(Happy-Go-Lucky Memoirs of a Foodie and her Husband)

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Sinclair's Culinary Road Trip

Last Wednesday night, Hubby and I and our friend Jessie went to The Sinclair in Harvard Square for a special event entitled: THE SINCLAIR'S CULINARY ROAD TRIP.

Side note -- The Sinclair has some of the best acoustics we have ever heard at a music venue (if you didn’t know, it’s both a music venue and a restaurant, with separate entrances)….for example, we went to a folk metal concert there last year, and even for bands that I had never heard their music before that night, I was able to clearly discern lyrics.  That’s pretty amazing.

Returning from that small tangent, the culinary road trip was billed as “a fun sampling of regional United States cuisines brought to you by Executive Chef Keenan Langlois.  Attendees will feast on tasting sized portions of various specialties such as Chicago 'Red Hots' and Nashville 'Hot Chicken' accompanied by cocktail pairings from Deep Eddy will be on the patio pouring beer a la carte!”  (Yes, that sentence gets grammatically weird.  I copied and pasted their text verbatim.)

The menu was listed as:
Menu (Each Dish Includes a Cocktail Pairing!)
Dungeness Crab Dip with Fried Chips (Pacific Northwest)
Chicago Red Hots (Chicago/ Central)
Frito Pie (Texas/ Southwest)
Nashville Hot Chicken (Tennessee/ Mid Atlantic)
Funnel Cake (Midwest)
Muffaletta (South/Gulf Coast)
Advance reservations could only be obtained by downloading and using a less-than-1-year old App called ReserveKind of annoying, however it did come with the coupon code that got each person -$25 off their bill.  The only catch to the discount was that only one could be used per reservation/check, no matter how many people it was being split between, so if we each wanted to use our -$25 credits respectively, we’d have to have three separate reservations/checks.   We wanted to make sure we were seated together, so we went with a single reservation for three people, which would allow us only one -$25 discount.  This turned out to be mildly frustrating because when we arrived at the restaurant, we learned that rather than being a waited-table type thing (which, am I crazy, the description and price seem to imply?) it was actually a seat-yourself buffet-style dinner.  So we could have had three separate reservations/checks, sat anywhere we pleased (as we did), and used all the individual discounts.  Oh, well.

Another side note -- I point out that Reserve is less than one year old because it ended up posing some problems both while reserving and when it came time to settle the check(s)….everything from a typo in the actual event pricing resulting in a mass email being sent out with a correction, confusion about needing separate versus group reservations, inexplicable billing mistakes, and other various miscommunications.  The issues specific to our evening are now mostly repaired (almost a week later), but the amount of back and forth that had to be gone through to attain resolution was mildly excruciating.  I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, but errors and omissions were so rampant that we are honestly weary of using the App again, ever.  It remains to be seen if we will, as we do still have some -$25 credits to use towards future checks.  I will say this, for as much of a snafu the app caused (as Jessie described it: "new glitchy app software is glitchy"), and for all its faults, its customer service was great.  They tried really, really hard to solve all the problems, all while staying calm and pleasant when it would have been totally understandable if they hadn't or couldn't.  That could very well be its saving grace.

Anyways, despite the frustrations leading up to our arrival at The Sinclair and the surprises when we got there (another small one is outlined below), it turned out to be a very nice end to what had been a gloomy and rainy couple of days, because thanks to clearing skies and lovely heat lamps we were able to sit out on the patio in a quiet corner (BTW, some of the pictures in this post might be a little reddish because of those heat lamps).

Each guest was given as souvenirs a mason jar with the Deep Eddy logo printed on it, a pair of sunglasses, and some lemon-flavored lip gloss.

I wear my sunglasses at night.  Without removing the stickers, of course.
We were also each given 6 food tickets (for “paying” at the buffet) and 2 drink tickets.  Wait, what?....2 drink tickets, you say?  What happened to “drink pairings” and “Each Dish Includes a Cocktail Pairing!”?  Yeah, we wondered that, too.  It turns out that they decided to give each person 2 full-size drinks, rather than 6 smaller ones.  We bucked this system (there were three of us, after all) by each getting two different full-sized drinks, and shared them amongst the table.  Win. 

All 6 of the cocktails.  =)
Later in the meal, they started bringing around shot-glass sized samples of the drinks, but I honestly don’t remember seeing all the varieties come by.  In any case, we of course took samples and used them to top off our mason jars.  Lol.

Here are specifics on each of the cocktails (click on each picture for a larger view if you can't read the ingredients easily here):

1839 is the plastic cup on the left.  Deep Shandy is in the glass on the right.
After sampling the beverages (all of which were very not bad), it was time to dive into the food.  We went in no particular order, some of us grabbing some things while others of us grabbed different things.  I will just show the yummies in the order I personally chose to eat them….

This is the Chicago Red Hot.  An all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun.  I don't know if we got these exact ingredients here, but it’s traditionally topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish (and let me tell you, I’ve never seen relish so brightly green colored!), a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt.  I actually think this was my favorite dish of the night.

Here we have the Muffaletta sandwich -- a muffaletta loaf split horizontally and layered with marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, ham, mozzarella, and provolone.  This was also, quite good.  Like an Italian sub, but with tapenade instead of veggies, hots, and/or oil and spices.

Frito Pie, whose basic ingredients are chili, cheese, and corn chips (specifically Fritos).  This was our least favorite for sure.  It was just chili (and not very good chili, to boot) with some corn ships thrown on top.  They weren't even real Fritos, which I think would have improved things.  Booo.  :-/
Now, the Dungeness Crab Dip with Fried Chips was excellent.  We went back for seconds (and thirds?) on this one.  We should have taken some home (they were offering boxes near the end of the night for people to grab whatever they wanted.)
Nashville Hot Chicken.  Not what we expected, however also very yummy.  Based on "research" (lol - can't really say we researched anything here), it sounded like it would be similar to Buffalo wings.  But, instead, it tasted -- get this -- like mesquite BBQ chips.  Yeah, really.  But it works.

Finally, funnel cake.  Does this need any explanation?  It was basic, just what you'd expect, but because it was served buffet style, it was a little cold and therefore kind of gummy.  I would have loved to get one fresh out of the fryer.
In the end, it was a slow-paced, relaxing evening full of good food, pleasant atmosphere, excellent people, and stimulating conversation.  We took our sweet time and had a sweet time.  Although, I will say that if we had paid the full $60 ticket price, I don't think any of us would have judged it (the food and beverages, I mean) as worth it.  The relaxation and company could have been accomplished anywhere, such as at J.P. Licks where we went afterwards.  ;)  And going by how many other people were present (i.e. not many), I don't think anyone else thought the price was right, either.

It was most assuredly a Foodventure!

Sorry, lady in the background.  That is not a good face you're making.  But look at Jason and Jessie -- they're adorable!

Friday, July 17, 2015

"Would Ya Please Pass The Jelly?"

I had a very large bottle of wine, opened and with not much of it drank, left at my house by a friend after an event that Husband and I hosted.  I am not much of a wine person, especially white wine, so I had no idea what to do with it; and because it was Moscato, it would be too sweet for cooking with.  After lamenting in passing about this “dilemma” in the proximity of other friends (I do hate to waste things, even if I didn’t pay for them), it was suggested that I make jelly out of it.  I didn’t know one could make jelly out of wine, but what the hell, right?  To the Internets I went researching, and soon enough, I had a plan and a box of pectin.  This, was, let’s not forget, my first foray into any kind of canning other than pickles, and I would most certainly categorize it as an experiment.  I will tell this story mostly via pictures.  Here goes...

The instructions that came with the Pectin - part 1.
The instructions that came with the Pectin - part 2.  I used the recipe shown
here for Sweet Grape juice.  (If you click on the photo, you should get a bigger version on
which the type should be large enough to read clearly.

The wine (this was a double-size bottle), after I poured what conveniently
amounted to exactly 4 cups of liquid into the pans); and the Pectin package.

Jar lids and bands, ready to be boiled.

Boiling the jars.
Pectin being scooped into the boiling liquid in the blender.

Blending the Pectin into the 1 cup of boiled wine.

After the jars were filled, back into the water they went to be boiled for 10 minutes.

Bubbles coming up and out.  (I had to put my glass casserole lid on top to weigh them down
because I didn't have enough product to fill both jars enough, and they wanted to float.)

Cooling down.

The next morning, I tried it out on an English muffin.  It's not the best color for photographing,
but when starting with white wine, there's not much that can be done about that.

Thoughts, musings, and what mt brain absorbed:
  1. I found it odd that this recipe didn’t call for any sugar at all.  I am sure when staring with actual fruit or fruit juice, it’s no big deal.  But I think the fact that I started with wine turned this out far less sweet than I would have wanted, despite the fact that Moscato is a pretty sweet wine to begin with.  The jelly is not bad and I won’t throw it away or call it a failure – but I can only give it a “meh” review for flavor.  Bottom line – I should have added sugar anyways.

  2. Regarding the Calcium Water – this brand of pectin and its instructions and website make it sound like using the calcium water is absolutely essential, or else their particular kind of pectin just won’t do its thing.  I don’t know about that.  After researching about pectin, liquid versus powdered, etc., I feel like the calcium water wasn’t truly necessary.  But I followed the instructions anyways because having some extra calcium in the jelly can’t hurt.

  3. Speaking of liquid versus powdered pectin – the original recipe that I found online and was planning to use called for liquid pectin and was simpler than this one, but we couldn’t find liquid pectin at the store.  So, I followed the package insert instructions from the brand we did find, exactly.  However, I did do a bunch of research about when and how to use liquid versus powdered pectin, and I feel confident now that I know what to do next time and/or can modify a recipe that calls for one or the other.  According to these links (Liquid Pectin Vs. Powdered Pectin and Canning 101: How to Substitute Pectin), the basic tenet is if you are using liquid pectin, you can throw it in close to the end of cooking; but if you’re using powdered, you should mix it into the sugar before you combine it with the fruit because it responds better when you cook it the entire time and also avoids the risk of pectin clumping that can happen if you add powdered pectin at the end of cooking.

  4. I want smaller canning jars.  The unused leftover ones I had on hand from when I made pickles were just too big, and I ended up with only two 3/4 full jars -- which is probably still too much jelly for us to consume before it goes bad after opening.  I will get some smaller ones for any future jelly making.
In the end, I feel as though I learned a lot insofar as the basics of canning (general method / basic concepts / procedure / order of operations).  I feel much more confident and less intimidated about it all and look forward to giving it another try sometime soon.  I also plan to try jams, preserves, some no-pectin recipes, etc.

Sometimes at work you were researching liquid v. powdered pectin, and leave the package
insert on your desk when you go to lunch, then this happens. Lol.  (That's my boss' handwriting.)

EDITED TO ADD:  After chatting with my boss about the bland-ish taste my jelly ended up with, she suggested (thinking in the realm of wine/food pairings) that next time I put some basil in the jelly.  Hmmm, very interesting.  Given how well hot peppers go in sweet jellies, I think this sounds like a good idea.  I am even considering melting this jelly down and re-canning it (because that’s a thing that can technically be done) into smaller jars, with the added basil.