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Thoughtfully Simple
Unchained Kitchen



Second city clambake

The other day I was walking through the New, Ridiculously Gigantic Whole Foods (yes, I've been going there a lot) and did a drive-by of their seafood counter. Mmm...lobster. Clams. Ooh, wouldn't a clambake party be fun??

But, I don't know...a clambake in Chicago seems very out of place. Inappropriate, even. In my mind it's akin to - and I know this is a controversial statement - adding the extra "u" in "honor" on a wedding invitation. Did you suddenly become British? Would you seek out deep dish pizza in LA? Appalachian bluegrass music in Manhattan?

I guess this is my own personal mishigas. Luckily, Chicago Magazine does not share this viewpoint, and their June edition features a lovely Clambake held in - gasp! - Rogers Park. It's hosted by Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh of Food Network's Party Line with the Hearty Boys, who, to my point, ARE FROM THE EAST COAST, but then again they've been Chicago residents for 10+ years...

Photo credit: Tyllie Barbosa for Chicago Magazine

This is all pretty silly, isn't it?  I should probably just "clam up" and host a bake of my own, shouldn't I? [insert groan here]  Be sure to check out the Chicago mag link for more yummy photos and recipes.


Chicago, center of the table

Today's post is a little late because I've been busy working on a centerpiece design for an upcoming event. It needs to embody both "Chicago" and "Achievement", be very cost-concious but look good, PLUS simple enough that my team and I can make 80 in a short amount of time. Here's the draft of what I've got so far:

The final product will be more polished, but this is the general idea.  We've got the Hancock, Sears, Trump, and Aon (or Standard Oil, if you're old-school) buildings painted in silver, accented with glitter, and affixed to a cylinder cut into a generic city skyline. Above the skyline is a billboard bearing a snippet from Daniel Burnham's "Make no little plans" quote. (Burnham was an architect and civil planner who came up with the famous plan that rebuilt Chicago as a bigger, better city after the Great Fire.)

But oh no, I'll bet he didn't count on giant dachshunds!

The Great Fire of 1871 is no match for the Great Dachshunds of 2009.


If you're looking to create a similar piece (sans dogs), check out these mini models from Build Your Own Chicago! Group them together for maximum impact.  These would also make a great favor for out-of-town guests.


Cocktail how-to videos

I just stumbled upon this video and thought I'd share it with you. It's by Grey Goose and features the Poire Pear Cocktail (yes, that translates as "pear pear"....oh well). If you follow the YouTube link, you'll see that Grey Goose has an entire series of how-to videos. Very handy for creating some memorable cocktails at your next event!

By the way, when he says to add sugar, he probably means superfine sugar, which is essentially the same as regular granulated sugar, but ground into small pieces. It dissolves better than regular sugar (so, not totally necessary, but nice to have). If you can't find some at the store, you can make your own by running regular sugar through a coffee grinder until powdery. Be sure to let the sugar settle for a moment before opening the coffee grinder, or you'll have a big cloud of sugar dust in your kitchen!


Reader Mailbag: Dinner Party Menus

Reader Mailbag is a semi-monthly feature where i highlight your entertaining problems and questions.  Got one?  Email me and I'll get to work on it!

Kiira asks:
I usually end up serving some kind of food that someone's allergic to, or just plain hates. Advice?

Oh, I doubt things are as bad as all that!  Still, if someone is coming over for the first time, inquire about any dietary restrictions.  A gracious guest will not impose this on you (unless it's life-threatening), but a gracious hostess will ask.  If they do have a restriction, make a note of it on their record in your Outlook or address book, so you won't have to ask again in the future.

Mild food allergies
If someone is lactose intollerant or gluten-free, that doesn't mean the entire meal has to cater to their needs, but do keep them in mind.  Mr Lactose Intollerant might skip the cheese appetizers but can still nibble on the accompanying fruit.  Miss Gluten Free will no doubt wrap her burger in a big piece of lettuce.  Neither will need a 911 call if their forbidden foods are on the table - just make sure you give them options.

Severe food allergies and religious restrictions
If, on the other hand, one of your guests is deathly allergic to shellfish, it's best to avoid it altogether.  Same thing for those who avoid certain foods due to religious reasons.  It's not nice to tempt your Conservative Jewish friend with a dreamy pork tenderloin roast.  Just leave it off the menu and make something else.

Picky eaters
Head this situation off at the pass.  Give them a clue about the menu in your invitation ("We're having an Indian feast followed by a Bollywood movie!" or "We're digging into Rob's catch from his last fishing trip!") This way, they can politely decline.  If your menu doesn't have an overriding theme, don't use your dinner party as an excuse to "educate" them about foods they've been missing - that's rude.  If you wish to serve something exotic, make it a side dish or sauce that can be easily avoided.

Got an entertaining or party-planning question? Let's hear it! You can leave it in the comments below or email me.


Father's Day inspiration from the blogosphere

First, we have this delightful dessert from Bakerella. LOVE!

Who doesn't love trompe l'oeil food?


Is it bad that I started with dessert? Well, life is uncertain.  Dad can not live on cookies alone, though, so serve this Beer in the Rear Chicken from Bell'alimentovia (via Foodgawker) or Bobby Flay's Garlic Butter Burger on BBQ Nation.


What to give?

If you'd rather buy a gift, check out Extreme Craft's round-up of clever Etsy items for dad - love the wrench cufflinks!

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