming soon.

Eggplant Parm, revisitedOn Thursday, I did a “make-do” dinner. I had several things in the fridge that needed to be used up before they went bad, and no real idea what of them we were going to eat. I had roughly a whole eggplant left over from prior uses, as well as several tomatoes, both regular red and tiny heirloom, some red onion, garlic, mozzarella and parmesan. I decided that eggplant parm was in order,but not in the typical way.
I’ve re-imagined Eggplant Parmesan a couple times, with varying results. This time, the eggplant rounds were dredged in egg and a combination of flour, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, oregano, and for a special twist…. cornmeal!! This lent a gorgeous crunch and beautiful flavor. I suggest it, highly. After the eggplant was fried, it was drained and eventually broiled with slices of mozzarella on top. I toasted thick slabs of Whole Foods rosemary bread, and topped the toast with grated parm, homemade tomato sauce, and the halved eggplant slices.

What I really want to talk about, here, is the tomato sauce. I love this sauce. I would like to make it again right now. And tomorrow night. And the next. I would bathe in it, if I could. But instead, I’ll share it with all of you, now:

Fresh 15-Minute Tomato Sauce
1/2 Red Onion
2 Cloves garlic
4 Vine tomatoes
Parmesan Cheese
An assortment of tiny heirloom or other tomatoes.

Heat up some olive oil in a skillet – only 1 tablespoon or two – and mince the onion and garlic. Put them in the skillet, salt, and toss a bit, so they sweat some of their flavor out. Then, chop the 4 tomatoes and add them to the skillet, and turn down the heat to medium-low. Grab your potato masher, and smash the tomatoes up so they’re a lovely pulpy mess. Add about a quarter-cup of water, some salt, pepper and dried oregano, and let it simmer covered for a while. While this is happening, chop up your tiny tomatoes, small/bite-sized pieces. When a lot of the water has evaporated out of the skillet of tomatoes, add a handful of grated parmesan and stir, adding more water if you need to, depending on your tomato situation. This should all take about 15 minutes. Tops. Seriously.
When you’re ready to eat, add the tiny tomatoes you’ve chopped up, stir, turn off the heat, and busy yourself with serving. The tiny almost-raw tomatoes will get heated through by the warm sauce, the sauce will still be lovely and chunky and taste very fresh, and you won’t need to add sugar to it or anything to calm down the acid of the tomatoes because the cheese has done that.


This sauce is amazing. Seriously. I’ve eaten it on thick slices of toast drizzled wtih olive oil and dusted with parmesan twice in the past 16 hours. It’s nearly gone, now, and I’m thinking about eating it cold, with a spoon. If you added more water and simmered this a little gentler, it could be a soup. If you didn’t mash the tomatoes the way I did, you’d have something chunkier, which could be a salsa-esque topping for fish or chicken or meat. Basically, try this sauce. Do it your way, add red chili flake, or basil or red wine vinegar or whatever the heck you want. But try it this way first. I think you’ll love it. Especially on toast. With olive oil and parmesan. MMMMMyum.

Alex Runs, Joh Cooks, p.1

Posted: August 18th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Alex Runs Joh Cooks, Johanna, cheap, delish, quick, spicy, vegetarian | 25 Comments »

I threw a dinner party on Saturday – Jesse and I threw one. In honor of Julia Child’s 97th birthday. I will post about it as soon as I’ve processed it. There are not many food photos, because the food disappeared, although one of my friends apparently took a few more. Until I can sort out the post, here is something to tide you over.

Think of it as an hors d’oeuvre.

This is a new facet of this blog, something I’m incredibly happy to be a part of. It’s for a good cause and it’s promoting something that’s important to me.
My college roommate, and dear friend, Alex, is running a half-marathon (my apologies to those I told a full marathon) as part of a charity team, to raise money for cancer research. This is a cause close to both my heart, since my Grampa lost the fight to lymphoma in 2006, and Alex’s since she has lost both her cousin and her father to blood cancers(in whose honor she’s running and raising funds). Please check out her site and support her.

I’m making a pledge to donate to this race, and in an effort to get as many people involved as possible, here’s the plan: I’m creating a category of recipes and posts called “Alex Runs, Joh Cooks” — for every comment I get on one of these posts, I’m donating money to Alex’s cause. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell runners, or any other athletes you know. Tell people – I would rather not be able to afford my donation goal, than not be able to give my friend support.

The Rules: Each individual comment counts, up to 2 per person per post. You don’t have to give insight – you just have to leave your name (although I welcome your insights!!!) Check Alex’s site, check the blog, leave your name here, and Alex will get money!! These recipes will be largely vegetarian (because Al is a vegetarian), lots of veggies, lots of protein, lots of energy and fuel. They will not be difficult.
You can do this.  She can do this. Help me help her, and everybody else!!

Seared Tofu with Lentil Salad and Spicy-Sesame DressingThis, my friends, is tasty and easy.

Seared Tofu, Lentil Salad with Spicy-Sesame Dressing

1/2 container Extra-firm Tofu
1 cup dried lentils
1/2 red onion
1/2 carrot
1 stalk celery.
Sriracha, Sesame Oil, Low-Sodium Soy Sauce, Cider Vinegar (if you like)
Assorted veggies, any type you choose. I used a green bell pepper, half a zucchini, and a crap-ton of heirloom tiny tomatoes.

1. Put lentils, 1/2 of the onion (so 1/4 of the TOTAL onion), carrots, and celery in a pot. Cut the onion, carrot and celery into large chunks. Cover by 2 inches with water. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. If the water boils off, add more. Keep them covered for the first 10 minutes. Taste a lentil, and check every 2-3 minutes until the lentils are soft on the outside, but still have some bite. Maybe 10 more minutes, tops.
Lentils and veggies2. While the lentils cook, cut up into small dice the vegetables – pepper, zucchini, tomatoes, and the rest of the red onion. Put them in a big bowl.
3. When the lentils are done, drain them, pull out the big chunks of celery, onion and carrot, and rinse the lentils under cold water. Drain and rinse a second time to really cool them down, then put them in the bowl with the veggies. Season the veggies a little with salt and pepper. Taste, and make sure they taste good on their own. This is very important.

4. Put a big skillet or grill pan on the heat, and get it SCREAMIN’ hot. Combine a teaspoon of Sriracha, a teaspoon of soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil. Whisk together and adjust to your flavor preferences. Cut your tofu brick into strips and brush one side of each strip with the marinade.

5. Put the tofu marinade side down on your pan. You don’t need any additional oil. Sear for about 2 minutes on one side, brush the side that’s up with the marinade, and flip. This flip is why we need extra-firm tofu.

6. Bring it all together. Take the tofu off, and let it cool a bit. Take whatever marinade you may have left, and add more of all the elements: More sriracha, more soy sauce (but not too much, let’s not be crazy) more sesame oil, and probably some regular oil to thin it out. You’re going to need between a third and half of a cup total.
Assembly: pour the dressing over the veggies. stir, gently, to combine. Taste, and dish out. Put a tofu slice on top of the salad, and call it dinner. 

Tofu, side 1Tofu, side 2The usual suspects

Enjoy, and help me help Alex!! I cook, she runs, we all win!!!!

Spatchcock: That’s what she said?

Posted: August 14th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Chicken, Johanna, Roast chicken, Silliness, Spatchcock, cheap, delish | 28 Comments »

Spatchcockery!I’m sure you’ve noticed that there’s something……off about that roast chicken over there. Typically, chickens are shaped like American footballs, only with legs and wings. But this one, it’s flat. In fact, it looks like it’s holding its hands to its chest, saying “Oh my!” Very flat. Like a book that’s been opened along its spine. Some people call this butterflying. But the Irish….Oh, the Irish. They have to come up with “funny” names for things. Silly names. Names that are contractions of the phrase “Dispatch the cock” and end up as “Spatchcock” and make me giggle just about every time I think about them. Curse you, Irishmen!!!

“Spatchcocking” is the process whereby you cut the poor chicken’s backbone out, then either remove or smash open the breastbone, so that you have a single plane on each side, instead of a round chicken. It makes the meat cook much faster.  Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay, and others have used this technique with a brick to cook a chicken pressed flat on a grill or skillet. Jen and Dietsch at Last Night’s Dinner use the spatchcockery for roasting sometimes. I figured that since spatchcocking reduces the cooking time drastically because it increases the surface area that can be cooked at once, that on a hot Sunday it was the perfect thing.

So, I watched this video, which ended up being only slightly helpful. In the end, I’d recommend this video, which actually appears to show the effort exerted in spatchcocking the bird. After watching the video, I girded my loins, cleaned my kitchen shears, and got to work. It was harder than I expected, but what I ended up with looked exactly right. In fact, it looked perfect for rubbing with toasted spices, and roasting in the oven.

Oh dearCumin & Corriander seedsYellow hands from Tumeric!!!

So, I did that. I salted the bird up, inside and out, and then toasted cumin and corriander seeds in a dry skillet, ground them in my coffee grinder, and mixed the cumin/corriander mix with tumeric, a tiny bit of cayenne pepper, and garlic powder. I smeared this all over, as you can see from my hands, and turned myself thoroughly yellow. But, it was worth it, I promise.

The roasting pan (my Le Creuset braiser) went into the oven at 425 to heat up. It may have been 450. I can’t remember.  However, when the oven was preheated, I took out the roasting pan, put in a tablespoon of oil so the chicken wouldn’t stick, and put the chicken in skin side up for 10 minutes. Then, I flipped the chicken and roasted it skin side down for 15 minutes. Finally, I flipped it one more time, stuck my probe thermometer in the thigh, and let it cook skin side up until it reached 167 degrees. Why 167? Because I’m weird.

I served it with some fresh eggplant and spinach shaak from Dipali’s mom’s recipe, and white rice. And ohhhh boy.


Good times were had by all.

Dipali’s Dinners

Posted: August 9th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna, cheap, delish, quick, vegetarian | Tags: | 22 Comments »

Hello friends! Yesterday, something strange happened. Other people cooked……for ME!!! It’s a rarity, and I enjoyed it immensely. :)   To make sure that she get her due credit, last night for dinner I hung out with my fantastic friend Marla, who is a fashion student and an all-around hell of a gal. She made me spaghetti with sauce that I swear had…. magic in it. Maybe it was the parmesan. Maybe it was the tomatoes. I’ll never know, until I go home and hang out with her mother and stalk her spaghetti-sauce making. But mmmm. And the brownies!! Marla made brownies that had cherries, and walnuts in them. I’ll let that sink in.

Cherries (freshones, real ones) and walnuts.
They may have looked a little fugly, fallen apart a little, but believe me, I am not one to turn down chocolate, and who ever said brownies needed to LOOK nice??? These were delicious. Delish!!!

Dipali's DinnersYesterday afternoon, my friend from work, Dipali, came over to do the first of a series of guest-cooking posts, called Dipali’s Dinners. Dipali is Indian, and since I alerted her to the site, she has graciously offered to come over and teach me authentic Indian dishes, from her mom’s recipes. I was really excited about this, because any curries that I’d made from scratch had always taken lots of steps, and lots of pots and pans, and I couldn’t find a respectable curry paste in my grocery store, and I was reduced to Thai Yellow Curry Paste which is HOT and not as delicious as what I’m looking for, and finally, I was fed up.

Dipali promised there wasn’t that much to worry about. I trust her. She’s sweet and pretty. Always trust the sweet and pretty. They will not steer you wrong.
So yesterday, Dipali came over, armed with her lovely, fragrant little spice tin, and taught me how to prepare two different vegetable dishes from her repetoire: Channa Masala Shaak, and Eggplant & Spinach Shaak.

I was immediately heartened, because Dipali said that a lot of Indian cooking uses those three words I love so much, “Season to Taste” — there isn’t really measurements, it’s about the flavor you’re looking for. She also laid out the basic theory or principle behind the cooking: Get the oil really hot, add your aromatics (usually onion and/or garlic), add the spices, and get the spices really hot so that they infuse the oil with their flavor. This, I can do.

EggplantWe started with the eggplant-spinach Shaak.
1 medium eggplant, cut into small cubes or chunks.
4 cloves of garlic, chopped.
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon whole corriander seeds.
1 teaspoon each: Tumeric, Ground Cumin, Cayenne powder, Salt
1 package frozen spinach (defrosted)
4 tbs. oil, 1 c. Water.

Heat 4 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large skillet with high sides. Add the garlic and the cumin and corriander seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the eggplant, tumeric, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and water. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Let it all simmer for about 10 minutes, until the eggplant has softened.  You can cover it if you want, to make sure that the flavors have nowhere to go but into the eggplant. After about 10 minutes, add the spinach, stir well, and cover again. Let everything get friendly on low heat for as long as you need to. This food will not rush you. It will not make demands on your time. In fact, it’s happy whenever you’re happy.
After simmeringAdjust To Taste
Look at all that yum. Dipali decided after the simmering (left) that it needed some more tumeric (right). Like I said, since she’s sweet and pretty I trust her. Plus, I can definitely get behind any cuisine that says “Stick your finger in the pot, lick the finger, and decide what else to pour in”. That is my kind of cuisine.

Channa Masala, everyoneWe accompanied our eggplant and spinach with some channa masala.
1/2 Red Onion diced
1 clove garlic chopped
1/2 teaspoon Corriander seeds
1 teaspoon each: Cumin, Cayenne pepper, Tumeric
3 cups chopped tomatoes
2 cups (1 can) chickpeas. (If you’re using a can, drain and rinse them)
1/2 teaspoon each salt and garam masala (spice blend, you can buy it at Whole Foods)
Once again, heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, and all the spices (except the 1/2 teaspoon garam masala) and cook until they start smelling delicious and amazing. Then, add the tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes break down into a lovely sludgy tomato-sauce esque consistency. Add the chickpeas, and up to half a cup of water. You may only need 1/4 cup, depending on your tomatoes. If you add too much, you can always boil it off until the liquid reduces. No worries here. Bring the channa masala to a simmer, add in the garam masala and salt, and simmer for 10 minutes or until your willpower gives out. Try for at least 10 minutes. Taste this too at the end, and adjust the seasonings to what you’d like. You’ll probably end up adding more of at least one of the spices, since this is a very malleable dish.

The spreadOur lovely lunch spread, which fed 3 people and gave leftovers. I love indian cooking!!! I also love it because it’s yummy and warm and lovely and …. sigh.

Try these. And we’ll be back soon with a second installment of Dipali’s Dinners. :) YAY!!!