Fresh, fast and frugal!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thanksgiving Dinner does not have to be Built on 'Turkey'...

Thanksgiving Dinner should be built on family, friends and in love...

And, your holiday meal does not have to be built on turkey. If you aren't into turkey but like chicken then I recommend roast chicken with brown rice and buckwheat groats which can even be done in the ordinary covered skillet.

Take out your covered skillet, turn on the heat to med./high and lay into sizzling olive oil seasoned with dried herbs of rosemary, mint and oregano one half chicken with the skin on... skin side down. Let it brown on both sides. Once it has browned, add a few tsp of chicken stock, cover and let it simmer on low for 8 min. After that time has passed, lift the lid and add 1/4 cup apricot jam or use fresh 'mashed' apricots. Cover again and let this sauce develop in the skillet along with the chicken for about 6 min on low heat.

In the meantime, prepare a blend of brown rice and buckwheat groats, a delicious alternative to pasta, white rice or potatoes. Once tender, drain and ladle onto a low lipped serving plate. As for the half roasted chicken, lay the entire half onto a serving plate pouring out the sauce but only after it has been left to bubble up in the skillet while you laid out the half chicken. This way it will get a sheen like a glaze. Garnish with red seedless grapes and green parsley.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Thanksgiving ~ cornmeal polenta instead of dressing....

Whether a traditionalist or not, there is nothing more wonderful than having family and friends gathered around the table on Thanksgiving.

For something different or other than traditional dressing/stuffing try creamy cornmeal polenta. A lovely and colorful accompaniment to that or any dinner is roasted beet root and zucchini salad with pine nut or sunflower seeds or slivered almonds along with either figs or dried plums.

Polenta -
2 tbs of olive oil
one whole onion chopped
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 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.

As for the roasted beets and zucchini, slice like large coins and put them on a cookie sheet with olive oil and fresh dried herbs in the oven on the lower rack for as long as the polenta is in. Once tender, remove and drizzle with organic honey and balsamic vinegar (lightly) and sprinkle on the pine nuts and figs. Garnish!

*You can use only beet root if zucchini is not preferred. And, to the polenta, sauteed mushrooms are a nice touch.

To Brine your turkey or not to brine, that is the question?

Being brainy in the kitchen is not just knowing 'things', its also about learning 'things'. This year, more than in the past, the thing seems to be a question ~ to brine your turkey or not.

What does it mean to brine a turkey or a large piece of meat? The basic process involves soaking meat (usually lean meats, like turkey, chicken, or pork chops) in a tub full of heavily salted water overnight. Most brines are in the range of 5 to 8% salt to water by weight. Over the course of the night, the meat absorbs some of that water. More importantly, that water stays put even after the meat is cooked. By brining meat, supposedly you can decrease the amount of total moisture loss by 30 to 40%.

That means, you should in theory, have a juicier turkey, right? To understand what's really happening, you have to look at the structure of turkey muscles. Muscles are made up of long, bundled fibers, each one housed in a tough protein sheath. As the turkey heats, the proteins that make up this sheath will contract. Just like when you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, this causes juices to be forced out of the bird. Heat them to much above 150°F (66°C) or so, and you end up with dry, stringy meat.

Salt helps mitigate this shrinkage by dissolving some of the muscle proteins (mainly myosin). The muscle fibers loosen up, allowing them to absorb more moisture, and, more importantly, they don't contract as much when they cook, ensuring that more of that moisture stays in place as the turkey cooks.
However, brining robs your bird of flavor. Think about it: Your turkey is absorbing water, and holding on to it. That means that that extra 30 to 40% savings in moisture loss doesn't really come in the form of turkey juices—it's plain old tap water. Many folks who eat brined birds have that very complaint: It's juicy, but the juice is watery.

If I have learned a thing or two it is that some brine and some don't. If you have had success brining your turkey, then don't bother with this shared information. But, if you have been disappointed with brining and exhausted by the time and effort involved doing it, then simply cook your turkey without brining and give thanks!

*Source ~

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.