Hello friends.
Before we go any further, there is some news that I must give you. It is good news. It is exciting news.
Teh Noms du Jour is moving!!!!!!
About 8 months ago, while talking with my friend Leah, the idea of an All-Girl culinary gang came up. A group of girl food bloggers who were friends, who were talented, who thought each other were hilarious, and who had a serious love for talking about food, writing about food, and making food (AND baking!) A group of badass girls who knew what they're on about, but weren't afraid to laugh at themselves if things flopped, and ask questions so next time the flop maybe didn't happen.
And inspired with a great name, Pretty Girls Use Knives was born!!!
Please check out all the girls, because they are all wonderful and talented, and please come back often, because so many things are going to go on there, and we would love your support!! BUT, so that you can direct-link to my blog or add it to your Google Reader or whatever you do... here is the link to my personal PrettyGirl Blog: www.prettygirlsuseknives.com/johanna
Never fear, dear friends.... any entries you may want to review or reflect upon will still be find-able, since I have imported ALL the Teh Noms du Jour recipes into the new blog.

Now that all the joy and celebration and the big reveal have happened, I can get into something that I need to get off my chest.
I am a fairly competent baker. And I can make one hell of a biscuit. IN fact, I never even blogged about the Proustian flashback I nearly gave Jesse's Oklahoman soul with my most recent batch of biscuits and gravy. Suffice it to say, I am a biscuit maker.
So when I tackled strawberry shortcake a la Deb from SmittenLand, I was feeling pretty confident. After all, hers are beautiful. They're little fluffy biscuits, and they look heavenly.
So I made my best personal attempt. I boiled my eggs and got such beautiful yellow yolks. I didn't cut the butter up until RIGHT when I meant to throw it in.

And yet.....
I was foiled. Foiled by the instructions to process until the flour looked like coarse meal. Foiled by trying to make biscuits with a machine. Foiled by a hot night and not cold enough butter.
Foiled. Look at them - they're....they're...... flat. Pale. They spread. They didn't get tall. They didn't get brown. They didn't really....do.... anything. They weren't dense. They weren't light. They tasted ok, but they did NOT look ok at first glance.
I mean.... once you pile macerated strawberries that you bought at the farmer's market that morning, you can't really see the ugly shortcakes...which leads me to the only corollary I've ever developed:

With enough whipped cream on top, all dessert sins can be forgiven or ignored.
Seeya at PrettyGirls. :)


By Request.

I love a reader request.
Because at heart, in the very core of my nature, I'm a people-pleaser. You have a request? Of course I'll make my every effort to fulfill it! German Chocolate birthday cake? Sure! Seared tuna? Sure! Fried chicken or pumpkin risotto or fried cheese sticks? I'll do my darnedest.
This also extends to blogging. Because sometimes, I forget that there are people on other glowing screens wondering what I'll say next. And I'm very sorry for that.
So, when the talented and entertaining Blue Jean Gourmet requests, nay, demands that I blog about my chimichurri and my blackberry tart, well...... how can I say no?

On Memorial Day, after a lovely afternoon spent lying in the sun reading at Prospect Park, Jesse and I realized we had nothing for dinner. Flank Steak with Chimichurri seemed an excellent idea.
Having never made chimichurri before, I sought the opinion of experts. And let me just say that while Ingrid Hoffman may not necessarily be an expert, at least her recipe didn't involve either cilantro or jalapenos. I like Ingrid.
Into my blender, I put an entire bunch of parsley (stems and all), some dried oregano, 2 garlic cloves, the juice and zest of a lemon, a little hot sauce, a few dashes of white wine vinegar, and some salt. I set it a-blending, and streamed in some oil. I started with olive oil, and switched to vegetable oil after a few seconds. I added more salt and pepper, and a teensy bit more hot sauce, which Ingrid doesn't call for, but I figured she won't be able to find my house in time to tear me apart over it, if it really upsets her.
When the sauce finally came together, it was thick, gloppy, and perfect for marinating. I salted and peppered the flank steak, and then brushed it with the chimichurri sauce and put it in the fridge.
When it was time to go, I grilled the steak, brushing it with more chimi right before it went on the grill, let it rest, sliced it thin, and served it with some chimichurri-dressed grilled potatoes, and a lentil salad. Because honestly chimi is Argentinian pesto, and it can go with whatever you like. Just don't let the Argentinians kill me for saying that.

I had also read a great post over at Adele's blog, about a Brown-Butter Raspberry Tart from Gourmet that she tinkered with, that lead to a Brown-Butter Brown-Sugar Raspberry Tart. And I do love me some tinkering, so the following weekend, to go with some fried chicken, we had a tart.
I got the chance to tinker a little more, because of course my grocery store doesn't carry raspberries right now, so we had a blackberry tart. Mmmm. I made Adele's recommended shortbread crust. I have to say that I'm 100% certain this is the right way to go. However, should we get lucky enough to bike to the Farmer's Market tomorrow (pray for no rain), I will be happy to attempt to replicate the tart, just to be sure. All for science, y'know.

I made the crust while marinating my chicken in buttermilk. Then, once the chicken had gone into the skillet (fried chicken takes a good half-hour), I browned the half-stick of butter, let it cool sort of, and set it aside. Then, of course, I washed out the mixer bowl from the pastry making, and flipped the chicken while the mixer combined 1 egg, 4 tablespoons of white sugar, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar (they were heaped. I'm not a good measurer, and I love brown sugar), a quarter-teaspoon (ish) of salt, and a half-teaspoon of vanilla (ish).
I added the quarter-cup of All-Purpose flour, and the browned butter. And then, I set to stacking my blackberries.
Blackberries tip over. They wobble. They have that one big nasty seed in them and they're generally not the easiest things to get to stand up and look pretty. But, they taste delicious. So, I persevered, poured in the custard, and baked the tart while getting the chicken taken care of. As I was putting the first piece of chicken on a baking sheet lined with brown paper bags to cool, the timer went off, and this was what came out of the oven:
I have never had such good luck with timing in my life. Please go thank Adele at once for tinkering with this recipe, and thank the gods of the kitchen for letting me get it all to the table without screwing up my chicken. :)


Would I leave you hanging??

Here it is. The promise made good from the last entry.

Just to recap, here's where we started:
3 peppers (red, yellow, orange) and a container of grape tomatoes. The tomatoes halved, the peppers just the way they are. Drizzle the tomatoes and peppers with a little bit of oil (olive or the type of your choosing). Smear it all over the peppers, and sprinkle everything with some coarse salt and pepper.
Stick them in the oven at 325-350. Do something else.

An hour or two later, take a look. You should see something like this:
Peppers all soggy and deflated, tomatoes getting shrivelly and sweet. If it doesn't look like this, put them back and wait 20 minutes, then check again. When the peppers look like this, pull them out and put them in a bowl cover tightly with plastic wrap, and busy yourself with trying not to eat all the tomatoes.
Once the peppers are cool enough to touch, pour the juice that has accumulated in the bottom of the bowl through a strainer into the blender caraffe. Then, peel and seed the peppers. This will hurt. Running them under cold water helps. Once they're all peeled and the seeds are out, dump them in the blender with the aforementioned juices. Spin it all together until it makes a nice puree.
With the blender running, add in the majority of the tomato halves. I left out about 6. Maybe it was 8. Whatever. Don't judge me - slow-roasted tomatoes are the best thing on earth.

Heat a saucepot with a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon(ish) of butter. Throw in a very small onion, chopped. Seriously, if this onion is any bigger than a baseball -- ANY BIGGER -- cut it in half and wrap up the other half. In fact, if it's one of those softball-sized monstrosities Rachael Ray always manages to find, use a quarter. We're going for flavor base, not onion soup.
Let the onion get a little see-through in the butter/oil mix before adding in a pinch of salt, and about a tablespoon of cumin, a teaspoon of garam masala, a teaspoon of tumeric, and half a tablespoon of dried oregano. Ok, I'm making up these measurements. But it's reassuring, isn't it? Basically, you'll be able to smell when it's right. If you can't, then taste it, and re-season. The measurements just make it look all safe and credible.
When you've got a nice base of flavors and your onions are soft, add in the pepper/tomato puree. Then, add about 2 and a half cups of chicken stock. I added almost all of a 26-ounce container, so I'm estimating. Roughly. Stir, and let it come to a bubble. Simmer until the flavors taste nice. I added about a tablespoon of hot sauce because it needed a little something. Go with your senses.
Because if you do, you'll get this:

I topped it with a little of the leftover avocado cream from last night's wonderment. It was pefect. Creamy, cool, nice and basic to the slightly acidic tang of the soup.

You can make this. It's easy. And it doesn't take all that long. Try it on a Saturday. I promise, you can do this.


Tonight, we're having roasted red pepper and tomato soup. And homemade bread. Get excited.


Top Chef?

So I'm watching Top Chef: Masters, and I realized that my delicious din, cooked tonight, was something I could talk about on here. I also feel odd not blogging for 10 days, it feels like it's been a lot longer, since I've been cooking and there was a whole week of actual menus that I didn't share and....
I'm bad. I know, I'm bad.
I've made fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, roast chicken, parmesan crusted chicken, roast pork, carbonara, a blackberry tart, flank steak with chimichurri.....
And tonight.
Tonight, I made....
That's a fried egg with blackbean cakes and avocado cream.
If you make this dish for only one reason, you should make it for the avocado cream. I don't even like sour cream, and yet when you combine avocado, parsley (me +cilantro = bleh) sour cream, lime juice, and salt. Make sure your avocado is very ripe, because you want the smoothest, creamiest sauce possible.
This is fantastic. Make it. For brunch. For dinner. For whatever. Just make this. Please?

And I promise I'll blog better. Now that I'm getting some energy back, and once it stops raining, I'll feel better.

I wouldn't lie to you.


I am awful

I have a kitchen full of hand-me-downs and gifts.
Cast-iron skillet - hand-me-down from first roommate Hylton
Le Creuset Braiser - hand-me-down/bribe for helping Hylton move his couch down the stairs.
Everyday sautee pan with glass lid - Christmas gift.
Dutch Oven, 2 Saucepots - Hand-me-down from mom and dad's old t-fal set.
Stockpot - hand-me-down from Hylton again.
All-Clad small saucepot - Hand-me-down from Hylton
Cake tins, pie plates, baking dishes - gifts/hand-me-downs.

I love hand-me-downs. I love dishes that tell a story. But at some point, you have to stop cooking in your mom's old T-Fal and branch out. Someday you deserve a matching set. Or... you start to want a matching set. Which is more to the point.

And someday, because you think you're a bit of a cook, you decide that instead of more non-stick, more special utensils, you want to get stainless. You decide that you want to be able to cook at screaming high heats, and pre-heat your pans to smoking, and generally be a badass, not to mention the novel concept of being able to go stove to oven to table without having to use aluminum foil on the handles of your cookware. And by you, I mean I.

And so you get a little adventurous. You start looking at Amazon, and find the set of your dreams (at least until you can register for a wedding and have people buy you the real set of your dreams..... helloooooo, lover) and you start to think.
Hellooooo, lover.

This set is from Cuisinart. I have a soft spot for Cuisinart, since it's the brand of my lovely food processor, and my amazing grind-and-brew coffee maker that you can program to make coffee right as the alarm goes off in the morning. Swoon.

I'm kind of sunk.
This set is very affordable. Has great product reviews.
For a while, I flirted with the idea of the Rachael Ray stainless set.... with its adorable chubby, curvy saucepots, and its cute orange silicon handles. But then I started reading reviews. And the last thing I really need is stainless steel saucepots that leak at the rivets. Because as adorable as this thing is, and honestly if it had cheeks, I'd want to pinch them, I need stuff that will hold up under the demands and stresses of my kitchen. Demands and stresses like, "Shit I forgot to melt the butter, now I have to jack up the heat", or "Shit, I don't know the diference between simmer and boil so I'm going to hope for the best" or things of that nature.

These things happen.

So I'm pining. And thinking. About the day that I have a set of brand-new, 18/10, oven-safe no matter what, non-teflon-coated stainless steel cookware. And how the first thing I'm gonna do is go after that medium saucepot with a whisk. Or maybe I'll get myself a metal spatula, and flip a pancake in that big skillet. Hehehehe.

I'm keeping the cast iron, Le Creuset, and the nonstick skillets Gie gave me, though, so keep your paws off. HEAR ME?!?!!?


Buckle your seatbelts

This is gonna be a big one.

Saturday, Jesse and I walked to the BKLYN Yard, for Parked! Since they took down the link/info page on the BKYard's website, instead please refer to the photo of the flyer. I'll sum up: the PizzaMoto truck, a taco cart from the Red Hook soccer field vendors, the Green Pirate juice truck, and the VanLeeuwen Ice Cream truck (!!!!) were all present, parked in the lot, serving up their wares and showing their stuff. Highlights included watching the PizzaMoto Dough Maven do her thing with dough until they sold straight out of it, eating the delicious Margherita from PizzaMoto, having the Espresso ice cream from Van Leeuwen which was better than anything else, which is saying something, the delicious Green Pirate Hot Pink Lemonade, which involved beet juice, ginger, cucumbers, and some other crazy stuff. Also, the lovely Rita of the Pretty Girls Use Knives crew, joined us for some fun in the sun. Unfortunately, PM sold out before she got any, and the taco cart line was just. not. moving. So that was awesome regardless. Here are some pics of the aforementioned highlights:

And then.... there was the biggest amazingness of all. This is the item that made my day, and that basically justified the sunburn that I have and the money that we spent, even more than catching the VanLeeuwen truck and finding out about the taco cart and everything:
Andrew Knowlton!!! That's Andrew Knowlton, the BA Foodist, frequent Iron Chef Judge, and all around hottie-pants. He's even hotter in person, and let me just say, he was so low-key, totally chilled out, didn't pull rank and try to jump ahead of the line for PizzaMoto, didn't get shirty when they didn't recognize him.... sigh. Andrew Knowlton, everyone.


I have some irrationalities regarding cooking. #1 - I decide, rather than plan, to bake, especially when reading about all the wondrous things that Deb from the Smitten Kitchen makes. #2 - I have a fear of cooking shrimp and scallops, as well as anything not in its shell that should be, like clams, oysters, lobster, crab, etc. I am not confident in my ability to cook them without overcooking them. Even though I'm much more likely to undercook them, since I'll take them off before they turn opaque, I still am not confident.

Tonight, I remembered one fear (that of cakes sticking to pans) and moved on my way to recovering from the other (grilling seafood).
First, the grilling seafood. Leah made a spectacular-looking grilled shrimp dish back in March, and undertook the Bon Appetit Modern Fiesta for date night the other evening. She's brave. I decided to challenge her braveness, and grill some shrimps of my own. I took a recipe from Epicurious, for grilled shrimp with a lemon-oregano dressing.
As per usual, I didn't follow the recipe entirely. However, here's the deal, here's what I did:
**De-vein 1 pound of large shrimp (if you're doing jumbo shrimp, get 2 pounds. go with what you can afford). Keep the shells on. Do this by using your kitchen shears (or whatever pair of scissors you feel like, just wash'em) to cut them open down the back, and pull the vein out. This is similar to how you'd butterfly them. Put them in the fridge.
**Mince and paste 2-4 cloves of garlic, depending on how many shrimp you're cooking with 3/4 teaspoon of salt. The easier way to do this is to microplane your garlic into the food processor and add a half-teaspoon ish of salt. Then add the juice of 1 lemon, a few shakes of black pepper, and turn on the foodpro/blender. Drizzle in olive oil until it's all emulsified and happy. Add a handful of chopped parsley (if you have oregano, use oregano) and mix. If it separates, you can just stir it up. No big whoop. You can also taste and mutate htis into anything you want.
**heat up your grill. Put 1/4 cup of the dressing over the shrimp, and after a few minutes, put your shrimp on some skewers and put them on the grill. I did not skewer mine, and I can tell you for sure that this is not a good idea. I lost 3 good shrimp to the gods of the grill. Don't make my mistake.
After a few minutes, the shrimpies are done, and you can take them off, serve the rest of the dressing in a bowl along iwth either rice or bread, and do peel-and-eat shrimps. Paper towels for everybody!!! Yay!!!

The cake....

The cake tastes delicious. It does not look as awesome as Deb's, but then again, mine never do. The grocery store didn't have raspberries, and while raspberry-lemon is a gorgeous combination, I had to go with blueberries. And I like blueberry-orange, so I added orange zest instead of lemon zest. Also, no vanilla because our store doesn't carry it.
The cake is delicious. And when it came out of the oven it looked..... too good to be true:
It was. When I tried to turn it out and cool it on the rack, the cake stuck, except for the center of the cake, which fell out onto the rack. It was sad. However, this cake is delicious and I think with about 3 more minutes of baking time, it will work brilliantly. Next time. Which might be tomorrow. Just sayin'.

In general, it's been a great food weekend, and it's got one more day, one more lovely day, and summer is here and I've finally learned when to turn over my charcoal chimbley to get the most use out of my coals, and basically..... It's been lovely.


On allergies and preferences

I'm not a person who ascribes totally to any philosophies of food or life. Except for these:
Be good.
Be happy.
Be healthy.
Be well.

If you can live within those 4 theories, then who am I to tell you anything about your life? Or your dining choices? You can be picky, you can be open, you can be whatever you want to be, as long as you're good, happy, healthy and well.
However. I just got an e-mail from a coworker wondering at the nature of food allergies, and thinking it was ridiculous that a roommate would freak out that the coworker had cut a pineapple on the counter, and not wiped up the juice or washed the knife, since the roommate happens to be allergic to pineapple.
Apparently, food allergies were a new thing to this coworker.

I'm not here to judge, most of the time. But this girl's attitude toward food allergies was shocking at best, dangerous at worst. She mentioned that she thought allergies were weird, and would never presume to ask someone to make food to accommodate any of her food preferences, and was taught to just eat what was put on her plate. This is a girl who was raised in a range of cultures, in a very trans-world world. Part of her life in India, part in the UK, part in the US. And yet nowhere in her entire life had she ever heard of anyone having a dangerous peanut allergy. Never saw the markings on all packaged foods saying "this contains nuts or was processed in a facility that processes nuts". Never heard of celiac disease or lactose intolerance or people being allergic to strawberries.

At first, I tried to be calm and rational, told her that I really thought the allergy question was interesting. People could die from them. Etc etc.
Then, she came back to say that she found needing to accommodate someone's preferences strange, alien, that it wasn't something she would ever imagine.

I'm sorry, but to all my readers, let me make this very, very clear:
Allergy is defined by dictionary.com as:


1. an abnormal reaction of the body to a previously encountered allergen introduced by inhalation, ingestion, injection, or skin contact, often manifested by itchy eyes, runny nose, wheezing, skin rash, or diarrhea.
2. hypersensitivity to the reintroduction of an allergen. Compare anaphylaxis.

Preference is defined by dictionary.com as:


1. the act of preferring.
2. the state of being preferred.
3. that which is preferred; choice: His preference is vanilla, not chocolate.

As you can see, there is a distinct difference between an allergy and a preference. Namely, the aspect of choice!!! Do you think anyone out there would choose to suffer from diabetes (which I group as an allergy because it's an extreme case where the body is unable to process an enzyme) or a severe peanut allergy that could cause anaphylactic shock?? Do you think anyone would choose to have to read every single label for elements or trace bits of peanuts, or wheat, or strawberries, or shellfish? I mean, let's not even start with the allergies like to pineapple juice (which is in most fruit punch, check your labels) or citrus fruits (try to find something that doesn't contain citric acid that's packaged.... let me know when you do) or eggplant or any of the 8 million things out there. Coconut!! My dad is allergic to COCONUT! Granted, he just has to make sure that he doesn't eat the dark chocolate truffles that are filled with the stuff, and he only gets hives, but why would anyone choose to have to deal with that????

My grandmother is allergic to penicillin. Shouldn't the medical community have to accommodate her allergy? What is the point of trying to save her life by administering something that would end it??
Similarly, why is pineapple, or strawberries, or shellfish, or wheat gluten or whatever so important to my coworker that she can't understand the concept of it being deadly? She's a vegetarian, and was taught to politely decline meat. Which is great for her! Go for it!! But if you can decline meat because of personal tastes or religious reasons or whatever.... why can't your roommates ask you to just wash the countertop to get rid of the pineapple? Or make a specific knife and cutting board for pineapple, so that the roommate doesn't have to come in contact with it?

For me, there's no ingredient or recipe that's worth causing a friend pain. I don't care if it's just that you get itchy after eating pepperoncini - which I never cook with - tell me! I always ask. I don't see any reason to make someone have to take a Benadryl after a meal with me. I don't have any recipes that I'm so attached to I couldn't change them or scrub them altogether for a dinner party with a friend with specific dietary restrictions. I can take the bacon out of my mac & cheese, or, genius, make a pot of cheese sauce without bacon. I can read labels to make sure all my ingredients are Kosher, or make sure that I'm using all vegetarian ingredients if you're into that. I can use rice pasta, or make risotto, or cook only chicken or cook no chicken. I can accommodate you. Because I don't want to make you sick!!! I don't want you to worry about your dietary rules or your religion or the new lifestyle choices you're making. I want you to be happy and healthy and good and well.

So please, fellow cooks and eaters, please remember these other rules:
#1 - ask your guests about any dietary restrictions.
#2 - guests, don't be afraid to TELL YOUR HOSTS what you will/won't/can't/choose not to eat.
#3 - let's all be a little more flexible, yeah? If you just don't like spinach, mention that, but say that you'll eat it if it's given to you. If you're deadly allergic to oranges, obviously shout that one out. If you're a vegetarian, please explain what you mean by that, so people don't go assuming things (meatitarians, i'm talking to you!!!!)

For heaven's sake, don't force people to eat what's put in front of them just because you were raised that way. It worked for me, that "eat what you're fed" raising. I'll eat anything, and I definitely will eat plenty of it. But it didn't work for my little brother, who is about as picky as they come, and whose dinner or unwanted something-or-other I always ate at home as kids. He's now the underweight, picky vegetarian one. And I'm the one with the cooking blog. What's good for the goose is not always good for the gander.
So honestly.... let's remember. It's an allergy. Not a choice.