Carrie's Posts


Burger Fervor

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Who doesn’t love a good burger? It’s the perfect vehicle for a myriad of ingredients. You name it; you can put it on a burger. There are so many choices of buns, condiments, cheeses, spices, and toppings from avocados to zucchini.  Chicago has some well-known burger restaurants and most people are pretty passionate about their favorite.

However, I’ve made two different hamburgers recently that are brag worthy, if I do say so myself. One of these burgers I documented from start to finish for you. The other I just caught a picture of the final showpiece before eating.

knoxFirst, you’ll need good quality ground beef. If you have a local butcher shop, I recommend going there; somewhere you know the meat is fresh. The color of the beef should be bright red. Never buy the ‘pre-seasoned’ burgers. Those are the products that have been in the display case for a few days and are beginning to oxidize, so they ‘season’ them to cover up the discoloration of the beef. One of my favorite seasoning blends is the Knox brand Cracked Black Pepper Rub, which we carry at The Chopping Block.

Second, I think about the bun. What flavors/textures do I want: pretzel, brioche, potato, sesame, ciabatta? Then, there’s cheese. Should I choose the old faithful cheddar? What about pepper jack or Gruyere? The combinations of ingredients are endless. Don’t’ get me started! Here’s what I made the other day.

Chef Carrie’s Burger

1 lb ground beef

4 oz Danish bacon

1 large shallot, sliced

4 slices sharp cheddar

Homemade sweet pickles


Whole grain mustard

1 T Butter

2 Ciabatta rolls

Grapeseed oil

  • Place thick Danish bacon slices in cast iron skillet and cook over low flame until fully cooked. Do not preheat the skillet before cooking bacon. The bacon will cook more evenly by heating up with the skillet. Add the shallots to the skillet when the bacon is cooked halfway. Stir occasionally. They will caramelize in the bacon fat while the bacon finishes cooking through.



















  • As the bacon cooks, divide beef into 8 oz portions. Gently begin to form into a ball, placing ½ Tablespoon of butter in the center.  This little trick ensures that the burger doesn’t dry out.



















  • Don’t overwork the beef.  The more you press and mess with it, the tougher the burger will be. Work it until it just holds its shape.



















  • Season both sides of the burger generously with salt and pepper. Use a little more seasoning than you think.  You will lose some seasoning in the pan.



















  • Remove cooked bacon and caramelized shallots from the skillet, leaving the bacon fat. Place the ciabatta buns, cut side down in the skillet to toast in the bacon fat.
  • Once the buns are toasted, place the burgers in the skillet.  Do not touch for approximately 5 minutes.



















  • The first side should be GBD (Golden Brown and Delicious) before you even think about flipping it over. ONLY FLIP ONCE! Never press the burger with your spatula.  You’ll just press all the juices out of it and wind up with a tough, dry, flavorless burger.




















  • After approximately two minutes, add the cheese to the top of the burgers so it will melt as the burger cooks.




















  • While the cheese melts, spread mayo and mustard on each half of the bun. Add pickles and caramelized shallots to top half of bun.















  • Place cooked burger directly from pan onto bottom half of bun. The bottom half of the bun will absorb all the lovely juices as the burger rests.















  • Let the burger rest for approximately 5 minutes before devouring!















Here’s a shot of the other burger: Brioche bun, bacon, watercress, mayo, whole grain mustard, pickles and Gruyere.




















If you want to talk burgers, join me at our upcoming Big Green Egg Grilling Kickoff Show at Lincoln Square. We’ll be grilling/smoking sliders, ribs, pork shoulder, pizzas, sausages and vegetables. I’ll be working our Big Green Eggs all day so stop by and we’ll discuss burgers! Learn more about this free event.

BGE Show

Energy Packed Snack for Kids

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

I recently had the honor of volunteering at a local elementary school to teach kids about the importance of preparing and eating healthy after school snacks. Of course, when I asked them about their favorite foods, they answered pizza, French fries and macaroni and cheese. I told them that those were my some of my favorites too, but unfortunately, if I ate those foods all of time, I wouldn’t feel very good and wouldn’t want to play with my friends.

Chef Carrie at Prescott Magnet Cluster School

Chef Carrie at Prescott Magnet Cluster School




















The theme of the evening was Science Night, so the kids were learning about stretching and exercises as well. As I talked with them, I asked them what their bodies needed in order to do all of the fun stretches and exercises they had just learned. Energy! This isn’t anything new. We all know this. Our bodies are machines and food is our fuel for energy.

The school set up an interactive experience for the kids and their families and decided to have me demonstrate how to make “Ants on a Log”.  If you aren’t familiar with this culinary creation, let me enlighten you. There are only three ingredients: celery, peanut butter and raisins which equal fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. All of this is packed into a quick, fun and easy afternoon snack that the kids can assemble themselves! If there are any nut allergies in the house, try Sunbutter which is made from sunflower seeds.






















Another cool fact about this healthy snack is that it hits several key notes to a great dish. It has different color, several textures and it is sweet, salty and refreshing. If you aren’t a big fan of celery, try it with an apple instead!















Ultimately, this experience spoke to me because our mission at The Chopping Block is “to get the country to cook.”  That’s why we offer cooking classes for all ages. It’s never too early to start planning summer camps for the kids. Our camps for kids and teens start June 8th at Lincoln Square, and of course, there are weekend classes between now and then. Check out our calendar!


All About that Braise

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

No treble (a.k.a – high temperature and fast) – low and slow is the temp and tone.  Yes, I’m a band geek and often play a game in my head when someone says a random phrase or word. I automatically think of a song with that word or phrase in it and begin singing.  Many of my culinary friends are musicians, artists or the creative type.  It makes sense because we love building or creating things.  This is why I love braising.  Not only do you have to use the proper technique, but you build layers of flavors and transform a tough cut of meat into something decadent and tender.

shortribsOn New Year’s Day, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to cook dinner for a couple of amazing friends.  I say fortunate, because rarely do I cook like this for myself.  Cue the short ribs!  Mmm…. one of my favorite scents in the kitchen is the smell of seared beef.  I automatically begin salivating every time I smell it. Pavlov or Olfactory bulb? Either way, it happens. I was having so much fun cooking that I forgot to take a lot of photos, but I got a few. I chose to make Horseradish and Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs, duck fat and herb roasted fingerling potatoes, broccoli and gougeres.

Horseradish and Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

Yield: 6 servings

Active time: 45 minutes

Start to finish: 2 hours, 45 minutes

3 pounds boneless beef short ribs

Salt and pepper to taste

All-purpose flour for dredging

3 tablespoons grapeseed oil

2 onions, large dice

1 carrot, large dice

2 stalks celery, large dice

3 cloves garlic, sliced

2 cups red wine

4 cups beef stock

3 tablespoons prepared horseradish

1 bay leaf

A bundle of herbs including thyme and rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons cold butter

  • Season the ribs with salt and pepper to taste. Dredge them in the flour, shaking off any excess.
  • Heat a heavy French oven over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, sear the ribs on all sides until golden brown, and set aside. You will need to do this step in batches to prevent overcrowding the pan.



















  • Add the mire poix to the pan, and cook until lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute.
  • Deglaze the pan with the red wine, and reduce by half of its original volume.
  • Return the ribs to the pot, followed by the stock, horseradish, bay leaf and herb bundle. Season the braising liquid with salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is falling off of the bones.
  • When the meat is tender, remove it from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm. Remove the bay leaf and herb bundle from the pot. Use a blender or hand emersion blender to puree the mire poix into the braising liquid.
  • Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a small saucepan and return to a simmer. Skim any fat that rises to the surface of the sauce. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Finish the sauce by swirling in the cold butter.



















Treat yourself on the next cold winter day you have off by putting on some tunes, grabbing a glass of wine or in the words of the great Julia Child “just a little bit of brandy” and get braising. Or sign up for one of our classes like Braising Boot Camp on March 7th if you need help getting started. Either way, enjoy the process and the fruits of your labor!  Call me when dinner is ready, I’ll be right over.

Recipe for a Perfect Date

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Well not that kind of date, but if you have any suggestions, I’ll take them! I’m talking about that little jeweled fruit that is succulent when fresh and candy-like when dried. Fresh dates are typically available in the fall, so you’ll be lucky to find any still hanging out in the grocery stores right now. Perhaps some specialty markets still have them, but dried dates are available all year long.

So when your friends are having a potluck for the holidays and you are asked to bring the dessert, what do you make?  Sticky Toffee Pudding, of course!  This is one of our all-time favorite recipes at The Chopping Block.  I think most of us look forward to the holiday classes and private events in hope that we get to work one that has this dessert on the menu and have the chance enjoy a piece.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Yield: 12-15 servings

Active time: 30 minutes

Start to finish: 1 hour, 20 minutes


miseFor the cake:

12 ounces dates, pitted and roughly chopped

2 1/2 cups water

2 teaspoons baking soda

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 stick softened butter, cut into pieces

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract



datesFor the butterscotch sauce:

2 1/4 cups light brown sugar

7 tablespoons butter

1 cup half & half

1 teaspoon brandy

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 cup heavy cream, whipped to medium peaks, for garnish

  • Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan and cover the bottom with parchment. Butter the parchment and set aside.
  • Combine the dates and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and gradually stir in the baking soda (mixture will foam up). Set aside.
















  • Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
  • Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the sugar to the butter and cream until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix until combined. Mix in vanilla.





















  • Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/3 of the dates and water, and mix until combined. Repeat until all the flour mixture and the dates are incorporated into the batter.
  • Pour into the prepared pan and bake about 40 minutes, or until firm and set in the center.




















  • Allow to cool in the pan. Once cool, invert onto a sheet tray and peel off the parchment paper.
















  • To prepare the butterscotch sauce, combine the brown sugar, butter, half and half and brandy in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • When ready to serve pudding, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Pour the sauce evenly over the top of the cake. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the cake is heated through, about 5 minutes.



















  • Cut into squares and serve with a dollop of the whipped heavy cream.

The Chopping Block's Sticky Toffee Pudding












If you aren’t charged with bringing dessert, but rather an appetizer, Bacon Wrapped Dates are always crowd pleasers! They are the perfect combination of sweet and salty, made even better with a drizzle of Cream of Balsamic for the sour punch as well. Stuff them with Marcona almonds before you wrap them with bacon and you’ll get a nice texture contrast.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Cream of Balsamic

baconYield: 6-8 servings

Active time: 10 minutes

Start to finish: 25 minutes

24 dates, pitted

8 strips of bacon, cut into thirds

Cream of Balsamic

3 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias

  1. Preheat the oven to 375º.
  2. Wrap a piece of bacon around one date, making sure to overlap the ends of the bacon. Use a toothpick to secure. Continue until all dates are wrapped.
  3. Place on a parchment-lined sheet tray and bake for about 15 minutes or until the bacon is crisp.
  4. Transfer to a platter and drizzle with Cream of Balsamic. Sprinkle with the scallions and serve.

Now, you have no excuse/dilemma of what to bring for the last few holiday gatherings. If you need more help, check out Shelley’s video on How to Make Bacon Wrapped Dates.


Sunchokes: It’s a Tuber

Friday, November 28th, 2014

My students at The Chopping Block always ask me what I like to cook at home. My usual answer is tacos, grilled cheese, or something quick and easy. But every so often, I treat myself. I really enjoy cooking with seasonal vegetables because they taste better when they are in season, and you only get certain vegetables for a limited time each year.

If you are already getting tired of the fall “go to” butternut squash, I’ve got something for you to try. The sunchoke, a.k.a Jerusalem artichoke is a late fall and winter vegetable that is fun to play with. It’s a tuber.  At first glance, they look a little like ginger or galangal, which are rhizomes. If these happen to be side by side at the grocery store, break a little piece off and smell them. The ginger will be obvious.



















Sunchokes can be compared in flavor to jicama or fresh water chestnuts; slightly sweet with white flesh. You can eat them raw in a salad or they can be roasted, boiled or sautéed. I prefer to make a puree out of them.



















Think fancy mashed potatoes. They pair well with cream, garlic, ginger, hazelnuts, parmesan cheese and lemon. I peel them, cook them until tender in heavy cream and a little salt.



















Once tender, I strain them, reserving the heavy cream. Simply place the cooked sunchokes in a food processor and blend until smooth. I add small amounts of the cooking liquid until I get the consistency that I like.



















You do have to be careful not to over process. Sunchokes have a high starch content, like potatoes, so the puree can become gummy if over mixed. I recently made this puree and served it with garlicky green beans and seared pork tenderloin. Delish!



















Don’t be afraid of weird looking vegetables like Sunchokes or Celery Root. Be brave. Try something new!

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.