Fresh, fast and frugal!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Get Pasty ~ Brainy Ingredients!

Many cultures use pastes to thicken, to marinate in, to simmer in, to roast or stew with. A meat or vegetable stock paste adds flavor and thickens, tomato paste as well; both stock and tomato paste can be bought at any grocer. There is one basic paste you can make yourself is called 'roux'. This is a French name for clarified butter mixed with flour to create a paste that you can use to thicken any sauce, gravy or even mac and cheese with.

Chicken stock paste...

On the side margin of this blog, readers can read about basic ingredients of which there can be found listed: soup stock and tomatoes. Any brainy gourmet knows that its wise to have these basic items on hand at all times either in the pantry or cold storage.

Of course, you can make your own stock (which is not a paste) using any meat of vegetable to flavor enhance or add liquid to whatever you are cooking. However, in our busy world, there is little time to spend in the kitchen. Having at least these two pastes: stock and tomato paste can be of great service to any brainy gourmet. Both can be used as concentrate (in limited amounts) or diluted amounts to bolster liquids already forming as you cook.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Arugula ~ Its Brainy!

Arugula (Eruca vesicaria sativa) is a leafy green herb of the mustard family. Known also as rocket. Arugula derives a lot of nutritional value from its cruciferous family roots, such as antioxidant benefits from glucosinolates and detoxifying power from enzymes.

It’s an excellent source of fiber, vitamins A, C (to boost the immune system), and K (for bone strength), folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese. Arugula also provides high levels of protein, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, zinc, copper, and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) for raising good cholesterol levels and lowering the bad.

We like arugula for its spicy or zesty taste; a little citrus and a little peppery. You can use it when cooking as a topping or just eat it plain or as a dipper for a sauce or whatever sauce/juice is left on your plate.

Arugula is great on pizza, spaghetti and sandwiches or just as a side...forget the salad.

*Source ~

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

African Spicy Red Chicken ~ The Brainy Gourmet Way!

The secret to this dish is to make it spicy! The brainy gourmet follows a recipe that is similar to an Ethiopian chicken dish using the spice mix called Berbere - red pepper, chili powder, cinnamon, garlic, ginger and coriander; though some use cloves and or nutmeg. What should be understood is this - Ethiopian cuisine is known for very spicy meat dishes.

To begin: you will need to buy as many boneless/skinless chicken breasts per guest. Take a glass baking dish and drizzle generously over the breasts: lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil; plus a dash of chili powder, garlic powder, red pepper, cinnamon, ginger and coriander. Marinate for at least 30-40 minutes.

Next, saute chopped onion in olive oil and butter until browned. Then, while stirring, add a tsp of chicken stock paste and 1 tbs of tomato paste along with a splash of dry red wine. You should have a thick tomato onion paste to spread over the chicken breasts.

Turn the oven to 350 and when it is ready, pop in the chicken and bake for 35-40 minutes depending on the number of breasts. When that time is up, remove the chicken and place on a low lipped serving plate. There will be a rich red sauce in the baking dish. You can add to that yogurt or buttermilk to thicken - making a kind of gravy. Serve with couscous or mashed potatoes.

Applesauce ~ Its Pretty Brainy!

Did you know that applesauce was the first meal eaten in space? Yep! Astronaut John Glenn was the first American to eat in space aboard Friendship 7 in 1962. At that time it was not known if ingestion and absorption of nutrients were possible in a state of zero gravity. Glenn's consumption was of applesauce, packed in a tube. This demonstrated that people could eat, swallow, and digest food in a weightless environment.

If you don't have an apple tree, don't panic. Many apple orchards throughout the US have the option 'You Pick'; which means, you can enter the orchard on certain days and pick your own. This is hugely popular in the Midwest.

We are fortunate to have 3 apple trees and this year's crop is a bumper. Just pick, wash, peel and dice up to be cooked down with a bit of added sugar and water. Before long, you've got applesauce which can be eaten immediately or preserved in jars.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Probiotics ~ Its as Gouda as it Gets!

Its been awhile since I blogged about food stuffs that work as natural remedies for certain health issues and one that bothers many of us is a lack of probiotics (consumable live bacteria) in the gut.

To remedy this, we are often told to eat foods that have probiotics in them in order to take on simple digestive issues. And, did you know that probiotics are good for other health issues? Probiotics actually can eat cholesterol?

Probiotic bacteria has been shown to break down cholesterol and use it for nourishment. So, good gut bacteria is also good for our cardiovascular system.

Where can we get consumable live bacteria - probiotics? Most of us know that sauerkraut, yogurt and buttermilk contain probiotics that we can eat or drink but did you know that soft cheeses like Gouda do too?

Not all probiotics can survive the journey through your stomach and intestines. However, research finds that strains in fermented soft cheeses, like Gouda, are hardy enough to make it through.

My sweetie and I love Gouda; so, I am thinking a little Gouda will do us a lot of good 'a' :-)


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Skillet Eggplant Parmesan ~ Brainy Style!

Delicious is just an Italian bistro away...

Eggplant parmesan doesn't have to be difficult or done in the can do this dish on the stove in the skillet. One large eggplant is all you need along with some bread crumbs, tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese.

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

Once you have finished browning the long slices, remove from the skillet and set aside. Clean the skillet with a moistened paper towel and return to the stove top. Add your tomato sauce, from the jar is fine as long as its your favorite. Lay in your browned eggplant slices. Let them simmer for about 20-25 min on med heat. Then as a finale, generously top with shaved Parmesan cheese and simmer for another 15 min.

Prepare a bucatini pasta or salad as a side to this stove top lusciousness ...

~Tutti a Tavola!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Apricots and Elderberry ~ Wow em!

Fruits are coming into season and we often forget that many fruits can be baked, stewed and even sauteed to compliment any meal or made into juice, sauce, syrup and jam.

Consider apricots... wash, halve and saute in butter


My mom would make apricot wine too but its a recipe that will always be her secret. She also made excellent wild elderberry jam. Many people don't know what elderberry looks like and that it grows wild freely and can be picked along roadsides. 

You will have to pick a lot and then cook them down, stem and all. Once cooked down into a frothy juice, strain out stems and skins through a tight webbed strainer. Return to the stove in the same pot and add sugar to taste and sweeter is better.

Put the thick sauce into hot clean jars and a 1/8 tsp of pectin to top it off, lid the jar, seal and process. If you prefer step by step: Here is a link that does just that.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chicken Fried Steak... the Brainy Way!

A little southern hospitality never hurt anyone...

There always a first time for everything in the kitchen when it comes to the variety of meals you can prepare; and the Brainy Gourmet is no exception. Yes, the Brainy Gourmet is making chicken fried steak for the first time ever! But, what's there to be afraid of? I have heard that most worry is over  the outside coating with regards to it being cooked to crispy or not.

Making this for the first time, I was more concerned about the taste of the steak being tender and delicious than the crispiness of the outside coating. You can look at this as a dilemma which is similar to ordering fried chicken: crispy or original. Original recipe is more of a traditional pan fried and not so crispy; which is what I prefer.

As I said, I wanted the steak to have an exceptional tenderness and taste. To begin, choose either flank, sirloin or round steak and generously sprinkled meat tenderizer and garlic powder on each piece and let them sit 2 hrs before frying. Preparing to fry: whisk in a shallow bowl one egg in 3 tbs of balsamic vinegar, adding 1 tbs of dried herbs. Use a plate for the flour coating, add to that a pinch of salt and black pepper, mixing it up with a fork.

Pour enough oil (one inch high) into your skillet. Turn up the heat to prepare to pan fry. Take one palm sized medallion of pounded round steak, dip into the egg mixture and then coat with flour -salt and black pepper. When the oil is hot, lay in your coated first steak. Continue, until you have all pieces in the skillet. Since, the oil is extremely, don't walk away for a minute. 

Once the frying is nearly done, test to make sure the meat is just pink inside; if yes, you can set aside the steak on a paper towel in a warmer or oven on low heat in order to prepare to a side dish.

Since I wanted to serve yellow squash, I just fried in the same skillet (wiped out with paper towel) dropping in a dollop of butter. You can also serve with mashed potatoes, which should be prepared just prior to frying and kept warm in a covered 'oven safe' dish in the oven on low heat.

If you want gravy on that as many southern folk do, then take some saved bacon grease to melt into the skillet and add a mixture of milk and flour to make a creamy white gravy.

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Flank Steak with Asparagus and Sun Dried Tomatoes!

Italian cooking whether in the high mountains, piedmonts or by the sea is not an all day long process. It can and should always 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 or give a splash of hazelnut balsamic vinegar 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, August 22, 2017

Mashed Potatoes with Iowa Pork Cutlets and Applesauce!

Just finished making homemade applesauce and what could be better than to serve farm fresh boneless Iowa pork loin chops 'pounded down' into 'cutlets' as the side... I mean as the main course along with a mound of creamy mashed potatoes.

To begin, saute chopped onion in a skillet of olive oil and butter until browned. Pound down or out the pork loin chops into 'cutlets'. Next, push aside the onion and lay in the pork cutlets, add to the skillet dried herbs. You can coat the meat first with an egg wash and pat in dried bread crumbs...but you don't have too.

Once the meat is nearly white with just a bit of pink yet in the center, pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream, adding a tbs of Dijon mustard and then tossing in a few sun dried tomatoes. Stir and let simmer on low while you wash, peel and cut in half or quarter yellow gold potatoes to boil and mash with a dollop of butter and 1/4 cup of milk.

Put out the applesauce and enjoy!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Green Zucchini ~ The Italian Squash!

Zucchini is simply a variety of summer squash commonly used in Italian cooking. Some recipes actually refer to it as 'Italian squash'. Italian recipes using squash range from very simple to quite complex. One simple, traditional Italian recipe involves stewing zucchini with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs, such as parsley or basil.

My mother always cooked for us and preserved in jars what she referred to as 'Italian Goulash' and of course its main veggie was Zucchini squash. Come a snowy winter evening, that goulash was a bowl of summer sunshine.

Basically, when it comes to cooking can stew it, fry it, roast it and even bake it with olive oil and herbs or bake it into a sweet breakfast bread. This summer squash can be found in many countries and kitchens. In France, it is even used to make the famous 'Ratatouille', a kind of goulash.

A bit of parmesan on that please...

 ~ Tutti a Tavola

Friday, August 18, 2017

Linguine Pasta ~ So Uncelebrated... Not!

Linguine originated in Genoa in the Liguria region of Italy. Linguine is a pasta something like Fettuccine. For some people, the name may sound a little bit strange. It may be because the name linguine means "little tongues" in Italian. 

It seems that when it comes to linguine most think of 'Linguine with clam sauce' or 'Linguine with Shrimp'. It doesn't have to be. It can be served with a basic Marinara sauce minus the clams and shrimp. It can be used with many meats and served with buttery pesto as well as tomato sauces.

In fact, if you want to make an Asian dish that asks for rice noodles and you don't have any or can't find any to buy, just be brainy and use Linguine.

*Scroll Brainy blog pages for the above Linguine dishes or go to the website and click on Brainy Archives.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Baked Brie ~ A Simple, Delicious No Brainer...

You don't have to be dramatic to be brainy. But, your family will think its a staged event when you serve baked brie with either a cold tomato gazpacho or a hot garden goulash and serve dinner in the backyard...

Buy as many small round brie as you think you will need. And for every two brie, one pop open packaged croissant dough. Simply wrap each brie until covered, set on a non stick baking sheet and bake at 350 until golden brown.

While they bake, prepare a quick cold tomato gazpacho or a hot garden goulash. Either or takes pretty much as long as the brie does to bake. For either, dice finely: fresh tomatoes, onions and green peppers along with zucchini if you do the goulash.

The cold soup 'gazpacho' can be done in a blender. The goulash can be done on the stove top... the key to quick cooking time is dicing all veggies finely. If you prefer larger 'chunks' that's fine only the cooking time will be a bit longer; and, use a bit of fresh tomato juice as a starter base.

Brainy Chicken Scallopini

I would like to remind readers that the Brainy Gourmet is not about recipes as in promoting "The Brainy Gourmet's recipe for ...". The Brainy Gourmet blog has always been about encouraging home cooks to be frugal with flavor!

Frugality is not a common word these days and yet it should be. There is nothing wrong with getting the most from your food dollar. Being frugal is about not wasting time and money on ingredients.

The Brainy Gourmet blog promotes using what you have in terms of basic food items and adding to that when you can. Check out the basic pantry list on the right side margin of this blog. And, get cooking being brainy in the kitchen.

Today, is Wednesday and its Italian night. Yet, nearly every other night at our house is Italian night. That is because I am half Italian. To begin making this dish - Chicken Scallopini, you will need to buy: boneless, skinless chicken thighs. You can buy with skin on and bone in, removing them yourself. Its cheaper as in 'frugal' to buy that way.

Pound down the thighs and pat both sides with bread crumbs. Saute onion in olive oil and dried Italian herbs. Push aside the onion, add a dollop of butter to the same skillet, turn up the heat to med. and lay in the thighs. Brown on both sides and bring back the onion over the top. To that add 3-4 tbs of capers, 3-4 tbs of pimento (or diced roasted red pepper) and 1/4 cup of heavy cream along with 2 tsp of tomato paste for a rich creamy sauce. *Note- buy tomato paste in a tube. This way you can keep in the fridge for many uses until it runs out.

Prepare angel hair pasta as the sauce bubbles slowly.

~ Tutti a Tavola!