Dear Foodies,

I simply adore this time of year. It’s a time for sharing, serving, and admiring all those twinkling bright lights and cool (74 degrees) weather. Oh, yes … and all those cozy restaurants and cafes that offer homemade comfort food and beverages.

This article in particular is dedicated to all of those self proclaimed foodies who have an interest in art de la cuisine.

Did you know that … BREADSMITH Bakery, 956-994-1294, has the best “Brioche” ($6.35 a loaf) ever! Bread is almost synonymous with food and, by extension, life. Their Brioche is delicate, light and utterly buttery. I must say it’s delicious on its own, toasted or with loads of jam. Make some fancy French toast with this bread and your holiday brunch will be a hit!

For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept … (A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas).

J’aime Les Livres (I love books) located at 1219 N. Main Street is my new favorite little book store that has all those new and vintage cookbooks and foodie diaries I like to collect (Craig Claiborne, James Beard, etc.). This charming petite maison has hardwood floors and cozy chairs to relax and read. There’s a wonderful selection of fairly used books ($1 - $5), magazines, specialty items and treats available. I wish Marty nothing but the best! Excellent place for a “Book Club” meeting.

Capellini Ristorante, 956-683- 7999, converted my husband and I into lamb lovers! The traditional “Stacci” we fell in love with ($18.00) is made with chestnut flour pasta (cut into irregular pieces) made from scratch. The zesty lamb (milk fed) ragu sauce poured over this pasta will make you say “Magnifico” after each bite. Andrea Rodriguez, director of sales from the Embassy Suites, can attest to that! Chef Antonio creates some of the most soul-satisfying Italian dishes around. $$ Music plus Happy Hour equals fun! F.Y.I. The apple strudel a la mode is heavenly.

Paris House Cakes, 956-668-7070, made me bake, decorate and celebrate with the “McAllen Child Study Club” ladies. It was nice to get together (chit chat) and learn how to make the perfect apple pie and eat it afterwards. This tre francaise (black and pink with chandeliers) bakery makes haute and dreamy couture cakes for all occasions. They take the cake (and cupcake)! Visit: — you’ll see what I mean.

Pena’s Catering, 956-605-5975, had me savoring every smoky tender bite of their succulent brisket at “Rodriguez Fiesta.” Ya’ll, I’ve lived in Texas long enough to know my barbecue, but this brisket (Robert has won many awards in the Rio Grande Valley) and tangy sauce is hands down the best I’ve ever had. Cecilio and Mari Rodriguez recently hosted their annual Christmas Party and went all out! The Holy Spirit Church Choir and Musicians were jamming out, the food was fantastic, and there was plenty of family and friends (200 people who love them to death). Cecilio also won this year’s “Christmas Light Contest” (third time) sponsored by Keep McAllen Beautiful. The papier mache (composite material) Nativity Scene is amazing and was made with love and devotion. It will be displayed until the 7th of January. Location: 1409 Zinnia Avenue.

Alhambra Restaurant and Bar, 956-994-9754, took me on a culinary journey (review will come out in January) thanks to all of their intriguing dishes. Super-Chef James Canter has the ability to address all the senses. And … yes, I finally had the feast of all feasts thanks to owner Juan Carlos Zapata (charming /brilliant) his marvelous staff and, of course, Chef James Canter. I must say the “Moroccan Chicken Tagine” ($24.00) served with pearl cous cous (wheat semolina), dried fruits, preserved lemon, harissa (red chili paste), sumac spice, and merguez sausage (lamb) was out of this world. The ingredients are slowly cooked in broth to fully release the flavors inside the clay vessel. Chef Canter’s dishes are clear, pure and fresh because he uses local organic products. Their Saturday Farmers Market (10 a.m. to noon is free to the public) allows you to meet the people who grow, produce, cook and sell these fine foods.

A.J. Liebling with the New Yorker wrote: “The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite.”

Savor life and food,

Madame Gourmand