Fresh, fast and frugal!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Ringing in the New Year...

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 19, 2018

Christmas Dinner... does not have to be a banquet.

This time of year is pretty nice if you have the money...

But, even if you don't have a lot, remember what Christmas is really about and why it is celebrated. That humble family and tiny baby probably did not have a banquet table of food to eat but certainly they had something and it was enough.

Simple food is usually the best food and simple gifts are most always the best gifts; especially, if they are homemade. So make a pot of soup, a stew or pasta dish and a batch of cookies and share in the joy of Christmas.

Simple place mats can be made by cutting out snowflakes from white paper. Try using clear plastic plates and glasses which can often found at the nearest dollar store or 'party' store supply.

What is important and appreciated is the smallest amount of time and effort taken to bring as much love as possible to your nearest and dearest.

 *Check out the Brainy Gourmet archive on the right margin of this blog for simple food ideas.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Delicious Pasta Dish ~ Egg Pappardelle Pasta from Rustichella d'Abruzzo

A Quick Delicious Pasta Dish ~ Egg Pappardelle Pasta from Rustichella d'Abruzzo with Capers, Red Peppers and Tomato Garlic Sauce!

Yes, even with a long title like that this pasta dish is fast and frugal. To begin, you will need to buy or take from the pantry a package of wide egg noodles... preferably the 'Egg Pappardelle Pasta from Rustichella d'Abruzzo.

Next, you can use up any bacon (thick sliced) and breakfast sausage (very mild and I make my own using half ground pork with a mild sage flavored ground breakfast sausage). Begin by sauteing the grumbled sausage in olive oil on med. heat.

Add to that, half a jar of drained capers, and one chopped roasted red pepper, one med can of diced tomatoes, dried herbs: rosemary, mint, sage and oregano along with garlic powder.

As the sauce simmers, start salted water to boil in which you will cook the pasta. Returning to the sauce in progress, add a little less than 1/4 cup of heavy cream to the sauce.

As a colorful and tasty side, fry a few spears of fresh green asparagus in 3 tbs of diced bacon in olive oil until blackened on edges. And, put out the grated Parmesan cheese...

~ Tutti a Tavola! 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Baking Christmas Cookies ~ Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!


Stack up any way you drop cookie at a time!

Most of my readers know that I am not a 'baker' by nature but I can be brainy about drop cookies. A drop cookie is just a ball of cookie dough you drop on a cookie sheet. I don't use any particular recipe because I know what makes a good drop cookie: a stick of butter, about a 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, one egg and about 1-1/2 cup of flour adding to that 1/2 tsp of baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp of salt. That is the basic mix. 

To that basic drop dough 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. 

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

I do have a Christmas favorite ...spicy drop molasses.
  • 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. 

Another favorite of mine are the Polish Kolaczki and Rogaliki too.

*Check out the recipes for them at this site ~

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Homemade Corn Bread goes with any Soup or Gumbo!

A wintry country road always leads home...

which calls for something hot and steamy!

The Brainy Gourmet always cooks without a recipe but not always bakes without one. However,  when baking I find that using a recipe can help hone one's baking abilities. And, there is always room for improvement and or adjustments when it comes to recipes.

We can agree that good recipes can be good guides and using them even those found on the back of boxes or in this case, a corn meal container, have merit.

1 1/4 cup of all purpose flour
3/4 cup of corn meal
1/4 cup of sugar
1 cup of skim milk (better substitute, buttermilk)
1/4 cup of vegetable oil (better substitute, olive oil)
2 egg whites or one egg beaten (one egg beaten is best)
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt

You will know that your mixture is correct as it should be sticky and rather thick.

My own preference for baking cornbread is in a glass dish and not cast iron. Also, I use bacon lard (bacon grease that has congealed) to smear the glass before ladling in the sticky corn meal mixture.

Bake at 350 until the top pushes up like a mountain...about 30 min. Turn off the heat and let the bread sit inside the oven for another 4-5 min.

*Soup ~ how about a savory barszcz - beet root soup

~ Tutti a Tavola

Tomato Beef Soup... what it can become is amazing!

To make this simple tomato beef soup, use beef stock (retaining some of the cubed beef from making the stock) adding one onion and one can of tomato paste at .49 cents.  For the next day, you can retrieve the tomato beef soup/stock reviving it by adding pasta or rice.

However, if you want to use the same soup stock again then don't add the pasta/rice directly... simply boil the pasta on the side and add to individual bowls even if you will still use pasta as a soup filler for the next soup on the daily menu.

In this way, the tomato beef soup can morph into beef gumbo by adding fresh okra... the pasta can be directly added but rather best to keep it out and boil on the side. Pasta cooked in soup/stock gets mushy and soaks up all the liquid.

~ Tutti a Tavola

Brainy Chicken Gumbo from Stock...

Brainy Chicken Gumbo from stock...

How do you make chicken gumbo from stock? You take the left over soup stock (meat removed) and any vegetables that were used to make it and start to simmer on the stove.

Then, boil separately 1 cup of white long grain rice. Also, saute in olive oil cubed boneless, skinless chicken breast with onion, green pepper, roasted red pepper and either okra or celery. Put it all together, sprinkle in some herbs and paprika and you have got an instant chicken gumbo. Put out the Louisiana hot sauce and dig in.

~ Tutti a Tavola

Cooking with Canned Soup ~ Not that Brainy...

When I was growing up just about everyone was cooking with canned soup. It was a heyday for canned soup makers. But, cooking with canned soup is not really healthy for you. Its better to make your own stock and use it to make a variety of soups throughout the week.

The Brainy Gourmet has always advocated making stock and turning it into one soup or another. Read past blogs on doing just that. Go to the Brainy Blog and in the Search Box, type in Soup, or Stock and get cooking!

Info ~ Canned soup is notoriously high in salt. Why? Because, it is necessary to bring out the flavor and make the soup palatable and although it’s convenient, it’s still nothing compared to homemade chicken soup. A half-cup serving of a popular brand’s condensed chicken noodle soup contains 37 percent of the recommended daily allowance of sodium. 

* Source ~

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Simple and Frugal... Soup with a Sandwich!

Being frugal is key to being a brainy gourmet. Its knowing what can go into the pot.

Having said that, you know that I always start a soup from a meat stock; either chicken, turkey, beef or pork. And, yes, even pork can make a good stock as well as can an onion or leek.

I like to use the pork butt or picnic cut. It always has tender meat and though it has tasty fat, it is really leaner than you think. Besides, a little saturated fat is not bad for you. In fact, our brain is composed of nearly 60% fat.

·  Liver Health: Saturated fat encourages the liver cells to dump their fat cells, which helps the liver to function more effectively .
·  Immunity: Saturated fatty acids, especially the kinds found in butter and coconut, help white blood cells to recognize and destroying invading viruses and bacteria. Go get ‘em, boys!
·  Hormones: Eating saturated fat tends to increase free testosterone levels, which helps to repair tissue, preserve muscle, and improve sexual function.

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 (olive oil or coconut oil can be substituted) 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!

*Source on fat for the brain ~ and

Monday, December 10, 2018

Brainy Simple Food ~ Brainy Simple Pleasure...


So, simple and so so tasty. I learned to make this dish while I was in eastern Europe. Pierogi is basically a filled dumpling made from flour and generally contains a potato/cheese filling. You can boil or fry them.

To begin, you will need to buy a package of potato/cheese pierogi unless are make your own from scratch. For those who just want to be brainy simple, buy the frozen or fresh made at the deli counter.

To cook, just boil in salted water until tender. Serve with lots of sour cream or if you fried them, top with a few crispy bacon pieces or crumbles and a little sour cream on the side....Jest Bardzo Smaczny!

~ Tutti a Tavola!

*In the above photo, the pierogi are served with cooked and crumbled breakfast sausage; you can also use unseasoned ground pork and or bacon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Use Color in Your Cooking...

Awhile back, I said that a brainy home chef 'cook' does not necessarily need a recipe because once you understand your own preferred tastes 'sweet/savory' you will discover that you can cook like a pro. Aside of knowing your taste preferences, try to make use of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

I rely on all my senses but when it comes to cooking sight and smell are my go to. In the context of using 'sight', color plays into my brainy cooking style. You can try and should experiment with color; because, practice makes perfect. The simplest color enhancers provide flavor as well. They tend to be the brightest colors: red, green, purple, yellow and orange.

Give color a try using: green or red pepper, green beans or asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, spinach or carrots. Also, add zing by adding colorful fruits either fresh, dried or cooked. Use a little or a lot. Scroll down to view some brainy dishes so that you too will get some brainy ideas of your own.

Moroccan Chicken Stew ~ Brainy Style!

Stews... you can find them just about anywhere!

If you know anything about spices, then you know that cumin is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern, Asian, Mediterranean (including Morocco) and Mexican cuisines, and is one of the main ingredients in curry powder. It is an aromatic spice with a distinctive bitter flavor and strong, warm aroma due to its abundant oil content. Cumin "seeds" are actually the small dried fruit of an annual plant in the parsley family and it is native to the Mediterranean.

For this dish, you will need skinless, boneless chicken breasts, one onion, one green pepper and red grape 'cherry' tomatoes, buttermilk and peanut butter. As you now know, a good cook/chef can cook without following a specific recipe... even for this dish. All you have to know is what your taste buds like in terms of combinations of sweet and savory.

Another way to get used to cooking without a recipe is to cook like an artist... using color to guide you. Sometimes, that is exactly how I start out, using color to help decide what spices and how much.  Saute the onion, green pepper and tomatoes on med. heat in coconut oil, adding some red pepper flakes, garlic powder, paprika and cumin as well as either white or black pepper to taste.

Set aside the onion, pepper and tomatoes, and brown the chicken breast meat cut into chunks in the same skillet adding a drizzle of olive oil. Then return the veggies to the same skillet.

To this, add about 1/4 cup of gourmet buttermilk and 1/4 cup of heavy cream along with 1 tbs of creamy peanut butter. Stir and let simmer on low heat while you prepare a side of mashed potatoes. Once the potatoes are tender, drain and mash with butter and sour cream until thick and smooth. Ladle onto a low lipped plater, pour the chicken stew over the top and serve.

~ Tutti a Tavola

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Stew, Goulash or Ratatouille...

You may already know that Goulash is actually a stew of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices. Originating from the medieval Hungary, goulash is a popular meal predominantly eaten in Central Europe but as well as in other parts of Europe.

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!

~ Tutti a Tavola!