I just returned from my favorite place in the entire world. You guessed it – the Minnesota State Fair! Each year, they introduce something new, and this year was no different. Their ability to put almost anything on a stick never seizes to amaze me.
Let’s start with my personal favorite this year, and I have to admit I did not see this coming: Deep Fried Buckeyes on a Stick. What’s that? A sweet, creamy peanut butter ball coated in chocolate, dipped in funnel cake batter, deep-fried, dusted with confectioners’ sugar and served with a strawberry sauce. It was warm, gooey goodness that my boyfriend literally had to fight me for just to get a bite.
Now, for my favorite classic. I return to the State Fair year after year for these bad boys, and it is undoubtedly the first stand I stake out every visit. Now a lot of places ‘do’ cheese curds, but no one, and I mean no one does them like the Mouse Trap at the State Fair. They are all cheese and very little batter. Crispy, salty grease filled bundles of pure joy.
While I managed to personally enjoy a pronto pup on a stick, cheese curds, buckeye on a stick, Italian beef on a stick and a bucket of Sweet Martha’s Chocolate Chip cookies, I did not have the capacity to try the other new bites featured this year like ‘Chicken in the Waffle,’ ’Caribbean Style Lobster Roll’, and ‘Beer Gelato.’ I did take a picture of the ‘Spaghetti and Meatballs’ on stick to send to my boyfriend’s very Italian mother to which she responded, ‘Authentic – I’m sure. ;)’
All in all the fair was a huge hit, as always. I encourage anyone who has a State Fair near or far to venture out because you never know what you’re going to discover!
The Chopping Block loves to put food on a stick as well. In our Street Food class, our Kofta Kebabs are skewered. In Thrill of the Grill, we make Spicy Coconut-Glazed Shrimp. In Beef on the Grill, you’ll enjoy Cumin-Spiced Beef, Onion and Pepper Kebabs with Chimichurri and Couscous. Tofu Satay with Peanut Sauce is one of the stars of Vegetarian Thai, and Mix and Mingle Appetizer Party features Fresh Mozzarella Marinated with Artichokes and Roasted Red Peppers.
Jennifer Rozman is the General Manager of The Chopping Block's Merchandise Mart location. Her favorite part of her job is sharing her cooking journey with others who are just beginning to explore the culinary world. When she's not taking a cooking class or researching her latest gourmet retail selection, you can find her working off all of the delicious treats the chefs share at hot yoga or on the tennis courts, when weather permits. Dining out at a restaurant she's never tried before is how she rewards herself, as she loves trying new things and celebrating others passions.
The Chopping Block is celebrating Chicago Craft Beer Week with different beer-focused classes, including last Friday’s “He Said, She Said: Food & Beer Pairing Dinner”. The evening featured five courses demonstrated by Chef Mario Scordato, while his wife, Stephanie, a certified Cicerone, poured and discussed five expertly aligned brews.
As someone lucky enough to get one of the last seats, it was the perfect way to start #CCBW and I learned an interesting fact, with which wine people will probably disagree. Beer pairs better with food than wine (gasp). I know, but it’s true.
Take a minute and let that sink in… don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Beer can complement or contrast and even prepare your tongue for a brand new bite each time thanks to carbonation. When is the last time a big, bold Bordeaux gave your taster a scrubbing between each mouthful?
All that remains from that delicious meal is a recipe packet with a few giddy notes about how “I must go to Penrose immediately” and “Tonnato is the greatest thing I have never tasted”. So needless to say, pictures were not happening as the dishes rolled out. I was more interested in being in the moment with exceptionally balanced food and beer.
Here’s the menu with the pairings:
I would be happy to discuss further with anyone who has questions… that’s what the comment section is for.
– The crisp, clean citrus notes in the Kolsch enhanced the seasonal flavors of this dish. The beer emphasized the lemon while reinforcing the light, fluffy nature of the ricotta “pillows” as Chef Mario called them.
– “Whisper Kisses” has a great/creepy origin story for the name and I will leave it at that. Tonnato sauce can be seen in a similar light. However, both when tried are outstanding, and I would recommend giving each their fair shot if you ever have the chance to indulge in either.
– The lamb was rich, earthy and comforting, and begging for the roasted, malty flavor of the Cane & Ebel, which is a hoppy rye beer. The meaty flavors of the lamb and mushrooms were complimented by the rye, while the hops cut nicely through the fat and added a slightly grassy, herbal note which refreshed the palate.
– Stouts and Porters typically pair well with desserts and this was a great example of this concept. The Chocolate in the dessert seems to draw out the chocolate, vanilla and toffee flavors in the beer.
The first time I attempted beer pairings for a group was my wedding last month, and was shocked by the positive feedback about the combinations. Especially when it comes to the craft beer uninitiated, the idea that beer could pair with food was akin to the discovery of fire many, many years ago.
The biggest takeaway I got from these pairing adventures is that beer and food belong together, and I would be happy to create a custom beer experience for you. As a planner of private events and armed with the knowledge of great local craft beers in Chicago, I can make this happen for any adventurous soul who wants to be buds with tasty food and suds!
Mike Lintal grew up in a suburb of Charleston, South Carolina. He studied Broadcast Journalism at The University of South Carolina, and upon graduation took a job as a local news producer at a TV station in Charleston. Soon after, fate called Mike to Chicago when his girlfriend received a dream job offer. Mike quickly realized that his interest in good food and beverage, cultivated by the Lowcountry's high quality and standards, was known in the "Big City" as being a "Foodie". After spending 3 well-fed years enjoying Chicago's vibrant and blossoming dining options and attempting to convince rural car dealers that the internet was not "THE Devil" he knew it was time for a change. Constantly looking for a way to turn his love of all things gourmand into his professional endeavor, he accepted a position as Private Events Coordinator with The Chopping Block. When he's not out pursuing all things taco or brewed, he can be found cooking at home with his fiancée or playing with their infectiously cute puppy.
One of the biggest perks of working at The Chopping Block is that I get to be in Lincoln Square every day. Nestled in the armpit of Lawrence, Western and Lincoln, this neighborhood is host to lovely scenery, attractive young couples, playful puppies, a shocking number of babies, and lots — LOTS — of good eats.
That being said, it’s great to work here, and it’s nice that on lunch breaks and after work I can pop out to any of the following good spots for nosh and/or beer and/or wine. But, I have to admit, it’s getting a little out of hand. Every day? I mean, EVERY day?
This is how Lincoln Square gets you:
Regional, curious shops. Gene’s Sausage Shop across the street from The Chopping Block is always a fun place to pop in and explore (woah, the candy Polish kids eat is so weird!), and it’s definitely got the best prices on meats and deli salads in the area. With this in mind, I always walk in planning to grab a cheap little something, and walk out with a $5 bottle of Kombucha.
Provenance Food and Wine? Same idea. It’s a place you enter to gaze at the beautiful oils, vinegars and chocolates and leave with a $15 block of delicious cheese.
Charming, tiny cookies. At Cafe Selmarie, the romantic French pastry shop, you will feast your eyes on gorgeous tarts and bonbons sitting fresh-made in the pastry case. The vision: you’re sitting with a book on their bistro-style patio, sipping red wine and taking an hour to nibble through a single, quarter-sized sugar cookie because you’re French now. The reality: 10 sugar cookies, two beers, and half a quiche later, you’re sunburned and full.
Bad ass burgers and damn delicious beers. The Bad Apple, a bit down Lincoln from the square itself, is one of our favorite places to pop in for a few beers and some laughs. Of course, when the menu comes around I suddenly realize I’ve been robbing myself of the true stuff of life—unique bar food and fancy beverages—for too long. I know we were going to go home after and cook, but who knows if I’ll ever have the opportunity to try a bacon and peanut butter veggie burger again! This could be my only chance! And I have to get this one funky beer to go with it! Fail.
Salsa verde. Okay, so we’ve all been eating red salsa at Chi-chis since we were seven. We’re over it. Salsa verde, though? With the chips? Now that’s something to sit down and wait for! Taqueria El Asadero down at Lincoln and Montrose has the right idea with this. At least once a week when I’m off work and starving, I can’t not go to this ten-table joint for some of the best vegetarian tacos and, yes, salsa verde, in Chicago. That is, I do this instead of going to the Jewel right next door and getting the goods to cook for myself. Because my tacos just aren’t that good. I don’t know what “el asadero” means, but I’m guessing it’s close to “place where you spend all your money.”
What’s your favorite place to blow your paycheck in Lincoln Square? Reply here and let me know.
Robyn recently moved to Chicago from Boston, where she taught math and reading in an urban high school. During that time, she discovered with dismay a huge lack of food knowledge and access in her students' communities and got totally fired up. She started cooking with the kids and created a class in which students learned how to budget for and select healthy, ethical, sustainable food. She is now at The Chopping Block with the hope to further the mission of getting the world to cook! In her free time, Robyn enjoys cooking and eating, bicycling and running, blogging and reading and adventuring.
Picture if you will the following: racks of freshly baked treats of varying sizes, flavors and colors. There’s no one around to stop you from eating all of it. It’s just you and those cupcakes, cookies, brownies, etc!
Well, my friends, that is my life. I manage a dessert truck for a little bake shop in Los Angeles. My job is a ton of fun, and I have full, unadulterated access to freshly baked sweets. The picture above is my daily view from my “desk.” The hard part is that I work alone quite a bit, and thus, I have no one there to tell me not to have a brownie for breakfast or to silently judge me while I go for that third cookie. No one is there, and I’m stuck with only my waning self-discipline to be my guide. My relationship with sugar is, well, unhealthy.
So after doing some research on sugar and what it does to the body, it turns out that it causes a host of problems, like cavities and weight gain and losing friends! I kid, but seriously, I might’ve chosen a cookie over taking a shower at one point in the past year. I don’t know why I had to make a choice between the two. Regardless of that, I know I have to cut back because I deserve better, right? I’m a big believer in moderation, but like any other unhealthy relationship, cutting ties completely is the best step for one to heal and move on in life.
So I’ve decided to break up with sugar for a month. I’m calling it “No Sweets May!” What does that include though? Here’s my short list of stuff I’m cutting out for May: Candy, baked goods, soda (diet or otherwise), added refined sugar, CHOCOLATE, etc. I’m not fully ready to tackle the issues of all the added sugar in non-baked items and desserts, but if you’re interested in learning more about that, read this article or just google “hidden sugar.” For now, I’m focusing on kicking the habit of allowing myself a dessert five times a day.
I’m most scared about my withdrawal from chocolate. I’m about 5 days in thus far, and this is longest I’ve gone from chocolate probably since I first tried chocolate back in 1948. If you think that’s a lie, well it is, but this is definitely the longest I’ve gone since I got a job in an office. Offices always have chocolate. How am I doing, you ask? I’m just …(audible sigh)…doin’, man. Sugar withdrawal is known to cause crankiness and sadness, according to a study I’ve done in the past five days since not eating sugar.
So basically, how does one live without chocolate and candy? I guess, you just live, but find other alternatives to satisfy those urges. Here are some things to think about that may help me (or you):
Make my own salad dressing
Eat more fruit and vegetables
Avoid all artificial sweeteners
Use mashed bananas or applesauce as baking alternatives
Chew sugar-free gum
Drink infused water
Remove temptations. EXAMPLE: I recently bought over 5 bags of Easter candy after Easter because it was on sale and I LOVE JELLYBEANS. So I moved the bags of jellybeans to the top of the pantry. Now every time I’m bored and want to eat something, it’s not the first thing I see. #science
Take a walk. Apparently getting your body moving is a good trick to get your mind moving on from the idea of sugar. Walks are like hugs from your mom, they cure everything sometimes. #science
Be prepared with snacks
Meal plan as much as possible
I’m gonna start with this stuff. I’d love to hear about any other ideas you have, and especially any experiences you might have had in a similar situation. Sadly, I think a breakup from sugar might be better for the long run, not just one month. However, we’re staying open about it, and just going to try and get through this month apart.
Born and raised in Florida, Chloe Ditzel is a former class assistant at The Chopping Block, and would like to make it clear that she did not go to culinary school. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA, and is discovering the culinary treasures of the west coast one delicious food truck at a time. Her biggest goal in life is to somehow combine the following three mediums: food, comedy & unicycles. Bon Appetite!
I love having friends over for dinner and sharing my love for food with them. When people walk into my home for a dinner party of any kind, be it an intimate gathering of four or a Thanksgiving table of 15, it needs to be a special, hopefully perfectly timed evening where everyone feels comfortable and welcome.
These dinners always begin with a special cocktail that I create for each occasion, along with appetizers or nibbles. Then there’s usually soup or salad and then the entrée. At this point I’m very cool, confident and am patting myself on the back with how smooth everything is going. But now it’s time for dessert. Agh!
I start to panic a bit when I think of desserts because they aren’t necessarily my strong suit. I love eating dessert; I enjoy making dessert; I was brought up in a great dessert-making family. My sister Kathy is, seriously, the best with desserts, as were both my grandmothers, my mother, and my other three sisters. I’m thinking it was a gene that was inherited by the women in my family. I say this because my younger brother, who is studying to become a chef, and I didn’t inherit that gene. We’re definitely savory guys through and through.
But once you have a few tried and tested desserts up your sleeve, there’s no need to stress over the last course of your meal.
Here are some of the tastiest desserts I’ve created:
I prepared this dessert to finish one of my favorite dinners for a small intimate party with good friends and neighbors. I made Seared Cod with a Dry Riesling Beurre Blanc Sauce. For dessert, I served an Italian Zabaglione, which is a rich, egg yolk-based custard, made with Marsala wine. By whisking together egg yolks, Marsala wine and sugar in a heavy bowl over a sauce pan with simmering water, you can create one of the richest and most delicious desserts. I layered the Zabaglione with an assortment of berries that were macerated with Amaretto Liqueur. For someone who shies away from sweets, I have to admit that this was a pretty spectacular dessert.
White Peach Upside Down Cake with a Brown Sugar Amaretto Crust
Over the summer, I had a small brunch on the back deck of my apartment for friends. It was a great brunch with Peach Bellinis, several breakfast meats, egg dishes, and several veggie dishes as well. While shopping for the brunch, I saw some beautiful white peaches. I bought a few to make the nectar for the Peach Bellinis and then thought why not pick up some more and come up with a dessert using them as well. I got home, did a bit of research and came up with White Peach Upside Down Cake with a Brown Sugar Amaretto Crust. It turned out to be another one of my all-time favorite desserts.
Mexican Chocolate Pot de Crème, topped with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream and Chopped Dark Chocolate Bark
The next dessert was inspired by my love of traveling! For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been traveling to an extremely beautiful colonial city located in the central highlands of Mexico called San Miguel de Allende. I go once a year and spend an entire month there. It’s a charming city with amazing restaurants, great chefs, friendly people and is very walkable. There is a restaurant there, Café San Agustín, which specializes in Mexican hot chocolate and churros. You go there any given night and the place is packed with people there to experience the cooked-to-order churros and the hot chocolate. So I wanted to pay tribute to not only San Miguel, but also Café San Agustín with a dessert inspired by their Mexican hot chocolate. I’ve made this dessert twice already.
The inspired dessert was a Mexican Chocolate-Pot de Crème, topped with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream and Chopped Dark Chocolate Bark. This is another one of those egg yolky, custardy, pudding-like desserts, except that it’s made with chopped Mexican chocolate which is found in most grocery stores in the Hispanic section. If you are not familiar with Mexican chocolate, it is sweetened with ‘piloncillo’, Mexican raw sugar, spiced with ‘canela’ (the Mexican variety of cinnamon), vanilla and almonds along with some incredible bittersweet chocolate. It ends up being a very rich and very decadent, a truly special dessert, made with lots of love for very special friends.
Along with dessert and coffee, I also served this amazing liqueur called Mandarin Napoleon. Produced in France, it’s a liqueur that is Cognac-based and infused with macerated mandarin oranges as well as a blend of aromatic spices. This is truly one of my favorite after-dinner drinks. Years ago, I worked as a wine bar manager at a popular Chicago French restaurant and this was one of the best selling items on the bar menu. That’s why I love it! Along with its great flavors, it brings back memories of this wonderful restaurant, its amazing cuisine and my fellow co-workers. It also has a very special place in my heart because it was the place that my stepdad proposed to my mom.
Apple Crumb Pie with Walnuts and Raisins
The last dessert was actually a spur of the moment decision that involved an abundance of Honey Crisp apples I had on hand. It was an apple crumb pie with walnuts and raisins. I loved the simplicity of the topping for this pie. The recipe for the crumb topping was just ¼ cup of brown sugar, ¼ cup of all purpose flour, ½ a teaspoon of cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of chilled butter, cut up into small pieces, all blended together to resemble coarse corn meal. After tossing together ¼ cup of brown sugar, ¼ cup of granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 3 tablespoons of flour in a large bowl with 6 cups of sliced apples. I placed it all in a 9 inch, unbaked pie crust shell, top with the crumb topping, cover loosely with foil and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil after the 25 minutes and continue cooking for 25-30 minutes until top is golden brown. If you prefer an apple that has a bit more tartness, I would recommend using Granny Smith apples.
The lesson I learned was that, even though I had not inherited the dessert-making gene from my grandmother, I was able to conquer my fear of making tasty desserts. And I encourage those dessert-challenged home cooks to conquer their fears as well!
Quincy has been a Chef Instructor with The Chopping Block since 2006. He has a great passion for cooking and enjoys teaching others to cook. When he is not at The Chopping Block, he can be found trying out new recipes on friends and family. Quincy also travels throughout Mexico, especially in the town of San Miguel de Allende, where he checks out the many new and exiting restaurants opened by chefs from all over the globe. This love of traveling has also taken him to such far off places as China, as well as several European countries, which brings inspiration to his cooking and teaching.