Posts Tagged ‘chocolate’


Cupcakes: Mini Cakes, Maximum Flavor

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by Melissa

As much as my niece loves making cookies with me, sometimes she has a hankering for a cupcake. And why shouldn’t she? Cupcakes are great! Almost any cake recipe can be turned into a cupcake, just pour the batter into lined muffin tins and bake away. The key is having a few really great cake recipes, and then cutting down the bake time.

MN NephewThe cake part is actually the easiest component of this equation. It’s the decorating that usually trips people up. When we get to the decorating part, my nephew is always right there ready to help and get in on the action. They both love decorating cupcakes and usually need to be very distracted so that we can let the cake part cool. Ever tried to decorate a warm cupcake? I did once when I was young as I turned my nose up at the instructions that said to let the cake cool. I thought why could that be so important, the cake is done and therefore I will now finish it. Yeah, that was the only time that I ever did that. By the way, cleaning frosting up out of tile grout is not fun, especially when that frosting is chocolate and the tile is white! So lesson learned, and one that I make sure my niece and nephew never repeat.

MN NieceI usually make a couple of easy frostings for them to use, break out the pallet knives and we’re off! The best part of their decorating is the bag of sprinkles that I have for them, and a little glitter too. Elana likes to place each piece down and Evan likes to dump them all over the top and watch where they land. Either method works, and we all love watching them make a special one for each of us!

My colleague Chef Kim and I just tested a new batch of recipes for Cupcake Boot Camp: New Fall menu coming next month. We got rave reviews from everyone who tried them. Some people could not believe that one of the cupcakes was gluten free, it tasted so good! Even if you have taken this class with us before, you must do it again. The cake recipes are all new (one so easy and delicious that you can be in the oven baking in 5 minutes) and there are new twists on some classic frosting recipes!

Here’s the new seasonal menu:

  • Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting
  • Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting
  • Cranberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Ganache and Candied Orange Zest
  • Gluten-Free Chocolate Bourbon Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Frosting

Join us for Cupcake Boot Camp on October 6th or October 19th at the Mart.

What is your favorite flavor of cupcake?

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.


Raw Food Made Easy and Tasty

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 by Maggie

I recently got to experience a first at The Chopping Block – a class where the stove and oven were not turned on once and no pots, pans or grills were used. The class was Raw Food Made Easy with Guest Chef Jennifer Cornbleet. As someone who quite enjoys cooking with fire, I was skeptical but intrigued. A couple of my family members had eaten a raw food diet for a few years, and I remember feeling sorry for them and their diet of undressed salads and carrots juice every day. So I observed Jenny with interest to see if she was able to do more interesting things with all those fruits and vegetables.

rawfoodShe prepared four dishes for the demonstration class from her book:

Breakfast: Jenny made a Green Smoothie similar to this one. She tossed some bananas and apples into the Vitamix blender and I thought that sounds good. But then she stuffed that thing full of kale and spinach. I mean packed. We passed out the vitamin packed smoothies and the students downed them. I somewhat reluctantly tasted it and was quite surprised at how palatable it was. I thought, I could do this! It’s such an easy way to incorporate those dark leafy greens we always hear are so good for us.

Stuffed_Mushroom_and_Sides_3Lunch: Speaking of dark leafy greens, Jenny prepared a Mediterranean Kale Salad next. We had thinly sliced a large bunch of kale before class, and Jenny added some olive oil, lemon juice and salt and “massaged” it into the kale for a couple minutes, in order to fully coat the greens and marinate them. She added some pine nuts and golden raisins for a surprisingly tasty way to, again, eat those dark green leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADinner: I was most skeptical of this one. Jenny made a dish she calls Not Tuna Pate, which is meant to resemble Tuna Salad. She put almonds and sunflower seeds that had been soaked in water into a food processor and blended it up. The nuts absorb the water and causes them to blend up into a very fluffy texture. She added some lemon juice, salt and pepper, minced celery, onion and parsley, and served it with sliced veggies for dipping. I couldn’t believe how tasty it was, and how it did actually taste like tuna!

flourless_chocolate_cakeDessert: Jenny used only three ingredients for her Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe. She combined walnuts, pitted dates, and unsweetened cocoa powder (and a little water) in the food processor until it formed a thick paste. She turned it out on a plate and formed it into the shape of a round cake. She topped it with fresh raspberries and we sliced and served. It was sweet and chocolatey and a perfect way to end the meal.

While I don’t have any plans to start eating a raw diet, Jenny’s class did inspire me to think more creatively about how to eat more raw fruits and especially veggies in a way that actually tastes delicious!

How do you incorporate raw fruits & veggies into your diet?


Maggie Swanson is in her third year working as a class assistant at the Chopping Block. She and her husband have lived in Chicago for over ten years and they love the endless dining opportunities in the city. Maggie has enjoyed being in the kitchen for as long as she can remember and is now thrilled to introduce 3 year old son Eliot to the joys of cooking. Maggie has been on a gluten free diet for over four years. She has developed significantly as a cook through discovering how to make gluten free food delicious. Maggie always has a hard time answering questions about her favorite thing to cook or eat because she's always trying something new!


Asado Coffee Heaven

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 by Bailey

Kevin AshtariThere is a tiny little coffee shop around the corner from my house that I have come to fall in love with in recent years. If you have never checked out Asado Coffee Roasters on Irving Park Road in Wrigleyville, you really need to stop in and taste some of Kevin Ashtari’s magic. Kevin actually roasts his coffee beans in front of your face every morning, prior to freshly grinding and brewing using the pour-over method. To say that this man is a genius is the understatement of the century – and I promise you that after you’ve tried a cup, it will be nearly impossible to go back to your normal joe.

AsadoCoffee2My personal favorite blend of beans that Kevin offers is the Tanzania Meru Bourbon, which is a direct-trade offering from the mountains of East Africa. Sitting pretty at $27 per pound, this coffee is full bodied and as smooth as silk. Hints of spice, perhaps a bit of chocolate, and the perfect amount of earthiness all round out this ridiculous flavor profile that finishes off with surprisingly clean acidity. Like an Italian SAMSUNGBorolo from the Piedmont region, Tanzania Meru Bourbon will spoil you forever and will completely flip your morning routine upside down and inside out. And trust me – after a while, that price tag will seem like chunk change because you won’t be able to get enough.

Go. Drink Asado coffee…  and conquer!

Where do you get your favorite cup of coffee?


Bailey Phillips never admitted to being normal. In fact, she can't help but wonder if the fact that she slammed her bike into her family's wooden mailbox as a child helped contribute to her being a little off. When Bailey is not booking lovely Chopping Block events for clients, you can typically find her creating meals for friends and family, meowing at her cat, or having outlandish dance parties. Bailey will also never pass up an SEC football game or a glass of Barolo... ever.


Making Fudge on a Rainy Day

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 by Susanne

batterWhy is it that, while our appetite for trying new foods never dulls, there is something so comforting and satisfying about making and eating some of the recipes that were favorites when we were kids? As a child, I grew up spending all my summers in the Colorado mountains, where there was never a shortage of things to do during the day, from finding flowers to press or scavenging for wild strawberries, to rummaging old mine tailings for interesting rocks or old square nails. But on rainy days, we were cooped up inside and often resorted to hunting through my mom’s collection of recipe clippings for something tasty to make.

One of the most memorable of these is a recipe from the magazine section of the newspaper for Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge.  It was so simple, even my younger brother could whip up a batch on the stove to satisfy his sweet tooth without much trouble. The hardest part about it was the waiting around while it cooled enough so that we could dig into it!

I was thinking about that recipe the other day, and it’s been ages since I made a batch, so I decided to try it again, just to see if it still tasted good to me. The result was delicious!


Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

12 ounces chocolate chips

½ cup hot milk

3 cups sifted powdered sugar

½ cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter

Melt chocolate chips over hot water in a double boiler.  Add hot milk and mix well.  Add powdered sugar and peanut butter and mix until smooth.  Spread in a lightly greased 8” square baking pan.  Chill until firm.  Cut in squares.  This also may be served as a hot fudge sauce for ice cream or cake.  In this case, do not chill.  Enjoy!


What are some of your favorite childhood recipes?

Susanne Wiesen is Director of Finance at The Chopping Block. Her love of cooking started when she was 10 and her mom landed in the hospital, leaving nobody to prepare dinner at home. She has never looked back and enjoys experimenting in the kitchen for family and friends. She can usually be found with some knitting project in her lap and also enjoys reading, swimming, mountain biking and spending time in the great outdoors.


Great Granola

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 by Andrea L

There is something that has been plaguing me for about a month now, and I finally conquered it today! I know it may sound silly that a line cook with three years of culinary school can’t make a decent bowl of granola, but it is true. I have been working brunch at my restaurant, La Grande Vie, and my chef recently let me know he wanted to do a granola and fresh yogurt dish on the spring menu. Sure, no problem.

granolaBut I almost had to call a suicide hotline mid-April!  Now, I might be old and don’t eat much hippie food, but I figured how hard can it be? Get some oats, add some sugar, honey, cinnamon, dried fruit and go. Turns out, it ain’t that easy, folks!

Granola, while delicious, can be tricky to make unless you know ratios and approach it with the proper cooking method.  I personally did not have a good recipe, so I naturally went online—this is really what got me.  Let me impart a small piece of information on to you that I WISHED I knew at the time.  Almost EVERY recipe you will find for homemade granola online is wrong, mainly because of how they tell you to cook it!  I had been mixing my ingredients together and cooking at a low temp, 225 degrees for about 20-30 minutes which is WAY too long.  I kept achieving burned granola, hardened fruit, which is not appetizing. Instead, you need to cook it at 325 degrees for just 16 minutes.

yogurt granolaOne of the reasons I love working at The Chopping Block is that when I run into these problems, there are an array of chefs to help me.  One day, when I was in the right place right time situation, one of our chefs happened to be making granola for the homemade cheese making class.  I just about attacked her asking advice and got a full on tutorial, which I will pass on to you so you can also enjoy this lovely treat in the upcoming warmer weather.

First, heat up your oil, honey and sugar first, then add it to your oats before baking.  I was adding these ingredients without heat which was causing my granola to burn because the sugar was in the oven for a long period of time.

Second, bake it only for 8 minutes at 325 degrees, give it a stir, then back in the oven for another 8 minutes.  As you can see, I was cooking it WAY too long.

Lastly, if you add fruit or chocolate, this should be done after the baking process, then let it cool, give it a stir and you are on your way to wonderful granola. Try the recipe below out, experiment with ingredients and share your favorite flavor combinations here. Happy granola making!

Homemade Granola

4 cups oats

1 cup flaked coconut

1 cup nuts

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup grapeseed oil

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp vanilla extract

1 cup dried fruit and or chocolate

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!