Fresh, fast and frugal!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

World Foods ~ Beet Root Soup from Poland!

In eastern Europe, cooking frugally with full flavor is an everyday activity inasmuch as it is for special occasion. Beet root soup is a good example because it is hearty and full of flavor that comes from fresh beet root cooked and added to beef stock creating a rich soup that will impress any guest.

Begin by starting with beef stock - 4/5cups poured into a large stock pot. To that, add one whole onion chopped sauteed in butter or olive oil or even beef fat as that would be the traditional means for cooking the chopped onion.

Once the onion is browned on the edges, add it to the beef stock. Next, drop in a pinch of salt along with a mix of dried herbs: rosemary, oregano and mint. 

Lastly, wash and peel two large fresh beet root cut into chunks or shredded to be added directly to the beef stock with onion.  Cover and simmer for 2 hours on low heat. Serve along with a rolled pancake filled with hot ground meat and or a side of blood sausage.

* a richer flavor will come through if you prepare the stock the day before...

~Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Brainy Chicken Picata... its like being there - where?

When I think of Picata, I think Venice and a small cafe near to St. Marks....

You will need: boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into strips, one onion, capers and lemon. To begin, on med heat saute one whole chopped onion in olive oil and butter - a little less than half a stick. Add to that dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano as well as a splash of garlic powder. Push the onion to one side of the skillet and lay in boneless, skinless chicken breasts, brown on all sides and until meat is white.  Bring the onion and herbs back over and blend with the chicken.

Next, pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream and stir. Then toss in a handful of slightly drained capers, and lay in as many lemon slices (very thinly sliced) as you like. Simmer on low heat for 10 min which is as about as long as it takes to boil angel hair pasta. Set the table, and put out the Parmesan cheese.

 ~ Tutti a Tavola

Sunday, January 29, 2017

French Tomato and Spinach Bisque!

The Brainy Gourmet travels the world food wise and holds to being brainy about it. That means the chicken stock made earlier in the week that was first served as Ukrainian Chicken Noodle soup morphed into American style tomato soup served with grilled cheese and tonight it became French Tomato and Spinach Bisque served with baked brie.

Remember, as long as you keep your 'chicken/beef' stock refrigerated, it is good for no more than several days.

This bisque began as re-heated (to a rolling boil) tomato soup, next adding 1/4 of a cup of thawed frozen spinach (using up the remaining package of frozen spinach that was used to make the Zimbabwe Dovi, then an omelette this morning and now the last of it for this soup) and 1/4 cup of heavy cream and 1 tbs of Worcestershire sauce.  Simmer while you prepare the baked brie and sliced bread for toast. * See previous posts on how to make the baked brie and homemade bread.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Brainy Baker is Bakin Bread!

How is this recipe brainy? It is the same recipe used for homemade  pizza dough. You see, bread dough is bread dough thick or thin and pizza dough is just real thin...

All in all, this is what it means to be brainy and frugal. Like many Italian home cooks, they use and reuse what they have and know what to make with it. They know that a good dough is many things including a great Focaccia.

The recipe for homemade bread/pizza dough makes a lot of dough. So, if you don't plan on making 3-4 med pizzas, then set aside any or all the dough for a near future dinner. Remember, this dough can be used for a few days as long as it is kept properly refrigerated.

So, let's say you prepared the dough ahead of time and did not use it for pizza. All that is left to be done is to preheat the oven to 425F, take the remaining dough and plop it down on a prepared pizza pan (oiled and sprinkled with dry bread crumbs). Also drizzle olive oil over the top of the dough along with a generous sprinkle of fresh dried herbs before baking. When it is crusty brown and the kitchen full of a splendid aroma, its done.

Bread/Pizza Dough Recipe ~ Prepare ahead of time!

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 until ready to use dough. It will keep (refrigerated) no more than 5 days. When you are ready to bake, just cut off as much of the dough as you think you will need to either make a small round or elongated focaccia bread or med. pizza. Bake for the first ten minutes at 425, then reduce heat to 375 for the last 20-30 min.

*You can expect to get at least 3 small breads or 3-4 med. pizzas.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Where's the Beef... Irish Stew!

Stew involves meat, potatoes and some vegetables. For this 'beefy' Irish stew, you will need to buy either beef stew meat or a pot roast. To being, in an enamel stove top pot, sear the meat on both sides in olive oil and a pinch of sea salt; when seared, set aside. Next, in the same pot, saute on med heat one whole onion and green pepper in olive oil.

Once, browned, return the seared beef stew meat or pot roast. Add 1/2 cup of beef stock, 2-3 tbs of Worcestershire sauce and as many baby carrots as you like... washed.  To that, a good shake of garlic powder and a very generous sprinkle of dried herbs: rosemary, mint, oregano and sage. Cover and slowly simmer for 60-90 min. on low heat depending on the amount of beef used/size of pot roast.

In the meantime, bake bread and boil a side of potatoes and a second side of green beans. When all has come to fruition, then you are ready for an Irish stew dinner ... a full stomach never thinks of a hungry one!

The love of God guides every good.
-Irish Proverb

Good Kitchen Keeping Makes a Happy Brainy Gourmet!

For most people, the very idea today of housekeeping and cooking is absolute drudgery. However, housework and cooking can be therapeutic, you get time to think and get some exercise.  All in all, when your kitchen is well organized cooking at home is easy.

The best cooking appliance is a cook-top. Why? Because it does not look like a giant monster machine. There is the option then to keep pots/pans and skillets tucked underside for accessibility. You should be able to open a door and grab what you need without looking for it. It is helpful to know where your pots and skillets are just by touching the handle. 

It is also brainy not to stack Teflon pots/pans/skillets one inside the other without some kind of protection. Try using a cardboard cake bottom. When using Teflon or any hard treated coated pan, the best utensil choice is bamboo.

If you don't have a big kitchen with a huge island, don't worry. In fact, a cook needs only so much elbow room. An expanse is too much and time is wasted traveling from the sink to the fridge and to the cook-top/stove. If you have limited counter top space, get a small marble top island on wheels.

When it comes to wood cutting boards, a European Beach-wood round block 14 in diameter is enough and easy to maintain: clean with regular vinegar and massage with olive oil.

Any or all ceramic/glass bowls when stacked one inside the other should be protected. You can use either white or brown butcher paper, bubble wrap or air-pack sheets from shipping boxes between each bowl. In this way, your bowls don't get chipped or damaged as easily.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dovi ~ Peanut Butter Stew From Zimbabwe

Its not often the brainy gourmet goes a different food direction than from her Italian heritage. This recipe was given to me by a neighbor whose family originated from Africa. It is called Dovi which is peanut butter stew made with chicken. It is really delicious and easy to make.

You will need: 6-8 chicken breast strips, boneless/skinless along with one green pepper, one whole onion, a package of frozen or fresh spinach, one can of diced tomatoes or 3-4 fresh,  'you stir' creamy organic peanut butter, garlic, cayenne pepper (but not necessary) and dried herbs: mint/ parsley. It is best to use only butter and coconut oil to cook in but olive oil is good too.

Using one skillet, begin by melting half a stick of butter and 1 tbs of coconut oil on med heat. Add one whole chopped onion and one whole washed green pepper. Saute until browned on edges. Push the onion and green pepper aside and lay in the chicken strips. Move the skillet so that the chicken is directly over the flame ...not the onion and peppers. If you need more oil, drizzle some coconut or olive oil over the top. Brown the chicken on both sides until the meat is completely white inside brown on top.

Next, add half a package of frozen spinach 'drained' (or two handfuls of fresh leaves chopped) and then add six tablespoons of creamy 'stirred' peanut butter. Move the onion and green pepper back in stirring with the chicken, spinach and peanut butter. Next, pour in an opened can of diced tomatoes or diced fresh. Sprinkle in your seasonings: 1 tsp of garlic powder and dried herbs plus a pinch of salt. The cayenne pepper is optional. Stir again and let this mixture simmer for about 20 min on low heat.

In the meantime, prepare white rice as a side dish. You can use lentils/or white beans 'soaked, drained and cooked' or boiled buckwheat groats.

Its Fabulous...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Learning to Be a Brainy Gourmet Home Cook!

If you have been to the Brainy Gourmet Webpage, then you know the Brainy Gourmet's top ten brainy tips to cooking good food at home. 

1- Butter is the best fat with multiple uses: sauteing, searing and as a catalyst for sauces.
2- Heavy cream is the perfect finishing ingredient to create any sauce for meat or fish, pasta or vegetable side.
3- Garlic, shallots or onions are staples that will enhance all dishes you want to prepare.
4- Fresh Herbs that are either fresh from the garden or fresh dried are a must: rosemary, mint and oregano are simply the best for any dish.
5- Wine, white and reds are great for cooking, reducing, seasoning and serving with dinner.
6- Eggs, when you have eggs in the refrigerator, you always have the makings of a meal. Cook them boiled, poached, baked, scrambled, or as a soufflé, fried or in an omelet.
7- Cheeses which can be shredded, grated, and melted to make any meal more special.
8- Potatoes are great to have on hand and considered a healthy vegetable; boiled, baked, or roasted, whipped or even as pancakes provide an excellent hearty side dish to any meat or fish.
9- Tomatoes are a healthy accompaniment to many dishes and used in many sauces/salads.
10- Pasta and Rice are the best and simplest sides to have on hand in the pantry.

As for basic seasonings, salt, pepper, garlic powder and fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint, oregano and sage from time to time. You don't need exotic seasoning!

Many people don't like to or want to cook at home because it seems like a lot of work as in strictly following recipes. Being a brainy gourmet means you don't really need recipes. You just need know how and know what you like cooking... 

To get started, test yourself by using only the basic items, a gourmet dinner can be creamy potatoes baked with cheese - Au gratin. Most of all, trust your nose and your taste buds. The Brainy Gourmet can does it and so can you.... follow along, innovate and eat good food at home.

*the very same top ten items are recommended by renown chef ~ Eric Damidot

Reminding ourselves what can be done with chicken stock!

The Brainy Gourmet is about frugality and good food. Being frugal means getting the most out of something. The number one food in my opinion that you can get the most from is chicken stock. So, what can you get from chicken stock?

1- Chicken Soup
2- Tomato Soup
3- Minestrone Soup
4- Cream of Broccoli
5- Cream of Asparagus
6- Cream of Butternut Squash

Not only soups...

Chicken stock can be used for all kinds of cooking: Italian, Chinese, Mexican, French and many more. How/Why? It is a flavor builder and liquid provider to any cooking. The key to changing things up using stock is not to add 10 different ingredients. Stock can become any soup at any time if you keep it stock.

So, put a chicken in a pot and get cooking!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday ~ Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup with Fresh Baked Bread!

Sunday supper in late January means hot homemade chicken soup with fresh baked bread. The best part is that it can be made so fast, its almost as 'magic' as the snowfall.  Of course, the bread dough can be prepared earlier in the week and kept refrigerated. If you're not a baker, then buy fresh baked.

In the middle of the afternoon, I put a huge pot of water to boil on the stove that would become rich chicken stock by the late evening. And, it did using only chicken thighs with the skin on bone in, salt to taste and one large tbs of organic chicken bouillon. The only other thing to be done was to cook separately the wide egg noodles (never include pasta or rice in any stock that would be soup).  Pasta and rice should be kept out of the stock and served in ...individual bowls. This way, the stock can become another kind of soup as the week progresses: tomato soup, minestrone soup i.e.

About an hour before serving, I baked a small round of bread. When we sat to the table it was steaming hot and ... fresh creamy butter to top it. So, good that you might think you were eating in someone's country kitchen located somewhere in the south of France or north of Italy...

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Family Tradition ~ Spaghetti and Meatballs!

My 'Gibby' cannot resist homemade spaghetti and meatballs; a dish any family never gets tired of cause its one of those meals that takes you home...

You will need: 1 pound of ground veal or turkey (I prefer veal). One whole onion and a large can of crushed tomatoes, I recommend the brand 'Red Gold'. If you don't have bread crumbs in the pantry or heavy cream in the fridge, then get some and also a good Parmesan cheese (no fillers.

In a glass mixing bowl, hand blend the ground veal with 1 cup of bread crumbs and 1/4 cup of heavy cream, 1 tsp of garlic powder and 1/2 tsp of salt as well as dried herbs: rosemary, mint, oregano and sage. Add all seasoning to taste (use what your taste buds prefer and or are allowed by your doctor). Continue to mix and shape into balls.

Next, take one large onion, peel and chop.  In a covered skillet on med heat, melt 3-4 tbs of olive oil. Add the onion and brown. Once the onion is browned, push aside in the skillet and add your formed meatballs and an extra drizzle of olive oil, brown on med heat. Next bring the onion back in and on top of the meatballs. Finally, pour in the crushed tomatoes and simmer for 25-30 min on low heat.

In that time, start a large pot of water boiling. Add a pinch of salt and when it boils, stand in the spaghetti pasta. When the pasta is tender, drain and rinse a bit with cool water then pour out the pasta onto a large serving dish. Then, directly pour over the top the red sauce with meatballs and serve.


~ Tutti a Tavola! 

and don't forget the Parmesan Cheese...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Stroganoff using Pork Loin ~ Topped with Slivered Almonds!

I love winter sunsets and some of the best seen were on the eastern stepps...

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 loin.

Being brainy about Stroganoff means keeping it fast and frugal and yet adding an unexpected tasty twist.  For this dish, you can use beef but as just mentioned above a boneless pork loin works very well. To begin, you will need a boneless pork loin, 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. Push aside in the skillet and add the pork loin cut into thin medallions or sliced into strips. Brown the meat until white. Move the onion and mushrooms back in and pour in 1/2 cup or either heavy cream or watered down 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!