Fresh, fast and frugal!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Beet Root Soup ... Have a Brainy New Year!

In eastern Europe, cooking frugally with full flavor is an everyday activity inasmuch as it is for special occasion. Beet root soup is a good example because it is hearty and full of flavor that comes from fresh beet root cooked and added to beef stock creating a rich soup that will impress any guest.

Begin by starting with beef stock - 4/5cups poured into a large stock pot. To that, add one whole onion chopped sauteed in butter or olive oil or even beef fat as that would be the traditional means for cooking the chopped onion.

Once the onion is browned on the edges, add it to the beef stock. Next, drop in a pinch of salt along with a mix of dried herbs: rosemary, oregano and mint. 

Lastly, wash and peel two large fresh beet root cut into chunks or shredded to be added directly to the beef stock with onion.  Cover and simmer for 2 hours on low heat. Serve along with a rolled pancake filled with hot ground meat and or a side of blood sausage.

* a richer flavor will come through if you prepare the stock the day before...

~Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Brainy Delicious Christmas Menus of the past...


In 1847, the Christmas dinner table let a roasted turkey of uncommon size occupy the middle or center of the table. On the other end of the dinner table, one could find a cold boiled ham and either fricasseed chicken or a roast pork. With the turkey, mashed potatoes and turnips were served, boiled onions and dressed celery along with a salad and apple sauce nearby for the ham with fried or mashed potatoes and pickles.

Large pitchers of sweet cider were placed diagonally opposite each other on two corners of the table. For dessert, there were two very large and ornamental mince pies with one at either of the two corners both being sufficiently large enough that everyone on their end of the table might be served from it. Ice creams and jellies and jams and ripe fruits and nuts, with sweet cider and syrup water of different sorts, or wines, completed the dessert.

~ American System of Cookery, Mrs. T. J. Crowen [T.J. Crowen:New York] 1847 (p. 404-5)


In 1880, the Christmas dinner served included: clam soup, baked fish, Hollandaise sauce, roast turkey with oyster dressing and celery or oyster sauce, roast duck with onion sauce, broiled quail, chicken pie along with plum and crab-apple jelly, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, baked squash, turnips, southern cabbage, stewed carrots, canned corn, canned peas, and stewed tomatoes.

There were Graham breads and rolls, salmon salad or herring salad, Chili sauce, gooseberry catsup, mangoes, pickled cabbage, French or Spanish pickles, spiced nutmeg-melon and sweet-pickled grapes, and beets.

That is quite a list and it continues on in the desert menu: Christmas plum-pudding with sauce, charlotte-russe, cocoa-nut, mince, and peach pies, citron, pound, French loaf, white Mountain and Neapolitan cakes, lady's fingers, centennial drops, almond or hickory-nut macaroons, cocoa-nut caramels, chocolate drops and orange or pine apple ice cream, coffee, tea and Vienna chocolate."

~Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, revised and enlarged [Buckeye Publishing].

 Merry Christmas and May All God's Blessings Be Upon You!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Serve up a Brainy International Christmas fare...

Go to the Brainy Gourmet Blog and type in the search box any of these dishes to find your international favorite...

Butter Chicken, Murgh Makhani...

Irish Stew with Bread and gravy...

Spicy African Red Chicken...

Beef Stroganoff

Chicken Cacciatore...

or Pork with Mole Negro Sauce

Dovi Chicken...or a Tangier Stew...

and Asian pork...

~ Tutti a Tavola

Millionaire Peach Salad... a Holiday Delight!

Sharing with others ~ Millionaire Peach Salad...

Ingredients and Preparation 

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 (12 oz.) container frozen whipped topping
1 (3 oz.) package peach or orange jello
2 (14 oz.) cans sliced peaches in syrup, chopped (drained, but with 2 tablespoons reserved)
1 (8 oz.) container small curd cottage cheese
2 cups mini marshmallows
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar together for 3-5 minutes, or until fluffy and smooth.

Fold in frozen whipped topping, cottage cheese and dry jello mix, then add in chopped peaches and 2 tablespoons reserved peach syrup.
Stir in mini marshmallows, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 2 hours.
Before serving, stir in pecans, then transfer to serving bowls and enjoy.

Christmas Cookies... One drop at a time!

Stack em up any way you drop cookie at a time! 

Don't be intimidated by baking this season. Most of my readers know that I am not a 'baker' by nature but the Brainy Gourmet is 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 what makes a good drop cookie is a no 'brainer': a stick of butter,  1 cup of brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, one egg and 1-1/2 cup of flour more or less 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 chopped nut, or slivered almonds, raisins, or dried cranberries, oatmeal or grated coconut; and, of course any kind of  dark/white chocolate or butterscotch chips you want. 

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

Another favorite drop "Sugar/Pecan" Cookies
30 min · Yield: Yield: 5 dozen
1 3/4cups all-purpose flour
1/2cup granulated sugar
1cup butter, softened- 2 sticks
1/8teaspoon salt
1cup chopped pecans
1/2cup powdered sugar
1/2teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine first 5 ingredients with a spoon. Shape into 1-inch balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 20 minutes. Combine powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Sift powdered sugar mixture over warm cookies or roll cookies in sugar mixture.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Something Brainy different for Christmas or any wintry eve...

Want something truly different for dinner on Christmas or on any cold winter evening? Try creamy cornmeal polenta served with wild mushrooms and blood sausage. Both of these two rich brown lovelies make a delicious accompaniment. Now, if you you are not sure where to get blood sausage (in the Midwest, eastern European deli counters are your best bet) then just use your favorite polish sausage or even bratwurst will do.

As you may suppose, blood sausage is made with blood and along with diced meat plus fillers like  cornmeal or barley. You may ask, why would anyone want to eat barley and blood mixed together and put into a casing? Well, the answer its simple food; and, that means its a fast and frugal dinner that is filling and very tasty. Most people don't know that you can eat almost every part of an animal for food. At least, folks did for many years as a means of being frugal.

You may even be surprised to know that blood sausage is made and eaten worldwide... meaning everybody has a version of it. In Kenya, fillers include fresh minced goat or beef, fat, and red onions.

You will need olive oil, one onion, yellow cornmeal, chicken stock, Parmesan and butter.

Polenta -
2 tbs of olive oil
one whole onion chopped
2-4 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan
4 tbs of butter or 1/2 stick

Heat oven to 350F. On the stove, saute your onion in the olive oil in a deep oven safe pot until browned on all edges; then, add your stock (2 cups thicker) and 5 cups of water. Heat to boiling on high and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Then cover and bake for 45-50 min.with an occasional stir - about every 10 min. Remove from the oven, add the butter and Parmesan for one last stir, then let it set covered.


*Pan fry the mushrooms on the side in olive oil and butter. The blood sausage should also be pan fried in the same skillet separate or with the mushrooms; this can be done ahead of time and kept warm while you make the polenta.   

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!  

Christmas Eve.... Make it Simple but make it Brainy!

How to begin this wonderful simple French/Italian combination of Brie with Minestrone? Start with soup stock, its a no brainer. Yes, I do say that often; but, that's because it is. Use a pork butt as it makes for a rich stock...full of flavor.

The Brainy Gourmet has always advised to keep stock in the pantry or fridge. Soup stock can morph into amazing soups all week long.

For a simple quick Minestrone, just boil any tortellini pasta, saute diced zucchini or green beans and tomato together in olive oil, add Italian sausage if you want; and, when all is done (veggies/pasta), add to individual bowls pouring the hot stock over the top... simple as that.

If you want to try something really different on Christmas Eve, you can follow the same instructions above to make Cioppino. Omit the Italian sausage in order to use cooked shrimp and or any other pre-cooked favorite 'fish/shell' seafood. Cioppino is actually a coastal Italian American soup.

The bread can be store bought but preferably from the bakery counter. As for the baked Brie: buy as many brie rounds as number of per guests; use one crescent roll pop- open brand to wrap 2 brie; and, follow the pictures...*4 guests, buy 4 brie rounds and 2 pop-open crescent roll cylinders.

Bake the brie on parchment paper in the oven on 375 for as long as it takes to see a brown top and oozing cheese. For a little bit different take, before wrapping and baking, slice the Brie in half length wise (lid/bottom) and place either sun dried tomatoes or olives or spinach, put the two halves back together like a sandwich wrap with the croissant dough and bake.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Baked Campanelle Alfredo with Salmon...

Most people hear the word pasta and think either spaghetti or macaroni as spaghetti with meatballs or mac and cheese. Few know that pasta comes in many appealing shapes and sizes, and one of the most delightful is Campanelle.

This delicate but sturdy shape, which means "Bellflowers" in Italian, has fluted, petal-like edges and a hollow center for capturing sauce.

Pasta is made for different experiences especially when it comes to the sauce: red or white, thick or thin, smooth or chunky and silky or sticky.  Use the pasta that fits to the sauce... now that's 'Brainy' advice.

For this dish you will need: one large fillet of fresh salmon, campanelle pasta, olive oil, butter, heavy cream, and cheese: mozzarella, parmesan.  To begin: boil the pasta until tender, drain, rinse and set aside while you saute the salmon (skin if any removed and dark 'blood' vain removed) cut into chunks in olive oil, a pat of butter, a dash of salt and white or black pepper and don't forget a dried herb mix of: rosemary mint and oregano.

Turn the oven to 375 to preheat. Pour the pasta into a glass baking dish (smeared with olive oil), stir on 1/4 stick of butter, 1/2 cup of heavy cream, 1/4 cup of grated parmesan and a top layer of soft mozzarella cheese along with a sprinkle of herbs.  Pop into the oven until it starts to bubble. Remove and stir in the cooked salmon pouring all the dregs from sauteing.

Top with more parmesan and mozzarella cheese and pop back into the oven until the cheese browns.  In this time, prepare a small sauce pan of simple alfredo sauce using only heavy cream, butter and parmesan. This can be put on the table as an extra sauce or poured over the top of the dish when serving or even stirred in before serving for extra creaminess.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Friday, December 13, 2019

Veal Scallopini with Capers and Capellini...

For this absolutely delicious dish, you will need either a tender veal or pork loin, a jar of roasted red peppers and capers. The angel hair pasta should already be in your pantry. To begin, cut the loin in medallion size chunks/medals and pound them with a meat hammer. Lay them in a glass dish and sprinkle each one with meat tenderizer and garlic powder. Let the pounded meat medallions rest like this for 30 min.

Once you are ready to cook, take a skillet and lightly drizzle in olive oil covering the skillet bottom. Turn on the heat to med. and add one dollop of fresh creamy butter. As the meat rests, top each piece with bread crumbs and dried herbs... both sides. Once the butter and oil begin to bubble, lay in your veal/pork.

Brown on both sides. Next, take two roasted red peppers from the jar and slice, laying the pieces in the skillet with the breaded meat. Add to that 1/4 cup of capers. If you think you need a bit of liquid, pour in a bit from the jarred red peppers. Cover and let simmer on low heat while you prepare the angel hair pasta.

 Serve with Parmesan cheese....

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Brainy Italian Chicken Parmesan with Capellini...

Fast, frugal and definitely Italian... Eat up and eat well!

For this dish you will need: as many boneless/skinless chicken breasts per guests, diced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, chicken stock, garlic powder/herbs, angel hair pasta 'Capellini', purple onion, fresh asparagus tips.

To begin, pre-heat your oven to 375f. Take a glass baking dish, coat with olive oil and lay in the chicken. Sprinkle with garlic powder and herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano (a blend of 1/2 tsp each). Pop in the oven for 15  min or longer depending on the number of chicken breasts. At some point, pour in 1/4 cup of chicken stock and again pop back into the oven.

After 10 min, pour over the chicken 1 medium can (14.5 oz) of diced tomatoes and a light sprinkle of herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Pop back into the oven for another 20 min. In this time, prepare the pasta and asparagus. Boil the pasta (as much as you need) and blacken the asparagus in a skillet with a good drizzle of olive oil along with one chopped purple onion.

As the chicken nears finishing, lay mozzarella cheese on each chicken breast and top with a generous amount of fresh grated parmesan cheese. You can use the broiler option on your oven if you have one to achieve a crusty top or leave in the oven long enough to melt the cheese.

When the pasta is tender, drain and toss it into the skillet with the asparagus and onion pushed to the side.... flash fry the pasta allowing it to absorb the flavor therein.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Brainy Italian Stuffed Pork Loin with Plum tomatoes...

Fast, frugal and classy...that's what this dinner is all about.

For this dish you will need: 1-2 lb boneless pork loin, jarred plum tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, green beans and potatoes or any other side you prefer: rice/pasta.

To begin, fillet open the pork loin and marinate in a glass baking dish with sherry or Marsala wine, garlic powder, dried herbs and olive oil. Pop into the oven on 400 until it begins to sizzle. Remove from the oven to stuff with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, tie up with roasting string. Back into the oven to roast until golden brown. Add green beans to the baking dish as the meat begins to finish off.

Prepare your sides and get ready to eat.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Brainy Veal Medallions with Roasted Red Peppers...

Italian cooking...for the fast and frugal but always with class!

For this dish you will need to buy: one lean veal loin. One jar of roasted red peppers or do them yourself on the stove top and of course, buy linguine pasta if you don't have any in the pantry.

Begin by sauteing in olive oil on medium heat the veal cut into medallion size chunks. Add these seasonings: rosemary or lavender (ready to use from the garden) and or mint, with some oregano including a dash of garlic powder.

Once the medallions are browned, add your roasted red peppers, including some of the liquid from the jar. To build up the sauce, just mix 1 tbs of flour to 4 tbs of cooking sherry and 1/2 cup of beef stock to make a thickening 'slurry'.  As the meat and sauce bubbles and perks, pour in the slurry; you may want to thin down the sauce adding more beef stock but only a little at a time to retain the consistency of the sauce.

Cover the medallions and peppers to simmer on low while you prepare water to boil to cook the linguine. As the pasta become tender, drain, rinse and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate. Top with the veal and peppers in sauce.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Brainy Art of Leftovers...

Cooking is a creative act. Just imagine the week as a canvas to be painted on over a succession of days, one leading to the next. Meaning, what you did not use the first day, you will use by the second or third, making sure it stays fresh until then... ensuring that this chain cycle is not broken. So, what can we eat?” You have your explanation right here in three basic rules.

  • Rule 1: Always keep a few basics that keep for a long time, such as dried herbs, eggs, butter, heavy cream, any kind of cheese, garlic, onion, along with rice, pasta and potatoes. All of which can be added to any leftover staple, meat i.e.thus creating a brand new dinner.
  • Rule 2: Think simple and try not to follow a recipe that calls for specific ingredients. Cooking is like making an omelet. You just put in what you like: cheese, onions, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, olives, peppers, spinach and or zucchini. Being frugal while keeping flavor depends on your own taste buds.
  • Rule 3: If you can, use what is left over from yesterday. If you made rice and beef stir fry one night, keep the rice and turn it into a rice salad the next day, in which you add tomato pieces, cucumber, avocado, parsley, boiled eggs and tuna. The same rule applies for any kind of pasta. Or, if you make mashed potatoes one night, save the leftovers to make croquettes the next day by simply adding eggs and flour, then frying them in hot oil. If you have some cheese and one zucchini, you can grate those and add them to your preparation. 
Most importantly, know that you are in control of the leftovers and your taste buds will guide your creativity.

~ Tutti a Tavola!