Fresh, fast and frugal!

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!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Swiss French Cooking... Cheesy and Brainy!

Along the Swiss French border (Jura Mountains), one can clearly notice the local preference for cooking with Raclette cheese. Though traditionally Swiss, this semi-hard cow's milk cheese is most commonly used for cooking and or melting on both sides of the border (France) and definitely not for slicing .

The smell is pungent, the taste is strong and yet also buttery. It all sounds wildly European. That is why this cheese is great for cooking.  The brainy point of this wild mountain cheese is... if you happen to have leftover Raclette fondue from the weekend or a chunk in the fridge...why not put it together some pasta and cooked chicken breasts with mushrooms and asparagus.

To begin, in a deep skillet on med heat saute chopped onion in olive oil and 1 tbs of fresh creamy butter sprinkled with dried herbs. Then push the onion aside in the skillet and on high heat seared strips of chicken breasts (skinless/boneless). Next, reintroduce the onion, reduced the heat and added the left over Raclette along with 1 cup of heavy cream.

Cook the pasta on the stove in another pot of boiling water. Also, in another skillet, saute mushrooms and asparagus in butter and a dash of chicken stock. Lastly, rinse and drain the pasta and simply pour the Raclette sauce and chicken over the pasta. Serve the mushrooms and asparagus on the side.

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Brainy Oven Baked Eggplant Lasagne...

Eggplant Parmesan is as easy as pie in the oven. Wash and slice two medium/large sized eggplants. Layer in a glass baking dish in this way: olive oil, eggplant, tomato sauce, dried herbs, and parmesan cheese... repeat until the dish is full. I like to pour soup stock around the dish edges to make it brimming with liquid only because I like it juicy. Lastly, bake at 375  until nearly bubbling over.

Serve with garlic toast and a green garden salad...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tavern Style Italian Sausage in Marinara with Penne...

Italian food stirs the imagination...

This dish is so awesomely delicious that you can imagine never eating anything else for the rest of your life. The key is in the sausage. Quality Italian sausage is best bought from the local deli or butcher and it should be 'rustic' as in meaty... not overly seasoned; no fennel. The other key aspect regarding the sausage is that the casing is excellent quality; you don't want it to be rubbery or chewy.

Besides really good Italian sausage, you will need: black olives, one med. red pepper (roasted) one large onion, and penne pasta.  To get started, saute the onion and pepper 'chopped' in olive oil until browned on the edges. Have your sausage cut into bite sized chunks or crumbled. Add to the skillet with the onion and pepper pushing them aside while you brown the sausage.

Bring back in the onion and pepper covering the sausage while you open a can of crushed Red Gold tomatoes unless of course you have either fresh garden tomatoes to use and one handful of black olives. Generously, sprinkle in dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano. Stir and cover, let this simmer on med heat while you prepare the pasta; simmering the sauce for a good 25 min.

Add the penne pasta to salted boiling water. Once tender, drain and ladle onto a serving plate and or bowl. Pour out the hot bubbly Italian sausage sauce onto the pasta and serve.

Put on the Parmesan... ~ Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Brainy Veal Marsala... A Visit to the 'Old Country'...

Veal is young beef and is relatively inexpensive. But, finding it can be a problem. So, even if you don't have veal, you can make a brainy 'veal' Marsala using lean pork.... boneless pork loin.

To begin, make sure you cut the pork loin thin and pound flat with a meat hammer. After you have pounded the meat, marinate the 'veal' or pork for at least 30-40 minutes in a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of sweet Marsala wine (or sweet non alcoholic cider with a touch of nutty flavored balsamic vinegar), garlic infused olive oil and a few dashes of sea salt.

This dish works best with some lovely brown Bavarian mushrooms and linguine pasta - infused with mushrooms. While the meat marinates in the Marsala, wash and slice whatever mushrooms you can find (preferably Bavarian) and then saute in butter along with a few garlic cloves.

Once the mushrooms have browned, push them aside in the skillet and lay in the 'cutlets' of marinated veal/pork. Flash fry on high heat, reduce the heat and bring the mushrooms back in and add 1/4 cup of Marsala wine and 1/4 cup of beef stock...bringing this skillet mixture to a bubbling richness.

Finally, add fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint, and oregano and 1/4 cup of heavy cream (optional), let simmer on very low heat until the pasta is tender.

Drain your pasta and pour out the Marsala sauce, top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese and dried or fresh green parsley...

~ Tutti a Tavola

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Brainy Blackened Brussel Sprouts in Sherry...

Brussels Sprouts were very likely first cultivated in Ancient Rome. Since then, Brussels Sprouts as they are now known have been mostly grown in what is now Belgium in the early 13th century. In the U.S. most Brussels sprouts are grown in Northern California, the state of Washington and New York.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with a Sherry Wine Reduction
Serves 4 as a side

Brussels sprouts/1 lb., 1 whole red onion
½ cup sherry wine, a little olive oi and a pinch of sea salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slice off the very tip of the stem of each Brussels sprout and cut in half lengthwise. In a bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute one sliced red onion with a pinch of salt and cook for 5-10 minutes in olive oil.

Stir frequently until the onions start to blacken. Add the sherry to the pan and continue cooking and stirring for another 5 minutes until the alcohol has burned off. Transfer the Brussels to a serving plate and top with the onions and pan juices.

*This can be done in a skillet also. Just steam the sprouts in a bit of stock until it reduces. Add olive oil and the chopped onion with the pinch of salt and stir fry until blackened; splash the sherry over the top for a flash finish. 

~ Tutti a Tavola!