Strolling Boston, One Bite at a Time

Today was our first full day in Boston and we made the most of it. The weather was beautiful (mid-upper 80s, with a nice breeze, low humidity) and made for a perfect walking exploration of Boston’s South End.

But first we needed to get to the starting point of our tour. So we added an adventure that we had not anticipated. We thought our inn offered a shuttle for us. And they do, but only to the nearest train station. So my wife and I took the train in to the city. A first for us! (Hey, don’t laugh. Mass rapid transit doesn’t exist in Wisconsin.)

We survived our first encounter with a large city mass transit system (it was actually fun) and walked a few blocks to meet the rest of our tour. We were taking a strolling tour of Boston’s South End, focusing on local eateries and regional architecture. And before I start talking about some really excellent food, let me tell you about the tour.  Alyssa Daigle is a director for Bites of Boston Food Tours and it turned out to be one of the most satisfying events my wife and I have ever joined. We had 10 other guests in the party and we covered about two miles in just over three hours. Along the way we sampled great foods from six unique eateries, learned about the history of the city, looked at some wonderful architecture and enjoyed a simply beautiful city.

The Parish Cafe

Our first restaurant, The Parish Cafe was also our meeting point, sitting on the corner of Tremont Street and Massechusettes Avenue (When we asked for directions how to find it, we displayed our Wisconsin ignorance. Tremont is not pronounced “TREE-mont”, and the other is simply “Mass Ave.” Oh well. It’s nearly impossible for a tourist to hide that fact. And I don’t even try anymore.)

The theme of this restaurant is that all the meals are the unique creation of regional master chefs. That results in a menu that simply sings with creativity and wonder. We were treated to a sampling of one of the restaurant’s signature dish, Sean’s Meatloaf Club. A slice of chipotle meatloaf, bacon, chipolte aioli, lettuce and tomato with a side of mashed red skin potatoes and gravy. THIS is a meatloaf sandwich to write about! It is a creation from chef/owner Sean Simmons, and if a meatloaf sandwich can be this good, I can’t imagine how good everything else is.

A delicious taste

Our next stop was a smaller restaurant, Orinoco, a Venezuelan cafe located on the ground floor of a brownstone first built in 1912.  With old painted ceiling tiles, and seating for about 20, it is a small and comfortable place to enjoy a unique meal.

We were given datiles, bacon-wrapped almond-filled dates.

The datile, as delivered
Mmmmm, so tasty. I will make these at home!
Boston people are so caring of their city signs. Here, our guide Alyssa is showing us the knitted sign post “cozies”  that renegade knitters create and attach to area sign posts.
Okay, so we had a meatloaf sandwich and a delicious date. The only thing to follow that would be a fantastic cookie! Our next stop, Flour Bakery and Cafe, provided that tasty treat.
If you ever stop there, try the Chunky Lola, a chocolate chip cookie, with pecans, coconut and oatmeal. Really, really good!
Our next stop was the Morse Fish Company.
They sell fresh fish as well as offer cooked fish to eat there or for take-out. I’ve had clam strips before, but what we had were unlike any frozen clam strips that have passed through my mouth. Fresh, crispy and chewy, they tasted fantastic.
Fried clams, like none available inWisconsin!
But I think Alyssa knew that I was feeling a touch homesick for the green lands of Wisconsin. She couldn’t take me to “Wisconsin Fields Cafe” or some other goofy place, but she could take us to South End Formaggio.
I wept a little when I walked in.
Two different cows milk cheeses. Rich, smooth and nicely aged and they only way they would have been better is with a glass of wine. The cheese that are already stuck on the picksis LLandaff, an artisanal cheese from New Hampshire. It was my favorite of the two, with an grassy note on top of a slight tartness, similar to yogurt. The Rupert, also very nice, is an artisanal from Vermont, with a slighty sweet taste, a touch creamier and a long finish to the flavor with a hint of walnut. (But nothing from Wisconin, where real cheese is made! Maybe next time!)
Our last stop was The Upper Crust Pizzaria.  We all went in and enjoyed the air conditioning as we were given a piece of their specialty pizza, John “Chief” Bucyk (pepperoni and mushroom, on their incredibly thin and crispy crust pizza.)

I could have eaten a lot more than one piece!
You’d think that after all that food, I wouldn’t be able to eat another bite … but you’d be wrong. We got back to our motel and decided to make it easy and eat at the attached Mexican restaurant (The Fat Cactus). We sat down to relax to enjoy a margarita. (Really good after a long day of walking!)
My wonderful wife, Tammy, patiently putting up with me taking her picture.
 Tammy had the Lobster Quesadilla.

I had the Bistec Cubano.

Dessert? Why not? We shared a nice rice pudding.

Okay. It was a long day.We walked over 12,000 steps according to my Fitbit, with 15 flights of stairs climbed. It also included a LOT of food (I blew my daily budget, and I don’t care!) We both had a fun, relaxing and educational day. I want to again thank Alyssa Daigle and Bites of Boston Food Tours for providing one of the best vacation days in recent memory. If you and your plans take you near Boston from April to November, and your plans will allow you three hours of free time in the afternoon, I really encourage you to consider adding this event to your plans. Just wear comfortable shoes and bring an empty stomach.

Our First Vacation Meal

We ate at Legal Seafood. Nice food, but in my opinion, probably only a bump up from Red Lobster. (If anyone objects to that characterization, I am sorry, but that was our assessment.) I’m glad we ate there, because I have heard a lot about it, and I enjoyed the meal, but it did not live up to the my expectations based on listening/reading others.

I had two raw oysters for my starter. I offered to share with Tammy (hah!) but she politely declined my offer.

Two sauces were served with the oysters, a traditional tomato-horseradish cocktail sauce and a delicious vinegar-garlic-pepper dip. The starter was the best part of my meal. (I should have simply ordered a dozen oysters.)

The main course was a simple fried seafood platter, with shrimp, clams and scallops. For sides, I ordered jalapeno-cheese polenta and a seaweed salad. (The salad was excellent. In fact, the sides were the second best part of the meal, after the oysters.) Tammy just ordered a platter of fried clams with the seaweed salad and mashed potatoes.

I don’t have nutritional data for the meals. LoseIt does not have Legal Seafood in their database. I know it will be sodium heavy, and I knew that when I ordered the food, so that really isn’t a problem, especially since the only thing we’ve eaten in the past 24 hours was fruit, vegetables, hard boiled eggs, dark chocolate, almonds and a lot of coffee while driving here.

Dessert was good. A cup of strong black coffee and a serving of Sambuca (anise flavored liqueur.)

When I was bartending in Milwaukee, I worked with a 70ish bartender who told me about this liquid dessert. Take a sip of the liqueur, and then while holding the Sambuca in your mouth, take in some hot coffee. The flavors are excellent and contrasting!

Tomorrow’s big event is the Bites of Boston.  We are taking a guided tour, walking three hours through Boston’s South End and sampling food from six local eateries. After that, depending on the weather, we might walk the Freedom Trail. (If it is brutally hot, we will postpone the Freedom Trail.) Watch for the foods that we will be tasting!

The Vacation Begins!

My wife and I arrived at the motel in Boston after 22 hours on the road. We are going to find some seafood for a late lunch/early dinner and then catch up on some missing sleep. I will post my meal here.

I am sooooo excited! I love seafood and I am ready for some vacation!

Planked Salmon

Planked Salmon Fillets
Serves 4-6, depending on portion size and hunger level

Soak the cedar planks in water, wine, beer, or fruit juice for at least 1 hour.

Pre-heat grill on high for 10 minutes. Lay your fish, skin side down, on the plank and season to taste. Place planks on the grill. Keep a squirt bottle ready–these planks can burn! (Note the area on the lower plank.)

The fish will be done in the usual amount of time (these took about 12 minutes.)

I like my fish served with a good beer. Stella Artois is a nice Belgian Pale Ale, which tastes much better in cans than bottles. (They use green bottles, which will almost always result in a skunky aroma and flavor. “Skunking” is cause by sunlight interacting with hop oils. Cans perfectly protect against that because no light hits the beer.)

Pan-Fried Tilapia and Brussel Sprouts

Pan-Fried Tilapia and Brussels Sprouts w/ Balsamic Glaze
Serves 4

8 tilapia fillets, approximately 3 ounces each
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
Seasoning of your choice (I used Penzey’s Sunny Spain.)

1.  Heat non-stick skillet over med-high heat. Add half the olive oil.
2.  Carefully place four tilapia fillets in skillet, season. Flip after 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Nutritional data:
Calories:         142
Fat:                 5.8g
Sat fat:            1.1g
Chol:                62mg
Sodium:            34mg
Carbs:                0g
Fiber:                 0g
Protein:         22.5g

Brussels Sprouts w/ Balsamic Glaze
Serve 4
1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, halved
1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Black pepper

1.  Heat non-stick skillet over med-high heat. Add the olive oil and Brussels sprouts.
2.  Toss occasionally until beginning to brown.
3.  Add garlic and balsamic vinegar.  Cook until it is reduced by half.
4.  Season with black pepper.

Nutritional data:
Calories:         88
Fat:               3.5g
Sat fat:          0.5g
Chol:               0mg
Sodium:      18.7mg
Carbs:         10.4g
Fiber:            3.1g
Protein:         3.4g

Farmer’s Market Grill

Farmer’s Market Grill
Serves ?

We went to our local farmer’s market to see what fresh veggies were available. I bought some baby beets (about 1 inch in diameter) and small carrots (1/2inch in diameter, 4 inches long).

I washed the veggies, peeled the beets and cut off all the greens, reserving the beet greens. (The carrots had such a soft skin that I didn’t feel they needed to be peeled.) I steamed the carrots in the microwave for 1 minute, and the beets for 4 minutes. Then I place them in separate Ziploc bags. To each bag I added 1 tablespoon olive oil and some spices and herbs. (The carrots got dehydrated onion and garlic flakes, the beets just some fresh cracked black pepper.)

I let them rest for about a half hour and then I got my grill hot. I laid everything on the grill and turned them every few minutes. They took about 15 minutes to cook. I brought them off the grill and let them rest, covered.

I put a non-stick grill on medium high heat and added 1 tablespoon olive oil. When it was hot, I put the washed beet greens in the pan with a little pepper. I sauteed them until the greens began to wilt and removed them to the plate. (The meat was some pulled pork from last Friday.)

I added a few splashes of flavored vinegar. I made blueberry-lemon on a white wine vinegar base, and  blackberry-basil on a red wine vinegar base. The blueberry-lemon was excellent on the beets, and the blackberry-basil really complemented the pork.

I’m not going to give any nutritional data for this meal, because whatever you make will depend on what you can find.

The recipe for the vinegars are simple:

1 cup vinegar (your choice of types, just not white distilled)
1 pint berries, mashed
The zest of a lemon–OR–four fresh basil leaves, torn.

Mix the vinegar, berries and other flavor together in a lidded jar. Shake well and place in the refrigerator for 4-7 days. (Shake once a day.)

When you are ready to use it, strain the juice through a double layer of cheesecloth. Store in the fridge. I’m not sure how long it will last, but in the fridge, I’m guessing it will last quite a while. (Also, I specified a “double layer” of cheesecloth. For the first recipe, I accidentally used four layers, and it took forever to strain.)

These vinegars will have a few more calories than pure vinegar, but I can’t calculate how much. I honestly don’t think it will be enough to worry about.

Other flavor combinations that would taste good:
Sweet cherry-lime

Easy Affogato

Serves 2

1 cup cold espresso (or if you don’t have an espresso maker–I don’t–make double-strength coffee)
1 cup reduced fat vanilla ice cream (I used Edy’s Slow Churned Vanilla Bean)
Whipped cream for topping
Baking cocoa–OR–instant coffee for garnish

1.  Place 1/2 cup ice cream in each mug.
2.  Add 1/2 cup coffee.
3.  Top with whipped cream and your preferred garnish.

Nutritional data:
Calories:        148
Fat:                  5g
Sat fat:             4g
Chol:             20mg
Sodium:         45mg
Carbs:         22.5g
Fiber:               0g
Protein:            3g

Those instructions are for a nice cold drink. I think it would be even better with hot espresso poured over the cold ice cream. I will try it that way next time.

And He’s Off!

We just returned home from the airport. Our youngest son is traveling to Shanghai and Beijing, China with the People to People Ambassador program. We’ve been planning this since last September and today is the departure day. For the next 17 days, he will be traveling in China, experiencing places that most of us will only read about.

I’m a little jealous.

But that’s okay, because now my wife and I will finalize plans for our trip to Boston, Maine and the Ohio-Pennsylvania wine counties. We will leave in just a few short days, and drive about 5,000 miles over 12 days of traveling. Along the way, I hope to find some really good food (surprise–it’s all about the food!) and will take pictures of as many meals as possible. I will blog about the food, the experiences and everything else about this vacation. (Hopefully, the blog posts will also include pictures of whales while we are whale watching in Maine, of me fishing for mackerel and the vineyards that we visit.)

Keep watching here for more recipes and details of our adventure!

Grilled Tomatoes and Eggs

Grilled Tomato and Eggs
Serves 1 (well, maybe two, if you don’t eat a lot at breakfast)

1 ripe tomato
2 eggs
1/4 cup hummus (homemade or store bought)
1/2 mashed avocado
1 teaspoon olive oil
Herbs/spices (Your choice. I used Penzy’s Sunny Paris, my favorite on eggs)

1.  Preheat nonstick griddle over medium-high heat. Spread the teaspoon olive oil.
2.  Slice the tomato into 4 slices. Lay on the griddle. Cook, flipping once, for a total of 2-3 minutes. (If you cook them longer, they will just get softer, which is okay, too.)
3.  Carefully crack your eggs on to the griddle (if large enough) or in another non-stick skillet. Cook them to your preference.
4.  Warm the hummus in the microwave until hot.  Scoop onto your plate.
5.  Layer tomatoes and eggs next to (or on) the hummus.  Add avocado.

Nutritional data:
Calories:        380
Fat:              28.9g
Sat fat:           5.7g
Chol:            423mg
Sodium:        215mg
Carbs:         17.6g
Fiber:            8.7g
Protein:       16.9g

I woke up hungry, but not knowing what I wanted to eat. I looked in the fridge and pantry and found these items. I was lucky because yesterday I scored some delicious tomatoes, sweet and ripe, at the local farmer’s market.

When I cook I don’t really use a recipe, I just put things that I like together. But it also pays to keep certain staples on hand at all times. I always keep eggs, avocados, and hummus on hand, and so I know I am always only a few moments away from a hearty breakfast, high in protein and fat to get my day started. I find that when I have a high protein/ high fat breakfast, I am not as hungry the rest of the day. (And it helps me hit my macronutrient goals of 40-50% of my calories from fat, 25% of my calories from protein and 30-35% of my calories from carbs.)

Baked Beans

Baked Beans (modified to further reduce sodium levels)
Serves 10

This recipe is far easier than you would guess and tastes better than anything you will find in a can or deli.

3 cups canned beans (any variety, or a mix of varieties) -OR- 1.5 cup raw beans that you precooked according to label directions
1 medium onion, finely minced (about 1.5 cup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 clove garlic, mashed and minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons each: tomato paste, brown sugar, meat drippings (if using meat)
1/2 tablespoon each: Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, dry mustard (optional, but important)
4 ounces shredded pork (or shredded beef, ground beef, ham, bacon, or no meat at all)

1.  Preheat oven to 350F.
2.  Prepare beans according to label instructions if raw. If canned, open cans and rinse.
3.  In a large non-stick skillet, add olive oil and saute onions, garlic and ginger over medium heat until beginning to turn translucent (about 5 minutes.)
4.  Add beans, and all remaining ingredients. Stir over medium-high heat until evenly hot.
5.  Pour into an 8×8 baking pan or similar dish.  Bake uncovered until thickened (about 30 minutes, but 45-60 won’t hurt it.)

Nutritional data: (updated to reflect no ketchup or BBQ sauce)
Calories:       122
Fat:               3.1g
Sat fat:          0.7g
Chol:             12mg
Sodium:         55mg
Carbs:         23.4g
Fiber:            11g
Protein:         10g

Note:  My pressure cooker recipe for beans is simple.  Add raw, unsoaked beans to the cooker and add an equal volume of water. Seal lid and set for high pressure. Place on heat.  When steam begins releasing from valve, reduce heat to a low simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat, set in sink and cool quickly with cold running water. Open the lid when the pressure is gone (and follow your pressure cooker’s specific instructions for safety.)

The next time I make the beans, instead of using water, I will use beer for added flavor.