Fresh, fast and frugal!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Memorial Day ~ What was on Your Grill?

Most everyone has hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill on Memorial Day! And, perhaps steak for those enthusiastic grillers; but, for those who are ambitious grill masters... shrimp. If you haven't had shrimp on the barbe, give it try.

Now, for some reason, when it comes to grilling at home, the man/husband of the house usually steps forward to take on this task. So, when that happens, I step back and let them go at it. My son-in-law is what I would call a 'Grill Master'. We were treated this weekend to steak and shrimp on the barbe and it was delicious.

He uses a special spice rub and did not divulge that info. But, I happen to know a great mix for the next time you want to grill shrimp on the barbe.

 Dry Rub
  • 1 tablespoon dried pineapple mint

Some grill masters like to add sugar to the rub mixture; but, its not necessary. Good 'fresh' shrimp is naturally sweet as is coriander and paprika and oregano as well as the mint. *Brush with butter as you grill.

~ Tutti a Tavola

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Easy Weekend Skillet Eggplant Parmesan ~ That's Brainy!

So easy, you might not believe you cooked it yourself...

Think that Eggplant Parmesan is difficult or has to be done in the oven, wrong. You can do this dish on the stove in the skillet. One large eggplant is all you need along with some tomato sauce and grated Parmesan cheese.

Begin by soaking (washed and semi-peeled) sliced eggplant in a rich milk bath. Pat down both sides on a plate of seasoned bread crumbs (seasoned with fresh dried herbs). Then gently pan fry until browned on both sides in olive oil. You will be surprised how quickly the eggplant soaks up the olive oil, so you will need to drizzle in some extra as you see it begin to disappear in the pan/skillet.

Once you have finished browning the long slices, remove them from the skillet and set aside. Clean the skillet with a moistened paper towel and return to the stove top. To that same skillet, add your favorite jarred or homemade tomato sauce and some extra herbs. Next, lay in the eggplant slices and let them simmer for about 8 min on med heat. Lastly, generously sprinkle over the fresh top grated Parmesan cheese and simmer for another 10 min. and or until a side of pasta is prepared.

dark olives on the side make an attractive place...

~Tutti a Tavola!

Know How to Dry and Cook With Herbs!

Long time readers know that my favorite herbs are: rosemary, mint and oregano. Its the blended taste of savory and sweet that is beyond complimentary. 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 between 90-100 is preferred giving the long sprigs between 24-48 hours. You don't need to keep your oven turned on. Just pre-heat at 250 and then turn the oven off. Wait until the temp drops down a bit before placing your herbs on a perforated pizza pan and then sliding them in.

In a variety of combinations, these herbs are great flavor enhancers for any meat, fish, vegetable or pasta dish. And, best of all, as they dry in your oven... it's a kind of aromatherapy for brain cells!

So, next time you are thinking about combinations of sweet and savory, reach for your dried herbs!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Brainy Moroccan 'Chicken' a skillet!

Stews... you can find them just about anywhere and make them in just about any cookware; even a skillet!

As you might well know, the main Moroccan dish most people are familiar with is couscous; beef is the most commonly eaten red meat in Morocco. Chicken is also stewed or roasted.

For this dish, you will need skinless, boneless chicken breasts, one onion, one green pepper and red grape 'cherry' tomatoes, buttermilk and peanut butter.

Begin this dish by sauteing the onion, green pepper and tomatoes on med. heat in coconut oil, adding some red pepper flakes, garlic powder, ginger, paprika and cumin as well as either white or black pepper to taste. Most Moroccan recipes make use of a lot of ginger, cumin, and turmeric.

Set aside the onion, pepper and tomatoes, and brown the chicken breast meat cut into chunks in the same skillet adding a drizzle of olive oil. Then return the veggies to the same skillet.

To this, add about 1/4 cup of gourmet buttermilk and 1/4 cup of heavy cream along with 1 tbs of creamy peanut butter. Stir and let simmer on low heat while you prepare a side of couscous or mashed potatoes. Once the couscous is ready and or when the potatoes are tender, drain and mash with butter and sour cream until thick and smooth. Ladle onto a low lipped plate, pour the chicken stew over the top and serve.

~ Tutti a Tavola

Monday, May 22, 2017

Recipes... Who needs em when You are a Brainy Gourmet?

Most often, when people think of a chef the first thing that pops into their mind is French cuisine made by a 5 star French chef. We imagine that they have some kind of magical talent when it comes to food and cooking it. 

Borrowing from Michael Booth, English food and travel writer, one has to ask what is that the French know about cooking? They know that you don't need a recipe. Because, every step-by-step recipe is likely doomed to failure.

Why failure? Because, following a recipe is not following your own taste preferences. Largely, failing when following a recipe is likely due to human error which means that recipes can be badly written, improperly explained, or not properly tested; especially, those found in magazines and even in some cookbooks.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could be free from the tyranny of recipe 'pros' and 'promoters' and just cook by ourselves without their help. We could skip gaily through our local farmers' markets or favorite supermarkets choosing whatever is in season or just tickles our fancy. Then once at home, create our own meals using our own taste bud preferences.

This is exactly what it means to be a brainy gourmet. Since day one, the Brainy Gourmet has advocated cooking without a recipe. Now, this does come by trial and error. You first need to understand your taste bud preferences for sweet and savory and start simple.

Once you understand what you like to eat and how you want it to taste, you will be successful and enjoy cooking at home. And, moreover, you won't waste time and money on expensive ingredients. You can buy the ingredients you like to work with and that's being a Brainy Gourmet and its being frugal...saving you time and money. 

Check out the recommended basic pantry list on the side margin of this blog as well as previous blog posts and get cooking.  Of course, you can put together your own basic pantry and take off from there.

~ Tutti a Tavola! 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quick and lite... Fajitas made it less than 20 min.

You will need either beef round steak or flank steak cut into thin strips. Either orange or red pepper, green asparagus and tortillas.

Heat up a skillet with a several drizzles of olive oil. Toss in all sliced meat and veggies. Stir fry on high heat adding a dash or two of lime juice, paprika, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes and... believe it or not - a sound dash of soy sauce. The juices from the beef will come through nicely.

Heat your tortillas over an open flame and the next thing you know... you've got dinner.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Budapest Pork ~ A Food Transformation... It just gets better!


Did you know that many chefs/restaurants will find a number of uses for the same food item? If they didn't, they would go out of business; unless they were so upscale they could afford new ingredients and ideas everyday of the week. The savvy restaurant owner/chef knows that in order to stay in business they have to be frugal. The home chef/cook has to do the same to keep em coming back.

If you have left over pasta, transform it. If you have left over sauce, transform it. You probably have noticed that quite a few foodies/food blogs go from one 'recipe' to another. You really can't keep up in the kitchen with that let alone with the expense.

Yesterday, I prepared chicken breasts with sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, set on angel hair pasta. There was some pasta left over. Today, the same pasta with pork loin medallions in Dijon mustard sauce with added dried plums becomes a brand new dish.

I have made this dish before... the medallions in mustard sauce. The only difference today is using up the left over pasta. And, if you have served this before and would like to improve on it... just add paprika and called it - Hungarian Pork in Sauce with Dried Fruits (tomatoes are that).

Saute on med heat onion in olive oil until transparent, then push aside and add the pork medallions to brown. Sprinkle on some garlic powder, red pepper flakes, paprika and dried herbs. Toss in the left over sun dried tomatoes (from yesterday they did not all get used) and some dried plums. If you need a bit of liquid, add a few tablespoons of beef stock.

Next, add 3 tbs of Dijon mustard and 1/3 cup of heavy cream, cover and simmer for 20 min while you prepare the left over pasta.

~ Tutti a Tavola

Sugar is Still the Culprit...

Sugar in the American diet is still the main culprit. There are well intended cooks, chefs, foodies out there that continually laud over food as good for you yet it contains unnecessary added sugar.

Very often, you can find recipes that call for added sugar and salt when it is not necessary. People often give up on cooking and eating really delicious foods like potatoes. Yes, they are high on the glycemic index but that kind of a carb (as a side with meat) can be balanced within a daily intake.

Just stop eating processed junk food, stop eating sugary salad dressings, stop eating sugary snacks and deserts so that you can enjoy a wonderful vegetable like a potato - baked or mashed.

Most all, don't cook with sugar, don't add sugar to recipes and don't buy food with added sugar. The best cooks know the foods they use and the amount of natural sugar in them as well as savory flavors in foods. Begin by cooking with the basics and expand with natural flavors and be amazed in knowing how much sugar you really don't need.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Brainy Weekend Favorites...

Simple and delicious... All things 'M' ~  Means Yum!

Malaysian Pork...
 Meatball Sandwich...
 Meatballs with linguine...
 Meatloaf with cherry tomatoes...

Medallions of Pork with mushrooms...

*Regarding the Brainy meals above, use either ground meat and or pork loin in the oven or in the skillet. And, when it comes to good meatballs or meatloaf, never use egg and crackers in the mix, use heavy cream and bread crumbs for the best tender, juicy results!

Check past posts for cooking instruction.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Good Food is always Brainy...

So many blogs are about exotic meals with fancy plate presentation or they go the other direction conjuring up salads and smoothies that make you wonder if it is really a meal you are about to eat.

The Brainy Gourmet is and has always been about basic food and its sustained continuation. That means finding ways to get the most from what you buy and serve to your family. Quality basic ingredients are essential; a list can be found on the Brainy Gourmet Webpage - see link on this blog page. The basics are so simple that you won't even need a recipe to know what to do with them.

The best chefs do Not start from a precisely written recipe. They start from experimenting with basics and building on those basics. A brainy home chef can do the same and suddenly perform as chef in an expensive restaurant. If you have not yet checked out the Brainy Gourmet Webpage and Brainy Tips, then do so today and get inspired and get cooking the Brainy Gourmet way. Again, Look for the Brainy Gourmet Webpage link on this blog page.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Keep'em in Sunshine...Italian Roasted Chicken with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Olives

On a cool wet evening give them the Tuscan sun...

For this dish, the ingredients 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 some sun dried tomatoes, large kalamata (pitted) olives and large green olives (without pimento) along with spinach infused wide noodle pasta.

Begin by sauteing on med/high heat as many chicken thighs as you need to serve in about 4 large tbs. of olive 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 beginning to turn white, move them to the oven (325F) adding a dash more olive oil and one whole med/small jar of sun dried tomatoes (fairly drained) and a generous amount of both extra large dark and green olives.

The full roasting should be done in the oven in a glass dish covered on 325F for about 45-55 min. Again, depending on the amount of chicken you will serve. Note, you can get a satisfactory 'roasted' effect on the stove top as well; covered in a deep stock pot slow cooked for about 45 min. on low heat, stirring and turning the chicken as it cooks. To finish up, after 40-45 min. oven or stove top method, add 1/4 cup of chicken stock and then turn up the heat to high on the stove and 425F oven temp so that a bubbling liquid begins to consume the chicken/tomatoes/olives.

In the meantime, boil water 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 over the top of the pasta and serve.

Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Be Brainy and Brighten Up ~ Serve Something Sunny!

Parmesan encrusted chicken comes to mind...served at sunset with a view on the bay!

For this dish you will need: boneless, skinless chicken breasts (per person), potatoes and one/two young zucchini. Begin by pre-heating your oven to 425. Take the chicken and lay the breasts into a glass baking dish that has been drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic powder. Then smooth over each two large tbs of mayonnaise. Top with a generous amount of grated parmesan and dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.

Bake for about 10- 15 min at 425 and then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 30-40 min. In that time, prepare as a side baked or microwaved potatoes with the skin on. Saute sliced young zucchini in a skillet with butter and olive oil until brown and crispy on the edges. On the end stage of the chicken, top with extra grated parmesan from a whole chunk, not the shaker fine grated you used earlier.

~ Tutti a Tavola

Monday, May 1, 2017

Comfort food when it becomes suddenly unseasonably cold...

What to cook when the weather is less than seasonal?

Though I am not in the Italian north, its a cold and rainy late Spring where I, just thinking to pop a roast in the oven along with carrots, leeks or onions, green 'string' beans and potatoes.  This is truly a no brainer meal especially when a nice lean pot roast cost under 7 dollars that can feed up to five adults and or two adults and three children.

Turn on the oven to 425 to begin. Let your roast (two to two and half inch thick) sit out for 30-40 min with tenderizer sprinkled on top. Then shower with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic powder. Pop in the over and sear on both sides. Once the kitchen fills with the smell of quality juicy beef, toss in your veggies, minus the potatoes, pour over the top 3/4 cup of beef bouillon liquid, a good dash of dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano...then cover with foil and let cook on 350 for the next hour.

After that hour, you can wash and peel as many potatoes as you will need, boil in salted water on the stove top; also, turn the oven down once more to 325. This will guarantee a tender and fully oven cooked pot roast. Once the potatoes are tender, set the table and prepare to eat.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

and get a little artzy...