Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Bill Morneau's jam bars

Following his delivery of the federal budget yesterday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau hosted a post-budget reception in the Sir John A. MacDonald building and, while his budget ran a deficit in order to make overdue investments in Canadian infrastructure and other programs, in a nod to austerity his reception featured a cash bar.

But with my $8 glass of wine in hand, I went on to sample the bounty of nibbling options that were on hand. There were the usual veggie cups and cheese and crackers, but a highlight for many was the pretzels and mustard. Much of the catering on the Hill gets repetitive, but I have not seen the pretzels before. Now, I didn't partake myself -- I don't really care for soft or hard pretzels, and I dislike mustard. When I buy a bag of snack mix I will pick the pretzels out and eat them separately, so as to not have their pretzliness ruin the taste of the doritos, sun chips and cheesees. Nevertheless, the pretzels were a hit with a majority, and continually had to be restocked from the kitchen.

I did enjoy the make your own bruschetta stations, with a variety of topping options to go on your perfectly toasted wedge of bread. I topped mine with the strong cheese, and it was delicious.

My highlight though was the dessert bar station, which is a rare feature at these events. As you can see, there were a variety of bars on offer, including brownies, blondies and lemon bars. Now, I like me a good lemon bar, but tonight I only had eyes for the jam bars. Made with raspberry jam with crumbly oats on the top, these were delicious. I had two and had no regrets.

I also ran into my friend from the Cattlemen, who told me they would be back on the hill with a beef bbq in the summer. I've missed their last two beer, beef and whiskey receptions, so it's nice to have something to look forward to as winter takes its last swipe at Ottawa.

All in all, I declare the pretzels and jam bars the real change this post-budget reception needed.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Produce, consumer products, grain-fed beef on grain-fed buns and Canadian actors

Having caught up with work after a well-timed constituency week, here's a round-up of a few receptions from the last few weeks. Getting these out of the way before budget season next week.

Canadian Produce Marketing Association

Produce is getting really expensive these days, or so it seems on my very ocasional trips to the grocery store. I paid $3 for a red pepper last week. $3! It's like you people don't want me to eat healthier.

I didn't talk about produce pricing with the produce marketing folks, but I did confess most of the produce I'm eating at home lately is frozen and tossed into a lazy man's stir fry -- good and non-judgemental folks that they are, they were fine with that. Produce is produce, after all.

I did sample some of the produce on offer at their reception at the Chateau Laurier -- for example, that celery right there beside the pita bread smothered in spinach and cheese sauce -- but hey, spinach is produce too. Delicious, cheese-smothered produce. Also had some flatbread there that was kinda meh.

I also enjoyed some chicken satay with peanut sauce and ,to keep the produce theme going, two very tasty mushroom risotto balls.

To digress for just a moment, how good is risotto? So good, right? Thing is, when I see it on offer in a nicer restaurant, I always feel like I'm squandering the dining opportunity if I order the risotto instead of something more substantial, like steak or prime rib.  Maybe risotto should be a more common side option, as well as a main?

Anyway, the produce folks also had a Canadian celebrity chef on hand to demonstrate healthy cooking  techniques with MPs Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Bruce Stanton as guest chefs. I watched them dice and toss vegetables into pots for a few minutes, and then headed to the next reception.

Food & Consumer Products

Apparently ketchup is all the talk at Queen's Park, but if the ketchup lobby was present at the Food & Consumer Products reception I didn't hear about it. But I did have some more of those mushroom risotto things.

Primarily I was concerned about getting a photo with Don Newman -- and on that, I can declare mission accomplished. Great to have met the broadcasting legend who largely eschewed the yelling MP panel format for much more substantive stakeholder interviews.

Random scallops

I can't remember where I had these bacon wrapped scallops, but they were scallops wrapped in bacon and they were delicious. Because they're scallops wrapped in bacon. Of course they were delicious. Bacon makes everything better.

Grain Growers of Canada

I stopped in at this reception in Centre Block before an evening meeting, and there was a buzz throughout the halls of parliament -- there is beef on buns down the hall and holy crap, it is so good.

And so good it was.. Canadian grain farmers had brought their finest rolls to Ottawa, and between those beautifully baked buns they added a bounty of beef that was succulent and tender. I was going to have just one as I had shawarma-related plans for later in the evening -- then one became two, and then three.

Then it was back into the halls to spread the word. Yes, there was beef on buns, and it was good.

ACTRA on the Hill

Canadian actors held a reception over in the East Block to make the case for supporting Canadian arts and culture, and I think I even recognized a few of them.

I only had time to take a quick graze over the appetizer table and primarily focused on the veggies and dip, which came in very cute little cups. More things should come in little cups.

I think the Chicken Farmers have a wing ding next week. Will there be chicken fingers? Chicken wings? Chicken sliders? Random lamb chops just to break with convention? I'm looking forward to finding out.

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Eating up the Hill: Someone prorogue these perogies

I spent the last provincial election in Parkdale-High Park, and among several regrets is that I didn't take the opportunity to sample some real, homemade, honest to goodness Ukranian perogies. Maybe I'll have the opportunity when I'm in Winnipeg in May for the Liberal biennial (although I also must try this chicken finger restaurant). Unfortunately, the parliamentary pierogies are no substitute.

Restaurant: Centre Block Cafeteria
Dish: Potato & Cheese Perogies with Bacon and Caramelized Onions and Red Cabbage & Apple Salad
Price: $6.32 (before tax)

The description of this particular offering speaks to me on many levels. Perogies, check. Bacon, double check. And fruit in my salad? Yes, please! So, finding myself in Centre Block around lunch time while they were on offer, I felt the need to check it out.

While I couldn't resist the prorogation joke, in all honesty they weren't that bad for cafeteria perogies. While obviously of the formerly frozen, mass-produced variety, they were crisped up nicely while still maintaining an appropriate level of fluffiness and a light golden finish.

And while for many years I was somewhat anti-cabbage -- particularly, for some reason, red cabbage -- as I have matured I have come around on the topic and I enjoyed this salad. While I could have done without the hint of dijon mustard, the pecan, cranberries and apples complemented the cabbage nicely.

No, what left me with a less than positive impression of this meal was the unadvertised sauerkraut with my bacon and onions, which otherwise would have paired nicely with my sour cream as a perogy topping. Some many be offended here, but I think sauerkraut is gross and I stand by that.

Still, it was a decent lunch all in all. But I desperately need real perogies. Any recommendations for downtown Winnipeg perogy options gratefully accepted.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Eating up the Hill: You don't order a burger at the Parliamentary Restaurant

I forgot what I'll assume should be one of the foodie rules: don't order something simple at a place that specializes in the fancier things. Or, put another way, if you want a burger go to a burger joint.

I found myself for the second time in the Parliamentary Restaurant last week. My first visit I enjoyed a nice steak. This visit I was in the mood for lighter fare. Much of the menu is fancier items like spaghetti, salmon and lamb, but I decided to keep it simple and go with a cheeseburger with bacon, cheese and sauteed mushrooms. As usual, salad on the side in lieu of fries.

Restaurant: Parliamentary Restaurant
Dish: Homemade Bistro Beef Burger with salad or fries
Price: $13.25 (before tax)

I wasn't confident in my choice, and that lack of confidence was justified when my order arrived. My first thought was that it was a particularly small patty -- thick, but not wide. It was lean beef, but lacked flavour. The bacon was alright but the cheese lacked zip and the mushrooms lacked personality. The bun was at least as small as the burger, so I didn't end up with an excess of bread. As for the salad, it was a salad. Nothing to write home about.

It reminded me of a hotel hamburger. Trying hard but achieving less. But it's your fault for going to the Westin and ordering a damned cheeseburger.

My friend had the meal-sized Ceasar salad with chicken, dressing on the side, hold the bacon. He declared the lettuce crisp, the chicken moist, and the portion size satisfying. It's advertised as a Ceasar Salad with "Sourdough croutons, parmesan, double smoked bacon and fresh lemon dressing " and a large with chicken clocks in at $15.75.

And we did both agree that the complimentary bread basket was fantastic.

Rest assured, I have learned my lesson. I will confine my Parliamentary Burgers to the grill at the Valour Building.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Eating up the Hill: A valourous steak sandwich

Last Wednesday was my birthday and, while I had plans for a few root beers that evening, I didn't have time for a luxurious lunch. So I ducked into the swanky newish cafeteria in the Valour Building to try out one of its grill selections.

Valour (the staff tell me) is the only precinct cafeteria with an actual grill, which allows them to offer a permanent selection of assorted grill items that the other cafeterias don't, such as hamburgers and my selection this day, the steak sandwich.

While I try to be positive, it was, frankly, the most underwhelming lunch I've had on the Hill yet. And I do like me a steak sandwich. They did do some things well. The steak was cooked to order from scratch, and they hit my requested medium grill nicely. The ciabatta roll was fresh and a fine complement. The fault, my readers, was in the toppings.

It was advertised with lettuce and tomato, which I took a pass on. I don't believe lettuce and tomato belong on a steak sandwich. Or on a hamburger, but that's another blog. They would only distract from, rather than complement, the steak. Maybe I'm too hung up on Philly sandwiches, but on a steak sandwich I want sautéed onions and mushrooms, and some real cheese or whiz. Those toppings would complement rather than compete with the steak.

Sadly, those weren't available, although they did add some tasty basil mayo sort of sauce. They seemed concerned about the plainness of my steak sandwich so they did, at my request, add some cheese. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until I got to my table that it was processed cheese.

I will say, the staff seem proud of their steak sandwich. The cashier told me it was her favourite and, a little later, two of the staff came separately by my table to ask how I was enjoying it. I was positive, but did mention that mushrooms and onions would make a big difference. I just hope all the interest was just coincidental, and that my secret identity as a food blogger hasn't been exposed.

Restaurant: Valour Building Cafeteria
Dish: Steak Sandwich
Price: $8.11 (before tax)

So what I ended up with was a smallish but decently-quality piece of grilled steak on a roll with a basil mayo and a slice of processed cheese. I should not have added the cheese; it made it taste cheap and processed. The steak was good, but there wasn't enough there there. And lettuce and tomato wouldn't have done it. At $8.11, it's on the upper end of the menu, and it's not worth it. But sauté up some mushrooms and onions, and throw on some provolone, and then we're talking.

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