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

Margaret

Posted: September 24th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 16 Comments »

Sometimes, things happen. Things you can’t explain, can’t fix, can’t change. Bad things. Things that bring hurt, loss, pain to people.
Home baseWords are inadequate. Feelings of helplessness, of being lost, of not knowing where to turn abound. But not for me. I know where to go.  Food is one of the few things in whose power, I am absolutely confident. I believe in the power of food.
ComfWhile nothing I can say will bring her back, while I can’t bring everyone who misses her a plate of food and a hug, at least for now, one person is breathing easier. At least I can give him that.

Safety on a Plate

And on Saturday, or whenever he gets on a plane for hometown-ville, I can give him cookies. To have and to share. I can’t be there, but at least my portable version of  a hug can go on the plane, can be passed around, to people I don’t even know, not just the ones I do.


A Cake doesn’t matter if you don’t mix the batter and bake it!

Posted: September 22nd, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 16 Comments »
Time well spent

Time well spent

Today, a manager at my job asked about my experience at the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment. As I told her about the dish I made, and the excellent reactions I got from perfect strangers, I’m sure that I was showing more joy than I typically radiate while at work.
Not one to mess around with words, the manager asked me why I didn’t go to cooking college.
The answer of course is simple – when it came time to apply to colleges, I didn’t know how to cook. I had no idea it would be my life’s passion. I thought that I had found my life’s passion, when I started taking psychology classes — before that I wanted to be a writer.

So I applied to college, I studied in Scotland, and there, at 20 years old, I realized that not only did I cook to stay alive, I really truly enjoyed it! A little too late to make a transfer or change my major, but still – I had my goal. I now knew that what I wanted in life was to open a cafe or coffee shop, and feed people daily. It was therapy, as corny as it sounds, just in a different venue. In fact, before I heard Ana Pascal echo my words, I told my roommate at the time that while I’d originally majored in Psychology, I realized that the best way that I could personally be a therapist would be to make people a comforting meal, and help them feel better for a little while.

I didn’t tell the manager at work all of this. I simply told her that I didn’t learn to cook until I was in my 20’s, when I’d already mostly finished college.
She looked at me and shrugged. It’s not too late.
I agreed. No, it’s not too late.

This tiny Russian woman looked at me and shrugged, again, like she’d known me my whole life. If you love something, do it. Why are you wasting your time here? You should be doing something you love. (You’ll have to imagine the accent).

I didn’t really realize I was wasting my time. Am I? Is culinary school really something I want? Do I want to take tests, study, practice brunoise over and over again? Could I ever be a culinary school student? I’m not sure. I’m not sure that it would be beneficial to my style of cooking – slapdash, imperfect, improvisational. I’m not sure that it’s something I’d ever be good at, because I don’t have the patience to brunoise perfectly, to practice trussing a chicken or boning one out or whatever else, over and over again until it’s second nature. I don’t need that in my daily life.

I also don’t want to work in a chef-driven restaurant. I don’t want to be “Chef” Johanna. I just want to cook. But god I hate my job. And I hate to think that I’m wasting my time, that it’s so obvious someone who has only ever spoken to me to get recipes can see it.

Culinary school isn’t my dream. But a cafe is. Maybe I need to take a look at a program where I can learn how to open my own place, what it’ll take, how to write a business plan, etc. Maybe one where I could still work, so I wouldn’t have to panic. The idea of quitting my job, picking up a full-time nanny or barista job, and THEN going to culinary school seems….. not so good. So, we’ll see. I’ll dig. Lord knows I hate to waste time. And maybe I can get even take a few one-day seminars, while I’m studying for my pseudo-business degree.

Or maybe I’ll just keep slogging it out, hoping I don’t waste too much more time.


You can lead a boy to a stove…

Posted: September 18th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna, Roast chicken | 34 Comments »

…and sometimes you can even make him cook!!!

Tuesday was what we’ll call a royally shite day. Something at my job blew up, and it has been ugly, and has the potential to get uglier. Of course, if my coworkers would think for a second about the repercussions of their actions, maybe we wouldn’t all be IN THIS MESS.

Yet I digress.
Tuesday was shite, as I’ve mentioned. So shite, that at my lunch hour I IM’d Jesse, begging him to ask to be let off work an hour early, so he could be home for our grocery delivery (sometime between 6 and 8pm) since I knew it was going to be a late one for me at the office.  He complied, because he loves me and loves being able to eat dinner.
Dinner that night was scheduled to be roast chicken. I love roast chicken. I could eat it 3 times a week. In fact, I think that when I finally have the money to start buying groceries OTHER than that which we need for the immediate meals we’re planning, I’ll start buying a chicken every week and roasting it, just so we always have basis for stock, always have something to pick and turn into salad, or the filling for a pot pie, or just to gnaw on. Yum.

Anyways, Roast Chicken. It’s one of those basic, comforting meals that some allege you can use to judge the measure of a cook. It is one of those things that provides the distinction between “simple” and “easy” (although in my mind, it’s both). It’s a heck of an undertaking, since it takes the better part of an hour, and since I was leaving work at or after 9pm, it was not a reasonable meal for me to prepare when I arrived home.
Which is where Jesse comes in.

Cheekon!!

I tasked Jesse with preparing dinner during my commute home. Roast chicken was by far the easiest thing I could have assigned him, since it required no dicing, no mincing, no sauteeing and no real complications. I gave him solid instructions, and you can read his version of the prep at your leisure.  Basically, I asked him to salt the bird, season the outside with olive oil, poultry seasoning, and pepper, and put half a lemon and a halved onion in the cavity, squeezing the juice from the other half of the lemon over the bird.
He roasted it using Alice Waters’ preferred method of 20 minute rotations — 20 minutes breast side up, 20 minutes breast side down, final cooking breast side up, 400 degrees throughout. (I love this method, although I prefer Jamie Oliver’s method of  roasting in a preheated pan for 5-10 minutes breast side down, then the rest breast side up). When I arrived home, the house smelled wonderful, and roast chicken and mashed potatoes was EXACTLY what I needed after a 12-solid-hour work day.

If you’d like to try roast chicken a la Jesse, follow these steps:

1. Take your 3-4 pound chicken out of hte fridge, and let it sit at room temp for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle thoroughly inside and out with salt.
2. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
3. Combine 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and 1 teaspoon each of poultry seasoning, garlic powder, and black pepper. Smear this all over the outside of the chicken. If you have extra, smear it around the inside. Wiggle your finger or the handle of a spoon between the skin and the breast meat, and dribble some oil into that crevice.
4. Cut 1 onion and 1 lemon in half. Smash 2 garlic cloves. Put everything except 1/2 of the lemon into the cavity.
5. Put the chicken in a roasting dish and squeeze the juice from the extra lemon half over the chicken.
6. Roast for 20 minutes breast up. Flip the chicken and roast for 20 minutes breasts down. Flip again and roast until 165 degrees internal temperature is reached (or 20-25 more minutes) with the breast up.

If you want to, I highly recommend turning the leftover meat into chicken salad the next day, by cutting up a rib of celery and a quarter of an onion into tiny pieces, and combining that, the picked and chopped chicken, a tablespoon of dijon mustard, and 1/4 cup of Miracle Whip. But whatever you do, be careful using your knife along the breastbone, or you might end up with a gash on your finger. Like this one:
OuchieDon’t say I didn’t warn you.
Fingers sure do bleed a lot.


Pumpkin-White Cheddar Mac & Cheese

Posted: September 14th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 26 Comments »

Alright folks, here it is (without photos for the time being, because my hard drive hates me) :

The Mac O’ Lantern!!!
This is the recipe I used in competition at the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment today, and big ups to all the people who loved it and to whom I gave the site info. I hope you like this, I hope you make this, it’s getting to be fall (sniffle, sniffle, sob) and while I miss summer, I love gourds, and since pumpkin is (I think) a gourd, here we go:

1/2 yellow onion, diced.
2 tablespoons each butter and olive oil.
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups stock (veggie or chicken stock work best)
2 cups milk (whole milk is the only kind of milk I’ll recognize here)
1/4 cup canned pumpkin (or more, to taste. I used more in the competition version, but then again I made a few gallons of it)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
a little less than 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt & pepper
3/4 pound of cheese — half SUPER sharp white cheddar, half mellower jack or cheddar
1 pound of pasta, boiled in salted water and drained (I use Cellentani in competition, which is just Cavatappi with ridges, although I’m also preferable to Campanelle, which is little flower shapes.

1. Put the butter, olive oil and diced onion into a pan on medium heat. cook for 3-4 minutes, until the onions soften. You’re not looking to sweat them. Just make them soft.
2. Sprinkle in the 3 tablespoons of flour and stir to make a roux. Cook for 1-2 minutes. You want it to stop tasting like flour, but the longer you cook a dry roux, the less thickening power it has.
3.  Whisk in the liquids. I usually go with the stock, THEN the milk, although if you prefer, you could do milk first. Season with the Cumin, Cayenne and Nutmeg. Whisk well, and don’t be concerned if the spices float on the top. Something about the milk keeps them from absorbing, I think.
4. Simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. You want it to coat the back of your spoon.  Then, add the pumpkin and stir well to make sure everything is mixed in. Simmer for 2-3 more minutes, then add your shredded cheese.
5. Once the cheese is incorporated, add in your drained pasta.
From here, you could either bake it at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or you could crumble up some biscuits, or throw some breadcrumbs on top and broil it for a few, depending on whether you prefer your mac & cheese soupy or more solid. In general, I prefer the soupier versions, because they’re closer to the Kraft from my childhood, but go with whatever you like.

Thanks again to Alyssa, Bakezilla, Steele, Laura, Jess, Alex, Kristin and of course, Jesse, for all the help and support you gave me over the past 3 days. Next time, I promise it will be less stressful. :)


The Big Cheese?

Posted: September 12th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 11 Comments »

I am an impulsive cook. Typically, my impulses are good. Especially when it comes to flavors, mostly because I have preferred flavor profiles that I stick with. A culinary comfort zone if you will.

Outside the kitchen, I am rarely impulsive. I prefer to ruminate on situations, make a decision, and stick with it. I don’t make snap choices.
On Thursday, unfortunately, I forgot that. I read an article on the Tasting Table daily e-mail about the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment – a competition for amateur cooks, involving cheese. Since I make a mean Macaroni And, I decided this cheese cookery competition might be worth a look. So, on impulse, I went to the Cheese Experiment website, and filled out an entry form. I’d had an idea for a pumpkin macaroni and cheese kicking around my head for several months, and this seemed like a great time to try it out. Mind you, the competition was 3 days away. And, after completing the entry form, I discovered that the competitors needed to bring enough to sample for up to 350 people.

oops.

So, I did what any resourceful person does — e-mailed my friends, and asked them if they could come over on Saturday to taste-test, should my submission get accepted to this thing. And then, I e-mailed Alyssa, hoping that if nothing else, she could give me some advice or calm me down and tell me that I was capable of cooking a tasting sample for 350 people. After all, what are lifelong best friends for when you’re panicking, if not to grab you by the shoulders, shake you firmly and shout, “SNAP OUT OF IT!!!”
Thankfully, Alyssa did just that on the phone a few hours later.  When I told her I’d never actually….made the recipe I was competing with, and in fact, didn’t even have a recipe, she still, without question, told me that I could not only do this, I could do it and be competitive. Then, she did something that few people I know would ever have done. She offered to test my theoretical recipe. She asked me to review with her what I planned to do, what seasonings I planned to use, and then told me that since she was planning on messing around in the kitchen anyways, she would be more than happy to mess around with it, review it, and tell me later on that night what went right, and what went wrong. This went a long way to easing my panic, and you can read all about it on her blog.
The upshot of all of the craziness was that I did some adrenaline-fueled math, and figured out exactly how much Macaroni and cheese I needed in order to give 350 people tastings. Those of you who know me will know that ONLY adrenaline from pure terror/panic could cause me to accurately calculate how many gallons of food I needed, and therefore how many cups.

Today was taste-test day. I made my practice sauces, and had several excellent and honest friends over to judge my creations. I also had some amazing, way-above-and-beyond help from Bakezilla, who is a multi-faceted girl if ever there was one. She embroidered aprons for me and Jesse with the Pretty Girls Use Knives logo, as well as our names, on them, AND helped out immensely by hand-drawing and lettering our sign. What a pal. Seriously. If you ever need help, create a cooking gang. These ladies will do just about anything to help a pal, and I promise you, I would do the same for them.

So now, it’s after 11:30 at night. I have 7 quarts of pumpkin-bechamel simmering. Tomorrow, I’ll reheat it, add the cheese, cook the pasta and grind the bacon-cheddar biscuit crust. Then, we’ll pack the foil pans in a box, and go wow’em at the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment.
I’ll be live-tweeting the event, so if you’re on twitter, follow us at www.twitter.com/pguk_tweets or just check in to see what we’re on about. :)

I get by with a little help from my friends. With this much help from them, I’d better kick some ass. :)


Etouffee, you say?

Posted: September 7th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 18 Comments »

Etouffee DayPaula Deen made gumbo a few weeks ago on her show. I watched, and tried not to drool, and immediately got frustrated that our weekly grocery order hadn’t included the required ingredients. So, when Jesse and I were planning our menu for this week, I realized that I had to make something from Paula’s recent shows. Enter, her recipe for Shrimp Etouffee which I recreated to great effect.

The first concern for me was the slow-cooked roux that is the base of the dish. While I’ve made many a roux in my day, I usually keep them very blonde, and use them only as a thickening agent for bechamel or gravy. This involved slowly preparing a roux over the course of half an hour or more, stirring and stirring so that it doesn’t burn but making sure that it turns a beautiful caramel color. I think my roux ended up a little light, but that’s probably better than the alternative.

I have to admit, items such as “Clam Juice” concern me. Very much. However, if Paula asks me to add a bottle of clam juice to my etouffee, I will do it. In fact, I will do it with a smile on my face, because I believe in Paula. Although, I will mention that I really really believe that you need to add a big can of tomatoes, or add some extra water to this dish, because it gets really. really. thick.

However, this dish was delicious. Paula generally knows what she’s talking about, and the left-overs are phenomenal. The seasonings get deeper and more melded together, and even better, the shrimp do NOT turn into little rubber pellets as I feared they would. In general, this is a great meal to make and take, a great meal to make a huge quantity of and pack as a lunch with rice, or to freeze in individual portions. In fact, you could make the whole base up to the part where you add the shrimp, stop, and freeze, and when you’re reheating the sauce and cooking the rice, just throw a handful of shrimp in with the sauce – the shrimp will cook and the sauce will heat and you’ll have dinner in 10 minutes!

In general, I urge you to make this. If you can remember to stir the roux every few minutes, or get a cute guy or gal to help you stir, and chop up some veggies, everything else is super-simple. And c’mon, you’re rewarded with this:

C'mon, how can you not?


Alex Runs, Joh Cooks p. 2

Posted: September 3rd, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Alex Runs Joh Cooks, Johanna, pasta, quick, spicy, vegetarian | 26 Comments »

I return, with another runner-centric post to help my dear dear friend Alex raise funds for her half-marathon to help fund cancer research!!! Once again, or if you’re new to the game, here are the rules:

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!!

Tonight, we also give a shout-out to my amazing friend Laura, as well, because Laura is in training for the NYC Marathon and has mentioned to me that one of her perpetual cravings has been peanut butter.
Peanut Butter Sesame Soba Noodles of JOY!!!!!As you may know, Peanut butter is fabulous. There are restaurants devoted solely to its advancement. It can be used in various ways, as a sauce, as a binder, as a protein. As long as you get the sugar-free kind, you’re not wasting your calories or carbohydrates. In the spirit of peanut butter being long used in Asian cuisine, I made Peanut Butter-Sesame Soba Noodles! You may not know this, but soba noodles are buckwheat noodles that usually also contain whole wheat flour. They contain tons of amino acids, including lysine, as well as many anti-oxidants. 100grams of soba noodles produces more energy and more amino acids than either traditional pasta or bread, while still giving you some carb energy. In general, soba noodles plus peanut butter is a great way to bump up your proteins in the days leading up to a big run, especially if you are a vegetarian, like my girl Alex.
Peanut Butter-Sesame Soba Noodles
4oz./half a package Soba noodles
2 tbs sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tbs olive oil
1/4-1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tbs cumin
1-2 tsp soy sauce (optional, depending on your sodium levels/preferences)
3-4 tbs sesame oil
Optional: Sriracha, other hot sauce, red chili flake, cayenne pepper to taste.
Soba Noodles in Boiling WaterDry-toasted Sesame SeedsThe Usual Suspects

1. Bring a pot of water to the boil, and drop the soba noodles in. You don’t need to rinse the noodles before you cook them, although you WILL need to rinse them after, because buckwheat is gummy/sticky occasionally. 6-8 minutes should do it. When they’re done, drain them, rinse them with warm water, drain, and rinse a second time.
2. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of sesame seeds (to taste) in a dry skillet until they start to smell nice, then remove them to a bowl.
3. In the skillet that you toasted the sesame seeds in, add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, and the 2 crushed garlic cloves. If using, this is the time to drop in some crushed red pepper flake, and stir a lot. This should be about medium heat, you don’t want to burn anything. You’re trying to infuse the flavor of the garlic into the oil, as well as the spice of the red pepper flake. When you pull the Soba out of the water, take the garlic out of the skillet, add the peanut butter, and drop the heat.
4. As the peanut butter melts and begins to thin, whisk in the soy sauce if you’re using it, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, and the cumin. If you’re using hot sauce, now’s the time as well. Let this get warm, and if it starts to get too thick, add some warm water. If you use cold water, the peanut butter will seize up, get grainy, and just generally refuse to play anymore.

5.When the sauce is heated through, creamy and pretty thin, pull it off the heat, and add the noodles to a big bowl. Drizzle another tablespoon of sesame oil onto the noodles, then pour on the sauce. Turn turn turn the noodles in the sauce, taste, adjust the seasonings, and sprinkle on the sesame seeds.

While this meal is delicious and amazing, we did not eat it alone. In fact, we paired it with gazpacho. While it was a little weird in the sense that we were eating a cold soup, and lukewarm noodles, it’s a good pairing from a nutrition standpoint. To make the simplest gazpacho, take any vegetables you like, (we used cucumber, a quarter of a red onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1 bell pepper, 1 fryer pepper, and 6-7 tomatoes) chop them into chunks, and put them in your blender. Dash in some red wine vinegar, some salt and pepper, and if you have it, some tomato juice. If you don’t, that’s totally fine – it’ll work. Blend it until you like the texture, and eat immediately, after an hour, a few days later, whenever. Gazpacho loves you back.

Now remember!! Comment Comment Comment so I can give Alex money!! She deserves it, and she’s working hard!!!