Posts Tagged ‘family’


Life List: Learn to Use a Knife

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 by Val

Cooking, and food, were passions I shared with my dad. Every Thanksgiving, while the rest of my family stayed far away, I would spend the day with him in the kitchen – dressing the turkey, preparing casseroles, peeling potatoes. When I moved into my first apartment in college, had my own oven for the first time, he gave me a binder filled with his favorite recipes. He taught me everything I knew.

We were a family who loved to eat, whether it was home cooked meals or a night out someplace nice. Food was important to us. So, when my dad found out he had cancer, he started to make a list of all of the restaurants he had always wanted to go to, but never had. It was a page full of places ranging from greasy hot dog joints to 3-star experiences.

When he passed away, a year later, he left behind that list.

At that moment, the untouched life list I had started crafting became all the more important. There were so many things I wanted to do in life, wanted to learn, wanted to see, but always put off for one reason or another.

Some items on my list were big and complicated – travel the world, learn to surf.

Some, small – visit a popular museum, learn to cook my favorite food.

But no matter how trivial the item seemed, it was something I wanted to accomplish. I didn’t want to leave a list behind.

Today, my ever-growing life list contains over 200 things, and, so far, I have crossed off 26 of them.

Knife Skills Class at The Chopping Block

Photo Courtesy Val Bromann

One of the skills I’ve always wanted to learn was how to properly use kitchen knives. I like to think that I can cook decently, but I never really knew how to correctly hold a knife and cutting vegetables into anything resembling uniform pieces was well beyond me.

Last October I had crossed another item off of my life list at The Chopping Block: learn to make gnocchi.  It is one of my favorite foods – one of those things I almost always get at Italian restaurants or would buy pre-made from the frozen foods section because it seemed like something too difficult to make from scratch.

Photo Courtesy Val Bromann

Photo Courtesy Val Bromann

After the class though, I realized that it was much simpler than I ever thought and was able to make some of the best gnocchi I’ve ever eaten. So I decided to return to The Chopping Block to cross “learn to properly use kitchen knives” off of my life list.

One night in September, I gathered with other students at the Lincoln Square store for the two and a half hour knife skills class. Our instructor taught us about the different types of knives, knife safety, and knife care. Then the rest of the class was hands on – we each took a chefs knife, trading between vegetables to see and feel the differences in brands, and learned different techniques for cutting everything from onions to carrots to garlic. In the end, I walked away with bags full of vegetables cut more perfectly than any vegetables I’d cut in my life, a newfound confidence in the kitchen, and one more life goal completed. And yes, I did learn that I have been holding my chef’s knife completely wrong for my entire life.

Photo Courtesy Val Bromann

Photo Courtesy Val Bromann



Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten named Bacon. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30, I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and have been traveling the world ever since. Learn more about me and my life list at


Spaghetti: Bubbie Style

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 by Sara

You know that any recipe that begins with a stick of butter is off to a good start. If you’re looking for an easy twist on spaghetti that’s incredibly kid-friendly, you’ve come to the right place.

spaghettiEver since I can remember, my Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother) and my great uncle would make a very special batch of spaghetti known as “Bubbie’s Spaghetti”. I’m not sure where this dish originated, or even if it’s unique to Jewish home cooking. I’ve taken an unscientific poll, and while some of my Jewish friends have heard of this dish, others had no idea what I was taking about. I imagine it was born during the depression era, because all of the ingredients to make this dish are very affordable.

You start off by melting a stick of butter in a saute pan and adding one small onion, thinly sliced. Cook the onion until it’s lightly caramelized. You could add a clove or two of garlic, but I don’t remember this being part of the original recipe.

soupToss your cooked spaghetti with the sautéed onions, and here’s the best part. Pour in enough Campbell’s Tomato Soup to nicely coat the noodles. It’s important not to leave them too dry. Remember, the sauce is the boss. Pour the noodles into a baking dish and bake at 400° until the top is golden brown and crispy.

Super simple, right? Not only is it comforting on those cold nights, but it’s quick, easy and delicious! The best part? You probably have all of the ingredients you need to make this in your kitchen right now.

You can certainly personalize your Bubbie’s spaghetti by adding ground beef or turkey, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed green peppers, grated cheddar cheese, fresh basil, Sriracha, etc… the list goes on and on. I hope you find yourself turning to this recipe when you need a quick meal to take the edge off.

Do you have an off-the-beaten-path family recipe that goes way back? I would love to hear about it!

Sara Salzinski has been a chef instructor at the Chopping Block since 2002 and loves sharing her knowledge of all things food-related with her students. She loves interacting with her students, making them feel right at home and at ease. Sara is also the Curriculum Coordinator at TCB which means she develops the classes, menus and recipes. A lot of Sara’s inspiration for classes and recipes comes from personal experience. When Sara and her husband, who is also a chef instructor, are at home they join forces and make countless mouth-watering creations that are then taste tested by their 5 year old daughter and 2 year old son.


When You’re 90

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 by Carrie

When you are 90 years old, you can have any type of birthday party you want. That’s what my Grandmom did on July 6th.  I took a quick weekend trip to Alabama to celebrate this milestone birthday with her. She is my heart; I love her more than words can express!

CBOne of her favorite things is a good, old fashioned fish fry. So. that’s how we celebrated with her. Catfish (which she loves to catch) and bream are the fish she enjoys eating, so we fried a mess of those and had coleslaw and hushpuppies as the accompaniments.  Of course, there was cake and homemade ice cream for dessert.

Have you ever heard that you aren’t supposed to drink milk or eat dairy after you eat fish? Supposedly it will give you an upset stomach. Maybe it’s just an old wives tale, but I remember Grandmom always saying that when I was a child.  Regardless, my dad (her son), and my brother-in-law ate bowls of homemade ice cream as big as their heads!  There’s always room for ice cream, right?

I am so thankful that I was able to travel home and be with her on her special day.  I love you Grandmom!

What is one of your family’s favorite traditions?

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.


The World of Pasta Beyond Tomato Gravy

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 by Mario

Growing up in a pretty traditional Italian family (at least as far as food is concerned), you might think it would shock them that I chose to be a sushi chef. It certainly did, but after some coaxing and experimental food offerings, my family embraced the fact that I loved food and decided to place my affections in the world of sushi… except my Grandmother.  She still, to a certain extent, finds it revolting and has vowed to never touch the “stuff”.  But alas, I am her beloved first grandson, and the fact that I became a chef was reason enough for her to be proud of me and know that I will carry on the food traditions of our family, especially spaghetti with gravy.  For those of you non-Italians, that means spaghetti with marinara sauce.

spaghettiFlash forward to several years later, when I meet the girl of my dreams.  To my dismay, I found out that she has an allergy to tomatoes! My first thought was, “Grams is not going to be happy with me… again”.  Of course, once she met my now wife, she was just as enthralled by her as I was, but I think deep down she still feels there is something not right about her Italian grandson marrying a girl who cannot eat spaghetti with gravy.

Because of this, I have had to explore the world of pasta beyond the gravy.  Too many people revert to the ubiquitous jar of sauce that has been in their pantry for the last six months to make a quick weeknight meal, buut they are missing out on some wonderful easy dishes.  It has been one of my missions to find or create great pasta dishes sans tomatoes.  So to start my search, I did what any Italian would do… I went to Italy.  There I found two dishes that really struck me, Cacio e Pepe and Orecchiette con Salsiccia.  Here is a recipe I created that melds the two together and makes something magical that both Grams and my wife cannot get enough of.

Pasta with Italian Sausage, Tuscan Kale, and Pecorino cheese (lots of Pecorino cheese)

gemmeliServes 4-6

1 pound Your favorite dried pasta, I prefer Gemmeli

1 pound Hot or Mild Italian Sausage, broken into small bite size pieces

1 Shallot, sliced very thin

3 Garlic cloves, sliced very thin

2 bunches Tuscan Kale, thick stems removed and chopped (also works well with blanched Rapini or Broccolini)

½-1 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano cheese

2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Start by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil.  It is best to use a pasta pot that has the strainer insert.  If you do not have one you need to make sure you reserve at least 1 cup of the water that you boiled the pasta in before you strain it. Add the pasta, cook for the amount of time on the box, MINUS 3 MINUTES.  The pasta should be undercooked and still slightly crunchy.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a large sauté pan on medium-high heat.  When warm, brown the sausage well and remove from the pan and reserve. It is okay if the sausage is not fully cooked through.  You should have some fat in the pan from the sausage; use this to caramelize the shallots over medium heat.  Add the garlic and the kale, cook until the kale is just wilted.  Season well with salt and pepper and remove all the ingredients from the pan and reserve.  Add 1 cup of the pasta cooking water to the same sauté pan and bring to a boil on high heat.  Add the reserved pasta, sausage, and the cheese.  Stir frequently. Once the pasta is fully cooked through and about half of the water has evaporated you should have a “sauce” with a creamy consistency.  Add the reserved kale, drizzle with the olive oil, and adjust seasoning if needed.  Serve in large bowls with lots more pecorino cheese on the side.

Buon Appetito! Try this recipe at home, let me know how it came out and if you missed the gravy.

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.


You Don’t Have To Take My Word For It

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013 by Brian G

If you’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest, let Dylan Tomine take you there.  The last thing I want is for this blog to become a forum for my own deep criticism and review, but after rifling through the pages of Tomine’s Closer to the Ground ‘An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, in the Woods and at the Table’, I’m reluctant to be stingy with my thoughts.

tomineTomine walks us through the four seasons with his family as he aims to expose his two young children to the bounty and fulfillment that a life lived outside and eating from the wild offers.  Each changing season brings new fruit, but at the same time challenges us to wisely and thoughtfully prepare for the next.  The author and his family call Washington’s Puget Sound home, and his words bring an authentic visual to those neglected of such an upbringing -while also feeding the sweet tooth for the nostalgic that may have once tasted that terrain’s offerings.  The book is riddled with ventures into the wild, where you’ll forage salmonberries, pull geoduck clams from their sandy graves, and spend the last few frenzied months of fall packing away sockeye and Chinook for the approaching onslaught of winter.

berriesWhether you’re a foodie or merely have an appreciation for the untamed, I believe you’ll be contented by the read.  The narrative may invoke some of us to even question why we remain absent from such a pure and rewarding lifestyle—yet Tomine’s words and philosophies remain welcoming and unbiased.

-Closing Thoughts-

 *Pairs well with a rainy window seat

*There’s a great Big Lebowski reference

*Take a look; it’s in a book, Reading Rainbow

 Please give this a read and let me know if it had a positive influence on you.  It’s an easy read that doesn’t require much from you.  Its trails are undemanding and take you on a walk through an enriching existence- and it’s stories such as these that cause me to want to simplify my own world and lead a more examined life.  I hope you find that to be true for you as well. Happy reading, friends.







Just before coming to Chicago, Brian Grobleski lived in a school bus in the middle of the Alaska wilderness. If he seems authentically rugged and impassioned, it’s because he earned it surviving in the last frontier. Brian grew up in a small Florida Gulf Coast beach town, and set out to see the world and feed his creativity in photography and food. His ambition brought him to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where he discovered his passion for diversified culture and cuisine. He has a deep respect for teaching, farming, sustainable living, and for staying connected with the earth through his cooking and lifestyle. And if you’re looking for a good story, he’s quick to deliver. All you have to do is ask.