Fresh, fast and frugal!

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Future of Organics???

Large, specialized food systems will quickly dominate global production and distribution of organic foods. Essentially, that means that the organic market will become very much like any other and or all other mass produced foods. So, what will be 'organic' about the organic market? That is a good question.

Firstly, let's remind ourselves what 'organic' was. During the early 1900s, essentially all food was produced without commercial fertilizers and pesticides, simply because they weren’t available. Some farmers continued to produce by organic means, in defiance of the dominant trend toward reliance on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides.

What is not surprising is that organic production was of little interest or concern to the large corporate food organizations until the recent rapid expansion in organic markets. And, now the corporate world is taking notice of the growing organic market which could cause a problem for future corporate profits. They fear that expanding organic markets eventually will cut into their profits from the non-organic food markets. So the economic stakes for control of organic food production and marketing are high.

Perhaps, takeover of smaller organic production will be seen as good after all, more people will have access to 'organic' foods. But, what about the quality? One can be sure that there will be less quality to produce more 'organics'. How/Why? The ground has to be labeled or certified organic and since that is impossible in the bigger growing belts due to years of chemical fertilizer use the 'organics' of the corporate world will likely be produced in synthetic soils or non soil environments and definitely more hands to 'handle' the food with more logistics involved to transport it.

Truly organic is time demanding and plants are coaxed to grow not coerced. With demand high for organic and the demands for consistency and uniformity of product with timeliness of delivery any 'true' organics as in excellent quality food will not be realistic or possible.

The non corporate organic farmers are already being forced to standardize, specialize, and centralize control of their production and distribution processes. Such operations can reduce costs – but only if they are operated at a large scale.

Mmm, my best advice... better plant a garden.

~ source page:

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Brainy Gourmet's Mediterranean Chicken

Who wouldn't want to be lying on the beach (or rocks) in the Mediterranean this time of year.  Mediterranean cooking is full of flavor, kalamata olives, tomatoes, garlic... Ahh!

Did you know that Mediterranean is not just for Italians. Many countries have a border with that sea. There is a delicious menu on every coast. For our purposes regarding this dish, let's look at Greece as this was the cradle of great artists and philosophers, and the place of origin of the greatest food trilogy: bread, oil and wine, which are the base of the basic Mediterranean cuisine. For the Greek, if you had those items, you are not only well fed but well off.

The Greeks discovered the oil and used it as a condiment, but also as a body balm and as a fuel for lighting. Their wine, which they mixed with water, resin or with herbs, was famous throughout the Mediterranean. The bread, for the Greeks, was the staple food and they created as many as 72 varieties.

There are many alarming articles telling us that olive oil is not so good. My advice, you should buy the best quality you possibly can.  There are modest health benefits are associated with consuming olive oil which are largely due to the beneficial plant chemicals, such as polyphenols and plant sterols, found in the extra virgin olive oils.

For this dish, you will need to use olive oil and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. To get started, generously coat a covered skillet, add dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano, red pepper flakes, garlic powder and a pinch of salt 1/4 tsp. Chop one whole onion and toss into the skillet on med. heat. While the onion browns, dice three young zucchini and add them to the skillet as well. Saute your onion and zucchini until transparent and browned on the edges.

Next, lay in your chicken breast strips. Cover and cook for 5 min. on high heat, stirring occasionally. Then add one medium can of roasted diced tomatoes and two handfuls of dark Greek kalamata olives. Cover and simmer for 10 min. on low heat. In this time, boil water with salt to cook your pasta, I recommend either linguine or penne.

~Tutti a Tavola!

... and don't forget the wine and bread

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Creamy Beef Stroganoff with Mushrooms and Onions!

The origin and history of Beef Stroganoff dates backs to 19th century Russia. It was brought to popularity or fame by Count Pavel Stroganov who for some years had become well known for his love of food and entertaining. Count Pavel Stroganov was a celebrity, a dignitary at the court of Alexander III, a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts, and a known gourmet. Given the known history of the recipe, it is doubtful that 'Beef Stroganoff' was his or his chef's invention. The known history of the recipe shows that it was included in the 1871 edition of Elena Molokhovet's cookbook, which clearly pre-dates the Count Stroganov's fame as a gourmet.

Elena Molokhovet’s ' classic Russian cookbook ‘A Gift to Young Housewives’ gives the first known recipe for Govjadina po-strogonovski, s gorchitseju, "Beef à la Stroganov, with mustard", in its 1871 edition. The recipe involves lightly floured beef cubes (not strips) sautéed, sauced with prepared mustard and bouillon, and finished with a small amount of sour cream; however, no onions or mushrooms.

My modern version has both onion and mushrooms, but no mustard. You begin by sauteing onions in olive oil along with a generous dash of dried herbs in a covered skillet or stock pot. Once the onion has browned, add your sliced or cubed boneless beef and a bit of salt and pepper. As for the cut of meat, you can use stew meat or better cuts depending on your budget. Believe me, Molokhovet's version likely used the stew meat cuts given her cookbook was for young housewives and they rather had more frugal budgets than the Count Pavel's. 

When the meat slices or cubes are no longer red or 'raw', add your sliced mushrooms, stir and cover to slow cook on med. heat for 10 min., stirring occasionally. What about bouillon? If you use a good stew meat in a covered stock pot, you will get a rich stock and the bouillon is not necessary. However, if you find you lack liquid, then you can add 'slowly' a small amount of liquid 'beef' bouillon. After the first ten minutes, reduce your heat to low adding 1/4 cup of heavy cream and 3 tbs of sour cream, stir and simmer on low heat for another 8-10 min. After that time has passed, turn off the heat, leave covered on the burner or heat element. 

In the meantime, prepare noodles as it is the tradition. I used an herb infused wide pasta noodle. Boil in salted water. When tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate or dish, then pour out the stroganoff, garnish with fresh green parsley and serve.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lemon Garlic Pork with Root Veggies

Pork served in Italy is often just a simple choice loin (marinated in fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt) cut as medallions and sauteed in olive oil with dried herbs and garlic. This is truly fast and frugal. In a covered skillet on med. heat, drizzle in your olive oil and seasoning, then lay in your pork. While the medallions start to sizzle, peel and julienne your root veggies- one whole carrot and one whole parsnip. As the medallions brown on both sides, you can toss in the root veggies on one side of the skillet. Cover and cook for 15 min.

Remove medallions from the skillet, setting them aside onto a serving plate. Now, caramelize the root veggies in the last remaining liquid. Once brown and tender, pour out over the medallions, garnish and serve.

~Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fish with Creamy Peanut Sauce topped with Pine Nuts!

Fish, fish and fish ...aahhh, the lake brings memories of delicious tastes!!!!

When you think fish, you don't often think of having it in a creamy peanut sauce topped with pine nuts. Italians are creative with fish. I think that this dish is one of the best ways to add zest and life to 'plain ole' fish... that's how the Italian think about. As a side, serve with potato or rice along with julienne zucchini and onion sauteed in olive oil.

Begin by soaking your fish fillets (use the fish prefer and or budget allows) in fresh squeezed lemon juice for about one hour before cooking. When you are ready to cook, take a covered skillet and melt in 3 tbs of coconut oil and the same of olive oil on med. heat and to the oils add dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano with a bit of garlic powder and a shake of red pepper flakes.

Turn up the heat to high and lay in your fillets. Let them sizzle on high heat for 2-4 min browning both sides. Then cover and let simmer for 6 min on med. heat. In the meantime, slice your onion, and julienne one washed zucchini - skin on. Start another skillet with 2 tbs of olive oil. When the oil is hot, toss in the onion and the zucchini -stir fry until richly brown on edges. Next, you will want to check your fish fillets and add 1/4 cup heavy cream along with 2 tbs of organic peanut butter (or mashed pine nuts). Cover and let the heavy cream and peanut butter blend smoothly together, shaking the skillet from side to side without lifting the lid.

Finally, lay the fillets onto a serving plate, drizzle some of the peanut sauce over the top. Take the onion and zucchini from their skillet and lay this vegetable medley next to the fish then garnish the entire plate with with pine nuts, fresh parsley and lemon.

or fish in simple creamy unsalted butter sauce???

white delicate fillets with potatoes???

tuna steaks cooked with the same peanut sauce ....

~Tutti a Tavola!

Incredible Simple Eggplant Lasagna

No time to treat yourself and spouse to dinner at an exclusive wine cellar restaurant... well, you can make it happen at home using this recipe.

You will need to buy at least 3 large dark purple eggplant, 4-5 large red ripe tomatoes (or two large cans of diced), parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, eggs, bread crumbs and olive oil.

To begin, wash and slice the eggplant either length wise or width (disk shape). Next, coat the slices/disks  with an egg wash and dip into bread crumbs, lay onto a cookie sheet sprayed with or covered with olive oil. Season with dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Bake in your oven until the eggplant is tender. Now, grab a deep glass baking dish and prepare to create layers.

First, coat the bottom of the glass baking dish with olive oil. Lay a few slices/disks as the bottom layer and cover with a few spoons of diced tomatoes, then a few handfuls of both cheese grated and blended. Sprinkle over the top the same mix of dried herbs and a pinch of salt. Add the next layer of eggplant and continue this process until you reach the top of the dish except the salt. The final layer or topping can be sliced tomatoes, or more diced tomatoes mixed with small can of tomato sauce having a dash of crushed garlic and finally a few good handfuls of the cheese blend, with a final pinch of salt.

There are a few variations out there which you can also try. One is to add roasted red peppers and sauteed onion mixed together as a layer and or add crumbled (pre-cooked) Italian sausage as a layer. Believe me, this lasagna is great without any meat, following the recipe above.

 Bake at 350 for 45 -50 min.

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!

* the above photo shows eggplant slices without extra tomato topping.

*Salt is used twice, once on the bottom layer and on the top layer - a pinch being a hefty1/4 tsp. sprinkled throughout. If you are watching your salt, use fresh tomatoes as the canned tomatoes can have added salt.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tahitian Chicken ~ Oh, take me away to an island!

This time of year, we all get cabin fever or the idea to get away to somewhere warm and tropical. If you don't have the means, you can at least create your escape with food.

Tonight, Tahitian chicken with noodles and dried fruit. You will need to buy a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, along with wide egg noodles, jarred or fresh red pepper, dried plums, kalamata olives and fresh green zucchini.

Begin by melting together in a covered skillet 2 tbs of coconut oil with 2 tbs of olive oil infused with red pepper flakes. Cut your chicken into serving sizes and lay them into seasoned sizzling oils. Add to that: garlic powder, dried lemon peel and dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Turn the heat to med and let them brown on all sides, remove and set aside. In the meantime, julienne your fresh green zucchini and one whole fresh or jarred red or orange pepper and add to the skillet. Let these veggies sizzle for a few min. then add your plums and olives using a bit of the liquid from the olives and jarred pepper unless you used fresh. This build up juices to cover and simmer. After 6-8 min, return the chicken, cover and let simmer for 15 min.

Drain the noodles, ladle onto a serving plate and top with chicken and delicious sauce.

 You can put some Terriyaki sauce on the table

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Mix and Match ~ Brainy Gourmet Advice

There are plenty of good recipes out there; one can see many in food magazines and on pinterst that are eye catching. But, in order to be a brainy gourmet, ask yourself what can I mix and match? Does cauliflower really go with olives??? If I bake the cauliflower in with the chicken, olives and whatever else what will I end up with? Will I end up with a huge casserole that no one will eat. What will it look like and taste like tomorrow? Will I be throwing away good food because no one wanted to eat the cauliflower and olive casserole bake?

Most often we are lured by what we see and thus image the taste. It can in fact be quite good but will it all get eaten and is it practical to make so much if it doesn't. That should be our concern as frugal brainy gourmets. It is always best to add things separately or be able to strain out/off veggies and or meats that could use later or just don't want hanging around until the end of the week. Its best to cook what can used in other ways or changed up quickly. That's frugality.

When it comes to being a good at home chef, it is best to keep things in their proper place. Don't mix meats with vegetables. Cook them separately as much as possible. They can be arranged together on the plate, they can be mixed on demand. Many vegetables have strong flavors and aromas, cauliflower and broccoli as well as brussel sprouts.

There are vegetables that do work with meat or fish. They are those that enhance the flavor of the meat or fish: such as red/green peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic, i.e. These can be used when cooking, added in. And, the best aspect about these flavor enhancing veggies is that also provide a base for a sauce which cauliflower does not. Meats and their flavor enhancing veggies can be mixed or blended. So, mix and match but don't mix up!

This lesson also applies to homemade soups; don't add items/ingredients to soup you cannot strain out/off and don't cook pasta or rice in the soup. Otherwise, you will have only that kind of soup for the rest of the week and by the second day, most won't want it a third. You can freeze it, but freezing some soups especially those with pasta or rice added in don't heat up well as in look nice as in fresh. If you like and want to Live well, live frugal!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Fast and Frugal ~ Yesterday's Soup Stock Today's Jambalaya

How is that possible? If you recall, yesterday I made a beef and onion soup stock for beet root soup. Well, today that same beef and onion which was strained off the stock will become part of today's Jambalaya. I will add to that ground turkey meatballs along with some good ole Cajun seasonings to be served on a bed of rice.

Let's get started. Start by chopping one small onion to saute in 1 tbs olive oil and 1 tbs of coconut oil. Take 1 pound of fresh ground turkey and mix in 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp of garlic powder and 1/4 tsp of sea salt. Take this mixture and form into bite size meatballs. Lay them right into the skillet where the onion is now turning golden brown. Pour over the top 1/4 cup of the beet root soup (broth) for liquid, then cover and let simmer on med heat for 15 min turning occasionally the meatballs and onion.

Next, you will want to boil 1 cup of white rice in 2 cups of boiling salted water. Then you will need to take from the fridge your strained out beef and onion and add to the turkey meatballs. Stir in your 'left overs' and cover once more to simmer for another 15 min. on low heat.  By then, the rice should be finished, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate, pour out over the top your beef and turkey meatball Jambalaya. Garnish and serve with hot sauce...on the table.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Barszcz Czerwony~ Beet Root Soup

In eastern Europe, cooking frugally with full flavor is an everyday activity inasmuch as it is for special occasion. Beet root soup is a good example because it is hearty and full of flavor that comes from fresh beet root cooked and added to beef stock creating a rich soup.

Begin by starting with beef stock - 4/5cups poured into a large stock pot. To that, add one whole onion chopped sauteed in butter or olive oil or even beef fat as that would be the traditional means for cooking the chopped onion.

Once the onion is browned on the edges, add it to the beef stock. Next, drop in a pinch of salt along with a mix of dried herbs: rosemary, oregano and mint. 

Lastly, wash and peel two large fresh beet root cut into chunks or shredded to be added directly to the beef stock with onion.  Cover and simmer for 2 hours on low heat. Serve along with a rolled pancake filled with hot ground meat and or a side of blood sausage.

* a richer flavor will come through if you prepare the stock the day before...

~Tutti a Tavola!

Pure Forms ~ Who is in Control of the Sugar and Salt in Your Kitchen?

You are in control as a 'brainy gourmet'. How can you be in control? You can be by making good choices while shopping for food items. A brainy gourmet uses very little salt and or sugar to her cooking. She also uses foods in their original or 'pure' form: not packaged, not frozen, not canned as a per-concocted item i.e. canned soup.  It is wise to read labels, of course. But, if one uses food in their pure form, then label reading would not be so necessary.

Take a look again at the basic food item list. All can be bought in their pure form. All have healthy attributes and are low in added salt and sugar. Be frugal, make your own soup stock for cooking. Make your own sauces, you don't need canned soup. Use 'pure form' as often as possible and make your meals delicious!

Heavy Cream
Herbs for seasoning

Consider these pure forms ~

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Stir Fry Pork Medallions with Zucchini in Orange Ginger Sauce

Spice up the night with Stir Fry - this dish is incredibly delicious and incredibly inexpensive as well as being well within my 2016 goal of fast and frugal in 30 min. or less.

You will need a boneless pork loin (local Polish butcher under 4$). Fresh green zucchini, jarred roasted red peppers, jarred sun dried tomatoes, and orange /ginger wok sauce (Aldi).  Start by boiling salted water for the linguine pasta. Slice your pork loin in medallion size chunks. Take your covered skillet and drizzle in 3 tbs of olive oil, to that add fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano along with garlic powder, red pepper flakes and just a pinch of salt.

Brown your pork on med heat (6- 8 min); once glistening and nearly cooked through remove from the skillet and set aside. In the same skillet, toss in julienne sliced fresh washed green zucchini and one whole roasted red pepper and a few sun dried tomatoes (2-3). Turn up the heat to high and sear your veggies. To that add 1/2 cup of ginger orange sauce, return the pork to the same skillet with veggies and simmer for 15-18 min on low heat.

In the meantime, you should be checking your pasta. Once it is tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate. Pour out your pork medallions and zucchini with peppers. Squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice and serve. A bottle of soy sauce on the table is a good idea.

~Tutti a Tavola!

Being A Brainy Gourmet ~ The Essentials!

To be a brainy gourmet and to be fast and frugal about it, all you really need in the pantry and or fridge are these ten basic ingredients: eggs, butter, heavy cream, onion/shallots, fresh garlic, herbs, potatoes, tomatoes, cheeses, and wine.

Again, if you don't have these inexpensive items in stock, then get shopping. At any time, you can prepare a delicious satisfying meal with these basic items. It is not just my advice but the advice of renown chef Eric Damidot's and most good chefs that care about food quality, food cost and taste.

Eggs: When you have eggs in the frig, you always have the makings of a meal.
Butter: The best fat with multiple uses: searing, emulsions, and or a rue.
Heavy Cream: The perfect finishing ingredient: sauces, stews and soups.
Onion/shallots: Raw or cooked, these staples will enhance most dishes.
Fresh Garlic: Chopped, sauteed garlic perfumes all dishes and is healthy.
Fresh herbs: Rosemary, mint and oregano or basil and parsley as a garnish.
Potatoes/tomatoes: both are cheap and healthy and can be made many different ways.
Cheese; From domestic to imported, grated or sliced, good for gratins, melting and spreading on.

Wines: White or reds are great for cooking, reducing, seasoning and celebrating with good food. If you do not drink wine, then don't buy it, keep it or use it. The reason for wine (s)... it brings the meal to life, wine connects us to the soil ~ the Creator's source of/for our food.

*I also recommend having on hand: soup stock, fresh bread and pasta. If these items and the ten above are all you have, you can be brainy any day of the week. You will also be frugal and that means rich in providing for your family good quality, hearty satisfying food. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Best Ever Stove Top Mac and Cheese

When my sweetie doesn't feel like himself, then only a batch of comfort food will fix him up and that food is none other than mac and cheese. The best stove top ever mac and cheese recipe is one I have used for years and it came from an Iowa farmer's wife. Boil your macaroni pasta as you would normally. When it is tender, drain, return to the stock pot you boiled the pasta in and add 2-3 tbs of salted butter (I like more butter).

On low heat, stir while you add 1 tbs of olive oil infused with red pepper flakes, 1/4 tsp of garlic powder, and 1/4 tsp of salt (or a pinch if you are watching your salt intake) continue stirring. Next, its time to add 1/4 cup of softened cream cheese or even a bit more. Continue stirring until its melted in and then add 1/4 of heavy cream. On the end, add 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. If you think you need a bit more heavy cream as the cheddar starts to melt then you can add some.

For me, the garlic powder, red pepper infused olive oil and cream cheese are what put this recipe into the higher echelon of stove top mac and cheese. I like a black pepper too but some family members don't. You can put a grinder on the table for those that do. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Homemade Italian Farm Style Beef Minestrone

Hot soup and hot toasted bread with butter... no other meal satisfies a hungry family like this does.

You will need to buy a package of beef stew meat, zucchini, carrots and whole canned tomatoes unless you have fresh frozen or have access to red ripe tomatoes in February. Fill a large stock pot with water, salt generously but don't overdue it. Once it boils, add your stew meat and let it boil uncovered for about 10 min. on high heat. Reduce the heat to med and add one large can of chopped tomatoes or a large bag of fresh frozen. I happen to have the last bag in my freezer which I thawed the night before. Next, add a bag of baby carrots-washed and fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano along with a hand full of dried arugula.

Let this soup slowly boil on med heat for 40-45 min partially covered. On the end, dice fresh zucchini to add to the pot and simmer on low heat for an additional 30 min. This Minestrone is without beans of any kind and the reason is my own personal preference and a digestive issue with bean skins. As a soup side, I like to use a wide egg noodle which is cooked separately, not added to the pot of soup.

Noodles should always be spooned into individual bowls. The reason is so that they do not 'glue or goop' of the soup especially, if you want to retain any portion of the stock. By keeping the noodles separate, you can strain out the meat and vegetables to have stock as a base for another kind of soup. In this case, I would recommend a nice rich tomato soup that could be made the next day on the same beef/vegetable stock.

Now that's being frugal. However, I would serve the Minestrone one more day as the flavor will have built up over night. If there is any left over by the third day, then I would strain out any of the meat and vegetables and make tomato soup with rice as the side.

Once the pasta is tender, drain and spoon into individual bowls, top with soup, sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and butter the toasted bread, roll or muffin.

~ Tutti a Tavola!