Fresh, fast and frugal!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Stay at Home and Cook like the Brainy Gourmet...

Stay at home and cook...

Cooking at home can be therapeutic. How? Cooking for yourself and or your family is comforting in more ways than you can imagine. It calms the soul stirring the creative imagination that truly sings to the spirit.

This is especially good for you and your family when faced with the daily stresses of life and especially during a challenging crisis like the current pandemic.

When you cook at home you should always cook what you and your family likes; and, keep it simple by not getting all caught up in this or that recipe. Why? Following a recipe 'going by the book' can be very stressful and you can end up buying expensive 'exotic' ingredients (as well as spices/seasonings) that you will likely never use again.

Another bit of brainy advice is to make what you can that is as tasty as you can make it and as nutritional as possible. If your family is beyond particular, encourage them that you made it with love just for them. Talking up a meal can shed new light on its taste when you don't have very much or just don't have a variety to offer. 

The Brainy Gourmet has always advocated to keep a simple basic pantry and a few staple items in the refrigerator that you will use up in a weeks time. Advice for a beginner stay at home chef ...start with soup.

Keep in mind that soup is not stew. Soup is lighter having more liquid. Most often, soup is treated as a starter but it can be the main meal if you serve with bread and a salad.

Every soup begins with stock which is made by boiling a piece of meat or a few vegetables. You can use whatever meat or vegetable base you prefer straining out the meat/vegetables once the stock is finished. Now that you have the basic stock, you can make any soup you want the rest of the week.

To begin, just boil the a large piece of meat in salted water (whole chicken or pork butt or beef shank).  Do not add rice, pasta, potatoes to the stock. This allows you to change up the soup the next day from chicken/beef vegetable to minestrone or tomato.

To the stock, you can add a whole onion or leek along with a few carrots which should be strained out of the stock once it is finished. Again, don't add rice or pasta or even potatoes to the stock directly.

Cook those items separately to be added to individual bowls of stock. This way, the stock you made can serve a different soup the next day or be used as a liquid to stir fry or to make a gravy or sauce for another evening's dinner.

When you are ready to serve your soup, offer rice or pasta or potatoes (cooked separately) to each bowl along with a bit of meat/vegetables that you strained out of the stock; set aside keeping warm.

If you cook frugally in this way, you will discover that you are in charge of your kitchen/cooking and it's a very satisfying and rewarding experience that everyone can benefit from.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Brainy Veal Scallopini with Angel Hair Pasta...

Veal is very young beef; and, for that reason, it is high with vitamin B. This vitamin is essential for energy and healthy metabolism. Other than vitamin B, veal is a rich source of vitamin B-12, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. People who like to consume beef on regular basis can easily switch to a smarter and healthy choice with veal.

For this dish, you will need: 1-2 lbs of boneless veal (as much as you think your guests will eat), dried bread crumbs, beef stock, jarred roasted red peppers, onion, jarred capers and angel hair pasta.

To begin, pound the veal cutlets with a meat tenderizing hammer. Next, pat the veal with herb infused bread crumbs, sprinkle with garlic powder and saute in a blend of olive oil and creamy butter; browning each cutlet on both sides.

Next, saute in olive oil, diced jarred roasted red pepper and fresh chopped onion (optional/onion) in a separate skillet; once browned add to the veal. Lastly, pour in as much as you like of the jarred capers and 1/2 cup of beef stock. Let this simmer covered on low heat while you prepare an angel hair pasta.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

French 'Poulet a la Bonne Femme' is Chicken Vesuvio...

When you consider the ingredients, Poulet a la Bonne Femme and Chicken Vesuvio are pretty much the same dish. Why not... after all, when it comes to simple home cooked meals, families in Europe used similar ingredients when conditions called for rich sustenance and frugality.

With that said, this dish can be made in a variety of ways including with mushrooms but always with bacon, onion, peas and potatoes.

For this dish you will need: chicken thighs (as many per person as you will serve) with the skin on and bone in, potatoes, onion, bacon, peas and onion. To begin, saute the onion along with the bacon until browned and crispy. Remove the onion and bacon from the skillet, saving the bacon grease.  Add some olive oil to the skillet and fry the chicken thighs skin side down and do the same for the other side.

Remove the thighs from the skillet and place in a glass baking dish to be kept warm in the oven at 275 while you saute the potatoes (washed and diced) in the same skillet; adding, 2 tbs of butter. Next, toss in the peas (frozen or fresh) along with a dash of salt, black or white pepper, garlic powder and dried herbs of your choice.

 Bring back the onion and bacon...

Bring the chicken back into the mix along with 1 cup of beef stock and 1/2 cup of beer...let simmer!

Serve with a good Burgundy or Chianti...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Interesting Brainy Gourmet ~ Coq au Vin ...

Living simple means living well... even when supplies aren't abundant; you can still cook up a gourmet meal with just a few good things!

Coq au Vin is a classic French dish of chicken cooked in red wine with garlic, onions and mushrooms. For this dish, you will need to buy chicken breasts skin on if possible. You will need to buy low sodium bacon, chicken stock and red wine.

To begin, prepare the chicken breasts by patting them in flour and then wrapping each breast with a couple of strips of bacon. In a skillet on med/high heat, in 1/4 cup of olive oil along with chopped/diced fresh garlic and onion saute the wrapped chicken. Sprinkle in the skillet a dash of pepper, sea salt and dried herbs with a little crushed coriander, mint, rosemary and oregano.

Let the breasts sizzle on both sides on med/high heat and then reduce to med/low heat and cover.

After about 8-10 min, add 1/2 cup of chicken stock and about the same (more or less) of wine. For a Brainy twist, add 1 tsp of cocoa powder and 1-2 tbs of organic honey; cover again to let a sauce develop as the chicken simmers for about 20 min. As for mushrooms, saute in butter in another skillet and then add to the chicken on the end. *Mushrooms are not a necessary ingredient but traditional.

Place on a serving platter and prepare to be amazed!

"La vie est belle"

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Soup and a Sandwich in times like these...

Being frugal is key to being a brainy gourmet and especially in times like these. Its knowing what can go into the pot.

Having said that, you know that I always start a soup from a meat stock; either chicken, turkey, beef or pork. And, yes, even pork can make a good stock as well as can an onion or leek.

I like to use the pork butt or picnic cut. It always has tender meat and though it has tasty fat, it is really leaner than you think. Besides, a little saturated fat is not bad for you. In fact, our brain is composed of nearly 60% fat.

·  Liver Health: Saturated fat encourages the liver cells to dump their fat cells, which helps the liver to function more effectively .
·  Immunity: Saturated fatty acids, especially the kinds found in butter and coconut, help white blood cells to recognize and destroying invading viruses and bacteria. Go get ‘em, boys!
·  Hormones: Eating saturated fat tends to increase free testosterone levels, which helps to repair tissue, preserve muscle, and improve sexual function.

So, if you have your stock, then just add one tube or small can of tomato paste. Stir and toss in some fresh dried herbs, cover, simmer on med heat for 30-40 min. As it bubbles away, prepare rice or any pasta that you prefer.

As for the grilled cheese, using sourdough bread is a favorite. I make em the brainy way or like  grandma used to make. Which means that even though its literally a sandwich to hand, it should be buttered on both sides of the bread.

Put one slice in the skillet, butter (olive oil or coconut oil can be substituted) side down. On top of that slice of bread, lay on two slices of Sharp or Medium Cheddar cheese or Gouda. Cover the cheese with another slice, butter side up. Cover and let them sizzle.

Make a stack of sandwiches, put the soup on the table and call everybody around.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

*Source on fat for the brain ~ and

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Brainy Chicken 'alla cacciatora' ...

Cooking 'cacciatore' means cooking 'hunter style'. In Italian cuisine, alla cacciatora refers to a dish that has been prepared "hunter-style" and that means with onions, tomatoes, red peppers, green olives,and herbs not to mention if you dried fruits like plums.

For this dish, you will need to buy six (or enough for each dinner guest) chicken thighs with the bone in and skin on. A richer flavor will develop by having the bone in and skin; in fact, necessary for this dish to be truly authentic 'hunter style'.

Begin by searing the chicken thighs skin side down in olive oil on high heat either in a skillet or even in the oven on 400F (use a glass baking dish if you prefer to oven roast). Turn over the thighs and brown the under side as well.

When it comes to cacciatore, the basic recipe (tomatoes, chicken stock, dried herbs and dried plums) is always the best; however, you can add whatever you like to the mix (red or green pepper, onion, black olives)... except for broccoli. Certainly, whether you roast in the oven or simmer in the skillet, make sure you have fresh whole tomatoes to add or quality canned stewed tomatoes.

Turn down the heat to med. (oven to 325). Add to the skillet or baking dish, the tomatoes, chicken stock and herbs: rosemary, oregano and mint along with garlic powder and red pepper flakes for zing but not necessary.  Cover and simmer for 40 min (oven time too) while you prepare a side.

Use a wide egg noodle pasta, or linguine or even mashed potatoes as your side. Once the pasta is tender, drain, rinse and then ladle onto a low lipped serving platter. Top with the chicken cacciatore.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sunday is for Braciole with Polenta...

For this dish you will need: either 1 lb your choice of steak (round/flank or sirloin) or boneless pork loin, fresh green Italian parsley, provolone cheese, and prosciutto ham. Also, you will need marinara sauce or meaty bolognese, and olive oil.

Start by pounding out either the steak or pork loin. You can make a large roll or cut the meat into more individual sizes. Lay on the cheese slices or grated, prosciutto and sprinkles of fresh parsley (or use fresh spinach leaves chopped). Roll up and tie with baking string or use wooden toothpicks to hold rolls together.

Next, fry in a skillet in olive oil until browned on both sides.

Remove from skillet and lay in a glass baking dish. Pour over the top, one half jar of marinara sauce or meaty bolognese and add some beef stock until the dish is brimming. Top with fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.
Prepare polenta according to recipe which you can find on a previous blog. Just type in Polenta in the search box on the Brainy Gourmet Blog.
 Serve with polenta...

~ Tutti a Tavola!