Calligraphy Class

Christine-Janda-Calligraphy

When my friend Ashley told me about Dabble - classes in Chicago where you can teach and try new things, I couldn’t wait to sign up. My Calligraphy Class was a perfect first choice to take with Lindsay.

As a Wedding Planner and someone who still writes every note and card in cursive, I couldn’t wait to have a go. From beautiful custom wedding invitations to escort cards, chalk board signs, table numbers and more. Calligraphy can be a true work of art.

Meg’s class was a great beginner’s class. She provided guidelines, visual instructions on how to correctly hold and angle your pen and numerous tips and tricks for tricker curvy letters (think lowercase a’s and g’s). By the end of the class I could write my name in formal italic lowercase.

I would recommend this class to anyone interested in calligraphy (I have already had 2 friends sign up!). Although I will be leaving the addressing of wedding invitations to the professionals, I can’t wait to practice and create a few pieces of my own.

Menu Planning: Ladies Fall Brunch

Fall-Activities-Chicago

Fall (or perhaps winter in Chicago) has officially arrived. Leaves are changing, my fave boots have been busted out and pumpkin spice everything has been consumed.

I can’t wait for our annual Girls Fall Day tomorrow. The party planner in me has everything planned, purchased and set. Here’s what’s on the menu:

*Pumpkin bread muffins
*Apple spiced monkey bread (my recipe to come!)
*Fall Harvest Salad
*Pepper and Parmesan Quiche & Bacon and Cheddar (both gluten-free. My secret? Hash browns. Recipe to follow!)

And for the cocktails, clearly everyones favorite part:

*Mimosa bar with orange, blueberry pomegranate and cranberry juice
*Bloody Mary bar, with all the fixins
*Pumpkin spice coffee with Starbucks liqueur and Baileys

And then my all time fall favorite! Spiced Cider with whiskey, packed up in thermoses for our trip to Lincoln Park Zoo.

Recipes and fun pictures to come! So happy to be throwing a party for my loved ones, my girls, this weekend.

Fall To-Do List

Girls Pumpkin Picking

Ah, fall. Always my favorite time of year.

From fashion (bust out the booties!) to food (pumpkin everything) to parties (Halloween and my birthday), fall in Chicago is THE best.

Last year my girls and I planned the perfect fall day filled with pumpkin picking, fall crafting (I couldn’t resist) and an amazing Halloween-inspired dinner created by Claire and Colleen. God I love these girls…

To me, fall has officially arrived come October 1st which has inspired me to pull together the below to-do list.

  1. Bake pumpkin bread. 
  2. Host a BYO dip+drink pairing party for friends on football Sunday.
  3. Create, photograph and share new Halloween kid’s crafts from my client’s parties.
  4. Master 3 soups from scratch.
  5. Carve pumpkins with Jeremy.
  6. Attend yoga class once a week.
  7. Make Cooking Light Magazine’s Butternut Squash au Gratin + 3 other recipes torn from magazines.
  8. Have a glamour shoot with my talented bestie Brittany Bekas
  9. Create, photograph and share one new fall cocktail.
  10. Top last year’s fall day with my girls.

Cheers to you and your own fall to-dos!

Wine Styles – Lakeview’s Wine Shop

Yesterday Lindsay  and I decided to treat ourselves to a sushi date after an incredibly productive client-filled day. While on our to way to Ukai we stopped into Wine Styles, the adorable Wine Shop on Belmont. Not only did we learn this little gem featured incredible vino at amazing prices, but they also have wine tastings every Thursday.

Every. Thursday!

After starting with Prosecco, my favorite, we received a tour by Nick, Wine Style’s buyer. He explained they display their wine by taste, not type, giving every novice wine lover a little more context when it comes to food pairing. Bubbles. Mellow, Crisp. “If you Insist” for those special occasions and more. Why aren’t all vino displays organized as so? Who doesn’t love a little education as they peruse for their bottle of choice.

We were hooked, so naturally we eagerly signed up for their monthly wine club. For just $35 per month you receive one red and white. Come pick up your bottles at Wine Styles the second Thursday of every month and enjoy their tasting party featuring that month’s wine, food pairings and recipes. Sip and enjoy with other Chicago wine lovers.

So excited, I’m starting this long holiday weekend off right. Wine Club, Date Night with the boyfriend on Saturday  and then BBQ fun with my girls on Sunday.

Happy Memorial Day!

 

Baked Mahi Mahi with (soy) Chorizo Confetti

baked mahi mahi with soy chorizo confetti

When meeting with one of my favorite Clients 2 weeks, we got to talking about her Pescatarian lifestyle. I was intrigued and after reading numerous articles, learning all of the health benefits, I decided I would try it for 1-month. It’s been 2 weeks and I can honestly say it has been a breeze. As someone who loves seafood and was raised on tofu, protein packed meals haven’t been a challenge. (Of course, with proper meal planning)

Meat lovers, not to fret. I’m a lover of food and like I said, I would try it for 1-month.

This past Sunday was a beautiful one in Chicago which I spent in the park, reading my favorite cooking magazine Cooking Light. The April issue featured 40 meals under 40 including one for Pan-Grilled Chicken with Chorizo Confetti. My revised baked Mahi Mahi version is served with soy chorizo.

Entertaining Tip: Baked is always better than pan searing, grilling, frying etc. when entertaining. Not only is it a healthy alternative but less time in the kitchen means more time with your guests.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Soy Chorizo. Gross. I had my girlfriend Frankie over for dinner and only told her it was soy AFTER her first bite. The Trader Joe’s stuff is seriously to die for. For my version of chorizo confetti I also omitted the carrots and instead added more fresh peppers. Vegetable stock completes this Pescatarian meal.

Protein Packed Breakfast – Frittatas and Triple Berry Muffins

I loved granola and the occasional Corn Pops cereal as a kid (there was no over the top sugary cereal in my mother’s healthy household!). Give me a bowl of cinnamon toast crunch for a snack today and I’m one happy camper. However, as an event planning adult who’s on her feet bouncing all over the city, I need major protein in the morning! My smoothies will always be a favorite. Another favorite of mine?

My spinach, goat cheese and bacon frittatas and amped Trader Joe’s triple berry bran muffins.

My spinach, goat cheese and bacon  frittatas have made it to my girlfriend’s bachelorette party, at the office for a team breakfast and for a mother’s day brunch for my mom and godmother. All rave reviews! Incredibly simple and also make a delicious dinner paired with an herbaceous side salad. And if 12 feel like a lot to have on hand cut the recipe in half. Eat two for dinner and save the remaining four for breakfast with you and your man. These are always a crowd pleaser – he’ll thank you.

(serves 6)

Ingredients:

  • 12 eggs
  • 2-3 oz herb goat cheese (I love Trader Joe’s Silver Goat Chevre, Garlic & Herb)
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-6oz package of spinach (when it comes to leafy greens go organic)
  • 6-slices of low sodium turkey bacon (can easily omit for a meatless meal)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Cooking Spray

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray your muffin tin with cooking spray so your frittatas won’t stick (no cupcake liners! I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, try this) In a large bowl scramble your 12 eggs. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan sauté your onion with 1 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, cooking until soft for about 5-6 minutes. Next add your spinach until entire bag is wilted down, 3-4 minutes.

While onions and spinach are cooking, fry up your bacon OR pop in your 375 degree oven. This is my favorite way to cook bacon – no grease flying and couldn’t be easier! Turkey bacon is much thinner than regular bacon so keep an eye on it – you may need to flip 4-5 minutes in. It’ll take no longer than 10 minutes to cook your bacon. Once bacon is cooked, slice into thin strips.

Evenly distribute your spinach and onion mixture into the 12 muffin tins. Next divvy up your egg and top with a few crumbles of goat cheese and bacon. Pop into the oven for 8-10 minutes. Simple and delicious. Enjoy!

The perfect side, staying with the muffin theme, is a protein packed muffin. I often make these Sunday night to have for breakfast throughout the week. They are also a great protein-packed snack! Trader Joe’s provides you with all the goods however I add the following to really amp up the flavor and protein.

  • 3/4 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup flax seeds

Follow the TJ instructions on the box and make sure to store in an air-tight container.

What are your favorite protein-packed breakfasts? I’m always looking for new recipes so please share!

 

Planning a Girls Night – Fall Edition

My high school bestie got married this past April which meant I, the MOH, got to plan a fabulous bachelorette party in honor of our Rachel. In spirit of Rachel’s love for wine tasting (or really anything involving vino!) and need to get away for some R&R, I planned a girls weekend getaway in Saugatauk, Michigan. It was THE perfect girls trip. One we’ll never forget. After leaving our beautiful house, which I rented on my favorite vacation site vrbo.com, we all vowed to get away to Michigan again come winter.

This got me thinking…why wait until a special occasion to celebrate all of your girlfriends? Yes, we’re all busy with a million and one things to do. However, it is so very important to set dates with your girls where you can truly talk, catch up, and celebrate the amazing friendships that you just couldn’t live without. There will always be dinners, bars and dancing (still great fun!) however I urge you to take the time to plan something special.

Something you can do year after year. This will give everyone something to not only look forward to but most importantly get you in the habit of making these occasions an extra reason to get together.

This past summer a coworker of mine went sailing for a girlfriend’s birthday. Once I heard this I instantly thought this could be the perfect summer girls night! I instantly sent a note to my girlfriends where 6 of us raised our hands to set sail one Wednesday evening for a night of sailing, girl talk and vino; all while watching the Chicago sunset followed by beautiful Navy Pier Fireworks.  From Frankie dressing extremely “nautical” (still love those metallic Sperry’s) to Britt capturing every moment in the making (yes, I’m lucky enough to have a best friend who’s also a photographer!). Below are a few of my favorites. I can’t recommend Go Sailing enough – the staff is beyond helpful with the boat coming equipped with everything you can imagine. From a planning perspective it couldn’t have been easier! Each girl brought a different appetizer to share, as well as a bottle of wine.

Ladies, this will forever be a night to remember. xoxo

Photography: Brittany Bekas Photography

Eggplant Parmesan Stacks

Eggplant-Parmesan-Stack

You’ll hear me say this time and time again; a stroll through the Daley Plaza Farmer’s Market is THE best lunch break you can take. Fresh produce, gorgeous flowers and decadent baked breads and sweets. A break in my work day and inspiration for a healthy dinner. I just love this farmer’s market! This past Thursday I discovered beautiful white (who knew?!) and purple eggplants at the Nichols Farm & Orchard stand where in the mix I spotted the below gorgeous hybrid. You really do eat with your eyes first so I knew I just had to create something delicious with this. It was too pretty to leave behind!

In spirit of Meatless Mondays I created the below Eggplant Parmesan Stacks. With a more entertaining-friendly presentation this stack not only showed off the gorgeous vegetable but was much healthier than the heavy classic. I served it with brown rice pasta with a tomato goat cheese sauce.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your stacks with a side of pasta:

 (serves 2-3)

  • 1 small to medium eggplant
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup panko
  • 2 tsp dried Italian seasonings
  • 2 servings brown rice (or whole wheat) spagetti pasta
  • 1 tbsp goat cheese
  • 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups of your favorite jarred marinara
  • drizzle of olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Slice your eggplant into 1/2″ slices.

Setup your dredging station. Mix grated parmesan cheese, panko and Italian seasonings in a low dish or medium plate. Scramble egg in a low dish (pie pan works great).

Dip both sides of the eggplant in your egg wash, next panko mixture and then place in a pyrex or other glass baking dish. Cover dish with foil and pop into the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven,spread one spoonful of marinara sauce on each slice of eggplant (this will allow the panko to crisp up before placing sauce on eggplant). Cover back up with foil for remaining 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven one last time and sprinkle grated parmesan over each eggplant slice leaving 1 tbsp for your finished stacks; you’ll be surprised how a little bit of cheese goes a long way here. Return to oven set on broiler  to brown up your cheese for 1-2 minutes. Keep your eyes on the oven, this goes quick!

15 minutes into bake time boil your salted water for the pasta. Cook pasta to al dente, drain and return to pot. Drizzle with a little olive oil and add remaining 1 cup of marinara sauce and 1 tbsp of goat cheese. Melt cheese into pasta and serve hot with eggplant stacks.

To create your eggplant stacks place 3 pieces per stack, starting with the largest on the bottom working your way to the top. Top fresh pasta and eggplant with remaining grated parmesan and enjoy! In spirit of my fav. show Master Chef  I sliced the eggplant so you can all get a look inside (Jeremy, I knew you’d love this picture!).

Some tips that can save you time, calories and money by making your own Italian dishes:

  • High Quality Cheese – a little goes a long way. The reason only a small amount of cheese is needed for this dish is due to the freshly grated, high quality parmesan cheese. This strong, decadent tasting cheese adds flavor without all the calories of loaded mozzarella.
  • Dress up jarred marinara. A huge time saver for weekday meals! Love creamy (naughty) sauces? Add a small spoonful of flavorful goat or cream cheese plus herbs for a fraction of the calories of heavy cream sauce. Want more veggies? Toss fresh spinach into the sauce plus some garlic powder for extra punch. The opportunities are endless here.

 

 

Engagement Party & Shower Gifts + DIY Signature Frame

First up in celebratory wedding festivites is the engagement party followed by the bridal shower.

For the engagement go for something simple and sweet. Sure, a nice bottle of vino does the trick but what else could you give? Are you a MOH or bridesmaid? A years subscription, pending how long the engagement of course, is a great gift that keeps on giving every month. The Knot is a favorite of mine (and many!) with Brides being another great option. Is your bride the “type A” kind of girl? A planner/organizer makes a great gift, as well as tickets to a bridal expo in your area for inspiration. Is there something the couple loves to do together? For my friends Mike and Molly I knew a cheese 101 coffee table book with classic cheese dome was a perfect gift fitting Molly’s classic entertaining style and Mike’s culinary school background. Endless options here!

Now it’s time to shower the couple. Registries help guide gift giving but again, a little planning and creativity can turn a gift of bath towels to a gift of relaxation heaven. Add bubble bath + bride and groom rubber duckies + aromatherapy candles and your towels  have become a romantic bubble bath.

Tip: Create a signature shower gift that any friend would love. One that’s very you! For me, my friends know cooking is a passion of mine. One that I love to share. My now go-to gift takes the wok on almost any registry + other Asian staples and viola! You have Chinese takeout at home for any day of the week.

Other great gift basket ideas? Salad kit (salad spinner + salad bowl and tongs + salad dressing shaker) Pizza night (pizza stone + seasonings/dry ingredients + cutter + grater) Wine night (wine glasses + wine club subscription) and Cake Kit (Cake stand + Icing kit + sprinkle/decor).

My girlfriend Rachel had two showers so I also wanted to make her something she could cherish and hang in her house for years and years to come. I love the keepsake signature frames for those attending your rehearsal dinner to sign. All frames that I found were $50+ and were nothing special. Pretty plain and boring. Here’s how to make a DIY signature frame which allows you to not only customize your frame, mat color and message but also helps save a little cash too. A win-win!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Photo Mat Board (Tip: Michael’s sells signature mat boards which provide ample space for love notes to the couple)
  • 8×10 photo of the couple
  • Mod Podge and paint brush
  • Scrapbook paper to create your “i do”
  • “i do” print out to create your stencil (Tip: Michael’s sells pre-cut letters in select cardstock paper. My bride to be loves sparkles so I created my own however check these pre-cut letters first for an even easier frame)

And what to do:

Print out “i do” in the font and size of your choice. Trace and cut letters out, placing in the center of your frame. Glue with mod podge paint for a clear, glossy finish with paint brush. Wait until completely dry and write your love wish to the happy couple. Place in frame, wrap with permanent sharpie for guests to use at rehearsal dinner.

This is always a favorite gift and another way for the couple to display their gorgeous engagement pictures. I promise, the couple will love it!

 

 

(no)Takeout Tuesday – Mexican Pizza with Corn Salsa

One lazy Saturday night the boyfriend and I found ourselves craving Mexican yet didn’t want to venture out to Zocalo, one of our favorite Mexican tequila bars. We were feeling some cervezas yet wanted to enjoy and relax from the comfort of our couch (aren’t those nights the best sometimes?!). So naturally I turned to my Latino Flavors Pinterest board for inspiration – ladies, it’s great to Pin/Re-pin however if you never make or do, what’s the point?!

I found this recipe which inspired my own version adapted below, adding lean ground beef. Look how incredible it turned out! Believe me, it tasted even better. I had a few ears of corn on hand (it’s summer, please enjoy while you can!) which led to the below cilantro lime corn salsa. This stuff was not only great with tortilla chips but went deliciously well with the pizza.

MEXICAN PIZZA (serves 2-3)

Ingredients (adapted from honeywhatscooking.com)

  • Corn Tortillas – 4 tortillas (2 tortillas per pizza. Corn is much healthier than flour and adds a crunch)
  • Spray Canola oil
  • Refried beans – 1/4 cup per pizza
  • 90% lean ground beef – 1/2 lb
  • Taco seasoning – 1 tsp
  • Scallions – 1 bunch (chopped)
  • Jalapeno – 1/2 a jalapeno (deseeded & finely chopped)
  • Tomato – 1 (chopped)
  • Salsa
  • Mexican Cheese Blend – enough to cover the pizza
  • Sour Cream Reduced Fat – 1 dollop per pizza (optional)
  • Hot sauce (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees for tortillas and pizza. Cook ground beef, drain fat. Add taco seasoning and cook according to seasoning instructions. As beef simmers spray tortillas with canola spray and cook in 400 degree oven just until crisp. Spread refried beans on each tortilla, topping with 1 spoon of salsa spreading over entire tortilla. Once beef is cooked spoon even amounts on all four tortillas.

Top each tortilla with the chopped tomato and scallions, finishing with cheese. Cook two tortillas per baking sheet in oven for 5-10 minutes to heat through. Remove from oven and stack tortillas creating two pizzas made of two tortillas each. Finish in broiler for 1-2 minutes to brown cheese.

Top with a dollop of sour cream and hot sauce – and the below corn salsa.

CORN SALSA (serves 2-3)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of corn kernels (if you don’t have fresh corn thawed frozen kernels would work too. If you have time to grill the corn, even better!)
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

After everything is chopped simply combine. Fresh salsa couldn’t be easier! Make ahead for a party and play with the amounts of cumin and chili powder, pending how smoky or spicy you like your salsa.

These recipes were a total success and deserved a few of these to celebrate. I urge you to whip one up any day of the week – they are a cinch to make and I promise your Mexican craving will be fixed. Delicioso!