Thursday, May 31, 2012

NHL Armageddon ?

Game one of the Stanley Cup final was played last night, I worked and didn't see it but I understand it was a reasonable tilt with the Cinderella Los Angeles Kings winning their ninth straight playoff road game to take a 1-0 lead in the final. More importantly is that after this series ends it might be quite awhile before we see another NHL contest as the very real possibility of another prolonged strike/walkout looms large with the expiry of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement on September 15th.

Make no mistake, despite the healthy upturn in NHL revenues since the disastrous cancellation of the 2004-05 season the owners will be looking for concessions from the players. The simple matter of the fact is that currently the NHL players receive up to 57% of league revenues, creating the situation that has seen the salary cap rise from $39 million in 2005 to a projected $73.8 million this summer, the result is that the current cap floor, the minimum teams may expend in salaries, is now $48 million, or $9 million more than the ceiling was seven years ago.

Since returning the NHL has improved the product on the ice, added numerous major corporate sponsors, signed a much more lucrative American television contract and increased attendance but that's not going to stop the owners from crying poor. In reality despite the increased revenues as many as 18 of the NHL teams lost money in 2010-11 and although revenues are up operating income is down, 21% in 2010-11 according to Forbes Magazine and the reason for that is quite simply that the players make too much. The recent negotiations in the other two major sports with salary caps, the NFL and the NBA, resulted in the players accepting agreements whereby the players get 48-50% of revenues and you can bet that's what the NHL owners will be gunning for.

The two sides have not even begun to discuss the new CBA, despite the fact that it expires in less than four months, and the fact that the players union is now headed by Donald Fehr, who is philosophically opposed to any sort of salary cap having successfully kept one out of baseball during his tenure as the head of the MLBPA, I don't feel too warm and fuzzy about this one. Fehr, and the NHL owners, have to understand that hockey will be unlikely to survive a second work stoppage in less than a decade, the fan base is simply not large enough and the corporations who have signed on will simply walk away and spend their sponsorship dollars elsewhere.

Hopefully the players will realize that a game which has an average player salary of $2.3 million isn't really the same as working in a 7-11 and being squeezed by the man, and the owners will reflect upon the fact that the value of their franchises are at an all time high, and gaining value every year, which isn't the same for all business models in North America currently. Hopefully both sides will sit down and try and figure how to keep the game growing and moving forward.

Personally, I'm not too hopeful. I mean do these two look like they're ready to get along ?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hearts win !!! Hearts win !!!!!!

As mentioned in a previous post, the 2012 Scottish Cup Final was an all Edinburgh affair for the first time in 116 years, the match was played in Glasgow of course.

In a thrilling match Heart of Midlothian dominated and crushed cross town rival Hibernian 5-1 handing Hearts their eighth Scottish Cup victory, and first since 2006, while stretching Hibs string of failures in Cup finals to ten, their last win was in 1902.

The other beneficiaries of the Hearts win were St. Johnstone. As Cup winners Hearts move into next year's Europa League Cup play, which should mean they can make payroll on a more regular basis, but Hearts had already qualified for Europa League play so that opens a spot for The Saints.

Iced Tea and Beer, is this really Necessary ?

A couple of weeks ago I was driving along Broadway and noticed a huge billboard advertising Coors Light Iced T and initially thought it was a prank. But no, it appears that Molson-Coors are, in fact, spending a great deal of money and time launching their new Summer Beverage Concept mixing together two summertime faves, Iced Tea and Beer.

Really ? Really ?? Have we gone so far that we need Iced Tea and Beer mixed together ?

I mean I understand the effort to create a new market segment and try and attract some non beer drinkers into the breweries cash flow. Beer sales overall in North America have declined each of the past three years, and the market has also segmented as people move away from the big breweries and embrace craft brewers .  Sales of Craft Brewing beers are almost 17% of the US market, I couldn't find exact numbers on the Canadian market but in British Columbia the craft brew market share is around 13%, so the combination of less beer being sold and more of that beer coming from smaller breweries means trouble for the big Industrial Breweries.

Here's an idea, rather than mix beer with Iced Tea, or Lime and mint, why not just make better beer ? The main reason why the big breweries are losing market share is that their products just aren't very good and people would rather pay more for real beer, as evidenced by the shift to craft breweries and their products that focus on quality and taste rather than lifestyle. Molson has acknowledged this in the past by purchasing Creemore Springs Brewing and Granville Island Brewery in the past decade but the Coors Light Iced T seems to be a step in the other direction.

I haven't tasted the Coors Light Iced T, and am unlikely to, but I can say for certain that in all my years of drinking I have never once heard anyone say: "Hey, I really wish I could get a low calorie Iced Tea flavoured beer right now". As for the potential success of the brand, maybe it works but does anyone remember Zima ?

As an interesting side note, while doing some research for this post, that's right smarty I did some actual work, I discovered that Smirnoff make a vodka that is flavoured with Fluffed Marshmallow, apparently it goes great with their Whipped Cream flavoured vodka.

Armageddon my friends, Armageddon. The four horsemen are coming, and they're drinking Whipped Cream Fluffed Marshmallow Martinis washed down with Coors Light Iced T.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Middle Eastern Readership is Gone, and a legend passes

Blogger recently added a bunch of stuff that allows me to track where my hits come from, and how many I have. I'm really not interested in this information in a big way as I really just write this blog for my own entertainment and that of the 20 or so people that follow it closely, however it was interesting to see that I had loyal readership in both Iran and the Ukraine.

How or why I have no idea, but I was regularly viewed by someone(s) in each of those countries, until recently that is. In the past month I have lost my followers in both Iran and the Ukraine, now in Iran there are many reasons why reading blogs might not be happening but I'm struggling as to the loss of my Ukrainian readership.

Oh well I can console myself with the big increases from both France, 25 views last month, and Norway, checking in at a solid 18 views. It's also interesting to note that my most popular post of the past twelve months, with 417 page views, was In Praise of Pork Tenderloin, which still lags far behind the almost 1,500 views for this 2007 all time classic. Just goes to show what even the slightest penis reference can do for your readership.

On a more serious note Donna Summer died yesterday, from cancer, at the age of 63. Donna, and Gloria Gaynor, were the true Queens of Disco and Summer's 17 minute version of Love to Love you Baby was probably responsible for many a teenage pregnancy in the 1970s. Anyone who sweated away in a high school, or elementary school gym, or pimped it up in a disco in the '70s or '80s spent some time shaking it to Donna's hits. 

Summer's passing will not likely bring out the wash of emotions that Whitney Houston's death did because Summer was no longer in the headlines, and lived a life without the same sort of drama that Houston attracted, but a generation will mourn her loss .

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2010

The wine industry has embraced organic for many of the same reasons other agricultural industries have, to appeal to a broader segment of the buying public and provide longer sustainability to their industry. There is considerable evidence that organic practices are better for the vines and vineyards which may outweigh the short term expense of going organic, still the Organic Wine Section is not as large as I'd like to see.

Yalumba are the oldest family owned winery in Australia, established in 1849, and have been at the forefront of environmentally friendly wine making for many years.  Yalumba have been awarded numerous accolades for their farming and wine making practices so their move into organics should come as no surprise . This 2010 South Australian Shiraz is sourced from two organically certified vineyards, then fermented with naturally occurring wild yeasts and receiving no oak aging, the closure is , of course, a screwcap.

Organic is nice, and I'm generally willing to spend up to 20% more for organics providing the quality is there, so this wine at $15.99 has to be equal to, or better than, equivalent Shiraz of $13.32 in order to make my table on a regular basis so let's see how it measures up.

In the glass the wine is intensely ruby, I mean it's really really red and on the nose the alcohol , 14.5%, is noticeable but not overpowering. The nose is almost pure fruit, which made me a little worried as often Aussie Shiraz over emphasize fruit at the expense of acidity, plums and blueberry with blackberry jam but little if any of the black pepper spice notes I generally associate with Shiraz. The spice does show up in the mouth though, the wine is still predominantly fruit driven but there is enough spice and natural tannins to allow the wine to retain a decent balance of flavour. The finish is moderately long and doesn't dry out, a result of the lack of oak, and has pleasant fruit finishes with a touch of cocoa . We had the wine with burgers and it fared well, the vibrant fruit working nicely in tandem with the charred beef, fried onion and melted cheese.

Overall I'm happy to recommend this wine, it's a bit spendy if you don't care about the organic aspect as there are wines of equal quality in the $13.99 - $14.99 range but if you like your wine with a bit of social conscience then this wine should be on hand regularly for grilling season.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Prawns and Alsace, sort of

One thing about daughter being away is that wife and I can indulge in some of the food that daughter does not enjoy, few though they are. One thing daughter does not eat is shellfish, she ate prawns as a child but once she became more cognitive she has refused the sweet little critters.

Monday had originally been pencilled in as an opportunity to go out for sushi or curry, both things daughter avoids, but wife felt poorly on the weekend and stated that she would prefer dinner at home "if that was alright with me", and it was. I originally thought about making something with crab but then realized that I didn't want to be bothered cleaning Dungeness and didn't want to go to Costco to pick up blue crab meat, always available and always a good deal. With crab out of the mix I then selected a menu of pan seared prawns with risotto and roasted broccoli, my preference for seasoning the prawns would normally be shallots, lemon and garlic but wife has garlic issues and I'd already decided to add lemon to the risotto and the roasted broccoli so I had to come up with something else.

A quick glance in the fridge revealed some sweet Thai chili sauce so I thought "Hey that'll work", but I didn't want too much sweetness so I cut 1/4 cup of chili sauce with a teaspoon of rice wine vinegar and added a drop, or maybe two, of habanero sauce and the result was yummy. I peeled the prawns, added salt and pepper and they were ready to go . I sauteed a diced tomato with some chopped shallot in a butter/EVOO combo until the tomato gave up its' liquid and then added the prawns at high heat for roughly 3 minutes until they were nicely pink then added the chili sauce for about 30 seconds.

The result was excellent, the sweet Thai chili was nicely offset by the light vinegar and touch of heat and the rich creamy risotto was balanced by the earthy, salty flavours of the roasted broccoli tossed with lemon and romano cheese. With a lot of sweet, rich flavours wine might have posed an issue but I had a couple of bottles of Noble Blend from Joie Farm Winery on hand and it was a perfect match. Noble blend is an homage to the Alsatian tradition of field pick wines with a variety of Germanic style grapes blended together to make an Edelzwicker or Gentil wine that is fruit forward but with enough acidity to carry food. The Noble Blend 2010 was a blend of primarily Riesling and Gewurztraminer with Pinot Gris and Pinot Auxerrois also in the mix resulting in a mouthful of lemon and orange citrus with a bit of spice and mineral to keep the fruit at bay. This wine is a great compliment to asian cuisine and excellent just on it's own, Joie makes around 3,500 cases a year of Noble Blend annually and while it's not cheap at around the $24 mark I recommend having a bottle or two on hand for the summer.

Also on Monday I got good news when visiting the BCLDB store in that I discovered that The People's Pinot Noir from Central Otago is once more discounted to $15.99 a bottle. I posted about this wine back in November of 2011, read it here and have continued to drink it regularly since then, but with a $2 a bottle incentive I see no reason not to buy a case of this excellent New Zealand Pinot before the price goes back up at the end of the month. The wine has reasonable distribution with the bulk in the Yaletown store and 4 cases each in Collingwood-Kingsway and Broadway-Lillooet - who knew the Eastside was Pinot territory ?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Cheater Chicken Parm, and Daughter's last meals

I love chicken parmesan, I'd probably still love veal parmesan as well if you didn't have to take out a loan to buy decent veal. The combination of salty, crunchy, juicy makes breaded chicked with parmesan and cornmeal crusting, or romano in my house, one of the best ways to enjoy normally bland boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

The problem is the high maintenance factor, first you have to coat the chicken in seasoned flour, then an egg wash and finally a mixture of breadcrumbs, grated cheese and cornmeal. This has to be done a couple of hours ahead of time or the breading simply won't adhere to the chicken, and since you will be fast frying the chicken the breasts usually have to be sliced in half, making the whole procedure more than I want to do on a regular basis. However I was recently advised that faster chicken parm can be made by coating half the breast with a mixture of mayonnaise and grated cheese and then roasting in a hot oven, so I gave it a try. I mixed two parts mayo with one part grated romano and spread over the top of boneless, skinless breast halves, top with bread crumbs and then baked for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. The result was encouraging enough that I decided to fiddle with the process and after two more attempts I now have a Cheater Chicken Parm that is very good.

Last night I made the dish, using six half chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, I mixed 200mls of Hellman's mayonnaise with 100ml of grated romano cheese and the zest of 1/3 of a lemon, homemade mayo doesn't have the stiffness that jarred mayo does and Hellman's is by far the best mayonnaise available commercially, plus the initial idea came from their tv commercial. I spread the mixture on the chicken and topped each piece with some chiffonade basil and then panko bread crumbs. I baked the chicken for 20 minutes in a 425 degree oven and then finished it under the broiler for about a minute just to add crispness. The result was crispy, salty, and herbal on top while the chicken was still juicy and plump just as Chicken Parmesan should be, for those worried about the fat from the mayo (and if you are why are you reading my recipes) I think the lack of frying in an olive oil/butter combo probably balances things out. I paired the chicken parm with a mushroom risotto, fresh broccoli and nice food friendly Italian red, Dino Illuminati Montepulciano D'Abruzzo Riparossa, one of my go to Italian classics and it was a great meal.

It comprised the third of daughter's four last meals before leaving us for twelve days on a student exchange to Quebec. Last Saturday before heading to work I asked daughter to list the four meals she would like on Sunday-Wednesday before going away. The results came pretty quickly, Cheese Burgers, homemade pizza, and chicken parm, ribs would have been #1 but her braces mean she can't eat the succulent pork bits for awhile. Surprisingly the fourth selection caused a great deal of deliberation, I though Mac and Cheese would be a no brainer but daughter struggled between the American classic and the bistro staple of Quiche Lorraine before finally going Mac & Cheese.

I'm not sure wife will survive twelve days without daughter, I will struggle but I fear wife may not make it. Only time will tell, thank God for Skype.