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{scene} Sneak peak: "First Look for Charity" gala menu

The Chicago Auto Show's First Look for Charity is one of the city's most prominent galas, donating more than 31 million dollars to local charities since its inception. Held right on the auto show floor, attendees in black-tie get an exclusive "sneak peek" of the Chicago Auto Show, before doors open to the public.

Last week I tooled around town on a menu tour for this spectacular fundraiser, sampling bites from Savor (the new caterer at McCormick Place), Fogo de Chao, Wildfire, David Burke's PRIMEHOUSE. They're among the many restaurants donating their time and talent to First Look. Each establishment will serve 5,000 pieces at 45 food stations, totalling 90 different food items. See the full menu here, and drool over the photos below.

Tickets are $250 each, with a whopping 90% going directly to eighteen local charities. Sounds like a win-win...I'll see you there! (Oh, and don't wear painful shoes. There's quite a bit of walking to do.)

First Look For Charity
February 9, 2012
McCormick Place
Black-tie attire
Buy tickets here


Indie Wed Bridal Expo - 1.28.12

Ten years ago, with a shiny new engagement ring on my finger, I went to one of those bridal expos. There in the bland hotel ballroom my eyes glazed over one dull vendor booth after another. After 20 minutes, I'd seen enough to know it was a one-way ticket to Generic Wedding town, complete with rubber chicken and cheesy DJs.

Lucky for you, 2012 bride, there are other options!

Indie Wed is a bridal expo focusing on small, independent businesses, and also couples with an independent spirit. For some that may mean a full-blown unconventional fete, while others may want to incorporate handmade items from local artisans.

With 100+ of unique & whimsical displays from the Midwest and beyond, brides can actually shop, as the majority of vendors will have wares for sale. Bring your other half and dance to tunes the DJ spins, admire tablescapes created by some of Chicago’s hottest wedding pros, and nibble samples from local caterers. Free interactive workshops and lectures will run all day. In short, it's THE alternative to the traditional bridal expo.

Purchase Tickets and get 20% off using the code SECONDCITY. And be sure to peep their adorable promo video!

Indie Wed 2011 from I Do Films on Vimeo.




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.

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