Posts Tagged ‘class’


How to Pull Off a Dinner Party in One Hour

Monday, August 19th, 2013 by Jennifer

Months ago, a dear friend of mine asked me to host a dinner party for his upcoming birthday. Seeing as how I love to entertain, I enthusiastically agreed! And then, I forgot.

Fast forward to last Thursday, I received a text confirming the final count for dinner. That’s right, dinner Saturday. Perfect. Considering I didn’t have a day off between Thursday and Saturday, I knew I was going to have to get creative and fast. With The Chopping Block recipes on my side, I quickly compiled what I thought would make for a quick and easy summer menu:

Watermelon, Feta and Arugula Salad

Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread

Roasted Chicken with a Peach Barbeque Glaze

Summer Succotash

BBQ ChickenThis might look intimidating at first, but the recipes quote how long each of them are going to take, which is extremely helpful when trying to pull something like this off. Total time needed to complete the menu = 1.5 hours. I was able to make it to the grocery store after work Friday, with the intention of cooking everything after work Saturday. Well, sometimes I get distracted at work and before I knew it, it was 5:30pm and my guests were arriving at 7pm. Que panic!

Summer Succotash


As I was rushing out, I jokingly asked one of the class assistants if they would come home with me to help me pull everything off. He laughed and said “Jennifer, why don’t you just do what The Chopping Block would do? Set everything up, and have your guests participate in creating the meal!” One word – Brilliant. I got home with just enough time to mis-en-place my countertop, preheat the oven and pour a nice, tall glass of wine.


My guests arrived, and were thrilled by the fact that I was going to ‘let’ them cook in my kitchen! For the next few hours, we laughed, cooked and created an amazing meal together. Not only did I dodge a bullet, I created an experience and the opportunity for my friends to learn something new. The food was delicious, and the birthday boy was thrilled with the way the evening turned out.

At the end of the day, there is no way to pull off a dinner party in one hour by yourself. So, gather your friends and family and get cooking together! And if you don’t want to do the dishes, you can always come join us here for a class.

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.


Beer vs. Food = Stephanie vs. Mario

Thursday, June 27th, 2013 by Mario

My wife Stephanie and I recently purchased a home and moved about an hour outside of the city. Both of us work in Chicago, so we can still experience the city, but there is one thing that has been missing. We had been hosting a monthly underground sushi dinner at our Lincoln Square apartment for over a year… and we miss it. Our unique combination of culinary skill (me) and extensive beer knowledge (her) was put to the test each month by creating exciting combinations of food and drink.  It also allowed us to challenge each other to see who could choose the best beer or create the best dish. For those of you that know us, you know that a bit of competitiveness and some good old fashioned ribbing is very much a part of our dynamic as a couple, and we would not have it any other way.

ScordatosThe Chopping Block’s curriculum team was recently discussing how great the interest and excitement has been in Chicago about craft beer. We thought that since our food and wine classes have been so popular, why don’t we have a beer and food class? Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to put together a menu and beer pairing with Stephanie and set the stage for a showdown. We set out to create some simple and delicious food, along with some beers that our guests may not have had before, but are easily approachable. This is a quick snapshot of how that process went.

craftWe started off talking about some of our favorite dishes that I make at home. I could see that she was paying no attention to what I was saying and the beer wheels in her head were spinning at full speed. I think that all she heard from me was, “I think that adding peaches to the slaw will add some sweetness and a touch of acidity, blah, blah, blah… white beans, bacon, yadda, yadda, yadda.” Sensing her “lack of interest” I gave way to her thoughts about the pairing, which sounded a little like this. “Oooo, I think the esters and phenols that the yeast produce in this beer will really, blah, blah, blah…. Brettanomyces funkyness, yadda, yadda, yadda.” This went on for several hours… wouldn’t you have liked to be a fly on the wall in that room?

beerWhen it comes down to it, both of us are very passionate about the things that we do, but we have to reel each other in a bit.  There are many days when I just want a Miller HighLife and don’t care about the “adjuncts that some brewery is using in their beer”.  Ranting about someone “who thinks he is educated about beer because he reads Beer Advocate” goes in one ear and out the other, and my slightly tilted head and blank stare is enough to calm her down and makes us both laugh. I am also quite certain there are times that she could care less about how long this pork smoked on the Big Green Egg and how “the different woods I used created a nice bark and great flavors”.  She just wants a damn pork sandwich and a discussion about “self-proclaimed foodies being critics just because they wrote a Yelp review trashing a new restaurant” is of no concern to her and she will proceed to tell me so quite frankly.  To any marriage counselors out there, this may sound like a disaster, but for us, it’s what we love about each other.

We are excited to share a class with great simple food, exciting yet approachable beers, and a chance to do what we do best… give each other a hard time.  If this sounds like fun, come see us for He Said Food, She Said Beer on July 19th at the Merchandise Mart. Cheers and Buon Appetito!

Mario Scordato is the Culinary Training Manager and a Chef Instructor at The Chopping Block. In addition to teaching, he is responsible for overseeing the training of all chefs and class assistants, as well as the scheduling of the culinary staff. Mario is an accomplished Sushi Chef of over 12 years, working both in Denver and Chicago, but his food interests and kitchen prowess don’t stop there. He grew up in a fairly traditional Italian family and has not lost his love for true rustic Italian fare. Mario has spent many an hour in several butcher shops perfecting his skills in butchery and charcuterie. When not in the kitchen, chances are that Mario is in the shop creating and working on his custom line of knives.


I Have a New Favorite Class

Friday, March 22nd, 2013 by Michele

I recently taught Pie and Tart Boot Camp and it has moved to the number one spot on my “Favorite Classes to Teach” list.

IMG_2110It’s a question that I get often from my students. They are always curious as to which class to take next. The Chopping Block’s class calendar offers a wide variety of options to choose from, from different cuisines and techniques to special skill sets and intensive Boot Camps.

I enjoy any class where we spend more time in the kitchen preparing a few more recipes than usual and the opportunity to really dissect the subject matter. Ask any Chef’s Assistant if I like to talk in class and you will get a resounding “YES”. I talk almost to a fault.

doughAnd pie dough happens to be my wheelhouse. In all its simplicity, it really is about the preparation and handling of the dough. But it does make all the difference. In this class, we execute recipes that straddle the worlds of sweet and savory.  Banana Cream pie with just a hint of rum. Chicken Pot Pie that we enjoy for lunch. The students get to stuff their take home bakery boxes with Pecan Chocolate Tartlets and Apple Crostata. They also get to make their own pie dough and take it home. We have plenty of time to discuss the finer points of making the dough and how to handle it with ease and sophistication. I love this class!

Sorry Laminated Doughs (my previous #1 class).

What’s your favorite class?


Learn to Cook by Video

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 by Clair

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?

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.


Palak PaWHAA?

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 by Carrie

I enjoy teaching Indian classes at The Chopping Block the most because of the aromas of all the spices being cooked in the kitchen. Plus, I like to EAT Indian food!

I just taught the Indian Vegetarian Feast class in which we made Samosas with Cilantro Chutney, Tomato Dal Soup and Palak Paneer (Spinach Curry with Homemade Fresh Cheese) with Steamed Basmati Rice.  YUM!  The students seemed to agree that the Tomato Dal Soup was their favorite dish of the day.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Palak Paneer.  One of my favorite things about cooking is making something spectacular out of only a few ingredients. Making the Paneer (or any homemade cheese) amazes me, not only by the flavor, but just how simple it is to create something with only 3 ingredients: milk, lemon juice and salt.

The recipe for the Palak Paneer is fairly involved and requires multiple steps, but the end result is SO worth the effort.  Here is the recipe the students created in class.  If you feel a little overwhelmed, sign up for one of the two remaining Indian Vegetarian Feast classes coming up this month.

Lincoln Square – Monday, October 22

Merchandise Mart – Thursday, October 25.

Palak Paneer (Spinach Curry with Homemade Fresh Cheese)

Yield: 4-6 servings
Active time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Start to finish: 2 hours, 15 minutes

For the paneer:
5 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon fine salt
3 tablespoons
fresh lemon juice

2 bunches spinach (about 1 pound), stems discarded
1/2 cup water

4 garlic cloves, minced
One 2-inch-long piece ginger, freshly grated
2 tablespoons water

1/3 cup grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
2 onions, thinly sliced
4 plum tomatoes, medium dice
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Steamed basmati rice

1. To prepare the paneer, bring the milk to a full boil in a large heavy pot, stirring occasionally. Add the salt and lemon juice, and remove from the heat. Gently stir around the edges as the milk separates until the curds collect in the center. Let sit for about 2 minutes.
2. Pour the mixture into a colander lined with a triple layer of dampened cheesecloth. Gather up the edges of the cheesecloth, twisting gently to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Wrap the cheese tightly in the cheesecloth, and then wrap in a kitchen towel.
3. Transfer the package to a bowl and weigh it down with heavy object such as a bowl filled with water or a large can. Let stand at room temperature until firm, about 1 hour.
4. While the cheese is draining, prepare the spinach: Place the spinach and 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan. Cook, covered, over medium-high heat until wilted and tender, about 2 minutes. Once the spinach is tender, transfer it with all the liquid to a food processor and coarsely puree. Set aside in a bowl.
5. Place the minced garlic, grated ginger and 2 tablespoons of water in the food processor and process until it forms a paste. Set aside.
6. When the paneer is ready, pour off any liquid that has accumulated in the bowl and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes.
7. Heat a large, nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the grapeseed oil. Brown the paneer in 2 batches, turning gently to avoid breaking it up. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the paneer to paper towel-lined plate, leaving the oil behind in the pan.
8. Reduce the heat to medium and add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, allspice and cinnamon stick to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
9. Add the onions and sauté, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the reserved garlic and ginger paste, and cook until fragrant and almost dry, about 2 minutes.
10. Add the tomatoes and cook until softened, about 4 to 6 minutes.
11. Fold in the spinach puree and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened and almost all of liquid is evaporated, about 2-4 minutes.
12. Add the cream and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Gently stir in the browned paneer and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 1 minute more.
13. Serve the palak paneer over steamed basmati rice.

Carrie finally found her culinary niche as a Chef Instructor for The Chopping Block in May 2008, but only after a hilariously traumatic demonstration interview (of which you will have to attend one of her classes to hear about). She gets a thrill of sharing the things she’s learned about food and cooking with others and the memories and experiences around food that have made her who she is today. Her hope is to take away the apprehension people have of cooking by pouring on her southern hospitality and charm and having fun in the kitchen. When she isn’t cooking, you can usually find her at a concert, a neighborhood restaurant or just hanging out with friends and enjoying their company.