Fresh, fast and frugal!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Having guests over to ring in the New Year, tell them you will provide the main course if they wouldn't mind bringing additional sides and or appetizers. Remember, hot food is always better than cold food or a wine and cheese party. If prime rib is not a preferred main course item ...then do either fish or a smoked turkey.

Best sides: Scalloped Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus or sauteed root vegetables: carrots and parsnips with fresh dried herbs and walnuts.

*Go to the Brainy Gourmet Web page and click on Archives for hot food ideas that are sure to ring in your New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Peace, Love, Hope to You and Yours!

No matter how you celebrate the holidays, celebrate the best brainy way ~ which is....


*If you are still looking for deliciously frugal ideas for your holiday menu then check out Brainy Archives  on the 'Brainy Gourmet' web page. Find what you are looking for and fill your plate!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Beef Stew ~ Soup that is Quick and Easy!

Who wouldn't love a pot of beef stew on a snowy evening...

Italians make beef stew but its thickness depends on the region. Many Italian home cooks tend to make it more of a soup and not a thick stew. I happen to love juicy food and that means food that has rich amounts of liquid. The reason that most stews have more liquid is that Italians are frugal cooks and quite often a stew comes after a few kinds of soup.

For instance, I made a minestrone, then it became a tomato soup and now a 'stew'. What was drained off the minestrone is reintroduced back in along with fresh green pepper and onion. Of course, the last bit of tomato soup provides the liquid.

Begin by sauteing on med. heat one chopped onion and one large green pepper in olive oil, drizzling enough to lightly cover the bottom of a covered stove top enamel pot. Then add 3 cups of trimmed and diced top sirloin steak which was marinated earlier in olive oil, balsamic vinegar (a tiny bit) and meat tenderizer. Also, sprinkle in dried herbs: rosemary, mint, oregano and sage as well as a bit of garlic powder.

Once the meat is browned, add any left over veggies from the minestrone (no pasta/rice). You can also add a handful of baby carrots. Simmer on the stove for 45-50 min on low heat.

Prepare a side of boiled potatoes and a fresh baked
focaccia bread.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Brainy Gourmet Goes Cookie Crazy at Christmas!

Most of my readers know that I am not a 'baker' by nature but I can make a creamy dreamy cheesecake 

...and a variety of drop cookies.

A drop cookie is just a ball of cookie dough you drop on a cookie sheet. I don't use any particular recipe per say because I know what makes a good drop cookie... all you need is a stick of butter, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, one egg and 1-1/2 cup of flour adding to that 1 tsp of baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp of salt. That is the basic mix. *Note that more flour than sugar will produce a more cake like drop cookie; more butter/sugar will produce a crispy flat drop cookie.

To that basic mix, you can add all kinds of things: any kind of nuts, slivered almonds, cranberries/raisins, oatmeal, and grated coconut; and, of course any kind of mini chocolate or butterscotch morsel. *Advice on the use of oatmeal and or grated coconut...use only 1/4 cup of either otherwise the dough will become too dry. The consistency of the dough has to be just right, not too sticky and not too dry. 

I do have a favorite molasses recipe that I love to make at this time of year. It is not mine but borrowed. When a recipe works, it’s worth using and sharing. This recipe works with or without the mini morsels.
  • 7 ounces best-quality semisweet mini mint chocolate morsels
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 level tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Put one stick of soft butter in a glass bowl. Add: sugar, molasses, egg, and stir; then mix in all dry ingredients including flour. Mix and lastly add the mini morsels. 
  3. Check for consistency of dough. Depending on the quality of molasses, you may need to add an additional tablespoon of flour and 1 tbs. of water.
  4. Using a 2-inch ice cream scoop, scoop dough onto baking sheet, 2 1/2 inches apart. Refrigerate 20 minutes. 
Finally, roll dough balls in granulated sugar and return to baking sheets. Transfer to oven and bake until surfaces crack slightly, about 18 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Stack up any way you like this drop cookie at a time!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Tomato Soup ~ Morphs Forward and Backward???

Nothing could be better on a cold December night.....

The brainy gourmet has always been about frugality and flavor. When it comes to any soup you can move forward by starting with chicken stock and then by adding to the stock every other day, with either pasta, rice or veggies...tomato. Backward only means you subtract.

For instance, a few days ago, I made a delicious farm style homemade minestrone soup. Yesterday, we were a bit tired of minestrone so I strained out the rest of the beef and vegetables (served as side or frozen for future) in order to retain a lovely tomato soup stock. To that, I added one (or two depending) small can of tomato paste and in no time...I had a rich flavorful tomato soup. As a side added in/to individual bowls, I suggest either rice or pasta. And of course, one of the best sides to just plain ole tomato soup is a grilled cheese sandwich.

*Never use stock or serve soup past a 5-6 day time frame; of course within that frame keep the stock/soup properly refrigerated.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Italian Roasted Chicken with Olives and Sun Dried Tomatoes!

On a cold night, bring in the Tuscan sun...

The ingredients for this dish are as follows: chicken thighs with bone in and skin on... there is more flavor. If you don't have on hand, then you will need to buy sun dried tomatoes, large kalamata (pitted) olives and large green olives (without pimento) along with spinach infused wide noodle pasta.

Begin by either broiling or sauteing on med/high heat your chicken thighs in 4 tbs. of olive oil along with 1 tbs of coconut oil skin side down searing until brown. Next, add dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano along with red pepper flakes and garlic powder, generously sprinkled onto the chicken. Once the chicken thighs are browned and the meat becomes less pink and more white, add 1 tbs of butter, then add one small jar of sun dried tomatoes (fairly drained) and generous amounts of both dark and green olives.

*If you opted to broil, the cooking strategy is nearly the same only everything can be done in a glass dish in the broiler on med/high for 25-30 min ... reducing the heat to low before adding all other ingredients same as above, cooking for another 10-15 min.

Back to the stove top, cover and cook for 25-30 min. on med heat, stirring and turning the chicken as it cooks. To finish up, add 1/4 cup of chicken stock and turn up the heat to high so that the bubbling liquid begins to consume the chicken. Turn down the heat to low and let the mixture cook covered for 10 min.

In the meantime, heat water to a boiling to cook your pasta. Once tender, fully drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving dish. Check your chicken, it should be now sitting in a rich sauce. Turn out the thighs and sauce on top of the pasta and serve.

Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Are you a Purist when it comes to Cappuccino?

More froth than liquid, the Italian cappuccino can be swallowed in seconds, and according to purists should leave a smear of milk on the inside of the cup. Stirring the beverage to mix the milk with the coffee that lurks in the bottom should not produce an overall brown color, but streaks of coffee in the pure white foam. A white mustache is obligatory after drinking.

According to many Italians, the light brown color is similar to that of the robes worn by Italy's Capuchin monks, hence the name, while others credit Capuchin monk Marco D'Aviano with the invention of the drink, after he discovered a sack of coffee captured from the Ottomans during the battle of Vienna in 1683. D'Aviano was beatified in 2003 for his missionary work and miraculous power of healing.
There is no debate over when a cappuccino is drunk. Italians line up every morning in bars before steaming, shiny coffee machines to gulp down their coffee, possibly returning for a another cappuccino after a late  night. One allowed variant is the caffe-latte, usually served in a tall glass, with extra milk added (the way my grandpa would drink coffee). Only tourists take a cappuccino or caffe-latte after lunch, as Italians believe the milk plays havoc with digestion.

Yes, the Italians are right about milk playing havoc with digestion after lunch; speaking from my own experience. I prefer my cappuccino at breakfast... guess that makes me a purist. 

* Source ~

Friday, December 9, 2016

Pizza at Home ~ When you thought Naples was too far to go ...

Even in Naples, the best homemade pizza begins with the best dough...

7 cups of flour
4 tsp sea salt – fine
2 and 1/4 tsp dry yeast = 1 packet
3 cups water (100 degree temperature)

In a six quart bowl, mix the warm water with the yeast and salt. Using warm water allows the dough to rise quickly and to the right height.

Next, measure and mix in the flour.  Use the “scoop and sweep” method.  This is done by reaching into the flour container with a cup and scooping up a full measure all at once sweeping the top of the cup level with a knife. Mix in the flour with a wooden spoon. Do not knead the dough!

Allow the Dough to Rise. Cover the dough with a light weight dish towel or piece of wax paper. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it begins to flatten on the top (approximately 2 hours, depending on the room’s temperature). Do not punch down the dough, do not play with it.  With this method, you are trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible and punching it down knocks out gas. The gas allows bubbles to remain which create a light and crispy crust.

Refrigerate. After the dough has risen, refrigerate it overnight or at least 3 hours and use it over the next several days or have a pizza marathon all in one day/weekend.  Remember, fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature.

Preheat a Baking Stone. 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake, place your baking stone in the bottom third of the oven and preheat it to the oven’s highest temperature. If you do not have baking stone, you can use a perforated pizza pan or even a cast iron skillet.

Shape a Ball.  If you don’t have a stone, prepare a pizza pan or skillet with flour, cornmeal or use a sheet of baking paper to prevent your pizza from sticking to the pan or skillet (not necessary if you use a stone). Take what you need from the refrigerated dough; for one medium pizza ...about a grapefruit size amount which you can obtain by pulling and or cutting the dough using a serrated knife. Add a little more flour to the dough to shape into a ball and thus, it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the dough pushing it around to conform to the pan or skillet.

The same can be done if using a stone, it won’t be perfectly round but that is not the point. The point is to retain dough quality in order to achieve a nearly perfect crust. Keep in mind, the less you handle the dough, the better taste and texture.

Add the Toppings!
Bake at 425F until bubbling and brown on top.

*this traditional recipe has been shared many times on the net cause its so so good!