’Tis the season to organize the invites, stock the bar and get your annual party on. To help alleviate holiday stress, we’ve gathered some of the city’s most noted purveyors of all things party for insider tips and tricks of the trade. From haute hostess treats to holiday classics with a twist, these experts will make yours a shindig to be buzzed about long after the season has passed.
A self-proclaimed culinary prankster, chef David Burke (below) suggests getting guests in on the act. “If I am cooking at home, I try to make it interactive,” says Burke, chef/owner of Primehouse at The James Hotel (616 N. Rush). His latest idea? Using the dishwasher to cook and steam a perfect bread pudding. Guests bring the ingredients, pop it in a tightly covered pan, run it through two cycles and you’ve got a playful, gourmet dessert.
Recipe: Burke’s Dishwasher Bread Pudding
Have guests bring bread, pound cake, cereal, pizza crust and croissants to the table and rip them up into a bowl. Add a quart of cream (or milk), six or seven eggs, vanilla extract, 1½ cups sugar and a dash of Grand Marnier or whiskey. Place into a 9-inch-by-12-inch shallow pan, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the dishwasher. Run through two cycles (approximately two hours). When nearly complete, melt a candy bar in another container and let it serve as the sauce.
“We’ve come a long way from summer sausage and colby cheddar,” says Greg O’Neill (above), co-owner of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine shop and the soon-to-open Bar Pastoral (2947 N. Broadway). “We have a new appreciation for fine cheese and creative house-made charcuterie, plus it’s easy to serve and assemble and can bring pairings to another level with handmade preserves and infused honey,” suggests O’Neill. The sum of the parts offer any party a big bang, so here are his favorite combinations:
Holiday pairing: white
The cheese: Gubbeen from Neal’s Yard Dairy in the British Isles: $28.99 a pound. One of the more nuanced washed rind cheeses, this gem from Ireland exhibits a characteristic smokiness that pairs with the Huff wine. It’s rounded out with a silky texture and a buttery, slightly nutty finish.
The wine: Domaine Huff Riesling Spatlese, 100 percent Riesling (byodynamic). Rheinhessen, Germany: $17.99. Flavors of baked apples and pears finish with bright acidity.
Holiday pairing: red
The cheese: Challerhocker from Kaserei Tufertschwil in Switzerland: $32.99 a pound. An exquisite Appenzeller-inspired cheese. Cellar aged for 10 months, it’s robust and earthy with brown butter undertones.
The wine: Two Mountains Winery Lemberger (82 percent Lemberger, 18 percent Merlot). Rattlesnake Hills, Wash.: $19.99. Medium bodied with radiant red cherry and cracked black pepper. Perfect with roasted meats and sweet potato.
Pastoral offers weekly pairings and tastings every weekend until New Year’s Eve. Visit Pastoralartisan.com.
Rather than get stuck mixing drinks for guests, whip up a bowl of punch. Retro yet not terribly romantic, it’s a preferred method for Chicago’s top mixologists. “As far as house parties go, punch is a win every time, especially during the holiday season,” says Stephen Cole (below), owner/head bartender at Barrelhouse Flat (2624 N. Lincoln). Here, he gives a recipe for a crowd-pleasing punch.
Recipe: The Barrelhouse Flat Mulled Cider
½ gallon Seedlings Farm Cider
4 sticks cinnamon
1 tablespoon cloves
Optional, but the addition of any one of the following will go a long way:
Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
1 tablespoon blade mace (this is literally the peel from nutmeg, similar flavor but without the mess)
½ teaspoon coriander seed
½ tablespoon whole allspice (if you have ground add only 1/4 teaspoon)
2 whole pieces star anise
Maple syrup for a touch of sweetness
Heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Carefully strain the liquid into a crockpot or serving vessel. Add three cups of your favorite rum or whiskey or keep a bottle on the side so the kids can enjoy and adults can spike it.
GIFTS THAT KEEP ON GIVING
Any party expert will advise arriving with a small gift for the host or hostess. So what’s a token that’s sure to get you invited back? “Something that is quirky, memorable or has a personal connection,” says Caroline Scheeler (above), creative director at Jayson Home. “If you’re asked to bring along the cheese course, plate it on a keepsake cutting board. Or give bubbly in a vintage ice bucket.” This season, Jayson Home’s oversized gold wishbone ($48) is a charming way to honor the host and hostess. 1885 N. Clybourn; Jaysonhome.com
From start to finish, music sets the tone for your party. So how do you keep it festive without getting schmaltzy? “I keep holiday tunes nostalgic, but with a surprise artist or fun take on a classic,” says DJ Megan Taylor (below) of Fig Media. Here, she provides a playlist that will keep guests rocking all night long.
Splash Party Playlist by DJ Megan Taylor
“What Christmas Means to Me,”
“Christmas Tree (feat. Space
Cowboy),” Lady Gaga
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” U2
“Please Come Home for Christmas,” Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
“Christmas Lights,” Coldplay
“Merry Christmas Baby,” Stevie
Wonder and Wyclef Jean
“I Cry,” Flo Rida
“Die Young,” Ke$ha
“Take a Walk,” Passion Pit
“Sweet Nothing (feat. Florence Welch),” Calvin Harris
“I Love It (feat. Charli XCX),”
“Diamonds (Eliot Luv Remix),” Rihanna