Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

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‘Tis the Season for Bubbles

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 by David

Whether sweet or dry, big or small or white, pink or red (yes, sparkling reds do exist), bubbles are a great addition to any holiday meal.

bubblesBubbles go well with all types of food which makes pairing very easy.  The traditional French Champagnes and other Method Champenois wines are beautiful full-flavored, full-bodied wines that will pair with large holiday meals. Prosecco and other Charmat Method wines are great with lighter fare, like a fish sandwich or buttered popcorn. Rose, which got a bad rap in the 80’s and 90’s from overly sweet sugar bombs that were coming out of California, is usually a dry or Brut wine in France and the rest of Europe, that pairs with almost everything. Sparkling reds like Italian Brachetto are a great dessert wine with chocolate and fruit. Every wine producing region in the world has their signature sparkling wine: Champagne in France, Cava in Spain, Espumante in Portugal, etc. and they are all worth a try.

While tasting sparkling wines from around the world, here is a simple guide to pairings. If you’re serving salmon, or any other type of seafood, pair with dry bubbles. Brut Champagne, Cava and Cremant are all viable options. Any kind of spicy food, whether it’s Indian, Thai or Korean will also go with bubbles, but perhaps try something with a little sweetness. For red meats like duck and other wild game, a Brut Rose is the trick. The structure and body of a quality Brut or Extra Brut Rose will balance out the big flavors of the meat, without overpowering it. Just remember to stay away from the Sec and Demi-Sec wines for entrée pairings as those are sweet wines.

popBubbles are also good on their own, and you certainly don’t need an excuse to open a bottle. The French territory of Martinique has the highest consumption of Champagne per capita in the world for a reason: warm weather, beaches and Champagne just go together.

Here are a few of The Chopping Block’s bubbly offerings this holiday season:

 

Adami Prosecco bin 7024 $15.95

NV, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Nimble and light, with bubbles lifting the ripe peach and melon notes.

Raventos Cava bin 8018 $22.50

2010, Penedès, Spain

Fruity aromas of lemon and green apple with notes of fresh baked bread.

Camille Braun Cremant bin 12122 $22.00

NV, Alsace, France

Crisp, delicate and clean with notes of apple, vanilla and minerals.

Gruet Brut Rose bin 14256 $16.95

NV, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Strawberry, cherry with savory bread notes

Stop in our stores to pick up a bottle of bubbly for your holiday party.

What’s your favorite sparkling wine?

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David Indriksons is a Lead Class Assistant at The Chopping Block with a background that goes from small scale bistros to large scale catering and everything in between. In addition to a great love of food, he is a self-admitted travel junkie that enjoys hanging out with locals around the world and trying new cuisine. Outside of TCB, he enjoys skating, snowboarding, and playing with his dog, Caesar.

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A Chef’s Travels Through San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 by Quincy

Walt HouseI love traveling. As a chef, it gives me inspiration for my greatest passion: cooking. Every year, I journey to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. My trip always begins with dropping off luggage at the house that I rent for the month from my good friend, Walt. Just opening the doors and windows to let in the famous San Miguel light and breezes makes for a very happy and calm Quincy. My buddy Walt truly has an amazing house, and it’s centrally located to practically everything. San Miguel is a beautiful colonial Mexican city with cobblestone streets and charm wherever you look.

Now it’s off to Bonanza, a  local store that caters to the American expat community, for coffee and cream. After a long day of travel, I have to make sure there is coffee and cream for the morning. And what’s coffee in Mexico without some great Mexican bread to go along with it? So I head to The Blue Doors, for some of the best Mexican bread ever! The place really isn’t named The Blue Doors, and I’m not entirely sure if anyone really knows its true name. But it has these enormous blue doors, and if the doors are open, you’re in for a spectacular assortment of Mexican breads, cookies and empanadas, both savory and sweet. It is one sad day when you go and those gigantic blue doors are closed.

Chiles en Nogadas at Pegaso

Chiles en Nogadas at Pegaso

My next must-have is Chiles en Nogada. They are a welcome seasonal treat in Mexico, during Mexican Independence Day celebrations and shortly afterward. These are roasted poblano chiles that have been stripped away of their roasted char, leaving them a velvety green. Then their seeds are removed and filled with a savory & sweet filling made from pork and an array of spices, raisins and almonds. The chiles are then topped with a rich creamy walnut sauce. The sauce is a blend of spices, raisins, Mexican crema, toasted walnuts, all puréed together to create one rich and yet delicate sauce. The whole dish is then topped with a sprinkling of  beautiful gem-like pomegranate seeds. This dish is associated with Mexican Independence Day because the colors of the dish represent the Mexican flag. The poblano is green, the walnut cream sauce is white and the bright red pomegranate seeds are red.

Candelaria

Candelaria

My favorite places in San Miguel for Chiles en Nogada are Pegaso and Bugambilla Restaurants. Bugambilla always wins out because it has the tastiest filling, plus they have the best Guacamole con Totopos and they have Candelaria, the most amazing waitress, person and piece of history that San Miguel has to offer. I make a point of having dinner at Bugambilia every year to be greeted & hugged by this beautiful woman, who has been a fixture of the restaurant since 1952.

Brenda & Giulio

Brenda & Giulio

The other restaurant that is a must for me every time I’m here is Mare Nostrum. It has to be hands-down my favorite restaurant in San Miguel, and it’s because of the chef owner Giulio & his lovely wife Brenda. I always feel like family whenever I walk into this restaurant. And although I don’t speak a lick of Spanish, every bit of communication or my attempts at Spanish are understood & greeted with kindness & patience. This year, I brought Brenda & Giulio a gift of Cream of Balsamic and Casina Rossa salt collection from The Chopping Block.

Their restaurant is Italian. Giulio hails from Sardinia, Italy & Brenda from San Miguel de Allende. Their combining of Italian food and Mexican culture creates one of the finest restaurants in San Miguel. It’s a cozy restaurant that helps in creating an intimate and relaxed dining experience. They have some of the most authentic pizzas, great handmade pastas and beautifully prepared salads. I always start out with their grilled vegetable platter.

Pappardelle with Bolognese at Mare Nostrum

Pappardelle with Bolognese at Mare Nostrum

It consists of grilled zucchini, eggplant, red cabbage, mushrooms and roasted red peppers, dressed in a prefect drizzle of olive oil, with balsamic vinegar on the side if you want. My favorite entree is handmade Pappardelle pasta topped with an incredible Bolognese sauce  but you can choose from several other handmade pastas. It also has one of the best margaritas in the city, as well as a very nice assortment of red and white wines.

San Miguel offers a huge variety of food options and you never know what you’re going to stumble upon as you’re walking down the charming streets. Those dining options include Lebanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Uruguayan, German, Japanese, Argentinian, etc.  It’s truly mind blowing.

Margaritas at Sunset Lounge

Margaritas at Sunset Lounge

After having a couple of margaritas at the newly reopened Sunset Lounge, we stroll along the streets leading to the centro, where the Jardin is located, across from where you’ll see the iconic magnificent church, La Parroquia. Heading up a few more streets is where we discovered Los Milagros. One of the best discoveries so far on this trip!

Botanas at Los Milagros

Botanas at Los Milagros

We went there on a Friday night and started with a margarita. Hell, you should always start with a margarita in San Miguel! While waiting for your margarita, the waiter places before you an assortment of ‘botanas’,  accompaniments to snack on. They consisted of chunks of cucumbers, jicama, carrots, with a squeeze of fresh lime and topped with Tajin, a blend of ground up chiles and spices. There was pico de gallo, chips and salsas. We were going to order an appetizer but there was no need. My entrée consisted of a perfectly grilled medium rare skirt steak, rajas (sliced roasted poblano peppers), black beans, guacamole and an authentic cheese enchilada, covered in an incredible mole sauce. All for an amazingly reasonable price!

Salsa Tray at Don Taco Tequila Bar

Salsa Tray at Don Taco Tequila Bar

I also have to mention Don Taco Tequila Bar for their great tacos and a salsa tray that consists of every type of salsa you can think of. The outstanding one being ground up roasted chiles in oil & garlic. It’s so simple and yet so complex, with flavors of smoke, heat, sweetness and earthiness. And then there’s the pickled onions with habanero peppers. You know it’s going to hurt, but oh the hurt is so good!

There are several other wonderful places that I have failed to mention and several more I’ve yet to discover, but I’ve got two more weeks here in the city.  That makes me smile!

 

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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.

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Chicken Soup Italian Style

Monday, October 28th, 2013 by Mario

As it has gotten colder over the past week, my need for things warm, brothy and delicious has grown exponentially. Just the other day, I asked my wife her thoughts about me making some chicken soup for dinner. Her reply was that she was not that fond of chicken soup. I asked how that could be, and she replied that she never really enjoyed it when her mother made it when she was younger. I set out to remedy this situation with my usual Italian spin that makes things delicious, lots of Pecorino cheese!

soupHere is my fairly quick recipe for Chicken Soup:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 quarts chicken stock  If you make your own, great! If not, some good quality purchased stock will do fine.

1 Tablespoon Grapeseed oil

2 celery ribs, small dice

3 medium carrots, small dice

1 small onion, small dice

1 leek, small dice

1 package frozen cheese tortellini

Lots of Pecorino cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Start by bring the stock to a simmer in a large soup pot.  Add the chicken breasts, whole.  Let them simmer for about 35-45 min or until they can easily be shredded.

Remove the chicken breasts, strain the stock and reserve.  Add the grapeseed oil to the pot over medium high heat.  Once hot, add the onion, leek, carrots and celery.  Saute until they just start to brown. Deglaze the pot with a small amount of the stock, scraping up the brown bits, otherwise known as “fond”.  Add the rest of the stock to the pot and bring to a simmer.

Shred the chicken breasts and add to the pot.  Simmer just until the vegetables start to soften. Add the tortellini and simmer just until they are cooked through. Season the soup with salt and pepper.

Serve in large bowls, top with lots of grated Pecorino Romano cheese and enjoy!

My wife loved the soup and wants me to make it again this weekend.

What’s your favorite broth-based soup?

 

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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.

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Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 by Mario

Birthdays in my family are typically a big event. It’s not that we hold aging a year in such high regard, but mostly just an excuse to eat a ridiculous meal and spend some time together as a family. Just recently, we celebrated my mother’s birthday, and as a treat to her, my sisters and I did all the cooking. We usually like to do something on the grill. Now that it’s fall, there’s not that much time left to be outdoors, as winter will be knocking on our doors soon enough.

Marioneice

Mario & his Niece Ella

This year, Mom asked us to make Bistecca alla Fiorentina, and it took no convincing for me to be 100% on board. This has got to be one of my favorite Italian dishes to make and to eat. Bistecca alla Fiorentina is simply a very thick cut (I’m talking like 4 inches thick) porterhouse steak cooked and seasoned in the Tuscan style. That may seem a bit daunting, but it is really quite simple. I’m going to walk you through the process.

First, you have to find somewhere to acquire such a large piece of meat. There are several butcher shops around the city that will be able to help you out with this. Paulina Meat Market and Gene’s Sausage Shop are two of my favorites. Just tell them what you are making, and they will know exactly what you need. On the other hand, if you happen to be a bit on the crazy side like myself, you can order a whole short loin and cut them yourself, which I enjoy thoroughly.

steakrawThe real key to cooking a steak like this is not to think of it as a steak. This gets in the way for a lot of people that try to make this dish. With the size of this hunk of meat, it is truly a bone-in roast, and when cooked as such, becomes an amazing meal. So much of Italian cuisine is about cooking and eating family style. In the true Italian style, rarely would you see 8 people getting together for dinner and each person having their own steak. They take up too much space on the grill, and they cook relatively quickly. The meat does not get nearly enough time to absorb all the wonderful flavors from the grill and from cooking on the bone. Besides, taking your time and letting something cook for a while also allows everyone to do what we Italians do best… argue with each other about absolutely nothing!

Here is my recipe for Bistecca alla Fiorentina:

1  Porterhouse Steak (roast) cut 3-4 inches thick

3 Tablespoons Grapeseed Oil

4-5 sprigs fresh Rosemary

3-4 Tablespoons Sara’s Sea Salt, Tuscan Blend

Start by coating the roast with the oil and rub the seasoning all over it very generously. Finely chop 1 sprig of the rosemary and rub it into the roast as well. It may look a bit over seasoned. That’s okay. Remember, this is a very large piece of meat and it will need that much seasoning to bring out the flavors. Let it sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour, 2 hours if possible.

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Next, fire up your grill.  Use charcoal if you can. This will result in the most flavor. We used my Big Green Egg… soooo good!  You want to get your grill very hot to start, at least 500°.

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When the grill is ready, place the roast over the flame and let it sear for 3-4 minutes. Turn it over and do the same on the second side. Remove the roast. Reset your grill for indirect cooking and get the temperature to around 300°.  Toss the rest of the rosemary into the fire and place the roast back on the grill and let it cook until it has an internal temperature of 110°, which will take 30-40 minutes.  This will result in a perfect, true medium rare.  Let the roast rest for at least 15 minutes before you carve and serve.

steakfinish

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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.

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Simple & Fresh Ingredients = Memorable Meals

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 by Patrick

diveI was blessed to be able to spend a week in one of the most picturesque and beautiful places in the world recently, the Cayman Islands.  While the week was filled scuba diving and kayaking, I was also able to take in a few flavors of the islands.  Each meal was a constant stream of fresh seafood prepared in the most simple ways. Whether it was a grilled Grouper sandwich served on a basic roll with lettuce and tomato or lightly fried Conch fritters, the simplicity and freshness stands out in my mind.

It took going out of the country to paradise to open my eyes and get me back to the basics. I realized that too often when I am cooking, I get carried away trying pair flavors or add layers upon layers of different unique tastes. There were a couple of eureka moments I had on this trip that encouraged me to get back to cooking the way I love.

restaurantAt a harbor side restaurant called Breezes in George Town, I ordered the Conch fritters (which was my official food on this vacation) and was blown away. Typically when I order any sort of fritter, I expect a very dense, bread filled ball with very little “meat,” but these were different.  When I split these open, the first thing I noticed was the large chunks of Conch and little else. They were buttery in texture with a crispy shell and had a subtle sweetness that only the freshest seafood can have.  They were fantastic!

diningroomThe other dish that stands out in my mind from Grand Cayman was an Italian meal, of all things, at a small place called Ragazzi’s.  Every local resident I asked recommended Ragazzi’s as the best place to eat on the island, so we had to check it out.  I started out with unbelievable mussels served in a Chardonnay tomato broth, but it was the main course of Lobster Penne that stole my heart.  When you hear “Lobster Penne” you’re probably thinking of a complex, rich dish swimming in an alfredo style sauce and I would’ve agreed with you, but this was different.  The penne pasta was cooked perfectly and so was the freshly caught lobster, but the sauce was a simple blend of cheeses and just enough cream to lightly coat the pasta. This sauce complimented the lobster and pasta in ways rarely seen anymore. It was like a condiment highlighting the other stars on the plate verses trying to overpower them. Again, simple and basic, with few ingredients all working in conjunction with each other rather than fighting created a memorable meal that I will not soon forget.

The moral of this story is to take advantage of fresh ingredients that are readily available to you and prepare them in a simple ways to highlight each one. We are blessed to live in the Midwest where we can get a wide range of local fresh produce, so let’s reinvent how to use them by getting back to the basics and keeping it simple and fresh.

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Patrick Foerster is the Store Manager of The Chopping Block Lincoln Square and has a profound passion for food. His favorite part of his job is sharing his cooking experiences with customers to assist them in creating culinary masterpieces. When Patrick is away from the store, you can find him taking his two dogs for a hike or unwinding on the golf course.