Friday, December 02, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Lasagna and Cesar Salad

No one makes lasagna like Mom, but she's not here and I still need to eat lunch. So I headed up to the Confederation Building cafeteria on Thursday to try the special of the day: Lasagna and Cesar Salad.

First, the lasagna. On the positive side, the portion size was generous, and I didn't get skimped on the cheese on top. And I was pleased by the presence of mushrooms After that, it was kind of downhill. The ground beef, while in decent if not generous quantity, was not of high quality. It could have been saucier. And if there was cheese on the inside, it had melted into nothingness. No evidence of ricotta or cottage, cheeses I would usually expect to find in my lasagna.

The lasagna filled me up and was cooked appropriately, but was definitely cafeteria lasagna.

On to the Cesar salad. Too often, a side salad at the caf is just spring mix and a dressing of your choice. That's not a salad -- that's lettuce. A salad involves other ingredients. Toss in some cucumber or something, people. Thankfully, this time they had the appropriate ingredients on hand to make your own Cesar salad. I asked for my romaine on a separate plate to give me more space to work with, and proceeded to add croutons, bacon bits, Parmesan cheese and dressing. The croutons were good and the dressing garlicky goodness. The bacon bits were delightfully real and not simulated, which made the decision to cheap out with the powdered Parmesan instead of the shredded a bit puzzling.

All in all, I quite enjoyed the salad -- perhaps more so that the lasagna.

Restaurant: Confederation Building Cafeteria
MealLasagna and Cesar Salad
Price: $8.61 including my Diet Coke, inclusive of taxes

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Eating up the Hill: A BCer and a Calgary Grit experience the Taste of Newfoundland

The people's business has been keeping me from my Parliamentary food blogging business, but people have been reminding me food business is the people's business, so I decided to come back from hiatus with another former political blogger in tow today -- the Calgary Grit.

Today was another one of those days where the Parliamentary Restaurant slackens their rules to admit the rabble -- staff and their guests -- for a special buffet. Today, the theme was A Taste of Newfoundland. I will admit, I was skeptical, but Dan and I gamely decided to give it a go -- for Canada.

My first thought was this: what bout Labrador? This was billed as "A Taste of Newfoundland." Since I began dabbling in the world of Canadian politics I learned two key geographic lessons: it's Newfoundland AND Labrador, not just Newfoundland; and, it's coast to coast to coast, not just coast to coast. I can only assume The Taste of Labrador will be its own event, lest Yvonne Jones be forced to raise a point of privilege.

Nevertheless, I gave it a go. We ran into some Newfoundlanders who told us the menu was indeed a fair representation of their regional cuisine. I was saddened to hear this, and can only imagine it tastes much better in the great province itself, with the salt air in your nostrils and the lager cold in a frosted mug.

Here's the plate I made:

We'll start with the salads. The potato salad with lovage seemed like a fairly standard potato salad, as was the macaroni salad. I passed on a Newfoundland ice shrimp salad (I'm very wary of shrimp) and the coleslaw.

I'm told the crispy capelin were very authentically Newfoundland; I found it authentically salty and fishy and in need of sauce. The potato, bacon & five brothers Avalon cheddar cheese quiche was, as far as quiches go, a solid quiche. The cod cakes were just fine, as was the corned beef.

Overall, on the mains I would have liked some more hot side dishes, and some less fishy fish with some sauce to accompany it. Usually I made a second trip on the appy/entree round; this time I did not.

On to desert. I passed on the touton with molasses and the scones with wild blueberry preserves, although the scones did look tempting. Instead, I put a personal-sized Haskop berry pie on my place, along with some fruit salad -- you know, cause I'm healthy like that. While the pie was very tart and could have used more fruit (it was very saucy), it was tasty and it gets points for format -- who doesn't love a personal pie? For more points, the crust top could have been replaced by a crumble topping. When it comes to pies, I'm all about the crumble topping.

Dan and I left full, but somewhat unsatisfied. After extensive focus grouping, we agreed on a rating of 2.5/5, lamenting the lack of saucier fish options and more hot sides and other meat entrees. I will still have an open mind though when my travels finally take me to the great province of Newfoundland (and Labrador).

Salads up front.

Dan is available for hand model work.

Fresh scones y'all.

Nothing says Newfoundland like quiche.

This beef has been corned for your enjoyment.

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Sunday, October 02, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Mac My Cheese Fest a flop

Macaroni and cheese has had something of a renaissance in recent years, perhaps capitalizing on people looking to relive their youths with a nostalgia kick. Festivals have begun to pop up to capitalize and make bank, which is what brought the Mac My Cheese Fest to Ottawa City Hall this first weekend of October.

After putting in a few hours of catch-up at the office Saturday, I walked over to get my Mac & Cheese on. My first thought on arrival was how empty the place was. There was maybe three people in the fenced-in beer garden, and maybe 30 at best wandering the trucks or sitting outside the garden on the picnic tables and adirondack chairs. Fine was my first though; no lines for that delicious cheesy mac.

I walked right past the irrelevant donuts and churro stands and proceeded to survey the mac & cheese on offer. It all seemed fairly standard mac & cheese fare -- a mac & cheese base with a selection of add-ons, from chicken and hot dogs to beef and, of course, bacon.

After doing the loop, I came back to Smokin' R&R BBQ. I very nearly went for the double smoked bacon mac & cheese -- I love bacon, and that second smoke makes all the difference -- but at the last minute I took a shot and instead opted for the bison mac & cheese. Because with that lean bison meat, this is practically health food, right? After forking over an insane $16 (plus another $2 for a can of Diet Coke) I waited five minutes for my order, and then headed to an aforementioned Adirondack chair to dig in tot he cheesy goodness.

Well, not so cheesy, really. It had a creamy sauce, but I think they forgot the cheese when making the sauce. Oh, there was some shredded cheese on top, but it's not mac & cheese without a cheesy sauce. And this sauce was bland and not particularly cheesy. Nor was it really macaroni. It was a long, twisty macaroni-ish pasta. If it ain't elbow macaroni, it ain't mac & cheese.

Let me diverge for a moment. I mentioned the macaroni nostalgia kick that many restaurants are trying to capitalize on. Unfortunately, many of them are cheating by using not elbow macaroni, but some other pasta like penne or rigatoni. That's a bald-faced lie that should be illegal. It's false advertising. You're not serving me mac & cheese as advertised; you're serving me a run of the mill pasta dish. Mac & Cheese means MACaroni, it's right there in the damned name. Stop it, people.

Anyways, back to the disappointing bison mac & cheese. Not overly cheesy, not macaroni, topped with ground bison in a tangy sauce with diced onions and peppers. The topping was tasty, but I could have used some more of it. Particularly for what I paid for this entree.

Deciding a palate cleanser was in order to hopefully allow me to leave the festival on a higher note, I went to Upper Deck and ordered the deep-fried mac & cheese wedges for $6. Cooked fresh while I waited, here's what I ended up with:

While still over priced (about the same as they charge for the same thing at Cineplex VIP, although they top it with bacon and bring it to my seat) it was at least cheesy, and appeared to be stuffed with actual macaroni.

Next year, I will have to give the Mac My Cheese Fest a past. Overpriced with poor execution. And frankly, with the poor crowd I wonder if they'll even be back next year. It's a shame; it's not a bad idea. They really need to find a way to bake it as it would make a big difference over just tossing some grated cheese on top; put a cooking salamander on top though.

I should have known better, though. They have a mac & cheese booth at the CNE food hall; I've had it twice over the years and each time it disappointed. I will stick to making my mac & cheese at home,.

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Saturday, October 01, 2016

Eating up the Hill: The Cattleman bring beef for lunch

While all the evening receptions on the Hill sound fun and glamorous, I'm an old man who, more often than not, would rather just go home, sit on the couch, and catch up on NCIS New Orleans on my PVR. But a lunch reception? That I can definitely do.

Having missed the Canadian Cattlemen's Association's recent Beer, Beef and Whiskey receptions, I've been looking forward to their end of summer Beef lunch BBQ in the East Block Courtyard. And it didn't disappoint; you could smell the delicious beef clear from Gatineau.

As I lined up for my beef and talked about the soy industry with a fellow from the soy lobby (he says there is a soy reception in the works, soy fans), my friend John from the Cattlemen insisted on taking my camera and snapping a photo of me and the beef for this blog -- my readership is small, but dedicated. So here I am, bringing home the beef:

And delicious beef it was. On my first round through, I sampled both salads -- because I'm healthy like that. The potato salad was standard fare but fresh and well prepared, and the quinoa salad with corn and other assorted vegetables was quite tasty. But this wasn't the quinoa reception. The beef on buns was tender, juicy and delicious. They couldn't slice it fast enough for the hungry hordes.

After listening to the speakers talk about Canadian beef, including its growing sustainable, hormone-free, ethically-treated beef program, and an appearance by Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, I got back in line for my second round of beef right behind Tony Clement, who insisted he was only on his first round. 

This time, I was focused. No salads, no buns (sorry, Canadian Grain Farmers). This time, I said, just slice the beef onto my plate. And they did. And it was good.

A fitting end to grilling season. Thank you Canadian Cattlemen.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Friday is fish day

If it's Friday, it's fish day in Parliamentary cafeterias. Often that means fish and chips -- I usually sub out the fries for a salad -- but this Friday, it was a salmon fillet so I took the elevator up to the newly reopened Confederation Building cafeteria to fulfill one of the few remaining traditions of my Catholic upbringing.

One thing I should report is progress on the Parliamentary milk front. Since my first Hill food blog, I have lamented that only the little mini cartons of milk are available and wished they would stock the 500 ml. cartons. I often enjoy a milk with my lunch, and the little cartons just do nothing for me.

Well, perhaps I have a reader in the food services department (if you're reading this decision makers, please put the seafood chowder in heavy soup rotation and toss in some corn), as I can report that 2% and chocolate milk cartons are now available in the 500 ml. cartons for $2.13. I'd love if they had the skim in this size, but I know it's the less popular milk and this is definitely real (and welcome) change in Parliamentary milk delivery for which I humbly thank the powers that be.

On to the salmon. It was served with very lightly-seasoned rice with a few assorted peas, carrots and corn mixed in. I like rice with my fish, but I would have liked them to have stepped up the vegetable game with a more substantive veggie mix in the rice. As I took away my plate, it felt like a very small serving for a lunch entree. More veggies would have been a better value and more filling lunch.

Restaurant: Confederation Building Cafeteria
Meal: Salmon Fillet with Caper Dressing and Vegetable Rice
Price: $6.45 for entree + $2.13 for milk for $9.70 w/tax

The salmon, though, was the main course. It was seasoned nicely with caper dressing butter and dill, and cooked well to a flaky state. It was clearly, though, Atlantic farmed salmon. Which means it was moist and plump, but lacking in the strong salmon taste of wild salmon. I wouldn't expect wild salmon on offer in the Parliamentary cafeteria at this pricepoint (I believe though there is a salmon-related lobby reception upcoming though) but, for a west coaster, it's just not the same.

Still, it was a perfectly adequate, if somewhat lacking in portion size, lunch. And a nice break from fish and chips.

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