Fresh, fast and frugal!

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

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

'April in Paris' Blues ~ Cook Mediterranean Style

April in Paris... Not! But you can have April in the Midwest Mediterranean Style...

This dish is awesome because it kicks off the rainy day blues and it is fast and frugal. You will need: chicken thighs (skin on and bone in), as many per person. One onion, one med. can of roasted red tomatoes, green and Greek Kalamata olives and olive oil.

To begin, saute onion in olive oil, then push aside when browned and lay in the chicken thighs skin side down. Brown on both sides, bring back the onion over the top. Next, add all other ingredients listed above and prepare as a side, spinach infused pasta.

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

~Tutti a Tavola!

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!

Whenever, you hear 'veal parmesan' you should automatically think Italy. For this dish you will need to buy: as many tender veal cutlets as you will have guests, bread crumbs, grated parmesan cheese, one egg, heavy cream, a medium can of diced tomato and at least one small young green zucchini.

Begin by sprinkling balsamic vinegar on each cutlet rubbing in a dash of garlic powder as well. Then submerse the veal cutlets one by one in bowl of heavy cream beaten with one egg. Next, lay each cutlet 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 med/high. As the oils in your skillet start to bubble, lay in your cutlets and let them sizzle browning on both sides. Lastly, pour in one medium can of diced tomatoes, cover and let simmer for 12-15 min on med-low heat.

While they simmer, dice or slice the zucchini and brown in olive oil in a separate skillet. Then add the zucchini to the veal cutlets with tomatoes. For extra zing, you can also drop in: capers, roasted red peppers or olives. Prepare angel hair pasta or potatoes s a side. Before serving, top each cutlet with a combination of grated mozzarella and parmesan or thin slices of each.

~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! 

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 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!

Monday, April 4, 2016

2 Things Going at Once!

When you have one that wants this and one that wants that or you just can't decide or you have some left overs that better get used up... you can find yourself  'cooking two things at once'. I had left over ground breakfast sausage to use up and I also wanted to use up some farm style bacon still in the fridge. Hence, I will be making Farfalle pasta with a roasted tomato and onion sauce along with linguine carbonara.

To begin, I saute chopped onion in olive oil in two different skillets. To one, I add broken up 'crumbled' ground breakfast sausage (which is a blend of ground pork and seasoned breakfast sausage) and to the other skillet diced bacon.  I also start water boiling in two different pots, one for the Farfalle and the other for the linguine (or could be fettuccine).

When the ground breakfast sausage is browned, onion as well, I add one small can of roasted tomatoes and dried herb seasoning: rosemary, mint and oregano. Let that simmer and finish up with the carbonara. Add small petite fresh peas to the onion and bacon, let them sizzle together to get a little blacken going on the edges.

About now, the pasta should be near tender and ready to drain. The Farfalle pasta is just to be drained off, set to a large platter with the sauce poured out over the top of the pasta, sprinkle with grated cheese and garnish. You can also put green olives on the table. Some like and some don't like olives in so leave em out.

As for the carbonara, as soon as the pasta is drained, add two whole eggs, stir into the hot pasta, Add a dollop of butter and then the bacon, onion and peas. Ladle out onto a low lipped serving dish or bowl, top with grated cheese and garnish.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Who is the Brainy Gourmet?

Lately, people want to know who I am. I thought it was obvious. Maybe, its because they think I am hired as a corporate representative for the Brainy Gourmet Corporation to blog about food. Nope. The Brainy Gourmet is just me! I love to cook and share what I cook.

Where do I cook? I cook in my own home kitchen. You can see my kitchen on the blog; its even smaller than it looks. I live in the town where I grew up. I cook, I clean, and I blog all from home. Does anyone else work for or with me? Nope. Who is my sweetie? He is my husband whom I have mentioned him in past blogs. Does he have a corporate job? Nope. Does he make a lot of money? Nope, ...just enough for us to eat frugally good!

The idea for this blog was my husband's who said that my cooking is so good that I am being selfish for not sharing. I don't use recipes, I use what I call hands on know how gained from a lot of experience cooking over the years. I did spend time abroad (university studies) where I learned how to be a frugal and at the same time a delicious and tasty home gourmet. I also learned one important tip and that is to keep on hand and use simple ingredients - the list of basics are available on the webpage

What you see is what you get. I cook dinner, I take a picture of it, we eat it, I wash the dishes (by hand- its so much faster) and I blog it. Its the real thing, I am really the Brainy Gourmet... in case you had any doubts.

*Brainy Motto - If I can be brainy,You can be brainy too!