My Ideal Christmas Dinner

We’ve reached a critical time in the year.  Christmas is one week away and Christmas dinner needs to be planned.

For us Latinos, we’re in an even bigger pickle because we do Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) dinner.  So that means we have 6 days left to plan a feast.

This time of year is always particularly frustrating for me, because my family doesn’t like anything.  No really, they don’t. An hour ago, I was walking around Sprouts talking to my sister about how I wanted to give up on Christmas dinner.  She pumped me up a bit about it.

We decided on some random menu:

-Chicken with Lemon-Caper sauce
-Spinach Salad

-Mashed Potatoes
-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

We’ll see how that goes.  I always have grand plans for Christmas dinner, but it never happens because the things I like are 1. too expensive to make for a crowd or 2. generally disliked by my family. Last year, I got close.  I made awesome short ribs braised in red wine (they were a hit) served with mashed potatoes, as well as coq au vin.  Guys, I got fancy.  This year… it’s not looking that way…

So today, in the spirit of dreaming, I’m going to plan my ideal Christmas Dinner.  I’ll probably never make it but let’s just pretend.

Of course, in my ideal world, I would have a beautiful, hipster-chic table setting

Photo Source: Style-Files

Because of course, I’ll have enough logs for everyone to sit on!

We’d start the evening with appetizers and drinks.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Persimmons

Photo Source: Food and Wine

Along with Cheese, Crackers, Nuts and Dried Fruit.  To drink, wine, beer and a fun Prosecco cocktail for those who are so inclined:

Photo Source: Rue Mag

Then for dinner:

Roast Leg of Lamb on a Bed of Potatoes and Wilted Greens

Photo Source: Epicurious

Served with Roasted Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts

Photo Source: Henry Happened

and Mashed Potatoes

Photo Source: Foodista

And for dessert… My favorite Bourbon Banana Pie

BourbonBananaPie3(which I’m actually planning to make for Christmas!)

and because you can never have enough dessert…

Photo Source: Smitten Kitchen

Gingerbread Apple Upside-down Cake

That’s it.  Pretty much my perfect Christmas dinner.  Mine won’t be that perfect, but it’ll still be great.

I’m being totally dramatic about Christmas Dinner.  I’ll be honest, I really don’t care what we eat.   I’m more excited to spend time with my family than anything else.  We could eat KFC or Chinese Takeout, and I’d be happy.  That said, day dreaming about fancy dinners is what foodies do.

What’s on your Christmas menu?  Share your menus so I can get more inspiration!


Roasted Beet, Asparagus and Arugula Salad

As much as I advocate cake and pie eating, I really want you to eat vegetables too.

Lots of vegetables.

They’re good for you.  Sometimes sugar and butter need to take a back seat and we need to have something good for you.  Like this salad.


Roasted Beet, Asparagus and Arugula Salad

2-3 fresh beets
3-5 cups arugula1/2 lb asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
1 tomato, sliced
2 oz goat cheese
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp honey
2 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
fresh chopped parsley (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 400F.  Thoroughly wash beets, then wrap beets in aluminum foil.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 45 mins to 1 hour, or until tender.  Allow to cool.  Peel and slice. (Note: You can roast a bunch of beets and once and store them in the fridge for about a week in the roasting foil.  Peel and slice when you’re ready to serve them)

Steam asparagus for about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and rinse with cold water.  Set aside. (You can do this while the beets roast, or you can plan your next vacation)

Make dressing by mixing together balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  Whisk until well combined.

Lastly, assemble the salad.  Start with a bed of arugula, layer on the tomatoes, asparagus, beets and goat cheese.  Drizzle with dressing and serve!  This salad will feed 2 very hungry people or 4 as a side salad.


Eat it up!

Caldo de Pollo (Guatemalan Chicken Stew)

If you asked me what my favorite food is, I would spend forever trying to decide and ask you a million follow up question… is it my favorite food to eat all the time? or for a special occasion? Savory or sweet? Appetizer? Main dish?

If you were my boyfriend you’d probably just say, “answer the question.”

To which I would respond “Caldo de Pollo, if we’re talking about what I like to eat on a normal day.”

I have a habit of not answering questions, or if I do, qualifying that response with a million follow up excuses as to why I can’t really answer the question.

I’m very indecisive.  So here it is.  If I had to choose a favorite food to eat all the time, it would be this: Caldo de Pollo.


That just means chicken stew, but this is how my family (and I think most Guatemalan families) makes it.

The vegetables are all in big chunks and there’s a bit of chicken in there.


It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to make.  It’s also delicious and healthy.  Whenever I go home, I want my mom to make two things: black beans and caldo de pollo.  It’s just delicious.


Caldo de Pollo

1 lb chicken thighs, bone in (boneless is fine too)
1 bunch cilantro
1 tomato, whole
1 onion, ends cut off and peeled
1 chayote (güisquil), quartered
1 cabbage, cut into 6 wedges
3 carrots, peeled and cut in half
1-2 celery ribs
a few pieces of fresh or frozen corn*
2-3 small potatoes
1 small bag frozen yucca
Avocado, Lime, Sour Cream (for serving)

Fill a medium saucepan half way with water, bring to a boil.  Add frozen yucca.


Boil until tender, it should take about 30 minutes.  This is crucial.  If you put the yucca in the water before it boils, the yucca will stay tough.  Make sure your yucca is tender and keep it in the freezer until the water is boiling, then add it to the water.

While the yucca cooks, start the rest of the soup.  The beauty of this soup is that it’s fast and doesn’t involve a lot of chopping.


Big chunks of carrot and güisquil (güisquil in Guatemala, but chayote in Mexico so that’s what you’ll probably see it labeled as in US grocery stores) are appreciated.  But the cabbage is my favorite part.  Not familiar with guisquil/chayote?  It looks sort of like a pear from the outside:


And sort of on the inside, just quarter it and cut out the seed in the middle


In a large post, add all of the ingredients.  Add enough water to cover the ingredients.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes or until cabbage and potatoes are cooked through.  The take a fine mesh strainer, take out the tomato, peppers and cilantro.  Pour some of the broth on it and using a spoon, mash the tomato, peppers and cilantro to get the most flavor out of it, then discard.  Add yucca you cooked separate to the pot.


Serve with lime, sour cream  and avocado.  I usually just eat it with lime and avocado, but sour cream makes it super tasty, just mix it into your bowl just before eating.

*I don’t like corn, so I never use it, but most people (including my mother) add it.

I like to pack mine up into 6-7 containers (that’s how many meals a big pot makes), and take them for lunch for the week.

Healthy and delicious lunch that is totally Paleo friendly if you omit the potato and yucca.  Even though yucca is a root, I think it’s too starchy for Paleo.

But seriously, what makes this delicious is the lime and avocado.


It takes a regular soup and makes it out of this world.  Don’t skimp on that!

So what’s your favorite food?  Something you could eat everyday and not get tired of.

Pepian, a Traditional Guatemalan Dish

Today was election day in Guatemala.  I’m not a Guatemalan citizen and my parents left in 1979, but today turned out to be a super Guatemala day at Casa De Leon.

My cousin hung our Guatemala hammocks

and my aunt made Pepian.

Let me tell you about pepian.  It might be my favorite Guatemalan dish (even though I’m obsessed with black beans and plantains).  It’s basically meat and vegetables in a thick sauce made of pepitas and sesame seeds.  It has a distinct toasted taste that I can’t entirely describe because it doesn’t taste like anything else I’ve ever eaten.

But I will say, it’s absolutely delicious.  I’ll admit, it might be a bit of an acquired taste, but that’s probably because (like I said) it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever tasted.  I definitely recommend giving it a try, especially if you make a trip to Guatemala, you have to try it.  But if you’re making it at home and are worried about finding the ingredients here in the US, find a latino grocery store.  I can almost guarantee they’ll have everything you need.


1/2 cup pepitas, heaping
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1 small piece chile pasa
1 small piece chile guaque
1 chile arbol
4 lbs pork ribs*
1 bunch of cilantro
2 onions
6 garlic cloves
6 roma tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
2 slices of toast, well toasted
2 carrots
3 guisquil (known as chayote in Mexican grocery stores)
2 cups green beans

*Note: This is also commonly made with chicken.  If you choose to use chicken, make sure you use drumsticks or thighs with bone-in.

Put the meat in the pressure cooker with the cilantro, 1 onion, 3 garlic cloves and salt.  Cover with water.  Cook 12-15 minutes, until meat is tender.  If you don’t have a pressure cooker you can boil it in a regular pot, it will just take longer.

In a pan, toast pepitas until golden.  Put them on a plate and set aside.  Next toast the sesame seeds and the three dried chiles (pasa, guaque and arbol),

until sesame seeds are a deep golden brown.

Now that your dry ingredients (pepitas, sesame seeds, dried chiles and toast) are all toasted, grill (or blacken?) the fresh ingredients.  In a pan, on medium heat (without any oil) grill the onion, garlic, tomatoes and red bell pepper.

The tomatoes will start to blacken and soften.  The tomatoes will fall apart, that’s okay! Turn off the heat.  By now, your meat should be fully cooked and tender.  Remove the cilantro and discard.  Now you need to blend together all the ingredients.

We do this in two batches since our blender is pretty small.  Using the liquid from the meat (we used all of it), blend together the toasted pepitas, sesame seeds, 3 chiles, bread, tomatoes, red pepper, garlic and onion (you can also blend in the garlic and onion used to cook the meat).  It will take a while to get smooth, about 2-3 minutes.   While it’s blending add salt to taste.  We actually don’t use salt, we use chicken bouillion. This is pretty common in Guatemalan cooking.

You can probably even find this brand at latin grocery stores. But in all honesty it’s probably healthier to just use salt.

Once you’ve blended all the ingredients together, you’ll get a thick sauce.  Pour the sauce and meat into a pot.

Add carrots and guisquil (chayote) and simmer until almost tender.  Lastly, add green beans (since those cook pretty quickly).  We were out of these so we didn’t add any vegetables, but I think it tastes a million times better with them.  If you’ve never tried guisquil/chayote.  Try it!  It’s delicious!  You can probably find it at any latin grocery store (it’ll probably be labelled as “chayote” since that’s what it’s called in Mexico).

Once the vegetables are cooked, serve over rice and enjoy!