Make Your Child’s First Birthday Party a Blast for All

Make Your Child’s First Birthday Party a Blast for All

You’re nearing the first anniversary of your baby’s birth, and it’s time to pause and reflect on the past year. If this is your first child, life has surely done a complete 180 from before you were pregnant. If it’s not your first child, things are still likely much different since adding another member to your family. Let’s celebrate the joy your little one has added to your life by throwing their first birthday party!

A first birthday party is significant not only for your child, but for your friends and family, too. You want to be able to show your child pictures and mementos of their first birthday in a few years, but you want it to be a fun experience for everyone at the actual party—whether they’re kids or adults.

Here are my favorite ideas for a fabulous first birthday party:

  • Smash cake: Make a cake expressly for your one-year-old to have a blast smashing, squeezing and digging her hands into.  The smash cake concept can also be applied to any food you think your baby would enjoy. What about tacos? Pancakes?
  • ...and a regular cake: Whether it’s cupcakes, cake pops or a cake in the shape of the number one, make sure there’s a treat for everyone else to enjoy after your little one has had fun smashing the other cake!
  • Time capsule: Ask guests to write well-wishes, advice or sweet notes to the birthday boy or girl and place them all in a box. Give the box to your child several years later as another birthday gift.
  • Photo calendar: Place one photo from each month of baby’s life on a display board so guests can see how much he’s grown over the past year.
  • Miniature menu: It’s likely there will be other kids running around at your child’s first birthday party, so make the food options easy on everyone (and on your cleanup time). Finger sandwiches cut into fun shapes, mini sliders, or snacks portioned into pretty paper cups allow kids the freedom to play while getting food into their bellies.
  • Simple games: Give the kids something to do by setting up a ball or ring toss, a pinata or fishing pond in a kiddie pool. Team up the older kids with the very little ones!

Our boutique catering services can offer even more cute and creative ideas for your child’s first birthday party. Get in touch and let’s plan the celebration together!

How to Throw a Graduation Party with Food, Fun and Family

How to Throw a Graduation Party with Food, Fun and Family

Whether you have a high school or college graduate, now is the time to start planning that well-deserved party. If you’re freaking out about making the day extra special, just breathe! All you really need to pull off a memorable graduation party is some good food, fun outdoor games and family and friends to celebrate with.

When people ask me how to throw a graduation party, my best advice is to keep it simple and personalized, maintaining all the focus on your graduate.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Food: What’s your grad’s favorite food? When I had a graduation party years back, my husband Greg ordered buffalo wings straight from Buffalo, NY as a big surprise for my party. He knew how much I loved buffalo wings, so it made for a real personal touch. I was SO excited, and it made the day memorable for me and all our guests.

Think about what your grad loves most and build a food table based around his or her favorites. And don’t forget the cake! Search Pinterest for some amazing graduation cake ideas.

Fun: Outdoor games can be a fantastic way to keep all your guests happy throughout the day and night. My kids and I played Bottle Bash in Florida a few weeks ago, and people of all ages joined in and played with us. It was hours of fun! There’s also backyard Twister, which never goes out of style. Click here for a quick tutorial on how to turn your backyard into Twister central.

Family: Good friends and family are all you really need to create a party vibe. Make sure you capture the good times by taking lots of pics. An outdoor photo booth with props will keep your memories alive for decades.

Favors: You don’t need to go all out, but a few little extras can elevate the event. Cap the night off with some fun sparklers and a festive favor to commemorate the big day. Simple indulgences like candy and cookies go a long way!

For more guidance on how to throw a graduation party, check out and follow my favorite ideas and inspirations on my Graduation Pinterest board.

Give Your Corporate Events a Much-Needed Makeover

Give Your Corporate Events a Much-Needed Makeover

Corporate events are always so…drab!

A vanilla sheet cake, black coffee and wilting fruit platter doesn’t really say much about your brand, culture or values.

While the office isn’t an ideal venue for an elevated affair, a board meeting or new business presentation is the time to impress! Whether you’re thanking your employees, schmoozing a potential client or hosting a town hall meeting, the execution is a reflection of your business.

Do it right, and it’ll pay off in dividends.

The scale of your event will dictate the budget. But no matter how big or small, the success lies in the details…

Brighten the room. If your conference room consists of a large table with a bunch of chairs, add pops of color for a livelier look. Fresh flowers are always nice, but long vases can block conversation. Instead, opt for short-stemmed bouquets that match your brand’s color palette.

Reinvent snack time: Don’t want your guests drifting off during the meeting? Keep them alert with plenty of snacks. Customized M&Ms with your logo can be presented individually for a personal touch. I also love homemade energy bars wrapped in parchment paper (for a rustic look), mini smoothie shooters and exotic fruit bowls. For an upscale event, trade snacks for canapés.

Elevate the menu: Keep the food simple yet elegant with assorted finger sandwiches, Sicilian sliders and mini quiche. Or, take it to the next level with a full buffet spread featuring beef tenderloin, whipped potatoes and roasted asparagus with bacon blue cheese. If appropriate, a glass of bubbly is the perfect pairing for any meal.

Add indulgence: Take a nod from French cuisine with a sophisticated dessert presentation. Colorful macaroons, chocolate éclairs and mille-feuille (aka Napoleons) will give everyone an opportunity to sample a few sweet treats—or box them up for the ride home. If your company is known for their ice cream socials, make it memorable with premium gelato and toppings like salted caramels, chopped truffles and toasted coconut flakes.

Now, this sounds like a party!

Are you in charge of planning corporate events? Let’s talk. Contact me here or call me directly (925.683.4523) and we’ll design an event that matches your company’s style.

Modern Upgrades to Any Classic Party Menu

Modern Upgrades to Any Classic Party Menu

Have you ever resorted to Costco’s pre-assembled party platters as an easy solution to feeding the masses?

Cheese, crackers, ham—something for everyone, right?

This may be a quick answer to feeding a lot of people, but it is less than impressive. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to swap the old veggie platter for something more memorable.

Let’s start with the typical options like pizza or Mexican food, then give them a much-needed makeover. Here are some modern upgrades to classic party menus you and your guests will love.

  • Gourmet pizza party: This one is perfect for Italian food lovers. Pass around trays of prosciutto rolls, crostini with fontina and mushrooms, or tiny calzones, and be sure to take a peek at our sample menu for more ideas. It’s much more grown-up than ordering Domino’s!

  • Mini burgers & beers: Let’s rethink burgers and beer for a moment. They’re not just an inexpensive indulgence. With a little creativity, you can dress up the pair as fun and light party fare. Create a platter of mini sliders and matching microbrews and skip the heavy food coma.

  • Tiny tacos & tequila: If you sense your guests would prefer a fiesta with Mexican food, why not convert the beer & burger idea into tacos & tequila? Serve the margarita shooters with a little lime and salt, and use wonton cups as the taco shells.

  • Cigar & champagne bar: Nothing calls to mind the spirit of a New York soiree like a cigar and champagne bar. Fill mini champagne flutes with your favorite bubbly and offer a variety of cigars for your guests to try. The combination will instantly turn your party into a swanky, adults-only event.

Your party menu should harmonize with the rest of the decor and party theme. Forget the pre-made party platters and give your guests an experience they’ll be talking about for years. We’ve crafted dozens of modernized dishes as part of our Boutique Catering Services, so get in touch to upgrade your next party menu.

The Best Wedding & Party Venues in Chicago

The Best Wedding & Party Venues in Chicago

Chicago wedding venues are a dime a dozen, and it’s easy to get discouraged when making the decision to book one in such a major city.

Perhaps you’ve checked out venues that didn’t quite match your expectations from the photos, or there were too many options to make the perfect choice.

Booking a wedding venue is a huge decision, and you certainly wouldn’t want to put down a deposit and then later realize you’ve made a mistake!

If you’re looking for a simple yet elegant wedding venue, don’t worry—I’ve done the research for you. I’ve also got you covered if you’re looking to host a girls’ night out with your bridemaids or a simple engagement party with family.

I’ve visited so many Chicago venues with my boutique catering services. The venues that stands out in my memory are those that treat their guests like friends and have an elevated sense of style. They’re classy, personable and easy to work with. They’re smart, chic and no-fuss.  

Here are my two favorite Chicago wedding venues (for the big day and beyond):

share

Finding the perfect place to host a fabulous wedding shower or post-rehearsal gathering can be more difficult than finding the wedding venue itself. There are so many parties to plan, it can be overwhelming to locate the newest hotspot.

share earns my stamp of approval largely because of the owner, Karen O’Sullivan. Karen takes a “simple with a twist" approach to home design and fashion, and it shows in the space she’s created. Her passion for exploration, new trends and bringing people together make share a breath of fresh air in the Chicago events scene. I personally recommend it and can’t sing its praises loudly enough.

Firehouse Chicago

This old firehouse still boasts the high ceilings, white glazed brick and horse stables from its original design in the early 20th century. It’s been beautifully renovated to preserve the antique features and includes vintage decor pieces that echo old-time Chicago. There’s a bit of farmhouse feel to it as well.

I love this venue for its no-fuss style, and you can choose to dress it up or down to best fit the tone of your wedding. It’s a one-of-a-kind place I’m always excited to visit.

Our boutique catering services are available for weddings and parties at share, Firehouse Chicago and other venues in the Chicago area. Contact us to design your own simple yet elegant wedding.

7 Stylish Party Favors (Your Guests Will Actually Use)

7 Stylish Party Favors (Your Guests Will Actually Use)

How many times have you come home from a wedding with a cute party favor in hand, only to guiltily donate it to a thrift store or toss it in a random drawer a few weeks later? If your wedding is up next, you may fear your guests will discard your party favors as quickly as you discarded theirs.

Useful party favors are a rare find at most weddings, but guests always appreciate a practical gift (after all, didn’t they consult your registry and get you a gift you’d actually use?). Food and drink are always winning choices because guests can’t wait to try whatever you’ve given them. And the favors come in small enough quantities that you can almost guarantee they’ll get used soon after the big day.

Forget the monogrammed candles and bubbles. Here are a few stylish party favors your friends and family will love, keep and use:

Mini bottles of wine: Add your name and wedding date to each bottle with customized labels like these.

Photos of your guests at the wedding: These can be taken by a professional photographer or in a photo booth. Let your guests remember the special day—and that gorgeous updo or new red dress—with a photo to take home.

Chocolate truffles: Everyone loves a sweet treat, but traditional Jordan almonds are not very gourmet. Godiva sells this beautiful truffle duo wrapped in a gold box for an elegant presentation of chocolate your guests will quickly devour. You can even include a personalized ribbon around the box.

Mini truffle oil bottles: Truffle oil provides a heavenly finishing touch to many savory dishes. Whether or not your guests are chefs, they’ll appreciate having a small bottle of this to try at home.

Gourmet coffee beans: If your party is small, swap place cards for engraved mugs or demitasses with small bags of coffee inside. Etsy has several cute examples like these for inspiration. Your guests will love having their names on the party favor—and something to consume inside!

Small container of local honey: This one is perfect for the outdoor farm-to-table wedding. You could also look for a variety infused with something special like lavender or orange.

Cake boxes: Many wedding attendees are too busy dancing to think about dessert once it’s time for cake. An elegant box such as this one lets them take their dessert home to enjoy later. And if they don’t need the box for cake, they can fill it with other mementos from the party or their personal belongings.

Your guests will leave your wedding with one of these stylish and useful party favors tucked under their arm, not left on the table. Ask about our boutique catering services for more ways to make your wedding elegant, easy and a memorable experience for all.

You’re Engaged: Let’s Grab a Cocktail!

You’re Engaged: Let’s Grab a Cocktail!

You’ve just gotten engaged and announced the big news to your family and friends.

Now what?

Some brides start dreaming about their wedding day when they’re little girls.
Some don’t think about it until the day after they get engaged. Either way, it’s time!

Most likely you’ve already had to field questions from your mother about the wedding venue you haven’t yet picked, or from your best friend about the bridesmaids’ dresses you haven’t yet found. And everyone has an opinion.

This is supposed to be the most romantic time in your life. Let’s keep it that way with a few tips. Let’s grab a cocktail and get organized!

One of my favorite things to do is help couples design and organize their wedding vision. I help people create a whole wedding experience, including the wine, food, themes, textures, lighting and ambience. 

Some of the best weddings I’ve helped organize have been those that shine with simple yet sophisticated touches. What about holding your wedding at a unique venue like a theater or aquarium? What about a fire pit with mini hors d’oeuvres and matching mini-cocktails? Or take a nod from the bride’s dress and incorporate it into the centerpieces at each table.

Consider what’s most important to you and make decisions that stay true to who you are. Stay organized and clear in your vision, and the time leading up to your wedding will go much more smoothly.

We can help you design and create a wedding that’s uniquely you. Contact us here to set up a time to talk about your vision. 

5 Fresh Ways to Serve Wine at Your Party

5 Fresh Ways to Serve Wine at Your Party

Spring is almost here, which means we’re already dreaming of summer weddings and parties. We’re ready for cool, refreshing beverages; lighter meals; and long daylight hours that let us dance well into the night.

If you’re offering wine at your event, your libations should also be light and airy. And what better way to give your event a special flair than with some creative wine recipes (it’s not just for drinking, you know). If you love wine and are looking for some unique ways to serve it at your upcoming spring event, this post is for you!

Prosecco Popsicles: This is a fun idea that’s reminiscent of a frozen mimosa. Blend prosecco with fresh fruit (hint: berries are beautiful) and freeze in popsicle molds. You can even create an eye-catching striped popsicle with layers of prosecco and fruit puree, freezing each layer 30 minutes before pouring in the next. This post by Fashionable Hostess breaks it down step by step. 

White Wine Slushies: Wine slushies are another way to enjoy fruit with your wine. They’re super simple to make, too! Just blend fresh fruit with your favorite white wine (adjust ratios depending on how sweet you want the final product), and serve in short glasses with an extra slice of fruit. Try a tropical blend with Pinot Grigio, pineapple and peaches! Get more flavor combination ideas here.

Rosé Sangria: Rosé isn’t a wine commonly used with sangria, but we think it should be more commonplace! This strawberry-rhubarb sangria with rosé is the perfect refreshing spring drink. The recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart and uses rhubarb simple syrup, fresh strawberries and mint, and a few slices of lime for added zing.

Champagne Sorbet: This elegant sorbet is a light ice cream alternative that won’t leave you or your guests feeling too weighed down to dance. Reduce the alcohol content of the champagne by boiling it first. That’ll make it easier to freeze. Don’t worry--it’ll still taste like champagne! 

Wine-Marinated Grapes: This is an easy solution to one-bite hors d’oeuvres that will impress your guests and doesn’t require more than a toothpick to eat. Simply soak a bunch of green grapes in your white wine of choice, then freeze for a few hours. The frozen grapes can also be used as ice cubes to keep your glass of white wine chilled without diluting it.

There are dozens of wine recipes online that use wine creatively without compromising sophistication. Check out Pinterest for more ideas, or even better, let Deb Miley Dishes help. Enlist our boutique catering services for your next event. There’s plenty more where this came from!

Classic Canapés With a Stylish Spin: No Utensils Required

Classic Canapés With a Stylish Spin: No Utensils Required

I recently prepared a menu of elegant canapés and hors d’oeuvres for a food tasting and open house at share, one of my favorite spaces in Wilmette. Karen O’Sullivan, the owner, is an East Coast transplant (like me!). Her venue, share, is a blend of everything she loves most: bringing people together, creating a beautiful and inviting space, exploring new places and discovering trends. 

Karen wanted the food at the open house to be one-bite and easy to eat, but she also wanted to create an elevated experience for her guests. I knew canapés and other plate- and utensil-free appetizers would be the best solution, and it prompted me to share some inspiration for giving any event the same special touch.

What Are Canapés?

Canapés are traditionally comprised of a bread or pastry shell because the appetizer becomes easy to eat with a clean base—no sticky fingers or mess left over.

One of my favorite canapés is crostini topped with beef tenderloin, horseradish crema and chives. The presentation is amazing, and the crunchy crostini paired with savory beef and tangy crema is always a hit. Wonton cups are another great option, as they’re easy to make and lend themselves to almost any flavor. 

But bread and pastry aren’t the only ways to make your appetizers easy to handle. You don’t have to compromise elegance if you use cute paper cups, like these products from Simply Baked. This also makes the perfect gluten-free option for guests to enjoy. 

I used stylish cups to turn everyday shrimp into a 5-star appetizer. Simply drape the shrimp and lime wedge over the edge and put avocado crema in the bottom. For an evening party, serve mini-margaritas on the side and you’ve got drinks and food covered!

Make Your Next Intimate Gathering a Sophisticated Experience

Be it a sipping-and-painting night, a gallery opening, a wedding or a cocktail party, Deb Miley Dishes provides sophisticated canapés and one-bite hors d’oeuvres for any occasion. Visit our Boutique Catering page for more information or contact us here.

P.S. Karen and I are going to be collaborating on some exciting projects like elegant pop-up wine and dinner parties, so stay tuned!

How to Pair Food and Wine

How to Pair Food and Wine

Pairing wine with food can be an intimidating task. Visit any wine retailer and you may get overwhelmed by the walls of colors, flavors, vintages and regions. 

So what’s the secret? How do you pair food and wine to highlight the beauty of both?

Chef Deb’s Pairing Notes

The basics of pairing wine with food start with our natural impulse to serve lighter, more delicate foods with lighter wines. This one of the reasons we gravitate toward lighter, milder wines, like chilled rose and champagne, in the summer. 

In winter, we choose full-bodied, robust red wines to enjoy with richer meats like beef. True to our instincts, lean red meat, like filet mignon, pairs better with lighter red wines. And cuts like prime rib harmonize well with bolder reds like cabernet sauvignon.

There are always exceptions, however. You might think you could never serve chicken with red wine, or steak with white wine. But what about chicken with mushroom sauce? A merlot would match perfectly. And pork pairs wonderfully with pinot noir. One of my personal favorites is steak with champagne. 

Another exception is spicy food. It’s easy to think spicy foods pair well with bold, red wine, but white wines can temper the palate after a spicy meal. Try a sweet white wine like Riesling with Indian curry to cool the burn. 

The next time you’re tasked with pairing wine with food, keep the basics in mind, but consider the flavors, spiciness and particular qualities of the dish you’re serving. In general, think white wine for lighter proteins like chicken and fish, and choose red wines for red meat. But if the food is spicy or served with an unusually rich or light sauce, consider how the dryness or sweetness of the wine will affect the dish. 

Excited to learn more?

The perfect wine is sure to impress your dinner guests and enhance the flavor of the food. Contact us to host your own wine tasting or food and wine pairing.

10 Reasons I’m Grateful This Year

10 Reasons I’m Grateful This Year

What a year it’s been! I can’t believe another one has flown by already, and this one especially has been full of exciting next steps and loving reminders of why I do the things I do. I just wanted to take a minute today to feel grateful for everything that has brought me to where I am, and acknowledge the people who have helped me get here.

Top 10 Reasons I’m Grateful This Year:

10. Old friends and new friends. Some know my past, and some will know my future. Even though we may not get to see each other often, there’s always laughter when we’re together, and I know the best is yet to be!

9. My chef tribe. You know who you are. We laugh, we joke, we have cocktails. We plan trips. We dream big, fabulous dreams.  We work damn hard every day to execute our goals and visions for our businesses. I am thankful that we are on this journey together. I can’t wait to see where it takes us!

8. Quilts. Not just any ordinary quilts, but the ones made so lovingly by your mother for your kids. The ones they (and their children) will wrap themselves in forever, feeling their grandmother’s love embrace them.

7. Sisters. Parents. Uncles. Cousin. You can all make me laugh and cry within the space of seconds. You know me better than most, and love me anyway! The universe knew what it was doing when it put our crazy, spectacular, hilarious, loving family together. 

6. Our family kitchen. It’s the heart of our home, and the place we all meet to talk about our day. We eat, we laugh, we joke, we cry in our kitchen. We keep it real in our kitchen. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5. All the support I have received from all of you as I embarked on this journey a short 9 months ago. The love and encouragement I have received from friends, family, consultants, business partners, customers, and our community has been overwhelming and has given me the courage to keep it going when I hit some bumps in the road. I am truly humbled and will be forever grateful.

4. Deb Miley Dishes. Wow! I finally did it. Thank you to all of you that listened to me for the last hundred or so years talk about starting my own culinary business! It’s never going to be the right time to do something you’ve always dreamed of, but at some point, it’s time. I can’t wait to see what we’re going to do next!

3. Long car rides to far-away hockey rinks. It’s during these rides that Tripp and I have our most meaningful conversations. And belly laughs. And hours of not saying anything. And singing our favorite tunes. I want to be his private chauffeur forever. And chef. And maid. And teacher. I want his 12-year-old gentle, kind, hilarious, innocent self to remain intact as he grows into the fine man I know he will be. 

2. Olivia the Christmas Elf. Olivia loves all things Christmas. All. Year. Long. As I watched her decorate our tree this year with 18 years of memories, I couldn’t help but reflect on the beautiful young woman she has become. And her very first Christmas under our tree in Bayside. And then it hit me. 4 more years. Only 4 more Christmases until our girl is off to college. Father Time, please slow it down for the next 4 years. 

1. Today and every day, I am utmost grateful for my husband, Greg, and the beautiful life we have created together. You bring gigantic love into my heart and make me smile (and curse) every day. Thank you most of all, for helping to make all my dreams come true. I love you.

Cheers to a healthy, happy and prosperous 2017! Let’s get this party started! 

Catering Christmas? Build a Haute Hot Chocolate Bar!

Catering Christmas? Build a Haute Hot Chocolate Bar!

Winter is coming, and this time of year, no one can resist a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Whether you want to warm up after a day on the slopes or enjoy an indulgence by the fire, hot chocolate always hits the spot. If you’re catering Christmas or hosting a holiday party, bring this festive favorite to the table with an irresistible “build your own” hot chocolate bar. 

There are so many ways to mix and match ingredients to make a customized cocoa. Perfect for kids and adults, you can let your guests whip up their own creations for an after-dinner treat. Make it haute with a presentation of sweet liqueurs, unique toppings, gourmet candies and edible stirrers.

But first things first… source the best hot chocolate mix. I’m in love with Serendipity’s Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. (I'll be there at the end of the month and can't wait to have some!) They offer a variety of fabulous flavors that are blended into a frothy, icy drink. Alternatively, look for traditional hot chocolate brands. No matter what you select, prepare a large batch, pour it into a canister and serve it with your elegant offerings.

Build Your Hot Chocolate Bar with:

Toppings:
Ice cream
Whipped cream
Giant marshmallows
Salted caramels

Crushers:
Candy cane pieces
Chopped Hershey kisses
Chopped chocolate truffles
Chocolate chips

Liqueurs:
Peppermint Schnapps
Kahlua
Rum
Baileys
Amaretto

Edible Stirrers:
Whole candy canes
Rock candy
Peppermint sticks
Chocolate covered spoons

Set these up in pretty bowls, ramekins and creamers, and label each item. Fill out the table with petite desserts, like brownie bites, gingerbread cookies and macaroons. Refresh as needed, and let your friends and family sip throughout the night.

Catering Christmas? Deb Miley Dishes Can Help!

Let me cater your holiday gathering with traditional, indulgent and customized menus. You can even order a few a la carte items, such as soup and appetizers, as needed. The best part? Get a FREE bottle of hand-selected wine when you book today. Click here for details.

Best Foodie Gifts & Chef Services for Everyone on Your List!

Best Foodie Gifts & Chef Services for Everyone on Your List!

If you’re shopping for the best gifts this holiday season, look no further. I’ve curated a list of the year’s must-haves for all the food lovers in your life. From handheld smokers to cast iron skillets, plus chef services that keep on giving, you’ll have your presents wrapped up in no time. 

Giving food, culinary tools or chef services means that your gift will be put to good use time and time again. No returns or exchanges here! Plus, don’t forget to pick up a little something for yourself. You deserve it!

Foodie Gifts & Chef Services for the Holidays 

The Smoking Gun Handheld Food Smoker: Over Thanksgiving, our friends made smoked bourbon cocktails with maple candied bacon. Um… yes. While guests were enjoying their new favorite cocktail, I was laser focused on the mini smoker. I instantly knew this kitchen tool had to make my wish list this year! It’s perfect for anyone who loves that woodsy winter essence. Think smoky mozzarella, smoked teriyaki tuna and whatever else you can dream up.

Anything from Urbani: Truffled pizza, pasta and oils, oh my! Since 1850, Urbani has been sourcing the finest Italian truffles, in addition to a full line of gourmet items such as Russian caviar, balsamic vinegar and dried mushrooms. The best part? You can get it all delivered in 24 hours! They also offer cooking classes and charity dinners. Or, you can visit them in NYC, which I'll be doing over New Year’s!

Lodge Cast Iron Cookware: Since 1896, this company has been producing premier cast-iron cookware. This line can be used for indoor or outdoor cooking, and to prepare just about any meal on your menu. From bacon and eggs and whole roasted chicken to apple-cinnamon crumbles and cornbreads, it’s the versatile cookware you’ll use for generations. (Make sure you get one in every size!)

Coravin Wine System: Do you ever hesitate to open a fine wine because you’re not prepared to finish the entire bottle? Or, do you know a wine aficionado always looking for the latest, greatest wine gadget? This amazing device allows you to pour a glass of wine without corking the bottle! With this unique gift, you can enjoy just a glass or two, while preserving the rest for another day. 

Pizza, Grilling and Baking Stone: Love pizza? This is by far the best pizza stone I've ever owned. The company is based in France and this product is made from Burgundy clay. With the right dough, you're guaranteed the crispiest crust without a wood-fired pizza oven. My secret weapon for crispy, chewy dough every time... bread flour instead of regular flour. With this handy kitchen gadget, you’ll never want to order takeout again! 

Chef Services: Want to give your loved one (or yourself) the ultimate gift this season? How about stress-free cooking and delicious dining, night after night? With my Chicago-based Personal Chef Services, you won’t have to worry about menu planning, shopping, cooking or cleaning. Feed your family without any of the effort. Call me to book an on-going service or one-time holiday meal: 925-683-4523.

Bonus Gift:

Receive a complimentary Wine Pairing with your Holiday Catering

 

8 Dazzling Tablescape Tips from a Holiday Caterer

8 Dazzling Tablescape Tips from a Holiday Caterer

Whether you’re hosting an intimate gathering or lavish dinner, every elegant meal deserves a well-styled tablescape. The objective is to create a stunning ambiance that complements your festive feast. You’ll also want your decor to encourage conversation…not cut it off. As a Chicago-area caterer, my tips will show you how to develop a traditional but contemporary table that will have everyone talking—at the party and beyond! 

Despite popular belief, you don’t need to spend a lot of time or money to strike the right balance. Before you buy anything new, look through your holiday decorations (and your own backyard) to inventory what you already have. If you’d like to add something special, a craft store or florist might be all you need. 

Tablescape Tips From A Holiday Caterer

  1. Be Fresh: Nothing lifts spirits quite like a fresh bouquet of flowers. Opt for a few modest arrangements for the table, as opposed to a large one that will block conversation.
  2. Make It Shine: A little twinkle makes everything bright! So add winter whimsy with your favorite candles or sparkly white lights. 
  3. Go Natural: Look to Mother Nature for gorgeous greenery. Select fresh evergreens, twigs and pinecones, and situate them down the center of your table.
  4. Show Off Heirlooms: There’s no better time to break out Grandma's china or crystal serving pieces to make the celebration sweeter (and more personal). 
  5. Make Menu Cards: If you’re serving multiple courses or food and wine pairings, be sure to let everyone know what’s coming with pretty printed menus at each seat. 
  6. Play With Place Cards: If you’re hosting more than 8 people, place cards are a must. Make it fun with these “you are seated next to” place cards to get the party started!
  7. Look to Pinterest: If you’re stumped on how to bring it all together, Pinterest is chock full of images and step-by-step guides to help you decorate your table in no time.  
  8. Set the Table Early: Don’t leave decorating to the last minute. Instead, set your table the night before your holiday gathering. It’s one less thing for you to do on the big day!

Holiday Catering Special

Deb Miley Dishes, your premier Chicago party caterer, offers customized, traditional and indulgent menus to help you thrive this season. Click here to book before 12/31/16 and receive a FREE bottle of wine from our exclusive collection. It’s the most stylish way to celebrate!

The World’s Best Wines for Your Holiday Catering

The World’s Best Wines for Your Holiday Catering

My husband and I recently toured the Willamette Valley for a much-needed weekend getaway. I’d also classify it as a business trip, because I was busy researching exceptional wine pairings for my up-coming holiday catering orders. It’s a tough job, I know!

It's fascinating to explore areas residing on the 45th Parallel—an imaginary line connecting some of the finest wine regions across the globe. These include (but are not limited to) the Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone regions of France, Piedmont, Italy and the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Of course, simply being part of the “45th family” does not guarantee a high-quality vino. But rather, all wines, no matter where they are from, are ultimately affected by climate and soil, among other things. 

I chose to visit the fabulous wineries in the Willamette Valley, as they’re known for striking that perfect atmospheric balance and bringing us some of the country’s—even the world’s—best wines. As we enter the most elegant season of the year, I strive to elevate the everyday. And wine can do just that. In addition to serving a 5-star holiday menu, your guests will swoon for the perfect pairing. 

If you’re searching for something special, I suggest looking to these vineyards and collections for inspiration…

Top Wine Recommendations in the Valley

Domaine Drouhin

Their branding speaks volumes: French Soul, Oregon Soil. One of the most interesting things about Drouhin is that they plant their vines 1 meter apart, as they do in France. The lovely people we met at Drouhin explained that planting in this way forces the vines to compete for nutrients and water, which prompts them to root deeper into the soil. It also helps them sustain life during dry periods and produce lower yields and smaller, more concentrated grapes. Try one of their distinguished varieties if you typically favor French wine. 

Bells Up Winery

This is a boutique winery owned and operated by David Specter. If you want to learn more about anything and everything wine related, from wine making to storage, visit Bells Up the next time you’re out West. They only make 400 cases of classically-grown Pinot Noir each year, and offer small-batch varietals. This handcrafted approach makes every bottle as unique and special as the holiday season. I can’t wait until next November when I can finally open up the 2014 Pinots I purchased on this trip!

Boisset Collection

Another personal favorite of mine is the Boisset Collection, featuring wines from over 25 wineries in California, France, England and Canada. This distinguished family “unites Old World and New into the One World of Wine, offering an unparalleled exploration of terroir, heritage, vineyards and style.” This selection is always a go-to for me when I’m searching for an extraordinary wine for an extraordinary occasion. 

Sourcing for Holiday Catering & Gift Giving

  • Host a Holiday Party in Chicago. Get a Free Bottle of Wine. These spectacular wines are available when you book a holiday catering with Deb Miley Dishes. You’ll also receive a free bottle, compliments of Chef Deb, when you order before 12/31/16.
  • Join Our Wine Club. Deb Miley Dishes is proud to offer an exclusive wine club, featuring some of the world’s most sought-after varietals. This is a truly unique gift idea and it makes for a great addition to your weekly Personal Chef Service. View Food & Wine Pairing details here. 

For more information on holiday catering and wine clubs, call Deb Miley in Chicago at 925-683-4523.

Stress-Free Thanksgiving Checklist

Stress-Free Thanksgiving Checklist

Thanksgiving dinner is a difficult meal to prepare, but there’s no need to stress! If you plan well, you’ll easily be able to serve a feast without feeling overwhelmed. 

The secret? Don't try to tackle all the cooking at the last minute. Instead, complete tasks over the course of a few days. Based on years of cooking, catering and hosting plenty of holiday dinners, I’ve developed a comprehensive Thanksgiving Checklist to help you GSD! 

4-Day Thanksgiving Checklist

Monday

  • Start shopping for pantry and dairy items such as spices, turkey stock, butter and heavy cream. 
  • Pick up your turkey, so you have plenty of time to defrost it, if necessary.

Tuesday

  • Shop for vegetables, wine and appetizer ingredients.

Wednesday

  • Clean and prep all your vegetables. (If you’re not prepping veggie dishes in advance, keep them wrapped in damp paper towels in a Ziploc bag. Place peeled potatoes, yams and turnips in a bowl or a pot filled with water.)
  • Boil and mash potatoes. Add a little extra cream and butter, and they’ll be ready to reheat right before dinner.   
  • Prepare all of your desserts. Better yet, pick them up from your favorite bakery!
  • Make the stuffing, adding a little extra chicken stock. On Thursday, simply bake until the top is nice and crispy. 
  • Set the table and the bar. 
  • Take out all of your serving dishes. Then, label them with sticky notes, indicating what goes on each one. When your guests arrive, they’ll be able to help you get dinner on the table faster. (This is my mom’s favorite holiday trick!)
  • Brine your turkey… if you dare. 

Game Day

  • Get your turkey in the oven. Baste, baste, baste!
  • Assemble appetizer platters for serving. 
  • Make or finish your sweet potatoes and veggie dishes. Remember to reheat anything you prepared in advance. 
  • Once the turkey is out of the oven, get started on that amazing gravy with turkey drippings, giblets and Wondra Flour.
  • Have a cocktail—your deserve it!

Feeling frazzled? Leave the cooking to me. Deb Miley Dishes is offering customized Holiday Menus, so you can enjoy a traditional or indulgent meal without all the work. Click here to review Sample Holiday Menus and to contact me. Plus, receive a free wine pairing with your order.  

How to Easily Elevate Everyday Side Dishes

How to Easily Elevate Everyday Side Dishes

Boiled Brussels sprouts. Baked potatoes. The same ole pasta. These side dishes are fine when you just need to put food on the table during a busy week. But for the holidays, you want your meals to feel extra special. This doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel. Forget the fancy recipes and go with what you know! 

If you can steam vegetables, prepare penne or mash potatoes, you can easily give your mainstay sides a formal upgrade. All it takes are a few gourmet ingredients, like fresh truffles, crispy bacon and imported cheese. Presented with the entrée and served with an excellent wine pairing, your everyday dinner is transformed into a 5-star holiday. 

(Note: If you want to skip the cooking, scroll to the end to find out how I can take care of it for you!)

Fresh Truffles

Referred to as “the diamond of the kitchen,” truffles add sophistication to any meal. Many Italian restaurants use them to create award-winning pasta dishes. So why not do the same?

Lobster Truffle Macaroni and Cheese: Take your 5-year-old’s favorite meal and turn it into an indulgent adult side dish. Simply shave fresh truffles into your go-to mac-and-cheese recipe, and add some pre-cooked lobster. Or, replace the fresh truffles with a drizzle of truffle oil. Serve it alongside a perfectly prepared beef tenderloin and a glass of bubbly for an unexpected surprise.

Honey Truffle Ravioli with Pancetta Thyme Cream Sauce: If you love to make homemade ravioli, this one’s for you. The saltiness of the pancetta pairs beautifully with the honey. The whole dish is punctuated with the woodsy flavor of the truffles. Alternatively, prepare store-bought ravioli and season the cream sauce with truffle salt. Serve alongside pan-seared sea bass with spinach and Sauvignon Blanc.

Imported Cheese 

More cheese, please! Adding cheese to any dish is a surefire way to impress all of your guests. Opt for imported varieties from France and Italy to up the ante. 

Dauphinoise Potatoes: This ultimate French bistro dish comes to life with sliced potatoes, heavy cream and Gruyere cheese. Bake until hot and bubbling, and add it to your buffet. For a sit-down dinner, serve it with a hearty boeuf bourguignon and Pinot Noir. Expect rave reviews!

Roasted Garlic and Cheesy Mashed Potatoes: Roasted garlic lends a sweet caramelized flavor you just can’t achieve with raw or sautéed garlic. Add fresh mozzarella and grated Parmigiano Reggiano for an Italian take on an American classic. Serve with herb-roasted chicken and a crisp Chardonnay.

Crispy Bacon

Everyone loves bacon. Need I say more?

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus: Using thin slices of bacon, wrap the spears and place them on a baking sheet. Broil until cooked and crisp. For the piece de resistance, top with a poached egg. As the yolk mingles with the bacon and asparagus, you may just forget about the rest of the meal! 

Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Glaze and Bacon: A classic reinvented, Brussels sprouts get a whole new look with a sweet balsamic glaze and crunchy chunks of bacon. Instead of boiling your sprouts, steam them to retain their unique flavor and texture. 

Serve both of these bacon-inspired sides with roasted turkey breast and a bottle of Zinfandel.

Holiday Menus are Here!

Like what you see? Forget about cooking, and select a signature Deb Miley menu. Or customize your own with family favorites. If you book before 12/31/16, you’ll receive a free bottle of wine to enjoy with your meal. Contact me today for details. 

Turkey Brining Tips + My Hilarious Thanksgiving Story

Turkey Brining Tips + My Hilarious Thanksgiving Story

To brine or not to brine? Around Thanksgiving the same question always crops up. Do I brine my turkey and, if so, why? For me, the answer is yes. Even though I had one crazy brining experience, I’m still a huge fan (and that’s saying a lot!). Here’s the story, followed by my best Turkey Brining Tips… 

When my husband Greg and I were newlyweds, we invited our parents to come to our (teeny-tiny) apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. The menu was set: Butternut Squash Soup served in Roasted Pumpkins, my grandmother Ita's Stuffing, Creamy Mashed Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and the star of the show, Tom Turkey. 

I decided it would be a good idea to go to a “fresh kill farm,” which was actually more of a storefront. This was Queens after all. When I picked up my turkey, much to my dismay, I saw that the neck and feet were still attached and there was plenty of plucking to do. I was horrified, and Greg (who had partied hard the night before) was so nauseous he refused to come and look at it. 

Once I finished cleaning the turkey, it was time for the amazing brine. But there was a problem: there was no room in our miniature fridge. So, I enlisted Greg’s help to transfer the turkey in the brine to the fire escape. He reluctantly picked up his end (gagging the whole way) and we made it outside. Just as we were about to put Tom on the fire escape, somehow, we lost control, and....

All the brine flew out the window and on to the street below! Thankfully, none of our neighbors were out walking. We didn't lose the turkey, but we did lose all that brine. 

The moral of the story? Go to the store (a real store) and buy a Butterball turkey. As for brining, I still highly recommend it to:

  •  Keep the meat moist
  • Add juiciness
  • Lend a little seasoning before the seasoning

If you’re curious how to do it, I can tell you that after years of practice, I’ve perfected my method. No more fire escape debacles here! This is how to get it done:

Turkey Brining Tips

  1. Heat about 1 quart of water with 1-1 ½ cups of kosher salt, just until the salt has dissolved. For more flavor, you can add orange peels, peppercorns or fresh herbs.
  2. Let the liquid cool completely. 
  3. Clean the turkey and remove the giblets from the cavity. 
  4. Place the bird in a large pot, breast-side down, and pour the brine over it. If it’s not completely submerged, you can use a plate to weigh it down or make more brine to add. 
  5. Transfer the pot to your refrigerator and chill for about 8-24 hours.  

Order your Thanksgiving meal from Deb Miley Dishes! Too busy to plan and cook a holiday dinner? My menus offer the traditional favorites with all the trimmings, as well as contemporary classics and signature dishes. Leave the hard work (and brining) to me, so you can enjoy your day. Contact me to book now.

3 Classic Beef Comfort Foods

3 Classic Beef Comfort Foods

It’s just starting to get chilly in Chicago, and I’m sure cold snaps, high winds and snow days are on the way. While some people see this as a reason to head south, I see it as the perfect opportunity to cook. In the summer months, I eat a lot of salads, seafood and light dishes. But in fall and winter, I look forward to preparing comfort food for a crowd. 

It’s always fun to have friends over for a neighborly night in, so I make extra when I cook on the weekends. I keep my dinners simple yet hearty, and serve them family style. A bottle of wine and tasty sides, and you have all the key components for a night in front of the fire (or Sunday football game).  

Of course, I almost never make a meal without adding a dash of “Deb Miley”. This means, taking a recipe and giving it a little makeover. I believe that the right culinary accessories, like seasonings, sauces and sides, can transform traditional dishes. And why not add a little indulgence to your day? You deserve it!

If you want to elevate your next night in, or if you’re hosting guests, raise the bar with these modern takes on traditional comfort foods. This week, I’m feeling inspired by fall’s favorite ingredient: beef! 

Comfort Food Remix 

Pot Roast with Root Vegetables & Red Wine Gravy
Side: Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir

My favorite pot roast recipe is actually a twist on my grandfather’s beef stew. I cook it low and slow in my Dutch oven with red wine, baby potatoes, carrots, thyme, beef broth and my grandfather’s secret ingredient… Wondra Flour! It dissolves better than regular flour, ensuring a thick, lump-free gravy. I also dust the beef with it prior to searing. The result? A savory, melt-in-your-mouth pot roast with silky, robust gravy. 

French Beef Bourguignon
Side: Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
Wine Pairing: Red Burgundy

I’ve lived in Paris, so I love a French-inspired meal. Beef Bourguignon is a stylish version of classic beef stew—made popular in America thanks to Julia Child. I start with smoky bacon or, for an Italian twist, pancetta. I layer bold flavors, button mushrooms and fresh herbs to add complexity to every bite. Cooked down for hours with a bottle of wine (yes an entire bottle!), and you’ll have a tender and rich stew that’s dressed to impress. 

Garlic & Herb Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Crema
Side: Dauphinoise Potatoes  
Wine Pairing: California Cabernet

If you read last week’s blog, you might remember this irresistible tenderloin. Featuring a buttery cut of beef dolloped with horseradish crema, it’s a versatile dish that can be prepared as an appetizer or main meal. It’s a sophisticated alternative to steak, especially when it’s too cold to grill. Simply sear the meat in a cast-iron skillet and cook it in the oven until it’s medium rare. Cool, slice and serve with the crema (and extra on the side).  

Just in time for the holidays… Enjoy your favorite comfort foods and traditional holiday dishes without any of the stress. Spots are filling up fast, so contact me today to reserve your party. Plus, receive a special gift when you book before 12/31/16!   

Cocktail Party Menu with Wine Pairing

Cocktail Party Menu with Wine Pairing

Everyone looks forward to the first party invite of the holiday season, so why not start the trend? Now is the perfect time to gather friends and celebrate before the festivities truly kick off. With the weather getting cooler, you can create a beautiful atmosphere with a cozy fireplace, flickering votives and a dazzling cocktail party menu.

When it comes to event planning, my best advice is: less is more. We all love to feed our guests, but consider quality over quantity. I like to prepare a few elegant appetizers and serve them with well-matched wines. I then fill in the gaps with light snacks, such as roasted nuts, dried fruits and warm olives with rosemary. For a sweet treat, I opt for desserts that are petite and easy to eat, like chocolate truffles, French macaroons or mini cupcakes. 

If you’re not a chef or sommelier, food and wine pairings can feel overwhelming. There’s a subtlety and nuance to striking the right flavor balance. The good news is, you came to the right blog! I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the best wines in the country, and I work closely with a vineyard in Napa Valley. Below, I’m sharing my all-time favorite food and wine pairings to help you get the party started!  

Cocktail Party Menu

Champagne with Spinach and Fontina Stuffed Mushrooms
Savory mushrooms pair well with this crisp glass of bubbly. Pull out the flutes and welcome your guests in style. 

Sauvignon Blanc with Cilantro Lime Shrimp and Avocado Cups
This light, earthy wine works in perfect harmony with pops of citrus. I think of this as my elegant twist on a seafood taco. 

Cabernet with Beef Tenderloin Crostini and Horseradish Crema
Cabernets long for foods that are high in salt and fat, making this the ultimate flavor combination. It’s bold yet chic, and true crowd-pleaser. 

Can I help you? I specialize in hosting food and wine pairings, and can put together a spectacular cocktail party for you and your guests. Contact me—and be sure to download 5 Reasons You Should Keep Calm and Hire a Caterer to learn more about my stress-free services. Plus, receive a special gift when you book your party before 12/31/16!