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

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Salmon Cakes w/ Green Beans in Lemon Olive Oil

Great quality salmon is usually a pretty pricey item in the grocery. Many average families think of salmon as a treat for a special occasion. In this recipe, I use CANNED, yes, canned, Alaskan Salmon to make the salmon cakes. What's great about canned Alaskan salmon is that is it inexpensive compared to fresh (about $7-$8 a can), and it's also very good quality. Now, if you have left over salmon fillets or steaks in the fridge and don't want a repeat, surely use those leftovers to revamp your day after meal. Also, this recipe is great as an elegant hors de vours for your next dinner party. But instead of bigger cakes, make mini cakes for easy bite-size handling.

Salmon Cakes

2 14.5oz cans of Alaskan Salmon
1/2 cup of small diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced scallions
2 gloved finely chopped garlic
1 cup of Panko breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 TBL salt
2 tsp pepper
Olive Oil

Green Beans

1 lb of fresh green beans
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Flake the salmon into a large mixing bowl. Put all the chopped vegetables, eggs, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs into the bowl and mix throroughly. Be carefull not to overmix the salmon as it will turn pasty. Form into patties. In large saute pan, heat 2-3 TBL of olive oil in medium-high heat and cook the salmon cakes until it is golden brown. Place salmon cakes on a plate lined with 2 pieces of paper towels to drain some of the oil out.

Boil water in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, salt the water. Add the green beans and cook for about 2 minutes. Take a large bowl and add cold water and 2 cups of ice cubes. Place the green beans in the ice water to cool it down and maitain it's bright, vibrant green color. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan in medium heat and place the green beans in the oil, coating it. Pour the lemon juice over the beans and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Serve with the salmon cakes.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shrimp Kung Pao

Shrimp or Chicken Kung Pao is one of those items on every Chinese restaurant's menu that many people love to eat. All the different textures and flavors from the crunchy toasted peanuts, to the sweet and tender shrimp pieces make it seem like an impossible thing to re-create at home, much less on-the-go. What is truly awesome about many Asian cooking is that it is stir fried, meaning, cooked at a really high temperature, so it cooks real fast. Perfect for On The Go Gourmet recipes. And if you're using already cooked shrimp, the cooking time is even faster without comprosing flavor. Once you figure out how fast and simply it is to make this dish in your own kitchen, you'll never want to do take out again!


1 lb medium cooked deveined and shell-off shrimp
1 cup of unsalted peanuts
1 cup of chopped onion (red or Spanish)
1 cup of chopped green bell pepper
8 oz can of roughly chopped waterchestnuts
2 TBL of cornstarch
1/3 cup of rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1/4 cup of chicken stock 
2 tsp of sesame oil
2 TBL of canola oil
2 TBL of brown sugar
1 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 tsp of salt

In a mixing bowl, mix the cornstarch & brown sugar with rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, chicken stock and salt. Whisk until the ingredients are well mixed and the cornstarch has desolved.

In a wok or large saute pan, heat the canola oil under high heat. Once the pan is hot, toast the peanuts until it is golden brown, then add the chopped onion, waterchestnuts and green bell peppers with the red pepper flakes. Saute for about 1 minute then add the sauce mixture. When the sauce mixture has started to thicken, add the cooked shrimp and cook until the shrimp has heated through. Be careful NOT to overcook the shrimp as it will tend to break apart. You want the shrimp to still be somewhat firm. Serve over white or brown rice.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Berry Chicken Salad w/ Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

As I was searching my pantry for some inspiration for my next meal, I came across jars full of jams and preserves. Many people think of jam as something to be spread on a piece of toast with their morning coffee. And yes, that's a great way to use jam. But, there are so many creative ways to use the fruit jams sitting in your pantry. Try using it as a vinaigrette (like I am in this recipe), a unique marinade, or in a glaze or sauce. It'll definitely give regular ol' chicken breast some pizazz. Try impressing your family and friends with orange-glazed salmon or sesame orange chicken (recipe coming soon) for dinner by using orange marmalade!

In this Berry Chicken Salad, I took 2 pre-washed bags of field green mix, 1 lb of strawberries and 1 pint of blueberries and turned it into an elegant dinner. I marinaded the chicken breasts in a simple yet flavorful white wine marinade. I use this marinade a lot for grilled chicken for salads because although it is flavorful, the flavor profile never takes away from the rest of the salad ingredients. The Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette is so delish and will kick any store bought dressing in the you know what! This is a great and easy recipe to put together mid-week when you're just truly exhausted, or an impromtu cocktail party in your home. You will look like a gourmet chef with this one!

Berry Chicken Salad

2 bags pre-washed field greens mix
1 lb of ripe strawberries
1 pint of blueberries
3 chicken breasts
2 cups of coursely chopped walnuts
4 oz of crumbled gorgonzola cheese

Simple White Wine Marinade

1 cup of white wine
3 TBL of Kikkoman soy sauce
1 lemon for juicing
1 TBL oregano
1-2 chopped garlic cloves
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 TBL of blackberry preserves
1/4 cup of fresh orange juice
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Take all the White Wine Marinade ingredients and wisk together. Place the chicken breasts in a large Zip Lock bag and pour the marinade on top. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, but no more than 1 hour.
Grill the chicken breasts over meduim-high heat. Do not place it on the hottest part of the grill as it will be cooked on the outside but raw in the inside. Check that the internal temperature is 165 degrees and set aside.

Place the blackberry jam, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper together in a mixing bowl. With one hand slowly drizzle the extra virgin oil while whisking with the other hand until all the ingredients are throuroughly combine and place aside.

Take both bags of field greens and place it in a large serving bowl. Take the strawberries and cut them in quarters and place it on top of the lettuce. Then, take the blueberries, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese and place them on top of the salad as well, making sure that all the ingredients are spread throughout. Take the chicken breasts and slice them at an angle and place them around the bowl for a decorative touch. Drizzle the entire salad witht the Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette and serve.

Then sit back and enjoy the praise!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Good Ole Corned Beef w/Cabbage & Spicy Garlic Pototaes

In keeping with the St. Patrick's theme, I made an Irish classic and traditional dish, Corned Beef & Cabbage. Actually, in Ireland, the REAL recipe calls for bacon, which resembles more the Canadian style bacon, as we Americans know it. The way I've seen this dish made traditionally is to simply boil the meat with potatoes, carrots and onions until fork tender, then adding the cabbage in the end. I like to slowly roast mine with tons of garlic! Give this recipe a whirl.

Good Ole Corned Beef & Cabbage

3 lbs corned beef (w/spice packet)
1 medium chopped red onion
3 gloves sliced garlic
2 carrots
2 bay leaves
2 stalks of celery
1 roughly chopped Savoy cabbage
2 cups chicken stock
2 TBL of unsalted butter
1 TBL olive oil
salt & pepper

Spicy Potatoes

1 lb of boiled roasting pototaes (red bliss or fingerlings)
2 TBL olive oil
2 gloves of chopped garlic
2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp chopped parsely
1/2 TBL salt

Corned Beef

In a baking pan, take the corned beef and sprinkle the spice packet it comes with in the package. If no spice packet, sprinkle a pinch of fennel seeds, mustard seeds and whole cracked pepper on the fatty side of the corned beef. With a pairing knife, poke 4-5 small slits in the beef, deep enough, but not all the way through. Take the sliced garlic and push them in the slits. This will allow for the garlic flavor to penetrate the beef while roasting in the oven. Pour 1 cup of the chicken stock (reserve the other cup for the cabbage) into the baking pan along with the 2 bay leaves, chopped celery, carrots and half of the chopped red onion. Take 2 tsp of Kosher salt and sprinkly it over the top of the corned beef. Place in the oven, uncovered, at 325 degrees for 2 hours.

Corned Beef before going into the oven


Heat a large pan to meduim/high heat with 1 TBL of olive oil and 2 TBL of unsalted butter. Saute the remaining red onions for aout 2-3 minutes and add the Savoy Cabbage. Toss the cabbage around with the onions and add the chicken stock with salt & pepper and cook until tender. Remember to keep a little of the bite of the cabbage and not to overcook it. After the corned beef is through cooking and it's fork tender, take the drippings left in the pan along with root vegetable and toss it in with the cabbage.

Spicy Garlic Potatoes

Heat a large skillet with olive oil. Once the oil is hot, saute the chopped garlic until just about it turns golden brown. At this point, add the boiled small potatoes and heat through. Immediately add all the herbs and pepper flakes and toss. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the garlic has become golden brown and the potatoes are hot. Serve.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Chicken Katsu

Katsu is short for katsuretsu or cutlet, and was invented in Japan in the 19th Century. The most popular Japanese version is the Tonkatsu, using a pork cutlet. This version uses chicken cutlet. The only way to make any Katsu is to use Panko breadcrumbs. It is made with bread without crumbs and is a lot crispier than the average breadcrumbs you find in the grocery isles. The end result is an awesomely crispy fried Katsu!


3 chicken breasts
Panko breadcrumbs
Vegetable Oil
2 large eggs
2-3 TBL of water

Slice each chicken breast in half and lightly pound thin in between plastic wrap. Be careful not to tear the chicken and pound it too thinly. Pat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Beat 2 large eggs in bowl and add water and 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper. Take a deep dish and pour breadcrumbs inside. Take each seasoned chicken breast and dip in egg mixture, taking out the excess. Then, put the chicken in the dish of breadcrumbs and make sure both sides are fully coated with breadcrumbs. Coat all the chicken pieces and set aside.

Heat a large skillet in medium/high heat with 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Keep oil handy as you may need to add more in the pan because the breadcrumbs absorb the oil. Place only 1-2 chicken breasts in the pan at a time. Cook until golden brown and the edges of the chicken become to turn opaque and flip.

Serve with Tonkatsu sauce and over fluffy Jasmine rice.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mexican Monday - Tilapia Fish Tacos w/ Black Bean Salsa

After having my third child in my late 20's, it is a hard pill to swallow looking at my gorgeous, single, and THIN friends' pictures on Facebook. Besides my thin, single friends, I also have plenty of beautiful and married friends with kids. However, popping these beautiful babies takes it's toll on a once slim figure for most women. What's even more difficult is that in most cases, kids or no kids, for a busy person with a family and work to juggle, it is extremely difficult to make yourself get on a workout routine. I am taking it one step at a time and trying to gain back my old figure and confidence, starting with eating light.

Working in the food industry for so long has given me lots of advantages in my cooking repetior. I have figured that eating healthy doesn't mean eating bland. Actually, I believe that by putting in lots of flavor in foods and using the freshest ingredients as much as possible, I am able to cut useless carbs and calories. On this path to becoming healthier in my eating habits, I unknowingly have also taken my whole family on this journey with me. Even my 8 year old son is picking up these habits! Everyday I ask him about his day in school, his classes, what he did during recess and what he ate for lunch. Twice in one week he responded with "Salad"!!! Amazing. Last night for dinner I made a household favorite, TACOS! Keeping in mind cooking and eating lighter, I decided to make fish tacos. In many restaurants, fish tacos are heavily battered and deep fried. I wanted to nix that idea and keep it simple, not to mention keep the time it takes to prepare and cook the dish to a mininal. To accompany the fish tacos, I made a black bean salsa with only a couple ingredients.

Tilapia Fish Tacos

6 Fillets of Tilipia
2 TBL extra virgin olive oil
Chili Powder
Dried Oregano
Spring Mix (Mesculin Mix/Field Greens)
12 pack of flour tortillas

Pat the Tilapia fillets dry with a paper towel. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium heat with olive oil. Season one side of the tilapia fillets with a pinch of cumen, paprika, chili powder, salt and oregano. (You can also use your favorite pre-made taco seasoning.) Place fillets, seasoned side down in the skillet for 2-3 minutes and flip. While fillets are cooking, season the other side.

Easy-Peasy Black Bean Salsa

14 oz can of black beans
1-2 diced roma tomatoes
1/3 cup of diced red onions
1/3 cup of sliced green onions
1 lemon for juicing
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumen

Wash black beans with cold water. Combine all ingredients and store in the fridge. Feel free to add a diced jalapeno for heat. I left it out since my kids were eating with us. :)

Assemble tacos and eat!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Shrimp & Asparagus in Lemon Garlic Sauce w/ Spinach & Feta Orzo

We all have hectic, fast-paced lives. Stay at home moms run around the house chasing after toddlers and grocery & cleaning lists, while working moms have to deal with co-workers and deadlines on top of that, to say the least. Working ladies are also busy artfully balancing their social, work and love lives. So, what about dinner? Yes, there's always the option of ordering take-out or going to a restaurant, but sometimes it's just not in the budget or schedule. If you have 15-25 minutes to spare, you can pull off a great gourmet meal for your friends and family for half the price.

Last night was one of those nights. My husband stayed home from work sick with a migraine and my parents were visiting from Chicago so my house was quite full and action packed. By the time my son came home from school and we had finished working on his project, it was 7pm. Usually, I would have had dinner already finished, but there was no such luck this day. In 20 minutes, with this recipe, I had dinner ready and the table set and all I heard at the dinner table was, "Hhhmmmmmmm!" and, "Yummmmmm!"

Shrimp & Asparagus in Lemon Garlic Sauce

1 lb of shell-off medium sized shrimp
1 lb of asparagus
5-6 gloves of finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup of chicken or shrimp stock
1 tsp dried oregano
4 TBL of extra virgin olive oil
pinch of red pepper flakes

Spinach Orzo

1 bunch of baby spinach
1/2 lb of Orzo pasta
3 tbl or crumbled Feta cheese
1/2 TBL of extra virgin olive oil

In a medium pot, boil and salt water. Cook the orzo pasta for 6-8 minutes or until al dente. Stir pasta frequently to avoid the small pasta from sticking together.

While the water is coming to a boil, in a large saute pan, heat the olive oil in medium to high heat. Saute the red onions and garlic until the red onions have become translucent. Add the dried oregano and red pepper flakes and saute for another 1 minute. Add chicken(or shrimp) stock and 1 lb of shrimp and cook until it has turned pink in color. Scrape the bottom of the pan to pick up all the flavor bits and pieces of red onion and garlic. If using already cooked shrimp, only heat the shrimp through being careful not to overcook the shrimp. Once the shrimp has turned bright pink in color, add the lemon juice and salt and carefully toss and serve.

Once the orzo pasta is al dente, immediately take the pasta out of the pan and place in a bowl, draining the water. While the pasta is still hot, take the cleaned baby spinach and toss the fresh, uncooked leaves in with the pasta. If baby spinach is not available, take regular spinach and cut into leaves into smaller pieces. Drizzle with olive oil, add the pinch of salt and toss in Feta cheese. Serve warm or room temperature.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chicken & Shrimp Chow Mein

Everyone loves a good Chow Mein. But sometimes, when ordering from your local Chinese restaurant, their recipe comes with MSG. Cooking chow mein may look complicated but it's actually quite easy and inexpensive. And what's great about it is you can customize the protein and vegetables to your liking and whatever is in season and the freshest. You can make salmon chow mein with asparagus and leeks, or shrimp chow mein with spring vegetables...whatever you fancy, you can do it!

Chow Mein is a Chinese term for stir-fried noodles. In my recipe, I use a typical flour noodle that has a distinct yellow color. A large pack cost me only about $3.50 at the local Asian market and I know it's also available at your local grocer. If not, substitute it with Soba noodles.

Chicken & Shrimp Chow Mein

1 large pack of "Flour Rice Stick" Noodles
3 chicken leg quarters
2 4 oz bags of "salad shrimp"
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 14 oz can of baby corn
2 large carrots
1/2 head of Savoy Cabbage
2 large onion
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
1 tsp oregano
2 TBL soy sauce
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 TBL cornstarch
salt & pepper

Poach the chicken leg quarters in a pot with water(until chicken in completely submerged), salt, pepper, oregano, 1 carrot, and 1 onion until cooked. Once chicken is cooked, drain the poaching liquid of vegetables and put it back into the pot to boil. Discard of the skin of the chicken and pull the meat off the bones and set aside to cool.

Julienne(cut into matchstick pieces) all the vegetables. In a 14 inch pan, heat 3 TBL of oil and sautee all the vegetables and cornstarch except for the cabbage until tender (not wilted). While the veggies are sauteing, take the dried noodles and boil them in the poaching liquid for about 3-4 minutes. This will give the noodles great flavor. Once the noodles have softened, take them out of the poaching liquid (DO NOT DISCARD) and set aside.

When the vegetables are done, add 2 cups of the poaching liquid until the sauce thickens a bit and add soy sauce. Add the 2 bags of shrimp, pulled chicken and noodles, and toss gently. Add the cabbabe and heat through and until the cabbage has slightly wilted. Plate and serve!