Johanna: The Improviser

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

Thoughts on Food

Posted: August 8, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 2 Comments »

Hello friends! I’m back, after a brief hiatus known here as The Month of July, or Way Too Hot to Eat, Let Alone Cook month.

The month of July in Brooklyn included the hottest day in New York City history, as well as roughly 3 weeks of temperatures over 80 degrees, with no respite. Possibly closer to the whole month. I think my brain melted somewhere around the middle of July, conveniently coinciding with the day I began training for the New York City Marathon. Since then, there have been a lot of dinners cobbled together from whatever might have come in our CSA share that week. By the way, friends, when on earth does zucchini season end????? I have pickled it. I have sauteed it. I turned it into fake pasta. I put it in a fritatta. I put it in tomato sauce and turned it into zucchini pancakes (which were delicious) and seriously it keeps on coming. I don’t understand. Help me.

Now, it’s August, and my oven worked for 3 days, which was nice, and now it doesn’t work again, which is aggrivating when one plans to make chicken enchiladas for dinner and realizes one cannot, because one cannot BAKE the enchiladas (yes, I know it’s hot out, and yes, I still planned to bake them). But, we will adapt.

As an element of marathon training, I am covering more miles than ever before every week. So far, I’m running between 18 and 22 miles per week, and it will increase from there. In 2 weeks, I will embark on a 14-mile run, which will be the longest run I have ever undertaken. And every run from there until mid-October will be longer than the one before it, and will be the furthest I have ever run. I have been told that somewhere along the way, I am going to become ravenously hungry all the time, and will begin to eat more than ever before as well. I’m kind of looking forward to that, honestly, knowing that there is truth in the statement that hunger is the best sauce.

One thing I’ve noticed in the running community, such as I am a member, is that a lot of runners view foods as a “treat”, something they can “earn” after a hard workout. I often see running folk posting tweets or blog posts that go somewhere along the line of, “x number of miles logged this week, baking a pie now because I earned it”. This has upset me pretty much every time I hear it or see it, for many reasons. Many people have disordered eating in this country, both overeating, and under-eating. Some people count and restrict every single calorie they put in their bodies, while some people just eat and eat, never once thinking about the calories they put in their bodies.

I’ve worked my whole life to fight disordered eating, and seeing food as a reward. It’s hard sometimes, because there is so much in the world that tells us that we “deserve” a treat after a long day, or that we exercise to “earn” or to “make up for” those little “indiscretions” we make with food.

Since I’m embarking on something that will presumably have me embracing the calories, I’m making a new promise, to myself and to the blogosphere as a whole :

I will make sure that I treat food as fuel, as something I need, and as something to be respected. I won’t treat food as something to be earned, or a reward.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to eat french fries every night. Because I don’t WANT to eat french fries every night. But if I want french fries? I’m gonna have ‘em. In fact, I’m having them for dinner tonight! But I’m having them with grilled chicken thighs and a salad. Because that’s what I want.

Another girl is writing writing a blog about this, and I highly recommend her. Jessica’s One Girl No Diet is a refreshing chance to look at life where food is just food – something you gotta get. Something you love. But not something you earn.

I’m sick of reading about what I should be eating/what others think they should be doing/what we think we deserve regarding food.

It’s about love. Love yourself. Treat yourself well. You’re worth it.

And so am I.

Wrap it Up

Posted: June 28, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Last week, I sent out a missive to the internets, wondering what on earth I should do with a massive head of napa cabbage I’d received from my CSA share. This week was a bit crazy, and I didn’t have a chance to actually sort out how to cook it or use it until yesterday. And what I came up with was a riff on lettuce wraps. If you’re not feeling up to eating the monster raw, take heart. I will be trying a whole bunch of other recipes soon to get this cabbage cooked before it goes bad. Kimchi anyone?
Cabbage Wraps

I used a mishmash of items from the fridge, and came up with something lovely and delicious. I would definitely recommend using the tender, inner leaves of your Napa cabbage, since the outer leaves can be somewhat tough. I would also recommend cutting out the central rib from the leaves, as this makes it easier both to roll AND to eat without spraying the filling all over your face.

Napa Cabbage Lettuce Wraps

1. Begin by breaking 1-2 handfuls of rice stick noodles in half, and putting them to soak in hot tap water.
2. Julienne 2 golfball-sized Japanese turnips, chop a few bundles of baby bok choy, and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over moderately high heat, and throw in the veggies. Season with salt, and saute until they’re starting to pick up some color.
Steps pt. 1

3. Throw in some diced cooked chicken (or shredded, or whatever) and stir around until the chicken is heated through. At that point, add the rice noodles into the pan, with some of the soaking water to make sure everything gets cooked. Add more salt if you need to at this point.
4. Make the sauce. Scoop 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (I used honey roasted, but any kind will work), and 1 teaspoon of red curry paste into a bowl. Whisk together as best you can, and then add a small drizzle of sesame oil. You just want it to thin out the sauce, and add a little depth. When the noodles are softened, add the whole mess in the skillet to the sauce and toss. The heat from the items formerly in the skillet will melt the sauce and help it coat everything. Now is the time to add an additional drizzle of sesame oil, more curry paste, or maybe some soy sauce, if you feel like it needs something.
5. Prepare the cabbage. Peel the leaves off, rinse them under cold water, dry them, and cut out the central ribs. Then, assemble your friends and loved ones, and start rolling!
Steps pt. 2

Cabbage wraps are tasty. There’s lots of green in this dish (as well as protein from the peanut butter and the chicken) and plenty of crunch. The warm filling plus the cool cabbage made a nice contrast, and tasted pretty fantastic.
The stove was on for a grand total of 15 minutes to make this dish, which feels like an instant AND a lifetime as the weather heats up and my kitchen remains windowless. But from those 15 minutes at the stove comes a lovely, crisp, cool-warm-crashing meal that you can cook for 2 or 10 with basically the same items.

And honestly, if I’d thought about it, I probably should have made it for 12 — much less cabbage left to work with that way!


Posted: June 20, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 2 Comments »

Not sure that I’ve mentioned it lately, but I am a member of the Greene Harvest CSA. It’s a wonderful organization, and I’m already so excited about what we’ve been getting and will continue to get for the rest of the summer. We’re having some trouble consuming all the veggies each week, but as my schedule becomes more of a…. schedule, and as we can plan meals around our haul every week, I’m sure this will all improve.

Yesterday, part of the pickup involved a HUGE napa cabbage. When the volunteer passed it over to me, she laughed and said that I’d won the prize. Seriously this cabbage is bigger than my head, and weighs a ton. I asked the volunteer what she would do with a napa cabbage, and she gave me suggestions such as miso soup and stir fry. I’m not a closed-minded cook, but it’s hotter than bejeebus, and I’m certainly not going to stand over a pot of soup or a blazing hot wok right now. So I’m looking for other options.

Things that I’ve found on the internet include modified lettuce wraps, several salads, a few noodle dishes that look really enticing, and various pickled twists on kimchi.

I’m not sure which of these I’ll try, but as I’ve got so darn much cabbage, I can probably play with as many of them as I want. What would you do with a big-ass head of napa cabbage?? I’m definitely thinking some chicken-rice cabbage wraps might be on the menu for this hot week, as they’ll feel nice and cool. Maybe I can even cute it up and make a curried chicken salad and use that, along with some of the Japanese turnips and scallions from last week, and roll it all up in some napa leaves. Any suggestions from any of the readers out there for what I should do with the ridiculously huge Napa Cabbage sitting in my crisper?

Shout it out, and stay tuned for this and more adventures from The Improviser Learns New Veggies!

Brunch of Love

Posted: June 13, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I love Brunch. The best thing, I think, about living in New York City is that brunch is a real meal. On Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm, you can go to a restaurant and get foods that are neither on the breakfast nor the dinner menu – and drinks that you would never order if it was dinner.
My favorite place to get brunch is Essex, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Essex serves som great brunch fare – excellent eggs benedict, a cubano that makes even this skeptic’s mouth water. Their Bloody Marys are spicy and strong, and the waitresses walk around with pitchers of mimosas, and up until recently, they didn’t keep count, so your 3 free mimosas were more like “3″ free mimosas.
Shamefully, even though I always say that I’m going to branch out and try some of their other wondrous things, I always end up getting one of 2 things; I love the Southern – biscuits and sausage gravy with fried eggs – and I love love the Mexican Matzo Brei – basically migas, with black beans and chunky guacamole.
I’ve tried a couple of their other offerings, but sadly I was disappointed – I always come back to the two faves, and my absolute favorite is the Mexican Matzo Brei. I generally don’t try to replicate restaurant favorites at home, instead leaving them to the experts. I believe that if you can do something perfectly, I should pay you for that.

However, a few weeks ago I was motivated to attempt to make Mexican Matzo Brei in my own kitchen. I blame the Pioneer Woman, mostly. She had a recipe in her cookbook for Migas, which I decided I would hack, because I didn’t have the patience to fry my own tortillas, and I don’t do cilantro. As I was reading it over, I realized with a start that here was the thing I’d been hoping for all my life! A recipe for Essex’s Mexican Matzo Brei!! I ran to assemble the ingredients, and started cooking.

adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks and Essex restaurant

1. Assemble your cast of characters: 1 bag of tortilla chips, 6 eggs, Shredded “taco” cheese, 1 red bell pepper, 1 jalapeno pepper, 1 fryer pepper(aka cubanelle), 1 tomato, 1 red onion.

2. Dice 1/2 the red onion, 1 red bell pepper, and 1/2 the fryer pepper very finely and evenly. Heat up 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, and add the red onion and peppers. Cook until they are brown, but NOT sweated- we want crunch, not mush.

3. Beat the eggs with  1/4-1/2 cup of milk, salt, and pepper. Crush 2-3 big handfuls of tortilla chips until they’re roughly 1/2 inch squares, not to powder.

4. Chop up 1 tomato and 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed (unless you want the heat) and add the tortilla chips and jalapenos to the skillet. Stir, cook for about 30 seconds, and add the tomatoes.

5. Add the eggs, folding gently to cook the eggs without smashing things up or turning them to mush. When they’re mostly set to your liking (I like mine pretty soft), sprinkle with shredded cheese and try not to drool.

I also served these with some Tasty Black Beans, which I’m premiering later this week on this blog, and some chunky guacamole. While it’s no replacement for Essex, and I’d rather go drink mimosas and not have to wash the dishes after, (not to mention eating a pre-brunch cupcake if the line is long at Essex), I really enjoy knowing that I can have Mexican Matzo-Brei anytime my little heart desires!

Try this, and tell me about YOUR favorite brunch dishes! Maybe we can have an at-home brunch revolution!


Posted: May 25, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | No Comments »

You might know that something pretty big happened in the TV world Sunday night.

And if you don’t know, here’s the scoop — LOST, the biggest TV phenomenon since Dallas (apparently) aired its final episode Sunday night. I won’t give any spoilers, because frankly I’ve never watched a full episode of the show, so I only kind of know what the hell was going on. But I cried a lot, and apparently most of the people that watched it enjoyed it.

We were a bit low on supplies when we got home from various places on Sunday, and needed a dinner solution. We had potatoes, butter, eggs, flour, bacon, peppers, and onions. One of my favorite foods happens to be mashed potatoes, but of course you can’t eat just mashed potatoes…. even LOADED mashed potatoes….. for dinner. Even on Sunday night. It’s just not right.

However, I had recently heard of something called Rosti: basically they’re the swedish version of hash-browns. Laurie Colwin calls them an excuse to eat a quarter pound of butter, which is totally fine with me. I call them an epic win. In the Colwin method, you boil a potato for 7-8 minutes, peel it, and shred it in your box grater. Then, you put the potato shreds into a pan with a stick of melted butter, pat it out like a hash brown, and fry till crispy. Tyler Florence has a recipe that involves bacon and mushrooms, as well as gruyere, which was like music to my improvising ears.
I boiled 3 potatoes for 20 minutes, per Chef Tyler’s recipe. While they were cooling, I crisped 4 slices of chopped bacon, a diced cubanelle pepper, and a diced red onion.
Once the potatoes were cool, I peeled them, and shredded them wtih my grater, and added a pinch of salt, and the bacon/pepper/onion mix. I stirred these together, and heated a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan over high heat (Tyler suggests olive oil, which breaks down and starts to smoke over high heat, releasing all sorts of nasty things into the air and into your food. Go with a high smoke point oil like vegetable, sunflower, or something like this).

I patted the first few rosti together, and tried to fry them crispy, but they fell to pieces pretty quickly.

Eventually, I made the executive decision to go off-script just a little further, and turn this into more of a latke batter. I added an egg, and a few tablespoons of flour, until the batter resembled gummy mashed potatoes (which I realize sounds absolutely disgusting. trust me). This made the later pancakes hold together much better, and cook much more evenly.

Admittedly, you can see that I still had some trouble with the oil temperature, since parts of them are much darker brown, and parts of them aren’t crisped. But in general, these held together nicely, and they tasted delicious.

On the island, I’m sure they had to make do with what they have, since everybody who tried to get off died, or some shit like that. And in my kitchen, on a Sunday night with little food, sometimes you have to make do, and you have to throw together what’s there. And when it involves potatoes, peppers, onions and bacon, I’m probably going to eat it. And even better, I didn’t have to eat it alone. :)

Living up to my name

Posted: May 17, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 1 Comment »

On Saturday, after a successful 10-mile run in the morning, and a gorgeous afternoon walking around Brooklyn, I was feeling mixed about dinner; I thought I knew what I wanted to make, but things that I was thinking about weren’t exactly congruent. I wanted mussels, steamed in a green curry-coconut broth. Unfortunately, our grocery store’s fish counter doesn’t run to mussels, but I already had seafood on the brain. I ended up buying shrimp instead, along with a strange amalgam of other ingredients – lemons, green beans, a yellow pepper (which ended up disappearing between checkout and home), and of course…. these:
Living in a neighborhood amassed mostly of people from island nations, our grocery store also doesn’t run to Thai or Indian curry pastes, although it does run to several brands of coconut milk. In the end, I came home completely confused – my ingredients seemed to conflict between two worlds. On the one hand, I had lemons, green beans, and a pepper (or so I thought) to make something light, springy, and clean. On the other hand I had coconut milk and hot sauce, and a yen for something curried. And of course, I had the shrimp. So, I lived up to my name, and improvised. I’ve never had shrimp in a way other than scampi, and certainly never in a curry application, but I figured that as long as everything else tasted good, the shrimp would be a happy accent. And hoooo boy, was I right!

Sorta-Curried Shrimp with Coconut Rice

1. Make the coconut rice: Combine 1 cup of water and 1 1/4 cup of coconut milk in a saucepan, along with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, and add 1 cup of rice, 1 teaspoon of butter, and another pinch of salt. Stir, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes.
2. Mince 1 small onion, and saute in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 2 minced cloves of garlic, and 1 chopped red pepper. Season with salt, and cook until the peppers are starting to soften. When the peppers are softening, add 1 chopped tomato, and 2 handfuls chopped green beans. Season again with salt and cook covered on medium-low for 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes start letting out their juices. Add 1/2 cup water, and simmer uncovered while you’re making the next moves.
3. When the water has simmered out, add 1/4 cup mustard-based, Barbadian-style hot sauce (or the curry paste of your choice) and toss until everything is coated. Add 1 pound of peeled, deveined, de-tailed medium shrimp, and saute until they are just starting to turn pink. Add the rest of the can of coconut milk, and simmer until the shrimp are done and the  flavors have combined nicely.

Sometimes, it’s incredibly scary to improvise – especially with a delicate ingredient like shrimp. But it’s also really empowering to go with your gut and get a delicious result. I’m very proud of this dish, because it was delicious, and because it was something I’d never even heard about before, let alone made. Having no frame of reference was very freeing, and the bonus is, you all now have a recipe to try and replicate, tweak to your own tastes, and fall in love with all on your own!


Posted: May 12, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

On the night before my 26th birthday, I remarked to Jesse that I had a favorite word.
I’ve decided that I love the joy, the silliness, the lightness and sense of play that come pouring out of the word. As I begin my 27th year, I’ve decided to be more joyful, playful, and whimsical in my daily life.

Another of my favorite words, by the way, is what you see above: Clafoutis. Say it with me now. Clafoutis. Cluh-FOO-tee.
Clafoutis is a tart, comprised of fruit and a baked custardy type stuff. There is no crust. I baked this one in a springform pan, and I’ll be honest, I don’t even remember exactly what recipe I used. I didn’t write anything down, so I’m not 100% sure the amounts of seasonings I added in, and in general this was truly thrown together. I made it for breakfast on my 26th birthday, with blackberries that were on sale at the grocery store the night before. I shudder to think where they might have originated, but they were tasty and made for a lovely baked breakfast.
Blackberry Clafoutis

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter your vessel. I used an 8 1/2 inch springform pan, but you can also use a 9-inch deep dish pie plate, a 10-inch pie plate, a cake tin, or anything else that makes you happy.
2. Scatter 8 ounces of blackberries (or blueberries, cherries, raspberries, plums, strawberry pieces, whatever) over the bottom of your vessel.
3. Combine 4 eggs, 1 cup of milk, and 1 cup of sugar in a bowl. I used half a cup each of brown and white sugar, but you can use either/or. Beat until everything is well combined.
4. Add 3/4 cup of flour and a pinch of salt. At this point, you can add any seasonings you want – I used orange zest, cardamom, and cinnamon.
5. Pour the custard over the berries in the bottom of your vessel, redistribute the berries, and bake for 40-45 minutes. You want the top to be springy  and not liquidy when you touch it. It will puff and then slump when you let it cool. Mine took closer to an hour because it was in such a small pan, so start checking at or around 40 minutes, and you should be good.

This dish is very forgiving, and as long as you stick to the proportions of the custard, everything else is fair game. Plus, you can be free with it, and make it with things that you probably have at home anyways. You can get creative, and fancy, using different fruits, more fruits, a variety of fruits….everything about clafoutis is customizable.

Plus, it just makes me giggle to say. Clafoutis.



Posted: May 6, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Hello, friends. Have you missed me? Do you see how I tried to appease you by leading off with a picture of the lovely granola I made? Did it work?
Ok, I admit, you all have the right to print t-shirts, signs, and/or cocktail napkins that read “Joh disappears for two weeks, and all I get is this lousy granola!!” but before you do, you might want to know a few things.

#1 – I DID disappear for 2 weeks. I am ashamed. Except that a week out of the middle there was spent packing for, going to, being in, or getting home from Pittsburgh, PA, where I went with a few friends to do something….kind of amazing. You see, on May 2, I ran my first half-marathon. I’ve been training for it since January, and we spent Thursday night through Monday morning in Pittsburgh for the event. I battled a knee injury and pouring rain throughout the race, but still finished, and while I’m not thrilled with my time, I’m proud of it. I finished, and I did something 4 days ago that I couldn’t do 6 months ago. Something that I wasn’t confident 6 weeks ago that I could truly do. I did it. And I can’t wait until the Brooklyn Half Marathon, when I’ll get a chance to redeem myself, I hope.
#2 – This granola? It’s kind of a big deal. It’s not your average “lousy” granola. So even if you ARE upset at me for dropping off the face of the blogosphere to go running, maybe when you make your picket signs, say “Joh disappears for two weeks and all I get is this fantastic granola” or something like that. Ok?

Joh’s Badass Granola
adapted from several sources, and smushed into one.
1. Preheat the oven to 375, and line a cookie sheet with foil.
2. Combine 3 cups of rolled oats, 1 cup of sweetened shredded coconut, 1 bag (1 1/3 cup) of slivered almonds, 1 cup of chopped walnuts, 2 tablespoons of toasted wheat germ, and toss.

3. Season with a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/3 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of honey, and 1/3 cup of olive oil. Toss to combine everything, making sure that all the pieces have been coated a little bit with the olive oil, and spread it all out in a single layer on the foil-lined cookie sheet. Bake the granola for 15 minutes at 375, then stir, and keep an eye on it. You want the granola to be golden brown and toasty smelling, but baking times in the recipes I read varied WILDLY!! Mine ended up taking 20 minutes, total. I baked it for the 15 minutes, stirred, spread it back out, and checked it in 5 minutes, and it looked like this:

So I would say, after 15 minutes, check and stir your granola every 5 minutes. When it looks golden and toasty, and smells nutty and heavenly, pull it out and let it cool for 15 minutes.
4. Chop up 2 to 2 1/2 cups of dried fruit, anything that floats your boat. I used dried apricots and dried cranberries, but anything you want to throw in there would be delish, I’m sure. Stir the fruit into the cooling granola, and make sure everything is all combined and friendly. When it cools completely, put the granola in an airtight container, and stick it in the freezer.

I know, I know…. the freezer?! Yes. I’m not telling you to stash this granola and hide it in the freezer so you don’t eat it all, because honestly it’s super good-for-you. But here’s the thing. The baking and the olive oil and honey and brown sugar means that you’re going to get happy little clumps of oats all stuck together, and fantastic crunch and taste. And if you let the dried fruit sit and get too comfortable with the oats and nuts, the granola will get soggy, and lose its crunch. And that’s just a sad day. So stick it in the freezer until you’re ready to mix some with milk or your morning yogurt.
Also, just as an aside, granola is 100% customizable. You can put in sunflower seeds, or chia seeds or pepitas if you want. You can play with the proportions of nuts, and the type, for sure. You can pick your favorite dried fruits and any spices you want to use. Play around with it, and figure out what you like best when making this granola. I promise, it’s worth it. I’ll probably be making this again, and changing it up, several times, in the search for my own perfect granola.

Viva la Revolution!

Posted: April 21, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

You may have seen this kid’s face before. But now, he looks a little bit older, a little bit more grown-up. In case you’ve not put it together yet, this is Jamie Oliver, formerly the Naked Chef. He is now spearheading the first truly aggressive attempt to get America to eat better via his weekly TV show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. He’s taking on one of the most statistically unhealthy towns in the country, and trying to teach its residents to eat better from the school lunches on up. In the first episode, some of these kids cannot identify a tomato. Clips show them spitting out salads and throwing away beautiful and totally amazing vegetables, prepared by JAMIE FREAKING OLIVER. Dude is a CHEF, and these kids are just tossing it away.

Anyways, part of the effort is getting everybody in America to eat smarter, healthier, less processed, more real food. It actually goes right along with his whole Naked Chef persona, which was all about taking wonderful ingredients and preparing them simply and deliciously. Along with signing his petition after seeing 5 minutes of the first episode (you should sign too.), I decided to try and work some Jamie-ness into my daily diet. This lead me to a recipe I’d seen before in the pages of The Naked Chef, but never paused to actually consider and cook. Yes, I fully admit that I am a fool.

Tray-Baked Salmon with Green Beans, Tomatoes, Olives and Anchovies

I’m going to list the ingredients here, even though honestly, the only ingredients NOT in the name of the recipe  are lemons, olive oil, salt and pepper.

  • 1 8-ish ounce salmon fillet per person you’re serving
  • a pint of cherry tomatoes
  • roughly half a pound of green beans
  • a few handfuls of pitted olives (we used a Mediterranean olive mix from FreshDirect – pick what looks good)
  • a lemon
  • anchovy fillets (please do not skip these. they get all nutty and savory, and really truly round out the whole dish)
  • olive oil, salt and pepper

Heat your oven to roughly 450. Jamie says in the book to heat your oven and roasting tray on the highest heat, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to test my oven, which sets off my smoke alarm when I’m making cookies at 325, at whatever the “highest heat” is. So I picked 450. If you know and trust your oven, please feel free to go at a higher temperature, but don’t blame me if the smoke alarm goes off. I warned you.
If it’s your thing, blanch your green beans this way: Drop into a shallow skillet of boiling salted water for 2 minutes, then fish out and dump into an ice bath to shock them, keeping them bright green and making sure they stop cooking. I didn’t blanch mine, because I like a green bean that fights back, and since I was going to be roasting these anyways, I didn’t see the point in cooking them twice. Go with your gut on this one.

Combine your green beans, the cherry tomatoes (Jamie says about 20 cherry tomatoes. Count them if you have that much time on your hands, I won’t judge you. I just poured until it looked like enough), and a few handfuls of pitted black olives (DO NOT use the ones out of the can for this. Go to the olive bar at Whole Foods or do not make this recipe. You’ve been warned). Drizzle with a little olive oil, because you’re going to be roasting these HOT, give them a little salt and pepper, remembering that olives are salty, as are anchovies, and maybe a small drizzle of lemon. Toss.
Pat the salmon fillets really dry, and season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. You only want to use the juice of half a lemon for the combo of the veggies AND the fish, so be delicate. Put the fish on a roasting pan or cookie sheet and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil, just so it doesn’t burn. Less than a teaspoon, seriously, because you’re just trying to ensure the surface doesn’t burn. I also added a lemon slice to the top of each piece, which I always do with salmon.
Put the veggies at the opposite end of the roasting pan or cookie sheet from the salmon, and scatter 5-6 anchovy fillets over the green beans. Don’t wimp out on the anchovies – they melt away and fall apart and bring a beautiful savory nuttiness to the other intense flavors of salt, sweet, acid, and richness.

Roast everything for 10 minutes. This will yield a medium-rare salmon fillet, tomatoes that are all puffed up and ready to explode, and wonderful things happening with the other ingredients. If you don’t like your fish medium-rare, you could of course let it go a little longer, but please no more than 12 or 13 minutes…. you want everything to taste VERY MUCH of itself, which means it cannot be overcooked.
The thing that amazed me most about this dish was probably its beautiful simplicity. It took 10 minutes to put together, and 10 minutes to cook. Nothing was seasoned with anything other than salt, pepper and lemon. And somehow, the salmon comes together all rich and buttery, and the tomatoes are acidic and juicy. The olives add their tang and briny saltiness, and the green beans are just sweet sweet sweet. And keeping everything together, seriously, is the anchovy. Because they’re tiny, the fillets just dissolve when you cook them, and you’re left with these tiny little chunks of nutty, savory something that somehow end up on your fork – it mellows out the tomato, makes the olives a little less overwhelming, and enhances the green beans in every way. And seriously – 6 ingredients along with olive oil, salt, and pepper. 6!!!!

As a kid, I don’t remember ever not liking vegetables. But there are so many kids today who are such picky eaters, because they’ve never been exposed to the delicious simplicity that is a well-cooked vegetable. They’ve never had food that tastes wholly and purely like its unprocessed self. And that makes me so sad. As a country, we absolutely need to work toward remembering what it’s like to eat the first piece of a tomato from our own garden, or our friend the farmer’s garden if we live where gardens aren’t possible. We need to remember as a nation that hamburgers come from COWS, not from McDonalds, and that cows live on farms, not in pens at processing plants. Fish come from the ocean, not a fish farm in the North Atlantic, and chickens eat worms, and dirt, and whatever the crap else is on the ground, not just corn. Have you ever seen a chicken climb a cornstalk?! No.

In general, this meal was a real wakeup call to me. I urge you to make it, as soon as you can find good green beans in your area, and as you’re eating it, remember that you don’t need 67 ingredients to make a delicious meal. And, bonus, there’s only 1 pan and 1 bowl to wash at the end! Who can beat that? Seriously.
Thanks, Jamie. Viva la Revolution indeed.

The Final Falafel

Posted: April 19, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna, Uncategorized | Tags: | 3 Comments »

I’ve been writing about falafel basically since I started writing this blog. It’s definitely one of my favorite foods, and also kind of my nemesis. I’ve never found a reliable recipe. A couple times they’ve worked just when I’ve been winging it. Sometimes, they don’t work at all. One time, they were really pretty. But in general, falafel and I don’t get along as well in my kitchen as we do in restaurants.
And then, there was Guy Fieri.

Love him or hate him, Food Network’s resident HFK (happy fat kid – and proud!) finds the best diner grub, greasy food, and dive bar wonders in the world. So when he did an episode of his show Guy’s Big Bite, featuring a falafel recipe from his travels, I was hooked in. I decided to try this recipe, and WOW am I glad I did. These falafels are deep-fried, which isn’t super healthy, but considering how infrequently I make them, you can almost get away with it. PLUS, it’s chickpeas. Chickpeas, and peppers and a salad of tomato, cucumber and parsley, and a yogurt sauce with lots of parsley and lemon juice. And it’s good. Very good.

Guy Fieri’s Falafel with Yogurt Sauce and Salad

I made the falafels pretty much exactly the way Guy describes, except that I added a seeded jalapeno when I sweated the vegetables out in the saute pan, and I omitted the cilantro, because I think it tastes like soapy dirt. If you like it, by all means, use the cilantro.

I also made a quick salad, from cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil, that I put into the pitas with the falafels. I topped everything with a yogurt sauce, made with Greek yogurt, the juice of the other half of the lemon, more parsley, salt and a lot of pepper.

These falafels are really good. They’re warm, but not super spicy. They fry up beautifully, and stay together when most others fall apart. They’re crispy, and I promise they’re easy to make. The hardest part is making the crenelle shape, but even that is pretty simple, and if you have a tiny ice cream scoop, you can do that too. Even easier, you can just use a soupspoon or tablespoon to drop the falafels into the oil. The important part is just that you make these. As soon as possible. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.

We’ll discuss Guy’s haircut and sunglasses in another entry. Because sometimes, we all have to ignore things in favor of delicious falafels. :)

Johanna: The Improviser

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

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.