Clair's Posts


Water, Health Changes and More

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

I did it! I successfully lasted a full month of drinking water, or more accurately, not drinking soda. I drank water and only a few glasses of iced tea and a beer or two, but all in all, mostly water.

waterHere’s what I gotta say about it… water is boring.  I tried fresh fruit in water, which was good but in my opinion a waste of fruit since it’s not really edible afterward. I also tried the water flavor enhancers (Mio, Crystal Light, etc.) and they taste very artificial to me.  Having a Pellegrino from time to time helped, but I noticed that when I drank soda I was drinking much more during the course of the day than I did when drinking water. I guess water really does quench your thirst! If the weather was hot, and I was doing yard work everyday, I’d drink more water and actually enjoy it more.

I  found that I ate a little more healthy, not because I was trying to, but because it just felt right to do so while drinking water.

watersleepI seem to be sleeping better, or at least deeper and I’ve been dreaming more. Does that have to do with water intake? Hmm, the jury is still out.

On June 3rd, I broke down and had two Sprites that day. My stomach was upset, and I thought it would make me feel better.  All in all, I’d say drinking LESS soda is better and drinking water does have its advantages.

Now that May is over, what’s next?  Well, at the ripe age of… (I’d rather not say), I realize I should probably make some changes in my overall eating habits.  I love ice cream and sweets, but I tend to over indulge. When I do, I feel awful after.  Looks like refined sugar may be the next to go… or at least to reduce in my diet.

What are some changes you’ve made in your diet as you’ve gotten older?  I’d love to hear them so I don’t feel like I’m the only one.


The Great Water Experiment Update

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

I’m about halfway through my water experiment month. For those of you who may not have read my last blog, I do not drink water. You will rarely see me with a glass of the stuff – so for the month of May, I declared I would be giving up all of my soda for the cool, some say refreshing, liquid known as H2O.

lemon waterMay 1 – This happened to be a pretty warm day, so I took advantage of the weather and did some yard work.  Accompanying me was my clear water bottle filled to the brim with ice, lemons and mint.  During my three hours in my yard, I drank two bottles and actually enjoy them. However, I chalked that up to being hot, tired and very sweaty!

May 2 – I brought my water bottle to work filled with chucks of watermelon and mint – this one was my favorite.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered.  I really do not like plain water.  Flavored water is okay.  I do like the addition of real fruit, etc. but after the fruit lives in the water for a couple days you can’t use it again and you certainly wouldn’t eat the waterlogged stuff.  So, infused fruit water will be a treat but not for every day consumption.  Most days, I drink Propel.

Everyone wants to know how I feel. Honestly, I have noticed a couple of changes in my health, but I’m not convinced that it’s water related rather than elimination of soda and caffeine.

water flavorsI’m waking up more easily.  In the past, when I’d wake up in the morning I’d still be very tired, like I could crawl back into bed and sleep another five hours.  (I usually sleep between 8 & 10 hours a night, fyi.) So, that is a huge plus.

I tend to hold all my stress in my neck, which causes headaches. When I drink caffeine, I notice that my neck is really tight.  I still have the “stress” in my neck but it’s very different.  I’m hoping that continuing with the water-only beverage restriction for the rest of the month, I’ll notice more changes. Time will tell, so stay tuned for my next blog for the full update and more!

What new flavor combination of fruit-infused water should I try?


The Great Water Experiment

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

You may find this hard to believe, but I don’t drink water.  It’s true. I very rarely will be caught drinking a glass of or a bottle of water.  I will occasionally drink a bubbly water or a Propel on very hot days, but generally I don’t drink the stuff.  I just don’t like the taste, or rather the non-taste, of it.

colaSo, what do I drink? Well, I tend to drink a lot of pop (or soda, depending on where you’re from), milk, the occasional fruit juice and sweet tea.

Until recently, I’ve been very good at cutting out caffeine in my diet since it is a big contributor to headaches, which have plagued me in the past. But when I get stressed, I tend to go for the cola. I know that drinking caffeinated drinks has an adverse affect on my body and general well being, so I want to change that.

crystal-light-liquid-drink-mix-all-flavorsI know what you’re thinking, “You really should drink (X) number of glasses of water per day to be healthy”.  However, other than being overweight, I am a pretty healthy person.  My blood pressure is normal, cholesterol is great, I don’t have diabetes, or anything else for that mio_groupmatter, so what could water do for me to make me healthier? Now, I’m going to find out. To experiment, I will drink only water for one month. I might add a flavored Mio or Crystal Light flavor to the water. I expect to occasionally indulge in a Pellegrino, but a soda will not touch my lips for one month starting May 1st.  I know myself, and I need a clear start and end to the experiment.  I will track how much water I drink per day and how it makes me feel and if I see any changes in my health.

Look for results in my May blog and tell me why you think I should be drinking water.


Learn to Cook by Video

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

IMG_1031Did you know that not only can you learn to become a better cook by taking any number of our classes, reading our blogs, watching our live video Google+ Hangout videos but also through the video library located on our website? Well, now you do!

I had the honor of helping Chef Shelley Young last week during some of these video shoots.  As I was watching the shoots unfold, I felt like I was seeing what goes on behind the scenes of a taping of a Food Network show.

me and syHere’s what you will see in some of the future videos.  You’ll be able to learn how to make the perfect crepe and fill it with a delicious spinach and cheese mixture, trim, sear & cook a whole beef tenderloin to the perfect temperature and make some really awesome Gluten-Free Butternut Squash & Brown Sugar Muffins. These were so yummy, as you can tell by the photo of the taste test done by me and Shelley. I would never have known there was no flour in them if I hadn’t done the mise en place for it myself.

Gluten-Free Butternut Squash and Brown Sugar Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Active time: 20 minutes

Start to finish: 40 minutes

1 3/4 cup brown rice flour mix

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

xanthangum3/4 teaspoon xanthan (commonly used as a food thickening agent)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 eggs

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup +2 tablespoons grape seed oil

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 cup butternut squash purée (see note, below)

Brown sugar, for crumbling on top

  1. Preheat the oven to 325º and line a muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the brown rice flour mix, sugar, baking soda, xanthan, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and allspice.
  3. In a medium-size bowl whisk together the eggs, water, oil, maple syrup and butternut squash purée.
  4. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry until just blended.
  5. Fill the muffin tins until they are 3/4 full and top with a crumbling of brown sugar.
  6. Bake until the tops are springy to the touch, about 20 minutes.

NOTE: To make butternut squash purée preheat your oven to 375º. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Roast until the squash is knife tender, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool. Scoop the meat out of the skin and place in a bowl. Use a potato masher to make a smooth purée.

What cooking technique or recipe would you like to see Shelley explain in an upcoming video?

Are You Better than the Average Cook?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

If you’re better than an average home cook and think there are no cooking classes for you without spending thousands of dollars on culinary school, think again.

Our chefs and assistants spend a lot of time talking to our students, and we’ve been hearing a lot lately that they want some more “challenging” classes to help elevate their cooking to the next level.  Well, we listened and we have taken action.

If you check out our February & March calendars, you’ll find some new and really exciting classes to wet your palate!

BC WhiskChef Factor

March 4 Lincoln Square

March 29 Merchandise Mart


Become a superstar in the kitchen! In these exclusive classes, our chef will show you how to make these dishes, giving detailed directions step by step while you watch and learn. You will then execute each recipe yourself, from start to delicious finish. Working solo instead of in a group, this is real-world cooking in real time. So, no surprises when you re-create your new favorite dishes on your own at home. By far the best learning experience we can give you. Techniques: Braising Meat and Cooking Whole Grains. Recipes: Chicken Cacciatore; Warm Farro Salad with Spinach, Pine Nuts and Basil. Skills Covered in Class Include: Selecting and Braising Chicken; Determining Meat Doneness; Selecting Cookware; Working with Whole Grains; Balancing Flavors.

0045Prep School Plus

March 9 Merchandise Mart 

March 6 Lincoln Square

March 25 Lincoln Square


In this technique-focused class, you’ll learn how to successfully clean and properly cut challenging fruits and vegetables that you might otherwise shy away from, including: pineapple, butternut squash, tomatoes, leeks, mangoes, oranges and avocados. When your knife work is through, we’ll cook and devour these dishes using your handiwork. Pineapple, Mango and Tomato Salsa with Tortilla Chips; Arugula, Avocado and Orange Salad with Pistachio Vinaigrette; Fregola Pasta with Caramelized Butternut Squash, Apples and Walnuts. Skills Covered in Class Include: Using a Knife; Working with Hard-to-Cut Produce; Selecting Produce; Balancing Flavors; Making Vinaigrette; Caramelizing Vegetables.

shortribsBraising Boot Camp

March 10 Merchandise Mart


Braising is the perfect winter cooking technique, focused on low-and-slow simmering to create über-tender meats and vegetables. Join us for this global journey while we create ultimate one-pot meals. Osso Buco with Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata and Polenta; Spicy Soy-Glazed Short Ribs with Jasmine Rice; Cassoulet (Classic French Dish of Sausage, Pork Shoulder, Duck Confit and Beans); Curried Vegetable Stew with Naan Bread. Skills Covered in Class Include: Selecting Meat for Braising; Making Stock; Getting Familiar with Asian Ingredients; Steaming Rice; Cooking Dried Beans; Balancing Flavors.

Yard Bird- Chicken Butchery

March 17 Merchandise Mart

March 29 Lincoln Square


Be a savvy, economical cook and discover how to utilize the whole bird! We’ll help you break a whole chicken down into serving pieces, make stock from the bones, and perfectly cook the white and dark meat. Chicken Braised with Pancetta, Red Peppers and Garlic; Chicken Saltimbocca; Buffalo Wings with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. Skills Covered in Class Include: Breaking Down a Whole Chicken; Building a Stock; Selecting Chicken; Braising, Sautéing and Deep-Frying Chicken; Making a Pan Sauce.

IMG_1780Pan Handling

March 23 Merchandise Mart

February 27 Lincoln Square


We will teach you how to properly heat a sauté pan, regulate heat and deglaze. Learn how to choose the right pots and pans for the job and how to flip your pan like a pro. Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Frittata; Sautéed Mushroom Bruschetta; Grilled Lemon Herb Chicken with Orzo Salad; Black Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna. Skills Covered in Class Include: Selecting Cookware and How to Properly Use It; Caramelizing Onions; Working with Eggs; Sautéing, Searing and Grilling; Selecting Chicken and Tuna; Determining Meat Doneness.

Whole Hog, Meat Cuts 101

March 16 Merchandise Mart


Join us as Chef Mario Scordato butchers a whole pig, showing you where the most important cuts are located, and explains the best ways to cook them. After Mario’s demonstration, you’ll sit down and enjoy a pork-filled lunch!

and for the very serious, I want to cook like a pro, home cooks:

FishCulinary Boot Camp

March 18 -22 Merchandise Mart


Spend a week in our kitchens learning and cooking like the pros! We’ve created an essential culinary curriculum over the course of five days. Day One: In Depth Lessons in Knife Skills, Fish Butchering, Making Fish Stock, Emulsion Sauces and Fish Cookery. Day Two: Chicken and Beef Butchery, Stock Making, Braising, Sauteing, Stuffing, Roasting and Grilling. Day Three: In Depth Lessons in Soup Making. Classic “Mother Sauces” and Vinaigrettes and how to Apply them to Everyday Cooking. Day Four: Cooking Techniques of Eggs, Vegetables, Beans, Grains and Potatoes. Day Five: Enjoy a Tastebud Tutorial, Work on Plating Skills and Perfect the Techniques from the Week. Please contact us at or 312-644-6360 for more details.

Is there a class you’d like to take but haven’t seen it on our calendar? Let me know here, and I’ll personally see what I can do to get it added!

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.