Enjoy Canada Day high in the sky

The Ottawa-based charity that delivers potable water to developing countries is taking on a distinctly domestic flavour this Canada Day, with a new Canadian six-course fundraising dinner on the top of the Marriott Hotel where guests will enjoy a spectacular view of fireworks on Parliament Hill.

This is the first year WaterCan has organized what it hopes will be an annual H2O Canada Dinner in the revolving Summit dining room on the 29th floor. It replaces the popular spring embassy dinner that has raised $1.3 million over its 17-year history, featuring food and drink provided by foreign missions posted to Ottawa.

“Part of the reason where doing H2O Canada Day is because our traditional venue, the Aberdeen Pavilion, is no longer available as the city redevelops Lansdowne Park,” says George Yap, WaterCan executive director.

“Given that the venue is an important part of the event, this gave us an opportunity to reformat the dinner.”

The evening will open with mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta singing the national anthem. Fifteen local celebrities will rotate among the tables to join diners for a different course. “So you may enjoy one course with our honourary president, Margaret Trudeau, or former speaker of the house Peter Milliken, or maybe dessert with CNC News Ottawa anchor Adrian Harewood.”

By reinventing the fundraising dinner, Yap says WaterCan has taken some pressure off embassies who are increasingly asked by other worthy charities to contribute to their fundraising efforts. “When we started embassy dinners almost 20 years ago on Parliament Hill, it was unique.

“But now embassies are being asked for help by so many organizations. With this new format, we want to see if we can replicate it in other cities to raise money for WaterCan,” Yap says.

“It’s going to be a fantastic party to celebrate our 25th anniversary on Canada Day, and a great spot to see the fireworks on the Hill. It’s the best seat in the house.”

The dinner opens at 6 p.m. with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres ranging from Canadian Malpeque oysters to British Columbia albacore tuna, then moving on to Ontario golden beet salad, birch-smoked B.C. Salmon, strawberry and Niagara icewine soup, Alberta short ribs braised in Beau’s stout ale, finishing with a baked Alaska waffle cone.

“WaterCan wanted a Canadian menu, so we’ve pretty well used all-Canadian ingredients representing a different region of the country, says Marriott executive chef Mark Steele.

“The only exception is the baked Alaska, which was developed at Delmonico’s in New York in 1876. But it will be easy to eat standing up while people watch the fireworks.”

His recipes here for Beau’s Stout-Braised Alberta Short Ribs and British Columbia Albacore Tuna Nicoise will be served at the H2O Canada Dinner. His use of leek ashes adds an interesting, earth note to the dish — best to char the leeks outside on a gas grill, otherwise your house will be filled with smoke. Or, simply omit it.

Steele is also wading into the world of melecular gastronomy with his “tomato spheres” in the recipe, which are surprisingly easy to make and a guaranteed conversation starter at the table. Agar agar is a powerful gelling powder, available in health food stores.

WaterCan is a leading Canadian charity that helps the world’s poorest people gain access to clean water, basic sanitation and hygiene. Since 1987 its programs have reached more than 1.2 million people, currently focusing on four countries in Africa – Ethopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

Yap estimates the former embassy dinner attracted 8,000 guests over the years. In addition to the fabulous food, an estimated 250 people will have an opportunity to bid on auction items ranging from a soapstone bear carving from The Snow Goose, to lunch in the Parliamentary Dining room with celebrity guest and CTV parliamentary reporter Roger Smith, or a personal portrait by renowned photojournalist Peter Bregg.

Tickets are $200 (a $100 charitable tax receipt is given) available by calling 613-230-5182 on online at watercan.com/25

Beau’s Stout-Braised Alberta Short Ribs

Serves 4

1 tablespoon (15 mL) canola oil

Salt, to taste

2 pounds (900 g) beef short ribs

2 cups (500 mL) beef stock, hot

21/4 cups (550 mL) Beau’s Imperial Stout ale

2 shallots, chopped

1 bulb garlic, chopped

4 large carrots, chopped

4 tomatoes, chopped

Sprig each, fresh rosemary, thyme

¼ cup (50 mL) butter

¼ cup (50 mL) flour

Preheat oven to 325 F (160 C).

Preheat oil in a heavy frypan on high heat. Season meat with salt and sear on all sides to brown, then transfer to ovenproof braising pan. To the pan, add warmed beef stock and half of the stout ale. In the same frypan, sauté shallots, garlic, carrots, tomatoes about 5 minutes, then add remaining ale to deglaze the pan; transfer to braising pan with fresh rosemary, thyme.

Place in oven, covered, to braise 21/2 hours, until tender, then remove ribs and strain; reserve liquid liquid.

Melt butter in the braising pan, whisk in flour and cook on medium burner, whisking constantly, to make a roux. Add strained broth to the roux, whisking constantly over medium heat to thicken to gravy consistency.

Serve with seasonal vegetables of choice, with sauce.

Source: Executive chef Mark Steele, Marriott Ottawa.

Leek Ash British Columbia Albacore Tuna Nicoise

Serves 8 as appetizer

For the leek ash:

3 leeks, white part only (reserve green portion for another use, like stock)

For the vanilla bean curd:

1 vanilla bean

2 cups Balkan yogurt

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cheesecloth

For the tomato fluid:

1 cup (250 g) sun-dried tomato, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

1 teaspoon (5 mL) fennel seeds

1 tablespoon (15 mL) honey

1 cup (250 mL) olive oil

1/4 cup (50 mL) balsamic vinegar

For icewine tomato spheres:

2 cups (500 mL) canola oil

2 large yellow tomatoes

4 tablespoons (65 mL) icewine

1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) agar agar (a potent gelling powder, at health food stores)

For the fish:

1 pound (450 g) sushi-quality fresh boneless, skinless albacore tuna loin

Salt, pepper to taste

Make leek ash, yogurt, tomato fluid and tomato spheres a day ahead, covered and refrigerated for convenience.

For the leeks, wash white part well to reve grit, fan layers apart and slice about 1/2-inch (12-mm) thick. Place on a sheet pan and roast at 400 F (200 C) until charred and completely dry. (This will create a lot of smoke, so we recommend doing this outside on a gas grill with pan placed on top bun warmer.) When done, remove to cool and pulverize in a blender. Set aside.

To make the yogurt, split vanilla bean in half, lengthwise, and scrap tiny seeds into the yogurt. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and stir to combine well. Pour yogurt into a triple-thick folded cheesecloth, enclose with butcher twine and hang 24 hours, refrigerated, by the twine over a container to catch liquid that drains out. Set aside.

In a blender, combine all sundried tomato fluid ingredients and purée. Set aside.

Make the icewine tomato spheres by placing canola oil in a vessel and freeze 45 minutes. Meanwhile, blanch, peel and deseed the tomatoes, then purée with icewine and strain to remove solids. Mix liquid with agar agar, gently bring to a boil, then remove to cool. Using a squeeze bottle, drip the tomato liquid into the cold oil; it will immediately form spheres, which you remove and reserve.

For the tuna, roll loin in reserved leek ash to coat. Season to taste with salt, pepper, then sear on all sides in a lightly oiled heavy frypan on medium-high heat, about 45 seconds to 1 minute per side. Finally, slice about 11/2 inches (4 cm) thick into 2-ounce (60-g) portions. Tuna will be extremely rare in centre.

To plate, spoon a little of the tomato fluid on the plate, set some of the drained yogurt on top, followed by tuna loin with icewine yellow tomatoes off to one side.

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