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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fun Sandwich Ideas: An open faced Smoked Meat & Chicken Reuben

As part of an ongoing feature we will be introducing new and fun sandwich ideas. The sandwich is such a staple of Western eating, yet many of us eat essentially the same two-or-three sliced meat and cheese variations over-and-over again. In these blogs we will be passing along some new ideas to mix it up a bit.

Today we are doing an Open-Faced Chicken & Smoked Meat Reuben Sandwich. 

The traditional Reuben is a glorious hot grilled sandwich that is a combination of corned beef, sauerkraut and melted Swiss Cheese on Dark Rye bread with Russian or Thousand Island Dressing on the side for dipping. As with many cool food ideas, there is an ongoing debate as to who invented the Reuben, but it is widely accepted that it originated in New York about a hundred years ago.

In our version we will be changing up the ingredients a little and placing the sandwich open faced under the broiler!

Take slices of your favourite Dark Rye bread and top them sliced smoked chicken or turkey breast and with Montreal style smoked meat or corned beef. Cover with a generous portion of sauerkraut. Always remember to drain the kraut in a colander before using or your sandwich will quickly become soggy. Top with slices of Swiss Cheese. 

In the meantime you need to set your oven to maximum and to the broil setting and place an oven rack so that the top of your sandwiches will be about an inch to half inch from the element. Place the sandwiches on a tray and put under the broiler.

Broil for about 4-5 minutes or until the Swiss Cheese is melted and a little golden brown. Let the sandwiches sit for a couple of minutes and then top with lots of Russian or Thousand Island Dressing. While many put it on the side, in the case of an open faced sandwich dipping can be perilous.  I suggest taking the full flavour plunge and putting it right on top!

These are great and make a terrific day off weekend lunch or as a fun dinner anytime. They go perfectly with a Caesar salad or seasoned French Fries. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

That Lefty Food Blog weekly food news roundup: Quebec agriculture workers organize, NYC fast food workers strike, food trucks & more...

This week's Friday food news roundup, sharing news, links and stories of interest to or from those of a lefty viewpoint.  

New York City fast food workers to strike:

Food trucks finally coming to Toronto...but not everywhere:

Saskatoon's first food truck hits the streets:

Renewed clashes in Darfur threaten long term food security in Sudan according to the UN:

They have always said you should not skip breakfast and that midnight snacks are bad...and they may have been right:

Palm Oil...a less than ideal substitute for trans fats?: 

The over-intensification of agriculture in Europe may be causing a dangerous decline in the butterfly: 

"Food Insecurity"...otherwise known as poverty or being a paycheque away from destitution, means that almost four million Canadians struggle to afford food:  

Quebec agriculture workers in Saint-Nicolas, many of them migrant labourers from Guatemala and Mexico, seek to unionize:

Tim Hortons forced to apologize after blocking gay news site:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Clay Baked Chicken Revisited: Clay baking a whole chicken..."Roman" style

Recently I wrote about the simple art of Clay Baking, the ancient cooking method that makes moist and delicious dishes out of even the most "inferior" and often dry meats.

As promised, I am returning to give an example of how to make a whole chicken. This dish is known as Roman Chicken and its name connects back to the clay baker's distant past.

Roman chicken could not be easier and is an impressive dish to serve the family or company as it is flavourful, makes its own sauce, and is moist even in the breast meat. 

As always with a clay baker, you need to fill both halves with cool water and let it moisten for 15 minutes or more. You also always absolutely must start it in a cold oven. The clay baker will break otherwise.

For Roman Chicken you take a whole 3-4 pound chicken. Season it with seasoning of your choosing. For this dish I used paprika, salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning and Keen's Dry Mustard. But you can use any number of variations...or just salt and pepper. 

Empty the water from the baker and line the bottom with three celery stalks. Place the chicken on top of the celery. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with two onions, both quartered. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the chicken.

Place in a cold oven and set to 425 degrees. Cook for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hour. Let sit for around 15 minutes before serving.

It will come out with a "gravy, and the celery and onions will be both soft and infused with the flavour of the chicken juices and seasonings. 

Again, an easy, inexpensive and really excellent clay baked dish. Be sure not to tell your friends that it is as simple as it is more fun that way!

I like to enjoy this with a very chilled Portuguese Vino Verdhe and rice. 

A clay baker cleaning tip:  Empty the clay baker, soak for a while in warm water, and do not use soap at all. As clay bakers absorb the flavour and essence, if you will, of whatever you cook in them, soap must never be used. After soaking use a clean wire or plastic scrub brush and scrub off the food remnants. If remnants are difficult to remove use some salt as an abrasive. When it is clean, there will still be some naturally occurring discoloration to the clay baker. This is good and expected. It means that your baker is becoming more seasoned. You may now put your clay baker in a cold oven and set to 200 degrees for 20 or so minutes to bring any oils to the surface which should be wiped away once it is cool enough to handle. Do not use cold water to do this! Again it may crack the baker.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ducky's Roti: Favourite "Take-Out Counter" Spots I

We all have them; favourite neighbourhood take-out spots that are not quite restaurants (in fact, sometimes they have no seating at all) but are places we go for quick, inexpensive, and occasionaly truly delicious fare. The best among these are almost hidden treasures that those "in the know" tell their friends about and that we go back to some cases for one specific dish/sandwich/dessert etc. at which they excel.

As an ongoing feature we will be showcasing some of the best of these, so that when you are in whatever neighbourhood they are tucked away in, you can seek out a lunch or dinner knowing that you will find a gem.

Today we will look at a Long Branch, Toronto roti shop, Ducky's Roti, whose strip mall storefront location and total lack of decor might cause people to pass right by...which would be a shame, as they are missing out on a real treat.

Ducky's has a fairly large menu, actually, that includes not only rotis, but also many rice dishes and sides as well. It has Caribbean standards like Oxtail, Ackee & Saltfish, and so on, as well as specials available only certain days, such as their excellent Curried Duck, and their Saturday morning Caribbean breakfast menu. While there is not a lot of seating, there is usually a table available.

 But as the name implies, their forte are their rotis, which run between $5-10, depending on ingredients and whether you are getting large or small. The roti bread itself is always perfect, as are the potatoes which are included in every roti option.

Stand-outs on the roti menu are the Boneless Goat Roti, the Vegetarian Delight and the Boneless Jerk Chicken Roti which is fiery and never dry. You can get their in-house hot sauce either in the roti itself or on the side. It is very hot, so be forewarned!

As with most take out places, a lunch or dinner, with a drink (non-alcoholic, they are not licensed), will not cost you more than $10-15. If looking for a really quick snack, try their wonderful "doubles", a terrific Caribbean street food that consists of curried chick peas (Chana) wrapped in a fried flat bread. These, as well, can be had with or without hot sauce and are a steal at $2.50.

Ducky's Roti is located at 3296 Lake Shore Blvd. W, about 5 blocks west of Kipling.

If there is a "hidden gem" you like in your community that you would like to share a story about...please do! Send contributions to with "That Lefty Food Blog" in the header.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer BBQ Ideas, Sides & Tips I: Mediterranean "Taverna" Pasta Salad

As part of a weekly feature, we will be looking at a variety of ideas, dishes and tips to help with that great institution of Canadian summer cooking, the BBQ.

I am a dedicated summer BBQ-er, and a fierce partisan of charcoal barbequing, the techniques and recipes of which I will return to in future posts. But today's post is for a crowd pleasing side salad that is both easy to make and will compliment BBQ backyard parties, propane or charcoal, or summer trips to the park for an afternoon picnic.

In fact, it is good enough that it can be served year round and makes an excellent main dish served with a nice crusty baguette.

Mediterranean "Taverna" Pasta Salad

900g bag Rotini or Fusili Pasta
1 block Feta Cheese, cubed
1 1/2- 2 cups Black Olives
1 1/2- 2 cups Green Olives
1-2 pints Grape Tomatoes 
Chopped Fresh Parsley

For the Dressing:
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 minced cloves of garlic
1-3 teaspoons Tabasco Sauce (do not leave out)
2 tablespoons Italian Seasoning 
1 tablespoon crushed anise seed
The Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Cook the pasta to al dente and rinse. Allow to cool for a few minutes. Add feta cheese, olives and tomatoes and stir together. Fresh, unpitted olives greatly enhance this salad, but if not use jarred olives as opposed to canned, which never taste right. 

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and stir together until thoroughly blended. Pour into salad combining everything as you do.

Finally, add the chopped parsley.

Taverna salad is also terrific prepared ahead and refrigerated overnight. Portions can, of course, be adjusted according to the size of your gathering. 


Friday, July 12, 2013

That Lefty Food Blog weekly food news roundup: Human rights & Cambodian sugar, Hitchcock's "The Birds" prescient & the dangers of Artificial Sweeteners

This week's Friday food news roundup, sharing news, links and stories of interest to or from those of a lefty viewpoint.  

The sad reality of neo-liberalism on display in the USA...welfare for help for poor citizens:

The horrible human rights abuses that are behind Cambodian sugar:

Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds proven to be prescient!:

Twinkies...deconstructed. You will wish they hadn't been! :

Artificial Sweeteners...they not only taste weird...they are bad for you as well:

Just because the label says something...does not mean it is true!:

"The West End Food Bank in Moncton is losing up to half of its produce because the air conditioning is broken and there is no money for repairs."

A truly bizarre story adds to concerns over food safety in China:

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The simple art of Clay Baking: Fast, easy & delicious (with a basic recipe for clay baked drumsticks)

Many people are intimidated by cooking. I was for many years, and this led me to spend much of my twenties eating a handful of very basic foods (sardines with toast was a classic example) and getting a lot of take out or pre-fab, stick in the oven for an hour and "cook", pizzas, lasagnas, etc., the vast bulk of which were, to be honest, not terribly good.

Many of us are also very busy, and, especially if we have kids, on fairly strict food budgets. I have three kids, aged from six to eleven, who eat more-and-more as each year passes. Sometimes the crappy No Name Family Size lasagna seems like an easy and cheap alternative to cooking, and sometimes I suppose it is.

But there are other alternatives, many in fact, that are also easy and cheap, taste far better and use better ingredients and that not only do not need any particular cooking skills but also are a great gateway to more complex dishes once the basics are mastered. In the case of Clay Baking, the basics are easily mastered indeed.

A standard size Clay Baker. This one has a great design!
Clay baking is an ancient form of cooking and can be found in many cultures around the world. Today, Clay Bakers, or Romertopfs as they are also known, can be purchased new in a standard size for as little as $20-30 and can often be found at yard sales for a few bucks. In fact it is at yard sales that I found all of the several I have owned over the years. These have the virtue that they are already "seasoned" as well, though one should ask if they used it for fish (more on why later). Small bakers for cooking garlic or onions can also be purchased. 

Clay baking, among other things, is a truly excellent way to cook seemingly "inferior" cuts of meat, such as beef shank, a great way to prepare fish and other meats, is eminently adaptable (I love cooking curried goat in a Clay Baker)  and one of the best ways to cook truly moist chicken. I have countless clay baking recipes, some more complex than others, many of which I will be sharing. 

Today, however, I will share one that could not be simpler, that uses very inexpensive ingredients, and that can be made in around the same time and at around the same price as that Family Size No Name lasagna.

Just before going through the recipe there are a few basic things that one needs to know about clay baking in general. Before cooking you need to soak  the clay baker by filling both halves with cold water and leaving it there for fifteen minutes. No matter the dish you must ALWAYS start cooking in a cold oven. Never preheat. It will cause the clay baker to break.  Also, if you want to cook both fish and other dishes in your clay baker, you should buy two, one for fish and one for chicken and other meats or vegetables. Clay bakers become seasoned with repeated uses and absorb flavour, so you want to keep them separate. Finally never wash a clay baker with soap. Put hot water in it to soak and scrub it to clean it. 

So, without further ado, here is a busy weeknight beginner recipe of Clay Baked Chicken Drumsticks in BBQ Sauce. 

First, soak your clay baker in cold water for 15 minutes. 
Take 8-15 chicken drumsticks and season (to taste) with salt and pepper, BBQ seasoning, jerk seasoning or any other seasoning of your choice.
Place the drumsticks in the bottom of the clay baker.
Pour in a 796 ml. can of diced tomatoes (I like to use the Herb & Spice variety) 
Pour in a bottle of BBQ sauce of your choosing.
Place in a COLD oven and turn to 425 degrees
Cook for 1 1/4 hours.
Remove from oven, gently stir chicken and sauce and let sit for 10 minutes.
Serve with its sauce, on rice or pasta!

That is all there is to it. Literally. And the chicken will be fall-off-the-bone moist and in a sauce. It is a big hit with my kids and family. There are any number of ways to change it up. Add a can of corn. Add mushrooms. Use Salsa instead of BBQ sauce. Make your own BBQ sauce (and yes I will share some BBQ sauce recipes). And on-and-on!

Next week I will share the recipe for Roman Chicken, an amazing and simple way to prepare a whole chicken that will be perfectly cooked every time.

And, you can look forward to some more complicated clay baker recipes in the near future, including that one for a perfect Curried Goat.

Friday, July 5, 2013

That Lefty Food Blog weekly food news roundup: Climate change food nightmares, microbreweries & more

This week's Friday food news roundup, sharing news, links and stories of interest to or from those of a lefty viewpoint.  

B.C. scientists raise alarm about the threat to water and food: http: //

More climate change news with alarm bells being raised over Maine lobsters:

Microbreweries revitalize neighbourhoods...only to fall victim to the revitalization! :

"Not too long ago, patients in the Queen St. mental institution now known as CAMH were barred from the staff, they are running the place":

Shark Fin ban goes into effect in California:,0,6629903.story

A bizarre and humorous story out of a Taco Bell in Michigan:

WHO director-general urges governments to put public health before the needs of big business:

Beef from cows infected with bovine tuberculosis may be being served at schools and retirement homes in the UK:

Food shortages worsen in Syria:

The Give 30 Campaign to encourage donations to food banks during Ramadan launched:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Chicken, Fresh Asparagus & Mushroom Pie

Submitted by Andrea Grassby Valentini

This recipe was always a big hit on Sundays in the campaign offices when I was an organizer. Serving this hearty and delicious dish for lunch made sure the weary candidate would show up for another day of canvassing and kept the volunteers from starving.

1¼ cup cubed cooked chicken
¾  cup cooked fresh asparagus (the tips are most tender!)
½  cup sautéed fresh mushrooms
1 tbsp. crushed garlic
3 strips of bacon, cooked very well and crumbled up
½  cup shredded medium Cheddar cheese (or your firm cheese of choice)
3 large eggs
1 cup light cream
2 tsps. flour
½  tsp. salt
¼  tsp. Freshly ground white pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste (if desired)
Small handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 unbaked pastry shell (9 inches)

Arrange asparagus and mushrooms in the bottom of pie shell, then top with the chicken, bacon, garlic and cheese.

In a bowl, beat eggs well then stir in the cream, flour and seasonings (except for the paprika). Pour the mixture into the shell and sprinkle with paprika.
Bake at 375ºF for 45-50 minutes. Poke a knife into the center of the pie; if it comes out clean, it’s done!
Let stand 5 minutes before cutting. This pie should yield about 5-6 generous servings.
Bon Appétit!

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.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A trip to Kensington Market & Chinatown: Highlighting Swatow, Cheese Magic, Goya Salsita & more!

A trip to the Kensington Market and Chinatown area in the heart of Toronto is always an adventure for those of a culinary bent. There are so many options and so much potential, especially for those looking for great food while trying to stay on a budget.

It is impossible, in one blog post, to visit all of the places, restaurants and products/foodstuffs that I would like to highlight in this historic district (now threatened by proposed incursions by retail giants like Loblaws and Walmart...but more on this later) , so today I will make a first foray with a promise to return.

We begin at Swatow, a restaurant just north of Dundas on the east side of Spadina that is my favourite casual Chinese restaurant in the city.  Swatow highlights a style of cooking the originates from the Fujian region, and its extensive menu is full of  very affordable and truly delicious dishes. 

We started with their justly famous Shrimp Dumpling Noodle Soup, a dish I find it difficult to go a week without. The dumplings are, simply put, fantastic and the whole earthy blend of broth, greens and noodles is perfect any time of day (or night, Swatow is a well established late night "after the bars close" destination), or any season. I highly recommend adding heaping spoonfuls of their excellent house table chili flake hot sauce. 

Next we ordered the Beef with Black Bean Sauce and Fried Noodles. The fried noodle dishes at Swatow are all excellent, the very satisfying texture of the perfectly prepared noodles complimenting the various sauces and meat, chicken or seafood. Swatow always has wonderfully moist beef and chicken, never the dry or tough fare that one all too often gets at restaurants of all types. 

Their Lo Mein dishes and beef sizzling plate have also been memorable stand outs over the years, and it is hard to go wrong with any of their soups. Two people can easily eat here for less than $40.

Just down the street from Swatow is the Hua Sheng Supermarket, which specializes in Asian foods and sauces as well as having an extensive fresh vegetable selection. For those looking for it, this supermarket is where one can stock up on the Lao Gan Ma hot sauces that I blogged about before, as well as finding literally hundreds of other options. The prices of meat, vegetables and sauces here are highly affordable and worth the trip.

Often when in Chinatown I like to buy a few of the Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwiches from Nguyen Huong Food. These are an incredible value at $2.00 for regular or $2.50 for large, and are served on a fresh french style bun filled up with pickled vegetables, assorted sliced meats, a pate, sauce and, if you wish, gloriously hot sliced red peppers. If not having them right then and there (though there is no seating, so you have to find a bench or eat while strolling around) I take them home and they make a perfect late afternoon snack or lunch the next day at the park with the kids. 

Next stop was Cheese Magic on Baldwin in the heart of Kensington. Cheese Magic has an impressive selection of cheeses from staples like cheddar (which are truly competitively priced and can be had from $1.60/100 grams) and Camembert, to more offbeat or less common selections. It has friendly staff who are always quick with a sample. Today, we picked up some Canadian Brie, which is terrifically creamy and easily as good as many of its more lauded French varieties, some of the English Smoked Applewood Cheddar, a perennial favourite in my house with its strong, smokey taste and richness, and, on the recommendation of the fellow behind the counter, some of the very boldly flavoured Dutch Aged Beemster cheese. A hard cheese where a little goes a long way, he said it would go perfectly with a heavy red wine...and it did! (I enjoyed it with Castillo de Monseran, a Spanish wine that can be had at the LCBO for only $9.95 a bottle). 

Finally, we made our way to Perola's Supermarket on Augusta, a Latin American grocery store specializing in Latin American essentials and stocking a wide array of hot sauces, which, as you may have figured out, are my thing! 

This is one of the places you can find all four of the Goya Salsita line of hot sauces. All four are complex and delicious, each featuring a specific key flavour and a varying level of heat and smokiness or tang. My favourite is the Pure Fire Ripe Habanero Chiles blend which is, as one might expect, very hot, but also full of rich flavours that do not overpower but compliment, the key to a great hot sauce. I like this one on rice, with beans or as a dipping sauce for steak. A side bowl of it is a perfect accompaniment to a grilled Rib Eye.

This wraps up our first foray into this great part of Toronto, a hub and gem of affordability, diversity and history.

Sadly, retail giants Loblaws and Walmart want to set up shop right on the very edges of Kensington and Chinatown, bringing their usual, stale and faceless blend of corporate blandness and "convenience".  I hope you consider taking the time to read about this and signing the petitions of The Friends of Kensington Market in opposition to it.

Swatow is located at 309 Spadina Ave. Hua Sheng Supermarket is located at 293 Spadina Ave. Nguyen Huong Food is located at 322 Spadina Ave. Cheese Magic is located at 182 Baldwin St. Perola's Supermarket is located at 247 Augusta Ave.