Fresh, fast and frugal!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Brainy Mediterranean Chicken... So good!

The secret to really great Mediterranean chicken is not only the olives in the sauce but in the way you cook the chicken. To begin: use bone in, skin on chicken thighs. Pan fry in a large skillet as many thighs as you need skin side down on high heat in olive oil with garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and fresh dried herbs: rosemary, oregano, sage and mint. Once the skin side is nicely browned, turn over and reduce heat to med.; cover for 5-6 min, adding a bit more olive oil if needed.

Move the chicken aside or remove temporarily while you add one whole chopped onion and one whole chopped roasted red pepper. Brown together, then add one med. can of diced tomatoes or fresh about 2 cups along with either 1-2 cups of diced zucchini or eggplant.

Bring the chicken back in and for extra flavor, toss in fresh sprig of rosemary. Cover and let simmer for about 35 min on low heat. In the meantime, prepare wide egg noodles, linguine or Spinach infused fettuccine pasta.

When that is all that's left... it was really good!

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Beef Stew Today ~ Tomorrow Beef Vegetable Soup!

Who wouldn't love a fresh made pot of beef stew on a snowy evening...

Italians make a delicious beef stew. Maybe its because Italians are frugal cooks. Quite often a stew can become a few kinds of soup by the end of the week.

For instance, you can make a minestrone from leftover 'beef stew' by adding more beef stock 'liquid' to the stew. If you like, boil pasta on the side to serve with the 'newly' created soup.

Or...serve with Focaccia bread.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, November 18, 2019

#1 Basic Brainy Gourmet Cooking Tip!

Use fresh dried herbs...

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. 

So, what you want to do is this: heat up your oven 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; use an oven safe thermometer to check the temperature you need.

In a variety of combinations or alone, dried 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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Polish Food is Good Comfort Food...

Dumplings = Pierogi and Meatballs = Pulpety! All simple food is good food... filling and full of flavor.

Polish meatballs are called pulpety. Fixed in sour cream with mushrooms and you have Pulpeciki w sosie śmietanowo - grzybowym. The meatballs are made in the same way you make them for spaghetti and meatballs. Just use either ground pork, beef, and veal.

Using ground pork, tonight's meatballs were made the 'basic' brainy way: bread crumbs, herbs, garlic powder, a pinch of salt and heavy cream/sour cream. To begin, first, saute chopped onion and sliced mushrooms in olive oil until browned. 

Next, push aside the onion and mushroom and add the meatballs to brown on all sides. Next, pour in about 1/2 cup of beef stock. Let this bubble away while you prepare the side, potatoes if you like. 

Lastly, as the beef stock has reduced, pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream or sour cream. To thicken you can add a thickening 'slurry' mix (flour and water -1/4 cup). Once, it is thickened, let simmer on very low while you mash the potatoes or not. Top with fresh green parsley. 

Serve with mashed potatoes or pierogi or wide egg noodle pasta. 

 Try pierogi with pork cutlets and or crumbled sausage...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Food is for Sharing Life with Others...

Food is more than just a means for survival. With it, we make friends, court lovers, and count our blessings ~ anonymous.  


This holiday season consider this: "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Yes, everything is permissible but not everything is constructive or beneficial. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscious; for, the earth is the Lord's and everything in it." 1 COR 10:23-26


We share food at weddings, at baptisms, at holidays, and birthdays and graduations. Eating food is one aspect as a physical activity but its more = food is social. Its share life... and, in sharing we find the meaning of living in a place with others.

There was an old saying that the act of forgiving is bringing someone back to the table. That is what people want, those who have done wrong and seek forgiveness, they want to come back to the table. The table is the surface for social interaction, togetherness. This Holiday Season, think of your table in this way and celebrate Life!

 Tutti a Tavola! = Everyone to the Table!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Dumplings are a cook's best friend...

Dumplings from Tibet to Boston and back... they are simple because they are simple to make. And, they fill you up and they are frugal. No wonder you can find some version just about everywhere in the world either as mounds of fluff, globs of gooey goodness or as lazy pierogi, or gnocchi...

For light fluffy dumplings, all one has to do is follow the recipe on a box of Bisquick or make your own by using 1 cup of any pancake mix to 1/2 cup of regular flour, about 3/4 cup of buttermilk and one egg.  If you want to have them more fluffy, skip the egg in the mix and add a bit of water. For  less than fluffy...keep the egg but add more regular flour and another egg.

Essentially, the dough should look like this for fluffy - it should follow the spoon or whisk up as you pull away...and, for thicker or solid dumplings, the dough should break away rather than follow the whisk/spoon.

As for the ole fashioned little gobs, to be exact... the kind that stick to your ribs, here is the general mix of things: 2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp of baking soda and 1 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt, 1/2 cup of cold milk, 1/4 cup of cold buttermilk, add one egg and beat.

Lastly, the key to good dumplings is to drop the dough into a boiling stew of beef or chicken, cover and let them cook. As for lazy pierogi, or gnocchi, they are gently rolled out in a 'rope' and cut... not dropped into stew or soup.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Recipes ~ Who needs em ...?

Most often, when people think of a chef the first thing that pops into their mind is French cuisine made by a 5 star French chef. We imagine that they have some kind of magical talent when it comes to food and cooking it. 

Borrowing from Michael Booth, English food and travel writer, one has to ask what is that the French know about cooking? They know that you don't need a recipe. Because, every step-by-step recipe is likely doomed to failure.

Why failure? Because, following a recipe is not following your own taste preferences. Largely, failing when following a recipe is likely due to human error which means that recipes can be badly written, improperly explained, or not properly tested; especially, those found in magazines and even in some cookbooks.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could be free from the tyranny of recipe 'pros' and 'promoters' and just cook by ourselves without their help. We could skip gaily through our local farmers' markets or favorite supermarkets choosing whatever is in season or just tickles our fancy. Then once at home, create our own meals using our own taste bud preferences.

This is exactly what it means to be a brainy gourmet. Since day one, the Brainy Gourmet has advocated cooking without a recipe. Now, this does come by trial and error. You first need to understand your taste bud preferences for sweet and savory and start simple.

Once you understand what you like to eat and how you want it to taste, you will be successful and enjoy cooking at home. And, moreover, you won't waste time and money on expensive ingredients. You can buy the ingredients you like to work with and that's being a Brainy Gourmet and its being frugal...saving you time and money. 

Check out the recommended basic pantry list on the side margin of this blog as well as previous blog posts and get cooking.  Of course, you can put together your own basic pantry and take off from there.

~ Tutti a Tavola! 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

What's in a really really good sauce...

Sauces are not difficult. Basically, any sauce is a kind of gravy. Depending on your preferences for thick or thin sauce, you control that either adding more cream/flour or soup stock or even wine.

Whenever you are sauteing meat or fish either in butter or olive oil, there is a delicious sauce opportunity waiting.

As soon as your meat or fish has finished browning and beginning to crisp on the edges, remove from the skillet (set in warmer) so that you can add heavy cream (1/2 cup), white wine (not necessary though) and fresh dried herbs.

Return the meat or fish to the skillet with the sauce and leave on simmer uncovered until you are ready to serve. If the sauce, gets thicker as the mixture simmers, add soup stock or wine to thin.

Now, if you want a very thick rich sauce, add 1 tbs of flour to the heavy cream before you stir it in (following the above instruction). For an extra zesty cream sauce, add a tbs or two of Dijon mustard which is perfect for pork or veal.

What kind of sauce is Alfredo? Its a white sauce used over fettuccine pasta or any favorite pasta. For this creamy Italian sauce, begin by sauteing chopped onion and or garlic in butter and olive oil along with fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano.

Once the onion/garlic is browned, add 1 cup of heavy cream with one tbs of white flour mixed in.  Continue to stir as the sauce cooks; if the sauce appears too thick... add a bit of chicken stock or wine.

As for salt and pepper, you can add to taste... and don't forget the grated Parmesan cheese.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Pork Loin Medallions with Dijon Sauce and Young Potatoes...

In the Burgundy region of France, home of Dijon mustard, butterfly pork chops are traditionally served in a sauce made with mustard, cream and white wine. Now, that sounds exotic or expensive or time consuming... but it is neither of those.

For this dish, you will need: boneless pork loin, Dijon mustard, heavy cream, one onion, along with sun dried tomatoes and plums. As for a side, potatoes, green beans and or roasted root veggies such as carrots and or parsnips.

Begin by chopping one whole onion and sauteing (in a med. size skillet) in olive oil with dried herbs. Cut a one pound pork loin into medallion like pieces. Once the onion is browned, push aside and add the medallions, adding a drizzle more olive oil.... brown on both sides.

Next, to the same skillet, add 7-8 sun dried tomatoes and the same amount of sun dried plums, stir this with the onion and medallions. Lower the heat to med/low and pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 2-3 tbs of Dijon mustard depending on your personal preference (more is better). If the sauce is thicker than you prefer, add 1/4 cup of chicken or beef stock or use semi dry white wine.

Cover and let simmer on low while you prepare a side of rustic roasted young potatoes, green beans  or roasted root vegetables.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Chicken Tetrazzini ~ a Delicious 'Mama Makeover' using Leftovers...

What Mama says is good for you... is good for you.

Italians are frugal cooks. There is always a pot of soup stock and sauce ready to do whatever it takes to put dinner on the table every single day. And, often the use of leftovers is mandatory.

Not only is using leftovers frugal but adds extra flavor. Many dishes, sauces and soups, build up flavor over time. Now, when it comes to using leftovers...time is crucial. Cooking frugally is about being wise. Using leftovers means making the most of them in good time and never use anything that has not be properly refrigerated.

Most often 'tetrazzini' is baked/served casserole style but you can use a deep skillet on the stove top as well. For this dish, roasted chicken thighs from the previous day were used: de-boned and skin removed. The chicken meat was cut into strips and sauteed in olive oil with chopped onion, garlic and sun dried tomatoes.

To that, both green and dark olives were added as well as 1/4 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 jar of leftover chunky tomato sauce. While the sauce simmered, linguine pasta was boiled and a green salad fixed.

~Tutti a Tavola! 

* Suggestion: if you prepare the 'white sauce' version either on the stove or in the oven, toss on top a few dried bread cubes and grated Parmesan before serving.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Sheet Pan Cooking is ~ Brainy Frugal!

Sheet pan cooking is pretty much the same as baking in a glass dish; both are frugal and nearly effortless. What is the difference...if there is any?

Sheet pan cooking/baking/roasting achieves a slightly different finish. That means, a sheet of chicken or steak with any vegetable will tend to sear in flavor and blacken more but can also lose flavorful juices. However, sheet pan cooking develops more crispiness on the outside.

Baking in a glass dish allows for less juice reduction from any meat/veggie. And, more opportunity to add larger amounts of liquid for sauce/gravy. Here are some past blog photos that you can search for in Brainy Archives to try either in a glass baking dish or on a sheet pan. Remember to coat either the pan or dish with olive oil before food choices and popping in the oven.

*So, put whatever you like on a sheet pan, flat bottom roasting pan or in a glass baking dish and wait in great expectation...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Brainy West African Stew with Wild Rice...

A West African delight ~ exotic food served at home 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 . For me its smell. Seriously, when I cook, I take a deep breath and I know what I have to add.

For this dish, you can use either chicken or pork (white meat) in stew size chunks. 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!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Chicken Breasts with Creamy Kale and Basil Pesto...

Cooking at home does not have to be nor should it be painful and or difficult. After a long day, we can often find ourselves wondering what to make for dinner and being exhausted from the daily grind can't even begin to imagine what to make.

I always say, don't think about it too much. Let it come together in a natural way... Which means, grab what is available from the fridge, freezer or grocer and just let it happen... let it become something delicious. That's what it means to be a brainy gourmet.

For instance, chicken breasts with creamy kale and pesto sauce is so easy... it makes itself.  So easy, that it takes no more than 25-30 minutes to prepare. In a covered stock pot, boil two chicken breasts in 1 cup of chicken stock. When the meat has turned white, remove the chicken breasts and set aside. Add 1/4 cup of heavy cream to remaining stock, 2 pats of butter, 2-3 tbs of pesto and 1/4 cup of 'flour slurry' for thickening.

To make a slurry, just measure out the flour into a small bowl – use one tablespoon to thicken a small amount of sauce or up to four tablespoons for a big bowl of soup. Add a cup or so of the warm broth to the flour and whisk until they're completely combined. This is your slurry.

 You can garnish with lemons, fresh herbs or both...

Prepare a side dish (or any left over pasta) and you have a delicious meal...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Spaghetti Bolognese... its all about Ragu!

Bolognese sauce is an Italian meat-based sauce for pasta which originates from Bologna, a city in Northern Italy. A thick, full-bodied meat sauce that's a staple of northern Italy's Bologna

The term alla Bolognese (in French, à la Bolognese) on a menu designates a pasta with ragù which is a meat based sauce. The words for Italian ragù and French ragout (though for entirely different dishes) are both derived from the verb ragoûter, which means "to stimulate the appetite."

For the best homemade spaghetti bolognese, you will need to buy at least a 1lb package of ground pork or veal (young beef). You can, of course, use whatever meat choice you like including turkey.

Take from your pantry:
1 large can of Red Gold (crushed) tomatoes
1 Clove of garlic and 1 whole Onion
*Dried Herb Seasoning:
  rosemary, mint and oregano and of course - olive oil

Get a large stock pot of water with a pinch of salt boiling to cook the spaghetti pasta (any preferred noodle). Then take out your covered skillet, on med flame add 3-4 tbs of olive oil. Add to that, chopped onion and the garlic. Stir until browned on the edges and semi-transparent.

Next, break up the ground pork/veal and crumble into the same skillet having pushed aside the onion /garlic. Brown the ground meat, bring back the onion/garlic, cover and simmer for 3-4 min. on low.

Finally, add the crushed tomato, stir, cover and let simmer for 20 min on low heat while you cook the pasta. When the noodles are tender, drain, gently wash with lukewarm water and quickly spill them out onto a serving platter. Pour out the sauce and shake on the Parmesan cheese.

Gather everyone to the table, say a blessing and enjoy~ 'Abbondanze'!

~ Tutti a Tavola!

* This history of the Italian Bolognese sauce was retrieved from

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Flatbread Pizza ~ As Good as Wood Fired...

If you haven't yet experienced flatbread pizza, then do so. Its just a no brainer! If you don't already know, flat bread is a bread made with flour, water and salt, and then thoroughly rolled into flattened dough. Many flatbread varieties are unleavened (without yeast) although some are slightly leavened, such as pita bread.

Now, you don't have to make it yourself. You can just pick up a package of pre-made flat bread; but why not give it a try and search for an online recipe to bake it homemade.

For this easy meal, you will also need: tomato sauce, cheese, and any topping you can imagine.In fact, you can even find toppings in your fridge or pantry closet: canned tuna fish, olives, sliced red grape tomatoes artichokes, pineapple, onion, mushrooms, even left overs - roast beef or roasted turkey and chicken. A few upscale New York restaurants are offering meals reconstructed from left overs and flat bread pizza is on the list.

As they do and you do to be frugal and flavorful, make sure any left over you choose to use was not used as in served; but just that... left over in the pan then refrigerated for no more than 2 days max.

Well...what are you waiting for? Make a flatbread pizza for dinner. Follow the advice described above ~ drizzle olive oil on a baking sheet, place your flatbread on the sheet, spoon on sauce, and top with whatever you like: bake on 400 for as long as it takes to get the cheese bubbling and the crust crispy.

Makes a great side to have with a bowl of soup...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Italian Chicken 'Noodle' Soup with Red Pesto and Arugula...

You can find a good chicken soup recipe in just about all of the regions in Italy. This soup is very good and very simple. The basic ingredients are: 2 large fresh chicken breasts (boneless and skinless), onion, chicken stock or bullion, red pesto and rigatoni pasta... arugula to top it off.

To begin, saute onion in a combination of olive oil and butter. Once browned, add 4 tsps of balsamic vinegar (4 good shakes from the bottle). Set aside and prepare the chicken. Slice and or dice each breast into small pieces.

Fill a large pot with water (10 cups), add a generous pinch of salt, one cup of rich chicken stock or 2 bullion cubes. As this comes to a rolling boil, add the diced chicken and some dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano along with a bit of sage and parsley.

Once the meat is white (cooked) scoop the onion with balsamic vinegar from the skillet into the soup pot and also one box of rigatoni pasta or boil separately which is preferable. I usually do not add pasta/rice/potatoes to any soup because if it is not eaten in one dinner sitting, you will have the same soup the next day. It is better to keep a rich vibrant stock which can morph into other soups.

When the pasta is tender, drain and ladle into bowls pouring the soup over the pasta topping with a dollop of red pesto and fresh chopped arugula.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Brainy 'Aussie' Style Marinated Lamb Chops....

Any good 'Aussie Outback Bistro' will have really good chops... especially lamb chops!

Lamb chops are as good as Fillet Mignon and cheaper. You can order them at most chop houses and find them at most grocery meat counters: organic or free range. For this dish you will need: as many lamb chops as per person, olive oil, one lime, Worcestershire sauce and herbs. As for a side dish, sauteed brown mushrooms, frozen french fried Idaho potatoes and a lovely green salad.

To begin, marinate the chops in a drench of olive oil, squeeze of lime, dash of Worcestershire, pinch of garlic powder and sea salt and sprinkle of dried herbs: mint, rosemary and oregano. Let the chops marinate for about 15-20 minutes. They cook fast, so you can start the fries in the oven while they marinate. After the marinate time has passed. Take a skillet and heat it up with a drizzle of olive oil.

Sear the lamb chops on both sides and let them sizzle away til the juices run. Remove from the skillet and lay in a glass baking dish. Set in the warming oven or top of stove while you prepare the 'ceps' large golden brown mushrooms in the same skillet, adding a pat or two of butter.

When the fries are finished off to a nice crisp... serve with the chops, mushrooms and green salad.

~ Tutti a Tavola!