Fresh, fast and frugal!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Brainy Good Greek Fish with Eggplant Chips...

Greek Fish is an easy and delicate dish made in one pot, served with eggplant chips...

For this dish: use either fresh or frozen 'thawed' fish (cod or mahi mahi is recommended). In a deep pot on the stove melt in butter (3 tbs) and olive oil (3 tbs) then add 1/2 cup of chopped onion, a tsp of crushed garlic if you like and 1 cup more or less of grated/scalloped carrot.

Lay in the fish over the onion and carrot to sizzle for 3-4 min. on high heat. Next, pour over the top 1/3 cup of chicken or fish stock and sprinkle in fresh herbs: rosemary and Greek oregano. Reduce heat and let the simmer for 12-15 min. or until the fish is white and firm.

The eggplant chips should be made before the fish as they take longer to prepare. Thinly slice a large ripe 'washed' eggplant, bread lightly by brushing with low fat milk and pat each side gently with dried bread crumbs to flash fry in a shallow skillet of grape-seed oil.

Then move the fried eggplant slices to a cookie sheet with a rack to be baked in the oven on 350f. Once they are crisp with curling edges, serve with the poached fish/onion/carrot/herbs; include a dipping sauce of sour cream or yogurt and herbs to dip the eggplant chips.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Brainy Veal Marsala ~ Dinner with a View...

a 'top deck' Euro-bistro favorite...

Even if you don't have veal, you can make a brainy 'veal' Marsala using beef. To be exact - eye of round steak or you could also use flank steak. To begin, make sure you cut the steak of your choice thin and pound flat with a meat hammer.

After you have pounded the meat, marinate the 'veal' or steak for at least 30-40 minutes in a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of sweet Marsala wine with a brush of garlic infused olive oil adding also a few dashes of sea salt.

This dish requires some lovely brown Bavarian mushrooms and linguine pasta - best is infused with mushroom. So, while the meat marinates in the Marsala, wash and slice whatever mushrooms you bought 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 beef. 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, top with fresh grated parmesan cheese and dried or fresh green parsley...

~ Tutti a Tavola

Monday, April 27, 2020

Brainy Frugal Fettuccine Alfredo... the Roman way!

Who doesn't like Fettuccine Alfredo? Its so rich and creamy and absolutely delicious! Some of you may think it takes a long time to make it but that is not true. It takes only 20-25 minutes... if you make it the Roman way as I was instructed.

For this dish, you will need: heavy cream, sour cream/buttermilk, butter, onion, fettuccine noodles or even linguine; and the frugal secret ingredient chunk white tuna in vegetable oil. Yes, tuna and yes this dish was cooked for me in Rome.

To begin, chop onion and saute in butter and a drizzle of olive oil until browned on edges. Then add two cans of chunk white tuna in oil - do not drain. Stir and add 1/4 cup of sour cream or buttermilk and 1/2 cup of heavy cream more or less. Continue to stir adding fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint and oregano and even some dill but not necessary.

Boil your pasta until tender, drain and ladle onto a serving platter. Pour the creamy rich sauce over the top and sprinkle with a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese. Its that simple.

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Brainy Chicken Cacciatore and or Mediterranean Chicken... Part II

In Italian cuisine, alla cacciatora refers to a dish prepared "hunter-style" and the brainy gourmet style is with onions, tomatoes, dried plums and herbs: rosemary, mint, sage and oregano.

All you need for this delicious dish is a large skillet with lid, chicken thighs with bone in and skin on, one whole onion, one can of diced red tomatoes, dried plums and dried herbs. This dish can be done on the stove or in the oven; using a glass baking dish or a covered skillet. If you decide for the oven, follow a similar procedure for cooking in the skillet, turn the oven to 400f. Roast uncovered.

Begin by sauteing chopped onion on med heat in olive oil, about 4 tbs and be generous.  Next, move the onion off to one side of the skillet and add your chicken thighs skin side down; brown on high heat. Bring back the onion and sprinkle as much of the dried herbs as you want over the top of the chicken.

Reduce heat adding, bringing back the onion into the mix of things and pour in 1/4 cup of chicken stock and one can of diced red tomatoes. Let this simmer for 40 min on med/low heat, stirring occasionally.

For a side, prepare a wild rice risotto or pasta 'ravioli' or polenta...

Near the end of the 40 min, toss in as many dried plums or black olives as you like... Cover and let sit with no heat for as long as it takes to set the table. And, don't forget to put out the Parmesan cheese, please...

~ Tutti a Tavola!

Brainy Chicken Cacciatore either or Mediterranean Chicken... Part I

Who wouldn't want to look out from a balcony to see a Mediterranean sunset this time of year? Did you know that Mediterranean coastline and its cuisine is not just for Italians to enjoy. Many European countries (France, Spain, Greece) and north Africa have a border with that sea. And, thus there are delicious menus on every coast.

On past posts, for this dish, I advised you to have: skin on/bone in chicken thighs, black olives, roasted red peppers, diced tomatoes, onion and spinach tagliatelle or fettuccine 'wide egg noodle' pasta. However, I do like to change things up from time to time. Instead of the skillet version, the oven was used. Also, no onion, no peppers and no tomatoes. Say what?

Yes, this time you are getting the basic oven baked version. Sometimes, you have to be brainy when you don't have all the ingredients. Tonight, I used sun dried tomatoes and dried plums which some might argue is more a 'hunter style' or cacciatore...and, well it could be, except that Kalamata olives were included.

To get started, generously coat a glass baking dish with olive oil. Lay in the chicken thighs skin side down. Then, sprinkle over the top: garlic powder, paprika, dried onion, thyme, sage and rosemary. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Then rotate, adding to the dish: 1/3 cup of chicken stock and 1/4 cup of red pepper juices (had a jar which was nearly used up and that was enough) along with the olives, plums and sun dried tomatoes. Turn on the convection switch if you have one and let the chicken crisp up while you prepare the pasta. Once the pasta is tender, drain and ladle onto a serving plate topping with chicken, all goodies and the rich sauce.


~ Tutti a Tavola!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Saturday night or not... Jambalaya always hits the spot!

Saturday night in Louisiana, you can be pretty sure they're havin Jambalaya.

You will need:1 pound of Sweet Italian Sausage or Sweet Brats and about one pound (depending on number of guests) of jumbo frozen shrimp (thawed/tail removed prior to cooking), onion, cayenne pepper, rice and hot sauce.

To begin, chop one onion and saute in olive oil until browned. Push aside in the skillet and drop the sausage (casing removed) as small bit sizes into the skillet to brown. Next, bring the onion back in over onto the sausage and add your spices: cayenne pepper, garlic powder, coriander, red pepper flakes, black pepper and salt. Add about 1/4 cup of beef stock, stir and cover to let simmer on low.

Prepare to cook the rice. Boil water about 2 and 1/2 cup with a pinch of salt, pour in 1 and 1/2 cup of long grain rice. If you are having more than 4 guests, double this.

When the rice is done, drain and pour out onto a serving plate. Then pour out the sausage and shrimp in sauce (any remaining juices) from the skillet on top of the rice.

Get out your favorite hot sauces and beverage - and whew wee!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Staying at home... Take a trip to Calabria!

Everyone knows that olives and olive oil from Calabria are probably among the best there is. The climate has a lot to do with that outcome; just the right blend of sun and moisture creates a perfect blend of taste in the olive.

You will need to buy a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs (one per guest). You should also have on hand or buy: tomatoes, green and black olives, purple, green and red bell pepper (s), garlic, fresh rosemary and fresh dried herbs:basil, oregano and mint.

Prior to cooking this wonderful Southern Italian dish, you will need to marinate the boneless thighs by pressing them in a simple wash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkled with sea salt, fresh dried herbs and fresh chopped rosemary, let sit for about 1 hr.

To begin cooking, take a covered skillet and pour in 4-5 tbs. of olive oil and saute on med. half of each pepper and one clove fresh garlic. When you see browned edges on the peppers, push them aside and lay in the thighs to sear the meat on both sides. Top with any remaining herbs from the marinate cooking for about 5-6 min.

Next, add 1/2 cup of fresh diced tomatoes and their juices along with a few green and black olives; allow to simmer for 25 min. covered. While the chicken simmers, prepare a delicate risotto. Boil about 2 and 1/2 cup of chicken stock, adding 2 cups of rice to gently simmer on med heat. Once the rice is tender having absorbed the stock almost completely, add a dollop of butter, 3/4 cup of diced tomato and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Cover and set aside.

When you are ready to serve, put out the risotto into a separate serving bowl and the chicken with olives onto a large low lipped serving platter.

Garnish and say "Tutti a Tavola" ~ 'everyone to the table'!

*Tip~ Green olives alone work if you do not have or have a taste for black olives. And, as for the peppers, green peppers work just as well as the other colors. There is no need to hunt for purple/red.

Brainy Chicken Picata ~ Let me count the ways...

Looking back over the years, I have made chicken picata a number of times and each time a little different from the other and yet each with its own amazing flavor. So, tonight was no different in that respect but different in that I made it for the first time in the oven. And, you know what? I think I will make it this way from now on.

Do as you would for chicken picata in the skillet only using a glass baking dish. Begin by marinating as many chicken breasts (skinless/boneless) as you will need per person, in fresh squeezed lemon juice, a generous drizzle of olive oil and fresh dried herbs: rosemary, mint, and oregano. Set aside for 30 min. Pre-heat your oven to 400F. Once up to temp, slide in the chicken.

As soon as the breasts brown on top and the juices are bubbling around them, toss in some capers, a few slices of lemon (thin) and a few pats of butter in and around the breasts. Reduce the heat to 350, and slide them back into the oven for 10 min. After that time, pour in 1/4 cup of heavy cream and the same of buttermilk.

Shake some grated parmesan cheese over the top and back in the oven on 325 while you prepare the sides: angel hair pasta and a green vegetable. Ladle tender pasta onto a serving plate and top with the chicken picata. Put out some extra parm and enjoy.

~ Tutti a Tavola

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Brainy Peanut Butter Stew with Wild Rice...

African delight ~ simple exotic food served at home never tasted so good...

Being a Brainy Gourmet means thinking on your feet ~ fast and frugal. 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 do to make it good.

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 - 1/2 cup of peanut butter depending on your love for peanut butter (the oily self stir brand). Obviously, if you or a loved one are allergic to peanuts, then find a comparable nut substitute.

Lastly, 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.

*African rice is a tall rice plant, and has small, pear-shaped grain, reddish bran and green to black hulls...

 ~ Tutti a Tavola!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Stay at Home and Cook like a Brainy Gourmet...

Stay at home and cook...

Cooking at home can be therapeutic. How? Cooking for yourself and or your family is comforting in more ways than you can imagine. It calms the soul stirring the creative imagination that truly sings to the spirit.

This is especially good for you and your family when faced with the daily stresses of life and especially during a challenging crisis like the current pandemic.

When you cook at home you should always cook what you and your family likes; and, keep it simple by not getting all caught up in this or that recipe. Why? Following a recipe 'going by the book' can be very stressful and you can end up buying expensive 'exotic' ingredients (as well as spices/seasonings) that you will likely never use again.

Another bit of brainy advice is to make what you can that is as tasty as you can make it and as nutritional as possible. If your family is beyond particular, encourage them that you made it with love just for them. Talking up a meal can shed new light on its taste when you don't have very much or just don't have a variety to offer. 

The Brainy Gourmet has always advocated to keep a simple basic pantry and a few staple items in the refrigerator that you will use up in a weeks time. Advice for a beginner stay at home chef ...start with soup.

Keep in mind that soup is not stew. Soup is lighter having more liquid. Most often, soup is treated as a starter but it can be the main meal if you serve with bread and a salad.

Every soup begins with stock which is made by boiling a piece of meat or a few vegetables. You can use whatever meat or vegetable base you prefer straining out the meat/vegetables once the stock is finished. Now that you have the basic stock, you can make any soup you want the rest of the week.

To begin, just boil the a large piece of meat in salted water (whole chicken or pork butt or beef shank).  Do not add rice, pasta, potatoes to the stock. This allows you to change up the soup the next day from chicken/beef vegetable to minestrone or tomato.

To the stock, you can add a whole onion or leek along with a few carrots which should be strained out of the stock once it is finished. Again, don't add rice or pasta or even potatoes to the stock directly.

Cook those items separately to be added to individual bowls of stock. This way, the stock you made can serve a different soup the next day or be used as a liquid to stir fry or to make a gravy or sauce for another evening's dinner.

When you are ready to serve your soup, offer rice or pasta or potatoes (cooked separately) to each bowl along with a bit of meat/vegetables that you strained out of the stock; set aside keeping warm.

If you cook frugally in this way, you will discover that you are in charge of your kitchen/cooking and it's a very satisfying and rewarding experience that everyone can benefit from.

~ Tutti a Tavola!