Sexing up Star Anise

I had a pretty little jar of star anise in my magnetic spice containers for heaven knows how long. I was sure it was mostly for looking pretty, or maybe mulled wine in December. How wrong I was. The secret is this: star anise does amazing things to any meat with a good deal of fat in it.

This recipe is a dinner time savior. It’s easy, flexible and has a wonderful, glamorous spiciest too it. While it contains mostly flavors that would be categories as Asian, it somehow does not come off that way at all in the finished product.

The clincher is the carrots. Just for a little backstory, when I was growing up, I had an Auntie Norine who went to discos and traveled and I thought was very glamorous. I remember me night she had a dinner party where she did these carrots in butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. I though she was mad, but the way they tasted was pure 80s solid gold dancer.

When you get everything roasted together with the chicken schmaltz and 5 spice, you get a hint of what those cinnamon carrots taste like, but maybe in a slightly more modern way. This is the easiest path to winter food Valhalla.

Sticky Chicken Legs With 5 Spice Carrots

Marinade

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sambal oelek (or more if you like)
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp dried ginger
1 cinnamon stick, crumbled
2 star anise, crumbled

4 chicken legs
8 or so carrots, cut into sticks
About a tsp of Chinese 5 spice powder

Stick all the marinate ingredients and chicken in a large ziptop plastic bag, squidge everything around and stick into the fridge with a plate under it for at least a few hours, but up to two days will do nothing but good to it.
(Protip: you can also bung everything straight into the freezer, flat. When it thaws later it marinades itself beautifully.)
Lay chicken on a double layer foil lined baking tray that had been oiled and cook in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. Half way though cooking time, add in the carrots. Sprinkle over the 5 spice powder and give everything a toss to coat the carrots in the cooking juices and spice.
It’s done when everything is bronzed and crispy skinned.

Might I also recommend using this same marinade on some nice pork ribs? Thought I could twist your arm.

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Still here…

I’m still here! I’m alive! Alive and reading my stats from the last year. I find it amazing and positively blush-worthy that after all this time, and all my neglect, people still find this blog and read these articles.
I spent a little time, a year I think in my twenties, working at an SEO company and ever sine I get a kick out of webstats and charts of individual impressions and other general web dorkyness. It’s very encouraging to see all the visits and clicks, and from so many countries! Hello Australia and England BTW, I love you too!
I did have to come on and update my “About Me” section as there was the business of removing the heterosexual life partner. Not that I’m no longer heterosexual (far from it!), but I think I’ll just leave my love life a little more on vague side. I’ll just say, gosh darn it, that i am very happy.
I have some articles coming up very soon. I’ve discovered the best way to cook a chicken, the very best apple pie recipe possibly ever in the world, and have a few choice words to say about food budgets and how we are being culturally strong-armed into spending way too much money on food.
So, as nobody says anymore because they have Netflix, stay tuned.

Juice Feasting

It is winter. February is drizzling on and on and I am trapped between Christmases exuberant feasting and the cheap Valentines Day chocolate to be sold off in approximately 3 days. I am puffy. I am pale. I am a hairs breadth from going back to the gym.

I am going back on a juice fast.

I decided to try juice fasting last spring after watching Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead . I went for a few months drinking juice all day and eating real food pretty much only ay night. I felt really good. I dropped a few pounds, but not as many as I was hoping. I glowed. And then I completely and totally lost interest.

The problem with liking food and trying any diet-type thing is that I feel a bit like a traitor. I thought, how incredibly boring it was turning every conversation into a blow by blow of what’s going into my mouth. This is something other girls do. I don’t want to sit around vegan raw food restaurants talking about the latest diet I’m on. Who wants to hear about that?

Hmmm. Who wants to hear about everything going into other peoples mouths.

Food writers. Oh god.

Because really, what is the difference between taking a picture of a pie or a veggie smoothie and whoring it all over Facebook. They are both going on and on about the mundane business of eating.

So I’m at my local market this evening buying a comical amount of produce and a pack of Du Maurier distinct regulars, and the sales girl looks at my tomatoes and goes “Doing a lot of baking? or…”

“oh, I’m starting a juice fast in the morning.” I reply, a bit embarrassed. Why did I have to buy cigarettes with all this? I look like a Yaletown oxymoron. I should have bought a box of wine and a round of Plan B, I would look like less of an asshole.

But she is now my new Bestest Mate. “OMG I do a juice feast once a month! I super love it!” etc etc, something something, glowing skin, etc. Did she just call it a juice FEAST? It’s noisy in here, but I’m pretty sure she said Feast. How little is the average woman eating when eating pureed kale for days is described as a Feast?

Look, I recognize that as someone who self-describes as a “food writer” (its more exciting
than office administrator) I am supposed to be enjoying the fecundity of the culinary arts daily! Every minute should be a romp through tastes and textures, drowning in butter, damn to all the haters. But fuck, how people can eat all day, for a living even, and not look like their trying to shoplift a sack of potting soil under their top all day is beyond me.

Fat may be a feminist issue, but damn it, I feel like I’m made out of packing peanuts at the moment. So excuse me if I go miserably chug down ginger-apple-beet juice for a few weeks.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be on the toilet.

Getting Fabulous.

War and Cheese

After a particularly bad run-in with a very sad Mac and Cheese this week, I feel I should speak up. I won’t say where, it’s irrelevant anyways as its all bad Mac and Cheese at the moment.

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. This city is ruining Mac and Cheese.

We have loads of places to go now if you’re in the mood for comfort food. It would seem that when people need to treat themselves, it’s not necessarily to fancy steak house fare anymore. Complete diet rejection would never be done with something as Atkins as a steak au poivre anyways. As far as I’m concerned if you absolutely have to feel better though food, its fried chicken, corn bread, ribs, burgers, and Mac and Cheese. Sometimes all at the same time.

Now we have two trends at work; Comfort, and the Do One Thing place. I just made this phrase up, The Do One Thing Place – I don’t know how else to describe places like The Mac Shack, Beard Papa, a million different Ramen places – they just make one thing, with the assertion is they do it well. From a business standpoint you can’t miss here. From a practical standpoint, you have a logistical problem.
Comfort food is actually notoriously fussy. There is a reason why so many foods that we crave from childhood were usually cooked by mom, or grandma; they loved you enough to put the time and energy into making these kinds of dishes. Comfort foods often have long cook times, many ingredients, not to mention requiring knack and skill.

The Do One Thing Place is good for business in that you don’t really need to train staff that extensively. They learn one thing, and repeat constantly. It’s a factory, and a system that works. Macdonald did not get to be a business with $22.8 billion in revenues dealing with individualist chefs with creative control.

So what happens when food which requires love and attention is combined with a less than enthusiastic kitchen staff with no prep time and major production pressures? Disaster.

I recently ate (picked at more like) a Macaroni and Cheese side that was just buttered macaroni, in a dish, with some cheese on top, melted under a grill. It was a lost in translation moment. Yes, the name is just Macaroni and Cheese, but there is a little more to it. But this would require the kitchen to know how to make béchamel, and if that skill is absent, I can guarantee that nobody back in the kitchen has a clue about what going on. Why should they care either? For all intents and purposes, they have delivered what it says on the package.

We’ll see what happens to the new stream of Do One Thing comfort food factory outlets popping up. My guess is that either our taste for what mum used to make will go the way of the fast food hamburger, or they will be outmoded with the likes of salad bars and drive-ins.

What will they think of next?

Fusion. What was at first such an exciting word in the world of food has earned a decidedly bad reputation. “Fusion” used to mean daring combination of Asian and classical elements. Now seeing it on a menu, or even worse, the name of the very restaurant, seems to signal to the diner overly elaborate hack versions of dishes that everyone was perfectly fine with in the first place. At its best, fusion can be a celebration of creativity and a well-traveled chef. At its very worst its a flashy pipe dream that disrespect the ingredients and the cultures it sprang from in the first place.
You can eat almost anything in Vancouver . In fact its very diversity makes it one of the best places on the planet to eat. However the restaurant business is a very fickle one. At one time making the menu “fusion” seemed to be insurance against culinary whims. How can your menu grow flat if at any given time you can just combine whatever trendy ingredient is to hand, stuff it into a gyoza wrapper and call it a day? Well of course it’s gone out of style, just like every other attempt at menu immortality. Think Retro Food, Nouvelle Cuisine, Salad Bars.
So how can a restaurant win this battle for hearts, minds and tastebuds? The answer at the moment seems to be focusing on one ingredient. Think the proliferation if Pho, taco trucks, and cheese specialists. Instead of seeing how fancy the chef can be with every possible ingredient under the sun, there seems to be more street cred in being wildly knowledgeable about waffles, for instance. The kitchen is becoming less of a general contractor, more of a specialist.
Perhaps this is an offshoot of the Asian influence whence all this diversification came from in the first place. Think Japanese soba noodle “sobarias”, or Eastern China’s soup dumplings. When you show fanatical devotion to getting one thing right, you get fanatical consumer loyalty to that one beautifully done item.
Will we see an end to chefs using us as guinea pigs? Hopefully soon. In the meantime, rest assured that if any of our newest and most popular places around town are any indication, “loyalty to craft” is our beautiful new buzzword for the year.

Boring

Having a really hard time thinking about stuff to write about at the moment. I know that that’s the dumbest thing to write on a blog ever. It’s the blogging equivalent of “Loving the Sunshine!” as a FB status. Just to let you know, I haven’t gone away, I’m just way overfed at the moment.

Reading a really interesting book called The Compass of Pleasure by. David J. Linden. I suppose in a nutshell it’s about why certain things feel so good and why we can get addicted to them. I’m very interested in this as some sort of insight as to why I wake up on a Saturday morning thinking of nothing but what would be the perfect cola flavored cup cake. I’m sure most people think about other things immediately upon waking.
So if I can figure out why I’m so obsessed with food maybe I can eat less of it? The reading continues, so lets see what happens.

Victoria: Waffles, British Things and Fish

Spent the Easter long weekend in beautiful Victoria, BC. We stayed at the Fairmont Empress, which has always been a little dream of mine, almost nothing else I love more than really expensive hotels.  We booked through BC Ferries Holidays, and all in all it was a pretty good deal with no booking problems. Recommend.

The first thing we did upon getting to Vancouver Island was the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney. Very cool Jules Verne type doorway that does this sort of fake airlock thingy, but all in all not that many fish or displays. Maybe better for kids? But unfortunately, not really very much to it at all. Do not recommend.

After checking into the hotel we immediately found the  Wannawafle cart located directly by the waterfront in front of the Empress. These things are amazing. It’s a totally different things than what you are expecting a waffle to taste like. More like a super fragrant, caramel crunchy baked good. Amazing. stopped and had a chat with a nice gent on a bike hanging out by the cart who turned out to be Renaat Marchand;  founder, Dragons Den celebrity, and passionate advocate of all things waffle. What an awesome guy! ran into him the next day at his other location at Market square on Johnson St. the next day too and had a nice long chat with him, his business partner and I think their marketing director. I could seriously eat one of these waffles daily folks. Lets hope they open up a cart on the Yaletown Waterfront ASAP. Facebook them here and sign up to their twitter here to keep on top of when and where you can get you hands on one of these babies. Could not recommend any higher.

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After taking in the Royal BC Museum (good!) and the attached IMAX (an IMAX!) we headed out for some super bar food at The Bard and Banker. The waitress was even so kind as to substitute one of their pulled pork sliders in my sea sliders along with the fresh grilled fish and fried oyster slider. My word. Dylans lamb burger was phenomenal as well. The band was just warming up while we were there, but they seemed like they would have been pretty good. Just for TMI, now the boyfriend wants me to get a kilt. Damn you hot pub waitresses giving my boyfriend ideas! Recommend.

The next day was all about poking around the bizarre little nooks and crannies of Fan Tan Alley, shopping, and picking up some really interesting illegal cola flavored silver balls from The English Sweet Shop. The punk-rock counter attendant was ever so helpful and shared my sentiments on PG Tips (best British tea) and the impending royal wedding (complete bollocks). Recommended only if you, like me, feel the need to spend $9.45 on Schweppes Bitter Lemon.

Getting my Fish and Chip on while in Victoria was a big priority, and they had to come from Red Fish Blue Fish on Wharf St. The line-up at this place is almost as legendary as the fish; when we got there at 1pm it was as long as the pier itself. I’m not sure exactly how long we waited but during the wait I was able to:

  • Go to starbucks, get two drinks, and walk back
  • Read Bigfoot: I Not Dead
  • Smoke cigarette
  • Meet many dogs
  • Change mind on order 4 times
  • Get despondent

It’s an impressive line-up. However the Haddock and Chips is some epic greasy goodness. My boyfriends first time having fish and chips and now at least he’s starting to understand why anyone would eat fish in the first place. The Tempura Pickles are either the creation on a pregnant woman or a genius. Or a pregnant genius. It’s the kind of thing that Cookie Monster would now be forced to call a “sometimes food”. Worth the wait, I just hope next time Flying Pig shows up. Recommend.

Dinner was not as pleasant. We went to Prime Steakhouse. Here’s the funny thing about steakhouses; they think they have inherited some sort of class factor simply because they serve steak. We turned up to a nearly empty restaurant without a reservation and were told “oh, we probably can’t get you a table until 8:15-8:30.”. I thought, “really? ok. Hey, what time is it anyways? should we go then? stay?”. It was awkward to say the least. The hostess put us in the lounge, we ordered a drink and then a waitress immediately sat us at a table maybe 2 minutes later. Of course, because the place was not in any way lacking in tables.

Our first waitress was dressed like a bohemian (in a steakhouse?) and listed off a list of specials no person could ever remember. I hate long lists of specials. I get distracted and start feeling awkward about blankly smiling at foodie buzz words.

We were put in the restaurant section equivalent of purgatory. Right by the front door at a 6-top, sitting side by side, facing the door. I think eating in this formation alone could ruin a first date. I think also this section didn’t actually belong to any server as we were passed between the English-accented bartender and boho-girl. No one seemed to know who was taking care of us, and at the end of the day, they didn’t communicate it between themselves to find out. Ordering took ages. The food was fine, really good actually. It had just obviously been ready and ignored under heat lamps for ages before it got to out table. Uhg, and they do that really pretentious thing with the bread too, where they bring a basket but just give you one tiny little roll. Leave the basket, if your going to forget about our table anyway. Our soups had really nice flavor, but had skins from sitting. Our mains were fine. A dessert menu was brought eventually but then left for, oh, maybe 20 minutes. At that point we could either give up any chance at the rest of the evening in the hopes of ever seeing a dessert, or go. I always get the giggles when things go this bad in restaurants. I feel like I’m being stitched up, or doing an roll play in “how no to impress you guests and guarantee a shit tip” The British waitress finally noticed, came over, visibly realized she fucked up. “Sorry I took so long! So do you still…” “Just the bill please”.

Oh, and looming over my boyfriend while he used to pin pad to pay, to watch how little tip you were getting? Klassy. Our most expensive meal of the trip and the most disappointing. This is why people don’t care about steakhouses anymore. Do I have to mention that I do not recommend?

Sunday Brunch was spent happily at Floyd’s Diner on Yates St. My Eggs Bennie was really good, not at all heavy or greasy, with really nice ham. The hash browns they do are really nice too, somewhere between a home-fry and a potato chip. Comfy, good value, really tasty, and not at all the wait that we had been warned about on Yelp, even on Easter Sunday. I particularly liked the baby pictures of the staff blown up and displayed on the wall. Makes you feel like the staff are really proud to work there and think of it as a second home. Recommend.

After all this gluttony we visited The Willow Stream Spa at The Empress. To have any last traces of stress soaked and massaged out of our overfed little bodies. Really liked all the nice little touches, like having your own scrubby sponge and razor available in all the showers, lots of tea and water available everywhere to stay hydrated, and lots of encouragement to stay and relax and  use the pools and saunas. Our massages were excellent and they made my massage-virgin boyfriend feel at ease.  They almost messed up our bill, but oh well. at that point it was hard to care.

The ferry ride home was smooth sailing, and I was glad to get home to my pug, who our friends had been watching, and apparently had been farting non-stop for 3 days. That’s my boy.

Well, peace out and word to your moms! Hope you all had a great Easter!