Fried Chicken Confit and Waffles, or The Most Crazy Delicious Thing You’ll Ever Eat in Your Life

DSC_1553

For Daniel’s early birthday meal I cooked Chuck Hughes’ Fried Chicken Confit with Waffles out of his Garde Manger book (named after his restaurant in Montreal that I can’t WAIT to go to… in my dreams, where I go to celebrity restaurants and eat deep-fried lobster). Chicken and waffles is one of Daniel’s favourite dishes but one that I have never been able to eat with him because it consists of: fried chicken, waffles, and gravy. Gluten city.

I thought it might be complicated because I’ve never confited anything before. Confitted? Confat? Not sure. But it sounded fancy. The hardest thing turned out to be finding duck fat in Nanaimo to cook with. I called the only butcher I know on the morning before dinner and asked if they carried it. He said yup, it came in frozen blocks, and it was cheap. Perfect. Drove to butcher, no duck fat. No one would cop to promising the crazy lady her duck fat. Finally a guy came out from the back of the store and said, “It was me, and I thought you said BACK fat! Hahahaha!”

After that it was quite easy. You just need to give yourself lots of time.

First you do a dry-brine thing for around 4 hours. Chill.

IMG_1259

Then you rinse your chicken off, dump out your brine, and replace that brine with melted duck fat. A whooole lotta duck fat. Cook for 3-4 hours on low heat, and you’ll get this:

IMG_1263

Take your chicken out of the fat using tongs and throw it on some paper towel, strain your fat so you can freeze it and confit something else some other time.

After that it’s pretty standard: flour-egg-flour the chicken, fry it in my super McDonalds deep-fryer (out on the deck, in case it expodes)(not sure why I think that could happen, that’s my mom for you). Made the gravy: ridiculous ratio of butter, reduced white wine, and reduced chicken broth. For the waffles, I didn’t use Chuck’s recipe exactly because I didn’t want them to have that limp or chewy texture (a risk you can sometimes run by substituting flours straight across when making pancakes or waffles). Instead I used the gluten-free Bisquick and followed their waffle recipe, replacing the oil with melted butter and adding ¼ cup sour cream (as per Chuck). They came out light and crispy. Dinner was served.

DSC_1559

Any other time I’ve ever said “wow, that’s really good,” I didn’t know what I was talking about. This was so good. This makes me doubt all the other things I go through my life thinking are really-really-good, and wonder, what else am I missing here? I’m gonna be confitting my cereal.

Forget the caramelized bacon. Forget the buttermilk pecan fudge. This is the final word in flavour (except for don’t forget those things completely because they’re also delicious and variety is the spice of life).

Advertisements

My First Thanksgiving: A Novella

DSC_1498

I come from a large family of adventurous eaters. For the great majority of us, excluding myself, there is no such thing as too spicy or too aged. I’m generally the only one to abide by the old “When in Rome” mentality of ordering fish and chips at the fish and chips joint- my mom will have the moussaka, thanks.

Except for holidays. On holidays our preferences run more toward the fiercely traditional, almost militant, idea of what turkey dinner should look like. Particularly if certain uncles are invited. There are no variations, no substitutions. For it to be truly pure, my grandmother, Kay, must prepare the bulk of it (or at least all of the things that aren’t just boiled vegetables. And they can only be boiled.)

Over the last couple of years my diet has presented a number of challenges to our holiday table that have really rocked the family to its core (I’m talking to you  Uncle G). The contents of the stuffing. The thickening of the gravy. The flake of the pumpkin pie crust. Changing them? What are we all doing here? What is the meaning of life? At first we were making all separate stuff just for me, to preserve the integrity of the Official Turkey Dinner for the sake of the rest of the family. But it was just too much work, so we had to switch everyone over. Sacred side dishes were now being altered on my behalf; suddenly no one was safe from my soggy stuffing.

But then my mom and I figured it out and it’s awesome again and nobody knows the difference.

I am a big fan of trying new recipes and cooking techniques. Especially when I’m entertaining. Unknown result + guests? So fun! I’m pretty sure Kay has actual nightmares about this. But seeing as I was in charge of Thanksgiving this year and was feeling emboldened by my Uncle Gord’s absence, and the fact there were only going to be 13 victims at the table, I thought I would switch it up and try some all-new recipes to see if maybe there were some traditional items that could be tweaked.

DSC_1364DSC_1368

My first ambition was to brine my turkey. This initial compromise of the main event itself, a bird I christened Ted Baker (after the host of my favourite food network show, Chopped) was immediately met with resistance from the team. At least three times, my dad begged “don’t do itttttttt,” when I mentioned my big plans. I finally asked him why and he said “… because my mom never did.” Huh. Leah took a more aggressive “NO, Al. NO.” but couldn’t give even a reason as legit as my father’s. I was partially stalled by this opposition, and by the fact that the brine required 72 hours soaking time (my personal hesitation was more to do with poisoning the whole family than breaking with tradition). I knew my grandma would just drop dead if she knew. She has poultry paranoia. But I was more curious than scared, and soon Ted was well on his way to brine-dom.

DSC_1370DSC_1383

The The Menu/Verdict:

Ted himself turned out very tasy. I didn’t notice a very different flavour in the meat from having soaked it with the vegetables/herb/seasoning mixture, but other people said they did. For this reason, I probably wouldn’t bother with the 3-day brine again, but I will do a dry brine next time or just a 24-hr one. What did make it worth it was that I got incredible gravy out of that thing. I was a little worried when Ted came out of the oven and it didn’t look like I was gonna have a ton of dark drippings to work with, but it was seriously flavourful. So I’d brine again just for that.

DSC_1386

Showtime!!! Unfortunately somewhere along the way I lost a bit of Ted’s skin.

DSC_1424Cornbread Stuffing with Bacon, Onions, and Apple (Food52)

The reason I chose it over the 4,350 other cornbread recipes on the internet is because the recipe for the actual cornbread didn’t include flour, so I knew that my final product would be the same as Food52’s. I was hesitant to rely on my old cornbread recipes because then I would need to sub out regular flours for gf and I didn’t want my little cornbread croutons disintegrating into mush once I combined them with all the other ingredients. It was pretty well received but if I made it again I would reduce the bacon and increase the apple. I was going for that Kraft Stove Top vibe and it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I missed my gran’s Irish potato/bread stuffing that we usually have so I whipped some up the next day to supplement our leftovers (potato stuffing is great if you’re a celiac, and if you’re not. But especially for celiacs. I wonder if it was invented because so many Irish people are celiac and they can’t have Stove Top? Not sure why I’m still so obsessed with boxed stuffing?)

DSC_1397DSC_1428

Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Chanterelles (Bon Appetit)

I was excited by the prospect of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon on our Thanksgiving table, so naturally I took it too far and decided to work it into another recipe in addition to the stuffing. These dirtballs (as my family calls them) were a big hit. I sautéed instead of the prescribed grilling, because I just had too many irons in the fire to be running outside tending the barbecue. The mushrooms were beautiful and an exotic addition to the meal. We never have mushrooms at Thanksgiving! Wild.

DSC_1412 DSC_1508

Cranberry-Orange Relish with Mint (Bon Appetit)

Those mavericks at Bon Appetit were just a little off with this one. Thankfully I made our traditional cranberry sauce to accompany the experimental one (I’m brave, but not brave enough to face the mob without the classic cranberry sauce that is a nonnegotiable requirement of any turkey dinner at my house.) I thought the relish got luke-warm to positive reviews (I always know when people refer to my cooking as “interesting” or “different” that I’ve missed), but next time I would rather put my energy towards elevating other basic dishes and stick with the recipe on the back of the bag for this one.

DSC_1465

Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan

Because this Thanksgiving was as much about Leah being home for the weekend as it was the holiday, I thought I’d do some fancy cauliflower in her honor. I broke down two heads and spread them out on a cookie sheet to roast away with some sliced onion, garlic cloves, olive oil, S&P, and parmesan cheese. Another unorthodox thanksgiving vegetable! She approved.

DSC_1442 DSC_1476

Old Standards

Rounding out the meal we had “Sweet Potato Supreme” (mashed sweet potatoes and yams with a topping of maple syrup, brown sugar, and toasted pecans), carrots, peas, mashed potatoes, and black olives (don’t know why these need to be on the table… they just do).

DSC_1486

DSC_1494Dessert: Pecan Pie with Cream Cheese Crust

This was delicious, however at this point we were all dying from such a heavy dinner. The filling was super rich and syrupy and sweet. I had to convert the crust into gf using my trusty Cup4Cup flour, and I thought it could have been a bit more pliable. The dough was very dry when I was rolling it out and I should have known to add more liquid, but I went along with it anyway and it still turned out okay. I would totally do this again and eat less dinner so I could fit more pie.

DSC_1445DSC_1510Bonus Desserts

Kay brought her classic pumpkin pie, which I probably still prefer to, well, pretty much any other food in the world. I also made one batch of buttermilk pecan fudge, which I’ve made several times and is indescribably good. Have you tried crack? It’s crack.

DSC_1362 DSC_1452

Success! Overall it was a success. Nobody died from trying new stuffing, or from eating a three-day-thawed turkey, for that matter. I just got my Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit and am already planning out my Christmas menu (stay tuned for a spatchcocked bird).

IMG_1242DSC_1466

Note: This was so much work! I think about my gran doing it single-handedly with 30+ people coming over… a huge undertaking. As we got closer to sitting down to eat, I had more and more things on the go that needed to be cooked and garnished and steamed and rested and carved. It was a bit of a circus. For this reason, I enlisted the help of Jaime and Daniel to take all photos of the meal and its prep for the blog. I hope you enjoyed their artistic, at times downright avant-garde eye for food photography.

Some of my favourites that didn’t quite make the storyline:

DSC_1405 DSC_1409 DSC_1440

Bloody Avocado Christmas Tragedy, or That Time a Woman Asked Me “How Old is Your Baby?”

A few nights after Christmas I almost cut my hand off. I took an avocado from the fridge, and it seemed quite firm. I cut it in half, and the meaty part was still hard, almost to the point where I thought it was not ready to use, but I needed guac for the turkey enchiladas I had made to accompany my dad’s ridiculous turkey fried rice. (We were having a cook-off to see who could make the best dish out of left-over turkey. I was in a rush to make the guac because his rice was already done, and my dish had just gone in the oven. Nevermind.)
I then proceeded to take my large chef’s knife and stab the pit so I could pull it out, thinking it too would be rock-hard. Instead I sliced clean through the thing and into my middle finger, and the blood actually sprayed out. Blood is a lot redder and runnier in real life than it is in my head. Like it is really bright and alarming. This was showcased by the Jackson Pollock-style work that was now being displayed across my parent’s white cabinets.
I knew it really hurt even though I couldn’t feel it yet, and apparently I made a little scream noise. My mom’s reaction did not disappoint: she instantaneously whipped around from what she was doing and assessed the situation as being far worse than it was, and then began to reassure me over and over again –in a tone that did not scream confidence- that I wasn’t going to die and that my finger was still attached to my hand (both points being very soothing to me, obviously, as I am her child).
My dad casually started to clean things up, placing things in their appropriate disposal container (His thoughts: Is a bloody cloth garbage or compost? The bloody avocado can definitely go in the compost… unless I can just cut the bloody part off and save the rest… hmm). He then in his own maddeningly calm, analytic, engineer-y way started to ask me “is it your hand? Or your finger? Which finger do you think it is?” At this point my mom and I had already done a little dance around the kitchen while yelling at each other, and she had wrapped my hand in several dishcloths, and my limp body was looking for somewhere to sit down somewhere so I could throw up from a sitting position. I was sure I was going to vomit, and was very focused on that. I was pretty sure it was irrelevant where the damage had been done, the plain fact of the matter being that I had stabbed myself worse than anyone had ever stabbed, full stop, and we had better hit the road don’t you think?
So we drove to the fancy new emergency clinic in Parksville (weird that the retirement capitol of the province has never had it’s own ER, right?), my dad driving uncharacteristically fast and my mom sitting in the back seat with me, still holding my arm up.
The triage nurse of course wanted to see what had happened, and so she unwrapped the bloody towels and then proceeded to pull the ring off of my finger right over THE GAPING WOUND. Which actually turned out to be about an inch long.
Anyone who knows me knows I have had my fair share of disgusting health problems, ranging in degrees of disgustingness and painfulness. People actually say things to me such as “you take everything in stride!” and “you always have your chin up!” or whatever. Those are people who know me. The people that I live with, that I am related to, will tell you that I am not a stoic person. And I did not appreciate this lady taking my ring off.
Apparently walking into the ER with a hand covered in blood doesn’t buy you any special privileges these days, either, since they made me wait TWO HOURS to see the doctor (to be fair, it is Parksville, and there was only one “doctor” in the house).
In that time these things happened:

-My dad played on his ipad
-A guy I worked with (and by worked with, I mean like had worked with within the past ten days) was also in the waiting room and pretended like he didn’t know me
-a baby got a cast on her arm, was braver than me
-a lady who may or may not have come to emergency to see a doctor to address her mental health issues asked me how old my baby was (pointing to my hand that was wrapped up in a bloody towel and still being held up in the air by my mom).

In the end, my “puncture wound” got glued back together by a very uppity man, I was given a tetanus shot and 8 days worth of antibiotics, and I still can’t feel the tip of the middle finger of my right hand. As soon as I cut my finger it had gone numb, and I told my parents this, and then the nurse, and then the doctor. I continued to tell everyone I met in the following days, because the feeling never came back and it was gross. I thought it was dying. My mom reassured me 495 times, saying “it will come back, don’t worry, the feeling will come back…ALEX IT WILL COME BACK.”
Until one day when we were shopping for makeup in Superstore and my finger was really sore, almost like I had burnt it. I told my mom I thought it was the nerves trying to regrow or start up again or something, and she said “oh good! I didn’t think the nerve would actually heal.” and then she laughed and laughed and put q-tips in her basket.

The end.

Steak Quesadillas for Impressing People that Aren’t Shallow

Steak Quesadillas for Impressing People that Aren't Shallow

If you want to really impress someone with a meal that doesn’t necessarily look super martha-gourmet or exotic but is actually a taste explosion, make these quesadillas.

STEAK QUESADILLAS WITH SALSA THAT IS QUITE SIMPLY, THE BEST COMBINATION OF FOODS THAT I KNOW OF

1) First make your salsa: chop up a ripe avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and cilantro; combine it with black beans, corn, sea salt, and lime juice. Done.

2) Take a couple of sirloin or flank steaks and cut them into pieces that are about an inch thick. Brown in an oiled frying pan for a couple minutes, then take it off the heat while it is still pretty rare. Let it rest on a cutting board for five minutes.

3) Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Lay tortillas in a single layer on a cookie sheet covered in parchment (I use “Food for Life” brand brown rice tortillas). In a small bowl, mix a glob of mayo with the best salsa you happen to have in your fridge (something with chipotle would be good), and then spread this over the tortillas. Just do this without thinking about it.

4) Cut your little steak pieces into even skinnier little steak pieces. Grate up a whole pile of monterey jack cheddar, and chop up a bit of red onion. Cover your tortillas with these items like you would a pizza. Place a second tortilla on top of each of your little pizzas (rub a little olive oil on the outer-facing side of this tortilla for a nice tanned effect). Bake in the oven for like ten minutes. I don’t recommend trying to flip them over halfway.

5) Cut tortillas into quarters and serve with amazing salsa concoction (and sour cream, if you must). Win friends and influence people.

photo copy 12photo copy 14

My Fav Pasta (right now)

My Fav Pasta (right now)Right now I am addicted to smoked salmon. I went a long time without even knowing that I liked it, and then became celiac and thought I couldn’t have it, and then my mom (bless her) searched around and called different companies until she found one that didn’t use soy sauce (Hardy Buoys is g-free, if you care), and since then I’ve been eating it non-stop.

Around the same time I made this salmon discovery, I also discovered that if you cook super-ripe mashed tomatoes (I put them in my magic bullet), white onion chopped really fine, and a lot of butter together, you get the best sauce ever. Butter is what I put in things so my family thinks I’m a good cook. Butter literally sends signals to my brain that make me happy. Depending on how much sauce I’m trying to make, I just keep adding chunks of butter (side note: if you’re trying to make excellent spaghetti sauce, whip your tomatoes, throw a half onion and a big chunk of butter in there, and put the lid on for half an hour or so then throw the onion away. You won’t be sorry.) I never said this was pasta for your health.

photo copy 10

So for lunch the other day, I made my dad this pasta. All my garlic was sick and old, so the garlic shown in the above cutting board picture depicts about a quarter of what I would normally use. This was fine with old Mur, who hates garlic anyway. I sauteed my onions and garlic in a big glug of olive oil (sometimes I magic-bullet my onions and garlic too, because I’m a very busy person), and then added my chopped cherry tomatos (just happened to have nice ones, normally use big old regular ones). I cooked that down a bunch and then threw in some lemon zest, just for added zest (use this at your discretion, I love lemon). When my pasta is just finished cooking I add my smoked salmon to the sauce. You don’t have to chop it up very small because it kind of falls apart when you cook it. It’s so freakin good. Then I add a teaspoon or nine of red pepper flakes, but only if its for my dad (who was born with the tastebuds of a ninety year old chain-smoker). So that was our casual lunch. Have I mentioned I’m unemployed?

GetAttachment

After that I went for a swim.