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Unchained Kitchen



Not Your Typical Wedding Cardbox

One small - yet fairly important - detail that many couples overlook is the cardbox. That little vessel that’s going to hold all of your wedding cards does not have to be a white satin box or white birdcage from the craft store. There are so many unique and fun alternatives that can speak more about you and your fiance’s personalities. I always encourage couples to browse stores like Homegoods, TJMaxx, World Market, Pier One, or even the local Goodwill... because it doesn’t have to be a "box".

This charming cardbox is personalized with your initials and your wedding date. So adorable for a rustic themed wedding. By Braggingbags on Etsy, $79.


How about putting some vintage suitcases to work? You can often find these at secondhand shops.

 photo source


Mailboxes with beautiful detailing can also make an unexpected cardbox. You might find one at an upscale garden decor store OR get creative with an average metal mailbox, some steel wool, and a coat of bronze paint!

photo source


Something I have been seeing more often in stores are faux decorative “books” that are actually storage boxes! How fitting for couples that are avid readers. Available at many craft stores and Sears, $30.25


Another great idea is one that your florist can create by using a large clear vase, surrounded with a lush ring of flowers and a slot where cards can fit through. 

photo source

What kind of cardbox are you using and have you seen any fun alternatives?

Weddings by Charlene Liang
Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Charlene is on Twitter @SweetchicEvents. Read her full bio here.


3 EASY winter squash RECIPES

Winter has a reputation for being short on produce, but even in the coldest climes, you can find an abundance of fresh vegetables from hearty greens like kale and cabbage to pantries overflowing with brightly colored squashes or gourds.

Every year our Community Share Agriculture (CSA) closes out its season with a delivery of a variety of squash: a sugar pumpkin or two for holiday pies, an exotic red kuri, a more familiar butternut , and usually a couple pounds of adorable delicata squash. The delicata are my favorite of the bunch-- easy to peel, cut and clean with sunny colors of yellow and orange with green stripes to remind me of warmer weather.

Choosing Squash

No matter which squash appeals to your tastes, be sure to choose one whose skin is tough and free of cracks or soft spots. The tough skin protects the squash flesh so you can store them without worrying about using them right away. As long as you store your squash in a cool, dark place, you can keep them for up to three months before using.


Preparing Squash

As for preparation, roasting is usually best. With most winter squash, the skin is too tough to eat, except for delicata which you can eat skin on, making for a pretty presentation when served on salad greens. So unless you plan on scooping out the squash flesh to puree, be sure to take the extra step of peeling your squash before cutting and roasting, usually at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until fork tender.


Easy Squash Recipes

Roast squash can be used on salads, tossed with blue cheese or parmesan for a side, or pureed into a soup. In fact, we ate plenty of squash soup in my house to use up a good amount of the squashes we received from our CSA. The trick to keeping it interesting was a variety of garnishes, all made from seasonal ingredients which I am sharing with you here in case you want inspiration for a simple, yet elegant first course for a winter evening party.

  • Curry Apple and Radish: take thin, 1 inch slices of a medium apple (fuji or honeycrisp work well here) and 3-4 pink beauty radishes. Sauté over medium heat in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Season with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp of black pepper plus a dash of cayenne. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of yellow curry powder. Cook until apples and radish are tender, about 6-8 minutes. Place a few spoonfuls of the sauté mix in the center of each bowl of soup and serve with a slice of toasted baguette, smeared with some goat cheese.
  • Pear, Sage, and Pancetta: Dice 3 ounces of pancetta and cook until crisp in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat, about 5-6 minutes. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain and reserve. Pour out fat from pan, leaving 1 tablespoon behind. Add thin, 1 inch slices of a pear (I used Anjou) and 1 tablespoon of thinly sliced fresh sage. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper each then add a couple dashes of ground cinnamon. When pear is tender, after about 5-6 minutes, add back in the pancetta. Add a couple of spoonfuls of this mix to the center of each bowl of soup and sprinkle with additional sage if desired.
  • Chorizo with Lime Scented Sour Cream: Cook 1/2 pound of ground chorizo over medium heat until browned and cook through. While chorizo cooks, mix together 1/2 cup of sour cream with the zest of 1 lime and 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lime juice. Spoon chorizo on top of soup and top with a dollop of sour cream.


Simple + Seasonal Cooking by Christina Wong
Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Christina is on Twitter @cj_wong. Read her full bio here.


Sugar + Spice COCKTAIL plus AmEx Gift Card GIVEAWAY

Just in time for New Year's (and the colder weather that follows), I've concocted this sweet and spicy drink with a wintery kick. Inspired by my friends at Sierra Mist Natural (did you see the two Sierra Mist holiday cocktails featured earlier this month?) this "Sugar and Spice Cocktail" has the bite of bourbon, a spicy dash of bitters, and Sierra Mist's 100%-natural-no-artificial-ingredients bubbles.

The recipe is below, along with a chance to win a nice little mixology set plus an AmEx gift card!

Sugar + Spice Cocktail

You will need:
1 part bourbon
1 part Sierra Mist Natural
3 drops Angostura bitters (or to taste)

Gently stir all ingredients in a rocks glass, either neat or over one large ice cube. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

But of course, cocktails do not make themselves. You need the tools of the trade, such as those found in a Sierra Mist Natural gift pack: a shaker, garnishing sugars, 4 cocktail glasses, and a $50 American Express gift card to buy the bourbon, bitters, and anything else that strikes your fancy. Want to win? Here's how to enter..


Leave a comment below telling me about your favorite cocktail (or mocktail).

For additional entries:
1) Like Sierra Mist on Facebook, and tell them Second City Soiree sent you (but either tag the Second City Soiree FB page, or come back here and tell me you left a comment on Sierra Mist's page, so I can count your vote). You can even share your favorite cocktail on their "Mixology" tab, if the spirit (haha) moves you.
2) Tweet "Winning a @sierramist gift pack from @SecndCitySoiree would be a great way to ring in 2012!  -> http://su.pr/2cY3mr"

Contest closes at 8pm CST, Tuesday, January 3

The contest is now closed. Winners will be announced tomorrow via Twitter and Facebook.

Good luck!

This is a sponsored post, but as always, the opinions are strictly my own.


Silver SPARKLE Tabletop for NEW YEAR'S

Just like trying to get into a hot new club or venturing out for a huge parade, going out on New Year's Eve sounds more fun than it actually is. If you've ever been out on the 31st, you know exactly why it's called "Amateur Night". Bars are packed, restaurants are all full, trains are like sardine cans, and forget about trying to get a cab!

Still, we party-lovers can't resist commemorating the flip of the calendar. How about having a lovely dinner at home, instead? Dress your table in silver and sparkle and ring in the new year without having to shimmy your way through a crowd. This tabletop features the same Mikasa Italian Countryside pattern from my Rough Luxe Thanksgiving and Whimsical Christmas tables. Everything else is from Tablescapes here in Chicago, and is available for rent. Happy New Year!


Five STYLISH gifts for MEN

This selection was curated by Matt Solyst, a writer for my fashion/humor site, You Know You Love Fashion. Matt is an aspiring writer of TV, film and fiction, and you can follow him on Twitter @OldPastureLane.

Tis the season to be gifting, and the gifts of holidays past haunt us around every corner. Finding the perfect holiday gift for your better half seems like the running of the bulls: there will be confusion, chaos, and sometime during it you will say, "Why am I doing this to myself?" Stop running around and take the helpful hand of a handsome Spaniard  – we are here to help. Ole!


Irish Coin Cufflinks
by Erin Gallagher, $150

Jen says: "They also have cufflinks made from old CTA tokens. Now we know where they all went!"


Deja-View Boot
by Kenneth Cole New York, $198

From the Kenneth Cole site: "The simple shape stays cool with an exposed zipper, while the textured sole guarantees you'll always be on firm footing."



Adicolor Airline Bag
by Adidas, currently on sale for $56

Matt says: "I carry a man purse to work, and I’m O.K. with that. Where else am I going to put my iPhone, glasses case, backup contacts lenses, keys, Netflix movie to return, chap stick, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, business card holder, and gum?"



Ginger Twins Tie
by Bird Dog Bay, $75

Jen says: "My husband owns several BDB ties and loves their whimsical patterns. Great quality, too.



Marbled Leather Credit Card Holder
by Jack Spade, $95

From the Jack Spade site: "The Marbled Leather collection is inspired by marble paper lined antique books."

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