Posts from March, 2011


A Slice of April

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 by Bridget

Here at The Chopping Block, April means one thing… KNIFE SALE!  As I am kind of a knife geek, it’s one of my favorite promotions of the year.

I have over thirty knives at home that I have collected over the years. My collection has wide variety, from the institutional knives I was given upon entering culinary school to my grandmother’s old school wood handled monster of a chef’s knife, which comes from the kitchen of an old diner she owned in South Florida.  My fondness for knives continues to this day, and I love the selection we have
here at TCB.

My favorite right now is the 8″ Classic Shun which has a nice weight, is ultra-sharp and looks just plain sexy.  It has come in handy lately, as I have become obsessed with roasted vegetable wraps (easy and healthy to eat at work) and therefore need a good sharp knife to slice my way through the variety of vegetables I pick up at the store.  I suppose a mandolin would be easier, but I like getting in there and doing it all by hand, and this knife makes it that much easier and faster for me.

Next on the lunch menu… risotto.


Final Four of Food

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 by Graham

The Final Four was decided this weekend. It got me wondering what dishes best serve as a mascot for the four schools represented. Who would be the winner of our food bracket?

Full disclosure: I grew up in Indiana, a few minutes away from Butler’s campus. I’ll try not to let that sway my opinion, but I won’t try to hard.

Indiana (Butler)

Maybe the easiest to pick of the four, the Bulldogs of Butler are best represented by Indiana’s majestic breaded Fried Pork Tenderloin Sandwich. While there are other great heritage dishes in the Hoosier state to pick from (particularly desserts like Sugar Cream Pie or Persimmon Pudding), the tenderloin stands head and shoulders above the rest.

An Indiana-style pork tenderloin sandwich is made up of an extra large pork tenderloin pounded to a quarter inch thickness, which is then breaded, pan or deep fried and served on a hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo and ketchup. A fantastic sandwich that is found at diners, fairs and sporting events all over the state.

Virginia (Commonwealth)

The state of Virginia is home to many great southern and country cooking classics. From Smithfield hams and cat head biscuits in the west, to the seafood chowders of the east, there’s plenty to eat in the commonwealth. I wanted to narrow it down to a single representative dish. So I picked Brunswick Stew, a thick game stew that can be made with squirrel and rabbit, but in more recent times has seen the addition of chicken, and occasionally, pork.

Brunswick Stew is a tomato based stew often made with lima beans, corn, and whatever else is handy. Often the meat used is smoked, or barbequed which can lend the dish a deep smokey flavor.


I’m tempted to represent  UK’s 2011 vintage of the fiddlin’ five with Burgoo, the classic hunter’s stew from the bluegrass state. But I’m afraid its similarity to Virginia’s Brunswick Stew leads me to rule them both ineligible. Instead I’m picking Louisville’s Hot Brown Sandwich. The Hot Brown originates at the Brown Hotel in Louisville and is an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich broiled with mornay sauce (a roux based cheese sauce) and sometimes served with tomato or pimento. It a great sandwich for late nights, or the mornings that follow.


There are three significant claims to the invention of the hamburger: a diner in Texas, a restaurant in New York state, and Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut. Louis’ is a tiny lunch counter that serves hamburgers as they claim they invented them over a hundred years ago: ‘vertically  grilled’ and served on toast. Connecticut shares much fantastic cuisine with the rest of New England, but even the possibility of America’s most popular food being invented there inclines me to represent the Huskies with burgers.

Which dish is your winner? Are there regional favorites that I missed? Let me know what you think.

Graham Hoppe was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana and currently lives on Chicago’s north side. In 2007, Graham received his BFA with a concentration in Sculpture and Sound from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After attending Kendall College, working at a West Loop Cajun/Creole restaurant, and producing at WGN radio in Chicago, he found his way to the Chopping Block. He enjoys traditional country music and blues, playing the mandolin and making dinner with his girlfriend, Amy.


Winding Down with Winter Citrus

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 by Carrie

Have you ever been reminded about a certain ingredient that you haven’t eaten in a while?  That happened to me recently with blood oranges.  There are so many fruits and vegetables out there that we don’t let ourselves try, whether it is the price of said ingredient or the fear of the unknown.  Will I like the taste?  How do I cook with it?

Blood oranges are a seasonal ingredient available from December to May.  The three most common types of blood oranges are the Tarocco (native to Italy), the Sanguinello (native to Spain), and the Moro, the newest variety of the three.   It has the reddest color of all the blood oranges.  The peel of the moro is almost always colored with a crimson tint. Of all the varieties of blood oranges in the United States, the moro blood orange is by the far the most prominent one.

I went out and bought a couple of Moro blood oranges with full intentions of just enjoying this beautiful fruit and its delicate flavor by itself.  When I got home, I decided to I didn’t want to waste any part of it, so I went with the idea of a salad for lunch.  I found some arugula, a small piece of fennel and some grape tomatoes in the fridge, along with some Greek yogurt and a bit of garlic and ginger I had minced a few days earlier.

I zested the blood orange into the yogurt and added some of the garlic and ginger.  Next, I cut the blood orange in supremes while capturing the fragrant juice in the bowl with the yogurt (which was in process of becoming my salad dressing).  Of course, I had to eat a couple of the supremes to enjoy their slighty floral/sweet/raspberry-like/succulence in all their glory.  The supremes went directly into the bowl with the arugula, thinly sliced fennel, grape tomatoes and some whole almonds for the crunch factor.  To finish the dressing, I squeezed the rest of the juice from the membranes, added a little olive oil to balance the acidity of the yogurt and a pinch of salt.  This had to be one of the most beautiful, refreshing, satisfying salads I’ve ever eaten.  So, go on, treat yourself to new and exciting fruits and vegetables!

Carrie finally found her culinary niche as a Chef Instructor for The Chopping Block in May 2008, but only after a hilariously traumatic demonstration interview (of which you will have to attend one of her classes to hear about). She gets a thrill of sharing the things she’s learned about food and cooking with others and the memories and experiences around food that have made her who she is today. Her hope is to take away the apprehension people have of cooking by pouring on her southern hospitality and charm and having fun in the kitchen. When she isn’t cooking, you can usually find her at a concert, a neighborhood restaurant or just hanging out with friends and enjoying their company.


Chicago Garden

Monday, March 28th, 2011 by Shelley

I grew up homesteading and living off of the vegetables we grew, so having a vegetable garden has always been a way of life. I have never been able to shake the desire to play in the dirt or to marvel at watching things both edible and ornamental grow. Nature brings me peace and even though I live in Chicago, there are still ways to be surrounded by nature.

I get so much pleasure out of working in my garden at home. It’s tranquil and a beautiful refuge for humans and birds. However, I don’t have a suitable area for growing vegetables. I have enjoyed growing herbs and assorted hot peppers since they grow well in containers I’m able slip into sunny spots here and there. As much as I love my garden at home, I have been longing for a place that I can grow heirloom tomatoes, exotic eggplant, beautiful melons and anything else I want!

So this year, I decided to make it happen! I’m renting a small garden plot not too far from my home. It’s going to be organic, with a rain water barrel, composting bin and all.

I will be planting my corn in the Three Sister’s method, which I have been dying to try. Each stalk of the corn is grown separately. Rather than in rows, it is grown on a mound with pole beans so they can use the corn stalk to grow up. Squash is planted around the base of the corn to replenish the nitrogen the corn depletes from the earth.

I’ll be starting much of my garden from seeds, so I plan to get those going this weekend. I have two friends who have greenhouses so I’m lucky because they will let me store my seeds with theirs. I have some heirloom tomato seeds I purchased last year at the Botanical Gardens, French pumpkin, Moon and Stars watermelon, bi-color sweet corn, and squash to get going. Peppers, cucumbers and beans will be next week.

Since this is the first time I have done a city garden, I would love any feedback you have on starting seedlings, organic gardening or advice on having an urban garden.

Shelley has been teaching people to cook since she opened The Chopping Block in 1997. She spent 17 years as a professional chef, working in busy restaurants and private homes but realized her calling was to get other people to cook. Shelley’s unique concept of a recreational cooking school, gourmet kitchen store and private event business provides Chicago with over 300 cooking classes and private events each month. Shelley loves to garden and entertain for family and friends in her Lincoln Square home.


This is Why I Love What We Do

Friday, March 25th, 2011 by Clair

Last week, I had the pleasure of working part of a three day “class” for teenagers from the Latin School in Chicago. The students ranged in ages from 13 to 16.

Their first day was all about Knife Skills – and if you’ve read any of my past blogs you know how important I think knife skills are. Even though I wasn’t there for that lesson, I could tell they really paid attention based on how well they did the following days.

Day Two was a Mexican-themed menu. They were charged with making guacamole, black bean and cheddar empanadas, achiote grilled fish tacos, refried beans, Mexican rice and for dessert: Churros y Chocolate.

Day Three was dough day.  They rolled out their own pasta dough and made a ricotta filled ravioli with a homemade marinara sauce, individual four cheese pizzas and apple crostatas for dessert. A crostata is basically an apple pie made without the use of a pie tin.

These kids were like little sponges who soaked up all the culinary information we could dish out. They came to The Chopping Block to learn skills and techniques that they would need to make a meal for 150 people at a homeless shelter on their last day.

It made me so happy to watch as they discussed what dishes they wanted to make.  Their eyes lit up as they talked about braising ox tails. They listed the ingredients needed to make the menu they created and talked about how to stretch their budget. Then after class on the third day, they hopped on a bus to Restaurant Depot to shop for the big day.

I wasn’t  able to be at the shelter to see how they did, but I know those kids made a difference to  those 150 people that day. They sure made a huge impact on me for the 2 days that I was with them. I’m sure the experience will stay with them for a lifetime.

Apple Crostata

Yield: One 10-inch crostata; 8 servings

Active time: 30 minutes

Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 minutes

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices

6 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 recipe Pie or Tart Dough

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 egg, beaten to blend

Vanilla ice cream

1.       Preheat oven to 400°.

2.       Toss the apples, 4 tablespoons sugar, cardamom and cinnamon in bowl.

3.       Roll out one disc of Tart Dough on a floured surface to a 12 inch round. Transfer to a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.

4.       Mix 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon flour in small bowl and sprinkle over dough, leaving 2-inch plain border.

5.       Arrange apples in concentric circles on dough, leaving 2-inch plain border and drizzle with melted butter.

6.       Fold dough border in toward center. Brush border with egg glaze and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

7.       Bake crostata until apples are tender and crust is golden, about 45 minutes.

8.       Allow to cool for about 30 minutes, cut into slices and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.



Clair Smith is a Lead Chef's Assistant at The Chopping Block's Merchandise Mart and Lincoln Square locations. After being a long time student, Clair joined the TCB team in 2006. When she's not helping people learn how to cook, she enjoys traveling, camping, and entertaining family and friends. Clair lives in Hyde Park with her husband Ken and her cat named 'Kitty'. She loves Mexican cuisine and her "go to" dish of the moment is Pozole.