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

Eating Vegan & Plant Based Diet

Day number six. This has not been the kindest week to be eating Vegan. Teaching cooking classes this week, these are some of the items I could not eat. Grilled Pork Tenderloin with blackberry balsamic glaze, Rosemary chocolate brownies, Grilled Flatiron Steak with my new rub, basil gelato and my favorite pizza. I have displayed a great amount of will power.

I have already tossed aside the book I was following. As you might guess, the recipes are far to bland and boring for me. So I have the general idea and well stocked kitchen to do my own creating. Positives : sleeping better, weight loss, energy and clarity. Negatives: I can’t really say there is a negative yet. So here is my creation for lunch today.

I sautéed some chickpeas with fresh rosemary, S & P and a tomato, basil, garlic seasoning.

I topped a Quinoa & Chia Seed Wrap (King Soopers) With salad greens, shredded carrots, cucumber, avocado, chickpeas, Bella’s tomato jam and Bella’s Sweet Basil dressing. Quite a tasty lunch. And I was starving today with a Saturday workout in and only drinking a greens juice this morning. So the lovely lunch wrap was devoured. I feel full and satisfied , ready to get my afternoon going.

16 days to go. I plan on sticking to the challenge and will keep you posted.

Ciao for now,

Chef Shelly

22 Days of a Plant & Vegan Based Diet

I know what you are thinking, heck I am thinking it also. I have been challenged for twenty two days to eat from a menu of nothing but vegan and plant based foods. Here’s the fun part: no wine either! If you know me, you know how difficult this will be. From being a restaurant owner, chef, instructor who loves every form of food and her wine. Hell if Beyonce’ can do it, so can I. Why am I doing this you ask? As I chef I constantly want to be challenged, and I never want to stop learning. I have many clients who are vegan and eat like this 24/7. I feel to become a better chef I should learn a little more about this sort of diet, how to prepare, how it tastes, how it makes a person feel.

I have completed the Whole 30 Program a few times, eliminating caffeine, alcohol, dairy, gluten, grains, legumes, sugar and processed foods. Essentially eating animal proteins, fruits and vegetables.I will tell you each time that I have completed the Whole 30, I feel better, I sleep better and I look better. The only thing; sometimes I just get tired of eating that much meat and protein.

So the first thing that I noticed this morning after shopping for my weeks worth of groceries. I purchased 12 bags of organic fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, grains, legumes, nut butters, non dairy milk & gluten free flours. Normally a weeks worth of food on the Whole 30 would cost me $200 or more. All the organic meats and plenty of them. Today my groceries for the week cost me $150.

My breakfast after the gym was oatmeal, flaxseed, almond milk, banana, blueberries & drizzle of pure maple syrup. After my work out, I flat out enjoyed this (and scarfed it down). I am not a huge eggs in the morning type person. Usually I have to force myself to eat eggs more then once or twice a week. So this was a great change for me.

My lunch was steamed quinoa, lentils cooked with carrots, onion, cumin, coriander, S & P, served over fresh spinach & arugula.Garnished with carrot sticks and diced cucumber. A little drizzle of champagne vinegar & extra virgin olive oil. Right now I am plenty full. Strange thing I am not evening thinking about a glass of wines or bubbles. I will post a photo and description of my dinner coming up later tonight. Which will be a little lighter then this lunch.

I will keep a journal of my 22 day adventure, and will be honest with my experience. If any of you think you would enjoy Plant Vegan Based Cooking Classes please let me know.

Chef Shelly

Southern Italy Culinary and Wine Tour – Summer 2016

This was absolutely one of our best trips yet! If you have not yet traveled to southern Italy – specifically Puglia – you should start planning your trip now. We had some of the best travelers from Colorado, Florida, and California. Our days were filled with fresh cheeses, local produce, the best olive oils, fine wines, family dinners, and plenty of laughter. We traveled by planes, trains, boats, and vintage Fiats to some of the most beautiful country. The people of Puglia welcomed us with open arms and beautiful hearts. Definitely a trip of a lifetime that will always bring back some amazing memories!

My Favorite Ingredients for Entertaining

My favorite ingredients for entertaining: FRIENDS, WINE, LAUGHTER, FOOD… In that order, YES. Many times I am asked what are my favorite ingredients to cook with or what my favorite recipe is for a dinner party. It really all depends on how much time you have. If I have all day to prep then I will pull out all the stops and spend hours cooking and creating. Should that be the basis of getting together with friends. Absolutely not!

Lets face it, most of us lead crazy busy lives. When I was putting in 80 hours a week running a restaurant the last thing I wanted to do on my only day off was cook. I literally just got my  a$$ kicked for a full week and did not want to fire one more saute pan. But I missed my friends and needed the social interaction. Many of you lead the same lives. Don’t short yourselves precious time with friends because you do not have time to cook. I have put together a simple Italian picnic.

IMG_2335 (2)A quick trip to WholeFoods you can purchase everything you need. Is it cheap? NO.. Is it quality food yes? Will is give you the ability to entertain and enjoy your guests? YES. The bakery section with all the fresh breads is incredible, the smell alone lured me over. I purchased a Lemon Rosemary Bread, Sourdough Parisienne & French Baguette. They all are delicious in very different ways, flavors & textures. I am a sucker for Castelvetrano Olives must have those ! One of my favorite things to do in Italy is to sit in the piazza in the afternoon and sip prosecco and enjoy the olives as I people watch. Cheese is very important, today I was in a truffle kind of mood. I picked out a Truffled Chèvre (goats milk) and a Caciotta Tartufo (sheeps milk) and a truffled ricotta. All very delicious, the truffled chèvre is soft and delicate a little buttery, the cacicotta is a little firmer in texture with a nice earthy truffle flavor and the ricotta is very fresh and easy to spread. I chose two different salami’s one a picante, but not to spicy and the other a garlic pepper, both very flavorful. And a wonderful bottle of Brunello di Montalcino produced by Piancornello, one of my favorites! Whole Foods also have wonderful Salted Caramel Chocolate bars.

I am sure your friends would not be disappointed to be invited for an al fresco picnic. You will not be disappointed that you got to enjoy glasses of wine and laughter. You do not have to cook, and you will not have much of a clean up either.

Life is short, enjoy every moment with your friends and family!

Healthy Burger

Great for lunch or dinner! Grilled bison burger. Forego the bun and top with fresh burrata cheese. I am a burrata lover and I would give up a hamburger bun any day. The rich creamy cheese on the burger was insane. I served on butter bibb lettuce with vine ripe tomatoes, red onion & avocado. Buon Appetito !

Vintage Vespa & Street Food in Saigon

If I had only one way to experience Saigon, it would be by Vintage Vespa at night! It is amazing to be chauffeured through the city by scooter just like the locals. The cool evening air, the sounds of the busy streets, the smells of food cooking.

The clams with fresh ginger, lemon grass and chile were amazing. The mussels with mint, scallions, minced peanuts and crushed pepper were ridiculously good. The snails with caramelized garlic and morning glory shoots were a pleasant surprise. When I thought I could not eat anymore, I managed to save some room for the rice pancakes with shrimp, garlic, onion and bean sprouts. The rice paper roll with star fruit, green banana, lemon grass beef was delish.

This evening was my Anthony Bourdain moment. Truly memorable.