Planning a Party?

Something fun to share…

I was recently featured in Chicago’s RedEye paper where I shared some tips on entertaining and parties. You can read it through THIS LINK or the entire article below (specifically, in the ‘Make it Interactive’ and Throw an Educational Party’ sections). Before you know it, the holiday partying will be in full swing so keep some of these great tips in mind!

We came to party

Make your bash a hit by shaking things up

By Danielle Braff

For RedEye
Published October 11 2008

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are just around the corner–and means one thing: The party season is nearly upon us.

But if you’ve burned a few too many brain cells while roasting in the sun this summer, we have a few reminders to help you make sure your bash is the best.

First off, even if you’re super-excited to be throwing the first party of the season, don’t go overboard and invite too many people. Everyone knows what it feels like to be packed onto an “L” train, and no one wants to revisit that feeling at a party, says Robyn Bruns, president of Red Letter Event Planning in Chicago.

Keep in mind the square footage of your home and the number of bathrooms before making up your guest list. If you really must invite everyone and his mother, make your party an open house so that your guests will be staggered, Bruns suggested.

And while it may be tempting at the moment to charge people to come to your parties, it’s a major faux pas to ask people to pay up, says Debi Lilly, owner of A Perfect Event, an event planning company in Chicago. “When you’re throwing a party, you are the hostess and you’re inviting guests. So you’d never want to charge people to come to a party,” Lilly said.

Besides, just because you can collect enough money to buy a keg doesn’t mean you have a hot party on your hands. Instead, get creative with your party planning. RedEye collected tips from experienced party planners to help make your bash the talk of the town.

Pick a good theme
Theresa Winters, 27, and her roommate Nora Best, 28, say they are legendary in certain Chicago circles for their elaborate Logan Square house parties. Before each event, Best and Winters figure out a theme that they think will get guests excited.

“One of my best parties ever, which people still talk about, was in 2002,” Winters said. “It was pirates versus dinosaurs. Random? Yes. Hilariously fun to throw? Of course.”

Other themes they’ve tried: “Three’s Company” (’70s-style dress), Roaring Twenties (men wear newsboy caps and women dress as flappers) and White Trash vs. Eurotrash (one guy came dressed in a white garbage bag).

When deciding on a theme, it’s OK to think outside the box.

For instance–sure, summer and its beautiful weather have gone away. But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to sitting inside the house till April.

Libby Langdon, interior designer and commentator for HGTV’s “Small Space, Big Style,” suggests fall picnics–a little cooler, but still a lot of fun. Tell everyone to meet in an apple orchard, pumpkin patch or local park, Langdon said. Bring cider, Frisbees and extra sweaters.

Make sure your guests remember the theme and the party by giving them a party favor they can use and enjoy, said Susan Cordogan, owner of Big City Events Chicago.

Hand out pumpkin-scented candles, Cordogan said. Or, if you’re hosting a bonfire, give guests a fleece blanket they can use at the party and then keep.

Be careful not to make the party too theme-oriented, however. A dress-up theme is always fun, Bruns said. But “paper leaves and tissue pumpkins are for grade school, and not for your chic party,” she said.

There’s a fine line between a fun theme and a cheesy party. So before sending out that Evite, think to yourself: Is this something that would have been good when I was in kindergarten? If so, go back to the drawing board.

Make it interactive
Your guests have probably been to hundreds–if not thousands–of parties where they stand around chugging beers and noshing on chips.

But Joan “Joelen” Tan said her meet-up group, What’s Cookin’ Chicago, always gets booked full whenever she schedules a food swap. Similar to a holiday cookie swap, Tan, an employee benefits consultant who lives in Rogers Park, takes it one step further by swapping throughout the year.

Successful parties have included brownie, cupcake, fudge and candy swaps, Tan said. But she added that there’s no need to stop at food. Friends can share books, purses and accessories they no longer want.

Serve a signature drink
Every year, the folks at North Center eatery Sola offer The Great Pumpkin martini ($10), and it’s a huge hit, said Carol Wallack, Sola’s owner and executive chef.

To copy her recipe, Wallack said you can mix Stoli Vanilla vodka, pumpkin puree, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger and nutmeg for a drink that tastes just like pumpkin pie with a vodka chaser.

If that sounds too complicated, simply serve a pumpkin-flavored ale, which can be found at World Market or at a liquor wholesaler.

Pick the perfect date
Three-day weekends, New Year’s Eve and big holiday weekends may seem like the perfect time to throw a party, but, of course, those also are the dates when everyone already plans penciled into their calendars.

To make sure you get a full house, choose a date when everyone’s sure to be free, said Best and Winters. They throw an annual “Eve of the Eve” party.

“No, it’s not a reference to a Sapphic love affair between her and her two girl roommates, but rather references the fantastic party thrown on the eve of New Year’s Eve,” Winters said. “Picking the day before means everyone can come for the entire night.”

Throw an educational party
Tan said her friends always enjoy themselves when she invites them over for a cooking demonstration. Since it’s really expensive to host a party at a professional cooking class, Tan said she tackles a specific dish with her friends–so they teach each other and learn to cook together in a party setting.

“I purchase the tools and supplies we need so each person has their own prep station,” she said. “After we enjoy all our creations, they get to keep the tools and supplies they used so they can continue making the recipes on their own.”

Play dress-up
Even a party tied to a sporting event can be more extraordinary than ordinary if you put a little effort into it, said Tracey Stewart, who hosts Cubs and Bears parties in her Lakeview home.

“Color schemes to match your favorite team are a must,” said Stewart, who insists that her guests dress as if they’re actually going to a game instead of watching on her TV.

Stewart reminds hosts to keep the bar stocked. Hey, it never hurts to emphasize the basics. Danielle Braff is a RedEye special contributor.

Lights… Camera… Action!

Amazing what following your passion can do! As a result of my Chicago Cookers & Bakers group and this lil ol’ food blog of mine, I’ve been given an awesome tv opportunity. I will be a reoccuring guest speaker for the food & cooking segment of a local Asian news broadcast.
The Asian news broadcast will be on CPRTV (Chicago Philippine Reports TV) and is through VIA TIMES, a monthly publication distributed in the Chicagoland area’s Filipino/Asian American market. Via Times is considered to be one of the largest ethnic publications of its kind in the country with a more managed circulation program in key cities in the U.S., Canada and the Philippines.

The Chicago Philippine Reports TV is Via Times’ sister company in broadcast. Founded in 1990, CPRTV is the oldest surviving Filipino programming and carries a magazine format kind of television show…. interviews, news (international & local), personality features, showbiz, cultural shows, religious, cooking, dancing, singing portions.

Starting Sunday, June 17th, you can find me working with Sarah Lee, the hostess of Celebr-EAT-y Circle. Sarah shares her love of cooking and baking with her audience every week, featuring guest speakers to talk about their connection to all things delicious.

This Sunday, June 17th, I will be joining Sarah to share a summer recipe of Cilantro Turkey Burgers and the versatility of the recipe for meatballs, meatloaf, etc.

Next Sunday, June 24th, I will be joining Sarah and another guest to talk about Riesling wines. I’ll also be promoting my new Wine & Dine Sessions offered through my Chicago Cookers & Bakers group.

So stay tuned and perhaps try catching the show! It will air this Sunday, 6/17 (as it does every Sunday) from 12:00noon to 2:00pm – and the cooking segments at 1pm on:
– UHF Channel 48, WFBT-TV Chicago
– Comcast Cable Channel 248
– RCN Cable Channel 175
– Broadcast Channel 33 in Rockford, IL
– Channel 26.3 Digital (available 7/1/07)

Post-Gazette Now – April 2009

On the Menu: Share the cooking to save money, build relationships
Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tough economic times often inspire creative solutions. As one example, a growing number of people are turning to communal cooking as a way not only to save money, but also to turn what some see as a chore into a social activity.

“It makes so much sense for efficiency and cost, but it also has this incredible intangible benefit of giving you time to hang out with your friend,” said Shannon Henry of Madison, Wis.

In fact, Ms. Henry and her business partner, Alison Bermack of Montclair, N.J., believe so strongly in the tangible and intangible benefits of this lifestyle that in 2006 they started “Cooking With Friends,” an interactive online community that provides information, cooking tips and recipes for like-minded cooks (

“Our concept of cooking with friends started before the economic downturn, but now that people are looking to save money, it makes even more sense,” Ms. Henry said.

While this type of social cooking might once have appealed primarily to the coupon-cutting, play-date juggling set, these days it’s a lifestyle as likely to be embraced by young singles rethinking their ability or desire to eat out at restaurants every night of the week.

Sharing cooking responsibilities with a friend may even have more benefits for those who are cooking for just one or two people. Jennifer Maiser, the San Francisco-based founder and editor of the “Eat Local Challenge” Web site (, thought that cooking with a friend would help cut down on food costs, and she’s sharing her experiences on Serious Eats, the blog and community about all things edible.

Ms. Maiser is not alone in growing frustrated with the wasted food and lack of variety that can result when most recipes are designed to feed groups and you’d rather not eat the same dinner four nights in a row.

Each week she and her friend plan the menu and divvy up shopping responsibilities via e-mail. Because eating local, sustainable foods is extremely important to Ms. Maiser but can take extra effort, she shops for produce and meat while her partner picks up pantry goods. Some dishes, such as cassoulet and lentil soup, they cook completely, while others, such as wheat berry salad, they might prep in individual containers to finish at the last minute. So far it sounds as if they’re eating extremely well, and both are saving money — so far they’ve spent an average of $40 each per week.

Like Ms. Henry and Ms. Bermack, Ms. Maiser emphasizes the social value of the arrangement as well as the financial. “A month into cooking together, we are falling into a happy pattern of preparing meals. There’s a lot less discussion about where to find a measuring cup or which pan to use, and a lot more social catching up and chit-chatting about the week’s events,” she wrote this week.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a close friend who lives in the same building, has the same food requirements and is a good cooking partner. But finding a compatible cook doesn’t have to be an insurmountable burden. The “Cooking With Friends” Web site has resources to help people figure out what they should look for in a possible partner. There’s even a cooking compatibility quiz in the “How-to” section.

But what if you like cooking alone? If cooking with someone else isn’t in the cards, there are other ways to reap the benefits of collective cooking.

Joan Elenita Tan is the organizer of an online food-related meet-up group in Chicago with more than 1,000 members — Activities include a monthly “Brunch and Barter,” a brunch followed by a food swap.

“I started food swaps as a way to have friends get their creative juices flowing,” explained Ms. Tan. “It started out where we would all prepare a specific type of dish, whether it was brownies, cupcakes, breads, soups, etc. It soon evolved into preparing large-batch dishes that we could share.”

The event listing gives detailed instructions to participants from what size Tupperware to use to exactly when to start trading food.

Starting a food swap of your own isn’t complicated either.

“Four to six [people] would be a good start, since a majority of recipes usually make this amount in one batch,” suggested Ms. Tan. “I definitely think it’s a great way to save money and time.”

And who couldn’t use more of those?

China Millman can be reached at 412-263-1198 or Follow China on Twitter at
First published on April 19, 2009 at 12:00 am


Thank you to those that have featured me and my culinary efforts in their blogs and publications. It’s been a pleasure to share my passion!