Fresh, fast and frugal!

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!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Northern Italian 'Farm Style' Minestrone!

Hot soup and hot toasted bread with butter... no other meal satisfies a hungry family like this does as we leave fall and head into winter.

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 home grown tomatoes yet this late in November. 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!

Veal with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Olives!

Good Italian countryside 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. 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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Flank Steak with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Apsaragus and Linguine

Italian cooking is not an all day long process. It can and should be spontaneous, fresh and full of flavor. This dish is just that. All you need is a tender flank steak cut into strips and marinated with a meat tenderizer. As for the rest of the ingredients, stop off and pick up some asparagus, a package of dried sun tomatoes and probably you have in your kitchen pantry a box of linguine pasta.

Start the water to boil for the pasta. Then, stir fry on high/med heat washed asparagus spears in 2 tbs of olive oil and coconut oil, sprinkling in some garlic powder, red pepper flakes and dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Push the asparagus aside and lay in the flank steak strips, searing for 2-3 min on high heat. Toss in half of the package of sun dried tomatoes and stir blending the asparagus, steak and tomatoes. Drizzle on some low sodium soy sauce and 2 tbs of beef stock for a clean finish.

When the pasta is tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving dish and top with your stir fry.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pork or Veal Medallions in Mushroom Sauce with Wide Egg Noodles

A dinner that looks and tastes like your expecting royalty for company...

Golden pork or veal medallions in a creamy mushroom sauce is nearly a delicacy to the taste buds and yet so easy and inexpensive to make in your own brainy kitchen. Begin by sauteing, on med heat, one whole chopped onion in 3 tbs olive oil and 1 tbs coconut oil sprinkled with red pepper flakes, garlic powder and dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.

Next, add washed sliced champion mushrooms and to that a dollop of fresh salted butter. Stir to get a nice brown edging on the onion and mushroom. Push aside and add medallion size meat about one inch thick. On higher heat, sear the meat on both sides, reduce the heat and add 1/4 cup of beef stock. Cover and let simmer for 6-8 min. Lastly, add 1 cup of heavy cream.

Prepare your egg noodles by boiling in salted water until tender; drain and ladle the medallions in creamy mushroom sauce over the top. As an additional side, why not butternut squash with baked apples.

... a little Parmesan cheese on the table if you please

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mom's Pot Roast with Carrots and Mashed Potatoes

just follow the aroma and... you're home

Choose either a large beef shoulder or chuck roast to make the best 'pot roast' ever... the secret is in the quality of meat, cooking time and mix of dried herbs.

Regardless of cooking in the oven or in a crockpot, you need to let the beef sit or rest for 15-20 min on the counter in a glass dish sprinkled with meat tenderizer. And, regardless of how you prefer to cook, you need to sear the meat on both sides in a black skillet in a bit of olive oil before roasting (in oven or crockpot).

While the beef rests, chop one whole onion and wash then dice or slice carrots. Heat up your oven or crockpot, lay in the seared beef (use a glass dish for oven roasting) covering with the onion, carrot and dried herbs: rosemary, mint, oregano and sage. If you are cooking in the crockpot, before locking down the lid, pour in 1/2 cup of beef stock; do the same for oven roasting, covering with a glass lid or foil - follow crockpot cooking time for roast beef, and for oven time aprox. 2 hrs. on 350.

In the meantime, prepare additional sides such as mashed potatoes, green beans or baked and then 'whipped' butternut squash. Take the beef from the pot and tear apart on a serving plate, lay your carrots along side and garnish.

You will have a rich liquid remaining in the crockpot or glass dish from which a delicious gravy can be made in 5 min. Pour the liquid into a pot on the stove top. Turn the heat to high and watch for the liquid to boil, then add 1/2 cup of water mixed with 1tbs of flour and stir vigorously. As it thickens, you can remove from the heat and ladle into a gravy server.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Sirlion Steak... its like eating downtown!

Whenever I prepare steak at home, I feel as if I am going to be eating downtown. There is something sophisticated about a good steak and at the same time, something very raw as in real or in the spirit of the west - rugged, untamed and yet containing the promise of something rich as in wealthy. Surprisingly, a tender juicy sirloin steak is not as expensive to buy or cook. In fact, I think it is one of the easiest meats to prepare. Believe it or not, you can pick one up for a reasonable price of 6 or 7.99 a pound.

Before cooking, you will want to let the steak sit out (30 min) sprinkled with meat tenderizer, both sides. When ready to cook, you can simply flash fry the steak on high heat in olive oil and fresh dried herbs, searing on both sides; then letting the steak sit in the skillet on low for about 4 min uncovered on low heat and then finally turning off the heat.  Depending on your serving preference (rare, medium rare and well done) the 4 minutes can be reduced to 2 or 3. Well done is for the full 4 minutes. Or, you can cook your steak by broiling or grilling; again, cooking until you reach your favorite serving temp: rare, medium rare or well done.

The best sides are blackened asparagus and brown Bavarian mushrooms.

Eggplant Lasagne ~ Imagine it Served on the Back Portico!

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!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Chicken Tikka Masala with Potatoes, Barley Groats and Winter Squash!

eat at home as if you just stepped out for dinner....

This dish is a favorite in the Brainy Gourmet kitchen. Why? Because it is so simple and delicious. Basically, all you need are...two 'in a package' skinless/boneless chicken breasts, onion, garlic, heavy cream/plain yogurt, tomato paste, a couple of tasty spices such as cumin, coriander and paprika and also some dried herbs like mint and rosemary.

Melt on med heat in 2 tbs of olive oil, 1 pat of butter and 2-3 tbs of coconut oil. Next, saute in the blended oils one chopped onion and one glove garlic until browned, then add cubed chicken breast meat, continue to cook on med heat.

To this add 1 cup of heavy cream, 1/4 cup of yogurt, one small can of tomato paste and your spices/herbs (using as much as you like; recommending 1 tsp of each). Cover and let simmer on low (30-40min) while you prepare sides. My family likes to eat this with potatoes and or buckwheat groats. You can also serve as a side a hearty dark green winter squash which is really nice baked and then mix with mashed potatoes... one way to get the kids to eat a good for them vegetable medley.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Great Lake Salmon ~ The Catch of the Day!

Yesterday, I was talking about meat dishes with a friend and today I thought it was about time for some fish. As much as I love meat, fish is on equal ground; especially salmon or trout. For some in the Mid-west is not easy to get fresh caught salmon or trout unless you live on or close to the great lake or in the upper peninsula. Thankfully, many grocers provide fresh fish packed on ice ready and waiting for your skillet or grill.

For this dish, you will need frozen fresh caught salmon which most grocers have in the freezer section. Lemon, fresh chive, heavy cream and as a side... a mixture of buckwheat groats and white or wild rice.
To begin, marinate your salmon in half of a fresh squeezed lemon for 45 min to an hour. If there is a dark vein in the meat, take it out before cooking as tonight we are not eating sushi. Melt into a covered skillet, 3 tbs of butter and 1 tbs of coconut oil.

Season with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, white or green pepper fresh ground pepper corn and a bit of coriander. Lay in your salmon and let the fillets sizzle on high heat searing both sides. Then, cover and steam in the juices for 6 min on low heat adding 1/4 of heavy cream on the end. Turn off heat, toss in a hand full of fresh chopped chive and a pinch of dried mint, keep covered while you prepare the side.

Set 2 cups of water to boil your rice and groats in which should be started at the same time you begin cooking the fish. Once the water rolls, add 1/2 cup of rice first letting it boil for 3 min alone and then the same amount of groats as they tend to cook faster. When both are tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate, placing the salmon along side.

~Tutti a Tavola!

... other salmon favorite is with spinach infused fettuccine pasta!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Rosemary, Mint and Oregano ~ My Favorites!

Long time readers know that my favorite herbs are: rosemary, mint and oregano. Its the blended taste of savory and sweet that is beyond delicious. These herbs are very easy to grow. And because I grow them myself, I have quality assurance. 

Yes, herbs are relatively hardy and easy to grow and you don't need acres. You can grow them in pots on your deck/patio or in your kitchen window. Just clip fresh (don't wash), lay them on a perforated pizza pan and within 24-48 hours, they are dry. 

The temperature of the oven should be around 80 degrees, a good temperature for slow drying the delicate leaves of mint and oregano. As for the rosemary, a bit higher temp of 100 is preferred giving the sprigs between 48-72 hours. There is no point to pick a lot unless you have a lot to harvest. I pick and dry as I need. Its simple, its fresh, fast and frugal!

In a variety of combinations, these herbs are great for any meat, fish, vegetable or pasta dish. And, best of all, Rosemary especially is known for its potential health benefits... it's an aromatherapy for the brain!

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a fragrant evergreen herb native to the Mediterranean. It is used as a culinary condiment, to make bodily perfumes, and for its potential health benefits.

Ravioli ~ Pillows of Italian Love...

Ravioli have been called the 'pillows' of Italian love. The hill country of Italy illustrates that nicely.

For this dish, you will need to buy or make spinach or cheese filled ravioli. The Brainy Gourmet is about being fast and frugal so there is no problem stopping off at the supermarket to grab a few ravioli on the way home found in either the fresh or frozen section.

What to do? Boil water (salted) to cook the ravioli in. When the water rolls into a boil, add the ravioli. Now, if you want another side to accompany the ravioli then it should be made prior to boiling the pasta pillows because, it does not take more than 8 min to have tender ravioli.

Asparagus is a lovely side to make. 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 generous handful of medium length cut fresh washed young asparagus. Once they start to sear, remove from heat and skillet (setting aside). Then, in the same skillet pour in one small can of either roasted or plain 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.

Another delicious way to serve ravioli is with Italian sausage simmered on the side in a little olive oil and beef stock. And, another even more exceptional accompaniment to ravioli is with Italian stewed chicken; using thighs (boneless/skinless) oven stewed in a creamy tomato sauce with green and black olives.

~ Tutti a Tavola!