Carrie's Posts


Saving a Salty Dish from Demise

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

I’ve written before about how I like to take random ingredients from the refrigerator and pantry and make a meal out of them. I was going to share a similar recent experience when I found some ground chicken, leftover tomato sauce, can of cannellini beans, half an onion and half of a green pepper. Sounds like the makings of Chicken Chili, right? I even took pictures of the sautéed onions and peppers, spices and browned chicken to show you the process.















I added the tomato sauce and some homemade chicken stock.  Then the fun began: a dash of Worcestershire here, some BBQ sauce there, Sriracha for a little kick, then salt and pepper. Still bland. More salt. Uh oh… too much salt!

Well, all is not lost. I added a beer to try and tone it down, but the chili was still too salty. At this point, it was too far gone to try and balance with acid or something sweet. I didn’t have a potato to dice up and add to the chili, which is a good standby plan when soup is too salty.

So, I searched the pantry again. Red lentils to the rescue! I know. Lentils aren’t a traditional chili ingredient, but they worked in this case. The great thing about red lentils is their short cook time. They only take about 5 – 8 minutes to fully cook in a nice brothy soup, which is what I had at this point because of the beer I added. Not only did they help balance out the saltiness of the dish, but once they cooked through, they helped to thicken the chili.

The moral of this story is don’t’ give up! There are little things you can do to adjust recipes and make them work, even in times of disaster.

We have a new class at The Chopping Block called Cooking Lab. This is a series of four classes taught by our Owner/Chef Shelley Young. I highly recommend this class to learn great techniques, tips and tricks to cooking. The series starts Tuesday, September 30 at our Lincoln Square location and will be held the following three Tuesdays.  Sign up today and learn how to save your soup, before it’s too late!

Curry Craving

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

I can’t seem to get enough Thai food lately. I’m not sure if my body is craving the spice to kick this nasty summer cold I can’t seem to shake, or if I’m just obsessed with the flavors and colors. Regardless, I love Thai food, and I especially love coconut curries.

I was recently inspired to cook a pot of coconut chicken curry at home. You can pack a ton of vegetables, textures, colors and flavors into one dish that is both healthy and delicious.

miseI went to the grocery store with no idea of what I was going to cook for dinner. I like to walk through the produce section and see what looks fresh and interesting. I saw a nice head of cauliflower, a red bell pepper and some beautiful bok choy and my thoughts immediately turned to Thai.  Plus, I always keep thai chilis and kaffir lime leaves in my freezer at home for a rainy day.

Coconut Chicken Curry

2 T coconut oil

2 small chicken breasts, cut into 1” cubes

½ red onion, medium dice

1 parsnip, small dice

2 carrots, small dice

1 red bell pepper, medium dice

½ head cauliflower, cut into small florets

1 can coconut milk

4 cups chicken stock (approximately)

4 kaffir lime leaves

2 thai chilies (sliced thin)

2 T green curry paste

Lime juice to taste

Fish sauce to taste

  1.  Heat a heavy bottom pot (i.e. 5 qt Le Creuset French Oven) over medium heat until hot.  Add coconut oil.
  2. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and sear until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Add onions, parsnips, carrots and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until halfway cooked.
  4. Add red bell pepper and cauliflower. Season vegetables with salt and pepper.
  5. Add coconut milk and enough chicken stock to cover vegetables.
  6. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Add lime leaves, thai chilies and curry paste.
  7. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until cauliflower becomes tender.
  8. Adjust seasoning with lime juice and fish sauce.

This can be eaten as is or served over steamed rice.

Coconut chicken curry


















Who needs chicken noodle soup when you’ve got coconut chicken curry?

Charred Summer Salad

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Q: How do you get more flavor from your vegetables if you’re not allowed to have a grill on your apartment balcony?

A: You char them in a cast iron skillet or fire roast them on the stove top!

I couldn’t decide what I wanted to make for dinner the other day, so I stopped by the grocery store to see what vegetables looked nice or inspired me. I had some romaine lettuce and chicken breasts at home, so I was leaning toward making a salad.  The poblano peppers and red peppers looked beautiful, so I grabbed one of each and a red onion as well.

Roasted peppers have such a wonderful flavor and are easy to prepare.  Plus, by roasting the peppers, you are able to get rid of the bitter skins which are also hard to digest.

How to Roast a Pepper

Place the pepper directly on the grate of a gas stove top and turn the flame on high.  Use tongs to rotate the pepper once the first side is charred until it is black all over.  Then, place the pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or place in a Ziploc bag and seal.  Once the pepper is cool enough to touch, place a paper towel on your cutting board (which helps minimize the mess) and use another paper towel to pull the charred skin off the pepper.  You’ll be tempted to rinse the pepper under running water, but don’t give in.  You’ll actually wash some of the flavor away!  Once the skin is removed, open the pepper to remove the seeds and then slice or dice.

























Shelley also shows you how to do it in this video:

For the red onion, I sliced it into rounds, heated my cast iron skillet over medium heat, added a touch of oil and placed the onion in the skillet.  I didn’t turn the onion until the first side was nice and caramelized.  Flip and repeat.  Rough chop when cool.

























I used the same skillet to sear the chicken breasts while I prepared the rest of the salad.  For added texture and flavor, I threw sliced cucumber, shredded carrot and a handful of walnuts into the salad.















My new favorite homemade salad dressing is tahini, lemon or lime juice, a touch of water and olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s light and delicious!

Try this at home, and let me know what you think in the comments.

Pop Quiz-Ine

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

One of our favorite mediums to play around with flavor at The Chopping Block is popcorn.  If you’ve ever been to a class, private event or just stopped by to shop, chances are you have sampled one of our creations.

SaltsFirst, I’ll give a brief overview of how to pop popcorn on the stovetop for those of you that rely on the microwave.  No judgment here… before I started teaching classes at The Chopping Block, that’s what I did too.

Here’s What You Need

  • Heavy pot with lid (Le Creuset 7.5qt French Oven works perfectly)
  • High heat oil (Grapeseed or Canola)
  • Large bowl
  • Popcorn

Here’s What You Do


  1. Preheat the pot.
  2. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pot.
  3. Place one kernel of popcorn in the pot and turn the heat to high. Once it pops, then add approximately 1 cup of kernels.
  4. As the kernels are popping, it’s important to shake the pot so that the unpopped kernels sink to the bottom and the already popped kernels continue to move upward to prevent burning. Burnt popcorn is not a pleasant aroma.
  5. When the interval between pops begins to slow to 3 – 5 seconds between pops, turn the heat off and remove the lid.  This keeps the popcorn from getting tough and chewy from the steam in the pot.
  6. Carefully transfer the popcorn to a large bowl, allowing enough room to be able to toss the popcorn with seasonings.

Three of my Favorite Popcorn Flavors

Frantoia olive oil and truffle salt















Pizza popcorn = oil from Pomodorracio tomatoes, dried oregano, grated Parmesan















Tahitian lime olive oil and chipotle lime seasoning

chipotle lime










I recently experimented with a ‘twice baked potato’ flavor combination. After popping the kernels in a combo of bacon fat and grapeseed oil, I melted some butter and whisked in a little sour cream and more bacon fat.  After tossing the popcorn in this super tasty liquid mixture, I sprinkled it with white cheddar powder and minced green onions.  Success!

What is the craziest flavor of popcorn you’ve ever made? Share with me in the comments. 

Cinco de Mayo

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Today isn’t just an excuse for you to go out and have a pitcher of margaritas with your friends. Cinco de Mayo is also a chance for you to celebrate my birthday. Really, it’s my birthday! So, I actually do plan on having a few margaritas with friends.

In seriousness, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the cause of freedom and democracy during the first years of the American Civil War, celebration of Mexican heritage and pride and the Mexican army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

guacamoleWhen people ask me what my specialty dish is, I usually say guacamole.  I love all the flavors of Mexico (probably because of my birthday) and guacamole is one of my go-to comfort foods. I’m pretty finicky when it comes to guacamole and, of course, mine is the best.  It sounds simple, but it’s all about the balance of salt, acid and heat.

Because it’s my birthday, I’m going to share my secret with you: you need the juice of ½ lime per avocado. That’s it. Of course, not all limes are alike, so you may have to tweak things here and there.


ganze und halbe avocado isoliert auf weiss4 avocadoes, smashed

2 limes, juiced

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

1 shallot, minced

½ cup cilantro, minced

Salt to taste

molcajeteGuacamole is traditionally made using a molcajete.  A molcajete (mol-cah-hay’-tay is a stone tool, the traditional Mexican version of the mortar and pestle.  The matching hand-held grinding tool, known as a tejolote is also made of the same basalt material. Most pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican molcajetes were made of ceramic rather than stone, especially among the Aztecs.  The rough surface of the basalt stone creates a superb grinding surface that maintains itself over time as tiny bubbles in the basalt are ground down, replenishing the textured surface. But as long as you have a good chef’s knife, a bowl and a spoon… you too can make guacamole.

There are so many variations of guacamole. If you like it hot, use more jalapeno or a canned chipotle chili for a nice smoky flavor.  I’m not a fan of tomatoes in my guacamole, but I won’t hold it against you if you add some to yours. After all, Shelley does. Watch her video on How to Make Guacamole.

What’s your favorite ingredient to add to guacamole? Share your ideas in the comments. 




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.