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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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).

My First Thanksgiving: A Novella

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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:

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Float On Bakeshop on Fraser

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I think this is my new favourite place in Vancouver. It is so cute and I am so jealous of it. There are weekends when Daniel and I are trying to think of a place we could go for brunch where I could have a nice waffle and it’s just a pointless search (see the post “Deacon’s Corner on Main”). It’s particularly frustrating because there are so many good brunch places we could go if I didn’t have the stupid celiac thing to think of. However, my prayers have been answered in Float On. It has pretty dishes and décor; lots of tables and fresh copies of the Georgia Straight so we can read the Savage Love column to each other; and you get your tea in a little pot with a real teacup. The portions are dainty but that’s what I like about it. Also happens to be what Daniel hates about it. I think it’s some nice competition for Gluten Free Epicurean, my other favourite place that’s just down the street. On Saturday we even saw Henrik Sedin’s wife and little boy chillin out and eating cookies there with some other babies. Best of all they make delicious, adorable waffles and crepes that remind me of being in Paris when I was 19 and carefree and ate every flour-based food I could get my hands on.

How to Have the Most Fun You Can at the PNE

How to Have the Most Fun You Can at the PNE

When I got to Vancouver a couple of weekends ago, I was super lazy and felt like we probably weren’t gonna leave the basement to stop watching The Wire until I had to go back to the island. And then Daniel’s friend O’Shea gave us passes to the PNE! And the PNE has Super Dogs! So we had the best day ever.
Right off the bat, as soon as we walked through the gates, we were approached by a girl selling some kind of lactose free beverage who wanted Daniel to ride a bike in order to turn on a blender. Then we drank the weird smoothie he made by riding the bike really fast. So we were off to a hot start.

The first thing we ate (after watching some cute sheep get wrangled for their fuzz and stumbling upon these amazing drumming kids, seriously, go to the PNE and find them) was a hot fudge sundae (me) and an “elephant ear” (Daniel). My ice cream was weird and grainy, and the fudge left a nice coating of lard in my mouth. Can’t speak for Daniel, but the elephant ear thing looked fairly ridiculous. Giant flat churro thing covered in whipped cream and other stuff, got all over him, he had to sit down to manage it. Your average carnival-y food.

Then we went to see the Super Dogs and got some super salty popcorn, likely covered in gluten-y seasoning (very suspect popcorn, worse than movie theatre popcorn). All I can say about those dogs is that I loved every single one of them and they are SO SMART. They could jump about 9 feet, and dance to weird electro-country, and play a game of hockey that was actually musical chairs (there was even a Zamboni dog that came to take away a “chair” each round).
I had not been to the PNE in approximately 20 years, which, besides being very depressing (I can actually refer to events that took place over two decades ago and know that I was talking and walking around), also left me so impressed with all of the entertainment. We saw the Genghis Khan exhibit, which was thankfully supplemented with commentary by Daniel, who had recently listened to a ten-hour podcast about the Mongols. Don’t know what else to say about that besides that it was both very interesting (the exhibit and his commentary) and very strange (Daniel’s ability to listen to ten-hour podcasts about Mongols). We also sat through a live episode of Family Feud (needless to say, hilarious), and watched some little professional hip-hop dancer kids, saw the prize house, and walked through the weird building full of shopping-channel products.
By this time, we needed to find something more substantial to eat, because Daniel has this thing about feeling like he hasn’t eaten all day until he’s had something with meat in it. Meaning he’d technically been fasting since the day before. Lucky for him there was a RIB-OFF.

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These guys meant business. All of the cooks were just glistening with sweat and hovering over these giant grills all day, and the prices were the same across the board, so every booth could only entice customers by being the absolute most delicious. We went from booth to booth looking for the most competent BBQ-ers, asking around for gluten-free and inspecting for pork-to-bun contact (via the tongs). We finally picked a line-up, settling on the guys that made their own sauce and knew where it was manufactured. We chose a combo of brisket and ribs, with a side of potatoes to wash it all down. It was way messier than the elephant ear. They leave out industrial rolls of paper towels, but they should really just have those showers that they have at the beach where you can rinse your feet.

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Thanks again O’Shea!!! You’re a gentleman and a scholar.

Split-Decision Pie

Split-Decision Pie

The other day I got a box in the mail from amazon, and I didn’t know what it was because I didn’t order anything (VERY exciting). Turns out it was the best belated-birthday present from Daniel: the split-decision pie plate! I was so surprised, even though he had asked for my postal code like four days earlier. I am forgetful, which leads to more joy in my life I think. I am not a patient baker, so rolling out the pastry was an issue (ended up just pressing dough into the bottom of the plate). And then when it was cooking the blackberry side cracked open and blackberry lava started burning on the bottom of the oven and smoke started coming out of the oven door, so I thought my pie was burning. Then I thought there was gonna be a fire and I had to phone my mom. But it was still very delicious.

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I Still Eat a Lot

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It has been a month since WAC was last updated, and this is probably misleading to some people. It probably makes people think I am on the straight-and-narrow now, not risking my health by eating out all the time, and maybe I have even adopted some semblance of a healthy diet. All of that is false, the truth is I have eaten maybe more crap than ever this month, and mostly it has come from restaurants. Off the top of my head, May has consisted of:

The Sandbar (again): My grad dinner. Was glorious. Ate calamari (truth), and some kind of seafood pizza that I split with my Gran. Really excellent crust.

Dario’s (in the Italian Cultural Centre): Daniels grad dinner. Had very delicious risotto, accommodating (albeit mostly non-English) staff. Was surprised that they had rice pasta, which changed my whole night right when I was about to order (I hate when that happens, by the way. You are all prepared to try something different because you are in this situation where nothing on the menu is described in english and you are pretty resigned to being doomed by gluten any way you look at it so you decide on some veal because hey, when in Rome, and then right when you are about to announce your typically-gluten-free, meaty, adventurous choice the waiter informs you that they have rice pasta! And then you are back to the drawing board because you can’t not order the pasta once you know it’s there.) Anyway, I had the pasta with some spicy-tomato seafood business, and it was very nice. Still wondering about the veal, though.

P.F. Chang’s (Seattle): Don’t even need to comment. Everyone knows how I feel about it. We ordered 6 dishes for 4 people, ate it all. My dad tried to order 6 desserts.

Mexico Cantina (Seattle): Again, no comment. Ate approx. 28 corn tortillas if you pieced them all back together.

The Shady Rest (Qualicum): There are a lot of gluten free things on this menu, so it is hard to narrow it down and pick something when everything sounds good, but eventually you pick something, and it is average. But it is hard to resist the patio on a beautiful sunny day. I had a half rack of ribs with vegetables and mashed potatoes (for lunch). Whatever.

Kaya Malaysia(n?): Better than Banana leaf. Get the ginger beef thingy.

So you get the point. This is just a sampling. There was also a Las Margs somewhere in there. And a stop at the Templeton. And Fairwinds. And Delicados. Assume that I had nachos at most of these places and then I don’t have to write about them.

The lack of photos for all of this is due to the fact that despite my continued unemployment, May has been hella busy. I moved. I graduated. Daniel graduated. My best cousin Meg got engaged. My girl Tawnya got engaged. My girl Kelsey continues to be engaged. A bunch of other people got engaged (I know that none of these engagements actually involve any actions on my part but it’s been a lot to digest. Particularly Megan.) I helped some sick people vote. I went to Seattle with my fam. I painted my nails. I don’t know how I’m ever gonna find the time to get a real job and be a person.

Mac Shack on West Blvd.

Mac Shack on West Blvd.

This is a picture of the single-portion lobster mac-n-cheese made with quinoa pasta that Daniel and I SHARED and did not finish, and not because it was not delicious, but because it was SO RICH. He did not pull his weight because there were supposed to be peas and there weren’t (the service is not what you would refer to as “fine dining”… when we ordered and I specified we wanted the gluten free version the server said “gluten free…pasta?!” I tried not to be scared). To be fair, we were eating at around 4 oclock so our bodies weren’t sure if it was lunch or dinner.