Jerry Johnston’s passion for cooking started early.

Is there a common bond between cooking and chemistry? According to our Cook of the Week, Jerry Johnston, the bond is not only common, but strong.

“Both deal with formulas. One deals with chemicals, the other with ingredients,” he explains. “Essentially, they are the same thing.” As a former chemist, the connection seems pretty clear to him. And, as with any great cook or scientist, he loves fiddling with the formula.

Jerry’s start in cooking was truly a hands-on experience. As one of four children, he came into the kitchen to ask his mother for breakfast. “She was busy doing the baking: bread, yeast rolls, etc. She turned to me and told me that if I wanted breakfast, I would have to make it myself.” Living on an egg farm, Jerry turned to a sure thing: scrambled eggs.

“I made a dozen and ate them,” he relates with a laugh. “I thought they could taste better, so I thought I’d keep trying.” The next day, he made 13 eggs and his interest in cooking was born.

His cooking skills have obviously improved since then. “I improvise a lot. I can take a little bit of this and that and come up with something. A little pasta, a little garlic and some grated Parmesan cheese, and I have the start of something good. Then, it’s just a matter of what else to add into it.”

Jerry enjoys reading cookbooks and magazines for fun. He recommends Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking and Cooks Illustrated magazines.

He also watches the chefs on the Food Network TV channel but notes, “Most of them are all show. I do get some great recipe ideas, but a lot of those shows are a lot of style and little substance.” Once he gets the recipe ideas, he likes to play around with herbs and other ingredients to make it more his own.

His advice for newer cooks is simple: “Get in there and do it. Get your hands dirty. Mix up a little dough. Pop it in the oven and see how it turns out. Trial and error really is the best way to learn.”

Another passion of his is model railroading. He is an HO scale collector and a member of the Great Falls Model Railroad Club. A retired paper industry worker, Jerry lives in Minot with his wife, Eileen. They have four children: Michael, Mark, Matthew and Sarah.

Nutty Salmon
Two 3- to 4-ounce salmon fillets

1 tablespoon Dijon style mustard

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped pecans
Place fillets skin down on baking sheet. Make a paste with the mustard and olive oil and paint top of filets. Cover fillets evenly with chopped nuts. Bake at 350 degrees until done to satisfaction. (8 to 12 minutes). Makes 2 servings.
Smoky Pea Soup
1 pound split green peas

1 small can chicken broth, plus two cans of water.

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 medium carrots, shredded

1 beef bouillon cube

1 smoked sausage, diced
2 cans of white beans, drained

Place first seven ingredients in soup pot and simmer until peas are done. Adjust liquid to original level. Add white beans, and heat and serve.

Orange Cream Pork Chops
2 boneless pork chops

Flour & oil

2 tablespoons finely diced leeks

1 cup of white wine

1 cup of orange juice

1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons sour cream
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Sauté mushrooms and leeks in a little oil in a frying pan and set aside. Dredge pork chops in flour and brown well on both sides in the same pan. Add wine, orange juice and thyme, and simmer covered until done. (20 to 30 minutes)

Remove cover and add mushrooms and leeks, and simmer to reduce liquid to desired level. Add sour cream and stir, and remove from heat and serve. Makes 2 servings.

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