Fresh, fast and frugal!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Cooking at home is therapeutic...

How can cooking at home be therapeutic? Its comforting in a way that may not be so apparent. It calms the soul stirring the creative imagination that sings to the spirit...This is especially good for us when faced with the daily stresses of life, let alone during extreme weather conditions as we have now in the North and Midwest.

When you cook at home you should always cook what you like and keep it simple by not getting all tied up in this or that recipe. 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!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Italian Chicken Soup with Rigatoni and Pesto...

What's better than Italian ice and snow? ~ Hot Soup!!!

You know that chicken stock you made earlier this week and set aside to create soups from... well, now is the time to retrieve for the final soup of the week. This soup is very good and very simple to make. The basic ingredients are: Chicken stock 4 cups, 2 large chicken breasts (boneless and skinless), onion, garlic clove, 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 breast meat. Slice and or dice each breast into small pieces.

As the stock comes to a rolling boil, add the diced chicken and then add the sauteed onion, along with dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano along with a bit of sage and parsley.

On the side, boil in salted water one box of rigatoni pasta. 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.

*Serve with wine, crusty bread and cheese!

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Mediterranean Tuna Steaks with Lime and Pasta...

Fast and frugal...yeah its winter but a bit of sunshine is always welcome.

For this dish, you will need: fresh or frozen tuna steaks (as many per dinner guest), olive oil, herbs, lime and pasta (large fettuccine spinach infused). A number of recipes call for capers, diced tomatoes, garlic... all of which are Italian cooking favorites. But, you can get an awesome taste even without those ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 375f. Take a glass dish, drizzle with olive oil. Lay in the 'thawed' tuna steaks, season with garlic powder and dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Pop them in the oven uncovered until cooked, about 18 min (depending on size of steaks) and even shorter time if you have convection option.

In that time, prepare the pasta by boiling in salted water until tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate. Top with a few pats of butter and the tuna steaks including any juices that run off Lastly, finish with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

 *you can even serve with a few tasty leftovers...

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!

Old 'Brainy' Favorite... Spaghetti and Meatballs

Whether you make spaghetti and meatballs or spaghetti bolognse, its always going to be 'Brainy'. Its one of the simplest dishes you can make and one that is forever grandma used to make.

To begin this favorite, you will need: ground veal or turkey or pork along with onion (one large), heavy cream, bread crumbs, dried herbs, tomatoes (fresh or canned) and spaghetti pasta.

Mix about 1 pound of ground meat with bread crumbs, heavy cream, dried herbs and a pinch of salt and garlic powder. Start adding each ingredient little by little making sure that the meatballs are not too bready or to creamy. Set aside after forming the meatballs. Next, chop the onion and brown in olive oil. Push aside and in the same skillet, brown the meatballs.

Bring the onion back in around the meatballs and pour in one can of Red Gold crushed 'red' tomatoes unless you have fresh (washed, peeled and chopped).  Boil the pasta in salted water until tender, drain and rinse. Ladle onto a low lipped serving plate and top with meatballs and sauce.

... pour on the Parmesan cheese!

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Polish Meatballs in White Gravy...

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. For this version, ground turkey was used and mushrooms were omitted; only because there weren't any in the fridge.

Using ground turkey, tonight's meatballs were made the 'basic' brainy way: bread crumbs, herbs, garlic powder, a pinch of salt and heavy cream/sour cream. First, saute chopped onion in olive oil until browned. 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 a bit, pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream. To thicken you can add either 1/4 cup of sour cream and or a gravy thickening 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. 

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Be Brainy... Stuffed Peppers Your Way!

Stuffed peppers... everybody who has ever cooked at home has probably made stuffed peppers. There are plenty of recipes out there and nearly everyone of them tells you its the best one or grandma's best or mama's. When it comes to home cooking... its always the taste you remember made with love.

There are recipes that use ground Italian sausage, ground turkey or beef, as well as veal and chicken. Some use squash and add other veggies like corn. Some recipes call for eggs, milk, bread or cracker crumbs not to mention barley, potato chips, ketchup and cheese. There are all good. It just depends on your own taste preferences.

You don't have to be fancy either. Sometimes simple is the way to go. For this version, ground veal was used to stuff red/orange peppers combined with cooked brown rice and bread crumbs also adding these seasonings: garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and dried herbs (oregano, sage, mint and rosemary.

A deep baking dish was used drizzled with olive oil. A squirt of Worcestershire sauce and then a spoon of Marinara sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese to top off each stuffed pepper.

Lastly, pop them into a hot oven (375f) for ten minutes. After that time, 1/4 cup of beef stock was added and the peppers covered with foil to finish out a bake time of about 40-45 min. Serve with any side and or salad.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Brainy Spanish Chicken with Rice and Black Beans...

Ah, Barcelona ... One can only imagine the dishes being prepared. 

It sounds exotic but if you have in your pantry: rice, onion, green olives, jarred roasted red pepper, canned diced tomatoes and black beans... you have the making of a great Spanish dish. The only item you may have to pick up on your way home is a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

To begin, in a deep small skillet, saute chopped onion and diced roasted red pepper in olive oil. Push aside to add the chicken thighs. Sear a bit then bring back over the top the onion and pepper. Cover for about 6 min. Next, add as many green olives as you like, pitted and cut in half if you like. 

Turn the oven to 375F. Pour out the chicken, onion, red pepper and olives into a ceramic or glass baking dish, cover with one small can of diced tomatoes. Drop in a few dashes of Tabasco, red pepper flakes, and dried herbs. Cover and bake in the oven for about 40 min. reducing the heat to 350 after the first 25-30 min.

In this time, prepare the rice (boil on the stove/range) and black beans in the same skillet as the onion, pepper, olives and chicken. Once the rice is tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving dish including the beans, top with grated cheese. When you set out the Spanish Chicken, squeeze fresh either lemon or lime juice over the top and or fresh chopped cilantro or parsley.

Leave the Tabasco on the table, pour the wine and enjoy!

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Root Vegetables are Brainy Gourmet...

Gimme some roots...

Veggies don't have to be green to be good!

French cut parsnips and carrots sauteed or roasted are delicious. The taste is a sweet-savory nutty flavor. This vegetable side is very easy to prepare and goes with any meat. If you don't want a whole bag of em, look for them sold singly... use one large parsnip and carrot. Just slice them lengthwise which is a 'french cut-julienne' or ... larger like French Fries.

To a covered skillet, add olive oil and preferred seasonings are: garlic powder, sea salt,and  red pepper flakes along with dried herbs - rosemary, mint and oregano. In ten to twelve minutes, voila.  The cost of this side is less than $2.00.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Home Baked Bread... nothing compares!

7 and 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 and 1/2 cups lukewarm water – 100 degrees
1 tbsp. granulated yeast= 1 small package of instant
1 and 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt, and 1tsp of sugar.

In a bowl, mix the warm water with the yeast, salt and sugar. Using warm water allows the dough to rise quickly and to the right height. This dough needs at least 6-8 hrs to rise in a warm place. When it has mushroomed, use the “scoop and sweep” method.

This is done by reaching into the flour container with a cup and scooping up a full measure all at once sweeping the top of the cup level with a knife.  Do not knead the dough!

Do not punch down the dough, do not play with it. With this method, you are trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible and punching it down knocks out gas. The gas bubbles create a light and crispy crust.

To bake: preheat the oven to 425, take a handful of dough and plop it down on a prepared pizza pan (oiled and sprinkled with dry bread crumbs). Drizzle olive oil over the top of the dough along with a generous sprinkle of fresh dried herbs before baking. Pop in the oven and watch it get crusty brown providing a kitchen full splendid aroma.

After slicing, cut thick slices (toasted or not) and pour on the olive oil...

*Note ~ This recipe makes a lot of dough; whatever you don't use can be refrigerated or frozen.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Stir Fry ~ Fast and Frugal...

A few things that the Brainy Gourmet has always advocated and will continue to do: fast, frugal and delicious. How to arrive at that? Do what the Brainy Gourmet started doing, adhere to your preferences in terms of taste: sweet and savory.

In respect to savory, there is included preferences for saltiness, bitterness and spiciness... Once you understand your preferences, you won't really need a recipe. You will come to know through practice just how much of one thing over another makes the taste you like.

Begin with a stir fry dish because that is where sweet and savory meet up in a flash in a pan. And, you won't go broke experimenting since you can begin with simple ingredients: fresh green and red peppers, zucchini, broccoli, silvered carrots and chicken breast strips... or just opt to keep it veggie.

The usual spices go like this: red pepper flakes, garlic powder, salt, coriander, turmeric/cumin, ginger and soy sauce.  You may not know it but in the coriander is a bit of sweetness. For the sweeter taste bud, use honey and even cooking sherry will add sweetness.

Also, keep in mind that the veggies used contain sugar. Carrots and broccoli have enough glucose to sweetened any dish; but those are my taste buds talking.

For this stir fry, lean pork loin was used cut into small half dollar sizes and seared in garlic infused olive oil; and of course, adding my preferences for sweet and savory. Green and red pepper were tossed in last so that they remained crisp... all of which was served over brown rice noodles.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Benefits and Beauty of Tabasco ...

Hot drinking chocolate... spice it up with Tabasco sauce!

Did you know that a teaspoon of original Tabasco sauce contains zero calories and zero grams of fat? The sauce doesn't supply essential nutrients, such as protein, fiber, vitamin C, calcium or iron, but its lack of calories or fat means it can have a valuable place in your healthy eating plan. The green jalapeno flavor supplies 6 percent of your daily vitamin C needs. The sweet and spicy flavor contains 15 calories per teaspoon, but the other flavors, including buffalo, habanero and chipotle pepper, are calorie- and fat-free.

Tabasco sauce contains capsaicin, a pain reliever, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Capsaicin also aids in digestion and reduces the symptoms of indigestion, Michael T. Murray and Joseph E. Pizzorno note in their book "The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods." 

Capsaicin might also reduce symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Capsaicin might be useful in weight loss, by activating satiety cues after eating, according to a 2005 article published in the "International Journal of Obesity." Though you don't eat topical capsaicin, it's interesting to note that it's often used as a pain reliever or to help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis.

*Online Source !

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Turmeric is Curcumin and its good for you!

There's a lot of exciting buzz around turmeric these days, and there's plenty of good reason for it. Hidden deep in the plant's bright yellow roots is an extraordinarily powerful compound called curcumin that has the unique ability to block an enzyme that causes inflammation, while combating free radical damage to highly sensitive vital organs like your heart and brain. In fact, curcumin's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits can revolutionize your health from head to toe.

Curcumin is so powerful that some are calling it the "natural remedy of the century. "If you think that inflammation is something that only happens when you're injured, or is simply a minor annoyance you're making a big mistake. Many experts now believe low-grade systemic (or "silent") inflammation is a major risk factor for a host of health concerns.

Is curcumin a simple way of reducing inflammation?  Well, its certainly an alternative way to reduce free radicals that cause inflammation. It can be used in cooking as well as directly... in coffee or tea. It also comes in capsules that can be taken by mouth. Combined with exercise and a diet of healthy food, its a brainy start for this new year.

*Source ~ online article by: Joshua Corn, Editor-in-Chief of the Live in the Now Newsletter.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany Cake for January 6...

This is a type of Epiphany Cake 'tarte' called - Galette des rois! 

In France, Christmas and New Year's Eve is all about oysters and foie gras, but on January 6th, it is all about the Galette des Rois (King’s Cake)! Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi, traditionally observed on January 6.

Here is a basic recipe...

Use ready-made butter puff pastry
4oz ground almonds
3oz sugar
2oz soft butter
1 egg (preserve a little of the yolk)
• Divide the pastry in two parts; roll each out into a circle about 9in across. Preheat the oven to 410F.
• Mix the almonds, sugar, butter and egg to a smooth paste.
• Place the first circle in a baking tray and spread the paste evenly across.
• Dampen the edge of the first disc and lay the second over it. Press down with a fork. Glaze the top with the egg yolk; decorate with a knife (a leaf pattern is traditional, but criss-crossing is easier).
• Bake for 30 minutes until golden. Serve slightly warm (5 minutes at 350F if reheating).

Friday, January 4, 2019

Brighten a Wintry Night with Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup...

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!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

What to do with Rice? ~ Brainy Italian Risotto...

Risotto is a delicious side dish to chicken, pork or fish. All you have to do is boil rice (1 cup) in 2 cups of chicken stock, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt to get it cooking on medium heat.

Once the rice is tender having absorbed most of the stock, drop in a pat of butter and pour in one small can of diced tomatoes or dice up fresh if you prefer. Lastly, add to that Parmesan cheese. Let this set on the stove covered for 6-8 min on low/warm.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Good Housekeeping this New Year...

Did you know that housework and cooking are therapeutic? Its a time to think and get some exercise.

If you prefer your own cooking to eating out, then you know a kitchen well organized is worth its weight in gold. Whether you have a small cooktop or huge range all pots/pans and skillets should be easily accessible. 

It is wise not to stack Teflon pots/pans/skillets one inside the other without some kind of surface protection. Try using a cardboard cake bottom.

Often, a small prepping and cooking space is easier to manage and clean up. Did you know that you don't need gadgets, contraptions and or large heavy counter equipment to be a brainy gourmet?  A simple cutting board and a knife is enough.

The best prep surface is a European beach-wood round block. This wood cutting block has a tight, smooth surface and is easy to care for; just use a clean hot cloth with distilled white vinegar to clean deep. Finish the job with rub of olive oil.

Other brainy tips: When stacking glass bowls one inside the other take care to protect them. Try using either white or brown wrapping paper, bubble wrap or air-pack sheets that you can save from shipped packages to put between each bowl.

For cleaning stainless steel... try an antibacterial microfiber cloth. Remember, good housekeeping means you will eat and live better!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Turkey Sliders... slid into my New Year!

This New Year's Eve, I was treated to turkey sliders for the first time (most you probably already know about them). Its not a dish that I would normally make in the sense that the brainy gourmet does simple frugal dinners rather than appetizers and or ... hors d'oeuvres. 

So, when something like this comes along, I just have to share and in that case, best to just pass along the recipe and let you take it from there... adding or subtracting what you like and don't like as I do with most recipes I see or photos of food that I think I could make. 

For instance, this recipe called for cranberry sauce to be layered in the sandwich slider but to me that sounded like adding 'jelly' and not what I would prefer in a hot sandwich. But, you may want to add it. Here is a common recipe for turkey sliders - Enjoy!

  • 1 package Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (12 count)
  • 2 cups diced leftover turkey [or use sliced deli turkey or ham]
  • 1 cup cranberry sauce or relish [or not]
  • 6 slices Swiss (or favorite cheese)
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp yellow mustard [or not]
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp dried minced onion
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • dried parsley (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cover 9x13 baking pan with foil. Spray with cooking spray.
  3. Remove rolls from package in one piece.
  4. Cut entire slab of rolls in half lengthwise. (You will end up with one slab of "tops" and one slab of "bottoms".)
  5. Place bottom slab in foiled cover pan.
  6. Layer with turkey, cranberry sauce and cheese. (note: You may need to warm the cranberry sauce for a few seconds in the microwave to make it a spreadable consistency.)
  7. Add top slab of rolls.
  8. Melt butter in microwave and whisk in remaining ingredients (except parm. cheese and parsley). Pour evenly over rolls.
  9. Cover with foil and let sit for 5-10 minutes.
  10. Bake covered for 20 minutes.
  11. Uncover and cook 5 additional minutes.
  12. (Optional) Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley.
  13. Slice into individual sliders and serve warm.