Posts Tagged ‘chocolate’


Overcome Your Fear of Desserts

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 by Quincy

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:

  • Italian Zabaglione
























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

peach upside down cake














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

mex pot de creme














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.


Sweet Treats without the Guilt

Friday, March 14th, 2014 by Melissa

I’m on my way to visit my family this weekend and am very excited to make some delicious desserts with my niece and nephew. It’s also a bit of a pre-birthday celebration for my mom!

cookingYears ago, I made my mom a delicious dessert of Flourless Chocolate Cake with Coconut Buttercream. While that dessert was amazing and my mom loved it, I think it might be a bit too much too work for my niece. So I have another idea in mind: one with less parts, is easy to put together, and no baking necessary! Another reason that I really adore this dessert is that it falls in the guiltless category. These little treats are also gluten free, peanut free, tree nut free. You can make them with virtually no sugar, and they still taste amazing!

Coconut Chocolate Treats

In a large mixing bowl add:

1 cup sunflower butter (smooth or chunky)
1 cup softened coconut oil

Mix these together until smooth and then add:

1 cup dutch processed cocoa powder.  This will thicken the mix, so don’t worry when it gets a little stiff.

After the cocoa is mixed in well, add:

3 T maple syrup or agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Mix well and then fold in:

1/2 – 1 cup shredded coconut (I like to save some to sprinkle on top.)

nieceYou can pour the mixture into muffin tins filling them a third to half way (it might not look like a lot but they are really rich) or onto a lined cookie sheet to make a bark. Place the tins or tray in the freezer for 20-30 minutes, and then they are ready to enjoy. It’s best to keep these treats in the freezer so they don’t melt on you.

I can’t wait to see what my niece and nephew think! If you try this recipe, share your thoughts with me here. too.

Originally from Cleveland, Melissa has lived in Chicago since 2000. She makes frequent trips home to get inspiration from baking with her young niece. After learning she had Celiac disease in 2005, Melissa decided it was the perfect time to start "playing" with new kinds of food. As a pastry chef, this brought a new perspective to cooking, eating and another world of desserts she would be inspired to create. After 10 years with Frontera Grill, it was time for a new challenge and Melissa got back to her first love: teaching. As a chef instructor at The Chopping Block, she has found a new way to pass on all that she has learned in the kitchen. When she is not teaching or baking with her niece, she takes long adventures with her dog, cooks with friends or buries her nose in a book.


Mini Bundt Cakes: The Perfect Dessert

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 by Andrea L

panWinter is the perfect time to experiment with new ideas and recipes while we are trapped in our homes, thanks to Mother Nature. So, I am really excited about this month’s retail promotion on bakeware. Recently, this mini Bundt cake pan caught my eye.  It’s now the most favorite present I have ever bought for myself, and I will cherish it for years to come.

I was tasked to come up with a new winter dessert at the restaurant where I work.  This was the perfect opportunity to put my new pan to work. The Nordic Ware mini bundtette pan sells for $39.95 at The Chopping Block. For the entire month of February it’s 20% off, as is ALL bake ware.  I was really drawn to the intricate craftsmanship of the pan, and the weight and feel of it just inspire me.

Mini Bundt cakes are the perfect dessert. They are an individual serving, aesthetically pleasing, and they taste delicious! I decided to create a rich chocolate Bundt cake with a salted caramel sauce and light dusting of powdered sugar. This cake would also make an excellent dessert for Valentine’s Day! Going the extra mile and making your loved ones dessert, rather than buying it, is such a more personal gesture.

So this month, I encourage you to take advantage of our 20% off bakeware sale and get baking!

Mini Chocolate Bundt Cakes 

Makes 6 cakes: Nordic pan holds exactly 6

For the cake:

  • 1½ cups brewed coffee
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup natural cocoa powder + additional for dusting the Bundt pan
  • 2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • butter or cooking spray for the Bundt pan
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Brew 1½ cups of coffee. While the coffee is brewing, butter (or spray with cooking spray) the Bundt pan and then dust with cocoa powder. Do this well to ensure the mini Bundt cakes come out of the Bundt pan.
  2. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the butter for 20 seconds. Mix with the coffee and cocoa powder. Stir with a wire whisk. Once everything is combined, add the sugar and whisk until it has dissolved. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.
  3. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla.
  4. Whisk the eggs into the chocolate mixture. Slowly add the flour mixture and continue to whisk. Once all of the ingredients have been combined you will be left with a batter with the consistency of a slightly thick soup.
  5. Pour the batter into the mini wells of the Bundt pan and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  6. Remove the Bundt pan from the oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Once cooled, gently run a butter knife or fork around the sides of each cake to gently remove from the pan. Most likely, you will have cake excess that you can cut off and enjoy! Place mini Bundt cakes on a wire rack.

For the Salted Caramel Sauce:

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (I prefer Maldon sea salt flakes)

  1. Heat sugar and water in a 2-quart or 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir to help the sugar dissolve, but stop stirring when the sugar comes to a boil. You can swirl the pan a bit if you want.
  2. When the liquid sugar hits a dark amber color, add all the butter to the pan. The mixture will foam up and thicken. Whisk until the butter has melted. Once the butter has melted, take the pan off the heat.
  3. Add the cream to the pan (the mixture will foam up again) and continue to whisk to incorporate.
  4. Add the sea salt and whisk until caramel sauce is smooth. Smother over the top and sprinkle cakes with dusting of powdered sugar.

What’s your favorite piece of bakeware? Share your thoughts here in the comments.

Andrea Larson is a lover of all things food and wine. She is a culinary graduate of the Illinois Institute of Art Chicago and has worked at such local restaurants as Uncommon Ground, Spring and Custom House. Currently she is working on her local dream of eating her way around Chicago and probably spends more money on dining out than she should!


Candy: Collated and Double Sided

Thursday, January 16th, 2014 by Chloe

Hey y’all. Chloe’s mom here. Chloe wasn’t able to write a blog this month cause she’s probably hungover or something. Nonetheless, she said I could write about anything, so I thought I would write about candy!

Did you know that they are PRINTING candy? Like, from a printer? Ya know, like where I print my Mapquest directions? Ya, like a printer. And they’re doing it in 3D. Like, three dimensions as shown here in this photo from Huffington Post.


Basically layers of water and sugar powder are sprayed to make whatever picture or shape you want. It seems pretty fancy and complicated. I honestly have not explained it well. Is it even called a printer, or can it just be a called a machine that makes candy? Sounds like something Nestle and Willy Wonka have been doing for years! The idea of it, though, is that you can make it into any design you want, which perhaps is a little more advanced than what the fellows down at Hershey are pulling right now. I guess that’s pretty neat. Sometimes I think it would be fun to make a candy of my face, and put it in a bowl for my desk at work. What a gas that would be! My boss would get a kick out of it, I think.

Sugar Lab Photo

Photo Courtesy The Sugar Lab

But I guess the question that’s coming up in my brain, is what will candy start to look like? I mean, will my Junior Mints start coming out like spirals and mazes? Or do my Swedish Fish have to look like a Rubik’s Cube now? I think it’s real neat to see something as classic and timeless as candy get a revamp; however, do not touch my Swedish fish! Also, how much will this candy cost? Did you know a bag of chocolate is going for almost $5 now! God bless! $5?! The way my husband eats candy, we’ll be homeless in two months time with the way these prices are going up. They say these printers that are printing all the candy are selling anywhere from $5,000-$10,000. Uh-huh. That’s a new car, y’all. Think about it.

All these advances in science and technology can be really overwhelming. In fact, this whole discussion makes me want to go get a box of candy for some comfort eating.

What do you think about this new candy revolution? Are there any candies that are sacred to you? How would you use a 3D candy printer?

Also, tell Chloe to call me. She’s not answering my calls, and I don’t know if she’s going to be here for dinner on Sunday.

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!


Easy, Gluten-Free, Chocolate Valentine’s Dessert

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 by Melissa

With Valentine’s Day one month away, we will soon switch food gears from homey comfort food to decadent and seductive dishes. I, for one, have had enough turkey and ham to last me until the spring thaw! I’ve been pondering what to make for Valentine’s Day, specifically dessert, that will leave a lasting impression.

tartBeing gluten-free, I can tell you that dessert is not always easy. Unfortunately, there are a lot of not very memorable gluten-free options. Don’t get me wrong, not everything out there is bad, and there are a lot of new places that are very focused on making great gluten-free desserts.

But wouldn’t it be great if you could make that decadent Valentine’s dessert for your sweetheart from scratch? If you are really busy or can’t find your way around the kitchen, I have the perfect idea for you! This gluten-free chocolate tart is easy to make and even better if you do it a day ahead. So, that leaves you more time to make that luscious dinner for two, or call for takeout from your favorite Thai restaurant.

All the equipment you need is a tart pan with a removable bottom and a baby food processor.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Raspberry Tart


1 cup brown rice flour mix (To make this mix to use in gluten-free recipes, use 2 cups brown rice flour, 2/3 cup potato starch and 1/3 cup tapioca flour.)

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon xanthum gum

5 Tablespoons cold cubed butter

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste

Combine the brown rice flour mix, sugar, xanthum gum and mix. Add in butter and process till it looks like wet sand. Finally add vanilla paste. Press this mix into the tart pan to form a crust. Chill for at least 5 minutes, longer is always better. Par bake this crust for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.


2 cups heavy cream

1 pound bittersweet chocolate

Heat cream till a film forms on top and pour over chocolate. Let this sit for a minute and then stir till smooth. Set aside.

5 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup raspberry jam

jamCombine eggs, sugar and salt and mix. Add the chocolate into the egg mixture, mix well and pour into the par-baked tart shell. Swirl in jam, if desired. (If you are feeling ambitious, make it yourself with the help of our How to Make Jam video. Just substitute raspberries for the blueberries.) You can also omit the jam, if you want. Bake the tart for 14 minutes and cool completely before removing from the tart shell.

Cut your tart into desired pieces and let come to room temperature before eating.

What will you be serving your sweetie on Valentine’s Day?

Originally from Cleveland, Melissa has lived in Chicago since 2000. She makes frequent trips home to get inspiration from baking with her young niece. After learning she had Celiac disease in 2005, Melissa decided it was the perfect time to start "playing" with new kinds of food. As a pastry chef, this brought a new perspective to cooking, eating and another world of desserts she would be inspired to create. After 10 years with Frontera Grill, it was time for a new challenge and Melissa got back to her first love: teaching. As a chef instructor at The Chopping Block, she has found a new way to pass on all that she has learned in the kitchen. When she is not teaching or baking with her niece, she takes long adventures with her dog, cooks with friends or buries her nose in a book.