Fresh, fast and frugal!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Having guests over to ring in the New Year, tell them you will provide the main course if they wouldn't mind bringing additional sides and or appetizers. Remember, hot food is always better than cold food or a wine and cheese party. If prime rib is not a preferred main course item ...then do either fish or a smoked turkey.

Best sides: Scalloped Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus or sauteed root vegetables: carrots and parsnips with fresh dried herbs and walnuts.

*Go to the Brainy Gourmet Web page and click on Archives for hot food ideas that are sure to ring in your New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Peace, Love, Hope to You and Yours!

No matter how you celebrate the holidays, celebrate the best brainy way ~ which is....


*If you are still looking for deliciously frugal ideas for your holiday menu then check out Brainy Archives  on the 'Brainy Gourmet' web page. Find what you are looking for and fill your plate!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Beef Stew today...tomorrow a soup that is quick and easy!

Who wouldn't love a fresh made pot of beef stew on a snowy evening...

Italians make a delicious beef stew. Maybe its because Italians are frugal cooks. Quite often a stew can become a few kinds of soup by the end of the week.

For instance, you can make a minestrone from leftover 'beef stew' by adding more beef stock 'liquid' to the stew. If you like, boil pasta on the side to serve with the 'newly' created soup.

Or...serve with Focaccia bread.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Brainy Gourmet Goes Cookie Crazy at Christmas!

Most of my readers know that I am not a 'baker' by nature but I can make a creamy dreamy cheesecake 

...and a variety of drop cookies.

A drop cookie is just a ball of cookie dough you drop on a cookie sheet. I don't use any particular recipe per say because I know what makes a good drop cookie... all you need is a stick of butter, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, one egg and 1-1/2 cup of flour adding to that 1 tsp of baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp of salt. That is the basic mix. *Note that more flour than sugar will produce a more cake like drop cookie; more butter/sugar will produce a crispy flat drop cookie.

To that basic mix, you can add all kinds of things: any kind of nuts, slivered almonds, cranberries/raisins, oatmeal, and grated coconut; and, of course any kind of mini chocolate or butterscotch morsel. *Advice on the use of oatmeal and or grated coconut...use only 1/4 cup of either otherwise the dough will become too dry. The consistency of the dough has to be just right, not too sticky and not too dry. 

I do have a favorite molasses recipe that I love to make at this time of year. It is not mine but borrowed. When a recipe works, it’s worth using and sharing. This recipe works with or without the mini morsels.
  • 7 ounces best-quality semisweet mini mint chocolate morsels
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 level tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Put one stick of soft butter in a glass bowl. Add: sugar, molasses, egg, and stir; then mix in all dry ingredients including flour. Mix and lastly add the mini morsels. 
  3. Check for consistency of dough. Depending on the quality of molasses, you may need to add an additional tablespoon of flour and 1 tbs. of water.
  4. Using a 2-inch ice cream scoop, scoop dough onto baking sheet, 2 1/2 inches apart. Refrigerate 20 minutes. 
Finally, roll dough balls in granulated sugar and return to baking sheets. Transfer to oven and bake until surfaces crack slightly, about 18 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Stack up any way you like this drop cookie at a time!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Tomato Soup ~ Morphs Forward and Backward???

Nothing could be better on a cold December night.....

The brainy gourmet has always been about frugality and flavor. When it comes to any soup you can move forward by starting with chicken stock and then by adding to the stock every other day, with either pasta, rice or veggies...tomato. Backward only means you subtract.

For instance, a few days ago, I made a delicious farm style homemade minestrone soup. Yesterday, we were a bit tired of minestrone so I strained out the rest of the beef and vegetables (served as side or frozen for future) in order to retain a lovely tomato soup stock. To that, I added one (or two depending) small can of tomato paste and in no time...I had a rich flavorful tomato soup. As a side added in/to individual bowls, I suggest either rice or pasta. And of course, one of the best sides to just plain ole tomato soup is a grilled cheese sandwich.

*Never use stock or serve soup past a 5-6 day time frame; of course within that frame keep the stock/soup properly refrigerated.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Italian Roasted Chicken with Olives and Sun Dried Tomatoes!

On a cold night, bring in the Tuscan sun...

The ingredients for this dish are as follows: chicken thighs with bone in and skin on... there is more flavor. If you don't have on hand, then you will need to buy sun dried tomatoes, large kalamata (pitted) olives and large green olives (without pimento) along with spinach infused wide noodle pasta.

Begin by either broiling or sauteing on med/high heat your chicken thighs in 4 tbs. of olive oil along with 1 tbs of coconut oil skin side down searing until brown. Next, add dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano along with red pepper flakes and garlic powder, generously sprinkled onto the chicken. Once the chicken thighs are browned and the meat becomes less pink and more white, add 1 tbs of butter, then add one small jar of sun dried tomatoes (fairly drained) and generous amounts of both dark and green olives.

*If you opted to broil, the cooking strategy is nearly the same only everything can be done in a glass dish in the broiler on med/high for 25-30 min ... reducing the heat to low before adding all other ingredients same as above, cooking for another 10-15 min.

Back to the stove top, cover and cook for 25-30 min. on med heat, stirring and turning the chicken as it cooks. To finish up, add 1/4 cup of chicken stock and turn up the heat to high so that the bubbling liquid begins to consume the chicken. Turn down the heat to low and let the mixture cook covered for 10 min.

In the meantime, heat water to a boiling to cook your pasta. Once tender, fully drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving dish. Check your chicken, it should be now sitting in a rich sauce. Turn out the thighs and sauce on top of the pasta and serve.

Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Are you a Purist when it comes to Cappuccino?

More froth than liquid, the Italian cappuccino can be swallowed in seconds, and according to purists should leave a smear of milk on the inside of the cup. Stirring the beverage to mix the milk with the coffee that lurks in the bottom should not produce an overall brown color, but streaks of coffee in the pure white foam. A white mustache is obligatory after drinking.

According to many Italians, the light brown color is similar to that of the robes worn by Italy's Capuchin monks, hence the name, while others credit Capuchin monk Marco D'Aviano with the invention of the drink, after he discovered a sack of coffee captured from the Ottomans during the battle of Vienna in 1683. D'Aviano was beatified in 2003 for his missionary work and miraculous power of healing.
There is no debate over when a cappuccino is drunk. Italians line up every morning in bars before steaming, shiny coffee machines to gulp down their coffee, possibly returning for a another cappuccino after a late  night. One allowed variant is the caffe-latte, usually served in a tall glass, with extra milk added (the way my grandpa would drink coffee). Only tourists take a cappuccino or caffe-latte after lunch, as Italians believe the milk plays havoc with digestion.

Yes, the Italians are right about milk playing havoc with digestion after lunch; speaking from my own experience. I prefer my cappuccino at breakfast... guess that makes me a purist. 

* Source ~

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Veal Scallopini with Red Peppers, Capers on Angel Hair Pasta

For this absolutely delicious dish, you will need either a tender veal or pork loin, a jar of roasted red peppers and capers. The angel hair pasta should already be in your pantry. To begin, cut the loin in medallion size chunks/medals and pound them with a meat hammer. Lay them in a glass dish and sprinkle each one with meat tenderizer and garlic powder. Let the pounded meat medallions rest like this for 30 min.

Once you are ready to cook, take a skillet and lightly drizzle in olive oil covering the skillet bottom. Turn on the heat to med. and add one dollop of fresh creamy butter. As the meat rests, top each piece with bread crumbs and dried herbs... both sides. Once the butter and oil begin to bubble, lay in your veal/pork.

Brown on both sides. Next, take two roasted red peppers from the jar and slice, laying the pieces in the skillet with the breaded meat. Add to that 1/4 cup of capers. If you think you need a bit of liquid, pour in a bit from the jarred red peppers. Cover and let simmer on low heat while you prepare the angel hair pasta.

 Serve with Parmesan cheese....

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Veal Medallions "not a scallopini' with Red Pepper on a Bed of Linguine

Italian cooking...for the fast and frugal!

Someone said to me recently, "Italians are about fast cars and good food." I said, "and that's why they invented spaghetti bolognese and the Lamborghini".

For this dish you will need to buy: one lean veal loin. One jar of roasted red peppers or do them yourself on the stove top and of course, linguine pasta.

Begin by sauteing in olive oil on med. heat the veal, cut into medallion size chunks. Add these seasonings: rosemary or lavender (ready to use from the garden) and or mint, with some oregano including a dash of garlic powder.

Once the medallions are browned, add your roasted red peppers, including some of the liquid from the jar. To build up a thicker sauce, just mix 1 tbs of flour to 4 tbs of cooking sherry and 1/2 cup of beef stock to make a thickening slurry.  As the meat and sauce bubbles and perks, pour in the slurry; you may want to thin down the sauce adding more beef stock but only a little at a time to retain the consistency of the sauce. Cover and let simmer on low while you boil water for the linguine.

As the pasta become tender, drain, rinse and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate. Top with the veal and peppers in sauce.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Brainy Skillet Eggplant Parmesan!

What can't you do with eggplant, right?

Don't think that eggplant parmesan is difficult or has to be done in the oven, wrong. You can do this dish on the stove in the skillet. One large eggplant is all you need along with some tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese.

Begin by soaking (washed and semi-peeled) sliced eggplant in a rich milk bath. Pat down both sides on a plate of seasoned bread crumbs (seasoned with dried herbs). Then gently pan fry til browned on both sides in olive oil. You will be surprised how quickly the eggplant soaks up the olive oil, so you will need to drizzle in some extra as you see it begin to disappear in the pan/skillet.

Once you have finished browning the long slices, remove from the skillet and set aside. Clean the skillet with a moistened paper towel and return to the stove top. Add your tomato sauce, from the jar is fine as long as its your favorite. Lay in your eggplant browned slices. Let them simmer for about 6 -8 min on med heat. Then sprinkle over the top grated Parmesan cheese and simmer for another 10 min.

Prepare a pasta or salad side to this stove top lusciousness ...So good, you will think you stop off at an Italian "Mom and Pop" roadside!

~Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Along the Appian Way ~ Easy Italian Dinners and Soups!

The Appian Way... like good Italian cooking is an easy way, a frugal way.

Pastas with sauce... soups with bread and butter!

Most frugal dishes cooked the Italian way begin with a meat stock to which you can add tomato paste or heavy cream as a simple sauce. You can also prepare a great meat sauce starting with sauteing chopped onion and garlic in olive oil then adding any meat and crushed tomatoes and heavy cream, you like.

As for soups, they start the same way with either pre-made store bought stock or a fresh homemade meat stock (boil beef/chicken in salted water)... add fresh diced (or canned) tomatoes, fresh or frozen vegetables but take care to leave out pasta/rice which can be added to each bowl or to a separate soup tureen to set on the table.

You can get frugally creative when it comes to soup using stock using just about any kind of left over and or adding meatballs, sausage and or seafood such as shrimp. What is important with any soup or sauce is that you start with a basic meat or vegetable stock. By keeping stock in the pantry or fridge you can create or change up any soup or sauce and either can morph into another kind of soup or sauce.

Remember, keep out  pasta/rice and strain off veggies when you want to recreate a soup or sauce. For instance, a chicken stock can become many different kinds of soup even tomato by the end of the week or a good Minestrone; a soup that can have a number of left overs - meat/veggies and pasta goodies. Always be a good judge of food shelf/fridge life... the nose knows!

~ Tutti a Tavola!

The Appian Way was one of the earliest and strategically most important Roman roads of the ancient republic connecting Rome and Brindisi.

*Check Brainy Archives for recipes!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Baked Chicken ...Crusted with Parmesan Cheese!

Italians like eating out as much as eating in...

It takes no time at all to make this savory dish.  All you need are a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts, mayonnaise or sour cream if you are not a mayo fan, Parmesan cheese and dried herbs. To get started, turn on the oven and pre-heat to 425. Then drizzle olive oil into an oblong glass baking dish and lay in your chicken breasts. With a spatula, generously spread mayo over the top of each  chicken breast. Lastly, sprinkle with grated Parmesan, organic garlic powder and fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.

Bake on 425 for the first 10 and then at 375 for the next 25-30 min or until the tops are crusty brown and chicken is cooked through.

In the time before the chicken is done, prepare your sides: angel hair pasta, and a green salad.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Left Overs are Finally Gone!

With Thanksgiving over, its time to head home...

And... likely you are not in the mood to cook. So, go farm style which means bake dinner in the oven.  A frugal and tasty meat and potatoes oven bake is a boneless pork loin with potatoes, seared zucchini and dried plums. Get started ...turn on the oven to 375F.

You will need to pick up or take from the freezer to thaw, a boneless pork loin. Cut it down the middle not cutting through then spread it out and lay it flat in a glass dish drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with garlic powder and dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Wash and peel as many yellow potatoes as you think you will need and then cut into medium sized cubes. Lay them along side the pork, drizzling over the top a bit more olive oil and a pinch of two more of dried herbs. Cover with a small sheet of foil and slide into the oven.

After this has baked in the oven for about 30-40 min, wash and slice two medium sized zucchini to sear in a skillet with some bacon pieces for flavor (if you don't have bacon use olive oil). Once the zucchini is seared, browned on all sides, add to the pork and potatoes in the oven. At this time, you can toss in some dried plums, cover and bake until potatoes and pork are cooked through... about 20 min.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Chicken or 'Turkey' Picata... Either way its Brainy!

The Italian kitchen is a frugal kitchen... as one can learn from their Nona who could magically transform or integrate left overs into any meal. Since the big meal on Thursday, you probably have left overs. What can you do with left over turkey? ~ Turkey Picata!

Instead of buying and using boneless skinless chicken breasts take advantage of any left over turkey; the white meat for this left over dish is best. Following the original picata recipe, you will need a jar of capers, one lemon, angel hair pasta, one onion, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. Prepare as you would normally for chicken picata. Saute one whole chopped onion in a blend of 3 tbs of coconut oil and olive oil, adding to that 2 tbs of butter. Prior to that, freshen your turkey breast strips in a rinse of squeezed lemon juice. Now, add the turkey strips to the onion, having pushed the onion to one side of the skillet. Brown the strips on med. heat (adding an extra drizzle of olive oil) and then bring back the onion pushed aside.

Next, add 3/4 to 1 cup of heavy cream, half a jar of capers, and dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano, cover and simmer for 8 min.  Near the end of those eight minutes, slice half a fresh 'washed' lemon, cutting in half the slices and then laying them on top of the turkey to cook covered on low heat for about 4 minutes.

In this time, prepare the pasta by cooking in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and ladle the pasta onto a low lipped serving plate and then top with the rich creamy chicken and sauce; grate Parmesan cheese on top and serve.

Now, that is beyond yummy....

~ Tutti a Tavola!

 ... you will forget its left over turkey

*pics are from chicken picata post... effect and taste nearly the same!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Holiday is Approaching ~ Don't be Afraid to Cook at Home!

Thanksgiving is this week, hard to believe. Many can be overwhelmed with the very idea of cooking at home but as I advised last year, bring out the crockpots. I am not a regular user but there are definitely times when they just do the trick: saving time, money and keeping food hot. If you don't have one, borrow one. If you don't have two or three... borrow as many as you can or have your guests bring a side in their own crockpot.

If you are hosting, you could offer to do just the turkey and stuffing and let everyone else bring a side dish and bring it in their crockpot. If you are going the whole nine yards then bring out the crockpots.

Simple crockpot ideas: Turkey with dressing/stuffing. Yes, it can be done just as if you were doing a pot roast. Of course, your turkey can't be massive but it will be tender and juicy. To get a brown top, sear the breast side down (remove any giblets/organ meat from inside) before putting the turkey into the crockpot for full cooking. It can be done as long as you don't have a huge turkey, any large skillet will do to sear it in and I suggest in 3 tbs. olive oil and a dollop of butter. Once you done that, move the turkey to your crockpot, pour in 1/2 cup of turkey stock/broth (packaged or canned), another dollop of butter, dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.

The basic dry bread with sage dressing should be done on the side on the stove top and once cooked, you can spoon into the turkey even as it is already in the crockpot. Pour over the now stuffed area of the turkey with a bit more turkey stock or broth will do - using from a tetra pack or can is ok. Follow cooking temps and timing for your turkey as suggested by your brand/manufacturer. Certainly cook it as long as you would a large pot roast - 3-4 hours. Always, test your meat temperature with a meat thermometer to make sure it is done.

Here are some delicious crockpot sides: country style mashed potatoes (mashing them down after they have cooked), or use sweet potatoes, french cut green bean casserole and good ole corn pudding among the traditional. For more non-traditional: acorn or butternut squash with maple bacon and walnuts, cooked apples with crushed pecans and brown sugar, perhaps a rustic rice pilaf and a favorite of mine - slivered brussel sprouts with either dried cranberries or dried apricots or both and slivered almonds.

Any and all pies can be baked ahead of time or store bought and refrigerated until just before dinner.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!