About Johanna

My photo
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

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fresh Tomato and Arugula Angel Hair Pasta w/ Roasted Lemon Pepper Chicken Leg Quarters

I love dishes that look elegant, taste great, yet doesn't involve me spending the whole entire day in the kitchen. An even better plus is that this dish is cost effective using very few and basic ingredients. What many people don't realize is that an elegant and delicious meal does not have to involve crazy, hard to find ingredients and super chef cooking techniques. It's usually the simplest and freshest ingredients, cooked a very basic way that yields amazing meals. What sets it apart is cooking with great, fresh food.

In this simple, Italian inspired pasta dish, I tossed in arugula, a mildly peppery green used inian elegant main dish, any night of the week.

The chicken leg quarters are simply spiced with lemon pepper, a premade spice mix found in any common grocery store in America. Just be careful about the amount of salt added in the mix, as you don't want to over salt the chicken. In keeping with the olive oil theme, I drizzled it with olive oil and squeezed lemon juice to brighten up the flavors even more. Stick it in the oven for 45 minutes and whala! Lemon pepper chicken!

Fresh Tomato and Arugula Angel Hair Pasta

1 LB of angel hair pasta
3 large diced roma tomatoes
2 sliced garlic gloves
1/2 medium sized onion or 2 shallots diced
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 LB of fresh arugula
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese

Roasted Lemon Pepper Chicken Leg Quarters

5 chicken leg quarters
5 TBL of lemon pepper mix - 1 TBL for each leg quarter
Olive Oil
Juice of one lemon

Cook the pasta until al dente in salted boiling water. Heat a large sauce pan in medium-high heat with olive oil. Cook the chopped onions (or shallots) and garlic until they become tender. Add the diced roma tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes have started to break down, but has still retained most of their shape. Add the cooked pasta including some of the pasta water (no more than 1/4 cup) to help incorporate all the ingredients. Toss the pasta and turn the heat off. Take the pasta out of the saucepan into a serving dish. Toss the fresh arugula in with the hot pasta and top with 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Rub each leg quarter with 1 TBL of lemon pepper seasoning mix and 1 tsp of kosher salt. Dress in olive oil and lemon juice. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, and until the internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees. Serve alongside pasta.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Simple Sides: Red Skin Buttery Mashed Potatoes and Lemony Asparagus

I admit, there are times when cooking an entire meal is just IMPOSSIBLE!! These nights are lovingly called "rottiserrie nights". I go to my local organic grocery store and pick up a juicy, perfectly cooked rottiserrie chicken. Since I've knocked the main course off my list, all I have to do is make side dishes to compliment my grocery store purchase.  :) These side dishes are classic, quick and can go with almost any main dish it's paired up with.

Red Skin Buttery Mashed Potatoes

5-6 red skinned potatoes - cut into cubes
2 TBL of kosher salt
1 stick of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of heavy cream or whole milk

Lemony Asparagus

1 lb of pencil thin asparagus -  cut off the ends
3 TBL of freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 TBL extra virgin olive oil

Fill a large pot with water and place the cubed red skinned potatoes in and boil w/ the salt. It is important that you place the potatoes in the water while it's still cold and then bring it up to a boil, so that it cooks through evenly.  Cook the potatoes until fork tender.

When the potatoes are almost fully cooked, place the asparagus in the same boiling water and cook for 2-4 minutes, just until it become bright green and slightly tender, yet still retains a crisp bite. Take the asparagus out the boiling water onto a serving platter. Drizzle with extra virgin olive, a pinch of salt and pepper and lemon juice, and toss.

Drain the water from the potatoes and with the heat on low, pour the heavy cream in the potatoes with the stick of butter and mash. You can thougoughly mash it, or keep it homestyle with chunks still left (the way I like). Add some salt and pepper to taste, garnish with chives and MORE BUTTER, if you wish :).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spinach & Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken Breasts w/ Marinara Sauce

Chicken is awesome. There are millions of ways to make chicken. So much so, that sometimes, you just have no clue what to do with yet another chicken dinner! Here's a great recipe using chicken breasts, pounded thinly and rolled up with spinach and ooey gooey mozzarella cheese. As for the sauce, I used my favorite jarred marinara to save me some time. You can choose to make it from scratch, of course, but for the sake of saving me some time on this particular evening, I used a little help. This recipe is elegant and can be served with pasta, vegetables, or rice.

Spinach & Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken Breasts

3 chicken breasts, pounded thin
1 lb of flat leaf spinach
6 slices of mozzarella cheese
2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
1/2 of a medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 jar of marinara sauce
6 TBL of olive oil (3 and 3)
1 TBL of water

Heat a large saute pan in meduim heat with olive oil. Saute the finely chopped onions and garlic just until the onions become translucent. Add the washes and drained, chopped spinach, red pepper flakes and salt. Saute for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool.

Heat the oven to 420 degrees. In a bowl, beat the egg with 1 TBL of water and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Take the Italian breadcrumbs and place it in a plate. Take a pounded chicken breast and carefully take 2 slices of mozzarella cheese and place it on the chicken breast, covering as much of the surface as you can. Then, take about 2-3 TBL of the spinach mixture and spread it all over the breast.  Carefully, roll up the chicken as tight as you can and tie each end with twine, securing that it will not open. Repeat on all of the chicken breasts.

Once all the chicken breasts have been stuffed and tied, dip each of them in the egg mixture and coat with Italian breadcrumbs. Heat a non-stick fry pan with 3 TBL of olive oil in high heat and brown the chicken. It is not important that it cooks all the way, as it will finish cooking in the oven. Once all the chicken breasts have been browned, place them on a baking sheet and place in the 420 degree oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check that the internal temperature is at least 165 degrees and let rest before slicing into rounds and serving. Heat the marinara and serve on top as a sauce.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Crispy Tilapia Fillets w/ Steamed Asian Vegetables

I love cooking with Tilapia. It is a white fish that lends itself to whatever flavors you choose. It can be cooked medittereanean style in olive oil, capers and cherry tomatoes. It can also be done cajun style, blackened with creole seasonings or simply dusted with flour and fried crispy, like in this easy recipe. There are so many ways to cook this fish. Also, a great plus is that it is fairly inexpesive and a great must have for quick and easy meals.

For the steamed Asian vegetables, I simply used frozen, pre-mixed stir-fry veggies you can find in any grocery store. I always have frozen vegetables handy for days when I need to get meals done super-duper fast and I have no time to cut and chop and dice. What's great about frozen vegetables is that the veggies are flash frozen at the peak of it's freshness so the quality is quite good, even in generic brands. Also, you can steam the vegetables right in the bag and not have to use another pot. PLUS!!

Crispy Tilapia

6 Tilapia fillets
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 TBL of kosher salt
2 tsp of ground black pepper
1 TBL of dried oregano
4 TBL of vegetable oil

Steamed Vegetables

1 lb bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables
2 tsp of sesame oil
2 TBL of soy sauce

Heat a non-stick saute pan with the vegetable oil in high heat. In a large plate, mix together the flour, salt, pepper and oregano until all the ingredients have been fully mixed together. Take each fillet, pat dry, and lightly coat in the flour mixture. Place 2 fillets at a time in the saute pan and cook until golden brown. Do this until all the fillets are done.

Take a microvable bowl and place the bag of frozen vegetables in the bowl, poking 3-6 holes in the bag. Steam in the microwave for 5 minutes. Carefully take the bowl out and cut the top of the bag, slowly as the steam will escape. Place vegetables in a serving bowl and toss with sesame oil and soy sauce. Serve alongside the crispy Tilapia fillets.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Masala Meatballs w/ Couscous & Green Peas

Reality check: It's midweek, you're rushing home from work thinking about the pile of laundry waiting to be washed, your living room looks like a daycare center, your child has a big project due and yes, you still have to cook dinner!!! As much as I possibly can, I make all the ingredients in my dishes from scratch. However, I am NOT ASHAMED to get help from premade items to help me get through meals for the week. Actually, it's been quite helpful to get some premade items from the grocery store, to help me create a better menu for my family's meals. In this Indian inspired dish, I used Italian frozen meatballs. Why Italian style meatballs for an Indian dish, you say? Because it has lots of herbs already in it, and Indian dishes is always flavored with tons of spices and herbs. And frankly, it helps but lot of flavor into this dish and makes it taste like I've been making dinner for hours. As for the spices, I went into my local international grocery (every city and town has one), and went into the Indian isle to find a pre-blended spice mix. This was a masala curry mix. This is very helpful as it is a perfect blend of so many spices like coriander, curry, garam masala, paprika, chili powder and so many others that one may not readily have available.

Masala Meatballs

1 lb. of frozen Italian meatballs
1 bell pepper (any color) - cut into strips
1 medium zucchini - cut into circles
1 medium Spanish onion - cut into strips
2 roma tomatoes - diced
2 chopped gloves of garlic
2 cups of water or chicken stock
2 TBL of masala spice mix
2-3 TBL of vegetable oil

Couscous & Green Peas

2 cups of couscous
3 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of frozen peas

In a large saute pan, heat the oil in medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs. Add the garlic, onions and tomatoes until onion turn translucent. Add the bell peppers and zucchini. Add the spice mix and gently coat all the meatballs and vegetables.. Add the chicken stock and simmer for about 5-8 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Boil the chicken stock in a meduim pot. Add the couscous and peas, a pinch of salt and cover. Turn the heat off. After 5 minutes, check to see that all the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork.

Serve the meatballs on a bed of couscous.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Orange Glazed Salmon Steaks w/ Wilted Spinach & Scallion Pilaf

Salmon is a fish that is so versatile. Also, it has loads of vitamins that are good for you. But like chicken, people get bored easily with salmon and are always looking for new ways to spice it up. In this recipe, I       created a complete meal using fairly inexpensive ingredients, besides the organic salmon that was a splurge at $13 a pound. But the quality of the fish is amazing, totally melts in your mouth, eco-friendly, and better for you. Although it seems like a difficult meal to pull of, it really isn't. Give it a try and tell me what you think!

Orange Glazed Salmon

4 organic salmon steaks
1 - 12 oz jar of orange marmalade
1/4 cup of white wine
red pepper flakes

Wilted Spinach

2 bunches of flat leaf spinach
2 garlic gloves
2 TBL of extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

Scallion Pilaf

1 box of rice pilaf (like Uncle Bens)
2 bunches of scallions - diced

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a saucepan to meduim heat and heat the whole jar of orange marmalade with the white wine, 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of red pepper flakes. Cook for about 3-5 minutes and turn off the heat. In a baking pan, place all the salmon steaks side by side and sprinkle both sides of each fish with 1 tsp of salt. Take the orange glaze mixture and pour it over the salmon steaks, making sure that each fish get a good portion of the orange rinds and sauce. Place in the oven for 20 minutes.

Wash the spinach leaves of any dirt and drain. If you have a salad spinner, use it to completely dry the leaves. In a large saute pan, heat the extra virgin olive oil in medium-high heat and cook the garlic until it is almost golden brown. Immediately place all the spinach in the pan, tossing it in the olive oil and garlic with tongs. Wilt the spinach. Remember not to overcook it. You are sauteeing the spinach just until it is wilted but still has its beautiful vibrant green color.

Follow the ingredients on the box in making the rice pilaf. However, only use HALF of the seasoning package that it comes with as it is usually extremely salty. Once the rice is cooked, add the chopped scallions and toss through the rice.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

White Pizza on Cheesy Focaccia

Everyone loves pizza. It's an American favorite, and an Italian classic. For a Tuesday night dinner, I decided to get focaccia bread from a local bakery chain. Most people wouldn't know what to do with focaccia besides make it into sandwiches. I thought that it's size in diameter would make it perfect for personal sized pizzas for the family. The White Pizza gets it's name from the lack of using tomato sauce as it's base. There are hundreds of variations of the white pizza. Some use clams and spinach, bacon and spinach, but almost ALWAYS has spinach. This recipe uses bacon, of course! :)

White Pizza

2 rounds of cheese focaccia
8 TBL of extra virgin olive oil
14 oz of ricotta cheese
8 oz of mozzarella cheese
1 lb of bacon, diced and cooked until crispy
1 package of frozed chopped spinach
2 chopped garlic gloves
1/4 cup of diced onions
salt & pepper

Place the frozen on package of spinach in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, or until the spinach is fully thawed. Drain the spinach in 2-3 sheets of paper towels and squeeze out all the excess water. Heat a large skillet under medium high heat with 2 TBL of extra virgin olive oil. Saute the chopped garlic and onions for 2-3 minutes and add the spinach. Add a pinch of salt and pepper (or red pepper flakes for a little more heat).  Saute for about 3 minutes and turn off the heat.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Take a serrated knife and carefully cut each focaccia round into equal halves. Place on a baking sheet. Take 2 TBL of olive oil and brush it all over the focaccia. Top with about 1/2 a cup of mozzarella cheese, taking it all the way to the edge. Take about 2-3 TBL of the sauteed spinach and spread it over the mozzarella cheese. Top with crispy bacon. Take a spoon and scoop out ricotta cheese from the package and gently dollop half a tablespoon to a tablespoon all over the pizza. Use as little or as much as you'd like. Repeat on the rest of the focaccia rounds and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the mozzarella has melted.

This recipe is also great on a store bought thin crust pizza, like picture below!