Fresh, fast and frugal!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Flounder with Wild Rice...

Ah, seaside dining...

Fish is a great food item to prepare fast and its frugal. In fact, you can put frozen fillets into the skillet to poach; talk about a last minute gourmet meal! What is frugal about fish? Well, a package of frozen fillets (counting one fillet per person) costs less than a beef roast. And, all fish contain Omega 3.

Poaching fish is easy, from freezer to skillet. Since, wild rice is the accompaniment, start 3/4 cup water and 1/4 cup of beef or chicken stock to boil. Once it rolls, add one cup of wild rice and cover; keep on med to low heat. Now, you can start cooking the fish.

To begin, drizzle olive oil in a large covered skillet. Lay in the frozen fillets, drizzle a bit more olive oil over the top and toss in 2 pats of butter. Cover and cook on med. heat until the oils bubble along with the water that melts off the fish. Check the rice, stirring occasionally.

Next, sprinkle in your favorite herbs: rosemary, mint, lavender and oregano; I prefer this combination with all fish. Pour in 1/4 cup of heavy cream, reduce heat and simmer.  Don't let the fish overcook, as soon as it turns white in the creamy sauce, remove from heat and keep covered as you wait for the rice to finish.

Once, the rice is tender, drain and ladle onto a serving plate. Place the fish on the same plate and pour over the creamy butter sauce. Serve with any green vegetable. Top with fresh chopped chive and don't forget to put out a quartered lemon on the table...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Chicken's Versatility...its what you make with it!

Go to the Brainy Gourmet Blogspot and type in the search box 'chicken' and see just how versatile it is.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Italian Stone Oven Baked Chicken Parmesan...

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; a 'stove' oven is 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!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Pork with Peanut Butter Sauce and Wild Rice...

African delight ~ exotic dinner never tasted so good...

Being a Brainy Gourmet means thinking on your feet ~ fast and frugal. As I have said many times before on this blog, you as a home chef should know what you like and don't like; sweet/savory, herbs and spices. You should know which of the five senses works best for you when you cook and for me its smell. Seriously, when I cook, I take a deep breath and I know what I have to add.

For this dish, in the morning I put out to thaw a package of pork (white meat) in stew size chunks. When I got home, I looked in the pantry and fridge to see what I could do with this package of meat. I had onions, wild rice, a bit of red pesto and peanut butter as well as heavy cream, soy sauce and herbs.

To begin, start a sauce pan with 2 cups of water to boil 1 cup of wild rice. Then saute one onion in olive oil. When browned on the edges, add 3 tbs of butter. Next add the pork and let sizzle slowly until the meat turns from pink to white. Pour in 2/3 cup of peanut butter (the oily self stir brand).

Then, add dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano along with 2-3 tbs of red pesto, 3-4 tbs of soy sauce and 1/4 cup of heavy cream.  As it thickens, you may add water but slowly for the preferred consistency. You can also prepare a side of green beans, adding color.

When the rice is tender, drain and ladle onto a serving plate. Pour over the pork and sauce, lay on the green beans and serve.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Italian Mostaccioli is like going home...

When I was a little girl, I always thought that a bowl of my grandma's risotto or gnocchi would make everything better. And, I was right. As an adult, I just can't seem to make gnocchi like grandma but pretty close. What still holds true is that Italian food makes everything better. So no matter what ails you, cook up some pasta and get better.

These past couple of days, both my sweetie and I have been under the weather. So, today, I made my famous Mostaccioli with Sweet Italian sausage. You will need to buy: a package of sweet Italian sausage (no fennel). A box of mostaccioli pasta (unless you brave it and make homemade) along with a can of crushed red tomatoes and one onion.

To begin, saute chopped onion in olive oil until browned on the edges, then add the sausage (removed from casing) formed into small buttons. Next, add the crushed tomatoes sauce and some dried herbs: mint, rosemary and oregano. Let this mixture simmer while you boil the pasta, don't forget to add a pinch of salt to the water.

Once the pasta is tender, drain and rinse with cool water. Pour out onto a serving plate and top with the hot bubbling sauce. Put out the wine and grated Parmesan....

~ Tutti a Tavola

Friday, April 20, 2018

Wild Caught Salmon ~ Great Source of 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!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Stir Fry ~ Always Fast and Frugal...

Cook like you went far east...

Stir fry, no matter how you stir it... its gonna be good. Because, its fast and frugal!

All you need to have are a few ingredients: your choice of meat or not, your choice of vegetables: green or red pepper, onion, celery, asparagus, or whatever you like including mushrooms. Its a good idea to marinate the meat before cooking. Just cut into strips and top with balsamic vinegar and soy sauce or even Worcestershire if cooking with beef.

Start by flash frying the strips of meat in a little olive oil, add julienne vegetables of your choice, then some Ginger Teriyaki sauce or whatever Asian sauce you like to cook with i.e. hot chili sauce or sesame sauce. Prepare angel hair pasta or rice as the base. You can serve an extra green veg on the side or on top.

 ~ Tutti a Tavola

Monday, April 16, 2018

Kidneys ~ Loved em as a kid and still do...

We ate a lot of  “organ meat” (or, better still, “offal”) at my house when I was a kid. That probably sounds pretty awful but likely that's because most if not all food today has become over sanitized,  industrialized, standardized, and commercialized.

By that, I mean most people think that really good quality food is expensive and has to come in a pretty package. Many people just don't know it but organ meats are a quality food source.

  • Heart, for example, is the best food source of CoQ10, an enzyme important for energy balance and preventing oxidative stress.
  • Kidney contains an incredible amount of lean protein and folate.
  • Liver provides more nutrients gram for gram than any other food, and is particularly rich in vitamin B12 and vitamin A.
Its not easy to find let alone buy: kidneys, live and heart at the local supermarket. You have to seek out a butcher or meat store or go to a private meat producer and buy direct. If you are lucky, then you will be able to treat  yourself to what I now consider to be a delicacy - veal, beef or lamb kidney.

How to prepare them? I prefer them just sliced and sauteed in butter and onion with fresh herbs including chive. But, you can stew them up in the skillet as you would any other cut of lamb or beef.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Be Brainy and Dress things up....

Being brainy is not only about changing things up but dressing them up as well. When it comes to food, that means take something ordinary and make it fancy.

To get started, try dressing up whatever ordinary food you have on hand; even a good frozen flatbread pizza can be dressed up. Choose any frozen flatbread pizza and before you pop it into the oven, dress it up with: extra mozzarella cheese, grated parmesan cheese, black or green olives, bacon, grape tomatoes, green or red pepper and even try fruits: pineapple, pear, and dried plums.

Now, you can even get more dressed up by laying on top or along side the pizza slice on the same plate a small pile of blackened asparagus. Julienne roasted root vegetables are also very good to dress up pasta by adding a wild nutty flavor.

Dress up pancakes with bacon...
 Dress up a Monty Cristo with a lite sauce...
 Dress up a Tilapia with pasta and grated zucchini....
Dress up good ole steak and eggs with herbs...

 ~ Tutti a Tavola !   

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Dressing up Left Overs or Just Changing up one of Your Favorites...

We all have a habit of cooking the same things over and over and likely its because its our favorite and we know how to make it and make it right. Having leftovers can be a kind of habit too which is not a bad thing, we all leftovers. Since the Brainy Gourmet is about frugality, then there is no chance to waste good food, including leftovers.

Some leftovers have to be handled differently, as some foods stand better in the fridge for 2-3 days (properly contained) than others. Soups and sauces and stews even gain in flavor.

You can reuse meatloaf in a layered casserole with mashed potatoes and that my mother used to do. And, certainly over the course of blogging, we have discussed how stock can morph into a variety of soups throughout the week.

And, what about changing things up when it comes to your favorite meal. Sometimes you think you should add something else just to make it appear new or different. So, when everyone sits to the table they go "Wow" and or "That Looks Great"!

To change things up, you can make a new sauce to top just about any meat or vegetable. If it already calls for sauce you may want to add some new twist to make it appear as something brand new. You can try by adding different herb combinations to change the flavor of the sauce, or by adding a spicy mustard, or cheese, chopped onion, sun dried tomatoes or fruits, tomato paste, honey, pine nuts... just get creative - be brainy! ~ Tutti a Tavola!

*Check past brainy blogs on basic sauces and change up your favorite meal today!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Brainy Butter Chicken ~ Murgh Makhani...

Eat at home as if you just stepped out for an Indian dinner extravaganza....

This dish is a favorite in the Brainy Gourmet kitchen. Why? Because it is so simple and delicious. Basically, all you will need are: skinless/boneless chicken breasts, onion, garlic, heavy cream/plain yogurt, tomato paste, a couple of tasty spices such as cumin, coriander and paprika and also some dried herbs like mint and rosemary.

Melt on med heat in a deep skillet 2 tbs of olive oil and 1/2 stick of butter. Next, saute in the oil and butter whole one chopped onion and one glove garlic until browned, then add cubed chicken breast meat, continue to cook on med heat.

To this add 1 cup of heavy cream, 1/4 cup of yogurt, one small can of tomato paste and your spices/herbs (using as much as you like; recommending 1 tsp of each). Cover and let simmer on low (30-40min) while you prepare sides. My family likes to eat this with potatoes and or buckwheat groats. You can also serve as a side a hearty dark green winter squash which is really nice baked and then mix with mashed potatoes... one way to get the kids to eat a good for them vegetable medley.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Herbs ~ Every Cooks Essential Ingredient...

Long time readers know that my favorite herbs are: rosemary, mint and oregano. Also, from time to time sage is included into that mix and sage makes for a very good tea. The reason for those being my favorite is the blended taste of sweet and savory they provide that is beyond complimentary.

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, in an oven on low heat, they are dry. 

For drying herbs at home, use your oven. 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. You can heat it up to 200f and then turn the oven off. Wait until the temp drops down a bit before placing your herbs in the oven to dry.

In a variety of combinations or alone, these herbs are great for any meat, fish, vegetable or pasta dish. And, best of all, as they dry in your oven... which makes a kind of aromatherapy in the kitchen for brain cells!

*Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is the best aromatherapy in the kitchen. This evergreen herb native to the Mediterranean. It is used as a culinary condiment, to make bodily perfumes, and for its potential health benefits.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Cooking at Home is Therapeutic...

How can cooking at home be a kind of therapy? Its stirring your creative imagination that sings to your spirit...

When you cook at home you should always cook what you like and keep it simple and don't strictly use recipes. Why? Following a recipe 'going by the book' is often stressful and you can end up buying and using ingredients as well as spices/seasonings that you will likely never use again. And, worse yet when it does not turn out as it was suggested.

The Brainy Gourmet has always advocated to keep a simple basic pantry stock and go from there. And, I have always said that soup is a good place to start being brainy. Soup is not stew in my book and soup can not be thick because of it is you have either porridge of stew.

Soup should be treated as a starter but it can be the main meal if you serve bread with and a meat (usually that which can be taken out of the soup stock). Soup should have liquid so that you can dunk the bread. And, whenever you make a stock using whatever meat or vegetable base you prefer, always strain out the meat/vegetables and never add small vegetables to it unless you are on the last days of the stock.

You see, once added, it is often very difficult to strain out smaller bits like peas and corn. Also, never add rice or pasta or even potatoes to the stock; unless, its the last day of the stock and you are going to make potato soup. Once you add potatoes, pasta or rice to a big pot of stock, that's it... you have a big pot of either potato, rice or noodle soup.

You want the stock to morph into different soups all week long. And, that has been demonstrated here on the Brainy Gourmet over the years. But, if you are a first timer here, consider making a meat/veg. stock. Once you have, strain out the meat (large piece of pork shoulder or beef or a whole chicken). Strain out any vegetables (left long i.e. carrots/celery/leek) and set aside. Now, you are ready to create the first soup of the week.

If you boiled a chicken and have decided you want chicken noodle, stain out the chicken and vegetables, boil noodles on the side and serve to individual bowls to which bits of diced chicken and vegetables (that which was strained out) can be added; again, to the bowl and not the pot.

Tomorrow, that same stock can become another kind of soup or used to cook a dish, even a stir fry or to make a gravy. When you cook in this way, you are in charge as you base your kind of cooking on your taste buds, your food preferences, your creative imagination... don't be a slave to recipes and foodie hype. Be a Brainy Gourmet!!!!!!!!

*When going it alone or free from the strictness of recipes, rely on: touch, sight, smell, and taste as your best tools to use when cooking at home. Just ask any high level chef 'they don't use recipes, they create them'!