How to Shop Smart and Save Money!

If there is one thing I didn’t expect about food blogging, it was the expense.  Take for example my Gilmore Girls inspired day of eating.  Not only did that day take it’s toll on my digestive system, it also hurt my wallet.  Or my salmon nicoise adventure, and the $30 salmon filets.  Ouch, that one really stung.  As I am gearing up for lots of food and alcohol consumption, then even more food and alcohol writing, I decided it would be prudent to start exhibiting some skills  of a functioning adult, read: budgeting.  

Because many of the things I’m cooking or drinking require a trip to a speciality store, the costs can really add up.  With that in mind, I have put together some tips and tricks (which are mostly just common sense, but shhhh…) to smart grocery shopping.

1) Plan Your Meals

Meal planning has become a buzz phrase, and synonymous with healthy eating, but it also makes good sense.  We are all guilty of it:  you get to the grocery store, look around the produce aisle and then say “hmmmm…what should I eat for dinner this week.”  Then you end up piling produce, meats, and cheeses into your cart aimlessly.  By the time you get to the register you have maybe compiled a few meals, but chances are you’ll still end up with a ton of waste.  

I like to go to grocery shopping on Tuesday nights, which means on Monday night I’m typically scrolling through Pinterest, Cooking Light (my fave), and my other cookbooks for meal inspiration.   Then I catalog what I’m going to make for the week:  “Okay, Wednesday we’re having chicken and polenta, Thursday we’ll have sausage and peppers,  Friday and Saturday nights we’ll go out to eat, but Saturday breakfast, I’ll make a frittata.  Sunday I’ll make homemade pizzas, and Monday we’re going to have chicken caesar salads.”   The next step brings me to point number 2.

2) Make a List

I never thought I was a really organized person until I started meal planning.  I cannot lie…the way I write my grocery lists is a little neurotic.  If in 100 years, archeologists dig up my grocery lists the only thing they’ll have to say is “Wow, that bitch was anal.”

 I start with an ingredient list for each meal I plan to prepare.  So let’s take my weekly plan for meals above:


  • Chicken thighs
  • Chicken stock
  • Red onion
  • Corn meal


  • Hot Italian sausage
  • Assorted bell peppers
  • Yellow onion
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Crusty Bread

Saturday Breakfast:

  • Yellow onion
  • Sage
  • Eggs
  • Heavy Cream


  • Naan bread
  • Basil
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Cheese blend
  • Pepperoni


  • Romaine lettuce
  • Boneless chicken breasts
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Anchovy paste
  • Lemon
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Bread for croutons

Judging me yet…? Oh, just you wait.  Next, I take my list and break it down into sections like: Produce, Dairy, Meat, Inside aisles, etc. (See picture of a different, but similar grocery list below)  This is also the time where I add on my staple items, or the things I know we will go through and I purchase every week, like milk, coffee, yogurt, sandwich meat, etc.

Please pay not attention to my serial killer handwriting

I add these items onto the list because it keeps me consistent, I won’t forget anything, and I stick to what’s on my list and only that.  Which brings me to…

3) Stick to the List

Impulse purchases are another quick way to rack up a hefty bill.  If you’ve planned everything out, and you know what you’re going to eat for the week, then there really shouldn’t be any surprises when you are pulling out your wallet.  Here’s a few ways to ensure that you don’t stray too far from your intended purchases (a list within a list, I told you guys, I am a maverick):

  • Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry – I have a really funny story involving a weed brownie, a grocery trip, and spending the equivalent of a month’s rent…but it wouldn’t be appropriate here.  The point is…if you’re starving while you shop, everything is going to sound good to you.  You’ll get home and wonder who the hell put pop tarts, cheese puffs, 13 frozen meals and a box of extra butter popcorn in your cart.  Have a snack before you go, and save yourself $50, it’s that simple.
  • When I find myself sliding off the rails and reaching for the chocolate, I often stop and ask myself “Is it healthy?”  “Is it processed?”  “Can I cross utilize it between meals?”  Chances are, it’s not healthy, it is processed, and the cheesy garlic crackers cannot be served for breakfast lunch and dinner.  Done…step away from the crackers.  The wine aisle is the only exception to this rule…you can always always buy wine.

4) Shop Seasonally

It’s February, which means you should not be buying corn and tomatoes.  When you buy produce that is out of season, it’s probably being shipped from another country making it way more expensive and way less delicious.  Nothing tastes as good as a nectarine picked in June, or that first crisp pear in September.  Lucky for all of you basic bitches, avocados are always in season, so no need to fret about that.  (who am I kidding, avocado toast is delicious.)

Ok – so sticking to a plan and staying on budget isn’t brain surgery, but sometimes it helps to have a few basic ideas to keep you organized and on the money.  Happy shopping!


Chocolate and Wine Pairings in Time for Valentine’s Day!

Next week is Valentine’s day.  For some people this sounds thrilling, but for many people I know – even people in relationships – the thought of celebrating Valentine’s Day is akin to getting dental work done: painful and awkward.

My own husband is not what we would call a Romantic.  Now before I get myself in hot water, I will say that he is a lot of other things that are far more important:  he is supportive and smart, inquisitive, funny and he is like, really hot.  So I’d take all of those wonderful qualities over gifts, but Valentine’s Day isn’t exactly a day where he shines.  I can remember a only few times in our 5 years together that he has gotten me flowers, and one of those times I actually had to utter the words: Ok, you should probably get me flowers now.”  (Did I mention he’s a good listener?)  But because of this, sometimes I have to take the reins and make Valentine’s Day a thing.  And the kinds of things I want on Valentine’s Day are wine and chocolates.

Whether you are gearing up for a sexy night with your sweetie, or watching the Notebook with some gal pals – here are my perfect pairings with your chocolatey treats!

Milk Chocolate and Pinot Noir

I feel like not only do these wines work nicely as a pairing, milk chocolate and pinot noir are similar in the sense that they are both non-offensive flavors.  With white and dark chocolate, people either love them or hate them, but milk chocolate is a middle ground that nearly everyone can agree upon.  Same goes for pinot noir, it’s light and fruity, dry and balanced; there are no flavors that smack you over the head.  It’s just anangeline_pinotnoir_15_rt easy wine to enjoy.   

The Pinot Noir I’d recommend with your favorite milk chocolate is from Angeline Vineyards.  Their 2015 pinot noir has a touch of sweetness, but also a bit of acidity to cut through the creaminess of the chocolate.  The wine has hints of cranberry, orange, and cherry…imagine those flavors paired with your chocolate.  Sounds to me like a match made in heaven!

This wine can be found in the grocery or liquor store (It’s at Arrow Wine for my fellow Daytonians) and costs about $16.  

White Chocolate and Champagne

Oddly enough, white chocolate is my least favorite kind of chocolate, but champagne is my favorite of all the wines.  White chocolate is the sweetest, and the key to the right pairing is to find a wine to match the level of sugary goodness, and champagne is the perfect sweet, bubbly, tart compliment.  

jb_no69_bottleshot_175_671The champagne I highly recommend with white chocolate is the JCB N°69 Crémant de Bourgogne.  This is a sparking rosé, and it’s my favorite sparkling wine, hands down, always.  Seriously, this wine has my whole heart.  The wine is produced by famous winemaker Jean-Charles Boisset.  He assigns each of his wines with a number which holds some significance in his life.  1969 is the year in which he was born, and also a year of freedom, creativity and sexual expression, so this just may be the perfect wine for you to enjoy on Valentine’s Day…ya know what I mean?  (wink wink…hint hint…am I being subtle enough?)  The wine is bright and tart, with lots of red berry flavors.  Think chocolate covered strawberries…mmmm.  Try this wine and it’ll be like cupid struck an arrow right through your heart.  

You can find JCB around in stores, the price is typically around $30, and it is perfection in a flute.

Dark Chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon

Finally onto my favorite chocolate, dark, rich, and slightly bitter.  (I feel like I’m describing a person.)  Dark chocolate is the most complex in flavor with an earthy quality, and the type of chocolate I find the most satisfying.  Because of it’s decadent, deep, dark flavors, it is a chocolate that I think is best in smaller doses.  This cannot be said for the suggested wine, however, drink that shit up.  Red wine is good for you, right?!

Just like the dark chocolate itself, Cabernet Sauvignon is earthy, deep and complex.  The particular cab that I recommend is the 2013 Nadia Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine is nadia-cabernet-sauvignonextremely rich and tannic.  It highlights flavors of dark fruit, pepper and tobacco which compliment the cocoa flavor perfectly.  This big, bold, California cab marries with the intense, rich flavors of your dark chocolate bite.  

This can be found around town for about $20.  

Ok – here’s the part of the program where I get a little snooty and opinionated.  I am not a cab person.  They are so in your face and smack you over the head with tannins.  Many people like that type of thing, but it’s just not for me.  Instead of a big Cali cab, with dark chocolate, I opt for a Chianti Classico.  I much prefer Italian reds over Californian, (sorry, guys) and Chiantis are still round and robust, bold and rich in flavor – all the elements that stand up to dark chocolate, but they have a much smoother finish.  If you’re like me (elitist? high maintenance?  pain in the ass?) and can’t stand tannic wines, try a Chianti instead!

So there you have it, some perfect pairings for the sweetest day of the year.  Go ahead and cozy up to your lover, friends, or your cat.  Don’t mind the red wine teeth, just enjoy!  Cheers and ciao!


Boozy Baking – The Last Word

I’ve been doing a lot of baking lately.  When the weather gets cold, I turn my Kitchen Aid mixer on high.  Cold weather is also a good time to curl up at home and pour yourself a big old drink.  For my first installment of Ciao Vella’s “Boozy Baking” series I have had this idea in my head for a while of making a bundt cake based on one of my favorite classic cocktails:  The Last Word.  The Last Word is a old-fashioned cocktail that packs a big punch. img_6586

While I have been known to make a pretty mean cocktail in my day, nobody makes a better drink than my good friend Evan Danielson, who owns Dayton Cocktail Company.  Dayton Cocktail Company provides craft cocktail catering for special events, large or small.  He is awesome, talented, and hilarious – so it was a no brainer to invite him over to help me conceptualize my boozy baked rendition, and to throw back a drink in the process. 

The drink:

The last word consists of equal parts gin, lime juice, Green Chartreuse, and Luxardo.  You probably know what the first two ingredients are, the next two are a little less clear.  Green Chartreuse is a French liqueur made from distilled alcohol and over 100 herbs, botanicals, and flowers.   It’s 110 proof, which means it will knock your socks off – and makes for one incredibly boozy drink.  The flavor is complex: herbaceous, vegetal, slightly sweet, and definitely medicinal.  It’s not a flavor for everyone, but I happen to love it.  It’s a bright green color, obviously, given the name.  If you venture into your standard hipster bar, you may stumble upon a dude discussing pointillism and sipping a chartreuse on the rocks.  That’s fine for some…but I think it makes a much better component in a cocktail than just straight.  

Now onto Luxardo.  Luxardo is a maraschino liqueur that hails from Italy.  It’s made from Marsca cherries which taste tart and slightly bitter.  This tends to offset the sweetness in many drinks, adding a unique aroma and depth of flavor.


If you put all of those flavors together, you get a strong drink with complex flavors of sour cherries, herbs, and sweet lime.  It’s a drink to sip and savor, not something to pound like a shot of jager (gross).

The Cake:

I love to make bundt cakes.  First of all, bundt is fun to say (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding). But mostly I just really love cake.  What’s that expression: a party without cake is just a sad meeting?  It’s true, cake makes everything better.  But you can imagine my trepidation when I attempted take something so pure and wonderful and infuse it with boozy flavors.  Would it translate?  Would it taste terrible?  Would I ruin the integrity and the good name of cake?  These are life’s big questions!   The good news is everything turned out pretty well, but not perfect.  Tim said, with a mouth full of cake, that it was delicious and I’m overly critical of myself (duh, what else is new…) but I’ll let you guys test it out for yourself, if you are so inclined.  

So here’s what I did.  I made a “gin bundt” with lime and juniper to give you that refreshing, and herbaceous gin and tonic taste.  Then I made a green chartreuse and lime glaze to bring some sweetness and some tart flavors to the mix.  The cake could definitely use a tweak or two, but ultimately it hits all the notes of The Last Word, and you can safely drive after consumption!  


Recipes for both are below!  Next month we are going to experiment with breakfast scones and a whiskey drink that you should most definitely not drink at breakfast!  Cheers and Ciao!

The Last Word Cocktail:

  • ¾ oz Gin (Bombay Sapphire is my recommendation)
  • ¾ oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
  • ¾ oz Green Chartreuse
  • ¾ oz Lime Juice (fresh squeezed, none of the Roses crap, people!)
  • Lime wedge or twist for garnish

Combine all ingredients in cocktail tin, add ice, shake it, strain into coupe or martini glass.  Enjoy!

The Last Word Bundt Cake:

For the cake:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Zest and juice from 1 lime
  • 1 Tbsp. Juniper berries (you’ll have a better chance of finding dried berries than fresh)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup tonic water (I know, I thought it was weird too…)
  • 2 tsp. Baking powder
  • 2 ½ cups flour


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease bundt pan
  • Grate and juice lime, combine with juniper berries in mortar and pestle
  • In mixer, cream sugar and butter
  • Add vanilla, eggs, and juniper lime mixture.
  • Fold in tonic water
  • In medium bowl combine flour and baking powder, add to mixer.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until knife comes out cleanly.

For glaze:

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 ½  cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • ¼ cup Green Chartreuse
  • Grated zest of lime (½ for glaze, ½ for garnish)
  • Juice of 1 lime


  • Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt completely
  • Add in sugar, liqueur, lime zest and juice
  • Stir together until glazey consistency is reached, remove from heat and let cool to thicken
  • Pour glaze over cake, let glaze harden on cake before adding lime zest as garnish
  • Enjoy!

Sports Ball Snacks

My mom called me last week and asked “what are you going to write about next week?”  “Oh, I don’t know,” I responded, and threw out a few ideas,  each one more boring than the next.  The rest of the convo went a little bit like this:

Mom:  “But honey, the Super Bowl is coming up!”

Me:  “Oh…okay….so?”

Mom:  “So?!  So, you have to write about it.”

Me:  “Oh…okay…about what?

Yeah, so that’s about the extent of my interest in sports.  About a month ago I asked who was playing in the big game, and my whole family looked at me like I had three heads.  We all have our things, but “the sports” is not mine.  The Super Bowl, my mother reminded me, isn’t just about the sports.  Many people watch for the commercials; and some wait, with bated breath, for the halftime show.   Then, there are a few people that only go to Super Bowl parties for the snacks.  Now THAT is something that I can get behind.  

The trouble with Super Bowl snacks, for me, is that they always leave me feeling really heavy.  No matter if I have 2 or 20 beers while “watching” the game (and by that I mean, commenting about which players I think are hot, and saying “ouchies” about a million times) I still feel hungover the next day because of all the rich, heavy , (delicious, but) bad for you food.  This week, I’m laying out a few of my favorite recipes on the lighter side, so you can enjoy the game, and your Monday won’t suck…unless your team loses, of course.

Bean Dip

For those who like to dig in to a 7-Layer Bean Dip, this is a lighter alternative – no layers, but still delicious:

  • 12 oz cans of up to 3 kinds of beans.  I like black, pinto, garbanzo, or pinto beans
  • 12 oz can yellow corn, drained
  • 1 red onion diced
  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes, halved img_6551
  • 1 cup cilantro
  • 3 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • Juice and zest from ½ of a lemon
  • Salt to taste

Drain and wash bean and corn.  Combine all of the ingredients in serving bowl.   Serve with tortilla chips.  Keeps in the fridge up to 1 week.  You can stir and serve right away, but it’s even better if kept in the fridge overnight.

Meat on Bread

My brother-in-law says that no Super Bowl is complete without a foot long sub.  I’ve never been a big sub person myself, and all that bread can really fill you up.  Okay, by NO means am I one of those low-carbs girls…you’d understand if you saw me.  I love bread, but it has to be really good bread, and it’s got to know it’s place.  Instead of chowing down on a meatball sub, I prefer a nice ragu and a good crusty bread to soak it all up:

Sausage Ragu with Crusty Bread

  • 1 pound hot or mild Italian Sausage
  • 3 Tbsp. Olive Oil (divided)
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped 

    Make this dish for dinner – serve with creamy polenta or over pasta!
  • 1 ½ cups carrot, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups zucchini, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped (divided)
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 15 oz. can tomato sauce (unsalted!)
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Large French Boule


  • Heat Olive oil in pan over medium high heat.  
  • Add sausage and stir until sausage browns and crumbles.  Remove from pan.  
  • Return pan to heat and add 3 tbsp. garlic, and veggies.  Cook until soft (around 5-7 minutes.)
  • Add sausage back to pan, then quickly add chicken stock and tomato sauce, stir.
  • Reduce heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut boule into thick slices, then in half again.  In small ramekin stir together chopped garlic and olive oil.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper, then bread.  Brush olive oil mixture on to bread.   Toast in oven for 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown.

If your party is buffet style – keep the sauce simmering on the stove or in a chafing dish.  Let your guests pour the ragu on top of the crusty bread, or on the side.

Lemon and Berries

I don’t even know what sort of dessert is typically served at a Super Bowl party, but I’m a gal who needs something sweet at the end of the meal.  One of my favorite sweet treats are lemon bars.  Lemon curd is my bae.  But even lemon bars, though bright and citrusy, can get a little heavy.  Instead I opt for lemon curd, mixed berries, and some crushed up graham crackers on top for a little texture.  It’s light, but it hits all the sweet spots.  

Recipe: img_6554

  • 4 to 6 lemons (depending on size) juice
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs plus 3 yolks
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest

Whisk together lemon juice, sugar, eggs and yolks, cornstarch, and sea salt in small saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk until thickened, about 3-5 minutes, curd mixture should come to a boil, but do not cook longer than 1 minute once it boils.  Remove from heat, strain – then whisk in butter, olive oil and lemon zest. Transfer to bowl to cool.

Once your curd has cooled a bit, add your fruit, sprinkle graham crackers on top, and if you’re so inclined, sprinkle some confectioners sugar on top.  

Happy Super Bowl watching…and eating!



Ciao Vel-last meal: The Niçoise Salad

It’s a common topic of conversation around my parent’s dinner table on Sunday nights:  If you were to be served your last meal, what would it be?  The answers vary, most members of my family will say pasta bolognese, or baked manicotti; our version of soul food.  While those sound delicious, and would definitely send me to my grave a happy gal, my absolute favorite dish is not necessarily heavy or comforting.  Instead it’s a light, bright summer dish,  but one that conjures up very happy memories, and an even happier belly.

Between my junior and senior year of college, I spent the summer living in Paris.  It was one of the most magical summers of my life, I turned 21 in front of the Eiffel Tower, had a jambon et fromage crêpe almost every day, and danced with a French boy every night.  

Little ole me in my Paris Apartment, thinking I was fancy!

I studied at the Paris American Academy, and just down the block from my school was a restaurant called “Académie de la bière” – or the Academy of Beer.  It was a dark bistro that served bowls of Mussels and fries as big as your head, and my favorite dish:  Tuna Niçoise.  

This is a traditional french salad that often includes haricot vert (fancy word for green beans), tuna, olives, egg, and potatoes.  Nowadays you’ll see various other ingredients make their way onto the plate, including red peppers, onion, radishes…you name it.  It’s a light, but hearty salad, and one that I spent many-an evening devouring during that beautiful summer in Paris.

I have been craving it lately, so I decided to make it for dinner one night, but with a very colorful twist!  Here is my Ciao Vel-last Meal, Niçoise Salad:

Instead of Tuna I chose wild-caught salmon.  I initially wanted to make the dish with Arctic Char, one of my favorite fish, but I got to the specialty grocery store way too late and the fish monger (a.k.a bratty high school student) was throwing eye-daggers at me.  I said “just give me something wild-caught” – $35 later, I had some King Salmon in my hand.  Expensive? Yes. Delicious?  Absolutely.


For my veggies I blanched green beans and carrots, roasted yellow squash and red bell peppers, and boiled purple potatoes.  Once all the veggies were properly cooked and cooled, I tossed them in a dijon vinaigrette.  You may remember I have about 30,000 jars of various kinds of mustard in my fridge, so I whipped up a quick dressing that added a nice depth of flavor to my vegetables.  I pan seared the salmon with lots of butter, skin side down, to get it nice and crispy.  Meanwhile I made a 6-minute egg (which will be featured next week!)

Dijon dressing:  add mustard, fresh herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil, and red wine vinegar

This meal tested my organization and time management skills, for sure.  It requires tons of prep, and timing to ensure that the veggies, the egg, and the fish don’t get overcooked.  As we know, not every meal I make is a total success, and this one was no exception:  the salmon was a little undercooked, the potatoes were a little overcooked, my egg, however, was absolutely perfect.  You win some, you lose some.

If you are looking for light, but filling mid week meal, give this one a whirl.  You’ll transport yourself to gay ole Paris and perhaps it’ll become your new last meal too!


Brunching Do’s and Don’ts

There a few activities that are at the top of my life list:  I like getting pedicures, I like shoe shopping, and I like to brunch.  (Should my hobbies be more interesting?  Ahhh, well.)  Brunching is one of the things I look forward to the most during the weekends.  It’s the perfect opportunity to slow down for a moment, gab with friends, and enjoy some major grub.  Breakfast food is my absolute favorite, and we all know by now that I like to drink, so any occasion to enjoy eggs and wine in the morning is okay by me.

Just like any sophisticated endeavor, there are certain rules that come with brunching.  These aren’t hard and fast rules, but as a person who has enjoyed and also worked many a brunch, I’d like to believe I have a bit of insight.  Here is the Ciao Vella list of brunching do’s and don’ts.

  • Don’t – Get Swindled by Your Mimosa

A mimosa seems like a brunch staple, and it is – but in my opinion, a mimosa is a total rip off.  To me, a good mimosa consists of 80% champagne and 20% fruit juice, but at most places you go for brunch, those ratios are flipped.  You wouldn’t normally spend $8 on a glass of OJ, right?  My suggestion:  order a glass (or bottle, because let’s be serious) of your favorite sparkling, and ask for a glass of OJ or grapefruit on the side.  In the end, you may pay a little bit more, but at least you get the drink you want, and not the drink you think you want.

  • Do – Order All the Drinks

This “do” is two-fold.  Yes, take this opportunity to get a little loose, overindulge, have more than a few drinks.  But what I really mean by this is – have as many drink options as you’d like.   When I brunch, I order a glass of champs, a side of OJ, a coffee, and a club soda with lime.  There is never any shortage of beverage options on my table because brunch is about decadence and indulgence, but also, each drink serves it’s purpose:  coffee because it’s technically still breakfast time, champagne, because brunch, oj because see above, and finally club soda because if you’re drinking, you have to stay hydrated.  (Look mom, I’m responsible once in awhile!)


  • Don’t – Settle for Just One Plate

This past summer Timmy and I took a weekend trip to Nashville to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  One of my (what I would like to think is) cute travel quirks is that I research restaurants ahead of time and almost always pick out exactly what I’m going to eat.  As Tim says “You’re always planning your next meal.”  We made reservations at this gorgeous restaurant called “Le Sel” for brunch, but there were so many good menu options that I just couldn’t choose.  

Le Sel in Nashville – seriously most gorge restaurant ever.

When we sat down at the table, Tim agreed to order a little bit of everything, and it was amazing.  We had a crepe, a peach salad, mussels and fries, crab cakes, and eggs Benedict…yep, all the food.  This is a food philosophy I encourage for all brunches.  Want a salad?  Get it.  Eggs?  Do it, girl.  Sausage on the side.  Yes!  And you want a pancake?  Get one for the table.  Split a plate with a friend, take some of it home, I don’t care what you do – but just get it all.  

  • Do – Treat the Staff Well

This should go without saying – your wait staff and the kind people preparing your food work incredibly hard for sometimes thankless pay and long, grueling hours.  I hope you always tip well, but do so especially at brunch.  First of all, serving brunch sucks.  The lovely people serving your eggs probably worked late the night before, then had to roll out of bed with sore backs and feet to bust their ass way too early in the morning for your enjoyment.  Brunch is also a stressful shift for many of your restaurant biz friends, with long ticket times, snotty customers, and temperamental ingredients.  An extra two or three bucks towards a tip isn’t going to make that much of a difference in your life, but it will make one stressful shift all the better for the folks serving you.  Also, you might be qualified for sainthood if you buy a round for the kitchen staff – they need love too.

  • Don’t – Feel obligated to shower beforehand

It’s the weekend, okay?  Spray some dry shampoo, drag a comb through that mop, and throw on a hat if you have to.  It just feel so unnecessary to primp pre brunch, and while I am typically a proponent of the primp, brunch is supposed to be a relaxed vibe.  One of the highlights of my Sundays is rolling out of bed, and breaking bread with my buddies.  You have to put on office-appropriate clothes every other day, so let brunch be your opportunity to keep it casual.  Plus, sneakers, leggings and last night’s mascara can still look tres chic!

  • Do – Clear Your Schedule

The plan is, to have no plan.  You’ve got lots of chatting to do with your friends, lots of drinks to consume, lots of plates to clear – so make sure your schedule is also clear.  Having to run off to a family function post brunch can be a total buzz kill.  Brunch is a little glamorous, a little bouji, and you should leave stuffed.  One of the best parts about brunch is the epic food coma you slip into when you finally get home.

My favorite homemade brunch inspired dish: Spicy Siracha Caesar Salad on French Boule with a fried Egg.  Want to make it at home? Spread some of the dressing on the toast, toss the dressing with your lettuce and any other salad fixings, and put a perfectly cooked egg on top.  Viola!

Boozy Baking

It’s snowing in Dayton.  The view from my living room window is like living inside a snow globe.  It’s glorious, and weather like this makes me want to throw on my cozy pajamas and put my KitchenAid mixer to good use.  Even though I ate my weight in sweets over the holidays, there is nothing I’d rather do more on a snowy afternoon than bake cookies.

As I was scouring through my ratty old binder of recipes, I was reminded of a time a few years ago when I was working for a large catering company.  We were winding down from a busy holiday season, exhausted and elated.   A large group of us headed out to a bar to throw back a few beers, and exchange banquet serving battle stories.  One of the cooks and I got to talking about some of our favorite cookies.  I was a few beers deep and we were ranking our favorites slurring at each other “SNICKERDOODLES, NO WAY MAN, THE ONES WITH THE HERSHEY’S ON TOP – THOSE ARE THE BEST!”  My buddy then told me his favorite: peanut butter cookies – always a classic.  He had the best recipe and it was only 3 ingredients.  I was incredulous and told him I had to go home and give these 3 ingredient cookies a whirl.  I paid my tab, grabbed my coat, and I stumbled home.  This is about the time where I should tell people that I do not condone the act of drinking and baking.  But I was on a mission:  drunk as a skunk or not – these cookies needed to be made.

The rest of the night is a bit of a blur.  The good news is, I didn’t wake up to a smoke filled house or the fire department banging down my door.  In other good news:  Drunk Tess left sober Tess the nicest gift to wake up to: delicious peanut butter cookies.  Thinking back on that night with a sigh of relief that no one was harmed during the production of these cookies, I decided to make them again, sober this time, and they are just as delicious sans hangover.  As I was waiting the 6-8 minutes for the cookies to come together, I thought about booze and baking.  On the one hand, a terrible idea, but what if instead of consuming booze before baking, I started putting together recipes that were inspired by booze?

Thus begins the first part of my new series on Ciao Vella called Boozy Baking.  Each month, I will have a new original recipe based on some of my favorite cocktails.  As we well know: chances are, not every baked good will be a winner, but we are going to have (responsible) fun trying!  I’m looking forward to next month’s first original Boozy Baking recipe, and in the meantime here is the ever-famous 3 ingredient peanut butter cookie recipe.  Looking for the perfect wine to pair with these simple sweets?  Try a port from Kopke! Ciao!


1 cup sugar

1 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)  img_6356

1 egg


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In mixer, combine all 3 ingredients

Shape into small balls and place on lined baking sheet

Score tops of cookies in a lattice shape with fork

Bake 6-8 minutes
(Makes 12 small cookies)


Traditions Worth Holding Onto

Around the holidays people are very tied to their traditions.  My New Year’s Eve tradition has typically been serving semi-formally dressed couples prix fixe menus all night, sweating profusely as I get my ass kicked around a restaurant, chugging as much to drink as I can after my shift (thank you Chambong for making the process easier and more enjoyable), and then going home around 3 a.m. with the spins.   As you could imagine, I find much relief when the eve is over and a new year has begun.  This day I find myself at a bottomless mimosa brunch with friends, then a calm and comforting meal at my parent’s house.

Traditions are good.  Even if life is crazy and everything around you has changed, a tradition is something you can hold on to, it’s reliable.  I like to think of holiday traditions as a warm pillow to rest your head, and out of all of the holidays, New Year’s day is my warmest pillow.  

My mother is German and my Father is Italian, but due to Germany’s not so proud history, and because Italians are typically louder and pushier people, we embrace our Italian heritage to the max.

We start our first dinner in the New Year with a lentil and pancetta soup by Marcella Hazan, the Italian grandma you wish you had.  Her book “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” is the closest thing that my family owns to a bible.  The soup is soul satisfying; salty and savory, complex in it’s flavors and textures, and as I mentioned above, there is pancetta in it, so really, what else do you need in life?

In the Italian tradition, people consume lentils on the New Year as a sign of wealth and prosperity for the year to come.  The lentils, small and circular, represent coins and eating them prepares you for the year ahead with hope of a little extra clink in your pockets.  And who couldn’t use a little bit of that?

This tradition is as pure as it comes: sitting around a table with my favorite people in the world, eating a humble soup dish, tearing apart crusty bread to ensure every bit is savored, and we state our intentions for the new year.  No need to hope for fame or fortune, on this day, we hope just to cling on to each other a little longer.
Happy New Year to you all, I look forward to eating and drinking with you in 2017.  Ciao, Cheers, Salute, or as my family says:  Cent Anni!

Mia Famiglia

The Pressure to Party

Around the exact time I turned 30, I also became a grumpy old curmudgeon who doesn’t want to go out in public.  The idea of standing around a crowded bar on NYE, waiving my credit card at a bartender, trying desperately to get a vodka soda, sounds like the worst time I could possibly have.  Instead I’m much more interested in staying in, eating and drinking with my friends; preferably whilst wearing some stretchy pants.  At a certain age, hosting a NYE party sounds like a lot more fun than being out until 3 a.m., searching for a cab in heels and no jacket.

You don’t always have to be the hostess (or host) with the mostess.  People put a lot of pressure on themselves to make everything perfect, but sometimes that mounting pressure for party perfection takes away from the fun of it all.  If you keep a few of these party fundamentals in mind, you are guaranteed to ring in 2017 in style and comfort!

  • Have a plan

I never would have described myself as a person who was very structured, but somewhere in my career of planning parties (and pissing off a bride or two,) I learned that the best thing you can do for yourself is make a whole bunch of to-do lists.  Here’s my party planning timeline:

  • 1 Month – 2 Weeks out: I create a private Pinterest board where I pin ideas of what to serve, get inspiration for tablescapes, and decorative ideas.
  • 2 weeks out:  I finalize the menu.
  • 1 week out:  I change my mind on a few things, then I really finalize the menu.
  • 5 days out: I write out my grocery list.  Even in my every day life, I make grocery lists like a crazy person; breaking down my list into sections so I don’t miss anything.  It sounds super anal, but it is so helpful.  There is nothing worse than getting home and realizing you forgot a key ingredient!
  • 1-2 days out:  Go grocery shopping and write out your prep list.  I have a prep list for the food I make, the flowers I arrange, and for the cleaning that needs to get done.
  • Day of:  I make myself another to-do list so that I stay on task and don’t forget anything at the last minute.  I like to put this “day-of” list in chronological order.  
My to-do list 1 day before the party, before it got splattered with bacon grease

I know it seems silly, like you’re micro-managing yourself, but the less you have to think on the fly, and the more organized you are, the more likely it is that you can actually enjoy yourself at the party.   My holiday party last year, people showed up 30 minutes early and I was running around my house like a crazy person.  If I had planned ahead a little better, the early arrivers wouldn’t have thrown me off quite so much.  (Although seriously, a little guest etiquette: SHOW UP 15 MINUTES LATE PEOPLE! I cannot stress this enough.)

  • Know your audience, and have enough food and drink to make them happy

More is more in this case.  It’s always better to have too much food, or too much to drink then have to run out mid-party for a bottle of wine, or – god forbid – have to order a pizza!  Is it the worst thing in the world if your fridge is stocked with beer for the next month?  No.  Seriously, no one ever complained about having too much booze in their house.  There are rules for how much food and drink to prepare at a party.  Pinterest is a really good resource for this: type in “drinks per guest” and a bunch of charming infographics will pop up for you to use as a guide.  My suggestion is to also know your audience.  My friends, for example, are a bunch of restaurant industry folks, which means that they can really put back the booze (hence why we are friends), so I have to plan for more than 1.5 drinks per person.  I also know that most of my friends will drink champagne (again, friends for a reason), therefore I have a few bottles of back-up red and white wine, a few 6-packs of beer, but mostly my fridge is stocked with sparkling.  

The same goes for food.  Know your audience.  Have a few vegetarian friends?  Make sure they aren’t only nibbling on hummus.  Is your party 50 percent male?  You need more food then you thought was humanly possible to consume.  This year I planned a holiday brunch, so I provided my guests with eggs and muffins which were really yummy, but not everyone likes breakfast food, so it was important for me to have my go-to garlic pizzas and a beautiful cheese board.  I made way too much food, but I didn’t kill myself doing it.  I picked dishes that were relatively simple.  Most of the food I could prep a day ahead of time, and didn’t require any maintenance during the party, so I could chat up my guests and freely drink from the punch bowl.

img_6784           img_6785


Photos courtesy of Marysa Marderosian


  • Have a back-up plan

Have you ever been to a party that comes to a creeping halt?  It’s awkward.  If you’re amongst friends, chances are this won’t happen so long as the music is good and drinks are flowing. But every once in a while I’ve looked around a party I’ve thrown and thought:  oh no, people are bored.  THIS IS A CODE RED ALERT, time to bring out the Bop-It.  (Gilmore Girls reference, anyone?)  But seriously, you better have something in your back pocket to keep your friends entertained.  I truly believe this is why Cards Against Humanity was created.  It’s always good to have something interactive readily available.  This is another instance where you should know your audience.  Will your friends want to sing Karaoke?  Great, fire it up!  Play cards?  Do it!  My friends, as I mentioned before, like to drink; and if you’re still reading my blog, chances are, so do you.  When my party starts to hit a lull, I have a very trusty tool I like to break out, and it’s called The Chambong.  The Chambong is a device for the rapid and enhanced experience of sparking/ champagne consumption.  It’s for sure one of my favorite things to do, it’s silly, funny, and it loosens people up.  It is a conversation starter and a party starter; now they have these awesome packs of 5 acrylic Chambongs, so you can get a group to do it together.   This is exactly how I rang in my 30th birthday, with one group Chambong after the other.  It was classy AF.  Also, they now offer Chambong Light Stand, which adds a little cheesy, silly ambiance to a party.  As you’re planning your NYE party, I think there’s no better way to get people feeling festive than to line up a few bongs of champs, kiss the cutie standing next to you, and Chambong on.  

img_6191  img_6190

  • Remember that it’s a party and not a job interview, have fun, get silly.  

It seems like a basic rule, but it’s easy to get caught up in re-stocking the crudite.  When you’re the host, there’s a million things you could be doing, but don’t forget that you threw the party to have fun in the first place.  Don’t spend the entire party cleaning up, or babysitting your guests.  If properly planned, everyone has a drink in hand and you’ve got a good playlist queued up, then the rest should work itself out.  Let everyone get a little lit up, and if they’re all bored, then bust out the Chambong – problem solved!

I hope everyone has a very happy and safe holiday season!


Baking: The Art of Failure and Perfect Mistakes

We learn in life that you can’t be good at everything.  If you can sing, you can’t necessarily dance.  You can paint, but you can’t sculpt.  And in many cases:  you can cook, but you can’t bake.   There are a few (annoying) people out there who can do both perfectly, but chances are your skill set lies more heavily with one than the other.  I, for example, make a much better cook than I do a baker.  I love to bake, or rather I love baked goods, but the reality of the matter is that baking is a science, it’s all about measurements and ratios, and that shit just doesn’t work with me.  I am a wing it kind of gal, which is what I like about cooking:  a little dash here, a pinch there and you’ve got yourself a meal.  One of my favorite things to do is metaphorically throw things at a wall, and see what sticks.   That’s just not an option with baking, everything must be precise.  But I try, with some successes and many a failure.  The first time I ever made my (now perfected) banana bread, I forgot to add baking soda in all together…it was not pretty.  However, as I bake, that old adage sticks in my brain, something about failure being the true markings over a person’s character.  If you fall down, or you burn your crust, you get back up and try again.

It was with that mentality that one of my favorite recipes was born.  It really wasn’t that big of a screw up, I’m just being dramatic (shocking, I know) but I sort of screwed the pooch with a cookie recipe last year.  The cookies were supposed to come out looking like this:  img_6094

But instead they turned out like a big blog of one giant cookie. Frustrated with myself, I opened up the trash can and was ready to shovel the cookies inside it when I stopped.  These were perfectly delicious cookies, they just looked a little crazy.   I was sure I could salvage them somehow, and before my mind even knew what I was doing, my hands went to work.  Thus was born my recipe for “The Perfect Mistake.”  Also known as that thing my parents call me.

The cookie recipe is from a blog called Handmade Charlotte.  These are probably the most delicious chocolate sugar cookies ever.  They are crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside, perfectly rich and sinfully delicious (especially with a latte!)  The key to making these extra delicious is to cream the butter forever.  Seriously, I don’t think you can over cream it, but again, I’m not a baker, so definitely don’t trust my judgement.

One you’ve baked the cookies to her specifications, set aside about 5 or 6 of your uglier ducklings.  Wait for them to cool down slightly, (enough that your fingers don’t get burned) so that they are malleable.  In a greased pie tin, mush the cookies down with your hands until they form an even crust.  It may not look pretty, but it will taste delicious.  Once you have a sufficient pie crust, pop that puppy in the freezer for about 30 minutes.  

When the crust is nice and cool, scoop out a pint of your favorite ice cream for the tastiest homemade ice cream pie.  I live for mint chocolate chip ice cream, and in my humble opinion, nobody does it better than Talenti Gelato with their Mediterranean Mint.  Honestly, any ice cream would be killer with the chocolate cookie crust, but I am just a sucker for this ice cream.  Also, their containers are the bomb, and make the best tupperware ever because the top screws on.  It’s the little things in life, ok?


Anyways – back to the subject.  So, you scoop out the entire contents of the most delicious ice cream your heart desires, take a final baked cookie, crumble, and sprinkle it on top.  If you’re feeling festive, like me, you can use a cookie cutter to add fun shapes and decorations.  It’s your recipe, it’s your mistake: do with it what you want.