Monday, August 18, 2014

Max's Harvest | Delray Beach, Florida

You know a meal is thatgood when you're a little sad you're taking your last bite. Even when you're stuffed to the gills, as I was when I dined at Max's Harvest in Delray Beach.

Photo credit: The Buzz Agency
I was delighted to receive an invitation to come check out the restaurant, especially because I'd already heard such good things. So, I came hungry and let their dishes lead the way to an evening of "Farm to Fork" satisfaction.

Max's Harvest has been around for 3 years and has become a popular spot for locals, which was evident from the bustling bar scene when we were seated at 7pm on a Friday evening. I loved the feel of the restaurant - modern yet rustic, with black and white images on the walls depicting its emphasis on local farm fare.
Photo credit: The Buzz Agency
Our server was beyond knowledgeable about each menu item, down to knowing where each of the farm-fresh ingredients came from -- each locally sourced from nearby farms and throughout the state. With a focus on sustainable, seasonal and simply prepared meals, it's no wonder the ingredients seem to shine in a special way.

The first bite on this flavor journey started with the complimentary zucchini bread they placed on the table. I probably could have eaten an entire basket. I wanted to wander into the kitchen and see if I could catch a peek at how they made it, but I figured I'd sit tight as more food was sure to be on its way.

And sure enough, our server appeared with a dish sent out by the chef: A crispy, Breaded Pork Torchon over compressed watermelon and topped with fresh greens. As you know, I'm not usually a big meat eater, but I did like the combo of the light ingredients and the hearty pork. Steve polished off his half and most of mine, so I'm pretty sure he liked it, too!

The bread had gotten us a little excited and we ordered two appetizers right out of the gate: the Peach & Blueberry Salad with Baby Kale & Arugula, Caramelized Peaches, Blueberries, Pickled Shallots, Ricotta Cheese, Walnut Vinaigrette {holy mouthful!} and Vito's Burrata with Croutons, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Florida Watermelon, Pickled Shallot, Heirloom Tomato and Cucumber. After my first few forkfuls, I knew these were things I could easily order as an entree {mostly because I was tempted to steal Steve's dish and not share} -- they were both so, so good.

The salad was such a perfect combination of flavors: sweet, caramelized peaches and blueberries, savory and creamy ricotta, tart vinaigrette and pickled shallots, fresh and crisp kale and arugula. When the chef popped out of the kitchen to see how we were liking things I'm pretty sure I sputtered nonsensically with stars in my eyes over the salad alone.

The burrata was also a perfect pairing of flavorful elements. Burrata, as it is, is probably among the things I would choose to be part of my last meal on earth. It is so decadent and delicious, and combined with sweet watermelon, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, it seemed creamier and more delightful. My favorite part of this dish were the croutons that soaked up all the vinaigrette and juices from everything else on the plate. Oh, my.

Next up: Entrees. Our server saw me pat my {round, already stuffed} belly and reprimanded me for not pacing myself, but I ensured him that I'd find the room for at least a few bites. I ordered the Crispy Parmesan Risotto Cake with Mushroom, Favas, Baby Carrot, Zucchini, Pearl Onion, and Tomato-Pepper Coulis and Steve chose Grilled Local Swordfish with Greek Farmer’s Salad, Feta, Chick Pea Fries, and Lemon-Yogurt Sauce. 

They were both so pretty it seemed a shame to deconstruct them, but we dug in anyway to get a taste. I really enjoyed the Risotto Cake with its crisp {but not overfried} exterior and contrasting creamy interior. The veggies gave a nice sweetness to the dish, specifically the little caramelized pearl onions, and though I definitely wasn't able to finish the whole thing right then and there, I still managed to have a few more bites.

I didn't even get to taste the swordfish, but Steve assured me that it was good, as was evident by the fact that he was very excited to box up what was left to polish off as leftovers.

Ok, so I know I said we were both beyond full... but our server tempted us with their desserts du jour and we {well, I} couldn't refuse. They had so many amazing-sounding offerings -- from Blueberry Bread Pudding to Made-to-order Cinnamon Sugar Donuts {for real} -- but we went with a twist on a Florida classic: Key Lime Brulee.

It was a good choice. Tangy, rich key lime filling atop a buttery crust with a crackly layer of bruleed sugar and a beautiful little cloud of whipped cream perched on top. Mmm.

Overall, I couldn't have asked for tastier dishes or better service. If forced to find a downside, the only fault I could find would be noise level of the packed house keeping potential patrons from having a romantic or intimate dining experience. But, to be honest, you'll probably be doing more savoring than chatting, so this may not be a problem after all -- come with a lively crowd and a hungry belly!

A big thank you to Max's Harvest for a fantastic evening of fabulous dining!

Disclosure:  I was invited for a complimentary dinner for two at Max's Harvest to check out their menu. As always, all opinions seen here are my own!

Of course, I had to recreate that crazy-good baby kale salad to share with you here since you couldn't join me at Max's Harvest. {And, let's be honest, I might not have hogged all of it at dinner.}

This salad has a few elements that take some prep, so it isn't exactly a "throw together at the last minute" kind of dish. However, after a bite I think you'll agree that it's worth the trouble to get the flavor combos found here.

Pickled Shallots. Tangy vinaigrette. Caramelized peaches that you could easily eat as dessert. It's sort of magical.

Make it.

Baby Kale Salad with Caramelized Peaches & Blueberries
Inspired by Max's Harvest in Delray Beach, Florida
*Measurements will vary according to taste. Make it your own! :)

A bunch baby kale mixed greens, I like the Organic Girl blend
Whole milk ricotta cheese {I just used a few tablespoons, but again, suit your own tastes}
About 1/4 cup fresh blueberries
About 1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
Lemon-Honey Vinaigrette {see below}
Pickled Shallots {see below}
Caramelized Peaches {see below}

1. Divide ingredients between two plates. Drizzle with vinaigrette to taste.

Lemon-Honey Vinaigrette 

Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sprinkle of salt
Sprinkle of pepper
About 1/4 cup olive oil

1. In a small bowl, whisk together first six ingredients. Continue whisking while you stream in olive oil to emulsify. Drizzle over salad.

Quick Pickled Shallots
Barely adapted from Bon Appetit

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 large shallots, finely sliced

1. In a small saucepan, bring cider vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil. Simmer until the sugar and salt have dissolved.

2. Pour hot liquid over sliced shallots in a small canning jar. Top with lid but leave loose. Let cool on counter top. {They will soften and absorb the pickling flavor in about an hour, but the longer they sit the better, so if you think to do this a few days ahead, you'll get the best results!}

3. Refrigerate for future use.

Caramelized Peaches

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 large ripe peach, sliced into 8 pieces

1. In a small skillet, melt butter over medium high heat. Add brown sugar and stir, allowing the sugar to dissolve and the mixture to become bubbly.

2. Add the peaches to the sugar mixture and cook until some of the juices begin to leak out and the caramel mixture begins to thicken, about 3-4 minutes.

3. Flip the peaches to cook and caramelize other sides, turning carefully as not to break them up. Swirl them around a bit in the pan to coat them in the sugar mixture and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the liquid has become syrupy and the peaches are softened and caramelized.

Note: These would be SO GOOD over vanilla ice cream. Or with a crumble topping. Or alone. They're good. Did I say that already?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

{Flourless} Double Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Two incredibly exciting things happened the other day: 1. I noticed some bloggers posting pics of ingredients including cinnamon, pumpkin, and things with the word "spice" in the recipe title, and 2. My stats started showing an increase in views of my Ultimate Gameday Food Guide pin. These are very good signs that Fall is drawing near, bringing with it both football season and the end of my pregnancy adventure.

These days I get the question, "How are you feeling?" asked a lot, mostly due to the fact that "the bump" is now highly visible, even to the untrained eye. {i.e. The man at the FedEx store who gave me a dirty look when I picked up a shipment of wine for a blog-related project. Not to worry, I'm hosting a party at my house, not having one in my belly.}

The answer, I'm glad to say,  is "Not bad at all."

I'm entering my 3rd trimester in less than a week {!} and the only real complaint I have is that I'm no longer able to go at warp speed as I'm accustomed to. Things take a little more energy when you've got a stowaway on board. You may find yourself slightly winded from simple tasks like putting lotion on your legs after showering or taking off your jeans at the end of a long day. There are frequent pit stops to public restrooms, sometimes in the middle of what's supposed to be a "quick" trip to the store. Even sitting starts to become a challenge when you realize that you no longer bend in the middle, often forcing you into a reclined position so that your lungs have some room to expand. Several times a day, my belly begins shape-shifting as my son practices what I can only guess are his acrobatic skills. I've considered calling the circus just to prepare them for their future headliner.

Sure, it's a challenge getting used to increased weight and decreased mobility... but I'm doing my best to continue being as active as possible. This means I'm still spending time on my feet in the kitchen, which is important to me because I know that the luxury of recipe testing for hours will be coming to an end all too soon.

The great part about having less energy {yes, something positive has come of this!} is challenging myself to find and create recipes that require less time and less ingredients. Those are two bonuses for anyone, not just those with a bun in the oven!

That's how these cookies happened. It all started with a wonderful mail delivery from my friends at Peanut Butter & Co....

Dangerous things can happen when you ship 5 jars of flavored peanut butter to a pregnant woman. Luckily, Steve and I {and even Farley} have been taking turns diving into the peanut butter collection. His favorite use? In smoothies and on a spoon. Mine? Smeared on a banana or crisp apple slices. Or on a spoon. We can all agree, the stuff is great on a spoon. {Yes, even Farley.}

So all this peanut butter naturally gave way to ideas about baked goods. And believe me, there are tons to be had! But remember, I was looking for simplicity here, so the less ingredients, the better.

When I stumbled across this flourless peanut butter cookie recipe from Tina's Chic Corner, I was inspired to tweak her already fabulous recipe and make them my own. Deciding to use the Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter was the biggest struggle in making these because that's my favorite flavor and I didn't want to waste a single scoop on something unworthy. But as it turns out, they were worth the sacrifice.

I have become the queen of lazy cookies -- the kind that require little more effort than throwing a handful of ingredients into a bowl, mixing them and plopping them on a cookie sheet to bake. These would fall under this category. I'm thinking once the kid is older these types of recipes will be useful for last minute "Mom, I have to bring something in..." type moments.

For now, they're easy enough to mix up even on the days when I'm winded from tying my shoelaces. Hope you'll enjoy them as much as I do!

Disclosure: Peanut Butter & Co. sent me complimentary jars of their peanut butter for me to try. I have not been compensated for this post and the opinions written here are all my own! Thanks for the goodies, PB&Co!

{Flourless} Double Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 28 Cookies

1 cup Peanut Butter & Co. Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup rolled oats {gluten free if you want to keep the whole recipe GF}
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
6 squares of dark chocolate, chopped into chunks {or prechopped chocolate chunks. Or chocolate chips. You get the idea.}
{Optional} Sea salt for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients {except chocolate chunks} until thoroughly combined. Gently stir in chocolate chunks until well distributed.

3. Using a cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto cookie sheet, spacing about 2 to 2 1/2 inches apart {these will spread a bit}. If desired, sprinkle with sea salt for a little extra flavor.

4. Bake for 11-12 minutes or until the cookies are just set. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. {They will be quite soft right out of the oven but firm up a bit and become chewy once they're cooled.}

Monday, August 11, 2014

Easy Balsamic Portobello Tacos

Pregnancy has resulted in a funny emotional side effect for me: Abundant euphoria.

I was completely anticipating mood swings like the ones you see on TV; the kind where the expectant mother is happily chattering away one moment and then having a royal hormonal meltdown the next. I was ready for tearful hysterics over cell phone provider commercials and sudden, unexpected fury over my husband eating the last of the hummus.

Luckily for me {and for him!}, that has not been the case at all. If anything, I've been eerily pleasant despite the multitude of new and unusual feelings that crop up daily as this baby continues to take up ample residence in my insides.

My emotions normally range from contentment to pure excitement and joy over nothing especially exciting which -- I must say -- is both refreshing and strange. A cozy Saturday night in comfy pj's watching Dateline with my husband and pup. Bliss! A post-workout shower using my new favorite soap? Rapture! 

I'm ready to be rid of some of the small unpleasantries that come with growing a little human... but can I please hang on to this bizarre jubilance that has washed over me?? How THAT would come in handy during a 2 a.m. feeding...

Even though this unexplained phenomenon has made for a wonderful coping mechanism in the face of any disappointment I may have faced throughout these months, it doesn't mean I haven't had some things to be bummed about. For example, this week alone I'm dealing with a few things. My little sister is moving to Virginia for law school, my grandma is in the hospital again for back surgery and one of my good friends is unexpectedly moving back home far from here.

Though I'm a little sad, my "pregnancy hormone life preserver" has kept me afloat in the sea of all things melancholy. That and food. Food always helps, too.

Comfort food can come in so many forms -- rich, satisfying stews; sweet, decadent desserts; classics that take all day to make. And then there's these: Spicy portobello tacos.

You know why these are comforting? Because they're so quick and easy to make. And because they're filling without being bad for you. {Hello, meatless Monday.} And the one-two punch of flavor from syrupy balsamic glaze and fiery adobo sauce doesn't hurt things, either.

I totally ripped off the idea from some new menu items I got to preview a few weeks ago at Cantina Laredo in Palm Beach Gardens. I enjoyed them so much there that I knew I had to recreate them at home. Especially because drowning my sorrows in their fresh Pineapple Margaritas isn't currently an option. If it were, all bets may be off.

But for now, I'm counting on pregnancy highs and spicy tacos to get me through the hard times. If you ask me, that's a pretty potent cocktail. Cheers to happier times ahead.

Easy Balsamic Portobello Tacos
Inspired by Cantina Laredo
Makes about 4 tacos

3-4 large portobello mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
1/2 an onion, diced
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons balsamic glaze*
4 of your favorite tortillas {I used a corn/wheat blend}, heated through
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from canned chipotles in adobo*
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese, divided
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Optional: 1/4 cup queso fresco

1. Heat a few teaspoons of oil in a skillet over high heat. Add portobello slices and cook, stirring often, until they start to release their juices. When liquid has somewhat cooked away, add onion and a sprinkle of salt. Continue to cook until the onions have softened and the mixture isn't as wet.

2. Add balsamic glaze and toss to fully coat mushrooms. Cook for another minute or two to let the mushrooms absorb the glaze.

3. Set out warm tortillas. {You can heat them through by wrapping in a damp paper towel and zapping in the microwave for a few seconds or by individually placing them on a heated skillet for about 30-45 seconds on each side}. Smear a little adobo sauce on each one. {Warning: This stuff can be pretty spicy! If you're not used to the heat, you may want to go easy on the sauce.}

4. Place a scoop of cooked balsamic portobello mixture on each tortilla. Top with a sprinkle of goat cheese {and/or queso fresco if desired} and some cilantro, along with any other of your favorite taco toppings.

*For Balsamic Glaze

You can buy pre-made balsamic glaze in most grocery stores, or easily make it at home by bringing about 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar to a boil over high heat and then allowing it to reduce down to a few tablespoons.

You'll know it's ready when you dip in a spoon and it coats it like a syrup. If you cook it down too much, just add a little water or extra balsamic and stir until you get the right consistency. You can also add a dash of honey for some extra sweetness if desired.

**Chipotles in adobo last me forever. I simply scoop them out of the can and place them individually on a lined baking pan to freeze, then pop them into a zip top bag and store in the freezer. I toss these into soup, chili, sauces and even rice whenever I want a smoky, spicy kick.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Let's talk for a second about something extremely important: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I mean, let's be real. They are the cornerstone for a proper baking education. The foundation for a well-rounded recipe repertoire. If you can't bake a decent batch of chocolate chip cookies, then your kitchen confidence may suffer.

I can't let you go through that kind of heartache, my friends. So I'm here to save the day because these are the only chocolate chip cookies you may ever need to know how to bake.

But before I go on, let me just make myself clear -- I don't do crispy cookies. No, siree. Crispy chocolate chip cookies make me sad. I bet that's how most red meat eaters feel about an overcooked steak.

As far as I'm concerned, chocolate chip cookies are baked as a mere formality. Because, as ok as it might be for you to scoop up globs of dough in your kitchen and devour them with reckless abandon, it's not cool to serve a platter of dough balls to company. {Although, that definitely depends on who you're having over.} More forbidden yet is to over bake these beauties, robbing them of all that amazing flavor, texture and moisture.

For me, there is nothing better than a CCC that's baked until it's just rigid enough to hold its shape, but immediately reveals a soft, gooey interior upon the first bite. That's ROOTO. {Right Out of the Oven.} But then there's that second, wonderful phase of cookie nirvana that takes place after the cookies are cooled {if they are still around, that is}. They sort of sink into themselves into little puddles of wonderfulness; the chocolate chips are still melty and the cookie itself gains a nice chewiness.

Pardon me for a moment while I wipe up the drool.

Here's a little secret I must confess: I've shared this recipe before under the name "Piggy Print Cookies" during one of my Tailgate Thursday posts. Recently, I realized that unless you're into Arkansas football or are looking for something bacony to make, you might not have thought to scour the post for the recipe. Plus, since then, I've played around a bit with the recipe and perfected them.

They are probably the fastest cookie you will ever make. You don't have to waste time creaming together butter and sugar or chilling dough or anything silly like that. The fact that you melt the butter, use only egg yolks and add a dash of maple syrup {you won't actually taste the maple syrup} makes these unique, and also makes them magical.

As my sister said the other day, "Well, that was the best thing I've ever eaten." I don't know if I'd go that far, but they're good. I promise.

So, I'm officially unearthing what has become my "go-to" cookie recipe any time I need to bake something quickly and still impress. I never, ever get sick of the reaction that folks have when they take their first bite of these. And I never get sick of taking the first bite myself.

Your baking education has been established. Go forth and feed the masses.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 28 cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks {12 tablespoons, 3/4 cup} butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a baking pan by lining with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla extract until combined and smooth. Pour into dry mixture and mix until fully combined.

4. Add chocolate chips and mix well to distribute.

5. Using a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop, portion out dough balls and place about 2 to 2 1/2 inches apart on the baking pan. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until they are puffed and the edges just begin to turn golden. Don't let them brown or they won't be as soft once they're cooled. {They bake for exactly 12 minutes in my oven for the perfect doneness.}

6. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5-8 minutes, or until they've firmed up a bit. {Fight the urge to devour them instantly.} Carefully remove from baking pan and place on a cooling rack... or gobble them right up while they're warm and perfect!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Barolo Ristorante | North Palm Beach, Florida

I've become pretty picky when it comes to Italian food. Between being schooled by my in-laws and eating my father-in-law's amazing home-cooked versions of all the classics, it's safe to say that my standards have been raised by leaps and bounds.

So, when I received an invite from Barolo Ristorante in North Palm Beach to come dine at their restaurant, I was cautiously optimistic. It looked nice. Sounded good. Seemed worth a try. But I wasn't going in with lofty expectations, just in case.

Barolo has been around for about 6 months, and in that time, they've found great success in doing what they do best -- pouring perfectionism into their dishes and providing a wonderful dining experience for patrons.

I chatted with Barolo's General Manager, Anthony Cammarano, who told us a bit about the labor of love that goes into creating the ideal restaurant, menu, and service. For him, it all starts with seeing the experience through the eyes of a customer, starting right at the front door. He asks himself, "What am I seeing, hearing, and smelling from the moment I walk in?" He knows that, as is the case in meeting individuals, the first impressions often sets the tone.

From our first few minutes at Barolo, I knew we'd "hit it off" just fine. The dining room was low lit and attractive {even romantic, one might say}, with a modern feel and clean lines -- no rustic barrels draped with fake grapes at this Italian restaurant. A view of  their climate-controlled wine room subtly nudges diners to peruse the extensive wine collection and indulge in a glass or two. {Though sadly, I had to stick with water this time. Is it November yet?!}

Where the impression of the surroundings leave off, the service picks up with their friendly staff. We immediately loved our server, who not only was sweet and bubbly, but also knew the menu and was able to quickly get the answer to anything she didn't know offhand. {Like, "Is there raw egg in the Caesar dressing?" Gah, I hate being that pregnant person.} She promptly offered suggestions and her opinion on anything we couldn't decide on right away -- very accommodating and patient... we got carried away with the chatting a took a while to order.

Steve and I both decided to go with the Prix-Fixe that Barolo is promoting for the summer. Four courses plus wine sounded like a good deal. But first, we started off with an appetizer: a classic Italian antipasto, which my dear husband cannot pass up if it is offered. I obliged to his suggestion, but soon remembered that technically I shouldn't eat half the stuff on the platter! Oops. You could tell that the items were high quality; the cheeses, cured meats and veggies made a beautiful presentation.

Next course was salad and soup; I had the Minestrone and Steve the Caesar salad. The soup reminded me of "grandma soup". That's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

The entrees came and I was actually surprised at the portion sizes, especially for a fine dining spot. I had the Sole Francese, which was served over sauteed spinach and fingerling potatoes, and Steve had the Veal Pizzaiola. Both looked beautiful, and I though the fish was delicious, though I had a little remorse over not going rogue and getting one of their homemade pasta dishes. The entree did come with pasta -- spaghetti with marinara -- which was good, but I felt like it probably didn't speak for their other, more exciting options.

Though everything was delightful, I must confess there was one downfall to the meal: Dessert. The Prix Fixe menu comes with a standard scoop of gelato with a drizzle of chocolate sauce, which is sort of boring, but never underappreciated in my world. But :::gasp::: I actually wasn't a fan of the gelato! You know how sometimes ice cream that's left in the freezer too long gets a sort of chewy edge around the top? I kept finding those in my scoop, which made for a very sad pregnant girl. The gelato itself wasn't smooth and silky, but sort of icy. Did it stop me from eating the whole thing? Nope. But after such a great experience, I wished it had ended on a better note! Next time, we spring for a dessert OFF the Prix Fixe!

My final conclusion: Barolo is going to do just fine. From the happy chatter around us from other folks enjoying their meals to the rave reviews they've already managed to acquire on Yelp and Facebook, it seems the community has spoken.

When we visit again {I think this place would be Mama & Papa Muscari approved, which says a lot}, I'm going to choose more creatively, because I really think they have something special to offer.

Thanks so much for the great visit!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taste History Culinary Tours | Boynton Beach & Delray Beach, Florida

I'm a proud Florida girl, born and raised. But the last time I really knew my Florida history was back in 4th grade when it was a mandatory class {and then again when I had to teach it during my elementary school teacher years}.

As embarrassing as that is, I'm sure I'm not alone. I mean, how much do you really know about the area where you live? And when would you really take the time to research the facts surrounding your city's history?

I was pleased to find that there is actually an exciting way to do this around here: Taste History Culinary Tours, sponsored by Macy's & an official partner for the State of Florida's "Viva Florida" campaign. When I received an email from Lori, Taste History's Executive Tour Director, asking if I wanted to come check it out, I thought it might be a good way to brush up on my Florida history. Did I mention that this lesson is centered around food? I was in.

Taste History currently offers two different tasting tours: One that covers the Boyton Beach/Delray Beach area, and one around Lake Worth/Lantana. For $40, visitors can experience a taste of the area complete with an air conditioned bus ride to each location, ample tour narration including historical facts and tidbits, and -- most importantly -- generous tastings at a handful of the area's best locally owned spots.

I wasn't sure what to expect exactly, but I was game for a day of nibbling and learning with Steve as my assistant and official camera holder. ;) We boarded the bus and headed down to Delray where we stopped in an area that was first established by black business owners looking to lay a foundation for life and commerce.

After driving through and seeing some of the original homes and businesses, we pulled in for our first food stop: Dee Dee's Conch, Rib & Crab Shack.

A tiny spot with big success, Dee Dee's has become a well-loved place for locals and visitors alike. We got to sample some of Dee Dee's flavorful conch fritters and ribs -- original recipes that have been perfected over time -- as we listened to her incredibly inspiring story of perseverance in transitioning from simple food tent to well-respected local business owner. She said she feels like a celebrity in her own town, and I can certainly see how her food has her propelled her to such fame! I'm not sure what I loved more: The tasty zing of the spicy sauce or her spunk.

The kick of Dee Dee's offerings was only the beginning of the spice yet to come. Our next stop was Sweet's Sensational Jamaican Cuisine & Catering.

Visiting Sweet's proved to me something that I've already known for a long time having grown up in a Cuban family: Island folks not only love food, but love to feed a crowd! While they had some traditional Jamaican Beef Patties ready for us to sample when our group arrived, their enthusiasm for feeding us seemed to grow with each second. Soon, the counter was filled with Jamaican specialties such as Rice & Peas, Curried Goat, Jerk Chicken and Sweet Potato Pudding. All homemade, all delicious! I really loved the welcoming vibe and their passion for sharing their nation's cuisine.

Though we could have stayed and chatted for spell, we soon boarded the bus again and headed to the next location: Shaffer's Tea Room.

I was immediately smitten with the renovated rectory-turned-tea haven. From the vibrant colors to the peaceful {yet energizing} vibe as you walk in the door, entering Shaffer's is like discovering a special secret. Offering more than 75 different tea selections, the staff at Shaffer's can direct you to whatever flavor, experience or healing blend you seek. They also have delightful little bites to eat that are all locally sourced from the best of the best surrounding purveyors -- we got to try some cheesy turnovers, spinach puff pastries and blueberry pound cake. As I sipped on "Heaven" and smelled "Nirvana", I realized it would take some real prompting for me to leave this space!

When I was finally pried away from the tea counter, I was hoping that the next place on the tour would keep spirits high. Cabana el Rey didn't disappoint.

What they provided for us was far beyond just a sample of their Latin American cuisine. It was more like a smorgasbord of color, flavor and style served in chic surroundings with a creative and festive flair. I had heard of Cabana before, having strolled by their location on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, but had never stopped in as I'm pretty picky when it comes to Latin cuisine -- no one can outcook my Abuelita as far as I'm concerned. Learning about the restaurant's success both in New York and South Florida opened my eyes to what I've been missing, especially once I tried their innovative takes on Ropa Vieja in a Tostone cup, Cuban Sandwich Empanadas and Coconut Shrimp over Plantain Mash. They were even kind enough to muddle me up an alcohol-free version of their famous Mojito, which was refreshing and enjoyable even without the booze! Sold!

A stroll down the way led us to our next stop: Scuola Vecchia Pizza e Vino

The folks here know the real deal when it comes to authentic Neapolitan pizza -- the freshest ingredients, traditional techniques and an old-school {which is actually what "Scuola Vecchia" means!} wood-burning oven directly from Italy. House-made cheese and a seasoned chef only add to the experience of biting into a slice of one of their mouthwatering pies made in just 90 seconds in their blazing volcanic stone oven. We tried two different versions of the Margherita, both delightful.

Starting to get pretty stuffed at this point, we were glad when the next location we visited was not only a stone's throw away, but also a place to get a dainty morsels of dessert: Le Macaron French Pastries.

Oddly enough, I had actually stumbled into this cute little shop the night before not knowing it would be part of the tasting tour, so I had a little sneak preview of the Gianduja and Madagascar Black Vanilla macarons. Boasting over 18 flavors of sweet, gorgeous macarons, Le Macaron has a little something for everyone {including gelato and fine chocolates which they also sell}. Everyone "oohed" and "aahhed" over the pretty bites all lined up in the cases; they're certainly hard to resist.

Believe it or not, there was MORE! Stopping at DIG {Doing it Green} was a nice respite for the sizzling temps.

The restaurant specializes in dishes made with fresh, seasonal organic fruits and veggies as well as locally sourced and ethically produced products. Their tagline, "Big flavor, small footprint." communicates their desire to serve up delicious dishes with as little negative impact to the planet as possible. They gave us their hummus trio to sample, which is one of the most attractive hummus platters I've ever seen! Sadly, I was way too full to have more than just a tiny taste, but I'd love to return and see what else they have to offer.

Most of us were ready to tap out and wave the white napkin flag, but I'm so glad that the next stop was included. We departed from Delray and headed back down to Boynton. The Little House was definitely one of my favorite stops on the tour!

A charming cottage built in 1934 was renovated and relocated to its current location in Boynton Beach, where Chef Chrissy Benoit brings all kinds of dining delights to locals. The place is dripping with adorableness -- from the rustic elements to the vintage decor, to the fact that the house's original owner still frequents the place... I nearly had a tearful moment hearing her story. Speaking of tears, I was sad I didn't get to try the Mango Strawberry Cilantro Sangria, but the sampling of the Parmesan-crusted Fried Green Tomatillos with house made Buttermilk Ranch Dressing made up for it! Very tasty. I'm totally going back for their Pajama Brunch {held on Saturdays and Sundays} to give some more menu items a try.

We needed a short respite from chewing, so stopping at the Boynton Beach City Library was actually quite welcome, though unexpected! What exactly was a food tour doing at the library, you might ask? Stopping in for some culture, of course. This month the library is showcasing pieces from stained glass artist Conrad Pickel, which we were happy to browse in the cool air conditioning. But before we could get too drowsy from the quiet surroundings & full bellies, we were off for our final food stop of the tour.

And what a way to wrap things up! Palermo's Italian Bakery in Boynton was just the sugar rush we needed to liven up.

Wanna see a bunch of grown ups light up like kids in a candy shop? Give them free run of a bakery like Palermo's. Not only does the family-owned bakery serve classic Italian pastries, cookies, cakes and breads, but they also have entertainment weekly on their outdoor patio as well as special monthly dinners. They were so incredibly generous at this spot, loading us up with all kinds of goodies. I was happy to hear that they're planning on opening up a new location up by me in Jupiter!

We simply couldn't eat another crumb, so we headed back to our starting point to end the incredible day of delicacies and dishes. I couldn't believe how much we had covered {and eaten!} in the 4 hours we were gone.

This tour is definitely worth taking whether you are a tourist or a native who wants to brush up on your Florida history and take in some great local fare! A big thank you to my friends at Taste History Culinary Tours for the invitation to participate in this fun food adventure!

Disclosure: I provided with 2 complimentary passes to experience the Taste History Culinary Tour. As always, all the opinions here are my own!


Inspired by our stop at Cabana del Rey, I recreated their tasty little Cuban Sandwich Empanadas at home! The recipe is so simple and the outcome a perfect appetizer.

What a fun way to get the flavors of a classic Cubano in a handy dandy portable bite.

Mini "Cubano" Empanadas

6 empanada discs {I use these but if you can't find them you can use pie crust}, cut into 12 small rounds
Yellow Mustard
2 slices of your favorite ham, chopped
2 slices of deli pork {roast pork is best, if you have it, but deli pork will do in a pinch}, chopped
2 slices Swiss cheese, cut into very small dice
10 dill pickle chips, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking pan with foil and spray lightly with olive oil. Set aside.

2. Place empanada rounds onto pan and spread a tiny bit of mustard and a tiny bit of mayo on each circle. You may want to dab a little bit around the edges of the circle with your finger to use as "glue".

3. In a medium bowl mix together ham, pork, Swiss and pickles. Take about a tablespoon of mixture and place in the center of each empanada round.

4. Carefully fold over one half of the empanada to the other to form a half circle, pressing lightly around the edges. Using the tines of a fork, press down on edges to crimp closed.

5. Spray or brush tops with olive oil and bake for about 12-15 minutes until they start to get golden and the dough is puffed up and cooked.

Serve while hot & melty, but be careful not to burn your tongue. :)