Fresh, fast and frugal!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Polish Pierogi Not Russian ~ Remembering ....

I love Polish food as much as I love Italian. The best Polish food that is simple and filling can be no other than pieorgi... filled with potato and cheese, or just cheese, or meat and even fruit. Yum!

Polish pierogi are usually boiled in salted water. Baked or even deep fried pierogi are also popular. There exists tons of recipes both for the stuffing and for the dough. During decades of communist regime, Poles usually could only "enjoy" the more simple rural versions with basic toppings. Perhaps this is why nowadays a lot of eateries and homes are tempted to experiment with extravagant stuffing and fancy toppings to turn this simple dish into a gourmet delicacy.

Pierogi arrived on Polish territories in the 13th century probably imported from the Far East via eastern neighbors such as Kievian Rus (today's Ukraine). In the past, pierogi were more popular in the eastern borderlands of Old Poland than in the west. It seems that pierogi ruskie, which are stuffed with potatoes and farmer's cheese, are one of the most popular varieties nowadays. The name pierogi ruskie, which is commonly translated as Russian dumplings, misleads not only Poles but also foreigners.

Make no mistake! The name does not indicate any Russian origin since such food is unknown there. Ruskie pierogi arrived from a prewar region of Poland which is now part of the Ukraine. Indeed, before 1945 Ukrainians used to call this particular variety of pierogi ‘Polish pierogi’. It is likely that “pierogi ruskie” were created by Poles living in Ukraine at the time.

We like them boiled or boiled then fried in butter or in lard with bacon bits to crisp up the edges... a pinch of paprika adds extra zest. Always served with sour cream, what a brainy fast and frugal meal!

There is no added sugar here but if there is any 'hidden' sugar its only naturally occurring in the very basic ingredients used in acceptable amounts.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

* Source ~ 'Polish Food 101' []

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summertime Simple and Elegant ~ Beef with Garden Green Peppers and Mushrooms

Simple and elegant "beef its what's for dinner"... sounds like a marketing slogan. It was some time ago and why not. Americans not only raise beef but they love to eat it... hamburgers right? Yes, but more than just ground beef has a place at the American table. We were visiting eastern Europe this past month and our host told us that he longs to carve into a thick American steak.

Well, who wouldn't. But, steak can get pricey. Don't be glum, be brainy. You can still enjoy the taste of good beef that looks elegant and is simple to make. In fact, this dinner is simple and elegant using beef stew meat with garden green peppers and mushrooms on top of a bed of brown rice and barley groats.

Begin by sauteing at least one pound of small cubes size stew beef meat in 4 tbs of olive oil, along with herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper and dried lemon zest. Continue to saute beef on med heat until browned on the edges and juices begin to run.  Then, turning down the heat to low to simmer in juices for 30 min. In the meantime, prepare to boil the rice and groats in salted water. Also, in another skillet, saute your green peppers and mushrooms in 2-3 tbs of olive oil and choice of dried or fresh herbs.

In no time at all, your beef, peppers/mushrooms and side will nicely finish so that you can ladle the rice/groats onto a low lipped serving plate topping with the beef, peppers and mushrooms.

As a extra side, surprise everyone with the first of the homegrown garden fresh beets topped with aromatic chopped chive...

~Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Chicken Picata ~ Always a Light Summer Favorite!

When the summer heat strikes, who wants to cook, right? But cooking a delicious meal that is light (in the meaning of quick and graceful), and simple to make is possible... like a scrumptious chicken picata. Now, convinced you can whip it up in no time, you get started but then discover that one item is missing.

Being a brainy gourmet means coming up with a  brainy substitute. So, if you don't let's say one ingredient such as 'capers' don't worry. I was sure I had a jar in the pantry but as it turned out, I did not. The best substitute I could come up with was chopped roasted red peppers, tasty and added some color.

There are some that would frown on such a substitute and certainly key ingredients are necessary. In this case, the key ingredient to any great version of chicken picata is the lemon. If you have that, with our without capers, it will be delicious. To begin, start sauteing diced onion in olive oil and coconut oil, about 3 tbs each in a large skillet on med heat.

Next, add strips of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts and as many fresh herbs as you like. My favorite combo is: rosemary, mint and oregano. You can also add a dash of organic garlic powder. Turn up the heat, and once the chicken is browned, the onion as well, add a few slices of lemon (washed with the rind on) and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Cover and let simmer on low heat while you prepare the angel hair pasta.

When the pasta is tender but a bit firm, drain and ladle onto a low lipped plate. Pour out the picata, top with shaved parmesan and put out some extra lemon wedges. Its all that simple!

~Tutti a Tavola!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Summer Time Dinner Served on the Porch ~ Why Not!

Nothing Better than a light and easy dinner menu to serve on a warm summer evening and better yet when the tomatoes and squash are from your own garden.

As a main feature, fresh caught trout or fresh deli bought broiled and topped with a creamy butter and chive sauce surrounded by sauteed yellow squash straight from the garden as well as red ripe tomatoes.

How to begin? You can broil or pan fry your fish fillets in butter til browned and then add1/4 cup heavy cream and freshly chopped chive. Leave the fish on low heat while you saute sliced yellow squash or a mix of yellow and green squash - zucchini in another skillet with a dollop of butter or 2 tbs of coconut oil.  Add to that, fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Within minutes, the edges will brown and crisp. When you see that the squash is not only brown and crisp on the edges but also tender and glistening, you can prepare to serve a lovely summer time dinner.

Slice tomatoes as an additional side...

Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Summer will be Winding Down ~ Ever Thought About Preserving Food?

For years, preserving your own food was common. My mom did it and actually it wasn't that long ago. If you have a garden that produces a bountiful harvest, you may be thinking how to make it last... how to preserve it for the coming winter doldrums.

Freezing is the simplest means of preserving food but if you don't have a freezer chest or space in your fridge/freezer, then you may want to consider conserving as in canning or drying and even meats can be preserved through curing. Being a brainy gourmet, I recommend all three means of conservation and or preservation. Believe me, you will be absolutely delighted when you open a jar of your own home grown preserved food on a cold winter evening.

To begin, let's consider the easiest of herbs, fruits and veggies to preserve. For the most part, drying herbs is a daily task at the brainy gourmet headquarters. You can use an oven or a counter top electric drying machine. Clip your favorite herbs, spread them out and let them dry overnight in the oven or machine and if you have clipped a lot, it may take up to a day or two depending on the amount.

As for fruits and veggies, I highly suggest drying plums, apricots and apple slices: wash the fruits, dry with a clean towel, halve, remove the pit and or core (only apples need peeling and slicing) and dry spaced out on racks in the oven on low heat for up to 72 hours (I have a old Caloric wall oven with a constant pilot which seems to be just right for drying as the temp inside never gets more than 80) and of course you can use the suggested time found on your counter top drying machine.

When it comes to veggies, I like to freeze whole asparagus, green beans and even whole tomatoes: wash and bag and freeze.

I also enjoying canning tomatoes and applesauce. Nothing fancy... just brainy. Red ripe tomatoes should be washed, blanched, skinned and jarred with a pinch of salt spooned into boiled out mason jars and topped with boiled lids. Place the jarred tomatoes in a very warm deep water bath on the stove on low heat for 15-20 min. Remove, and let the jars free stand to cool keeping an ear to listen for the lids to pop. The applesauce is a bit more time consuming as the apples have to be washed, peeled, cored, cut up and cooked down into a sauce along with a bit of sugar, then jarred in the same way as the tomatoes... following the same stove top processing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Vacationing in Poland ~ Food tourism!

Vacations are great but they make it ever so hard to get back into the swing of things. Though, I did cook the entire time, I kept a simpler kitchen: fresh eggs, fresh baked bread, fresh homemade sausage, the freshest honey, white cheese, sour cream and pierogi.

In Poland, most farmers still farm on small hectares, and refrain from using pesticides either because they can't afford to or they prefer not to and the later is the strongest. In the upper region of northern Poland, honey bees fly about busy in their daily work, the lake waters sparkle pure, the air smells fresh cleaned by nature itself and the sunsets around half past ten with storks clapping to their fledgling offspring that another day has ended... Hollyhocks nodding off to sleep.

We biked and swam and ate what God's earth provided us.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Taking a Family Sabbatical!

*For brainy ideas during this time check out and go to brainy archives!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Cajun Kitchen ~ Everything but the Kitchen Sink!

Once in a while, the brainy gourmet likes to go Cajun crazy in a kinda crazy way...

Cajun craziness for me starts like this... taking a few left overs while adding something fresh and zesty. From this week's leftovers of: angel hair pasta with tomatoes, stir fry veggies and coconut chicken, I added fresh shrimp for a dish that turned out lip smacking good... topped with crushed jalapeno and lime chips not to mention some cayenne hot sauce.

It came together rather quickly. The pasta with tomatoes was microwaved while I stir fried the shrimp in red pepper infused olive oil, garlic powder and chili powder. To that, I added the left over stir fried veggies and diced up leftover coconut chicken breasts. Once, the pasta was done, all I had to do was wait for the shrimp, chicken and veggies to get a little black crispiness gathering around the edges.

The pasta was ladled onto a low lipped serving plate and topped with the Cajun 'ratatouille'. Lastly, the crushed chips were tossed on top and a good dash of hot sauce.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Veal Parmesan with Angel Hair Pasta and Fresh Tomato

Veal is a delicious delicate young 'dairy' beef, best served as a Parmesan ~ Parmigiana!

A brainy gourmet knows that using basic ingredients is both fast and frugal; even when making a delicious veal parmesan. All need are: meat, cheese, tomatoes. Being a brainy gourmet, you realize that there is no need to buy expensive ingredients and or certain exotic spices for one single dish/meal.

Remember, the basics remain and they will sustain any brainy kitchen and family table: butter, heavy cream, potatoes, cheese, eggs, garlic, onion, tomatoes, pasta/rice, and herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. If you have at least that much in your pantry or fridge, you can add any meat and make a brainy gourmet meal.

For this dish, you will need to buy veal (pounded into large pancake patties), angel hair pasta, fresh tomatoes, garlic crushed or powdered, herbs and a green veggies side, I prefer asparagus. In a large skillet, on high heat melt in 4-5 tbs of olive oil, and sprinkle in generous amounts of herbs. Working quickly, take a veal pattie and place on a flat cutting board or plate, cover with grated Parmesan and bread crumbs. Do that with each pattie you intend to serve for dinner.

When the oil are sizzling, lay that coated side down and sprinkle the up sides with Parmesan and bread crumbs. Turn the heat to med and let them fry.  If you need to drizzle a bit more olive oil along the sides of the skillet then do so.

After about 6 min, add 2 cups of freshly chopped tomatoes (or one small can), cover and simmer on low heat for 8 min. In this time, prepare the angel hair pasta and asparagus. The angel hair pasta cooks fast and that is makes a great pasta side for this veal dish because it too cooks through rather quickly. As for the asparagus which takes no more than 6 min in olive oil with a dash of garlic powder, letting the spears blacken a bit on the tips. Before serving the veal, lay shaved parmesan cheese across the top to melt.

Call everyone to the table ~ Tutti a Tavola!

Olives on the table ... why not?

Note ~ Is it wrong to eat this kind of meat or any meat? The voice spoke to him: “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” "No, Lord! Peter answered, "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”Acts 10: 13-15.

…For those that are not meat eaters, use soy. Point being, for those that eat meat, no one should make them stumble in their walk with the Lord, and neither should those who don't eat meat be made to feel in the wrong.