Phyllis and Jim Clegg form "Braided Bread"
Couple has knack for making guests feel special
Jim and Phyllis Clegg really know how to mess with college kids' minds.
Just serve them dinner in the dining room on the good china with crystal water glasses and watch what happens.
The Clegg's children are used to it, but their friends? Not so much.
"I can remember their eyes," says Phyllis. "They thought it was over the top, but they thoroughly enjoyed it; it made them feel special."
That feeling is a specialty of the house at the Clegg's Palatine home, where the dining room and "good" dishes are routinely broken out for family and friends.
"When we have guests, that's the way it should be," says Jim. "We have five different sets of dishes; if we don't use them, why have them?"
A husband-and-wife cooking team, the Cleggs are at ease entertaining. This month they hosted three events: a get-together for the local American Cancer Society (they became involved after their son, Christopher, died of cancer); Phyllis' "girls' night out" group, with spouses, and a family get-together following a church concert.
Phyllis does the shopping; they start cooking a night or two in advance.
"We're a little assembly line, the two of us," says Phyllis.
Jim might make baked ziti while she prepares hors d'oeuvres, or he might stuff a turkey, one of his specialties, while she prepares all the sides.
Jim, a business development director for Northrop Grumman in Rolling Meadows, first dabbled in the culinary arts as a 9-year-old after his mother died.
"My dad got home later, so I started picking things up," says Jim, who even handled the deep fryer at a young age. "You grew up quickly."
He learned to love cooking, so much that he contends, "If I didn't do what I do, I'd love to be a chef."
Phyllis, a retired substitute teacher for Palatine Township District 15, learned to cook after she married her Air Force pilot husband and they joined the social whirl of military bases. Through the officers' wives' club "I became indoctrinated pretty quickly," says Phyllis. "It was all about cooking, parties and socializing."
Today the duo teams up for barbecue ribs, pork chops, seafood, pastas and stir-fries. This week they recommend an easy hickory-smoked brisket, marinated overnight in liquid smoke and slow cooked with herbs and onions. Serve it with scalloped or garlic mashed potatoes.
For an eye-catching appetizer try their braided bread layered with hard salami and provolone.
"People think we bought it," says Jim.
Phyllis, the family dessert diva, shares an open-faced caramel apple pie with a buttery crumb topping.
Get out the china and good silver and invite some friends over for a bite.