Fresh, fast and frugal!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

New Year's Eve at Home...

The  Brainy Gourmet has always been about sharing food and any information that is fast and frugal. If you are opting to stay at home for New Years, you are being brainy! The best parties are usually home parties because you control the mood, the food and the alcohol if you plan on serving any.

I usually do baked brie (check past posts); but this year, the plan is to do steamed mushrooms in buttery beef stock served with creamy garlic parmesean sauce along with some mushroom filled ravioli.

For steamed mushrooms you will need: fresh champignon mushrooms (1-2lb) depending on number of guests. Steam the mushrooms, washed and left whole, in one cup of beef stock with half a stick of butter. Once tender, ladle onto a serving plate, top with the creamy garlic parmesan sauce, and sprinkle with fresh green parsley.

For the creamy garlic parmesan sauce you will need: heavy cream, a few garlic gloves and fresh grated parmesan cheese. Melt the other half of the stick of butter in a separate sauce pan. Add crushed garlic from a few hulled cloves. Then, pour in 1 cup of heavy cream and about 1/2 cup of grate parmesan, stir until creamy.

For the mushroom filled ravioli... be frugal by buying them fresh or frozen. Boil until tender, top with the same creamy garlic and parmesan sauce, that recipe can be doubled if need be. And if red sauce is your preference, then use diced tomatoes or a marinara (jarred or homemade -see blog archive).

~ All the best to you and yours in 2019!

PS...A great way to dress up the table or room is to put out tinsel and old clocks... ask guests to bring one or two. Everyone can write a New Year wish and place it under their clock. Make it a point to invite a new face to share your brainy world with in 2019.

*External source ~

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Spaghetti and Meatballs.... Always Brainy Good!

Whether you make spaghetti and meatballs or spaghetti bolognse, its always going to be 'Brainy'. For spaghetti with meatballs, you will need: ground veal or turkey or pork along with onion (one large), heavy cream, bread crumbs, dried herbs, tomatoes (fresh or canned) and spaghetti pasta.

Mix about 1 pound of ground meat with bread crumbs, heavy cream, dried herbs and a pinch of salt and garlic powder. Start adding each ingredient little by little making sure that the meatballs are not too bready or to creamy. Set aside after forming the meatballs. Next, chop the onion and brown in olive oil. Push aside and in the same skillet, brown the meatballs.

Bring the onion back in around the meatballs and pour in one can of Red Gold crushed 'red' tomatoes unless you have fresh (washed, peeled and chopped).  Boil the pasta in salted water until tender, drain and rinse. Ladle onto a low lipped serving plate and top with meatballs and sauce.

... pour on the Parmesan cheese!

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Set a Christmas table so merry... they won't ever forget!

Whatever you are cooking this holiday, set your Christmas table simply and as elegant as possible. Use white dishes, they show off the food better...making even the smallest tasty tidbit stand out on the plate in terms of eye appealing color. Use white napkins (cloth or a quality tissue napkin) and please not use paper towels. As for glassware, make it clear and the silverware clean and basic.

It takes no more time to set a simple table in this way than it would to put out paper plates or a mishmash of brightly patterned ceramic. The key is to be mindful of giving your friends and family a homemade holiday experience they always remember!

You can decorate for the season by using wood, pine cones, fresh green bow/sprig cuttings or holly; and, instead of putting down a woven plastic or bamboo like place-mat, find something that will reflect your love and time spent to create that homemade touch...and because of your brainy extra effort, your family will feel and be blessed!

Blessings to you and yours this holiday season!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Brainy Italian Chicken encrusted with Parmsean Cheese...

For this Brainy Italian dish, you will need to buy: boneless, skinless chicken breasts ( per guest); and you will need to buy or have on hand mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese. For those of you mayo 'haters'... hold your tongue. You won't even notice the mayo. I am absolutely confident you won't; because, I have a mayo hater and they still don't know what makes this dish so yummy delicious!

Turn up your oven to 375. Drizzle olive oil over a glass baking dish, lay in the breasts. Spread with generous amounts of mayo... per breast. Sprinkle on garlic powder and fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano... and of course, fresh grated Parmesan cheese as well as generous amounts of fine grated parm. Bake on 375 until the tops begin to brown; then turn down the oven temp to 325 and let bake slowly for another 30 minutes while you prepare a side of green beans, rice or mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What to do when you just can't decide what to cook...?

Check past posts on this blog ~ The Brainy Gourmet! 

1- Chicken Cacciatore, 2- Malaysian Pork, 3- Eggplant Parmesan, 4- Chicken Calabria, and 5- Pappadrelle with Pork, Tomatoes and Capers ...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Farmstyle Homemade Italian Minestrone Soup...

Hot soup and hot toasted bread with butter... no other meal satisfies a hungry family like this does. You will need to buy: a one pound package of beef stew meat (or a small pork shoulder) two small zucchini, celery, one onion, carrots and one large can of whole or diced tomatoes unless you have fresh frozen and of course, tortellini or a wide egg noodle pasta.

Fill a large stock pot with water, salt generously but don't overdue it. Once it boils, add a small beef bouillon and one whole onion skinned and cut in half, then add the stew meat or the pork shoulder. Let this come to a rolling boil uncovered for about 10 min. on high heat.

Reduce the heat to med and add one large can of either whole/diced tomatoes or 2 cups of fresh frozen, thawed. Next, add a bag of baby carrots-washed and sliced, cubed zucchini skin on and a few very young celery stalks with tops along with fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint, oregano and sage. And, put in a dash of white or black pepper but not necessary.

Let this soup slowly boil on med heat for 60 min partially covered. Cook tortellini pasta on the side to be added to individual bowls.

Once the pasta is tender, drain and spoon into individual bowls, top with soup, sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and put out toasted bread, roll or muffin with fresh creamy butter.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Still trying to come up with just the right gift...

If you have a wine and or cheese lover among your circle of friends or family, then give them a gift that definitely rings in holiday cheer!

Why? Because, a wine or cheese connoisseur, amateur or professional, never gets tired of searching for and tasting that one wine or cheese which is like no other. Therefore, if you know such a person, then give them the gift that is certainly merry.

Wine and cheese are not just ordinary items... they have special properties and have been spoken of as having health benefits long known to man since ages past; and, ironically, its age that counts for either and always has.

So, if you are still trying to come up with just the right gift for such a person, then check out the Brainy Gourmet Webpage and click on the Gold Medal Wine Club...

Friday, December 15, 2017

Veal Marsala ~ Made the Brainy Frugal Way!

When you don't have all the ingredients, or you can't find them or just can't or won't pay the price for them... don't worry. You can still have a brainy gourmet meal. Yes, its true that it can be quite difficult at times to find good cuts of meat at regular grocery stores and or supermarkets.

Of course, you can try to get what you need at European delis or butcher shops; but sadly, they come and go due to competing corporate supermarket entities. If you don't have that problem, please use veal. But, how to make Veal Marsala without veal?

From time to time, I have used pork loin, sliced thin and pounded with a meat hammer. And, that has proved to be a good substitute. Today, however, I am using beef. To be exact - round steak or you could also use flank steak. Make sure you cut the steak of your choice thin and pound flat with a meat hammer.

After you have pounded the meat, marinate in Marsala wine with a brush of garlic infused olive oil and a few dashes of sea salt for at least 30-40 minutes. This dish requires you have on hand some mushrooms and linguine pasta. While the meat marinates in the Marsala, wash and slice whatever mushrooms you bought to be sauteed in butter and a few garlic cloves; then start a pot of water to boil for the linguine.

Once the mushrooms have browned, push them aside in the skillet and lay in the 'cutlets' of marinated beef. Flash fry, bring the mushrooms back in and add 3/4 cup of Marsala wine bringing this skillet mixture to a bubbling richness. Add fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint, oregano and sage and 1/4 cup of heavy cream, let simmer until the pasta is tender.

 *top with fresh grated parmesan cheese and dried or fresh green parsley...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Rustic Pork Medallions with Mushrooms and Dried Plums...

This is an absolute favorite at our house. It takes me back to an unexpected winter visit in Zurich Switzerland. Probably, because of the creamy mustard sauce and also because of the distinct woody taste of the wild forest mushrooms along with dried plums; all very rustic.

You will need: one 1-1/2 lb. pork loin, one onion, 'wild/wood' mushrooms (Bavarian), dried plums, and creamy style 'horseradish' mustard or a rich Dijon and of course heavy cream. Begin by sauteing one whole chopped onion in olive oil and butter. Wash and shave the mushrooms adding them to the skillet with the onion ...once the onion has browned.

Push aside the onion and mushrooms to add the pork loin cut into a medallion size. Brown on both sides until the juices run out when you push down on each one. Bring back in the onion/mushrooms, add 1/4 lb of dried plums, mix together and pour in 1/3 cup of heavy cream and 1 and half large tbs of mustard. Cover and let simmer while you prepare the sides.

Oh yeah, a side of buttery mashed potatoes and green beans...

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Its the most wonderful time of the year ~ to bake cookies!

Most of my readers know that I am not a 'baker' by nature but I can be brainy about bread and a variety of drop cookies. Stack up any way you like this drop cookie at a time!

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: 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. 

To that basic mix, you can add all kinds of tasty things: any kind of nut, or slivered almonds, raisins, or dried cranberries, oatmeal or 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 (not both together) otherwise the dough will likely become too dry. The consistency of the dough has to be just right, not too sticky and not too dry. 

*Note - more flour than sugar will produce a cake like drop cookie; more butter/sugar will produce a crispy flat drop cookie.

I also have a favorite molasses recipe that I enjoy making this time of year.
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder 
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 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 and mix it up. 
  3. Check for consistency of dough. It can't be too sticky or dry and that depends on the quality of molasses; so, you may need to add either 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. *Note - if the dough sticks like glue to the scoop, add more flour.
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. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Brie, soup and bread... a Simple Brainy Gift

How to begin this wonderful exotic French/Italian combination? Start with soup, its a no brainer. Yes, I do say that often; but, that's because it is. The pork butt stock you still have from a few days ago is just waiting to become something new.

As I said, keep the stock clear as it can morph into amazing soups. For a Minestrone, just boil any tortellini pasta on the side, saute some zucchini or green beans and tomato together in olive oil, add Italian sausage if you want; and, when all is done, add to bowls and pour hot stock over the top into individual serving bowls along with the cooked pasta... simple as that.

As for the baked Brie, follow the pictures...

Bake on 375 for as long as it takes to see a brown top and oozing cheese. For a little bit different take, before wrapping and baking, slice the Brie in half and insert sun dried tomatoes or olives or spinach, put the two halves back together like a sandwich wrap with the croissant dough and bake.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Homemade Soup ~ Be Brainy About it...

Soup, takes you home...

The Brainy Gourmet has never strayed from frugality. Most meals are cooked based on what is in the fridge or pantry on any given day and what can be used over again.  Soup is one of those food stuffs that just keeps on giving. If you prepare a stock whether from meat/poultry or vegetables, it can and will become a number of different soups throughout the week.

A cut of meat that I learned to like and to use for soup stock is pork butt; specifically, the 'picnic/pork' shoulder which I think has been unfairly named. This cut of pork is absolutely perfect for soup and what comes after. If you buy a large enough shoulder, you can also enjoy pulled pork sandwiches the next day.

To begin your soup, saute onion in olive oil. Push the onion aside and sear the pork butt on both sides. Cover with water and add any vegetable you like; keeping in mind that if you want to create a variety of soups throughout the week those veggies should be drained off and served/used separately.

As you have read on previous blogs, do not add macaroni, rice or potatoes to the stock. They can be cooked on the side and added to individual bowls as your soup stock morphs into many different brainy delicious soups.

From this cut of pork, you will be surprised to see a dark rich stock...

From this rich stock, you can create whatever soup you like... just be brainy about it!

*Serve your soup with either toasted bread or a grilled cheese sandwich. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Iowa Pork Cutlets with Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Applesauce...

There is nothing that compares to homemade applesauce; a jar of pure sunshine this time of year. And, what could be better than to serve it with farm fresh Iowa pork 'boneless chops' pounded down into tender juicy cutlets, pan fried with mounds of creamy mashed potatoes on the side.

To begin, saute chopped onion in a skillet of olive oil until browned. Pound down the pork  chops into 'cutlets', then push aside the onion and lay in the pork, adding your favorite dried herbs. *Note - I prefer not to bread the cutlets, just let the meat speak for itself.

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 (or not) and then tossing in a few sun dried tomatoes ...let simmer.

Just prior to cooking the cutlets, wash, peel and halve or quarter yellow gold potatoes to boil.  When they are tender, mash with a dollop of butter and 1/4 cup of milk.

Put out the applesauce and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Chili Without Beans on a Cold December Night...

Chilies... hot, hot and hotter

When it comes to making a pot of chili, its a no beaner at the Brainy Gourmet's. Yeah, beans... either you love em or you don't.  Chili without beans is a no brainer that's for sure. Its just so easy. And, be my guest when it comes to chili recipes because whether yours/mine, there is always somebody's and or everybody's favorite version.

But, let me just say that I like to use chopped green or red pepper, onion sauteed in olive oil, along with good quality ground beef; and, as much chili powder and red chili pepper flakes as anybody in my/your house can stand.

Once you get that all mixed up, add a small can of tomato paste and stir. If it is thicker than you like, add beef stock or even mild salsa or a little of both. Let it simmer for at least 45 min to an hour.

*Break out the grated cheese, hot sauce and crackers...

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hungarian Medley with Roasted Vegetables and Dried Plums!

For this dish you will need to buy: either lamb, pork or veal loin to use as any of these are can be bought skinless, and boneless. You will also need: heavy cream, ground paprika, garlic powder, jarred roasted red peppers, along with about 3 young zucchini squash, a few sun dried tomatoes and dried plums. 

Cut the loin into thick medallions. Sprinkle sea salt on each and brown the medallions in olive oil in a skillet on high heat. Once browned turn down the heat and add as many diced roasted red peppers as you like. Stir while adding 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 1 tsp of paprika, garlic powder and fresh dried parsley. Simmer while you prepare oven roasted zucchini with sun dried tomatoes and dried plums.

For the zucchini, wash, peel a little of the skin off, slice and lay in a glass baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with dried herbs. Bake in the oven on 400f for about 30 min. Toss in the sun dried tomatoes and plums on the end of that time for another 10 min.

~ Tutti a Tavola!