Friday, March 27, 2015

Veggie Lasagne with a side of THG




image courtesy of www.troll.me

Oh lasagne, you fattening, high carb, sloppy, messy, awesomely tasty dish. Where would we be without you in our lives? It's tasty origins began in Naples, Italy, but it has become a regular part of our North American food language. It's right up there with cake and pizza. But the best thing about lasagne, is it's recipe versatility.

There are so many different versions of this dish - particularly online, that it's overwhelming. Despite the recipe overabundance, I have to yet to taste a lasagne dish that did not push all the right food buttons.

All those noodles, smothered in a rich tomato sauce, loaded with ground meat and various cheeses. All good. All very, very good. You're thinking about it now, aren't you. You can literally feel your stomach pushing hard against the Spanx right? Now imagine that same dish with a meat substitute. Did you grab your heart or shrug with indifference?

I grabbed my heart it must be told, because my cooking brain is still sadly stuck in 'meatville'. Realizing there are actual tasty - and please let me emphasize the word 'tasty', meat substitutes that are not only worth talking about but can also make a veggie lasagna recipe pop? Well, I'm still shocked. I shouldn't be, but I am.

Now I know that I'm guilty of making a few, under the cuff, comments about vegetarians and vegans, but it must be said it was and still is done in jest. It's all in the name of good fun. Vegans and vegetarians are sometimes a tiny bit overzealous about their beliefs, thus making them ripe for parody that it can't be helped.

Despite the jokes, truth be told there are some tasty vegetarian recipes floating around out there. Give me Dhal and Id die a happy man. But I'll bet you might be wondering what's with all the current vegetarian love from a blog that rarely, if ever, steps down off the pro meat ledge?

The answer is simple, and we'll call him THG. It doesn't matter what the acronym stands for, but needless to say, he has become surprising and quick influence on this hungry man, and will no doubt be popping up in future articles and postings. It was THG who told me about a meat substitute he uses for his lasagne recipe. I was incredulous as I often am whenever the words 'meat substitute' pops up in a conversation. But you see friendly readers, I may have been wrong to do that.
The product below was the meat substitute I recently tried:


image courtesy of Stephen Wilson

I am putting my hand on my heart and truthfully stating that I ate this product on my own volition. I know I can be such a pain in the ass when it comes to food. If I happened to see something like this product in the grocery, I would immediately walk past it. My proud food brain denying the fact that anything that claims to be something it isn't (A meat substitute you claim? Pshaw), doesn't deserve to be noticed. I really must be more careful about that now and in the future.

When added to the tomato sauce, it was actually quite tasty. Same texture, same taste, you would barely even notice it wasn't meat but an actual meat substitute. Now keep in mind that a significant portion of the flavour may have been buried in the sauce that THG created, but I did taste a piece of it on its own, and I can't think of a single thing to criticize other than the usual and ubiquitous voice in my head yelling "but it's not meat!"

And at the end of all this, guess who decided to visit me today? Miss Irony, that's who. With all this talk of substitute meat, my lovely friend Hannah W. just notified me that my order of steaks and ground meat from her family farm is on it's way to my kitchen.

Ah well, sit back and let your eyes do the eating. This is THGs Lasagne, pre and post-baked.



image courtesy of Stephen Wilson

Looks good doesn't it.
If you like what you see, please email me and I'll be happy to provide his recipe!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Chase restaurant: A review




image courtesy of www.thechasetoronto.com

I can't remember the last time I felt compelled to write a restaurant review for the blog. It wasn't until my dinner companion and foodie extraordinaire Jamie G. mentioned that she'd love to be a restaurant reviewer, that it reminded me that I do have this blog and I've done reviews before, so why not now? I suppose one of the reasons why I haven't provided reviews as often as I'd like on the blog, is because there is often a very fine line between being knowledgable and happy to share food news, and being an insufferable prick when you're talking/criticizing someone else's food creations. Thankfully, the prick label hasn't landed on me. At least I don't think it has. Anyway, lets talk food.

Have you ever walked into a restaurant and just felt instantly comfortable? That's The Chase.
Do you recall the last time you've encountered a restaurant whose staff are so welcoming, knowledgable,and prompt? Again, that's The Chase.
And when you leave, you're content and full, but not grossly so - until:
a) You run to try and catch the subway and realize you really are much more full than originally thought; and
b) That run makes you realize either you or the eliptical are not doing the job of getting you in shape? That was the final thought after an evening at The Chase.

Jokes aside, it truly was a pleasure to dine at the restaurant.

One of the main attractions of the restaurant, is it's seafood selection. I was re-introduced - after a rather long and angry hiatus, to oysters. Thank God Jamie practically force fed them to me because it would have been heartbreaking to have missed out. The last time I had oysters I was so sick, I could feel my stomach rumbling - and not in a good way, at the mere reading of it on a menu. The creamy smooth East West oysters we inhaled at The Chase more than made up for that unfortunate past oyster incident. It just went gliding down my throat so silky - smooth and absolutely delicious. I also had the Octopus with salsa verde, mergues sausages and olives. It was good, but I must admit, when the waiter originally asked how many oysters we wanted, I should cancelled the octopus and told him to give us every oyster in the kitchen.

For dinner, I chose the red snapper special with ham hocks and a rich crème fraîche sauce. The fish was light and delicately cooked, but I wasn't thrilled with the ham hocks, or the sauce for that matter. It's a somewhat questionable side to begin with, but these pieces were far too chewy and over cooked, which would explain it's overall tough texture. And I only wished the sauce was better presented to make it a bit more appetizing, rather than splashed it all over the fish. I'm kind of a stickler for presentation. Of course, if you visit previous hungry man blog posts, you'll note that my christmas cookies are certainly no winner for the cover of Bon Appetite, but I digress.

My dinner companion had the black cod in fresh herb broth. Her only complaint was that it was a bit oily, but overall the flavours of the fish and broth just blended together nicely. We shared an order of shoestring potato frites, with garlic and truffle oil aioli. So in other words, we both had fish and chips. It was paired with a very dry, crisp (and recommended by our incredible waiter) Falanghina Dei Feudi Di San Gregorio white wine from the Campania region of Italy. It really was the perfect companion to the seafood.

I'll say this straight-away: I am not someone who enjoys taking pictures of food in restaurants. I am well aware that loads of people happily do it. There are social media sites devoted to it, but that doesn't make it right. It's just that for me, I compare it to staring at strangers having sex, which is probably using a graphic, but well understood example. It's happening, and then you decide that perhaps your friends, family or other strangers may enjoy this, so you decide to record it. I know for me I'd be completely uncomfortable doing it, yet I can't turn away. If the act itself is already seared into my memory, do I really need to have a permanent record of it?

As it turns out, sadly I do. Sometimes.

This is the picture of the dessert. Please click here to view it.

It is lime curd, layered in an angel food cake with coconut cream & toasted marshmallow icing. Read that description again for the full, mouthwatering effect, then look at the picture again. It was such an amazing dessert, created by executive pastry Chef Leslie Steh of Colette Grand Cafe in Toronto. Thank God Jamie shared that cake with me, because at that point in the meal, if I inhaled it myself I'd be rolling out of the restaurant. Not that I would have minded eating it on my own. Yes, it was that moist, and tasty, and just so incredibly eyes rolled to the back of your head good you want more. I am an admitted dessert addict, and when something that amazing hits my mouth after what was already an incredible meal? You sincerely don't want to leave.

But leave you must, and I'm here to tell you to try and add The Chase to your potential restaurant bucket list. Oh, and make sure you bring plenty of money because it's not cheap. It is a gorgeous room, and on a Wednesday night, surprisingly quiet. Loads of corporate types abound, but it is not a place where you would ever be intimidated by the clientelle, or the menu for that matter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Time and remembrance




Robert John Robinson

Loving partner of Stephen Wilson. Son, brother, uncle and cousin of the Robinson and Wilson families. 'Bunty' to his close friends. 'John' to colleagues and companions.

August 17th, 1971 - March 15, 2008

Not a day goes by that I don't think of you. Time has been a healer, but the love and memories never fade.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When it all falls apart: Media Relations and the Toronto Maple Leafs



Image provided by o.canada.com

The picture above provides an uncomfortable, yet accurate image of what it feels like to be a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Leafs) hockey team.

I'm going off the topic of food in this post, so prepare yourself. This is all about media and public relations, and sports. With that said, I think I may have lost about half of my readers. That's ok, this is still within my professional capacity to address and dammit, it needs addressing.

But before I begin to blab about the latest Leafs media and public relations disaster, I want to wish Steve Keogh, and Ian Meagher, the very best of luck. Why? They are currently working in what has genuinely become a 'knife in the throat' role of having to manage the media and public relations in general for the Maple Leaf Organization.

I will state straight-away that I am a Leafs fan. I care about the team. I have also lost count of the times I wanted to shake my hands of the team and everything that comes with it. But I can't do it. Like most kids who grew up in Ontario, I was raised loving this ridiculous, stupid spectacle of a team, and have seen and supported them through the almost good, to the very, very bad. I bleed Maple Leaf blue.

With that said, I will view the latest craptastic events with a strictly public relations professional eye. I don't know whether to shake my head at the inability of the team pr representatives to handle their clients, or to wonder if this is a brilliantly planned maneuver to create chaos by allowing the players to actually let loose their real personalities to the media and public, making them easier to trade.

This is of course pure speculation from me, but I'm honestly hoping that Mr Meagher and Mr. Keogh have been allowed to at least put together some sort of crisis management (or contingency) plan, to stop the terrifying bloodbath thats occurred between some members of the team, and the media.

If you haven't already seen or heard about the current fiasco, Maple Leaf players Joffrey Lupol, Naseem Kadri, Phil Kessel and team captain Dion Phaneuf and his wife Elisha Cuthbert (an actress who's guilty by association) - or just the entire team in general, have been united or separately involved in media-related incidents that keep public relation reps up at night, and on stress and heart medication during the day.

From fighting on social media with fans, disrepecting fans with blatant on-ice displays of petulant behaviour, to threats of litigation against a Canadian sports network for accidentally spreading rumours, it has been an eye-rolling, side-eye glancing, head-smacking shitshow for fans and team alike - except, maybe for anti-Leaf supporters who are loving the constant stream of crap emanating from the Air Canada Centre. It's akin to watching a train-wreck actually hit another train, and wrecking it too.

Professional sports players are usually coached - sometimes quite thoroughly, on how to behave with the media. That's why whenever players are interviewed, you rarely see a glimpse of their "true" personalities. Why? Because God forbid if the fans come to realize they might be listening to idiots.

So, instead you get the standard responses and reactions to field questions. You see it all the time. The glance past the reporter whenever as question is asked, the look down and then up to show you, the fan, that they are genuinely thinking of an answer to the question. I think it was the movie Bull Durham that provided a pretty accurate profile of how athletes should handle the media. The player does his or her job, and the media reps do what they have to do. Every one is happy. Except..

Media relations is an entirely different beast than general public relations. With public relations, you can 'mostly' control the publics perception of you. The tactics used to get the attention of the media might rely on a few pr tricks, but it's still a want/need relationship. Media are on your side until they aren't, and God help you if you give them any reason to change their mind about you, particularly if it's going to be negative.

The general result of the media disliking you, is a never-ending cycle of negativity that can truly be detrimental to the overall performance of the individual, team and/or organizations that are the targets. Ask yourself if you would be able to function properly, if every day that you woke up you're literally confronted with information that people hate you and the work you do. You need an emotional armour of steel to handle that. Very few people have that armour, the majority do not.

Sadly, that armour of steel is missing with some Maple Leaf players of late. They are not robots and do not have steel plates to cover their emotions. The negativity is getting to them and it shows. Do not tell me the media has no effect on people who perform public jobs. It does, and always will. For public and media relations managers to craft internal memos, asking/begging the team to stay positive and 'on message' isn't enough when it hits this relentless negative stage.

The even sadder part is that regardless of what inane thing the players or even management do next, Leaf Nation is rich - very, very rich, and will continue to make money no matter what happens on or off the ice. The team continues to be the number one money maker in the entire hockey league, despite having an awful losing record this year.

The players are confused, emotional and no doubt psychologically messed up with trade rumours and just completely frustrated. The cracks are evident with their recent head-shaking actions involving the team, the media and fans. Yet, the money continues to roll right in.

If I was in the shoes of Mr. Keogh or Mr. Meagher, I know I'd be up all night in a sweat trying very hard not to panic. Coming up with a plan to mitigate media related damage is tough. Doing that while simultaneously trying to contain the latest fresh batch of shit created by an unruly bunch of people, some of whom could actually kill you with one punch, is downright nasty.

Suggestion? Just breath boys, you'll get through it. And the fans? Well, we'll just continue to pay for it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

None of your beeswax


Below is an advert I stumbled across created by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF). Please be forewarned, it's quite a message:


image coutreys of EJF

Effective and terrifying, oui? It honestly felt like some hand reached out from the computer screen and slapped me. I loved it. Not because of some gross Fifty Shades reason, but because it was truly a shocking statement. The creators of this ad only makes us realize just how dependant we are on bees for our survival, and where we'd end up without them. We use what they provide for just about everything and anything you can imagine. This rings true particularly in the culinary world. From honey to beeswax to the actual food that's created, there isn't one item that hasn't relied on bees.

There are companies out there that are actively trying to change this. To get our hands off our enormous dependance on bees, and create items that we can use that takes the stress off of them. Yesterday, I was looking for wax for my wood cutting board - yes people, the board not only needs oil for maintenance, but wax to keep it looking sharp in your kitchen. I know with the increased modernization of home and professional kitchens, these same kitchens have become more of maintenance issue than ever before - but you have no choice, you have to clean it.

So I was online and stumbled across this wax product by a company called Caron and Doucet



image courtesy of Caron and Doucet

Whenever I see a product that claims to be environmentally friendly, I get suspicious, It's not that I don't believe it can be true, but so many companies make that claim only to be found out by some 20/20 or CBC Marketplace sting investigation that the product is FAR from environmentally friendly.

This company, however, is different. I checked out their website and surprise, the owners Stephen Caron and Paula Doucette actually provide full disclosure of the product ingredients right on the webpage. And the best part about the wax, or any additional products I'd like to purchase? No beeswax was used but instead, a vegetable (vegan) rice bran alternative. Plus, I must admit, I love the design. I'm a sucker for products that package well. Check it out and other cool kitchen maintenance items that are seriously environmentally friendly here.

The issue over the decline of our bees and the work that's needed to ensure their survival has become a hot one recently. There are a lot of stories floating around as to what we, as consumers, can do to prevent their compete eradication. It does get tiresome when you don't know what to believe, but talk to any beekeepr and they will happily provide you with real statistics about what's going on with the bees and their hives. Like global warming, air pollution and overfishing of our lakes and oceans, the decline of the bee is very real.

Get informed. Try to use to products that do not play a part in bee decline and better yet, just be kind to our bees.