Saturday, September 29, 2012

Packers vs. Seahawks - a small conspiracy theory

If you pay even a passing bit of attention to the NFL you will be aware that the first three weeks of the season were officiated by "replacement referees" due to a labour issue between the league and its' regular referees.

The results weren't pretty, as could be expected, the NFL might be the hardest league in the world to officiate with 22 players all making all sorts of legal, and illegal, contact over the course of 120-140 plays per game. There were all sorts of questionable calls, wrong markings, poor decisions, wrong yardage penalized etc, etc., and even more frightening was that the 300 pound behemoths that inhabit the league were losing respect for the zebras and all out anarchy was about to ensue, meaning that by week five I'm pretty sure an on field death or two would have occurred.

The "replacement referees" issue came to a head on Monday night in Seattle when, on the final play of the game, the refs completely botched two calls on the same play and turned what should have been a 12-7 Green Bay victory into a 14-12 Seattle victory. You can watch the video of the final play any number of places but this is as good as you can find in my opinion. The possession of the ball is a questionable call, the offensive pass interference call was totally blatant but regardless the result is 14-12 Seattle. The results were long and loud with tens of thousands of letters and emails sent to NFL offices and even commentary from Barrack Obama on the issue. The end result was a swift resolution to the lockout and the real refs were back at work on Thursday.

During the discussion of the Green Bay-Seattle game much was made of the gambling aspect, Green Bay, as 3 point favourites, would have covered and paid off their backers had the erroneous call not been made, instead Packers backers (I just like writing that) lost their bets and Seattle supporters cashed their betting slips instead.

Here's where it gets interesting to me: this game was one of the most lopsided bet games on you will ever see with industry estimates that over 65% of the money was on Green Bay . This is a bad situation for the casinos and sports books because they really in the gambling business, the casinos, bookies, whatever charge a standard 10% surcharge on lost bets, known as the vigorish or vig, so in order to win $100 the bettor must put up $110, if you win you get your $110 back plus your $100 bet, if you lose..........well you lose. The casinos etc. are best served with even money on each side of the ledger and the resulting 10% profit but on Monday night, prior to the final play, the books were looking at a big time haircut.

How big you ask ?  Well according to many sources the amount wagered on the game in Las Vegas casinos alone was $150 million dollars, worldwide it may have been as much as a billion dollars, but lets just deal with the Vegas money. At 65% Green Bay money the casinos were looking at a loss of roughly $40 million had the Packers covered, $97.5 million paid out minus $57.75 collected from Seattle bettors, but the final decision created a huge windfall instead with the casinos netting almost $55 million in profits, $52.5 million paid out and $107.25 million collected from losing Green Bay bettors. The net swing is roughly $95 million for something decided by guys who weren't going to be around as refs much longer regardless.

Kind of makes me go............Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Roasted Pork Chops and Rioja

I love pork, this should come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in the blog, I love it cured, I love it slow cooked, I love it just about every way there is. As a child I used to look forward to dinner if Mom was pan frying pork chops, the chops would end up crispy on the outside and sweet and juicy inside with just the right fat quotient to make you want to lick your lips after finishing off the chops.

Sadly in the 1990s the agro industry decided that pork was too fat and had to be leaner and healthier, which was all well and good except that it no longer tasted like pork, it became sort of tougher chicken breast. The modern home cook has to either take out a second mortgage to buy "heirloom" pork or brine their chops to give them a fighting chance .

Brining adds moisture and allows you to cook leaner cuts at high heat without drying out the meat and is simply marinating the meat in a salt water and sugar solution for a period of time. The simplest brine uses 1/2 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup of sugar and a litre of hot water, dissolve the sugar and salt in the water, cool the brine and then place the chops in a large freezer bag, pour the brine over, seal and refrigerate . The longer you brine the more moisture the meat will absorb, I generally try to brine pork chops for six to eight hours, once you take the chops out of the brine wipe them dry and throw out the brining liquid. The brining liquid will  contain blood and proteins from the meat and is not safe to reuse . The only downside to brining is that if you have a low tolerance to salt then brining is not for you.

Once we have our brined chops, I prefer bone in loin chops, ready its time for seasoning, on Monday night I just used salt, not much as they absorb salt from the brine, pepper, garlic and fresh rosemary. Sear the chops at high heat for a minute or so on each side in olive oil/butter mix for colour and then pop them in a 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, the cooking time is going to vary depending on the thickness of the chops and how you like your chops done. I prefer medium so I check them at the 15 minute mark with an instant read meat thermometer, once the chops are 145 degrees they can come out of the oven and rest for 3-5 minutes while you deglaze the pan with some stock, or white wine, "montee au beurre" and then pour the reduction over the chops. Served with "smashed potatoes" and green veg it was as close as I can get to those lip smacking chops of my youth, it would have been even better had I remembered to saute the fresh cremini mushrooms I bought and add them to the pan sauce but they were delicious nonetheless.

With the chops I served a lovely Rioja that, for some bizarre reason, the BCLDB had discounted. I was out at the Mother Store on Sunday and spotted a price reduction tag on a few notable wines, not just the $1 or $2 discounts that happen monthly but the 30% off we want to get this off the shelves reductions that happen rarely. These reductions are always a crap shoot as often the wines are too old, or were just purchasing mistakes to begin with but on Sunday I noticed that the 2008 Crianza Glorioso from Bodegas Palacios in the Rioja was discounted from $17.99 down to $12.59. I am familiar with this wine, it was a staple on many of the wine lists I used to write, and since it was only 2008 and thus unlikely to be over the hill I grabbed the five bottles on the shelf, along with some other sundry bargains and headed home.

By definition a crianza wine will have spent one year in oak, in Glorioso's case new French oak, and the result is a smooth polished wine with lots of finesse. This wine is made in a more New World fruit forward style but still has lots of spice box, tar and tannins to balance the black currant, raspberry fruit flavours, the new oak gives a touch of vanilla and while the finish was not quite as long as it could have been overall the wine would have been good value at the original price and was an absolute steal at $12.50. I only wish I'd been able to find more but searches of three other stores on Tuesday were fruitless, still it was nice to enjoy a very good wine for a very reasonable price, we'll drink up the others in short notice as well I'm sure.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Parson's Paddock Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - another disappointing Australian Red

I really should know better by now, after being almost consistently disappointed in "entry level" Australian red wines for the past five years I have pretty much stopped trying but hope springs eternal so last week I grabbed a bottle of Parson's Paddock Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 to give it a go with some flank steak. My rationale was that the spice and aromatics in the flank rub would marry well with what I assumed would be a fruity, full flavoured red wine and maybe get the Ausssies off the schneid in the under $15 wine value category that they used to dominate.

For over a decade from the early 1990s on Australia could be counted on for full throttle, big fruit, big flavour reds that could be had in the $11-$13 range, it was easy but then the Aussies started to have too much juice on their hands and the wine world began to be corrupted by the "all fruit all the time" palate of Robert Parker and the penny dropped in Oz. All of a sudden we were deluged with sweet fruit, no acid, unmatchable with food wines often named after animals, a pretty sure method for not selecting a wine I might add . At the same time the vignerons in Chile started to pick up their game and add some complexity to their inexpensive reds. The Argentinians started stocking the international shelves with muscular Malbecs that kicked the crap out of the Aussie fruit bombs, toss in a welcome modernization of the Spanish wine industry and I pretty much stopped buying Australian reds in the $15 range, a policy I'm probably going back to after this most recent disappointment.

The Parson's Paddock is dark purple in colour, with just a hint of crimson around the rim, the nose is full of blackfruits, sweet vanilla and mocha and the mocha-berry combo continues in the taste, which is fine for Cabernet but then it just stops. There is virtually no acidity to balance the wine and so the overall sensation is one of sweet fruit with no counterpoint, so the wine has no chance against the bold flavour of grilled meat, which should be the perfect foil for young Cabernet Sauvignon.

The bottom line is a generic Australian red, with lots of fruit but virtually nothing else to recommend it, there are much better alternatives from Spain, Argentina and Chile in this price range, or lower, so I simply cannot recommend this wine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Some Sports Observations

I know some of my readers don't care about the "sports" posts but it's my blog so they are going to keep happening once in a while.

This is the best time of the year for me sports wise, MLB is heading into the playoffs, the NFL and US college football are getting underway and, normally, the NHL would be just around the corner . Of course the likelihood of the NHL returning any day son isn't looking good with the owners having decided that giving the talent 57% of the revenue is a bad business model, even though they made it up themselves, and the players, like most people, aren't willing to relinquish things they already have so I think this one is going to drag on for awhile. I don't think the entire season will be lost, as happened in 2004-05, but a shortened season ala the 1994-95 lockout is a pretty likely scenario.

In the NFL the season opened this week, after avoiding their own potential work stoppage in 2011, and my beloved Redskins posted a marvelous first week result behind their wonderkind rookie QB Robert Griffin III, or RG3 as he is known. Griffin cost Washington three first round picks, and a second round pick, to end their quarterback carousel and at least yesterday he was worth it leading the 'Skins past the Saints, in New Orleans, and putting 40 points on the board. Only time will tell but right now it looks like the Washington quarterback situation is solved, now about that pass defense.

The NFL labour struggles aren't over however, while the teams and players have worked out their differences the league has not come to terms with the officials leading to week one games being refereed by replacement officials who apparently weren't as bad as expected. The situation did lead to the sports quote of the week however as after the opening game NY Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka was quoted as saying : "I haven't been held this much since I was a baby"

In baseball the pennant race in the American League East is as tight as Uncle Donnie's wallet when it's time to buy a round of drinks, with the Evil Empire holding a slim one game lead on the over achieving Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore are defying all odds in that they are 16 games over .500 while having scored less runs than their opposition, no other team in MLB with a negative run differential is above .500 yet there are the O's at 78-62 making life extremely uncomfortable for the suddenly struggling Yankees. I grew up a Yankees fan, and will likely always be one, but I have a bad feeling about this year, oh well it could be worse, I could be cheering for the last place Boston Red Sox (man it feels good to write that) .

The other positive I have as a Yankees fan is watching their captain, #2, Derek Sanderson Jeter play. Jeter  might possibly manage to be the most under rated and most over rated player of all time. You will still find people argue that Jeter is not a Hall of Famer despite that fact that, barring a season ending injury or a meteor hitting earth, sometime this week Jeter will pass Willie Mays in career hits. Just roll that around in your head, Mays is generally regarded as one of the ten greatest players ever to play the game and yet Jeter trails him by only four hits. In fact at age 38 Jeter currently leads the American League in hits and will move into the top 10 all time early next season, yet you will still find people who think he's not a Hall of Famer, of course most of them are Massholes but still . On the other hand Jeter has no good reason to have five Gold Glove Awards in his trophy case, but after getting jobbed in the 2006 MVP voting I'm guessing Jeter figures he might as well keep the Gold Gloves .

Anyway, I hope the Yankees make the post season. I hope the Redskins continue to play well. I hope the Red Sox continue to lose until the end of time and I really hope the NHL owners and players come to their senses and realize that another work stoppage will be the end of the league .

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Late Summer Westcoast Dinner

Through a series of disastrous events yesterday represented my only day off of the week so I wanted to ensure that it was a good day. It also marked the end of daughter's first week of High School so her survival certainly deserved some sort of celebration and what better way to celebrate than with a classic west coast meal of wild Sockeye on the grill.

Sockeye is my favourite variety of Pacific salmon for home cooking because it is rich in flavour but more readily available than Spring, or King as the Americans call them. The dark red flesh of Sockeye is so visually appealing and the high fat content means they are full of flavour and stand up well to the high heat of the grill. As is the case with most super premium ingredients I don't do much to Sockeye when grilling it, if it's whole fish I will salt and pepper the cavity and add some sliced lemon and maybe some aromatics such as fresh dill or, even better, chopped fennel. Last night's Sockeye came in the form of a fillet, incredibly on sale at Nesters Market on Main Street for $6.98 a pound, previously frozen but who cares.

I checked the fillet for pin bones and removed one or two with tweezers then seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon zest and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil - that's it. I made a celery risotto while the grill got hot and then green beans were grilled before adding the salmon to a super hot grill. The fish was grilled for about three minutes per side to produce medium rare and served with the risotto and grilled beans, I really can't think of a better late summer west coast dinner and to add to the west coast feel we drank a lovely BC white wine recently purchased on our trip to the Okanagan.

The wine, a 2010 Viognier, was one of several white wines from Hillside Estate that impressed me during my tasting expedition on the Naramata bench. Hillside has been around since the 1980s, a virtual eternity in Okanagan wine terms, and has rarely received much in the way of "buzz" but the past three seasons of my tastings have showed a consistent improvement in the wines, particularly whites, though I still think the pricing is a bit ambitious. The 2010 Viognier sells for around $20 at the winery and is a very good representation of the variety, the wine has lots of peach fuzz, floral and honey notes in the nose and a slightly herbal, apricot/white peach flavour with a long finish and a big full mouth feel. Viognier is pretty forceful for a white wine and as such it was a great match to the rich grilled Sockeye. At $20+ a bottle it's hard for me to get overly enthusiastic about this wine but it is a very good example of Viognier, excellent with food and worth grabbing a bottle or two for "better than everyday" occasions. The weight and spice of the wine would also make it a nice accompaniment to spicier fare such as jambalaya or, of course, fish tacos.

It appears that summer is going to stay with us for a while longer as the weather forecasts are calling for continued sunshine and temperatures in the 20 degree range so hopefully we won't put the grill away until October, but if we do it was certainly a pleasure to sneak in one more helping of Sockeye on the Weber before the oven gets put back to use.