Thursday, March 29, 2012

Beef Paprikash

5 lbs beef bottom blade (or other stewing meat)
3 onions, diced
1 lb parsnips, peeled and cut large on the bias
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
olive oil
½ head garlic, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup good quality hungarian paprika
½ Tbsp cumin
1 Tsp cayenne
6 thyme sprigs
1 Tsp salt
1 Tbsp flour
1 cup red wine
2 cups tomato sauce or canned tomatoes
1 ½ cups sour cream

This is another braised meat dish so it follows the general theme of my post about How To Make a Stew. But this meal is a classic in my family so I feel it deserves its own post. There are also a few modifications of the basic technique. Paprikash is a traditional Hungarian dish typically made with veal, although beef chicken or pork are often used as well. As this dish is named after the primary spice, it is important to use good quality paprika. This is not a place for smoked paprika and I would generally advise against using Spanish paprika, as it is generally of inferior quality to Hungarian. Hungarian paprika is sold in two variations, hot and sweet. The “hot” in hot paprika shouldn’t normally refer to the heat associated with chili burn, but more to the pungency. Hot Hungarian paprika is the ideal form of paprika to use for this dish. Sweet paprika will work as well, though you may want to increase slightly the quantity of cumin and (maybe) the cayenne to compensate for the relative delicacy of the sweet paprika. Of course this will all depend on the actual quality of the product. Sometimes the hot paprika can be quite spicy, though it is not supposed to be. In this case reduce (or even eliminate) the cayenne so it doesn’t get too spicy.

First brown the slices of parsnip and set aside, then brown the meat and set it aside, as described in my stew post.

Then add the onions, carrots and celery and saute until soft, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Then add the tomato paste and paprika and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes to open up the aromas of the paprika. Do not let it burn. Then add more oil and stir in the flour to make a roux and cook for about a minute. Then add the wine, then the tomatoes and the salt, pepper and other herbs and spices. Add the meat and parsnips back to the pot, bring to a boil and cook in a 275 degree oven for about 3 hours or until the meat is very tender.

When the stew is done, take it out of the oven and let it cool for about 5 minutes. Make sure it is no longer boiling. Then stir in the sour cream, one or two dollops at a time. At this point, if you bring the paprikash back to a boil, the sauce will separate and appear curdled. This won’t affect the taste but when done properly you will get a very smooth texture that boiling will undo. However, when frozen and reheated, the damage is actually not as bad as one might think, as the sour cream stays more or less emulsified. We serve this over egg noodles or another broad pasta, such as pappardelle. Other pasta will work as well, or any other starch you would normally serve with a stew.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pierre Poutine And The Disappearing Democracy

I have written before about the current Canadian governing party doing whatever they can to suppress dissent and undermine democracy. There is now another scandal that strikes very close to home here in Guelph. Actually it is not really news, as this is something that happened during the federal election last May and was reported on locally when it happened. It is only now that the rest of the country has noticed that something is going on.

What originally happened is that on the day of the election, many Guelph residents received an automated phone call (known as a robocall) with a prerecorded voice claiming to be from Elections Canada and that the call was to inform you that your polling station had changed. For those who are knowledgeable, this is obviously not a legitimate call. First of all, Elections Canada never conducts robocalls, they do not give notice of poll location changes by telephone, and they do not even have lists of voter phone numbers. If a poll location changes, they will send out a revised voter information card or, if there is not enough time to do that, they will have officials staff the former location as well, and direct people to the new location. For most people who received this call, the new location they were given was downtown, which is not where these people lived. Most often mentioned was Old Quebec Street Mall, which to my knowledge has never been used as a voting location. Generally churches, schools, retirement homes, or community centres are used as poll locations. Recently there has also been some claims that similar calls have occurred other places in the country, including in some ridings (districts) where the election was decided by fewer than 50 votes.

On further investigation, the phone that made the suspicious calls in Guelph turned out to be what is referred to as a “burner” cellphone - a phone that is acquired, often under an assumed name, used for a short while then abandoned. This phone was registered to “Pierre Poutine” living on “Separatist Street” in Joliette, Quebec. Aside from the obvious fakery, the story takes a couple more interesting terms at this point. There is in fact a restaurant in Guelph that is called Pierre’s Poutine which, interestingly enough, is located in the vicinity of Old Quebec Street. Now this is not the same restaurant I reviewed a few months ago that also was in downtown Guelph and serves poutine. It seems that Guelph is becoming a regional poutine capital. Well, at least it may give Guelph some kind of food identity because it was known for absolutely nothing culinary before now. The owner of the restaurant of course has no connection to the scandal, but he is nonetheless enjoying the notoriety.

Next came a suspiciously coincidental resignation from a Conservative party aide who had extensive involvement in the election campaign in Guelph. Michael Sona was a communications director for the local Conservative candidate during the election and until recently was an aide for a Mississauga area MP. During the Guelph campaign he was involved in another mini-scandal. There was special early balloting on the University of Guelph campus because the election would have come immediately after the end of term so the poll was set up to allow Guelph students to vote in Guelph. Apparently the Conservatives had some concerns with how the polling stations were set up but Sona’s inexplicable form of protest was to attempt to grab the ballot box. I still don’t really understand why there were no charges laid in the incident and everything was kind of ignored. Now once the robocall story becomes national news, Sona suddenly resigns from his current position in the Conservative party. Again, we don’t know if he actually was involved in this exercise, but let’s just say it looks suspicious.

Then reports from other ridings across the country began coming in. Some calls were automated but others used live voices; some claimed to be from Elections Canada and some claimed to be from the Conservative Party and others may have claimed to be from one of the other parties. There were also calls from people claiming to be from the Liberal Party that called Liberal supporters at inappropriate times and were harassing or otherwise rude to voters. In many of these cases the calls have been tracked back to Conservative Party callers. Other ridings also had calls about supposed changes in polling station locations, some hours away from where the voter lived. It seems that the majority of ridings affected were heavily contested ridings and many had slim margins of victory. Thousands of complaints have been made with Elections Canada and they are now undertaking an investigation more comprehensive than they have ever done before.

Recently, another “interesting” situation has come to light. In a Toronto area riding, a high profile Liberal MP was defeated by about 4000 votes in a closely watched race, and the Conservative victor was rewarded with a position in Cabinet. This riding also received reports of Liberal supporters receiving harassing phone calls. Now we have found out that nearly 3000 late voter registrations were filed. In Canada, even if you are not on the voters list, if you are eligible to vote and you have a residence in the appropriate riding you can go to the polls on Election Day and fill out a form, including your address, show ID, and you can still vote. Since I have moved several times in the last few years I have had to go through this process more than once. But in this case, it seems many of those late registration form showed irregularities: in particular on many of these forms the address was left blank. In others, the address given was either phony or for a business. As the address is needed as proof you live in the riding, it must be a residential address. Despite lacking this critical information these forms were signed by election officials so these people were able to vote. We don’t yet know how many of those late registration forms contained irregularities, but reports now are saying there could be at least a couple thousand. When you consider the margin of victory was only 4000, this combined with the voter suppression tactics, begins to call the result into doubt. And if these registrations were apparently allowed from people without giving a valid address, is it possible they may even have voted twice? Do we need the purple ink in Canada too now?

While it is certainly possible that rogue Conservative Party sympathizers did this on their own without approval from leadership or the official campaign (apparently it is disturbingly easy and cheap to set up an account to send out robocalls to a given list of phone numbers - any one can do it with a few minutes, a few dollars, and instructions from the Internet), the number of ridings involved, the slight differences in tactics used, and the overwhelming pattern of which places and which voters were targeted suggests the party probably has something to do with this. And when we put this together with their general approach to governance and integrity, it seems downright plausible this was orchestrated by someone higher up. Also, as this seems to have been a tactic for voter suppression, mainly targeting those who had previously told the conservatives that they would not vote for them, it is consistent with previous government tactics remove the part of government that has to do with representing the people. They are forcing through a regressive crime bill that will establish tons of mandatory minimum sentences for broad ranges of crimes, removing a judge’s discretion in sentencing, and are trying to form a very intrusive bill very similar to the SOPA bill that was proposed in the US. There are all kinds of other things they are doing to ignore public or government opposition or to keep everything secret, but I won’t go into all that here. I just hope people won’t just forget about this like they have all the other scandals this government has been involved in. But that seems to be what is happening and meanwhile this party remains in government and even gains more power. I suppose it could be worse though. I don’t think there are many Canadians who take Rick Santorum seriously.