Pop the bubbles, saddle up to the table, let's party!
Author: Ciao Vella
My name is Tess Vella, I’m just a gal living it up in Dayton: a little city in Ohio that’s in the midst of an urban upswing. I’ve got a very handsome husband and an (unfortunately, toothless) but equally handsome cat named Tim and Pas de Chat, respectively.
I’ve spent most of my life in the restaurant business, smiling at diners, slinging drinks, and learning to appreciate the finer things in life; though sometimes on a tuna can budget.
Some of my favorite things including champagne, coffee, red lipstick, and my bathrobe.
Get ready to be outraged: I don’t like Thanksgiving. Turkey is fine and all, but it’s definitely not one of my favorite types of poultry. When people decide that duck is appropriate to eat at Thanksgiving, you can call me. But on Thanksgiving, it’s inevitable that someone has dried out the bird, and the only thing worse than dry turkey is…well, nothing.
Stuffing is okay too, and sometimes it’s absolutely delicious, but a big mound of stale breadcrumbs is not enough to make a meal. In the Vella family, it’s all about the food, so if you want to see what a real holiday is like, come see us on Christmas eve where we serve course after course of bomb ass food. Thanksgiving, however, is not where the Vella’s shine, mostly because Thanksgiving food is boring. Yeah, I said it. And I’m not sorry.
But it’s not even the entree that I have the biggest problem. It’s the desserts. Pumpkin and Apple pie. Here are some very clear reasons for my hatred:
I’m just not all that into pie crust. I’m know there are some better than others. But whoever has made my apple pies the past 30 years certainly doesn’t have the ratios down. Typically I find pie crust to be dry over flaky. No thank you.
I don’t like warm fruit. I just don’t, I can’t explain it.
I hate hate hate nutmeg. Anything pumpkin flavored is basically just a bunch of clove and nutmeg and I think it’s way overused.
So it’s all a matter of preference, but mine happens to be an unpopular one. So what do I typically do on Thanksgiving? I load my plate up with mash potatoes and Brussel sprouts and I skip dessert. But I’m not doing that this year. No way. Skipping dessert is bullshit, I live for dessert. This year I’m taking matters into my own hands. I’m making something for myself…sure, other people can have some too. I’m not going to eat an entire cake by myself. But this is about me, and my dessert is going to include chocolate, because dammit, dessert means chocolate. There, I said it. I feel so much better.
Here’s what I baked, a chocolate ginger bundt cake. The recipe didn’t include ginger, but because I’m not a total scrooge, I decided to be a little festive.
I am so thankful for my readers. Thanksgiving, in spite of the crappy food, is special to me. I am so grateful for the many wonderful faces around my dinner table. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
There’s a story my mother loves to tell me about a time when I was a little girl. My mom was in the kitchen, getting dinner ready per usual, when I bopped in and asked her what was for dinner. “Cobb salad” my mother replied matter-of-factly. My mother goes on to describe what can only be defined as a full blown melt down. Not a normal 3 year old’s temper tantrum, more like a complete and utter shattering of a little girls soul. Incredulous I screamed “SALAD! THAT’S NOT DINNER!!!”
My mother tried to explain all the delicious and substantial ingredients that went into a cobb salad but I wasn’t hearing it. I may have been little, but I was firm in my stance that a salad does not make for a dinner. My mom made dinner for us every single night and it was always delicious, chicken piccatta, black bean soup, tortellini, you name it. She prepared dinner thoughtfully every night, there was never a “just slap something on a plate” mentally to her meals. That being said, I have no doubt that it was the best cobb salad I’ve ever had. Good enough, I’m guessing, to explain why I am a true salad-for-dinner convert in my adulthood. It is one of my favorite things to make for dinner. Why? Let me count the ways.
Salad is a great way to ensure I’m eating my veggies. I’m not just talking about some weak iceberg lettuce here. I often use spinach, kale, radicchio, and other mixed leaves for the greens. I almost always add peas to my salad. Peas in everything. They add a nice brightness and texture. Green beans also have a perfect place in a salad. Sometimes I roast cauliflower or mushrooms and throw that in too. Delicious and nutritious.
Is there anything better in this world than croutons? I think we’ve established by now how much I love carbs, and a good crusty bread. When I make a salad for dinner I always make the croutons myself. I tear big pieces from a loaf of bread (seasame is my loaf of choice), toss the torn bits in olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake until they are crispy, but not hard as rocks. Then, before I dress the salad, I always lightly toss the croutons in the dressing separately. With every crispy bite of crouton, you also get a nice burst of tangy dressing. It’s heavenly.
It’s a break from the norm. I was recently talking with a friend about how people eat in the Midwest, with a big hunk of meat on the plate, potatoes and then a side veggie. That’s the classic dinner for Ohioan and their neighboring states. But dinner doesn’t have to look like that. A salad is still substantial without filling you up, or loading you down. My husband has a hefty appetite, so it’s not like there’s any shortage of protein on our plates, but not every dinner has to come with a heaping side of mashed potatoes. Salad for dinner breaks up the monotony of your typical dinner.
Salad is easy to portion. Most days, I’m only making dinner for me and the hubs, but about once a week I am cooking for my whole family. For this reason, I love making salad. It’s super easy to portion out the right amount without their being heaps and heaps of leftovers that often times, will never get touched. There’s nothing I hate more than seeing food go to waste, and salad for dinner nearly ensures that doesn’t happen!
Last night for dinner I made spicy Caesar salads with whole wheat croutons and served it with flat iron steak. But my favorite salad to make this autumn season is my oldest sister’s favorite salad, so I call it Liddy’s salad. Here’s the sort of kind of recipe below. Did I mention another great thing about salads….you just throw shit in a bowl so you don’t really need a recipe!
Kale, Spinach and/or any other time of green you’d like
Dijon Dressing (I always make my own!)
Brush chicken thighs with thin layer of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes at 375.
Cook quinoa until light and fluffy, set aside to cool slightly
Cut or tear bread into small cubes, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out on baking sheet and put in oven for 8-12 minutes, depending on preferred level of crispness
Before adding croutons to salad, lightly toss in salad dressing.
In large bowl combine cooled quinoa, greens, finely chopped bacon, blue cheese crumbles, pears cut into small cubes, and croutons. Pour dressing on top and toss using a pair of tongs.
Top with chicken, garnish with additional pears or blue cheese crumbles, and serve.
One year ago I did this silly little thing and started a blog. I was having a quarter life crisis, (can you have that at 30?) It’s a classic tale of leaving one’s cushy job with a steady paycheck and retirement benefits in order to pursue one’s passions. Starting my blog was the last step of the process: I quit the job, I took time to process what really mattered to me, then I put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard.
A year of writing has been more fruitful than I could have ever imagined, but it’s also been more challenging. I promised myself I’d be pumping out content regularly, and that didn’t happen in year one. I promised myself I’d have 100,000 followers, and yet I’m pretty sure my mom is the only person reading this. (Hi mom!) But one of the things I also learned in this blogging process is that I have to stop “shoulding” all over myself. I am my harshest critic and blogging means that my flaws, and typos, and failures are out there for anyone on the internet to see.
I didn’t start blogging to make money, or fame, or get free stuff sent to my house (although that is sort of awesome.) I started to blog to write and bake and drink and eat, all the things I love dearly in this life. Blogging has opened doors that I didn’t know could be opened to me, and blogging has led me to self-actualize the life I’ve always hoped and dreamed of having.
Ciao Vella year two is going to be more of the same, but also more. I’m going to post more regularly, I’m going to hold myself accountable for the content I want out there, and I hope you’ll continue to read with me, friends, readers, and my mom. Thank you for your support.
When I was 3 years old I never went anywhere without a purse. Sometimes it was stuffed with toys, sometimes it was empty, but it was always in my hand. My dad called me the bag lady. One thing was certain, I was a girly-girl through and through. My personality has been pretty much cemented since I was 3 and I am still super girly. Makeup, clothes, purses, they are my thing. If you want to know why I’m late to your party, it’s probably because I’m doing my eyeliner just so. I’ve learned in life that the pricier the liner, the better the result. And I have tried just about every liquid liner under the sun. Along the same lines, I was on the hunt for the best dry shampoo. What would give me a fresh look without actually having to shower? What would make me look good, and still allow me to be lazy? In my efforts I spent upwards of $30, down to $3. I found that my $5.99 Dove dry shampoo is better than those fancy celebrity hair stylist brands that cost a great deal more. It got me thinking about the other things with which I should be splurging, or skimping.
When it comes to the culinary world, I have some pretty hard and fast rules about what kitchen items and food items are worth spending the money and what you can get away with for less.
Butter – it makes everything better, this much we know. But just adding a shit ton of Kroger brand butter to your dish isn’t necessarily going to make a difference. In my experience, spending a little bit more on high quality unsalted butter can take what you make from meh to amazing. For my everyday use, I stick to Kerry Gold Butter. It’s 100% pure Irish butter, hormone-free, and made from grass-fed cows. Why is that better? The butter is much richer in nutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids. Why does it taste better? This butter makes for a creamier, nuttier taste than your average cheap butter on the shelves. It’s amazing how the base of a good butter can make all the difference in your food, so for butter, I urge you to splurge.
Bread – you know that expression “coolest thing since sliced bread?” Well, in my household, sliced bread is extremely uncool. Pre-packaged bread is filled with sugar, frozen for up to a year (!) then put on the shelves, and generally speaking just doesn’t taste that good. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a fresh bakery, the bread that comes from those ovens (rather than the freezer) is 10 times better. Packaged bread may taste fine (again, because it’s loaded with sugar) but freshly baked bread’s flavor is more nuanced, pure, and satisfying. Bread is a staple in our lives, so why not feed yourself with something that’s actually really delicious instead of just filling?
Cheese – You cannot get good cheese without spending some money, it’s just that simple. Those kraft singles are absolute garbage, and should never be consumed, I don’t care how conveniently wrapped they are. Cheese should not be neon, people! Even a cheap mozzarella can have little to no flavor, aside from the plastic it’s wrapped in. It’s worth the money to splurge on some cheese, whether you use it in your cooking, or for a carefully curated cheese board, because the flavors in nicer cheeses are more developed, and can highlight the fruits and vegetables with which they are served. You don’t have to spend $45 per pound necessarily, but certainly up your budget where it counts. The cheese I use the most in cooking is Parmesan Reggiano. This is fromage gold. Any old cheese may call itself Parmesan, but this is the real deal, the God Father, and a staple in any good Italian girl’s diet. I may skimp a little bit on the price of cheese for my sandwich, but when it comes to grating over my pasta, or including in my meatballs: well, pardon my french, but I don’t fuck around.
Wine – A few years ago Timmy and I were gifted a bottle of Dom Perignon. We saved it for a special occasion and drank it the last night of our honeymoon. It was….good. But that’s it…just good. Was it $250 good? I don’t know. I’ve consumed a lot of good wine in my life and it was certainly not the best thing I’ve ever tasted. One of my favorite sparkling wines is Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc which retails for about $40. If given the choice between the two, I think I’d choose Schramsberg time and time again. Sure I’ve had nice glasses of wine that are expensive, and I can certainly taste the difference between a $65 bottle of Chardonnay and some Barefoot crap, but I also think there is a lot of affordable wine out there that you can drink without breaking the bank. It’s hard to know what to look for in a bottle, what’s going to taste like swill, and what isn’t, but the more I learn about wine the more I recognize that expensive doesn’t always mean better.
Dry Pasta – Huge disclaimer here: there is nothing like fresh-made pasta. It will make you rethink food as we know it, so please note that I am only talking about dry pasta here. There are a lot of great quality, pasta options in the grocery store, but this is one of those items that I don’t think makes a huge difference whether you spend $10 or $2.99. If you cook pasta well, if the ingredients that go into it are fresh and thoughtfully prepared, you season it well, and use GOOD BUTTER, then the pasta may not be the star of your dish, but I bet the dish will be pretty damn good. If you want the pasta to be the star, then make it, but otherwise, your store brand shells will suit you just fine.
Organic Produce – I could write an entire blog post on it’s own about what Organic really means, how it’s regulated, and whether or not it’s just a buzzword leading you to shell out the dough, but I’m going to put that rant aside for now. I may ruffle some feathers with the 7 readers I have here, but in my opinion there are only a few types of produce where it’s important to buy organic. A rule for me is: if you’re ripping or peeling anything off the fruit or veggie before it’s prepared, then you don’t have to pay the premium. A stalking veggie like celery is a good example of produce I’d pay a little extra, but a banana is not. I’m ripping the peel of the banana off so the part affected by the “organic benefits” is going right in trash. Your favorite herbs, buy organic. But things you’ve got to peel? Put away your purse, they don’t require the splurge.
There you have it, the Ciao Vella guide of where to spend and where to save. Happy shopping, cheers and ciao!
If you are in your twenties or early thirties it is inevitable that you will have one of those years where every weekend is devoted to weddings. Your calendar will be filled with showers and ceremonies, or trips to the Bed Bath and Beyond bridal registry. This is my year, people, I am experiencing a wedding filled 2017. I am in three weddings, and invited to attend many more. I didn’t know I had so many friends! But I honestly shouldn’t complain, one of my college friends had a year where she was either in or attended 11 weddings! But even with my whopping 7 weddings on the horizon, it is making for a very busy fall.
Because of this, I have gotten really really good at knowing just what to do for each event: what to buy, what to wear, and how to plan. This became even truer the past two weekends when I was the host of two very different, but very fun bachelorette parties. It seems like I’ve got a bachelorette party formula down with only slight alterations necessary to fit each bride.
Here are some simple tips and touches that will make your bestie’s bachelorette bash one for the books:
Know Your Bride
Does anyone still hire strippers for bachelorette parties anymore? Surely someone is out there doing it, but chances are, the bride to be isn’t all that interested in a sweaty man (other than her own) bumping up on her. The point here is, plan activities around what your bride might actually want to do. It’s a day or a weekend to celebrate her, after all, so keep the bride’s style in mind.
Is the bride a party animal? Good, take her out to a club, let her dance the night away. Is the bride shy? Cool, so maybe don’t make everyone stare at her while she opens gifts. Pick activities that your bestie is sure to enjoy, that won’t make her feel uncomfortable, like a *cough cough* stripper. If you’re in her bridal party, then you know her best, so make sure her style is in mind when you’re planning her bash.
Bride First, but Guests Second
You want the celebration to feel true to the bride’s style, but remember that you’re still the hostess of a party, and you have to entertain the other guests too. This means picking activities that everyone can enjoy. If you’re in my group of friends, that means drinking. A bachelorette party formula that has always worked in the past is starting the day with brunch, then heading out to a pool for some fun in the sun. Not too many people I know would object to that. Keep the activities light so that everyone can have fun. Make sure there’s good music playing, and enough food and drinks for everyone.
On that same note, be sure to have a variety of food and beverages. A bach party I threw recently had two girls in attendance that had gluten allergies. That meant ensuring we ordered pizza with gluten free crust and had some hard ciders on hand. We knew that the rest of the group would want to drink wine and champagne, so those were the drink options. This goes back to being a good host, know your audience, and prep accordingly.
Don’t Skimp on the Photo Ops
This is a weekend to remember, but also one where things get a little bit fuzzy, if you know what I mean. You will want this fun filled weekend well documented. In an era where everyone has a phone in their hands 24-7, take this opportunity to have extra special pics of the bride and her gals. My recent Columbus bach extravaganza was full of great photo ops. One of the bridesmaids made an awesome photo cut out with the bride’s name. We also had big balloons in our hotel room to pose around. My next bach party started out at my house, so I made a little photo booth area for guests to pose in front of. We also live in a magical time of Snapchat filters, so make your own geo-filter for the night. It’s quick, cheap, and really ups your social media game.
Also, and I cannot stress this enough, make a bachelorette party hashtag. You can go online and get hashtag options generated, or come up with one yourself, but it’s a great way to catalog the weekend events, and something the bride will probably want to look at time and time again. Hashtags are the future people! And if you’re still coming up short, ask me for help. It’s one of my greatest joys in life.
The Devil is in the Details
I’m typically not one of those girls that thinks that every party needs to have a theme, but sometimes with a bachelorette party, it helps. For big bachelorette parties, like the one in Columbus, a theme helps keep everything organized, like party favors, and decor. Because my friend’s bach party fell on the same weekend as the Lollapalooza music festival, we decided to make the bach party a festival theme, we called it Bride-a-palooza. We had flower crowns, VIP passes, temporary tattoos, etc. We set up a tepee in the hotel room for the bride’s gifts, tie-die plates and cups. Everything went down to the smallest detail, and it made all the difference.
Again, not everything has to have a theme, but you still want the party to feel cohesive. My Dayton bach party didn’t have a theme, but I made sure to put effort into creating the right atmosphere with food, cocktail napkins, and decor.
Because it’s still a party, it’s important to have a little fun with it. The bride we were celebrating in Dayton is getting hitched to another bride, so penis straws were out. Instead, I baked boob cookies, that’s right, nipples and all.
As with every party I throw, paying attention to those extra details may mean a little extra time, but it will translate to your guests as an extra special event. This is your best friend, we are planning for, right? That extra mile will mean the world to her, so plan around a theme, buy those balloons and make those boobs!
Bachelorette party gifts are sort of a strange territory. I can’t tell you how many times over the course of attending or planning a bach party I’ve asked my friends “So, what are you getting for her?” A bach party is not the time or place to buy the bride something off of her registry, it’s a time to have fun with her present, be a little silly. Some brides want wedding night lingerie options. I did not, no no, I did not want to hold up panties the size of a tent in front of my friends. Good gifts include personalized jewelry, fun clothing, undergarments, and even a silly *gasp* toy can make for very good options.
Bachelorette parties have really transformed from the days of drunk girls stumbling around with veils on their heads. Trust me, there are still plenty of drunk girls, but they have become a much different type of party, a party that requires more effort than penis shaped crowns and tequila shots. It’s the last chance to get super silly with your girlfriends, have a ball, and throw back a few drinks (or chambongs, because, let’s be honest.) Keep these few bits of advice in mind and your bride-bestie is going to have the time of her life, and that’s what it’s all about.
Yesterday was my birthday. The big 3-1. I was sort of dreading it. Not in a “woe is me, I’m getting older” sort of way, but rather a “Man, 31 means I have to start acting a lot more like an adult” way.
Last year for my 30th birthday I threw myself a little party. My friends came over mid-day. We drank lots of champagne and had a blast. I’m pretty sure, though I can’t confirm, that I did a cartwheel in the middle of my apartment. We chambonged the afternoon away, and the next day was rough…like, real rough. But it was okay, because 30 is an appropriate age to act like a bit of a fool. You’re an adult, but you still know how to have fun, and you don’t have to take yourself too seriously.
However, adding on that extra digit made my 30th birthday feel so juvenile. As my date of birth started to creep up and my family asked me how I wanted to celebrate, I felt like I had a very adult decision to make. No longer was it appropriate to bong glasses of champagne and attempt gymnastics in my home. No no, now there was a real threat of breaking something (like a bone, or a piece of furniture that wasn’t purchased from IKEA), or never ever recovering from my hangover.
Instead I opted for dinner with with my family and friends. Trust me, there was still plenty of champagne consumed, but mostly we just ate until we were stuffed to the brim. We went to a traditional Turkish restaurant and filled up on baba ganoush, lamb, and baklava. It was a pretty perfect way to ring in another year; good food, good company, and instead of reaching for a gatorade and Advil the next day, my 31 year old self was reaching for the Tums. That, my friends, is called growing up.
This year the Fourth of July has been particularly pleasant because it felt like one long, glorious weekend. Even though I literally just got back from a week long vacation, I dove back into work head first with little time to rest. Because of that, I took the opportunity to fully enjoy the long, holiday weekend and focus on the type of things that make me really really happy. I floated around the pool, I went for a long, leisurely hike, I entertained for the fireworks with watermelon cosmos and some yummy snacks, and I baked. Oh man, did I bake.
I started the weekend off right by making an American bakery classic: Angel Food Cake. This cake is lighter than air, fluffy and delicious. I used Mary Berry’s recipe, even though she’s a British bird, but just like that first independence day, I broke off from the english recipe and did things in my own style. I frosted the cake with a classic, homemade whipped cream, and a berry curd. As you know, I’m an absolute sucker for curds, and I’ve been messing around with different kinds lately. Here is my recipe for the perfect berry curd.
1 cup strawberries
½ cup blueberries
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 egg yolks
zest from 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
In a small saucepan over medium low heat, cook down the strawberries and blueberries in water, and a pinch of sugar, about 10-12 minutes. Let berries come to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
When the berries have reached a nice consistency, whisk in the remaining ingredients quickly. Since the berries are already warm, you want to whisk aggressively so as not to scramble your egg yolks.
Remove from heat and strain the curd, removing any large chunks of fruit from the curd.
Cool at room temperature, and drizzle on cake.
Top the cake with additional berries for decor, and enjoy!
The angel food cake calls for 10 egg whites, so when you are separating the eggs, simply set two of the yolks aside for the curd.
I hope you all had a very happy and relaxing Fourth of July! Cheers and Ciao!