Sunday Family Dinner

Family Dinner Takes a Walk on the Pura Vida Side!

September 2019 Fam Din

T and her clan had an adventurous getaway to Costa Rica where they zip-lined through the jungles, went on night hikes, encountered monkeys and sloths, stayed in tree houses, frolicked on beaches and indulged in wonderful meals. As I was stalking their vacay via IG, I saw that they kept hashtagging their photos with the “Pura Vida” phrase. Although it translates to “pure life”, I’m told that it’s a indicative Costa Rican phrase that can mean anything from “this is living”, “carefree life” and also as salutations.

Needless to say, they were still buzzing with the “pura vida” bug when they came home and convinced us to take a Costa Rican spin with our Family Dinner menu. The rest of us had never been but we were game to give it a spin!

And it all started with Cocktail Hour!

Inspired by a cocktail T had on vacay, she mixed cilantro-cucumber infused vodka with ginger simple syrup, lime juice and ginger beer. It was delish! Really bright and unexpected – something akin to a mix of a Mojito meets Moscow Mule.

September 2019 Fam Din

She couldn’t remember the name of it so I’m just going to call it the Pura Vida Cocktail for now.

Seems appropriate, right?

September 2019 Fam Din

2 BILs and Brother……

Or as I refer to them–the Dudes!

September 2019 Fam Din

September 2019 Fam Din
And then we looked over and saw Nina like this.

Which meant one thing…we needed to get going on the appetizers or the munchkins would all become hypoglycemic and either pass out or get super grumptastic.

And that, Friends, is NEVER a pretty picture.

September 2019 Fam Din

N took the lead on the first appetizer – her take on Chorizo Empanadas.

September 2019 Fam Din

She’s made variations of empanadas before but what made these different than her previous versions was that the filling also included cubed potatoes and boiled eggs.

September 2019 Fam Din
They were so bomb!

Instead of a masa dough, she used puff pastry so the exterior was so buttery and flaky while the filling was rich and deeply spiced. And of course, we had to have some chimichurri sauce to dunk them in.

September 2019 Fam Din
Actually, I’m pretty much a sucker for savory hand pies from ALL cultures.

Portable, savory deliciousness.

September 2019 Fam Din

Nini and C agree!

September 2019 Fam Din
While in Costa Rica, T said the ceviche dishes were some of her favorite bites. One day, R and Lucas even went deep sea fishing and caught a sailfish, dorado and a yellowfin tuna. They brought their haul back to the hotel restaurant where the kitchen fixed them up a feast that included mahi mahi ceviche.

dorado = mahi mahi

September 2019 Fam Din
With that still fresh on her mind, T decided to whip up a big ol’ bowl of bright Ceviche and served them with Tortilla Chips.

It wasn’t just pretty—it was scrump-diddly-dumptious!

September 2019 Fam Din
Puggle cuddle break!

September 2019 Fam Din
Oh…and we all fight over this egg chair…’s the best.

September 2019 Fam Din


Nina is awake!

Told ya she needed food.

September 2019 Fam Din

It was around this time that Brother started prep on his and L’s dish.

I should’ve snapped a pic once he finished mincing the garlic because V is quite meticulous (like Nini!) with his prep and his knife cuts are super consistent.

September 2019 Fam Din
And here’s L rockin’ out with the black bass!

September 2019 Fam Din
V and L went B-I-G for the entree and decided to make a version of pescado frito entero – whole fried fish.

After she seasoned the bass, L put them in a cornmeal-flour dredge……

September 2019 Fam Din
……before gently placing them in a vat of hot oil to deep fry!

You can see why we opted to cook the fish dish outside, right? I’m sure our neighbors just adored us that day.

Then L got to work on the decadent “sauce” to top the fish with — whole shrimp with a SHIZZ TON of garlic, butter and scallions!

She also finished it off with a quick flambe of dark rum but for some reason my dang site is having issues uploading the video I took of it.

September 2019 Fam Din

After the shrimp were sufficiently flambeed, she topped it over the crispy bass.


September 2019 Fam Din

Pescado Frito con Relleno de Camarones – Fried Fish with Garlic Shrimp Sauce.

September 2019 Fam Din
To accompany the fish, T made a big dish of Gallo Pinto – Costa Rican Rice and Beans. It was a great way to soak up all the buttery-garlicky goodness from the fish and shrimp, too!

September 2019 Fam Din

Then things got a little crazy.

I’m telling ya, N is living her best life, I mean– pura vida, these days!

September 2019 Fam Din

These cuties just sit back sometimes and watch how silly the adults can get.

September 2019 Fam Din

After the shenanigans settled down and the dishes were cleared, we dug into dessert.

I made Tres Leche a three-types of milk cake. Now, I won’t say that this is an authentic Costa Rican dessert since there are many claims that its origins are from Mexico. But versions of Tres Leche can be found all over Latin America, so I just went with it.

The photo below is terrible but luckily it tasted great – despite my worries while it baked! Seester’s oven needs some TLC and can be erratic at times with its temperature so I was stressing while it was in the oven. But I guess that’s where Tres Leche can be a bit forgiving since you soak the sponge with a sugary-milk mixture until it just can’t take in anymore. I used this recipe and was pleased with the flavor.

By the end of the night, I felt that we successfully caught glimpses of the food vibes that T and her fam experienced during their time in Costa Rica. And I SURE as heck want to go there to experience it for myself too!


September 2019 Fam Din


This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Pura Vida Cocktails, Various Wines
Appetizers: Ceviche, Chorizo Empanadas
Entree: Pescado Frito con Relleno de Camarones {Fried Bass with Garlic Shrimp Sauce}
Sides: Gallo Pinto {Costa Rican Rice and Beans}
Tres Leche Cake {3 Milks Cake}

Appetizers/Small Plates · Pork · Sunday Family Dinner

Croquetas de Chorizo & Our Tapas themed Family Dinner

Croquetas de Chorizo

Truth be told, my sibs and I have had to handle our share of road bumps these past few years. Things way out of our control—which is a real pain for a family full of Type A personalities.

We’re cute–but Type A through and through.

May 2013 Sunday Family Dinner-Tapas

So we started our monthly Sunday Family Dinners.

It gave us an opportunity to spend the day shopping for groceries, catching up, venting to each other, sipping cocktails, teaching the kids kitchen tips, gorging on food and well–just spending quality time together.

May 2013 Sunday Family Dinner-Tapas

We began by just throwing together menus of dishes we liked to eat and now it’s morphed into different monthly themes covering cuisines around the world. We’ve thrown caution to the wind creating dishes we’ve never attempted before with just the shells of recipes and our kitchen instincts. Pretty extensive menus if I do say so myself.

May 2013 Sunday Family Dinner-Tapas

We’ve had a lot of memorable times through our Sunday Family Dinners from a full-on Cajun Seafood Boil in the backyard to a small kitchen fire from roasting our Porchetta to a Japanese Spread that would probably even make my favorite sushi chef, Tenchu, smile.

May 2013 Sunday Family Dinner-Tapas

And before we knew it, our 1 year anniversary of Fam-Din had arrived. Unfortunately our brother and his fam couldn’t fly back from NY but our sis P was able to make the trip down.

To celebrate one year of delicious eats and new foodventures, we put together a scrumptious Tapas Dinner.

May 2013 Sunday Family Dinner-Tapas

We started off with a few pitchers of my Red Wine Sangria that had steeped overnight. This liquid goodness is no joke, Friends. Sweet, fruity, and packs a punch!


Next on the menu were Spanish Chorizo Stuffed Mushrooms.

Chorizo Stuffed Mushrooms

Spanish Chorizo gets its hue and rich flavor from the smoky Spanish paprika.

Chorizo Stuffed Mushrooms

Then came the Grilled Flank Steak drizzled with an herbaceous Salsa Verde.

Flank Steak with Salsa Verde

And then there were Baby Octopus seasoned with Spanish paprika, lemon zest, parsley and olive oil.

Baby Octopus with Paprika and Lemon

Did you know that when simmering octopus you should throw a wine cork in the pot to help tenderize it while still maintaining its toothsome texture? Supposedly it has something to do with the enzymes breaking down the octopus tissue.

Is it true? Um…not 100% sure but if European grandmas have been doing this for centuries–who am I to disagree?

Baby Octopus

Then we had the sleeper dish.

The dish we all underestimated and didn’t think much of until we took a bite– Saffron Clams. HOLY COW!

Of course big seester cooked the clams perfectly so that they were still wonderfully tender but it was the broth that was the kicker. Mind-blowingly fragrant and multi-layered from the saffron threads, white wine, lemon and herbs.

Total underdog and one of the MVPs of the night.

Saffron Clams

And what’s a Tapas dinner without Paella? This is a tried and true recipe we’ve done many times before but it’s just so-darn-wonderful!


And you know who prepared the Paella?

My 14 & 13 year old nieces– Nina and Nini!

Yup, I’ll wait while you scroll up and take another look at the Paella photo………..

Impressive, right?

May 2013 Sunday Family Dinner-Tapas

And because we all have quite a sweet tooth—other big seester made homemade Churros con Chocolate.

Crispy fried dough dunked into a rich chocolate sauce? YES, PLEASE!!!

Churros con Chocolate

As for me, my other contribution to our dinner were crispy Croquetas de Chorizo –because I’m the family’s Potato Monster.

Croquetas de Chorizo

To make these Spanish themed croquettes, I start off by mashing up a few boiled Russet Potatoes.

May 2013 Sunday Family Dinner-Tapas

After adding some spices, herbs, and other goodies, I begin forming the little potato logs and stuff them with Spanish Chorizo and cheese. Depending on how you get your Spanish Chorizo, you can either cube it, slice them, or even mince them up.

Croquetas de Chorizo

After the croquetas have been formed, toss them in the refrigerator so that they can chill and firm up. This helps them keep their shape during the frying process.

Croquetas de Chorizo

Next, enlist your 8 year old niece (like Maya) to help you dredge the croquetas. After they’re well coated, fry them until golden brown.

Don’t worry, I fried them 🙂

May 2013 Sunday Family Dinner-Tapas

Once golden brown, serve them up with this floral and rich Saffron Aioli.

Saffron Aioli

Was our Tapas Dinner delicioso? Absolutely!

But the best thing about it (other than hanging out with the Fam while sipping Sangria) is that the kids played such a huge role in the preparation of our dinner. Although it’s bittersweet to see them grow up so quickly, we’re all so proud of them!

May 2013 Sunday Family Dinner-Tapas

Moral of the story? When life gives you lemons–cook every delicious thing in the world with your family.

I can’t wait for what the next year has to come.

Now if I could only convince one of my seesters to let me to dig a hole in their backyard to make an imu to roast a pig. Wouldn’t that be rad??

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Red Wine Sangria
Appetizers: Croquetas de Chorizo with Saffron Aioli
Tapas: Baby Octopus, Grilled Flank Steak with Salsa Verde, Spanish Chorizo Stuffed Mushrooms, Saffron Clams, Paella
Dessert: Churros con Chocolate


Croquetas de Chorizo
Makes approximately 16 croquetas


3 medium sized Russett potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 eggs, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely minced Italian parsley
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika, divided
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
¼ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
8 ounces cured Spanish Chorizo, diced
4 ounces shaved Manchego or Parmesan cheese
vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup flour
1 cup bread crumbs
chopped chives, to garnish

Add the potatoes to a large pot of water. Partially cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Carefully drain the pot and mash the potatoes (or put them through a ricer). Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Beat one egg together with the olive oil. Add the mixture to the mashed potatoes with the parsley, 1/8 teaspoon paprika, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon white pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Mix until combined.

Take about a golf ball sized amount of the potato mixture into one hand. Flatten it out into your palm in an even, oblong shape that is about ¼ inch thick. Add a few pieces of the chorizo and cheese in the center. Mold the potato mixture into a log shape, folding the sides to enclose the filling. Place the croqueta on a large platter and repeat the process until all of the croquetas have been formed. Cover the platter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Fill a large, heavy bottom pot with 2 inches of vegetable oil. Heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees F.

In a shallow dish, whisk together the remaining two eggs. Place the breadcrumbs and flour into two separate shallow dishes. Season the flour with the remaining kosher salt, paprika and black pepper.

Take one croqueta and dredge it into the flour. Gently shake off the excess flour before dipping it in the egg wash. Roll the croqueta in the bread crumbs and gently shake off the excess. Set aside. Continue dredging the croquetas until you have enough to fit in the frying pot.

Fry the croquetas for 3-4 minutes, turning them from time to time until they become golden brown. Remove the croquetas and drain them on a rack or plates lined with paper towels. Optional: Once they come out of the fryer, sprinkle the croquetas with additional paprika. Continue the process until all of the croquetas have been fried. Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh chives and serve with the Saffron Aioli.

Pork · Poultry · Seafood

Cook’s Illustrated Paella

Spanish Paella prepared in a Dutch Oven

I’ll tell ya…..the holidays were quite productive in our kitchen. From sweets to savories to old time classics and new Foodventures. What a whirlwind!

On one particular evening, we were able to check off another dish off my “must make” list—PAELLA! We turned to Cook’s Illustrated version of Paella since it didn’t require the traditional paella pan but used a heavy dutch oven instead. It was perfect because although I love the look of paella pans I don’t have the storage space to keep them.

We were all very happy with the end results of the dish. Especially because we achieved the coveted soccarat–the crunchy rice that forms at the bottom of the pan!

I did have two “uh-oh” moments that were completely my fault. First, we added much more seafood than the recipe called for. When it comes to seafood in my family—more is better. As a result of the extra seafood, we had so much excess liquid in the pot. We ended up having to spoon out some of the liquid because too much moisture equals no soccarat.

The second challenge we needed to problem solve was that I left the lid on during step 6. The lid trapped the steam into the pot and would have never allowed the lovely soccarat layer to form. Per my sister’s quick thinking, we took off the lid and returned the pot into the oven under the broiler setting. The paella was left under the broiler until it browned and then we switched it back to the stove (lid off!) to complete step 6. PHEW! Luckily it all worked! Lesson learned.

This Paella was just a Pot of Goodness. You’re going to want to make this one. For Reals. Like right now.

Just learn from my mistakes and read each step carefully 🙂

Cheers Friends!


From Cooking at Home with America’s Test Kitchen 2006

This paella recipe calls for making it in a Dutch oven (the Dutch oven should be 11 to 12 inches in diameter with at least a 6-quart capacity). With minor modifications, it can also be made in a paella pan. Cured Spanish chorizo is the sausage of choice for paella, but fresh chorizo or Portuguese linguiça is an acceptable substitute.

Soccarat, a layer of crusty browned rice that forms on the bottom of the pan, is a traditional part of paella. In our paella, soccarat does not develop because most of the cooking is done in the oven. We have provided instructions to develop soccarat in step 5; if you prefer, skip this step and go directly from step 4 to step 6.—the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated


1 Pound Extra-Large Shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
Salt and Ground Black Pepper
Olive Oil
8 or 9 Medium Garlic Cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (2 generous tablespoons)
1 Pound Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs, each thigh trimmed of excess fat and halved crosswise
1 Red Bell Pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut pole to pole into 1/2-inch-wide strips
8 Ounces Spanish Chorizo, sliced 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1 Medium Onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
One 14.5 Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes, drained, minced, and drained again
2 Cups Valencia or Arborio Rice
3 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
1/3 Cup Dry White Wine
1/2 Teaspoon Saffron Threads, crumbled
1 Dried Bay Leaf
1 Dozen Mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 Cup Frozen Peas, thawed
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Parsley Leaves
1 Lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position; heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Toss the shrimp, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1 teaspoon of the garlic in a medium bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper; set aside.

2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the pepper strips and cook, stirring occasionally, until the skin begins to blister and turn spotty black, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the pepper to a small plate and set aside.

3. Add 1 teaspoon oil to the now-empty Dutch oven; heat the oil until shimmering but not smoking. Add the chicken pieces in a single layer; cook, without moving the pieces, until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces and brown on the second side, about 3 minutes longer; transfer the chicken to a medium bowl. Reduce the heat to medium and add the chorizo to the pot; cook, stirring frequently, until deeply browned and the fat begins to render, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to the bowl with the chicken and set aside.

4. Add enough oil to the fat in the Dutch oven to equal 2 tablespoons; heat over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 minutes; stir in the remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes; cook until the mixture begins to darken and thicken slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until the grains are well coated with the tomato mixture, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, wine, saffron, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return the chicken and chorizo to the pot, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven; cook until the rice absorbs almost all of the liquid, about 15 minutes.

5. Remove the paella from the oven (close the oven door to retain heat). Uncover the paella; scatter the shrimp over the rice, insert the mussels hinged-side down into the rice (so they stand upright), arrange the bell pepper strips in a pinwheel pattern, and scatter the peas over the top. Cover and return to the oven; cook until the shrimp are opaque and the mussels have opened, 10 to 12 minutes.

6. Optional: If soccarat (see headnote) is desired, set the Dutch oven, uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, rotating the pot 180 degrees after about 2 minutes for even browning.

7. Let the paella stand, covered, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that have not opened and the bay leaf, if it can be easily removed. Sprinkle the paella with the parsley and serve, passing the lemon wedges separately.