New Year, New Look, New Focus

Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Whew, renos are nearly done - hope you enjoy the new space as much as I do! To all regular readers (especially those who have been with me long enough to remember the last major overhaul), thank you for your continued attention and support.

There will be a few other changes to Frugal Cuisine as well. Over the past two years I've been posting occasionally here about Chinese snacks and street food. I find my local food scene very interesting and still want to write about it, but these posts will now be appearing on a spinoff blog. FC will go back to focusing completely on cooking, but will include more cooking for company, since many people are doing more entertaining and cooking at home now. This also means I'm no longer staying strictly within the $3 per day per person budget - it's not what the majority of my readers require, and has gotten a bit too restrictive with the price increases over the past year.

January is always the busiest time of year for FC and is also the holiday time here, so I am looking forward to lots of home cooking and posting! Hope you all are too.

Lentils and Cabbage

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My kitchen is not in a heated area of my house, so since it has been cold I tend to dash in, cook, and dash out again. This mess of cabbage and lentils came together in 20 minutes and tasted fantastic.

A more elaborate (and healthier) recipe from NYT was the inspiration - the cabbage and lentils sounded amazing together, but I wanted a quicker recipe and decided to use Sichuan hot and numbing sausage (麻辣香肠) or bacon for flavour and canned lentils. The drawback for using canned was that it is not easy to control the salt - between the sausage/bacon and salted lentils, this got a bit more salty than strictly necessary even without adding any. I'd probably make the lentils from scratch next time, or drain some canning liquid and just add water. You need the firmer, brown or green lentils.

Slice about eight loonie sized coins of sausage (can use any dry, spicy sausage) OR dice one strip of thick bacon and saute til the fat is rendered and the pieces are starting to get crispy. Use your knife to shred four cups of cabbage and add it to the pan, adding a little oil only if your pan is too dry. Saute the cabbage til just wilted and add one 14 oz can of lentils, including the liquid, and let everything bubble together for a few minutes until flavours are combined. It should be soupy, so add water if required.

The first time I made this with dumplings steamed on top made from biscuit mix and a little milk - outstanding. The second time I ate it with home fries. Recipe is enough for two; if you are increasing quantities, don't increase the meat proportionally - it is a seasoning. 2 more 'coins' per person is lots.

Garlic Mushroom Greens over Roasted Potatoes

Monday, December 08, 2008

One sweltering summer evening I watched a young couple in a restaurant order and share a single plate of kong xin cai, stir fried with garlic. What a perfect dinner, I thought. This is the same idea, fortified a bit with potatoes for winter. When I lived in Canada and used to come home and need to eat in a hurry, I would slice a potato and layer it on a baking sheet, drizzle with butter, and broil the thing while I fried an egg or made a salad to go with it. Everything would be ready in a couple of minutes. In China it is easy to buy tiny round potatoes, already cleaned and ready for roasting. You just need a little oil (or some other fat) and salt, and I often toss in a few cloves of garlic to roast alongside.

Toss one pound of potatoes, either small or cut into small cubes or slices for roasting, with a tablespoon of fat such as melted butter or other oil (I am using beef fat, which is half the price of butter and is readily available at the farmer's market here since many styles of Sichuan hot pot float a layer of beef fat on top of the spicy broth.) Add some salt to taste; if you are using melted bacon fat you won't need much salt). Lay potatoes in a baking pan or dish and roast or broil at high heat Watch carefully; you want them a little browned but not burned.

While potatoes are cooking slice three or four large mushrooms and chop half a pound of chard or shanghai bok choy. Mince three cloves of garlic (or less if you like). When potatoes are nearly ready heat two tablespoons of oil over high heat in a frying pan, add garlic and mushrooms, and when they are really sizzling add greens. Cook them til they are pretty soft, a bit past the normal al dente stir fry. Pile the potatoes on two plates and spoon greens overtop, letting the potatoes soak up the garlicky juice from the greens.