Fresh, fast and frugal!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Boneless Pork Loin... Let me count the ways!

Italian cooking is full of sunshine anytime of the year; and, this dish certainly has it. I have made this a dish a number of times using dried plums but another favorite way of mine is to use sun dried tomatoes and capers. This is so quick and easy to make that it can literally be done in about 30 min. including the preparation of any side(s).

For this dish, you will need: pork or veal tenderloin, sun dried tomatoes, heavy cream, Dijon mustard, and capers. Get started by drizzling olive oil in a hot skillet and then lay in your tenderloin cut into medallions. Sear on both sides.

Reduce heat to medium and add half a package of sun dried tomatoes (one nice handful) and nearly the same of capers. Pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream, 1 and 1 half tbs of mustard and a generous sprinkle of dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.  Stir and let simmer o low heat covered while you prepare any side you like.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

* Another version can be made using sun dried tomato pesto with added dried plums and a side of oven roasted rosemary potatoes...

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Homemade Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese...

Being frugal is key to being a brainy gourmet. Having said that, you know that I will be starting my tomato soup on a stock from either chicken, turkey, beef or pork... prepared earlier in the week or day.
And, yes, even pork can make a good stock. I like to use the pork butt 'shoulder' or picnic cut. It always has tender meat and though it has tasty fat, it is really leaner than you imagine.

So, if you have your stock, then just add one tube or small can of tomato paste. Stir and toss in some fresh dried herbs, cover, simmer on med heat for 30-40 min. As it bubbles away, prepare rice or any pasta that you prefer.

As for the grilled cheese, using sourdough bread is a favorite. I make em the brainy way or like  grandma used to make. Which means that even though its literally a sandwich to hand, it should be buttered on both sides of the bread.

Put one slice in the skillet, butter side down. On top of that slice of bread, lay on two slices of Sharp or Medium Cheddar cheese or Gouda. Cover the cheese with another slice, butter side up. Cover and let them sizzle.

Make a stack of sandwiches, put the soup on the table and call everybody around.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Wild Caught Salmon... Its Friday Night Food!

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!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Meatballs without spaghetti ~ Global Style!

The exact origin of the meatball is not as important as is acknowledging its global popularity. Nearly every major culture has its own version of the meatball: Spanish albondigas, Dutch bitterballen, Chinese lion’s heads, South African skilpedjies. And one other version called Kofte is cooked everywhere from India to Morocco.

One possible reason for the meatball’s ubiquity: It’s an exceptionally accessible dish, simple and affordable. Meatballs can be made with nearly any kind of meat, and since that meat is ground and mixed with herbs and other flavors, cheap cuts of meat can be transformed into something delicious. 

Meatball recipes are brainy because they are frugal. Because, they can stretch a relatively small amount of ground meat into a substantial meal by mixing it with bread, egg, heavy cream or mashed vegetables.

For this dish, ground pork was used along with bread crumbs, heavy cream, a pinch of salt, dash of garlic powder, pinch of crushed sweet coriander or cumin if you like; to that, add a dash of soy sauce or balsamic vinegar and dried herbs. Remember, whatever your taste buds like in terms of sweet and savory is what you should follow to season... even when making meatballs. 

Saute chopped onion in olive oil. Once browned, push aside and lay in formed meatballs. Brown on all sides bringing back in the onion on top. Add the heavy cream and some beef stock/broth along with your choice of seasonings plus herbs. Let that simmer while you prepare a side of wild rice and baked garden zucchini with a halved butternut squash.

Top with a squeeze of fresh lemon... its better than salt.


~ Tutti a Tavola!

* Online Source ~

Brainy Bourbon Street Glazed Pork...

Over the years, the Brainy Gourmet has demonstrated on a number of cooking occasions how to use left over meat juices/gravies; i.e. flavoring rice, pasta, meatloaf, etc.  Today, I just so happen to have left over Swiss Steak gravy to make a delicious spicy pork loin in 'bourbon gravy'.

The braininess is that there was no recipe used, no extra ingredients. What was used? Only what was on hand and or what was left over and in the pantry.

To begin, you need to thaw or use a fresh cut 1 lb pork loin to be marinated in sea salt/olive oil/balsamic vinegar/soy sauce and garlic powder and dried herbs. After 15 min. the pork loin should seared uncovered in the oven on about 400f (using convection) for about 6-7 minutes or on the stove in a hot iron skillet.

Next, remove the loin from the oven and top it off using any left over beef or pork gravy. Then, pop back in the oven for ten min. or more (depending on your heat source: electric/gas/LP) and reduce the heat to 375/350f, cover with foil and if using a skillet cover with a lid.

As for the bourbon taste, that is really easy. Just use a 'bourbon' flavored barbecue sauce or any barbecue sauce you happen... even drizzling some over the top before serving for a final finish.

Prepare a side of baked potato and green beans...

Monday, October 22, 2018

What Americans spend their money on... Food Wise or Not???

It should not be surprising to learn that Americans now spend a much bigger share of their grocery money on processed foods, which includes things like frozen dinners, canned soups and snacks. We spend much less on meat, largely because meat is much cheaper than it was 30 years ago.

Why even boxed cereal is being touted as 'health food' these days and its not. Kellogg is not 'feeding America' with nutritional food or even safe food. It is shocking to find out that most people don't know that and still even more shocking that most people will buy a 4 dollar box of cereal or bag of snack food over a lean package of meat: beef/poultry/pork.

The Brainy Gourmet has always advocated using food staples/basics. And she still does. So, build on those and start eating right! Check the side margin of this blog for the list of basic food items and check the Brainy webpage "Brainy Tips" to see firsthand what you should be spending your money on and have in your pantry.

* Online Source ~

Friday, October 19, 2018

Pick Apples and Make Some Applesauce This Weekend!

Looking for a family outing for this weekend, pick apples! In the Midwest, this may be  the last weekend for it.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away used to be the saying. And, 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 worry. 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. Its fun for the whole family; everyone eventually finds their favorite, one of mine is Wolf River.

As for making applesauce, 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.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Put a new twist on Swiss Steak...

There are some home cooked meals that never fail to impress. One can always recall a favorite meal made by either mom or dad or even a grandparent. Swiss Steak is one of those meals. If you want to make it look less homemade and more bistro... then check this out.

Begin as you usually do when making Swiss Steak. Saute chopped onion in olive oil, cut about one pound of round steak or sirloin into strips and saute gently in a bit of salt, pepper and garlic powder along with the onion in the same deep skillet or stew pot.

Next, pour over the top 4 cups of beef stock, cover and simmer. After 30 min. add 1 small can of tomato paste and continue to simmer while you prepare a side of mashed potatoes and fresh green beans.

Serve in a bowl...

*For a thicker gravy, stir in 1 tbs of flour

~ Tutti a Tavola

When it comes to spices/seasonings and herbs.... where do you begin?

My mother always said to start with salt and pepper, a little garlic or onion and chive. She was right. If you have those basics, you can still come up with a brainy gourmet meal full of flavor. And, from those basics, you can build up your flavoring repertoire (supply) adding your favorite herbs.

It doesn't take much. Flavor still comes from the food item itself; the only problem is that we seem to have forgotten that. Think about your favorite food and which dried herb comes to mind... what was the smell and taste experience.

If you were amazed, then use that herb freely... as much as you like. It took time for me to figure out that I loved rosemary, mint and oregano. I use it in everything as many of my long time readers know.

Start with the recommended basics and or Brainy Gourmet herb combination and get cooking!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Using what you have on hand...

If you have ever been to the Brainy Gourmet Webpage and gone to the page on Brainy Tips, you will find the basic ingredient list that every brainy gourmet should have on hand.  Its the same list devised and used by chef Eric Damidot.

1- Butter is the best fat with multiple uses: sauteing, searing and a catalyst for sauces.
2- Heavy cream is the perfect finishing ingredient to create any sauce for meat, fish, pasta or vegetable side.
3- Onion, garlic or shallots are staples that add flavor to any dish you want to prepare.
4- Fresh Herbs from the garden or dried are a must: rosemary, mint and oregano are simply the best for any dish.
5- Wine, red or white, is great for cooking, reducing, and or serving with dinner.
6- Eggs have the makings of a meal. Cook em boiled, poached, fried, scrambled, or use eggs to make an omelet or soufflé.
7- Cheeses that are shredded, grated and or melted make any meal more delicious.
8- Potatoes are considered a kitchen staple; boiled, baked, roasted, mashed or even as pancakes provide an excellent side dish to any meat or fish.
9- Tomatoes should be used in sauces/salads and on sandwiches; also consider using fresh Lemons which are great for quick marination.
10- Pasta and Rice are the best and simplest sides to have on hand in the pantry

Chef Eric Damidot has been the executive chef at the Hyatt since it reopened in 2011 following a massive post-Katrina renovation. He oversees all culinary operations in the 1,200-room hotel, ranging from a pizzeria and sushi bar to its event and banquet catering.

His passion for cooking began when he enrolled in the Golf Hotel Culinary School in France at age 16, followed by apprenticeships with Gilbert Mallet in Marseille and Jacques Chibois at the Michelin two-star Hotel Royal Gray in Cannes. Damidot then worked under Georges Labau at Le Club Lafayette in the French West Indies, which led to roles at the Mobile Five Star, AAA Five Diamond l’Orangerie, The Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach’s Grill Room, and The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco.

Chef Damidot worked for many years in Las Vegas, NV, as Executive Banquet Chef at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino, Executive Sous Chef at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino, and Executive Chef at Paris & Bally’s Hotel & Casino and Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino. Throughout this period, Chef Damidot also briefly returned to France to help re-open the landmark Le Palais de la Mediteranee, which had been closed for two decades.

Chef Damidot rejoins the Hyatt family at Park Hyatt Chicago, having served as Executive Chef since 2011 at Hyatt Regency New Orleans, prior to assisting with the opening of Chicago’s Marriott Marquis in 2017.  During his time at Hyatt Regency New Orleans, Chef Damidot became an influential figure in the city’s culinary scene, being named one of the Best Chefs of Louisiana by the American Culinary Federation in 2014, and winning gold at the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, one of the city’s most defining culinary events.

As Executive Chef at Park Hyatt Chicago, Damidot oversees NoMI Kitchen, Lounge and Garden, all on-property banquet functions, and in-room dining. He has renewed classic French influence into NoMI’s Midwest cuisine, blending rich local flavors with traditional techniques guided by his passion and dedication to culinary arts.

* Online Source ~

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Understanding your pots, pans, stove or cooktop and oven...

It may sound kind of silly but understanding your pots, pans, stove or cooktop and oven are essential to being a brainy gourmet or just plain good cook at home; which in fact applies to being one anywhere including in any restaurant. Why?

Because, its not just your taste bud preferences and or chemistry of food that you have to understand, its also how to cook food as in what pot/pan/dish, on what temp and for how long that matters just as much as how much sweet or savory to put in.

Some meats need high temps at first and lower later toward the finish. Some meats do better in a glass dish such as meatloaf which also requires more than anything less space around it... hence 'loaf'.

Too much space in the pot/pan/dish for some foods only dries them out. Some foods require to be covered while cooking and some not. Some foods need a short cook time like stir fry and some longer cook times like stew.

You really don't need a 'recipe' to know what to cook and how to spice it up; but, knowing and or understanding your pots, pans, stove and oven can reduce any followed recipe from coming out all wrong. Once, you get that... you will never need a recipe again. You will just be able to whip up dinner like a Brainy Gourmet.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Meatloaf... Let me Count All the Ways!

I always say, meatloaf is extraordinary because its ordinary made special.  That's home cooking and that's being brainy. I do hold to a standard meatloaf mixture but as far as choice of ground meat... its no holds barred or anything goes except for maybe fish.

For this dish, you will need about 1 lb of any ground meat.  I like to use: beef, turkey, pork and even veal. The standard mixture or key is what not to put in. Don't add oatmeal, crackers, ketchup, canned soup, mushrooms, peas, broccoli etc. Keep it simple!

To begin, mix one pound of ground meat with 2/3 cup of dry bread crumbs. To that add, 1/3 cup of heavy cream, dried herbs, garlic powder, and a pinch of salt.  If the mixture seems too sticky, add more bread crumbs. If it seems to dry, add more cream.

Heat your oven to 375. Pour a few drops of olive oil onto a glass baking dish. Form your meatloaf and plop it in the dish and into the oven. Let is sizzle for about 15-20 min. Then reduce heat to 350. Now, here is where you can get creative 'brainy'. If you have any left over gravy or sauce, pour it on top. When using ground beef, pour in some beef stock and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce.

Let the meatloaf bake for another 20 min. Then top with a zig zag of tomato paste and back into the oven for 10-12 min more while you prepare a side in the meantime.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

What else can follow meatballs... Meatloaf!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Meatball adventures....

There is more than one kind of meatball dish....

Go to the Brainy Gourmet Blog and type 'meatballs' in the search box... see what pops up!

Monday, October 1, 2018

End of Summer Dish ~ Linguine with Meatballs and Peppers!

Anything juicy is good... using the last of this summer's tomatoes and peppers, one can't imagine making anything else!

For this dish you will need: ground veal and mild Italian sausage (no fennel) and you will need fresh garden tomatoes and green/red peppers. Blanch about 6 whole tomatoes and remove the skin. Wash and cut up 4-5 peppers. Chop one whole onion and saute together with the peppers in olive oil. Once browned, add the whole skinless tomatoes to the onion and peppers. Simmer this for 3 hours until you have a delicious liquid... sauce.

Prepare meatballs: mix ground 1 lb ground veal with 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of heavy cream, 1 tbs of grated parmesan cheese along with dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano, a dash of garlic powder and a pinch of salt.  Drop the meatballs into the tomatoes/pepper sauce which should be at a rolling boil. In the meantime, grill or pan fry 2 links of Italian sausage cut into chunks along with one diced tomato until slightly blackened. Boil the linguine in salted water. Once tender, drain and rinse.
Serve the drained linguine on large plates or even bowls, top with the meatball tomato and pepper sauce and add a few sausage chunks/blackened tomatoes. Top with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

The Difference Between: Goulash, Stew and Ratatouille...

Ahh, stew ~ it can be whatever you want it to be...

and, Goulash too since is not just Hungarian anymore though originating from medieval Hungary. Goulash is a popular meal predominantly eaten in Central Europe but as well as in other parts of Europe. And, its actually a stew of meat and vegetables, often seasoned with paprika and other spices.

And, stew is exactly that in most cultures: meat and veggies. Some like it more liquid or fluid or juicy and others may like it more thick as in full of rich gravy.

Now Ratatouille, what's that? Well, its a French stewed vegetable dish, originating in Nice. The word ratatouille comes out of the verb touiller, meaning "to stir up". From the late 18th century, in French, it merely indicated a rough or coarse stew as in chunky and stirred up.

The modern ratatouille has these basic ingredients: tomatoes sautéed garlic, onions, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, marjoram, fennel and basil, or bay leaf and thyme, or a mix of green herbs.

Serve over pasta, rice and or potatoes!