About Johanna

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Chicago/Aurora, IL, United States
I am just like so many busy moms out there. I want to create great meals for me and my family where the food brings us together at the end of a long and hectic day. I want to empower moms to feel like they are able to make Great Everyday Meals by using simple, accessible, and inexpensive ingredients and basic cooking techniques. It’s more about family and less about slaving away in the kitchen cooking. I have been a restaurant industry professional for about 10 years and have a great passion for cooking. I will share tips, recipes and techniques that I have learned to arm everyday cooks with the foundation to simple yet great tasting cooking! Johanna M. Cook

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chicken w/ Mushroom Gravy

So, a staple in any kitchen should be chicken. I always buy what's on sale, leg quarters, thighs, drumsticks...whatever, it's a protein you can cook so many ways and very affordable. I especially love the bone-in breast. It's less expensive from it's boneless counterpart and has far less chances of coming out dry and is more flavorful because the bone helps it stay moist and has tons of flavor. The problem with chicken is that it's known to be the boring meat. My family and I love fried chicken dipped in gravy, especially from a well-known fried chicken chain now offering grilled options for the health conscious. My variation cooks the chicken in the oven and adds mushrooms to the gravy because frankly, I love mushrooms and it gives it a little gourmet twist. Here's a great recipe I made for dinner last night and it was a hit...even with the kids.

Chicken w/ Mushroom Gravy

1 Whole chicken - precut to eight pieces or 4 bone-in chicken breasts
1/2 of a LG green bell pepper - diced
1 medium spanish (or white) onion - diced
1 80z container of whole white button mushrooms - slice
2 TBL spoons of flour
2.5 cups of chicken stock (if no chicken stock, use water with 1/2 of a chicken buillion cube)
2 TBL of kosher salt
1 tsp of dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves
Secret Ingredient : 1 TBL of Kikkoman soysauce...YES soysauce!

Heat a 14" sauce pan with vegetable oil on high heat. I used my fave pot that I use for everything from frying to making stews. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Use as little or as much pepper to your taste. Brown the chicken SKIN SIDE DOWN. The point is to simply brown the pieces until it's golden and crispy, not to cook it all the way. Once all the chicken pieces are golden brown, place the chicken pieces on a cookie sheet and roast it in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches at least 140 degrees. (BUY A MEAT THERMOMETER! I promise you'll use it time and time again!)

Turn down the heat on the sauce pan immediately to medium to low-medium heat. Add the diced green peppers and onions with 1 tsp of salt 1/2 tsp of pepper and 1 tsp of dried oregano & bay leaves. Saute for about 2 minutes. Add the flour and stir for another minute and until all the veggies are coated with the flour. Add chicken stock and turn heat up to medium-high heat until the liquid is boiling. This is a very important step, because the flour will not thicken the gravy unless brought to this boiling point first.

Once the sauce hits it's boiling stage, turn the heat back down to medium and add sliced mushrooms and soysauce. The soysauce is an unexpected & unusual ingredient but like worchershire, it gives the gravy an great depth and makes you just go..."Hmmm, what is that?" I'll tell you, my husband was surprised when I told him I put soysauce on his gravy! Keep the gravy at low heat until all the vegetables have become tender and has incorporated with your gravy. When the chicken is cooked all the way through, plate and pour as much or as little gravy over the top as you desire.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Maternity Leave

I can't believe my last post was in October 2009! Life has been VERY hectic since then and I feel bad that I haven't had the time to update my blog. But, here I am now doing what I can. :)

Next Friday, Feb 5Th, 2010 my OB will be inducing me, meaning that she'll be basically forcing this baby out of me coz I cannot take it anymore! My official due date is on Feb 11Th. This baby already weighs 1 lb heavier than my other 2 babies when they were born, and me being petite, let's just say I'm very uncomfortable carrying around all this extra weight. With me now on maternity leave for about 2 weeks already, I have found myself extremely unproductive, which is NOT what I envisioned myself during this time off from work. I have been in bed lots of the time and finding myself not having any energy to pick up after the kids...or myself! It's taken a toll on me because I am usually always on the go. My mind wants me to get up off my butt and do something, but physically I cannot. The only time I find myself excited to get off my behind is when I'm cooking...surprise, surprise...

Last night for dinner, I made an easy shrimp in garlic & olive oil accompanied by an even easier brown rice salad. It was quick to make and the whole family loved it...except for Sofie who kept saying that the shrimp were scary. LOL. These days, as a mom, career woman and self proclaimed foodie, I have to try and fit my food style(s) into my busy lifestyle. I have many (chef) friends in the food industry who are awesome cooks. However, when I see them cook outside of the professional kitchen, I die at the amount of time it takes for them to make a meal! I'm no professional chef, actually I'd kill to go to Kendall College and study professional techniques. Anyway, my meals usually take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and I promise you, you'll be blown away (most of the time). I say "most of the time" because I have tried out a few recipes on my family that didn't turn out so great. But I have an awesome repertoire of unwritten recipes using basic ingredients that most home cooks (should) have in their pantry at any given day. And I hope to start sharing them more often...

GARLIC SHRIMP - cook time 10 minutes

1 LB of peeled & deveined shrimp (frozen or fresh)
4-6 GLOVES of finely diced garlic
1 WHOLE shallot or 1/4 of a red onion (if you do not have shallots) finely diced
4-5 TBL spoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 TBL spoons of unsweetened butter
2-3 TBL spoons of your fave white wine (optional)
1/2 lemon for lemon juice
1 TBL spoon of Italian (flat) parsley or 1/2 TBL spoon of dried parsley (if you do not have fresh available)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Heat a non-stick pan (medium high heat) with olive oil and butter. As soon as the butter melts, saute the shallots (or red onion) with the garlic until the shallots turn semi-translucent. Turn down the heat to medium to avoid burning the garlic. (If you are using DRIED parsley, put in the pan at this point).

Place all the shrimp in the pan and saute, carefully tossing or using tongs to mix with all the garlic, shallots and olive oil & butter, then put in the crushed red pepper flakes and white wine. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste taste. Saute until the shrimp are light pink on all sides.

Once the shrimp have turned pink on both sides, squeeze half a lemon and sprinkle parsley on top. Carefully toss all ingredients together and serve.

BROWN RICE SALAD - cooking time w/ already steamed rice 10 minutes

1 cup steamed brown rice (use orzo pasta or couscous if you prefer or do not have brown rice available)
2 cups of fresh flat leaf spinach
1/2 of green bell pepper - small diced
2 Roma tomatoes - small diced
(Use variations of your fave vegetables like zucchini, red bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, kalamata olives, asparagus...whatever you want! Also try grilling or roasting the veggies if you have the time)
1/4 cup of Parmesan or feta cheese
4 TBL spoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 TBL of balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste.
(Some people LOVE to use their fave store bought Italian dressing in lieu of creating a dressing) Do not use additional salt & pepper if using store bought dressing. It has enough sodium already in it.

Simply toss all diced vegetables with the brown rice while the rice is still warm. I find that while the rice is still warm, it soaks up more of the flavors of the dressing and wilts the spinach a little. Then, toss the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese until well distributed and chill for 5 minutes and serve.

If planning a get-together or a potluck, this salad is best made the day before or a couple hours ahead of the event to let all the flavors truly meld together.