Apéritif and Digestif

Along with planning the meal itself, planning the drinks for a dinner party can be fun and creative. I love to serve an apéritif as guests arrive, preparing them for a hearty dinner, and to end the evening with a relaxing digestif. Here is one apéritif and one digestif that have become some of our favorites, and would be great for either a dinner party or a date night in.


Negroni Sbagliato: using classic aperitif ingredients like Campari and Prosecco, this cocktail is just the right amount of bitter while also being very punchy and refreshing.


1 oz Campari, 1 oz Sweet Vermouth, 4 oz Prosecco

Add ice to glass and layer each ingredient. Serve with a citrus garnish.


Coffee Spritz: On cold nights an Irish coffee is a great way to end a meal, but if you’re looking for something cooler as the weather warms, or simply looking for an alternative without losing the coffee flavor, this is the perfect cocktail. The Averna digestif liquor in this cocktail gives it a delicate herby taste, while the coffee and vanilla syrup give it body and sweetness. The foamy texture comes from an egg white, which makes this a great brunch cocktail as well.


1 oz Averna, 1/2 oz dark rum, 1/2 oz vanilla syrup, 2 oz cold brew coffee, 1 egg white, 1 1/2 oz Prosecco

Add all ingredients except for Prosecco to shaker and shake for at least 15 seconds. Add ice and shake until chilled. Pour into glass and let sit for a few seconds before topping with Prosecco.


Tortilla Soup


The weather in Southern California has been a bit chilly and intermittently rainy the past few days, making it ideal soup weather. I was craving something flavorful and hearty, without being too heavy, and tortilla soup quickly sprung to mind. I have been using this recipe for many years, and it is at the top of my comfort soups list. I love making a big batch of it on the weekend, and having some as a small side to meals throughout the week, or as a meal itself.


Ingredients: 3 tomatillos, 3 ripe tomatoes, 1 red bell pepper, 3 guajillo chilis (seeds removed), 3 garlic cloves, 1 white onion, 1 cornish hen (or 1/2 chicken), 1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs thyme, 2.5 quarts water, 10 tortillas, 2 cups canola oil, salt and pepper to taste. Optional toppings: avocado, cilantro, shredded cheese.

Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 375F. Cut the tomatillos, tomatoes, bell pepper, chilis,  and onion into quarters and place on baking sheet along with whole garlic cloves. Roast in oven for 30 minutes, until all vegetables are soft and starting to brown. While vegetables roast, cut cornish hen (or chicken) into separate pieces, and put in large pot of water with bay leaf, thyme, and a dash of salt. Bring pot to a boil, and let simmer until hen is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove hen from pot, let cool, and shred meat off the bones using a fork.


Cut the tortillas into thin strips. Heat canola oil in a pot, and add tortilla strips in batches, cooking until each batch is crispy. Remove each batch from hot oil and place on dish to cool.


Remove roasted vegetables from oven, and let cool. Add all of the vegetables to a blender, along with some of the water from the pot, and a handful of tortilla strips, and blend until thoroughly liquified. Add the vegetable mixture back to the pot (you can do this by running it through a fine mesh sieve to avoid having too many seeds in the soup). Add the chicken back to the pot, and about 3/4 of the remaining tortilla strips, and bring back to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and let simmer for at least 5 minutes. Serve hot with crispy tortilla strips, sliced avocado, cheese, and minced cilantro.


Mushroom Caperberry Pizza


Shortly before moving to our new house, I had some friends come over for a book club meeting in our apartment. It was the last time that I hosted guests in our first home together before the big move, so I wanted to keep it casual and fun, but still special. I decided to make a couple of pizzas that used homemade sauce and dough, fresh cheeses, extra flavorful vegetables, and a drizzle of spicy honey. The combinations were a little daring, but a great success.


  • For the mushrooms: 2 cups sliced portobello mushrooms, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 large minced garlic clove, 1 1/2 tbsp finely minced fresh tarragon, 1/4 cup chopped caperberries, 1 tsp fresh thyme, 1 tsp fresh oregano, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper
  • For the sauce: 1 large can whole San Marzano tomatoes, 1 large thinly sliced garlic clove, 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, 1 sprig fresh thyme, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp salt.
  • For the dough I used the same recipe I used for garlic knots, which always works like a charm
  • 1 large ball fresh mozzarella
  • 1 large ball burrata
  • 1 tsp minced oregano
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp ground chili

The star of this recipe is the mushroom caperberry sauté which makes the pizza incredibly flavorful. To make the sauté, heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic, sauté until light brown. Add mushrooms, tarragon, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper. Sauté until mushrooms begin to soften, then add caperberries. Continue to cook until mushrooms are cooked through and tender. Set aside to cool.


I’ve always been a fan of chunky tomato pieces in sauces, so I made a simple sauce using whole San Marzano tomatoes.

Add all of the sauce ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Gently crush tomatoes with a wooden spoon as it simmers until all tomatoes are crushed and sauce is chunky. Set aside to cool.


Once the mushrooms and sauce are ready to go, flatten out the dough using a rolling pin to make a large oval. Add the sauce, mushrooms, slices of mozzarella, and a dash of fresh oregano to the dough and bake for 20 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 380F. While the pizza is cooking, heat the honey and ground chili over low heat in a small saucepan for 3 minutes. Once the pizza is done, remove from oven and add the burrata in random chunks throughout, then drizzle spicy honey to complete.


I served the pizzas with some refreshing rosé champagne cocktails, and my friends loved the flavor combinations. I will certainly miss hosting in that apartment, but I am very excited to resume once our kitchen remodel in our new home is complete.

Seafood Chowder


Growing up in New England meant constant availability of fantastic seafood at just about any time of the year. Now that I live in Southern California, I can find great sushi, but finding a good seafood chowder can be a bit more of a challenge. So when the craving for a rich chowder strikes, it’s always best to make a big batch at home.


For this seafood chowder recipe I like to make the stock myself. This gives it an enhanced flavor that is well worth the extra effort. As an alternative to oyster crackers, I like to make croutons at home to give this soup a slight crunch with every bite.


For the stock:  1 large white onion, 4 carrots, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 garlic clove (minced), shells from 1 1/2 pounds of shrimp, 5 sprigs dried thyme, 1 small can tomato paste, 1 bay leaf,  1.5 quarts of water, 3/4 cup clam juice, 1 cup white wine, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon pepper.

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Dice onions and carrots and add to pot. Stir and let cook for about 3 minutes then add garlic and shrimp shells. Cook for an additional minute and add all of the remaining ingredients. Bring stock to a boil, then lower to a simmer and allow to cook for 1 hour. Once stock is done pass through a fine sifter, you should have about 4 cups of stock.


For the chowder: 2 large potatoes, 3 carrots, 1 white onion, 1 stick butter, 1/3 cup flour, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 cups baby clams, 1 cup squid (I like to leave the tentacle pieces intact and cut the rest into rings), 1 cup crab meat, 1 1/2 pounds shrimp (peeled and cut into small cubes), 4 cups seafood stock.

Melt butter in a large heavy bottomed pot. Dice potatoes, carrots, and onions and add to pot with melted butter. Cook for about ten minutes, then add flour and mix well. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add heavy cream, clams, squid, crab meat, and shrimp to pot (add more water if needed). Cook for an additional 7 – 10 minutes until seafood is cooked through.


For the croutons: 1 baguette, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Cut a baguette into small cubes and place bread pieces in a bowl with the remaining ingredients, tossing to coat the bread. Place bread onto a baking sheet and bake in over at 400°F for 10 minutes until pieces are slightly browned and crispy.


Add croutons to hot bowl right before eating and garnish with fresh parsley if desired.

An Intimate Gathering


My affinity for hosting dinner parties is a true sign that I am my mother’s daughter. I love every piece, from creating a menu for our guests to setting a pleasant table, and of course the conversations of good company.


Even though we are hosting in the comforts of our own home, we take dinner parties as an opportunity to create a lovely presentation by setting a complete table. Low placed flower arrangements add pretty details while being unobtrusive to the table and conversation.


Placing water and wine glasses ensures our guests don’t need to stand up and search for glasses, and of course coordinated plates and napkins to pull everything together.



When throwing a dinner party we want our guests to feel at ease. Having some aperitif cocktails and hors d’oeuvres ready for them as soon as they walk in sets a relaxed and welcoming mood.


I also like to place unscented candles at the table to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. The unscented candles don’t interfere with the smells of the food, which is essential for guests to fully enjoy their curated meals.


The intimacy of hosting a dinner with a small group of close friends is the highlight of any dinner party. Welcoming our friends to our home and having everyone enjoy a good meal and great conversation makes all of the cooking and prep work worth every step.

Italian Wedding Soup


Having just had a wedding, and having married an Italian, I thought it would be fitting to make Italian wedding soup for the first time. Italian wedding soup apparently has nothing to do with Italian weddings; it was mistranslated from the Italian ‘minestra maritata’ which means ‘married soup,’ because the ingredients all go so well together. I couldn’t agree more, and it has instantly become a favorite that I plan to make over and over again.


James grew up having this soup made by his grandmother, and always called it ‘scarola soup’ in reference to the leafy green typically used, escarole. Many recipes note that you can substitute escarole with other greens, but I wanted to make sure to include it in my attempt to replicate the soup James remembered.


For the broth:

2 quarts of chicken broth

2 sprigs dry thyme

1 small bay leaf

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1 large bunch of escarole (about 3 cups chopped)

1/4 cup orzo (optional)

2 eggs

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese


For the meatballs:

1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground pork

2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely minced

3/4 cup Italian parsley

1/2 white onion

1 garlic clove

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1 egg

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons pepper


Finely chop the onion, garlic, parsley, and oregano. I like to use a small food processor to get the ingredients really finely chopped so that you don’t have any large pieces in the meatballs. Add chopped ingredients to a bowl with ground meats, salt, pepper, cheese, egg, and breadcrumbs. Mix gently with your hands, incorporating well but not overworking the meat. Roll into small bite sized meatballs, set aside. Note: if you find you have too many meatballs you can freeze some and use for later.

In a large soup pot heat up the olive oil and add the garlic and onion, sauté until translucent and tender. Add the chicken stock, thyme, and bay leaf to the pot. Let the broth come to a boil and gently add the meatballs. Let the meatballs cook for about 10 minutes, they will begin to float when cooked through. If you would like to add orzo you can add it at this time. Once meatballs are mostly done add the chopped escarole and let simmer until it has wilted down.


Whisk the two eggs and cheese in a small bowl and slowly pour into the hot soup, whisking constantly to form ribbons. Serve in a large bowl, because you’ll want a lot of it, and feel it warm up your insides with deliciousness.


Roasted Acorn Squash


Autumn has arrived, and even though that only means a slight drop in temperature at night in Los Angeles, we’re seeing squash begin to pop up in every supermarket and in our bi-weekly produce deliveries. That means that over the next few months we will have a great variety of squashes delivered to our home from our local organic farms. Most winter squashes are very firm and require quite a bit of cooking time, but it is all well worth the wait. My personal favorite method is roasting them in the oven, and as an added bonus having the oven on for long periods of time heats up our apartment for chilly autumn and winter nights.


Once I have it open and cut into large pieces, I use a spoon to scoop out all of the seeds. If you would like, you can rinse the seeds and let them dry to roast for later. I like to try out different seasonings such as rosemary or paprika on squash, but my favorite has continuously been olive oil, brown sugar, and a dash of salt sprinkled and rubbed onto the inside surfaces.


I have learned that lining an oven safe dish with aluminum foil greatly helps the roasting process. I pre-heat the oven to about 350F and let them roast for about 45 minutes, until a fork can slide into the outer skin with relative ease. It’s a great side dish option to serve with comfort foods all winter long.


A Different Take on Meatloaf


Having grown up in Guatemala, my parents did not experience American cuisine until they moved to this country when they were in their mid-twenties. For most American dishes, my mother took the basic structure and idea of the meal, and made up what she believed was in it, or what she thought would make it taste right. Therefore, my own initial exposure to American food came in whatever form my mother adapted it. I generally don’t like traditional meatloaf because I have been spoiled  by (and accustomed to) my mother’s meatloaf, filled with vegetables and flavor. I like to pair this version of meatloaf with even more vegetables on the side (here I roasted squash), but you can make mashed potatoes or rice if you’re looking for something different.


1 lb lean ground beef

3 cups collard greens (I also like to use spinach, kale, and chard)

1/2 cup diced white onion

2 garlic cloves, diced

1 large bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 egg

1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 tablespoon pepper



Heat oven to 350F. In a saucepan, sauté onions and garlic with heated olive oil until onions are translucent. In a bowl mix salt, pepper, egg, and ground beef. Chop greens into small pieces and add to ground beef along with onions, garlic, bell pepper, and bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly.

Place mixture into a glass bread pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake until meat is cooked through but still moist and juicy.

Let cool for a few minutes before slicing and serving. Serve with your favorite meatloaf side dish and enjoy.


Zucchini & Turkey ‘Lasagna’


I’ve made this zucchini dish several times and love coming back to it with new ingredients. This time, instead of ground beef, I decided to use ground turkey. I actually like this low carb/gluten free meal much better than traditional lasagna.



2 large green zucchini

2 large yellow squash

1/2 white onion

1/2 cup sliced crimini mushrooms

1 pound ground turkey

2 cups tomato sauce

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon peper

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 1/2 cups low fat shredded cheese


Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Chop the onion and mushrooms and add to a pan with a little bit of olive oil. Sauté until the onions are a little translucent.


Add the ground turkey to the pan and using a wooden spoon, separate the meat while it’s cooking. While the turkey cooks, slice up the squash into long flat slices.

Add the tomato sauce once the turkey has mostly cooked through on the outside (it will finish cooking in the oven) along with the salt, pepper, thyme, and fennel seeds. Let the meat soak in the tomato sauce and spices for a couple of minutes on the stovetop.

In a large flat baking dish lay the squash flat to create the bottom layer of your lasagna. Then simply layer it with meat, followed by cheese, then squash again. Your top layer will be a final layer of squash topped with a layer of cheese.


Put in 350F oven for about 15 – 20 minutes for the meat to finish cooking and the cheese to melt. That’s it! It’s easy and it makes plenty. I can’t wait to have this for dinner again tonight. Leftovers are just as good.