Brainy Gourmet

Brainy Gourmet
The Doctor is into Delicious!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Brainy Weekend Tip ~ From Chicken Stock to Tomato Soup and More!
















Italians are generally frugal people; I know since my Nonna was quite frugal as I have heard. I also observed frugality in Italy when studying there some years ago. Frugality also brings flavor to the home kitchen as certain  foods, as they morph, gain new flavor; for example, from chicken stock to tomato soup to minestrone and even into a marinara sauce.



Earlier this week, you saw me make a chicken stock from the chicken thighs used in the Mediterranean dish. Take that same stock and add one small can of tomato paste in order to arrive at a rich tomato soup. The day after, you can add pre-cooked zucchini, green bean, carrots and or pinto or garbanzo beans along and serve with macaroni or tortellini (do not put directly into the soup, but cook separate and ladle to individual bowls. The last day of the week, today...TGIF, you can take the left over minestrone soup (no pasta) and blend in your counter top Oster blender or use a hand mixer to create a delicious marinara sauce (adding fresh chopped garlic, parsley, along with dried herbs: oregano and rosemary and some white wine unless you are serving children) to simmer for 20 min. and then to pour over a  cheese/ meat or spinach filled Ravioli.





*always remember to refrigerate properly your stock and as it morphs into other uses; always checking by smell the freshness before using.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

From Sicily with Love~ Traditional Chicken Marsala!




For traditional' Chicken Marsala you have to use chicken cutlets (breast), mushrooms, and sweet white 'Marsala' wine.
















The chicken cutlets are coated in flour, and then briefly sautéed ~ browned on both sides in a combination of butter and olive oil. Then, you remove the chicken from the pan, and use the juices remaining (adding a bit of chicken stock from earlier this week) in the pan to make a Marsala reduction sauce. The sauce is made by reducing the wine to nearly the consistency of a syrup while adding onions, as well as champion mushrooms and fresh herbs. 

As for the base, I think that a linguine pasta is perfect which should be cooking off to the side in a rolling boil of salted water. When the pasta is tender you are ready. If you want to slightly warm the chicken a bit before serving, then lay the cutlets back in the skillet with the sauce for a couple of minutes. Remove the cutlets and pour the sauce over the pasta and the chicken ... serve immediately.




~ Tutti a Tavola! 




*This dish can be made the alternative brainy way too... using inexpensive semi sweet dry white wine; and, if you prefer not to use wine as children will sit to the table, then just don't use wine. To achieve a similar taste the 'brainy' way without using alcohol, add a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and 1/4 tsp of honey or organic cane sugar.

A Frugal Brainy Gourmet Tip!














Do you notice that when you buy fresh parsley or any other bunch of fresh herbs at the grocer they begin to wilt before you are able to use the entire bunch?


 





Firstly, to make fresh herbs last longer, don't wash them immediately. Refrigerate and wash only what you need just prior to using. Another way to get the most from store bought or even home grown herbs is to dry them.

If you have a large bunch and know that you won't be able to use the entire bunch by the end of the week just clip off half the bunch to dry and the other half put in the fridge to use as fresh greenery -garnish. You can dry herbs in the oven on a low temp or use an electric counter top fruit/veggie dryer (not a hair dryer) ;-).



















This frugal tip also applies to any fresh fruits and or veggies that you see beginning to lose their zest, their crispiness. Wash, peel and cut or dice/slice them up to dry in the over or electric counter top fruit/veggie dryer which store longer and can be used for future soups or salads...even dipped in chocolate!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

When you Get the 'April in Paris' Blues ~ Cook Mediterranean Style


April in Paris... Not! And not April in Naples either; but it could be if you serve this dish. What it is... its still April  in the Midwest and though we just had a touch of summer yesterday, today is back to normal northern temps which can give anyone the blues. That is why, I knew my sweetie on his way home would be thinking, I hope she is making my favorite - Mediterranean Chicken.


And, I was.  This dish is awesome because it kicks off the blues and it is fast and frugal. How? Because, not only do you get a great evening meal, you also get a really good chicken stock for future uses.

To begin, you will need to buy fresh cut chicken thighs, skin on and bone in. Why? They are best for stock. If you don't have onion, pick some up along with Kalamata as well as Green Mediterranean olives, spinach infused pasta, and a small can of roasted tomatoes. I also recommend a bottle of Chianti from Tuscany... not Mediterranean just the right wine.

Remember, we first want to create a rich stock so you will fill a large stock pot with water, add 1 tsp of salt and one whole onion, peeled and halved. Once the water boils, add your chicken thighs along with fresh dried herbs: parsley, mint, oregano and rosemary. This should simmer for about 40-45 min. After that time, remove the chicken thighs and set aside. Reduce the heat on the stock to low. Take a skillet and on med. heat melt in olive oil and coconut oil, add red pepper flakes, garlic powder and dried herbs. When the oils are hot, lay in your now pre-cooked thighs, skin side down. Let the sizzle until browned on both sides.
















Add 1/2 cup of both Kalamata and Green olives and then bring in some of the onion from the stock along with about 1/4 cup of stock. Cover and let sizzle while you open the roasted tomatoes. Add the tomatoes, cover and simmer on low heat for 20 min.  As a finale, add 2-3 tbs of heavy cream, uncover and let simmer while you prepare the spinach pasta. Use some of the stock to cook the pasta, adding 1-1 water/stock.


Put it all together, drain the pasta once tender and ladle over the top the chicken and sauce.


~Tutti a Tavola!

*and stock left over to use the rest of the week

Budapest Hotel Chicken in One Pot!

You will need to buy a package of chicken thighs, skin on and bone in. Also, pick up a crispy fresh red or dark orange 'not green' pepper. As a side, whatever you like. I prefer potatoes or roasted cauliflower.

In a deep stove top enameled stock pot, melt in 3 tbs of olive oil and the same of coconut oil. Add your first seasonings: garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper and a very generous amount of good quality paprika. In my opinion, it is wise and even frugal to buy good quality spices. Speaking from experience, some big box store brands taste like colored sawdust. Good spices, as in the past, are expensive. As for dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano which I use frequently, it is fun to grow and dry your own in a kitchen garden or on the deck/patio. For this dish, be generous with the rosemary and mint.

Lay in your chicken thighs and brown on all sides on med heat. Quick-fry, on high heat in another skillet drizzled with olive oil, one large whole thin sliced pepper, after 2 min. remove from heat and add to the pot with chicken, spoon in a bit of chicken stock/broth and cover to simmer for 25 min. To finish off, add either 1/4 cup of heavy cream or sour cream or plain yogurt which I prefer to use for this dish.


Boil water with a pinch of salt, and add your potatoes and do the same if you want the cauliflower instead of potatoes. Once tender, either potatoes or cauliflower, drain and roast these tender sections in olive oil with some paprika and garlic powder until they begin to crisp and blacken on the edges. Finally, place your cooked 'Budapest' chicken on a low lipped serving plate and  pour out the sauce over the top, you can place potatoes or cauliflower (dressed with chopped green onion or chive) around edges or serve separate.


~ Tutti a Tavola!






cena di gala
cena di gala
cena di gala

Monday, April 25, 2016

Veal Medallions with Sun Dried Tomatoes and a Side of Risotto!


Good Italian cooking is fast and frugal. A veal loin can be thickly sliced into nice small medallions. You can saute them in olive oil with dried herbs and sun dried tomatoes. It takes only about 25 minutes on med to high heat. Add a 1/4 cup of heavy cream and this delicious meat dish can top any rice, groat or pasta side. I like to add the olives on the end, not cooked just straight out of the jar or deli container.





 ~Tutti a Tavola!










* for risotto recipe ~see brainy archives

Friday, April 22, 2016

When you Run out of Ideas, There's nothing like a Good Steak!




The Piedmontese is an Italian breed of domestic cattle that originated in the region of Piedmont, in north-west Italy. The Piedmont region of northwest Italy is known for its robust history of fine wines and rich cuisines. The breed of cattle is prized for its significantly greater muscle mass compared to other cattle breeds. At the same time, muscle fibers remain tender without the need for excess marbling. The result is consistently superior beef that is both lean and tender. 

To begin, select a lean looking Sirloin 1 and 1/2 lb. from your local grocer. Try to buy on sale and try to spend no more than 4.99 per pound which is not unreasonable when you compare to a pound of other meat types or even vegetables such as parsnips- a simple root vegetable. 

Back to your steak dinner. Prepare for cooking by marinating for 3 hours in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic powder and kosher salt with a sprinkle of dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. When you are ready to cook and if you are cooking indoors, first sear the steak in a hot skillet of olive oil. From there, move the steak to a broiler for 6- 8 min. 

In this time, saute sliced mushrooms in the marinating juices left from the steak on med. heat until they begin to color, then add fresh washed asparagus of mid length, add some olive oil and dried herbs along with a pinch of salt and cover for 5 min. Then just before the steak is finished, turn up the heat to high and blacken. 


~ Tutti a Tavola!

* the frugality is in the simple character of the meal and best of all, any steak left over makes great steak and eggs the next morning.

 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pork Stroganoff With Slivered Almonds


When I was in the western Ukraine and along the Polish eastern border, I fondly recall all the small villages where life was busied by self-sufficient 'organic' farming, pleasant local conversation and evening song. There, people enjoy life's simple treasures. Gardens were planted in the front of the house for landscaping and for practical reason... cooking.

Historically, beef "Stroganov" is a Russian dish of sauteed pieces of beef served in a sauce with sour cream. The original version comes from a Russian cookbook titled "A Gift to Young Housewives." Sharing that  original recipe with you, requires using lightly floured beef cubes (not strips) sautéed and a sauce of mustard and beef bouillon and finished with a small amount of sour cream: no onions and no mushrooms. Since its creation, it has become popular in many places around the world and made with considerable variations from the original recipe and today using pork.

Being brainy about stroganoff means keeping it fast and frugal and yet adding an unexpected tasty twist.  For this dish, you will need a couple of thin cut boneless pork cutlets, one onion, a few mushrooms, wide egg noodles, slivered almonds and heavy cream or sour cream. Saute onion and mushrooms in 2 tbs of olive oil and coconut oil, with a dollop of butter on med. heat until browning edges appear. Sprinkle in dried herbs and then add your pork cutlets sliced into strips. Stir fry this combination for 6 min on med. heat until all meat is white. Next, pour in 1/2 cup or either heavy cream or sour cream. Cover and simmer on low heat for 8-10 min, while you prepare the pasta.

Boil water for the amount of egg noodles 'pasta' you will need. Once tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate, top with your stroganoff, garnish with slivered almonds.



~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Veal Parmesan with Tomatoes and Zucchini!

Veal Parmesan is simple and brainy good. You will need to buy or check the pantry for: balsamic vinegar, dried herbs, bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese. And, in the fridge: veal cutlets, heavy cream, a fresh tomato and at least one small fresh green young zucchini.

Begin by sprinkling a dash of balsamic vinegar on each cutlet and then submerse the veal cutlets one by one in bowl of heavy cream; next, lay each onto a plate of dried bread crumbs seasoned with dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.

Prepare a skillet for frying by blending olive oil and melted butter, turn up the heat to high. As the oils in your skillet start to spit, lay in your cutlets and let them sizzle on high heat browning on both sides. When they have... cover and let simmer for 12 min on med-low heat.

While they simmer, dice or slice the zucchini and chop up one tomato adding to the skillet and even a capers if you have/want.  Just push aside some of the cutlets and toss in the veggies. Finish with a final sizzle on med-high heat. Its all so very simple! Top with either fresh grated parmesan or thin slices of parmesan, letting the cheese melt over the top of the cutlets. Serve with pasta or potatoes!





~Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Chicken with Red 'Rosso' Pesto


From the Alto Adige come yellow flowers in the spring and fresh stems of grass to free range potential bounty. Living in any small village, one can witness the preparation for dinner which often begins with a quick swoop of the hand and flip of the wrist. Nothing could be more fresh than that. Many people have no idea what it takes to raise free ranged 'organic' food and the time it takes to prepare it for cooking,

Being a witness to that, people often ask, can you actually sit to the table after such an event? Yes, one can in reverence and thankfulness. After such a meal, there is a feeling of being blessed by a goodness that no corporate grocer could ever offer to mankind.

Hiking or walking in the Alto Adige, makes a person hungry. And, even hungrier when you come into the kitchen of a wood burning stove where Nonna is just putting the chicken into the skillet. Like her, I really appreciate a tasty 'rosso' or 'red' pesto made with olive oil, sun dried tomatoes and herbs. If you can find and afford, use pine nuts instead of the olive oil.


Chop one whole onion and saute in olive oil, toss in a few diced cloves of garlic, after a few minutes lay in your chicken breasts cut in strips. Next, scoop out 2 tablespoons of homemade 'rosso' pesto and stir that into the chicken. Let this sizzle for 6 min on high heat and then cover to slow cook for 6-8 min. on low heat. For a side, prepare sliced young zucchini and mushrooms.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Herb Rubbed Pork Sirloin Roast with Carrots and Baby Peas



I dream of life on the farm. Its fresh, its simple... its a frugal way to live.

This dish is simple and frugal. It requires only that you can either start cooking one hour before dinner time or set up the crockpot to do that for you. I personally have a fear of using a crockpot when I am not at home; and since I love cooking, as in being over the stove, watching skillets sizzle or pots boil, I do prefer and advocate to use a deep enamel stock pot.

You will need to buy a small pork sirloin roast, every grocer has and if you don't see one, then just ask. Pick up a bag of small baby carrots and young peas in the frozen section unless you know that you already have some in the freezer at home. And, hopefully you are not out of onions one of the most important items a brainy gourmet can have in the pantry.

Begin by rubbing down your pork roast with fresh dried rosemary, mint, oregano and parsley mixed in with some red pepper flakes, salt and garlic powder. Set aside for 15-20 min. During that time, chop one whole onion, and using your covered stock pot, saute on med heat in olive oil until the onion is golden brown. Next, lay in your pork roast, having moved the onion over to one side. Brown the meat on all sides, add a bit more olive oil if it begins to stick, cover for 5 min and then add 1/2 cup of vegetable stock along with 2 tbs of dry white wine. Cover and let it bubble for 5 min. Uncover and pour out as many carrots as you like. Cover again and simmer on low heat for one hour.

As for additional sides, baby peas are lovely to serve with this and or asparagus... my sweetie's favorite.

it's artistic ;-)

~ Tutti a Tavola!


*the frugal aspect?? Today, my sweetie gets a pork roast sandwich in his lunch

In Favor of Being Brainy ~ The Real McCoy vs. the Corporate Food Blog


I read a lot of sterile looking corporate food blogs and some are quite good in terms of their bold use of photographic ensembles depicting sophisticated meals accompanied by either long winded adverbial poetry or superlative adjective discussions on the use of expensive ingredients and cookware ... and some just insert a few short blips that say nothing.

From time to time one can wade through attractive stories about exotic food and in that sense the blog reads more like a deep and interesting article in National Geographic richly colorful but more often than not, on the shallow end, what it is like to live in a NY loft apartment. Such stories usually have nothing to do with simple frugal cooking and more to do with boasting of dinner party skills highlighting artistic presentation rather than a practical knowledge of frugal cooking.

Yet, what can be worthwhile, some such food blogs do provide detailed recipes which are helpful for anyone who doesn't have perfect pitch when it comes to home run taste; but even then you could agree a recipe that is not tried is not always true in taste. What a home gourmet really needs is information about how to cook with basic food items, whip up dinner up on the fly as in what to use when you have only so much to work with and time to do it in.

The Brainy Gourmet is me, its you. Because, the best home cook has a simple stocked pantry. Check the side margin on this page for what to always have on hand and how to build on that. You can also read Brainy Tips on the Brainy Gourmet webpage.

From years spent living abroad watching simple home cooks make incredible meals with very little, one comes to understand that cooking is more about love and sharing food than about exotic recipes and plate placement. A good home cook knows whats in the pantry and does not necessarily need a recipe with costly itemized ingredients that will likely never be used again. 

Follow the Brainy Gourmet and enjoy becoming a fast, frugal and deliciously good home gourmet! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hill Country Vegetarian~ Spinach filled Ravioli with Asparagus Tips!


Ravioli have been called 'pillows' of Italian love. Makes you want to have a pillow celebration!

Spinach is one of my husband's favorite green leaf vegetables. And Oh the applause whenever he gets to eat spinach filled ravioli with a chunky fresh tomato sauce and asparagus tips on the side.  Its practically vegetarian but he does not even know it as this luscious meal passes in front of his eyes bringing a happy smile.

For this dish, you will need to buy or make spinach filled ravioli. The Brainy Gourmet is about being fast and frugal so there is no problem stopping off at the local deli to grab a few ravioli on the way home. A few good brands can also be located in the frozen section of some grocers.

What to do? Boil some salted water to cook the ravioli in. Take a skillet, pour in some olive oil and add seasonings: red pepper flakes, garlic powder, rosemary, mint and oregano or basil. On med heat, stir fry a good handful of medium length fresh washed young asparagus.

Next, check the water, if it is rolling, add the ravioli. Back to the asparagus, once they start to blacken on the tips, remove from heat and in the same skillet pour in one small can of diced tomatoes. Let them sizzle away on moderately high heat for 5-6 min. At this time, the ravioli should be tender and ready to be drained.


Ladle the ravioli onto a low lipped serving plate, top with tomato sauce and lay the asparagus along the side.

~ Tutti a Tavola!



*The Brainy Gourmet encourages everyone to follow their own dietary needs. The Brainy Gourmet does not take any position regarding diet nor does the Brainy Gourmet advise anyone regarding their personal diet.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Does the Brainy Gourmet Ever Eat Out?

Someone asked, "Does the Brainy Gourmet ever eat out or buy anything already made? Of course, is the answer. However, eating out is not frugal, its fast but it can be expensive especially on a daily basis. The Brainy Gourmet is about being fast but especially about being frugal as well as being as conscious about food quality as it is possible these days.

When you are busy with whatever you have to do concerning family, friends and work either at home or outside of home, then you don't always have time to cook from scratch or maybe you just forgot to put the chicken out to thaw or simply do not have time to shop for dinner. What can you do in a pinch if eating out as is out of the question.

Thankfully, there are more and more grocers offering fresh cooked food. They offer what they deem to be organic, or farm fresh, garden fresh, free ranged, home cooked or something like it. From time to time, we find ourselves having to believe in the label or logo and going for it just because of the lack of time to cook and the number one factor being that everybody is hungry.

I find that in such a situation, a deli bought rotisserie chicken (labeled free range/or farm fresh) is a fast and reasonable frugal solution. You can put together a green salad, or quick soup or any veggie side and dinner is served. Yes, we want to and even have to believe that the label is what it says it is whether bought at the deli, taken from the meat or frozen section or even off the shelf. We have to trust because we don't all have the means to produce our own food from start to finish. Not everyone lives on a farm or has the opportunity to raise their own food mostly due to work constraints and local ordinances. Rotisserie chicken has been a blessing at our house on many occasions.



Serve the Brainy Gourmet way "Say a blessing and eat up! "A man/woman is not defiled by what enters his/her mouth, but by what comes out of it" ~ Matthew 15:11.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Homemade Minestrone Tortellini Soup for a Cold Snowy ~ April ???


A Cold Snowy April??? Yep! Up here in the northern Midwest, we can get snow in April. That is why a pot of homemade tortellini soup is so necessary... it can put the sunshine back into life. My family comes from northern Italy very near the Trento Alto Adige where it can snow in April.

For this delicious homemade soup, you will need to buy: 1 lb. beef stew meat, tortellini pasta, and fresh green zucchini. If you don't have in the pantry these items, then head to the grocer: small can of diced tomatoes, onion, beef stock, one small can of pinto beans and grated parmesan cheese. Its simple and that is why it is fast, frugal and hearty. Soup is the best meal to have after an afternoon of spring yard cleaning ... even in the snow.

This soup can be done right on the stove top, though some recipes use a crockpot. First, begin by sauteing one whole chopped onion in olive oil in a covered stock pot on med. heat. Add your chunked beef stew meat stirring among the chopped onion letting the meat brown on all sides. Pour in 2 cups of beef stock, one small can of diced tomatoes, 1 cup or one small can of drained pinto beans, and washed diced fresh green zucchini. Toss in a dash of salt, black pepper, garlic powder and dried herbs: rosemary, mint,oregano and parsley.

Give the soup a good stir, reduce the heat to low, cover and let it simmer for 1 hour. When you are ready to eat, boil salted water for the tortellini pasta. I don't ever mix my pasta into a soup. Get some garlic bread going in the oven or toaster oven, set the table with some green olives, grated and even a chunk of parmesan cheese and you're good to go.

 with parmesan
without parmesan

~ Tutti a Tavola!




Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mom's Pepper Steak ~ Everybody's Mom Makes the Best


Just get online and you will see that just about everybody has a pepper steak recipe that was mom's.  In fact, even moms use their mom's recipe. Its just a simple hearty dish that families enjoy any day of the week or even weekend.

My mom's recipe uses beef stew meat but I know some mom's and or recipes prefer to use or call for flank steak cut into strips. You can use the best choice of steak or beef you want as long as it is cut into either chunks or strips. Since this is pepper steak, you can bet there will be plenty of green and red peppers. I happen to use only the green peppers as did my mom. Like me, she liked onion and thus, I am using one whole 'large' onion chopped.

To begin, on med. heat, saute in olive oil and a bit of coconut oil, one large chopped onion and one large green pepper and one small clove of garlic. When those have started to brown on the edges, add your beef and seasonings: a pinch of black pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and a pinch of salt along with as much rosemary, mint and oregano as you like but really no more than a few dashes. Push aside the onion and green pepper letting the beef chunks brown on all sides. Then add 1/4 cup of beef stock, cover and simmer on med. heat for 15 min.


Next, add 1 small can of tomato paste, stir and cover again, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-40 min.
While the pepper steak simmers, cook either rice or wide egg noodles. I prefer rice with this dish...as my mom's side was always rice. However, I have made noodles and my sweetie enjoyed that very much. When using noodles, I did make a less dense pepper steak version omitting the tomato paste and going with canned diced tomatoes. When using my mom's recipe, which is very dense, I use rice... it was her 'pepper steak'.


~ Tutti a Tavola!