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On the Healthy Track

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

It’s time to move on to my next big endeavor in life! I am leaving my Sous Chef position with The Chopping Block to pursue a path along the healthy track. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of my staff, team members, colleagues, bosses, guests and students of The Chopping Block for a wonderful run. Transitioning from restaurant life to teaching home cooks has definitely made me appreciate sharing my knowledge and skills. I spent 20 years in restaurants teaching cooks and apprentices how things should be done. And during my time here, I have enjoyed connecting with real people who want to learn how to cook.

2013-04-29 11.43.34healthy-food2For over a year, I have been blogging about my switch to a healthy lifestyle and making choices at every step in life that influence the person that you are.  I truly believe that the phrase, “you are what you eat,” is indeed the real deal.  As a chef, I have surrounded myself with the finest meats, fish and vegetables in restaurants and for the most part, enjoyed as I wished.  Over 38 years, I ended up at 410 pounds. Wow!

But since last March, I have lost 65 pounds and have realized now more than ever that it is not a diet, but rather a way of living.  Diets do not work.  You lose the weight on some special plan, and then you return to old habits, and low and behold, 6 months later, you have gained all the weight back.  I intend to start a lifelong process healthy food photos - Google Searchof educating our great city and country that we ALL need to change.  So please, find a way to get your kids to eat the right things, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and go out of your way to avoid anything fried, sugar and processed foods (deli meats, most things from a can, and most items in the freezer section).  The process has started for me, and I have great hope that food can indeed do a body good.  As the saying goes, “an apple a day will keep the doctor away”.

Thank you again to The Chopping Block and all the great people that make this place hum on a daily basis!

Food & Wine Extravaganza

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

I had dinner with an old friend last week… along with 22 students of The Chopping Block. Scott Noorman and I had the luxury and pleasure of entertaining our guests with a lovely five-course meal paired with wine. Scott and I have worked together for many of my years in Chicago at Trio, Alinea and Powerhouse Bar and Restaurant and have remained good friends.

PlatingA few months ago, we discussed the idea of a food and wine dinner at The Chopping Block. We began by looking through our current wine list, and Scott realized he was familiar with just about every selection. We ended up picking wines that would make for a nice progression of a meal and then moved on to the menu. We chose a German Riesling to pair with a dish of Curried Cauliflower and Chickpeas, a white Cotes du Rhone to pair with Black Cod, Apple-Celery Broth and Baby Carrots.  meatNext came the Dolcetto d’Alba that matched very well with the Crispy Chicken Thigh with Pancetta Risotto and Rapini.  We matched the Dashe Zinfandel with Prime Rib Eye of Beef, Beets and Roasted Root Vegetables.  And lastly for dessert, we paired a beautiful ice wine from Washington State with a Maple Financier Cake, Raspberries, Almond Granola and Candied Orange.

dessertI found that once I told the students WHY we chose to pair the wine with the particular food, the idea clicked in their heads.  I could literally see the light go on as I was speaking with them.  I think the greatest value we added to this class was in allowing Scott and I to walk them through our thoughts around these specific pairings.  Scott told me a few ingredients or flavors of each wine and we went from there.  Once I got the menu finalized, we discussed again and made a couple of last minute changes.  Overall, I felt great about our performance (including my staff who helped create a beautiful night for our guests) as well as the student’s reception of the dinner and the experience.

Table SetI look forward to adding another food and wine dinner again in the future, but I would appreciate any feedback on this particular class or thoughts on what you hope to get out of such a class.  Please share here.

Ode to the Belly

Friday, March 8th, 2013

I have spent the better part of the last year talking about my weight loss successes and have provided you many ideas for getting on the healthy horse. But from time to time, we have to sit back and enjoy some of the guilty pleasures in life that put smiles on our faces.

JPLast Monday, I helped represent The Chopping Block at the Common Threads event at Soldier Field. Common Threads seeks to reach out to young kids to expose them to the many different cultures and cuisines around the world.  A collection of 75 chefs from around the city gathered for the event to help raise money for this great organization.  The Chopping Block chose to represent Germany and the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

CommonthreadsdishWe served Slow-Roasted Pork Belly with Citrus-Braised Cabbage and Caraway Potato Pancake.  Pork belly has to be one of the earth’s greatest gifts to the culinary world.  We cured the pork with salt, sugar and caraway seeds overnight.  The next day, we rinsed off the cure and placed the bellies in a 200 degree oven.  The meat cooked very gently for a solid 12 hours, pork bellymuch like the cooking of a pork shoulder or brisket in a smoker.  Once the belly was cooked to tender, we placed the meat on a large sheet tray and placed another tray on top.  We used some heavy pots to add weight to the belly to press the meat together.  The next day, we cut our little tasting portions and headed off to the stadium.  We quickly thinseared both sides of our portions to provide a nice, crispy texture.  This, served with the caraway flavored potatoes and the nice touch of citrus in the braised cabbage provided the perfect representation of Germany.

Pork belly is indeed one of the most delicious, guilty pleasures to be enjoyed. Have you cooked with it before? Let me know here what dishes inspire you and your belly!

Warm your Soul with Osso Bucco

Friday, February 8th, 2013

As we head into the second half of Chicago winter, our bodies tell us they are ready for some form of warmth.  My quick and easy solution is a pot of delicious braised meats with winter root vegetables.  One dish we recently served at The Chopping Block was a classic Veal Osso Bucco with Parmesan Polenta and Gremolata.

vob2Osso bucco refers to the cross-cut section of the veal shank, usually from the top portion of the thigh.  The literal translation is “bone with a hole.”  The whole of the bone is filled with amazing bone marrow, which once cooked, will yield a super savory meat butter that can be enjoyed with a piece of the meat or smeared on a piece of crusty bread.  You can find osso bucco at most butcher shops and they are relatively inexpensive.  Gremolata is a type of parsley, lemon zest and garlic “pesto” that is classically served directly on top of the bone marrow.  The bright lemon flavor helps to cut the richness of the meat and broth.

Here is my quick and easy version of this dish:

vob1Season the shanks with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes.  Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the pan and sear both sides of the shank.  Allow a couple of minutes for the meat to brown properly.  This is the first step in developing a rich, hearty broth that will allow the tough cut of meat to become tender over the course of 3-4 hours of cooking.

Once the meat has been browned, remove from the pan and add 2 cups each of large dice onion, carrot and celery.  Continue cooking these vegetables for an additional 6-8 minutes, or until they have begun to brown on the edges.  Again, this caramelizing of the veggies will help flavor our braise (braising is a moist or wet cooking method used primarily for tougher cuts of meat.  Think beef stew or coq au vin).  Next, add 5-6 cloves minced garlic and 3-4 tablespoons of tomato paste.  Cook for an additional 2 minutes.  Next, add the shanks, a can of crushed tomatoes and enough beef or chicken stock to generously cover the meat and vegetables.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer, covered for 3 hours.

vob3The dish will be done once the meat is tender and easily pulls of the bone.  Make sure the broth is seasoned nicely and add a couple of tablespoons of your favorite chopped herbs and serve over polenta, noodles or risotto.  Make sure to include some of the broth over the meat and enjoy.

This is one of winter’s most inspiring dishes, and I promise it will warm your soul.

What’s your favorite winter meal? Share your ideas here.

 

Are you Sick of Holiday Parties?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Well, I sure as heck am! I hosted two great parties and attended two other parties in December, otherwise known as the party month in my book.

cookiesI had been doing so well with my mindful eating and working out, and then you get tempted with all those guilty pleasures that come along with the holiday season: sugar cookies, cinnamon rolls, brisket, alcohol, alcohol, alcohol and more alcohol.  So, I told myself that it was okay to celebrate all of the positive strides I made in 2012.  And I had lots of fun! Now, the doldrums of winter are starting to set in, and I have made my list of goals for 2013, most of which revolve around health and continuing to lose weight. I did successfully lose 69 pounds in 2012, which is the most I have ever lost in my life.

With all that fun behind me, I plan to get back on the healthy horse and kick off 2013 on a very positive note.  A few of the goals I set are for the entire year, but most importantly, I set a few short term goals that are very attainable and realistic.  The most important goal is that I must make it to the gym 5 times a week, preferably 6 times.  I have noticed what it does to your body when you get that blood flowing first thing in the morning.  This is my preferred “cup of coffee.”  And I also took note in late December what my body feels like when it does not get that cup of coffee.

rngymIn addition to the nearly daily appearance at the gym, I plan to map out my workouts for the week so that no time is wasted at the gym trying to figure out my next exercise.  And as far as nutrition goes, my rule is if you buy something, you will eventually eat it.  Goodbye tortilla chips, bacon, beer and brisket and hello fresh vegetables and Greek yogurt!  If you surround yourself with the proper foods, it makes it much easier to eat healthy.

Now that I’ve shared a few of my goals/plans for the New Year, ask yourself this question:  What little changes can I make in my day that will yield a healthier me?  Please let me know of any ideas that you come up with to get us all on the healthy horse in 2013!

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John Peters is the Sous Chef of The Chopping Block at the Mart. In addition to teaching several times a week, John orders and receives the products for classes and private events, manages scheduling, works with the private events team in party planning and organizing, and keeps an overall open eye to the entire space at the Mart. He enjoys both cooking and eating Mexican food and the thing he enjoys most about cooking is truly making people happy with food!