Entertaining Bella Style Day 5

Dont procrastinate, just do it!

Don’t put off getting together with your family and your friends. Don’t wait till you are less busy, that will never happen. Use the time that you do have and make it a priority. If that means ordering a pizza and throwing a salad together and opening a bottle of wine, I say just do it.

This morning I am thinking of and praying for a friends family who is struggling this holiday season. So my heart is talking to you and not the chef. You do not have to prepare a fancy meal to enjoy your friends and family. In our very busy lives we make work and our obligations top priority (or at least I have for too many years to count). It really will do your heart and soul good as well as others to spontaneously entertain. In a world where we are bombarded every single day with bad news, make it a priority to create good moments and good memories.

I challenge you all in this next week to call friends or family you have been meaning to connect with and create something spontaneous.


Chef Shelly

Entertaining Bella Style Day 4

So your party is planned, the guests are invited, your menu is written. 

The big question is what sort of dinnerware are you using? Should you use china, stoneware, every day dishes or disposable? I am probably going to open a can of worms with this one 🙂 I think a lot of this depends on how many quests you are inviting. Personally I own fine china that we received as wedding gifts, I own Christmas china that maybe gets used once a year or every other year, also there is the ceramic dishes from Italy that I love (they are my favorite) and my everyday dishes, not to mention a basement full of restaurant white plates in every size and shape.

I very rarely use disposable… there have been occasions that I do. When I am already exhausted from my work schedule and have so many guests coming that I am ready to pull my hair out and really  have no desire to spend one whole day doing dishes. On those occasions I try to find a nice clear disposable plate or fun shape. I am however a stickler on wine glasses. I truly believe wine tastes better in a glass then in a plastic cup. I do not believe the flavor of food will change if you eat off a board, out of a cup, on fine china or with your bare hands. I do however believe wine tastes better in a glass.

Now I realize there are some special circumstances, and desperate times call for desperate measures. I have drank Silver Oak straight from the bottle on a bus on the Italian Alps when there where no glasses to be found. First you are thinking really a Californian wine in Italy… we were on a ski trip and met new friends from California who brought wine with them. How great is that when you are stranded on a bus in a snow storm?

And still top priority is that you as the host, should enjoy yourself.

Chef Shelly

Entertaining Bella Style Day 3

I am hoping by Christmas Eve that I will get you 12 days of Entertaining Tips & Advise. WOW what a crazy start to December. Some really great cooking classes and events with some wonderful people!

NEW RECIPES Yes or No. Should you try new recipes for your holiday entertaining ? This is going to be one of those do as I say and not as I do moments 🙂 I have a tendency to get bored with the same things all of the time. I like new foods, new flavors, new combinations. I know some people are pretty religious about traditional foods, and have the same menu every single year. Me not so much, it will always be a surprise when you come to my house for the holidays.

So my take on new recipes for your holiday entertaining. Yes if : you have time to do a trial run first; you are entertaining a small group of friends or family that you just supply wine and they are supportive and happy ; you review the recipe and are confident with the different cooking techniques and ingredients.

I think it is great to pick a new theme every year, Italian, French, Spanish, Mediterranean you get the idea. And have each guest choose a recipe that will coordinate with your menu, and then all the pressure is not on you. Every one has the same chances of success or failure on their new recipes.

When it gets right down to it, getting together with family and friends is they most important ingredient to your holiday entertaining. I say we enjoy this holiday season like its the last, because we truly do not have a guarantee how many there will be. So don’t put off till next year your ideal holiday season. Start new traditions, do the traditional things you love. Be kind and help those in need. Visit with the people who mean the most to you and you will not have any regrets.


Chef Shelly

Entertaining Bella Style

Entertaining Bella Style: tips and advise for holiday entertaining.

Day two, and I am behind. December has started with quite a BANG. Prep, Prep Prep I cannot stress this enough. Once you write your menu, make a list of items and cooking tasks that can be done ahead of time. I had an event this weekend for 50. One full day was shopping and prep, one day was cooking and the event, and one day was clean up. I could not have pulled off the event without a prep day.

What does a prep day look like for me? Sometimes I start backwards with desserts. I like to know that once I have made it through dinner or heavy appetizers it will be smooth sailing after with desserts already prepared with just garnishments and plating. Other tasks that can be done the day before: sauces, vinaigrettes, dressings, vegetables cleaned cut & chopped and protein fabricating. You can start organizing the tableware you will be using, decide on serving pieces and get everything set out. This will make the day of the event so much easier.

Yesterday I attended a holiday brunch and was very impressed by the display of food so beautiful and organized, and a large quantity of food. The hostess who happens to be a great friend seemed very relaxed and not stressed. I had asked when I was invited if I could bring a dish, absolutely not she replied. So I had to ask “How did you do all of this?” The hostess had prepped the whole day before.

I always have a writing tablet in the kitchen with me and make lists of tasks for my prep day and my event day. This helps you stay on task, become organized and more relaxed on event day.

Happy holiday entertaining, share your holiday photos on Bella Bistro’s FB page with any of your entertaining tips.


Chef Shelly

Entertaining Bella Style

Its December 1st and the holiday season is upon us. I will be bringing you twelve days of Entertaining for the Holiday’s Advise. Yes you can take it or leave it, you will not hurt my feelings :). With 15 years of cooking, entertaining, catering, cooking classes and restaurant work I am sure you will find some of my advise helpful.

Day number one advise: Hand a glass of wine and a wooden spoon to a friend. What do I mean by that? Do not hesitate to solicit help from your dinner guests and friends. I have been doing it for years. Do not try to be a rock star or martyr in the kitchen. It is such a great feeling to have your guests completely enjoy the evening, it is even a better feeling for you to be enjoying it with them!

Seriously… I remember one year, long before I became a chef and I was hosting a dinner party. Half of my recipes were from Martha Stewart, and I insisted on cooking everything not allowing any of my guests to help. One of the stupidest things I have ever done. I do have a long list. One: Martha (I love her) has the longest a$$ recipes I have ever seen. Some are three pages long. I had so much time involved in this dinner and worked so hard that I did not truly enjoy it. And I was not super happy when my guests did not realize how much work was involved. Lets face it friends, people who do not cook sometimes do not realize all the hours involved. I learned a lesson that evening I wanted to enjoy the dinner party as much as my guests. How should I accomplish this, you ask? Drag their a$$ in the kitchen with me. Yep you got it. Have a glass and bottle of wine (or Cartizze) and they will follow.

Think about evenings spent cooking with friends. For me it is some of my fondest memories. When in Italy with family and friends I don’t even wait to be asked into the kitchen I bull doze my way in. I want to learn and watch and be part of everything that is happening. Many of times I hand a glass of wine that comes with a wooden spoon to stir risotto. Or hand a glass of wine and teach a friend how to roll pasta. Or sometimes I decide  to throw a dinner party with new recipes and when a guest or friend asks if they can bring something sometimes I give them a list of ingredients to bring, or tell them just to come. But I do say you will be in the kitchen cooking with me. I do not think I have offended any of my friends or family by doing this…. how do I know? I never have a shortage of friends at my dinner parties, they keep coming back. Sometimes they learn something new, sometimes they find a new recipe to add to their favorites.

This holiday season when you are planning your parties I encourage you to think of how you will enjoy this party as much as your guests. Plan your party accordingly and follow through with it. If one of your guests is not happy with this new idea of helping you, there are two ways to handle this. One, never invite them again, because really how much fun are they? Really? Two give them my phone number and I will sort it all out for you 🙂

Signing off for now…. I bet you can’t wait to read more of my helpful hints for an enjoyable holiday & entertaining season.

Chef, Shelly

SUNDAY BRUNCH bella style….

Most of my creativity for cooking comes on Sunday mornings. It originates from the crazy restaurant days. Saturday evening’s after clean up, I would do what I call grocery shop at Bella. Anything I could use to keep from going to the grocery store I would grab. It would be a zip lock of this, a nine pan of that. Little odds & ends left over that I would use to create my Sunday brunch.

After a busy week of cooking classes, I did the same thing this morning. I am not embarrassed to tell you it was damn deliciousness on a plate.

Let me describe this Brunch Risotto: Butternut Squash with arborio rice and pearled barley (because I did not have enough arborio rice and the rule is… do not go to the store!) Crispy brussels sprouts, crispy prosciutto cup, sunny side egg, grated salt cured egg & pumpkin seeds. I will definitely repeat this brunch again. The flavors were amazing….

Crispy Prosciutto Cup – I took a large muffin tin and turned it upside down, strayed with oil and arranged prosciutto slices over to create a bowl. Baked in a 350* oven approximately 10 minutes. You want the prosciutto to keep its shape and be crispy.

Risotto – I think you all have made risotto, what was different this time is I did not have enough arborio rice, but I did have pearled barley. The ratio was probably 50/50. What a delicious flavor. I had leftover roasted butternut squash that I had used in classes this week. I used chicken stock, seasoned with salt & pepper and Oil & Vinegar’s Bruschetta Pomodoro (I use this seasoning probably every which way except for how it was intended … it ! )

My little egg pan from King Sooper’s, and the Bruschetta seasoning

I never have enough kitchen gadgets or tools, and am the biggest sucker for buying them all. I love this little egg pan, because it cooks the egg perfectly in a circle (for photos of course).

Egg – was cooked in this little egg pan, never turning the egg, just basting with the olive oil to cook.

Brussels Sprouts – left over from an event, slice very thin in my food processor with the slicing blade. SautĂ©ed in a pan with olive oil salt & pepper until crispy.

Assemble: Place prosciutto cup on a plate or a bowl, add risotto and let cascade out , top with brussels sprouts, sprinkle with pumpkin seeds (pepita) place your egg on top, garnish with grating of salt cured egg yolk (more information to come so that you can make these).

To be quite honest this dish was so good and satisfying I would eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.



I had the great pleasure of meeting Francesco & Grazia Barba two years ago in Lecce, Italy. The introduction came from a lovely lunch that Cynthia Louthan organized in her and her husband Gianni’s newly restored Masseria. Cynthia & I had become FB friends, through mutual friends, loves & passions. I just happened to be in Puglia traveling and researching for a future culinary tour when I received a message from Cynthia to come to lunch. Good food, wine and great people I am not one to say no. What a beautiful day and the opportunity to taste the great extra virgin olive oil that Francesco & Grazia produce. I knew immediately that I needed to include a visit to Donna Oleria for my Culinary Wine Tours. I am happy to say that I have brought 4 tour groups to visit their farm in Lecce for olive oil tastings along with country lunches & dinners.

I great education on the distinction of extra virgin olive oil

Pino & Paola our bartenders for the evening. The best PinoTonics (gin & tonic) ever!

My new favorite potato salad…

The best fava bean puree ever…Grazia I need to come cook with you for a week.

One thing we can always count on when we visit Francesco & Grazia, is that we are treated like family. They have family and friends at our gatherings and we are always meeting new friends. Like Francesca & Barbera Mocavero that make the most fantastic pork products I have ever tasted. I make no apologies for some cappacola & salami that I may or may not have brought back to Colorado 🙂

Francesco & Grazia preparing us dinner using everything from their farm. Organic grain milled into flour for pasta, fresh tomatoes & basil from their gardens and extra virgin olive oil of course.

Young local musicians playing the old traditional songs of Salento… such talent!

Is it a surprise that Paola & Pino can get the dance party started?

Donna Oleria products

Sicilian Couscous

Couscous alla Nina Barbera Menfi Sicily

My first visit to Sicily was the spring of 2008. A restaurant owner at the time, I was visiting a small boutique winery located in Menfi, Sicily. Bella Bistro featured Sicilian wines from Cantine Barbera and the wines soon became a favorite for me and my guests. From that spring visit, female chef (me) & female wine producer Marilena Barbera became instant life long friends.

Marilena immediately embraced me into her family. The huge pleasure for me has been cooking with Marilena’s grandmother (who has since past) and her mother Nina. To be accepted into a Sicilian kitchen with an open invitation for learning the family recipes and traditions is something I am extremely grateful for.

Here our photos of our couscous evening on our recent Sicily tour.

Nina Barbera demonstrating the hand shaping of couscous . The size and shape of this bowl is very important in the process.

Our group from Colorado getting hands on practice for making couscous.

Nina & Marilena Barbera making Couscous for a feast.

Making the broth for steaming the couscous

Nina asked Kathy & Michele to help clean fish heads for the broth the seafood will be cooked in. Funny thing is Kathy is not fond of fish heads or eyes staring at her from a plate. But you do not tell Nina, no.., the rest of us got a few laughs over this.

Nina with a BIG fish head

This is not the best photo, so I hope someone got a better one. But definitely was the best Couscous I have ever eaten .

Cantine Barbera’s wines chilling down for us. A special beer made with a grape that is one of Marilena’s newest creation that was crazy good !

Cantine Barbera you must try Marilena’s wines…. all her passion and love for her Sicilian land packaged in a bottle.

Cheese Making Puglia

Is there anything better then fresh Mozzarella ? Maybe a few things : fresh burrata , fresh breakfast ricotta, eating all three of these on a lazy morning in Fasano Puglia. Masseria Lamapecora was kind enough to create a cheese Making tour for my Colorado guests.

Omar arrived in Italy from Macedonia when he was a small boy.

At fourteen years of age Omar started training to make cheese with the owner Giovanni master cheese maker of Lamapecora .

One full year of watching and learning before Omar could put his hands in the hot water with Mozzarella curd.

Tonia is the mother of Giovanni and queen of cheese making. Straciatella cheese being made.

Guests from Colorado getting a first hand look at all the cheese being made.

Fresh ricotta being made by Tonia. We learned that a breakfast ricotta was prepared as a peasant food for the locals who could not afford to go to the local bars and purchase espresso and pastries. May I say it was delicious . The creamiest ricotta with chopped nuts and a drizzle of local honey. You know I will be trying this in Colorado.

Shaped Mozzarella

New baby cow just born

If you are in Puglia you must schedule a visit you will not be disappointed .

Masseria Lamapecora

Farm to Table in Sicily

Bella Bistro Culinary & Wine Tour 2017 with Pino Lombardo the father of the Lombardo Family.

What a fantastic week in Sicily with the most incredible people. Our group from Colorado had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with a Sicilian family.

We arrived at Fattoria Lombardo an organic farm located in Menfi Sicily. The farm is owned and operated by the Lombardo family, and believe me each family member gives 100%. The passion and love the entire family displays for their land, culture, traditions, foods and wine is absolutely amazing.

The Lombardo family put together a Farm to Table Cooking Class especially for our group. Handmade pasta, fresh tomato sauce from the garden. I have never experienced a country lunch quite like this. This truly was one of our highlights during our Sicilian Culinary Wine Week.

Salvatore Lombardo our farm guide

Antonio Lombardo on the tractor

Annella our pasta instructor

Rosa teaching us to make tomato sauce

Garden produce for our tomato sauce

Annella with our pasta for the country lunch

The women of Menfi, the backbone of the kitchen and the special instructors for our cooking class. Rosa (Salvatore’s mother) Annella & Rosa.

Our fresh pasta & tomato sauce

Fattoria Lombardo