Fresh, fast and frugal!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving ~ May God's Blessing Be Upon You!

Whether a traditionalist or not, there is nothing more wonderful than having family and friends gathered around the table on Thanksgiving.

For something different or other than stuffing try creamy cornmeal polenta. A lovely and colorful accompaniment to that or any dinner is roasted beet root and zucchini salad with pine nut or sunflower seeds or slivered almonds along with either figs or dried plums.

Polenta -
2 tbs of olive oil
one whole onion chopped
4 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan
4 tbs of butter or 1/2 stick

Heat oven to 350F. On the stove, saute your onion in the olive oil in a deep oven safe pot until browned on all edges; then, add your stock and 5 cups of water. Heat to boiling on high and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Then cover and bake for 45-50 min.with an occasional stir - about every 10 min. Remove from the oven, add the butter and parmesan for one last stir, then let it set covered.

As for the roasted beets and zucchini, slice like large coins and put them on a cookie sheet with olive oil and fresh dried herbs in the oven on the lower rack for as long as the polenta is in. Once tender, remove and drizzle with organic honey and balsamic vinegar (lightly) and sprinkle on the pine nuts and figs. Garnish!

*You can use only beet root if zucchini is not preferred. And, to the polenta, sauteed mushrooms are a nice touch.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chicken Picata ~ As yummy as anything you've eaten out!

Chicken Picata at home, no way .... yes way!

All you need to buy is fresh skinless chicken breasts, capers, lemons and angel hair pasta. If you don't have in your pantry/frig then pick up some heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. Before cooking, you will need to marinate your chicken (cut into large thick strips) in fresh squeezed lemon juice... twenty or thirty minutes; but if in a hurry and you don't marinate, the outcome will still be pretty good.

When you are ready to cook, pour out some olive oil (a bit of coconut oil too if you have) into a covered skillet, add one pat of salted butter (use if you don't have coconut oil) and fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Turn on the heat to med and once the sizzling begins lay in your chicken. Brown on all sides and reduce the heat to low, cover and let cook thoroughly.

In this time, take out a large stockpot to cook your angel hair pasta. Add a pinch of salt and when it boils, toss in your pasta. Return to your chicken, so that you can pour in 1/2- 3/4  cup of heavy cream (depending on the amount of chicken), a bit of shaved parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup of capers... I just love them. Slice in some fresh (washed) lemon.

Once the pasta is tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving dish; next, pour out your chicken and creamy lemon/capers sauce. You can add some additional fresh lemon with a squeeze and garnish... a bit of green parsley too.
Parmesan on the table of course!

Tutti a Tavola!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Brainy Gourmets Best of this Fall

Here are the best brainy picks for this Fall.

Check out 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Making it Simple ~ Skillet Roasted Chicken with Apricot Sauce

As a precursor to Thanksgiving, it is nice to test some ideas the week before. If you aren't into turkey but like chicken then I recommend roast chicken with brown rice and buckwheat groats which can even be done in the ordinary covered skillet.

Take out your covered skillet, turn on the heat to med./high and lay into sizzling olive oil seasoned with dried herbs of rosemary, mint and oregano one half chicken with the skin on... skin side down. Let it brown on both sides. Once it has browned, add a few tsp of chicken stock, cover and let it simmer on low for 8 min. After that time has passed, lift the lid and add 1/4 cup apricot jam or use fresh 'mashed' apricots. Cover again and let this sauce develop in the skillet along with the chicken for about 6 min on low heat.

In the meantime, prepare a blend of brown rice and buckwheat groats, a delicious alternative to pasta, white rice or potatoes. Once tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate. As for the half roasted chicken, lay the entire half onto a serving plate pouring out the sauce but only after it has been left to bubble up in the skillet while you laid out the half chicken. This way it will get a sheen like a glaze. Garnish with red seedless grapes and green parsley.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Making it Simple ~ Veal Scallopine with Sunflower Seeds and Dried Plums

My family comes from the Lombardy region in Italy, a very northern region -“Lombardia”. This region is bordered on the north by Switzerland and has a mountainous terrain. It also is home to some of the largest lakes in Italy. 

Cuisine in the north is very rich in meat and sauce. Veal is often eaten along with beef and pork. The best cuts are of the loin because of the tenderness. From this cut come many rich and delicious versions of cutlet or "scallopine" in Italian which has to do with the cut of the meat rather than the type of meat or the seasonings used in preparation.

Tonight, I am making veal scallopine with sunflower seeds and dried plums, as a side dish - potatoes. To begin, slice your veal loin into medallions which will be sauteed in olive oil and dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Cover and let simmer on low heat until fully cooked; then add 1/4 cup of heavy cream. For a nutty taste, I add ground walnut meats or pine nuts which contain more oil and stronger flavor. Cover again and simmer for 3 or 4 min. on low heat while you prepare potatoes via microwave. Then, lay out your veal scallopine "medallions" on a low lipped serving plate and pour out your rich nutty- creamy sauce, garnish with fresh green parsley.

As for the sunflower seeds (or additional pine nuts) and dried plums, I put them out on the table separate to use as extra garnish and or a side.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Chicken Palermo with Cherry Peppers and Kalamata Olives

Palermo is in Sicily, Italy. It is difficult to know where to begin when describing the food of Sicily, which is arguably the best in Italy. Although Italian based, the food is greatly influenced by all who have inhabited the island over the centuries and it has traces of Spanish, Greek and Arab cuisine. Sicily produces vast amounts of grain, olives, grapes, almonds, pistachios, figs, artichokes, lemons and vegetables. They also produce carob, and capers.

Whenever, I think of Italian food especially that coming from the boot or Sicily, I think colorful and exciting taste. Palermo is on the northern coast. The weather is fantastic and so is the food. This is a simple chicken dish. There are even many versions of it throughout Italy. Of course, as chicken is a basic food option.

Since, the climate in Palermo is warm many flavors grew out of this Mediterranean town. For this dish, you need to buy a package of chicken thighs with the skin on. Marinate them skin side down in fresh squeezed lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle on a bit of salt. After an hour or 40 min. you can begin cooking.

Lavishly pour out olive oil into your skillet, to the oil add as much fresh dried rosemary, mint and oregano as you like. Turn on the heat, about med. Once, the oil sizzles, lay in your thighs skin side down and turn the heat a bit higher. You can dash some garlic powder over them and cover. As the sizzling becomes a cacophony, of spurts and pops, turn the thighs over and let them brown on the other side. Cover again and simmer for 6 min on a med-low heat. I even like them to get a little black on the edges.

At this point, lift the lid and add one small can of diced tomatoes (I like to use Red Gold). To this, add chopped garlic and fresh basil or cheat a bit and select a can which has it already added. Now, toss in some sweet hot cherry peppers, some fresh rosemary sprigs and kalamata olives. I do hold back on the olives as they can be salty. Better to use a few while cooking and the rest in a small dish to set on the table.

As the chicken simmers for about 10 minutes on low heat, you can prepare pasta. Tonight I am using spinach enriched pasta. Drain when they are tender. Set the table and put out a good Cabernet Sauvignon.

 Such an exciting taste combination, you will smile and smile all the while you indulge!

~ Tutti a Tavalo!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Using Fruits and Veggies as Condiments

We forget that fruits and vegetables make excellent condiments or accompaniments to meat or potatoes.
Check out past Brainy Gourmet Blogs to get recipes for these dishes.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Making it Simple ~ Italian Cuisine

The Piedmont region is a very mountainous region in Italy where hunting and fishing are commonplace. The autumn is the best time to visit here and all the tastes, smells and colors of autumn are reflected in their most famous dishes. Mushrooms, nuts, truffles and grapes are all gathered in the autumn, including the elusive, delicious and very expensive white truffles which are sought out by pigs or white dogs, usually at midnight when their smell is at it strongest. There are other mushrooms which are just as delicious and less expensive, for example the Boletus Edulis ~ Porcini.

Tonight, I am serving stuffed mushrooms with mushroom filled ravioli. This recipe is truly delicious way to enjoy mushrooms. Now, if you can't find any Porcini mushrooms just buy and use the large 'palm size' Bavarian mushroom that can be bought at most local grocery. For stuffing, I like to use a mixture of ground beef and seasoned ground pork, in fact a mild breakfast sausage will work. Wash your mushrooms and remove the stem. Press into the dark side or gill side of the mushroom a small patty shaped amount of ground meat depending on the size of your mushrooms. Prepare your skillet with olive oil and fresh dried herbs. Once the oil is hot, lay in your 'stuffed' mushrooms patty side down.  Let them sizzle for 5-6 min. on a high heat, then reduce heat to med and cover. After 5 min, flip them over gently and add 3/4 cup of heavy cream. Cover again and simmer for 8 min on low heat.  In the meantime, prepare water to boil the ravioli. Once it rolls, add a pinch of salt and the ravioli.

Set the table and get ready to serve. Ladle the ravioli onto a low lipped serving plate, spoon the stuffed mushrooms onto the plate 'here and there' and pour out the sauce. Garnish with fresh green parsley.

~ Tutti a Tavola! 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Making it Simple ~ Italian Cuisine

The Molise region was once part of Abruzzo and part of the great thoroughfare where the sheep were driven down from Abruzzo to Puglia for warmer climates and better pasture in the winter.

Only having become a region it its own right in 1963 it struggles now to find traditions and cuisine that is truly its own and not part of Abruzzo. Many of its dishes are identical or similar to those of Abruzzo and Puglia and as in all southern regions the tomato and chili peppers play a large part. Probably the one thing that Molise is well known for in Italy is the quality of its pasta. They produce a lot of it here and it certainly lives up to its reputation of having that 'melt in the mouth' quality.

Melt in your mouth pasta is what's for dinner tonight. This dish is simple and its Italian. I call it Chicken with chili peppers in a cream sauce, ladled over melt in your pasta.  What you need if you don't have it on hand: chicken breasts in plump strips (got a nice package of natural free range at my local grocery), pasta from the Molise or just good quality wide egg noodle pasta and a few sweet and hot chili peppers. I like to use the small tomato size.

In your skillet, drizzle in olive oil, a generous dash of organic garlic powder, along with fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Turn the heat to high/med. and get things sizzling. Lay in your breasts and saute on both sides until the meat is white. Scoot them aside and add your peppers. When they quickly appear brown around the edges, you can then pour in 3/4 cup of heavy cream and 4 tbs of parmesan cheese. Cover and simmer for 8 min. on low heat.

In the meantime, get a pot of water boiling for your pasta. As it cooks, set the table. Select a nice Barolo or Merlot for the table, wine is always good with dinner. Chop some fresh green parsley and when the pasta is tender, ladle it onto a low lipped serving plate, top with your chicken and peppers in cream sauce.

 ~ Tutti a Tavola! 

Regional info source~

Red Wine Still Good For you!

What makes red wine good for? It is the tannin in wine that is good for you, the more tannin the better and this 'tannin' comes from the skin of the grape. The best wines are: Cabernet's, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo... The Nebbiolo grape used in Italian Barolo, is a high grape tannin wine. 

What is it exactly about tannin that provides health benefits? Well, its the anticarcinogenic and antimutagenic potentials of tannins may be related to their antioxidative property, which is important in protecting cellular oxidative damage, including lipid peroxidation. The generation of superoxide radicals was reported to be inhibited by tannins and related compounds. The antimicrobial activities of tannins are well documented. The growth of many fungi, yeasts, bacteria, and viruses was inhibited by tannins. We have also found that tannic acid and propyl gallate, but not gallic acid, were inhibitory to foodborne bacteria, aquatic bacteria, and off-flavor-producing microorganisms. Their antimicrobial properties seemed to be associated with the hydrolysis of ester linkage between gallic acid and polyols hydrolyzed after ripening of many edible fruits.Tannins in these fruits thus serve as a natural defense mechanism against microbial infections. The antimicrobial property of tannic acid can also be used in food processing to increase the shelf-life of certain foods, such as catfish fillets. Tannins have also been reported to exert other physiological effects, such as to accelerate blood clotting, reduce blood pressure, decrease the serum lipid level, produce liver necrosis, and modulate immunoresponses. The dosage and kind of tannins are critical to these effects. The aim of this review is to summarize and analyze the vast and sometimes conflicting literature on tannins and to provide as accurately as possible the needed information for assessment of the overall effects of tannins on human health. ~

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Processed Food - What's Bad About it?

Most shop-bought foods will have been processed in some way.
Examples of common processed foods include:
  • breakfast cereals
  • processed cheeses
  • canned/frozen vegetables
  • Plastic wrapped breads
  • savory snacks, such as chips
  • meat products, such as bacon
  • microwave meals or ready meals
  • drinks, such as milk or soft drinks

Food processing techniques include freezing, canning, baking, drying and pasteurizing products. Even the brainy gourmet processes some foods. I refer to when I freeze, can, dry or bake; one can argue that even cooking is a form of processing. Essentially, the problem is when we add unnecessary sugar and salt and fat to our cooking. The fresher the better still applies. Sugar being the worst culprit of all, then salt.

Dietitian Sian Porter says: "Not all processed food is a bad choice. Some foods need processing to make them safe, such as milk, which needs to be pasteurized to remove harmful bacteria. Other foods need processing to make them suitable for use, such as pressing seeds to make oil. What makes processed food bad for you? Ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are sometimes added to processed foods to make their flavor more appealing and to prolong their shelf life. 

I grew up with a lot of processed food. It was a time when America believed everything on television and in commercials was good for you. But, even as it awakened to the idea of processed food as being bad in our diet contributing to already bad eating habits (reflected in our car culture), doctors and nutritionists pushed margarine as a butter alternative, corn syrup rather than sugar, and shortening for baking. 

Today, we know that butter is not as bad as once thought, eggs are a good source of protein and bacon is even back on the menu. Who knows, what's down the road as far as good food is concerned. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all grow our own. Perhaps, urban farming will become the norm in a greener America. 

and yet, I the brainy gourmet will still process food... to a certain extent!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Making it Simple ~ Tomato Soup and a Grilled Cheese

Well, you might think that the Brainy Guy is cooking tonight since he knows all there is to know about homemade tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. I can say I taught him everything he knows about tomato soup but he taught me everything about grilled cheese.

Being frugal is the main aspect of being the brainy gourmet. Having said that, you might expect I will be starting my tomato soup on a soup stock from either chicken, turkey, beef or pork. Yes, even pork can make a good stock. I like to use the pork butt cut. It has tender meat and tasty fat but is really quite lean. If you have your stock, then just add one small tube or can of tomato paste. Stir and toss in some fresh dried herbs, cover, simmer on med heat for 20 min. As it bubbles away, prepare rice or any pasta that you prefer.

As for the grilled cheese, sourdough bread is my favorite to use. I make em the Brainy Guy way or like his grandma used to make. This is a sandwich so... butter both sides of the bread. Put one slice in the skillet, butter side down. On top of that slice of bread, lay on two slices of Sharp or Medium Cheddar cheese. 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 round.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Making it Simple ~ Salmon with Ravioli

Its Friday night and fish is what's for dinner. Salmon is delicious and good for you in every way. Quick and easy, this dish is likely to be a hit with the family. Start a pot of water to boil for your ravioli, add a pinch of salt. Before poaching, soak the Salmon fillets in fresh squeezed lemon juice. This makes the fillets firm and thus will not fall apart while cooking. Melt into a covered skillet 3 tbs of coconut oil (organic) along with 2 tbs of olive oil and fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. You can also sprinkle in some sea salt (following your dietary intake). Simmer your fillets for about 6 min. Really it takes no longer than that.

When the water boils for the ravioli, toss them in - thawed or fresh cheese filled ravioli. Stir and let them roll. Remove your fillets from the skillet, put onto a serving plate and cover.  In the same skillet, add a small can of diced tomatoes with basil and garlic. Bring to a bubbling in the skillet and then turn down the heat to med.flame; next, add about 4 tbs of heavy cream, cover and let simmer until the ravioli are tender - drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving dish.

That's all! Garnish and serve.
~ Tutti a Tavola!