Carrie's Posts

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

A Spicy Sauce for Everything

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

I love all “South of the Border” flavors, but one sauce we make in The Chopping Block’s Too Hot to Handle class gets me every time. It’s a dipping sauce that’s made with Aji Amarillo paste and jalapenos.

What is Aji Amarillo paste? Blended Aji Amarillo peppers!  Well, there is a little bit of a process to it, but peppers are the only ingredient. In the class, this sauce is served with fried plantains. Yum!

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I made this sauce at home last week, and I’ve put it on just about everything I’ve eaten since. I initially made the fried plantains along with seared Jamaican spiced pork tenderloin. That was a great combination. A couple of days later, I made flank steak with poblano peppers, onions and roasted fingerling potatoes. The next day, I had leftover flank steak and veggies, so I made myself a wrap with the sauce.

Making this sauce and utilizing it in so many ways reminds me of our Sauce Boot Camp and French Sauce Workshop classes. Once you learn the basics of how to make a sauce, you can elevate any dish and make subtle changes to make it suitable to almost any cuisine. You definitely need to sign up for one these classes!

Here is the inspiring sauce recipe:

Peruvian Aji Amarillo-Jalapeño Dipping Sauce

Yield: 1 cup

Active time: 15 minutes

Start to finish: 15 minutes

sauce2 jalapeños, including seeds and ribs, cut into rounds

1 to 2 tablespoons aji amarillo paste (can be found at South American grocery stores)

10 sprigs fresh cilantro leaves and stems, roughly chopped

1/4 cup queso fresco, crumbled

1 clove garlic, rough chopped

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

1/2 teaspoon cava vinegar or apple cider vinegar

Salt to taste

Lime juice to taste

1/2 cup mayonnaise

  1.  Place all of the ingredients, except for the mayonnaise, in a food processor and puree until very smooth.
  2. Add the mayonnaise and pulse until incorporated.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.