Fresh, fast and frugal!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Start with Stock Today and Be on the Brainy Way to Frugal Cooking!

Start with stock and see what soups you can create all week long...

Remember, as your stock morphs into other soups, never add rice, pasta or even potatoes directly to the stock/soup; unless, its going to become 'potato' soup. These added sides should be cooked separately and ladled into individual bowels when serving. Also, keep in mind that if you cooked any vegetables in the chicken stock for enhanced flavor such as: carrots, onion and celery, strain those out and serve on the side. The idea is to keep the stock clean.

For example, if you use some of the chicken stock today to make chicken noodle soup, do not add noodles to the chicken stock not even to the amount you are going to use for a chicken noodle soup (pasta cooked in soup makes it thick and cloudy).

As for tomorrow, let's say you want to create a creamy tomato soup which you want to serve with rice, add only tomato paste to the stock you made, make sure that the cream is added to individual bowls the same as the rice. This way, if you want to make Minestrone the next day with the 'now' tomato base, you can.

With careful attention to frugality, you can have at least three kinds of soup this week from a large chicken based stock.

Americans Waste Food ~ To be Frugal or Not to be Frugal?

Yes, Americans waste a lot of food. Why? Largely, because they don't know any better... they just don't know enough about food; purchase, preparation, use and storage.

We have been led to believe that we have to eat fresh as in just off the tree at every moment. If not that then we are led to believe that following a recipe is the best way to cook and reduce waste as you measure, right? Wrong on both counts. Most people just don't know enough about food, period. Why is that? Its not being taught and or being instructed, passed on as good information.

There are plenty of studies out there including ones by John Hopkins that clearly reveal ignorance in the population at large when it comes to food cooking and consumption. As hard as that may seem to grasp, its true.

The Brainy Gourmet Blog - Fast and Frugal, has always encouraged wise frugal cooking. With that in mind, let's look at why eating fresh as in just off the tree or just out of the ground or off the shelf is a problem when it comes to waste; and then, look at why following a recipe is also a big cause of food waste. So, do we always have to eat so FRESH? Well, what is fresh?

Does food labeling really tell us anything about food freshness or what to do with food that is one day past the expiration date. The answer is no. Good cooks, chefs, know what is fresh and what is not. We have these senses that are pretty accurate: sight, smell, touch and taste. So, if a container of heavy cream does not look bad, smell bad, or taste bad then can it be used one or two days past its expiration? Most likely, yes. And, certainly for cooking with.

Can darkened bananas be used? Yes, use them in pancake batter or bread, or muffins. Can apples that have gone soft or mealy be used? Yes, use them to make applesauce or in bread or muffins. What about toasted muffins that did not get eaten or bread. Use the muffins to put on the bottom of breakfast casserole and make bread crumbs from dry 'day old' bread.

And, can you use left over mashed potatoes from Sunday's dinner? Yes, make potato pancakes as a side with pork chops. What about left over roast beef or roasted chicken? Stew or casserole...our grandmas did. As home cooks used to do (like grandmom's) in terms of managing left overs and new your own labeling, mark the date cooked or bought, storing either in the fridge or pantry, depending on the food item.

Do you really need to use a recipe? No. As we have discussed before, you rather need to know what you like in terms of taste (sweet and salty) and what you are comfortable with cooking. Once you know that, you will understand why recipes are a waste of time and just wasteful.

Of course, like with anything you want to master or just do well, know-how and or skill in cooking comes with practicing combinations. Start simple and small. Start with stock and make as many soups as you can throughout the week. A basic chicken stock (cooking a whole chicken or parts) can become tomato and eventually minestrone.

I encourage every home cook to be wise and frugal. This is the best way to stop food waste. It is easy to cook without a recipe, just don't be afraid to try. The worse scenario is when you are disappointed having followed a recipe to the 't' and bought all kinds of ingredients that are a one time use or only for that 'dish'. And, since it 'turned out badly' and you can't reuse any of it and toss it in the garbage.

The Brainy Gourmet has cooked everything from Swiss Steak to Chicken and Dumplings, to Veal Marsala and Irish Stew without a strict measure it out recipe; even doing some 'exotic' African and lots of Italian dishes. Check out the side margin on this blog to see what you need to have on hand in your pantry and what will help you expand on that. Get cooking as practice makes ... Brainy!

Brainy tip ~ You don't need to have on the plate an item from every single food group every single mealtime; i.e. fruit intake can be eaten between meals/snack or for breakfast.

*Source ~

Friday, January 26, 2018

Mediterranean Chicken ~ Mid-Winter Dining...

Who wouldn't want to look out from a balcony to see a Mediterranean sunset this time of year. Did you know that Mediterranean is not just for Italians. Many European countries (France, Spain, Greece) have a border with that sea. And, thus there are delicious menus on every coast.

For this dish, you will need: skin on/bone in chicken thighs, black olives of your choice, roasted red peppers, diced tomatoes, onion and spinach tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta. To get started, generously coat a covered skillet, chop one whole onion and toss into the skillet on med. heat.

When the onion is brown on the edges, remove or push aside to lay in the thighs skin side down adding a drizzle of olive oil if needed to sear the chicken on both sides! Bring back the onion, cover and cook for 8 min. on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Next, add one medium 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, along with a handful of diced roasted red peppers and two generous handfuls of either green or dark kalamata olives. Sprinkle in rosemary, mint and oregano and a dash of garlic powder and a small dash of red pepper flakes. Cover and simmer for 25-30 min. on low heat. In this time, boil water with salt to cook your pasta. Drain when tender, rinse and prepare to serve!

... and don't forget the wine and bread

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Rolled Pork Loin with Sun Dried Tomatoes...

In our busy lives, we need to take time to eat well and enjoy our food. And, sometimes, we need to imagine we are someplace else and that tomorrow will be better than today. This dish lets you do just that.

Pork is one kind of meat that is readily available and always flavorful. A boneless pork loin is not expensive and easy to cook.

For this dish you will need: one pound (or smaller depending on guests) boneless pork loin, sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, red pesto and whatever sides you prefer. What does a boneless pork loin look like?  It looks like this...

Cut the loin in half as if preparing to make a sub sandwich. Sprinkle in dried herbs on both halves. Then lay on just one half as many slices of mozzarella cheese as you can fit and on top of the cheese as many sun dried tomatoes as you wish. Put the meat back together as a complete sandwich. Drizzle with olive oil and an additional sprinkle of dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Bake in a glass dish on 375 for 40-45 min.

Prepare a side of potatoes and one green vegetable. When the loin is done, remove from the oven and put it onto a serving plate, cut into thick slices. Next, add to the liquid in the baking dish, one tbs of red pesto paste, stir until you get a lovely sauce. If you want it creamy, add 2 tsps of heavy cream.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Cheesecake ~ A Brainy Gourmet Dessert...

Its not that difficult to make good cheesecake at home in your own kitchen. The best and simplest recipe is the Brainy Gourmet's. You will need: two 8 oz packages of cream cheese, 3/4 sour cream, 1 can of condensed milk and two eggs.

Begin by softening the cream cheese: let set out until soft or microwave for about 25 sec without foil wrapping. Mash the cream cheese and blend in the sour cream in a large glass bowl. Next, pour in the can of condensed milk and blend again. On the side, in a separate bowl, whip two eggs until frothy and add to the cheesecake batter.

For the crust, just crush about 8 large graham crackers in a plastic zip-lock bag. Melt 3 tbs of butter in a bowl to be combined with the graham crackers. Pat down this mixture into a cheesecake 'spring' pan and pour in the cheesecake batter. Bake at 325 (pre-heated) for about 40 min or until the top of the cake springs when you giggle the pan.

If you would like to flavor your cheesecake, add to the batter either lemon or almond extract- 1/2 tsp. Or, for something really more extraordinary, add 4 tbs of liquified Hershey dark chocolate (cutting down on the amount of sour cream) and 1 tsp of instant espresso coffee for a delicious experience. *Note, the crust can be made using the cookie part (not cream filling) of the Oreo cookie brand.

And, if you are not a baker... a definite no brainer option is to buy a good brand of cheesecake. Check out Brainy Products on the Brainy Gourmet Webpage.

Brainy Veal Parmesan for a real taste of Italy...

Whenever, you hear the name 'veal parmesan' you should automatically think Italy.

For this dish you will need to buy: as many tender veal cutlets as you will have guests, bread crumbs, grated parmesan cheese, one egg, heavy cream, a medium can of diced tomato and at least one small young green zucchini.

Begin by sprinkling balsamic vinegar on each cutlet rubbing in a dash of garlic powder as well. Then submerse the veal cutlets one by one in bowl of heavy cream beaten with one egg. Next, lay each cutlet onto a plate of dried bread crumbs seasoned with dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.

Prepare a skillet for frying by blending olive oil and melted butter, turn up the heat to med/high. As the oils in your skillet start to bubble, lay in your cutlets and let them sizzle browning on both sides. Lastly, pour in one medium can of diced tomatoes, cover and let simmer for 12-15 min on med-low heat.

While they simmer, dice or slice the zucchini and brown in olive oil in a separate skillet. Then add the zucchini to the veal cutlets with tomatoes. For extra zing, you can also drop in: capers, roasted red peppers or olives. Prepare angel hair pasta or potatoes s a side. Before serving, top each cutlet with a combination of grated mozzarella and parmesan or thin slices of each.

~Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Meatloaf ~ Delicate Gourmet Blanc...

When most people think of meatloaf they think dry ground beef in a football shape. That dryness is due to added oatmeal, crackers, and or bread crumbs, egg, with milk. Some like to try and keep the moisture in by adding broccoli. Wrong approach.

The secret to juicy gourmet meatloaf is Not to put in oatmeal, crackers, egg, milk or too many bread crumbs. The key to juicy tasty even delicate meatloaf is to use a small amount of dried bread crumbs, heavy cream and a bit of beef stock with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and of course fresh dried herbs, and garlic powder.

You will need for this dish: white 'blanc' meats: pork and turkey. To begin, blend 1/2 pound of ground pork with 1/2 pound of ground turkey. Next, add 1/4 cup of heavy cream and 3/4 cup more or less of bread crumbs. Add to that dried herbs: sage, rosemary, mint and oregano. Sprinkle in the garlic powder and then proceed to mix by hand and shape into a loaf.

Set the oven to 350, drizzle olive oil onto a glass baking dish and lay in the shaped meatloaf. Blanc means in French cookery, a liquid for poaching meat.  Here is where you will use the  beef stock and Worcestershire sauce: 1/4 cup of stock and 2 tbs of sauce. Top with a good sprinkle of additional herbs and bake for 40 min. About half way through, add a handful of dried plums.

As an additional side, blackened zucchini in olive oil with a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and 1 tsp of clarified butter.

Just before serving the meatloaf, you can prepare a creamy 'beurre blanc' dill sauce to top. Melt 2-3 pats of butter in a small skillet along with some of the fat juices coming off the meatloaf dish (remove carefully to take a spoonful out of the glass dish). Pour in about 4 tbs of heavy cream, a drop or two of white wine and a few sprigs of fresh green dill!

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Best Ever Brainy Chicken Alfredo...

Nothing like pasta after hitting the slopes...

Why the best Alfredo? Because, its brainy frugal. How? First, when I think Alfredo, I think creamy and full of flavor. Second, it takes no time at all to make a creamy full of flavor Alfredo sauce. The flavor comes from using sweet cream butter, good heavy cream, and Asiago parmesan cheese. Since this is chicken alfredo, then add roasted or baked chicken breasts; that's being brainy.

One can even be brainier by using leftover roast or baked chicken and I happen to have one large leftover breast that was baked covered in cheese and sun dried tomatoes.

To begin, saute onion in olive oil until browned on the edges. Push aside the onion and add either sliced, cubed or chunked roast chicken breast. To that, add 2 tbs of butter and 3/4 cup of heavy cream along with 1/4 cup of grated parmesan. Don't forget fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano; always optional and or to your taste.

Boil fettuccine pasta in salted water. Once it is tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate and top with chicken and sauce.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Winter Dining at its Best!

Winter dining... just make it thick and hot and full of flavor!

1- Indian Butter Chicken
2- Hotel Budapest Chicken
3- Montreux Chicken Raclette
4- Best Ever Chicken Cacciatore

*Check Brainy Blogs/Archives for recipes/instructions...
(1- 2/16/2017, 2- 4/26/2016, 3- 10/25/2016, 4- 6/28/2017)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Serve Wild Caught Salmon and Boost your Omega 3...

Salmon has to be one of the best sources of Omega 3. Its very easy to prepare and to cook. To firm up the meat prior to frying, baking or grilling, let the salmon rest in a shallow glass dish of pure fresh squeezed lemon juice.

When it comes to cooking salmon, you can bake in the oven, blackened on the grill or fry in the skillet. If you prefer to fry in the skillet, begin by searing the fillets on both sides in olive oil and butter (not to much butter as it tends to burns). Once seared, turn down the heat and add 2 pats of butter and let simmer while you prepare sides of your choice. For a blackened finish in the skillet just turn up the heat letting the skin side down get black and crispy.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Eggplant Cuisine ~ Swap out with Zucchini...

Another hot meal on a winter's night...

Eggplant is known in many countries under different names and used in a variety of dishes in restaurants. On this blog, you can read recipes for eggplant parmesan and eggplant lasagna. If you don't like eggplant then swap out eggplant using zucchini and if you do like it but find that it is not readily available, just be brainy and swap out eggplant recipes using zucchini.

For this dish, you will need zucchini (as many as you like), chicken breasts (small package), onion and canned diced tomatoes or fresh frozen thawed. To begin, chop one whole onion and start 3-4 tbs of olive oil in a large skillet. On med heat, start to saute the onion tossing in some of your favorite dried herbs: rosemary, orange mint, oregano and a bit of sage.

Next, cut up the chicken breasts into medium sized chunks pushing aside the onion in the skillet. Next, turn the heat to med.high adding the chicken chunks searing them on all sides. Once seared, add a small can of diced tomatoes to the  skillet, cover and let simmer while you prepare the zucchini: wash and cut into chunks.

In another skillet, sear the zucchini in olive oil and then add to the mixture of chicken with onion and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 25-30 min on med - low heat. On the end, toss in a couple of dried plums which make this dish even more than delicious. Prepare pasta as a side dish or rice, gnocchi dumplings (frozen/boiled) or left over polenta from yesterday's meal; sliced and fried.

The family will still think they traveled to Greece even if you used zucchini...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Polenta with Mushrooms and Blood Sausage...

Want to try  something different for dinner on a cold winter evening, then make creamy cornmeal polenta served with Bavarian mushrooms and blood sausage. As you may have guessed, blood sausage is made with pig's blood along with bits of organ meats plus barley or rice which are necessary fillers or catalysts.

In Italy, regional varieties of blood sausage are known as 'sanguinaccio'. In Tuscany, buristo is a sausage made with pig's blood and fat cooked in a pig's stomach. Variants are found worldwide. Pig, cattle, sheep, duck, and goat's blood can be used, varying by country. In Kenya, fillers include fresh minced goat or beef, fat, and red onions.

You may ask, why would anyone want to eat barley and blood mixed together and put into a casing? Well, the answer its simple food; and, that means its a fast and frugal dinner that is filling and very tasty. Today, many people don't know that you can eat almost every part of an animal for food. At least, folks did for many years as a means of being frugal.

Polenta -
2 tbs of olive oil
one whole onion chopped
2-4 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan
4 tbs of butter or 1/2 stick

Heat oven to 350F. On the stove, saute your onion in the olive oil in a deep oven safe pot until browned on all edges; then, add your stock (2 cups thicker) and 5 cups of water. Heat to boiling on high and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Then cover and bake for 45-50 min.with an occasional stir - about every 10 min. Remove from the oven, add the butter and Parmesan for one last stir, then let it set covered.


Keep in mind that the polenta (made earlier) can be kept warm in the oven on low heat in a double boiler: one oven safe pot with the polenta sitting inside a wider oven safe dish filled with enough water to cover the bottom.
You can Pan fry the mushrooms in a skillet with olive oil and butter. The blood sausage can also be pan fried in the same skillet; either separate or with the mushrooms. Or you can do a roasting pan of sausage in the oven for 40 min in olive oil glaze.

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Minstrone Soup ~ How Can I count the ways?

Soup is always good on a cold winter evening and a hot minestrone is even better; and yes, its one of my brainy favorites.  Beef stock is the beginning: bring 4 cups to a boil and then add sauteed onion and sear beef stew meat. Following that, add one small can of diced tomatoes with garlic and olive oil along with fresh frozen young string beans.  Sprinkle in fresh dried herbs and let this simmer on the stove for 45-50 min.

You can boil any ravioli on the side to be added to individual bowls.  Serve with focaccia bread.

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Brainy Italian Stone Oven Baked Chicken...

If only there were time for slow cooking and slow eating...

Though hurried by the rush of everyday life, remember that it takes no time at all to make a savory home-cooked dish like this; even if you don't have a brick 'stone' oven; your oven will work just fine.

For this dish all you need are: a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts, mayonnaise (homemade if possible), Parmesan cheese and dried herbs. To begin: turn on the oven and pre-heat to 425.

Next, drizzle olive oil into an oblong glass baking dish and lay in your chicken breasts. With a spatula, generously spread mayo over the top of the chicken breast. Sprinkle each breast with a pinch of salt, garlic powder and grated Parmesan; top with fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and of course oregano. Bake on 425 for the first 10 and then at 375 for the next 25-30 min or until the tops are crusty brown and chicken is cooked through.

In the meantime, before the chicken is done, prepare your sides: angel hair pasta, and a green salad.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Dovi Chicken ... All the Way from Zimbabwe

Its not often the brainy gourmet goes to a far off food direction other than from her Italian heritage. This recipe was given to me by a neighbor whose family originated from Africa. It is called Dovi Chicken which is thick 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!