Fresh, fast and frugal!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Easter Breads to Celebrate Life...

For Christians around the world, Easter is very important because it is the Passover which symbolizes hope, a new promise and even transformation. Which is why many Easter traditions center around the wonder of new life and traditional foods that suggest new life: eggs, green vegetables, and spring lamb figure prominently in the cuisine; and of course, an infinite variety of rich Easter breads. Check out the link provided for some of the best Easter breads baked with care and with love.

Now, if you find that baking is not your thing, you can buy many of these breads at your local ethnic grocery store or even supermarket bakery counters. And, if you want to try baking one but don't have time to prepare the dough, then just buy frozen bread dough and use that.

A brainy good secret is cut or pull apart the thawed dough into threes. Roll or press out into three pancakes... then onto each flat piece layer with orange zest, raisins or other dried fruits and even nuts. Roll up each one and intertwine... 'braid' them together. Lastly, pull the braid into a circle 'wreath' and place on parchment 'baking' paper on a baking sheet. Dress the top with egg wash, and simply follow the directions for rising and baking as directed on the frozen bread dough package.

Be brainy and be a celebrant of life and life everlasting in Jesus Christ ~ Happy Easter!

*Source ~

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Zurek ~ Remembering the Taste of Easter in Poland!

Zurek is the most humble of all Polish soups, and at the same time the most exotic. It is traditionally eaten at Easter. This soup is not based on meat or vegetable stock. It is made from rye bread and water (see link below) kept on the counter until it becomes a fermented drink.

In Poland, this fermented drink is called - Zakwas. It is available in bottles at some grocery stores. Outside of Poland, you can find it in specialty ethnic markets, and even online.  Now, if you wanted to make it yourself, it does require planning a few days in advance as you can imagine since it is a fermented drink. Rather, it is easier to buy zakwas than risk something going wrong as in not tasting good.

Zurek is more than just a soup made from a sourdough like 'fermented drink'.  It can be either a thin and delicate soup or hearty, stuffed with chunks of ham, sausage, and diced potatoes and boiled eggs. The Easter version always contains biała kielbasa, or “spicy white sausage".

Zurek, like its Italian cousin, zuppa di pan cotto, which is also served with hard-boiled eggs. And, like its Italian cousin, Zurek is always sour, salty, and creamy at the same time, which makes it unlike almost anything else.

*Source ~
  Rye Bread Starter ~

Monday, March 26, 2018

Happy Easter ~ Be Blessed!

   An Easter table to remember....

Easter is one of the most important holidays for Christians because it is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. The week prior to Easter, beginning with Palm Sunday, is referred to as Holy Week. 

Traditionally, this is a period of many symbolical celebrations, including the preparation of long tables in churches that represent the table there Jesus held his last supper with his twelve disciples. There is also the procession of Good Friday, during which people try to recreate the Christ’s long walk towards the cross.
The importance of Easter in Italian culture is reflected in the country’s food traditions. During Easter lunch in Italy, lamb and eggs are always served. They appear either as part of the meal itself, or as sweets in the shape of these symbols of life and rebirth (in the case of eggs) and of sacrifice of the son of God for humanity (in the case of the lamb.)   

My 'German' grandmother (married to my Italian grandfather) always baked a chiffon type Easter cake in the shape of a lamb and it was placed where everyone could see it... until it was time to serve.
What is interesting is that here in the United States, Easter is a one day celebration.  However, in Italy, the holiday extends over the course of a couple of days. To celebrate, sweet treats like egg stuffed Easter breads; i.e. Pane di Pasqua con l' ouva which is Easter bread with an egg.

I like the idea of the longer celebration... people don't do that enough; so, why not make the celebration last! Spread it out through the week and let it become a brainy tradition.

*Sources ~

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Chicken Cacciatore ~ Hunter Style...

In Italian cuisine, alla cacciatora refers to a dish prepared "hunter-style" and the brainy gourmet style is with onions, tomatoes, dried plums and herbs: rosemary, mint, sage and oregano.

All you need for this delicious dish is a large skillet with lid, chicken thighs with bone in and skin on, one whole onion, one can of diced red tomatoes, dried plums and dried herbs. This dish can be done on the stove or in the oven; using a glass baking dish or a covered skillet. If you decide for the oven, follow a similar procedure for cooking in the skillet, turn the oven to 400f. Roast uncovered.

Begin by sauteing chopped onion on med heat in olive oil, about 4 tbs and be generous.  Next, move the onion off to one side of the skillet and add your chicken thighs skin side down; brown on high heat. Bring back the onion and sprinkle as much of the dried herbs as you want over the top of the chicken.

Reduce heat adding, bringing back the onion into the mix of things and pour in 1/4 cup of chicken stock and one can of diced red tomatoes. Let this simmer for 40 min on med/low heat, stirring occasionally.

For a side, prepare a wild rice risotto or pasta ... even mashed potatoes.
Near the end of the 40 min, toss in as many dried plums as you like and olives but not necessary. Cover and let sit with no heat for as long as it takes to set the table. And, don't forget to put out the Parmesan cheese, please...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Farfalle with Red Sauce!

No one will be angry at your house if you serve...Farfalle with red sauce! I bet you did not know that the name 'Farfalle' is simply the name for Italian 'bow-tie' pasta. Though simple, this dish is delicious.

You will need to buy: 1/2 lb pound of ground 'pork/turkey' breakfast sausage and 1/2 lb of ground pork -mix together.  This dish is so much more scrumptious if you use fresh diced tomatoes but you can also use fresh frozen tomatoes from your freezer or a med. size can of diced tomatoes. And, you should have in the pantry closet, one large onion, dried herbs and Parmesan cheese .

Chop the onion and saute in olive oil until browned on the edges, push aside and crumble in the mixture of ground breakfast sausage and ground pork. Brown the meat and then bring back the onion.
Peel and dice fresh tomatoes or remove tomatoes from the freezer, scald, peel and dice or open a can of Red Gold diced tomatoes; pouring in all liquid. Add dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.
Let the sauce simmer while you boil the pasta. Once the pasta is tender, drain under cold water, but not for long. Pour out the pasta onto a large low lipped serving dish and pour over the pasta the hot bubbly red sauce from your skillet. Sprinkle fresh grated Parmesan on top and a few sprinkles of dried parsley.
*Put out extra grated Parmesan and or a chunk of cheese for hand grating...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Its All About the Sauce in French Cooking...

In French cooking, there are two basic beginnings for sauce: those made from a base such as roux (butter/flour paste) and or sauces made with broth or stock and heavy cream added to any meat fat from sauteing, broiling or roasting. From there, you can get as creative as you like adding mustard, cheese, spices/herbs, and even dried fruits.

The most important aspect of being a good judge of sauce is learning to judge sauce in terms of color and consistency. If it appears to be burning its because it is too hot, then you can expect it to be too sticky; so either add more cream or butter or stock. If it appears too liquid, take the lid off and turn up the heat, adding a pat of butter and stirring until it thickens. 

A quick review... covering the skillet or roasting pan will or should cause liquid to build up. This will allow you to get creative when it comes to making a sauce. With the accumulated liquid, you can add butter, heavy cream,  soft cheese, mustard, herbs and even peanut butter or pesto ... etc. 

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Set the Table and Call them for Dinner...

One way to ensure that eating homemade at home is way way better than eating out is to set the table properly - simple and as elegant as possible. Use white dishes, they show off the food better...making it stand out on the plate in terms of eye 'appetizing' color. Use white napkins but not strictly; certainly do not use paper towels; and, use clear glassware along with simple silverware.

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 colorful patterned stoneware. Make your family feel special when eating at home!

You can decorate for the seasons by using soft woven bamboo place-mats instead of soft woven plastic ones or skip the place mats entirely and just go with a textured cloth table runner dressing up an ordinary plate with a cloth napkin and select candies presented in a small basket. Get creative and add your special touch...and your family will feel blessed!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Brainy Lasagna... as good as it gets!

Who doesn't like lasagna, right?

Its as simple as pie to make. Maybe even simpler... if you use ready to bake noodles. You will need: lasagna pasta, baby spinach leaves, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, soup stock, tomato sauce and or diced tomatoes.

To begin, heat your oven to 425. While it heats up, prepare the lasagna. Either use ready to bake noodles or ordinary precook. Lasagna is all about the layers. Its best to start the layering by putting down a layer of lasagna noodles 'dry or precooked' into a glass baking dish drizzled with olive oil. Cover each noodle with a spoonful of soup stock.

Next, add the meat (or not) of your choice; cooked and crumbled in. Pour over this, tomato sauce (or diced tomatoes), then a layer of grated mozzarella cheese topped with a sprinkle of dried herbs. Repeat this reserving the middle layer for the baby spinach leaves and ricotta cheese.

Put another layer of noodles, stock and sauce, top with mozzarella cheese (a few slices of whole tomato looks nice) and more dried herbs: rosemary, mint/basil and oregano.

Bake in the oven uncovered for at least 60 min keeping an eye on things. After 30 min. or so, add Parmesan cheese.  Let it cook until bubbling over.  Let cool before serving; and, have extra sauce on the side to spoon on or around the lasagna.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

*if making vegetarian, omit the meat and just use spinach leaves in all layers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Are Mashed Potatoes Unsung at Your House...???

Its like bread and butter... if you haven't had really good mashed potatoes; then, you are missing out and so is the family!

The Brainy Gourmet uses only yellow gold potatoes. There are other potatoes that can be mashed but yellow gold are just supreme in my book.  The best thing about mashed potatoes is that they can be served simple or dressed up and either way, they are great.

The way to make mashed potatoes is to wash and peel as many per person (2 med. potatoes per person) as you will need to serve. Halve the peeled potatoes and boil in salted water until tender.

Drain and add a large dollop of butter, 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 1/4 cup of sour cream... more or less.  Mash with an old fashioned potato masher or you can use a hand mixer for extra creamy fluffy style mash.

 with olive oil and pepper...
with chive or dill...

Add either grated cheddar, bacon bits, tomato or basil pesto, or chopped chive, or some roasted mashed garlic and grated parmesan cheese; or just keep it simple and serve with extra butter. Of course, some like gravy on their mash.

Serve hot!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bread and Soup for Family and Friends...

If you have never served just bread and soup for dinner, then your family and friends are missing out on the simplest and most deliciously satisfying meal ever; and, you don't need a recipe either.

You will need: one whole chicken, one leek, dried herbs and of course, a fresh baked round of bread. Yes, its just that simple.

To begin, fill a large pot with water (8+ cups), add 1 tbs of salt and boil on the stove top. As soon as the water begins to roll, drop in the whole chicken (innards removed) and the washed/trimmed leek.

Sprinkle in a generous amount of dried herbs and let this simmer for close to 90 minutes; until the whole chicken floats and the meat is white and tender.

Cook your favorite pasta or even rice on the side. When you have determined the chicken to be fully cooked, remove the entire chicken (any pieces as it may break apart) and place onto a serving plate along with the leek.

Drain the pasta/rice,and ladle to individual bowls. Pour the soup broth over the top and serve. Why keep the pasta/rice separate - out of the pot? Because though you will serve chicken noodle soup tonight, you also have a good stock for the rest of the week.

Invite family and friends to the table... put out the soup, bread and butter and enjoy!

*Hoping that your family knows the good taste of soup with bread and butter...

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Italian Diet ~ Probably, the Healthiest in the World...

Yes, Italy is the second healthiest country in the world. Why? Italians are healthy because of what they eat. Yes, they love pasta and homemade with quality flour makes for good carbs. However, one can definitely stress the olive oil, hard cheeses, fruits and nuts in season, fresh herbs, tomatoes and sunshine that are working miracles in the Italian diet.

Meat is not eaten in Italy in the same portions as one will find in the U.S. and the amount of fat in the meat they prefer is also a lot less. On the coast, they do eat more fish/seafood; whereas, in/upland a bit more rustic breads, cured ham and olives; overall, Italians celebrate life and that is the key!

And, let's not forget the wine, when consumed in moderation, it makes the heart glad.

"Wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts" ~ Psalm 104:15.

Sources ~  [].

Eggplant Parmesan ~ Could it be so 'skillet' easy...?

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!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Veal Scallopini with Tagliatelle...

Veal is the preferred meat for this dish but if you don't have or can't find veal at your grocery then just use boneless pork loin. You will need at least 1 lb of veal or pork loin. Prior to cooking, marinate the loin in olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a dash of garlic powder and pinch of sea salt. You will also need: capers, along with roasted red peppers and tagliatelle pasta.

To begin: cut the loin into thick medallion sizes and pound with a meat hammer. Coat each medallion with seasoned bread crumbs. Saute onion in olive oil until brown, push aside and lay in the pounded medallions. Brown on both sides, add half a small jar of capers and a hand full of diced roasted red peppers (from jar) along with some of the liquid from the jar.

Boil the tagliatelle pasta in salted water until tender.  Drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate, top with the scallopini and serve with grated Parmesan.

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Old time Meatloaf ~ A Brainy Delicious Meal...

When most people think of meatloaf they think dry ground beef in a football shape due to added oatmeal, crackers, bread crumbs, egg, milk, steak sauce, and or ketchup. Some try to beat the 'dried out' version by adding broccoli. But, meatloaf doesn't have to be like that; it shouldn't be.

You can use of course good ground sirloin but if you don't have then use ground pork or even turkey or a combination. I have made meatloaf from all three combined and one kind of meat alone. The secret to juicy tasty meatloaf is to Not 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 bread crumbs, heavy cream and either Worcestershire sauce of a bit of beef stock along with fresh dried herbs, salt and garlic powder.

To begin, blend 1 pound of ground pork (today's choice of ground meat) with 1/4 cup of heavy cream and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs. Add to that dried herbs: sage, rosemary, mint and oregano. Sprinkle in salt and garlic powder. Mix by hand, then add 2 tbs of beef stock and mix again by hand.

Set the oven to 350, drizzle olive oil onto a glass baking dish and lay in the shaped meatloaf. Top with 1 tbs of the beef stock, a good sprinkle of additional herbs and bake for 15-20 min. About half way through, add a handful of dried plums, turn down the heat to 325 and bake for another 20 min.

Just before serving the meatloaf, prepare a creamy dill sauce to top. Melt one pat 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 and a few sprigs of fresh dill.

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

Thinkin about gettin your Irish on...?

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

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Chicken Raclette with Asparagus....

Yes, chicken raclette's most important ingredient is cheese. Raclette is a kind of Swiss cheese that is most commonly used for melting. So, if you know the smell and taste of Swiss cheese, then you have an idea of Raclette. Can we then imagine this kind of cheese originated in Switzerland? Yes.

According to historic record kept in known monasteries at Obwalden and Nidwalden, we learn that William Tell had tasted Raclette as early as 1291. In those days, Raclette cheese was melted on an open fire and the soft melted mass gradually dropped off onto a plate.

For this dish you will need: chicken 'boneless/skinless' breasts (per person), onion, butter, pasta (using mushroom infused short linguine), raclette cheese, mushrooms, heavy cream and asparagus spears.

To begin, simply saute onion in olive oil, push aside and lay in the breasts adding a dollop of butter and extra drizzle of olive oil. Add the mushrooms after each side of the breast meat has browned. Sprinkle in dried herbs and cover and let cook for about 10 min on med. heat.
Next, add about 1/3 cup of raclette and 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Let this mixture simmer for 20-25 min on low heat while you prepare the pasta (boil in salted water until tender) and asparagus which is best sear and or blackened in olive oil and butter. 

~ Tutti a Tavola!

*Source ~`