Ciao'd with a cup of hot cocoa.

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Holidays drift upon memories and traditions. We hang baubles on the tree and a holly wreath on the door. We collect pine cones and make pomanders. We sing carols and stuff stockings. Well, maybe "we" don't but you may. Amongst the flurry of holiday activities, I am willing to bet that one tradition reigns supreme: baking cookies. If you are a holiday cookie baker, chances are you harbor a favorite, must-have, it's-not-Christmas-without cookie recipe. I know I do.

My Italian aunts called them simply Chocolate Christmas Cookies. In reality, they are sweet, rich bites of Puglia, the Italian region from which my family hails. The cookies are spiced with cinnamon, cloves and allspice, studded with toasted walnuts, chocolate morsels, and raisins, and spiked with a healthy dose of bourbon that knits the ingredients into rich and complex goodness. You can't help but swoon.

I published this recipe last December but I have had so many people request it again that I'm sharing it once more. For the recipe as well as more about my aunts who bestowed this holiday ritual upon me, simply click here

Buon Natale. May you have a happy and delicious holiday.  

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Ciao'd with a Cyber Monday hangover.


It’s the most wonderful time of the year and by that, I mean holiday parties are in full swing. Sure we, or should I say I, will ingest and imbibe a bit too much but what’s a celebration without a bit of recklessness?

I was once invited to a cocktail party where the menu featured nothing but Champagne, caviar, and sugared fruit. The room was lit with candlelight and the delicate honey scent of beeswax rippled the air. Talk about reckless but talk about elegance, too.

Therein lies the beauty of the cocktail party. It can be as lavish or as spare as you wish it to be. Simply be sure you have enough drinks and hors d’oeuvres, a witty guest or two to keep things interesting, and the rest will work itself out.

The cocktail party traditionally lasts two to three hours and for this, I doubly bless it. Not that I don’t adore my friends and like most of my acquaintances, but I’m over hosting dinners that go on and on into the oblivion of a drunken night and a murky next morning. I generally specify an ending time for the party, which signals that my guests should make their own arrangements for dinner (as for me, frozen pizza or tamales beckon). If you exist in a world of capriciousness and abandon, simply list the time of the party and see what develops. Send me a note. I’d love to hear about the shenanigans.

You have lots of options for drinks. Simply stock the bar with wine and beer or elaborately fortify it with hard liquors, mixers, and aperitifs. Lately, it’s all the rage to offer a specialty drink. Maybe a classic cocktail such as a Manhattan? A selection of margaritas in a variety of flavors? You can go for broke and offer a custom libation. I’ve got you covered on this with a recipe for the Red Paisley, a colorful concoction of pink grapefruit juice, vodka, and lemon. A few dashes of cocktail bitters add a snap of extra flavor.

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Wearing the pattern isn't necessary when sipping this drink - but just think of the effect.

Serves 1

3 ounces fresh pink grapefruit juice
2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
3 to 4 dashes cocktail bitters, or more to taste
Lemon wheel, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with crushed ice. Add all the ingredients except the lemon wheel and shake well. Strain into a coupe or martini glass and garnish with the lemon wheel. Cheers!

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Ciao'd after stringing lights on the tree without arguing (much) with husband.
Christmas miracle. 

This could be the easiest elegant dinner party dish ever. The sweet-tart pomegranate sauce sparks the lamb with bright flavor - and gorgeous color, too. It's just the thing to serve for a holiday get-together with friends. Purchase the pomegranate juice (POM is a nice brand) or go for it and juice those lovely orbs yourself.

Lamb Chops
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 bone-in lamb loin chops, each 2-inches thick

1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Pomegranate seeds, for serving (optional)

Season both sides of the lamb chops with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the rosemary, garlic and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Press the rosemary mixture firmly into both sides of each chop. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil until very hot, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the lamb chops and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides and cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare, depending on the thickness of the chops. Transfer the chops to a platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let rest while you prepare the sauce.

While the lamb chops rest, discard any fat from the skillet, and then add the pomegranate juice. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. Thoroughly mix the cornstarch with the water until completely dissolved. Combine the cornstarch and water and stir until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. and stir into the pomegranate mixture. Bring to a boil and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the balsamic vinegar; then swirl in the butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the sauce over the lamb chops and garnish with pomegranate seeds, if using.  


Ciao'd while watching Lunes Noche Football. From Mexico City. Viva! 



Similar to a crustless quiche or a Spanish tortilla, the egg-based Italian frittata is a delicious canvas for vegetables, cheese, and meats. It’s the dish that keeps on giving. Enjoy a slice of warm frittata for breakfast. Slice a wedge and make a sandwich with crusty bread for lunch. Pair it with a simple green salad for a light supper.  The latter is just the ticket during the hectic holidays.

8 large eggs
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¾ pound sweet Italian sausage links, casings removed
3 cups broccoli florets
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the salt and red pepper flakes.

In a medium cast-iron or nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up into chunks, until browned and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the broccoli and red pepper to the skillet and cook until the broccoli is crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg mixture and basil and cook over moderately low heat until set around the edge, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle the frittata with the cheese.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the center is set, about 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.