This blog has now been folded over into "The Left Chapter", a blog dedicated to politics, art, writing & food!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A night with Lao Gan Ma Oil Chilli Sauce and steamed dumplings.

Ever since a girlfriend at the time introduced me to its Shrimp Dumpling Noodle soup in the early 1990's I have been a regular diner at Swatow's, a terrific and inexpensive Chinese restaurant in downtown Toronto. At each visit I will heap spoonfuls of an oily chili flake hot sauce that they have on their table into my soup to give it that extra kick and flavour that spicy sauces can bring.

Recently at a Chinese grocery and vegetable market I stumbled upon a jar of what, from outward appearances, I thought must be the sauce they use. As it was very inexpensive at $1.99 a jar (or 2 for $3.00), I took a chance and picked one up. Once I got it home and opened it, however, I found that I had accidentally bought a sauce of even greater complexity and intensity of heat and flavour, the Lao Gan Ma Oil Chilli Sauce with peanuts. I can hardly overstate how fortuitous an error this was as this has quickly become one of my very favourite hot sauces of any type.

The Oil Chilli Sauce is a part of a family of Lao Gan Ma sauces all developed by a woman born in a remote province of China to a poor family, who became a street vendor due to the premature death of her husband leaving her with no income, and who now presides over a remarkable sauce empire. Her really incredible story was told in an article on the Women of China website. 

The sauce itself really has it all. It has a satisfying texture, with its blend of oils, chilli flakes and the crunch of the peanuts. It is very spicy but its heat does not overwhelm the tastes of either the sauce itself or the foods you have it with. It is perfect with noodle dishes, dumplings and just about anything I have tried it with. 

For this blog I will show how I used it recently to enjoy with steamed pork dumplings. 
I got out our Bamboo Steamer and set it up atop a pot of boiling water. After placing a layer of romaine lettuce leaves at the bottom of the steamer I filled it with O'Tasty brand Pork and Black Mushroom and Pork and Leek Dumplings. 

While the dumplings were steaming I took several spoonfuls of the sauce and put it in a small bowl. I then added some Dark Soy Sauce and a bit of white vinegar and blended it all together. This blend is nicely hot, salty and tart with real kick in all three departments!

Once the dumplings are done, you can dip the dumplings freely for as much of the heat/saltiness you want. Simply put, wonderful stuff!

I found that this sauce-dumpling blend of flavours paired really well with an inexpensive Italian table wine that both my pocketbook and I are fond of, Fontana Di Papa Castelli Romani, which can be had in a 1.5 litre bottle for only $12.95 if you are in Ontario. The heaviness of this wine suits the boldness of the sauce and dumplings. 

 The full Lao Gan Ma (which apparently is loosely translated as an affectionate form of saying grandmother) product line can be found on their website. I look forward to trying as many as I can find. Seek them out wherever you can. They are well worth the search.

Friday, June 28, 2013

That Lefty Food Blog weekly food news roundup: Boycott Labatt's, solidarity with Pepsi workers in West Bengal, and more!

This is the first of what will be a weekly food news roundup every Friday sharing food news, links and stories from a lefty viewpoint. 

This week's stories:

Boycott Labatt's! Find out why and details on the ongoing labour action in Newfoundland here:

How a story about chickens and food distribution becomes a lesson in Colonialism:

McDonald's concedes that its Halal products were sometimes not:

Enjoying bannock burgers and bannock hot dogs at Native Delights in Edmonton:

A serious food crisis faces the people of Madagascar:

Pakistan urgently needs food & nutrition assistance according to the UN:

20 years of data show that beef, poultry and fish are still behind the largest numbers of foodborne illness outbreaks, but outbreaks associated with leafy greens are on the rise:

Continuing a disturbing trend, food prices continue to rise in Canada:

Bigot Paula Deen finally given the toss by the Food Network: Even Walmart follows suit:

Pepsi Co. is dismissing and intimidating workers trying to unionize in West Bengal. Read about it and sign the petition here:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Going for Toronto's best chicken wings with Irish Socialist leader Joe Higgins

As is the case in many cities I am sure, food and culture writers in Toronto ignore, for the most part, the suburbs. This can be infuriating to business or restaurant owners outside of the downtown, but it does have an upside. Largely unknown neighbourhood gems remain usually easy to get seats at and eat in!

Nowhere is this more true in Toronto than in the case of that delightful staple of the North American sports or sport's bar fan, the chicken wing.

While many like to wax poetic about Duff's, Hurricane's and others, the best, certainly of the breaded Southern style variety, for my money, are the incredible jumbo wings at Sloppy Joe's in South Etobicoke. 

Sloppy Joe's is an entirely typical sport's bar, with rather standard decor, big screen TV's with sports on from opening to close, and music that is far too loud after about 9 p.m. (unless a Leafs game is still on). It has a serviceable menu overall, with a notably good Sloppy Joe, and a variety of watering hole favourites like Steak Sandwiches (good) and Calamari (completely pedestrian). 

But where Sloppy Joe's shines, and indeed what truly makes it stand out from countless otherwise identical bars in cities across North America and T.O., are its genuinely spectacular chicken wings. Huge, meaty and perfectly prepared every time, they are served with the blue cheese dipping sauce one expects and the usual side vegetables (except on wing nights...then it is wings and dip only).  The sauce selection is minimal, but that is made up for by how good they are. Honey Garlic, Mild, Medium, Hot and the truly delicious and genuinely fiery Suicide sauce are all well above grade and clearly made in-house.

I note again, the Suicide sauce is the real deal. I love and eat spicy food extensively and rarely have any difficulty with heat levels of dishes. Most Suicide sauces are rather a let down. Not in Sloppy Joe's case!

But don't just take my word for how good the wings are; you can also take the word of Joe Higgins, the famous Irish Socialist Party leader and member of Irish Parliament.

Joe Higgins speaking at the SPO Social at the Imperial Pub
Joe came to Toronto in the spring of 2011 for the founding convention of the Socialist Party of Ontario. In typically Joe Higgins fashion, he stayed at a Ryerson hostel instead of a hotel (he donates a large part of his salary to leftist causes and has pledged to earn no more than  the average Irish worker does), and spoke both at our pre-convention social at the Imperial Pub and gave a terrific talk at the convention itself.

A day-or-two after the convention, my old friend Andy Lehrer called me and said that he was looking for a place to take Joe, and his comrade from Belgium who had also flown over, for dinner and that they were looking for a place that was not at all fancy. No better place sprang to mind than Sloppy Joe's.

They drove out to South Etobicoke and met Natalie, the kids and I in the late afternoon at the bar. Given that it is off the beaten track, we had no problem getting seats, and one never does there early afternoon. Everyone ordered wings and Joe and his comrade got some ribs as well. The ribs at Sloppy Joe's are solid, though nothing special in my opinion, but they both seemed very fond of them. They are, to be fair, very moist, which is often a problem at bars where one can find terribly dry ribs, but the saucing is one-dimensional and indeed there is only one option. A shame that, as they have real potential. 

Sloppy Joe's: The Quintessential Sport's Bar
Both were amazed at the abundance of meat and the lack of vegetables, and, rather correctly I think, noted that this seemed very American. As did the bar itself. As the meal was winding down, Eric from Belgium remarked at how Sloppy Joe's seemed like what he, as a European, imagined a quintessentially American working class bar looks like, and he is right about that. It really is.

When we were leaving I took the opportunity to introduce Joe to the bartender, who I know from years of patronage, and one of the owners. They were, obviously, rather surprised to have an Irish Socialist TD (an Irish MP) over for dinner, and, actually, at first didn't seem to really believe me!

So, next time you are looking to have what are actually Toronto's best chicken wings, do as Joe Higgins did, and come out to Etobicoke. Feel free to call me first. I am always ready for ten Suicide wings and a Corona.

Sloppy Joe's is located at 3527 Lake Shore Blvd W., on the 501 Queen Streetcar line, and is in between Kipling and Brown's Line.They have Wing Nights on Tuesday and Thursday, when their wings are 65 cents each. On Wing Nights expect big crowds!

B.C. Ferries' World's Best Clam Chowder Recipe: Contracted-out!

Submitted by Chris Green

I was shocked and appalled to discover recently that the "geniuses" who are running our quasi-privatized Ferry Corporation in British Columbia have discontinued serving the world's best clam chowder recipe, replacing it with yet more contracted-out White Spot garbage.

Since they don't want to serve it anymore, I am sharing the recipe here. BC Ferries had leaflets in the early 1990s ("A New Wave for BC Ferries") that gave the "secret" to its greatness away for free! It was presented with "Thanks to Quality Control Supervisor Stanley Wong".


5 1/2 oz. (160 grams) Ham or Salt Pork, chopped
26 oz. (743 grams) Potatoes, diced
12 oz. (335 grams) Carrots, diced
21 oz. (590 grams) Onions, diced
12 oz. (335 grams) Celery, diced
9 oz. (263 grams) Green Pepper, diced
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp. White Pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed Thyme
1 litre (1.2 quarts) Water
9 oz. (252 grams) Tomato Paste
23 oz. (650 grams) canned Whole Tomatoes (crushed)
2 oz. (57 grams) Chicken Base
3 cups canned Clam Nectar
3/4 cup Water
9 oz. (270 grams) Colflo* or Flour
2 drops Tabasco sauce
3 drops Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Salt
2 lbs. (900 grams) fresh Butter Clam Meat (chopped)
1 tsp. fresh Parsley (chopped)

Sauté ham, potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, and green pepper in a saucepan for 5 to 10 minutes. Add garlic powder, white pepper, thyme, 1 litre water, tomato paste, tomatoes, chicken base, and clam nectar. Cover and boil for 30 to 45 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Combine 3/4 cup water with flour and add to the soup. Add tabasco, worcestershire, sugar, salt, clam meat and parsley. Heat to serving temperature. Yields approximately 3 litres (3.6 quarts).

(I would imagine substituting chicken broth for the 1 litre of water and chicken base would be more than acceptable).

*Editor's Note: Colflo is an old-school (and that is not meant negatively) thickening ingredient that is purchased in bulk and used primarily by diners and cafeterias.

Chris Green is a 6th generation British Columbian, with deep family roots in labour and leftist politics in Nanaimo and Cowichan. He has shared food or booze at one time or another with Leaders of four different BC political parties, including four Premiers. He regrets to inform you that this includes his former SFU classmate, Christy Clark. He has volunteered or worked on NDP campaigns from the 1980s to the present day, but actually started out tagging along with his Grandma door-knocking for Tommy Douglas. He lives in Surrey, BC.

Submissions of recipes, positive reviews of restaurants that you like in your community, food news, pieces about booze or techniques or anything else are very welcome. Please send them to with "That Lefty Food Blog" in the header.

Photo from wikipedia commons

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Andrea's Happy Banana Bread....or...Banana Bread that will make you happy!

Submitted by Andrea Grassby Valentini

This was always a great hit with my leftie friends and was especially popular with staff, volunteers and candidates when I would make big batches during election campaigns in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Enjoy!



Banana Bread that will make you happy!

1/2 cup softened butter
1 1/3 cups of sugar 
2 large eggs

1 cup of mashed ripe bananas
2 tsp. rum banana liqueur
1/4 cup banana yogurt  (you can substitute buttermilk)
1 tsp. banana extract (almond or vanilla will do as well)

2 cups sifted flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
 1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until it becomes fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until fluffy and light.

Combine liqueur and extracts.

Sift the dry ingredients together and add half to cream and sugar mixture. Add buttermilk or yogurt, extract and liqueur to the mix and then add the remaining dry ingredients. Finally, add mashed bananas and beat for another minute. Stir in the chopped nuts.

Grease and flour several loaf pans. This recipe usually yields at least a couple of loafs with some mixture left over for muffins.

Bake at 350F degrees until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Andrea is a life long leftist activist and a former campaign organizer of both provincial and federal NDP campaigns from the 1960's through to the 1990's. She lives in Toronto.

Submissions of recipes, positive reviews of restaurants that you like in your community, food news, pieces about booze or techniques or anything else are very welcome. Please send them to with "That Lefty Food Blog" in the header.

Everest Hakka House: Hakka style cuisine comes to Etobcioke!

One of the great pleasures of living in Toronto is its truly diverse food "scene". There are, quite literally, restaurants that offer up regional variations from every corner of the world, as well as restaurants that reflect the diversity of cuisine within cultures and nations.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Everest Hakka House in Mimico, they offer what amounts to a fusion of different methods and broader cultures of cooking, in this case of a southern Chinese style of cooking and Indian flavours that many of us are familiar with. There are other Hakka houses in Toronto (though not many), but none in South Etobicoke, my neighbourhood, so I was thrilled when Everest re-purposed itself from a very good Indian restaurant (which they have now moved across, the street, reopened under a new name and greatly enhanced the dishes of...but more on that in the future!), into an Indian variation of Hakka cooking.

Hakka style noodle at Everest
Hakka cuisine is itself diverse. It is both the cuisine of the Hakka people of Southern China, which is closer to what most North Americans would perceive as "Chinese" food, as well as, as is the case with Everest, a type of cuisine that originated in India when restauranteurs of Hakka background added local Indian flavours to their dishes.

Everest did not disappoint! Of a relatively modest size, with a nice front patio, it is nicely decorated and welcoming. It is also very family friendly and the server was happy to accommodate our kids on one visit. 

The food was excellent. The Chili Shrimp with steamed rice was a stand out as were all of the different Hakka style noodle dishes tried. The blends of curry flavours and Chinese style sauces were delicious. Also notable were the excellent spring rolls and the really delightful and surprising Chinese Biryani dishes.

Everest is affordable, with friendly service, and well worth heading to Mimico to try. An evening dinner for two with an appetizer or two and a couple of drinks will run you around $50-60 plus tax and tip. The lunch specials are a steal.

Everest Hakka House is located at 2356 Lake Shore Blvd W., on the 501 Queen Streetcar line, and is a couple blocks east of Mimico Avenue.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The glories of oxtail! A quick & easy Fiery Curried Oxtail Dutch Oven recipe.

The delights of Jamaican and Caribbean style oxtail have lead me to spend over a decade trying to replicate the wonderful dishes that I would smother in hot sauce and savour on lunch breaks at work...and still do. 

It is only fitting, given that along with BBQ, steak, bourbon and Indian food, oxtail is one of the foods I love most, that I would begin with an oxtail recipe!

The recipe I am sharing today is  my "quick and easy" though not short on flavour, Fiery Curried Oxtail.

First, a bit about oxtail.  

Oxtail is a truly wonderful, succulent, fatty and moist meat, if properly prepared. Originally literally describing the tail of an ox,  it now refers to the tail meat of cows either male or female.

Oxtail is widely eaten in many parts of the world, but has only recently become more popular outside of specific communities in North America. There are many different oxtail stews, soups and mains from countries as diverse as Ireland, through to South Africa, Korea and the Caribbean. 

Almost all of these are slow cooked, in that they require a cooking time of at least several hours. This is due to the fact that oxtail, while fall-off-the-bone delicious when cooked for the proper amount of time, is basically inedible if not slow cooked. The only alternative, in some recipes, is pressure cooking.

While I have tried oxtail prepared in many different ways, (I had an Irish oxtail dish at McVeigh's Pub in downtown Toronto, for example, that was heavenly), I have a particular fondness for West Indian oxtail as I am both a huge fan of West Indian food and my introduction to oxtail came from eating it at take out Caribbean restaurants in T.O. like Coconut Grove. 

As I already noted, I have spent many years trying to perfect cooking oxtail West Indian style. I have likely not succeeded!  But I have developed recipes that taste like the wonderful dishes I have eaten for so long and that inspired me. I have also developed some more complex ones that are inspired in part by other cuisines, like an Caribbean oxtail dish based on a medieval Italian pepper pot veal shank recipe. 

But for the launch of the blog I wanted to share one that anyone, virtually, could make tomorrow as long as they own a Dutch Oven and have access to oxtail and few sauces. 

Let us call this a gateway recipe to the joys of oxtail!

Fiery Curried Oxtail

Mr. Goudas' Fire in Jamaica Hot Sauce

Take a whole oxtail and separate the pieces (or buy around 2-3 lbs already fully butchered).
Coat pieces evenly with Jamaican style curry powder
Place in the bottom of a Dutch Oven
Add 1 bottle of Curry style Cooking Sauce (Grace and Mr. Goudas make them)
Add 1 cup of water
Add 1 large can of herbed and spiced diced tomatoes Add 1 beef bouillon cube
Add 1 teaspoon browning liquid
Add 1 tablespoon Worcester Sauce
Add 1-3 tablespoons Fire in Jamaica hot sauce (to taste, and, of course, feel free to use any Caribbean style hot sauce...I just happen to like this one these days as it is super fiery, super cheap and super tasty)
Add 1 tablespoon Keen's Dry Mustard
Add 1 tablespoon each salt & pepper (this is the low end...feel free to add more, of course, to taste)
Add 2 Bay leaves (remember to remove at the end)

Put the cover to the Dutch Oven on. Cook at 375 for at least 4 hours. 5-6 hours is the best range.

Every hour, remove the Dutch Oven  from the oven and stir.

After a couple of hours you may have to add liquid. You certainly will after 3-4 hours.  But don't add too much water. This dish makes its own gravy (and it is awesome) so you want it to reduce and thicken. You both want and need liquid covering the ox tail, however. It is a balance.

If you feel it is too watery at the end (unlikely...but...) just add a bit of flour to thicken.

Serve with rice or rice and peas, naan or roti style bread, beer, a heavy full bodied red wine or rum or all of the above. And extra hot sauce of course!

It is quite easy, very spicy and really delicious.

A great way to start a love affair with cooking oxtail!

If you have any questions about the ingredients, ovenware, techniques, etc, please feel free to ask in the comments. I will try to get back to you as quickly as possible. 

Oxtail Photo from wikipedia commons