Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

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My Big Italian Christmas

Friday, January 10th, 2014 by Jennifer

I had the opportunity to attend my first big Italian Christmas with my big Italian boyfriend and his even bigger Italian family last month. I thought I knew what I was getting into having spent time with his family before, but what I didn’t know was that given the holiday spirit, I should have known to multiply that by ten, wait I mean twenty… who am I kidding – one thousand. Norman Rockwell ain’t got nothing on this family!

Christmas Eve: the First Feast

soupI had never heard of the “Seven Fishes” before, and was thrilled to learn about the Italian tradition. Every year, Italians celebrate La Vigilia de Natale, or the Labor of Mary, with a bereaved act of abstention: in honor of the birth of Christ, neo-Romans fast the day away, and, in one final tithe, opt away from red meat for the evening, instead gorging themselves on fish as only Italians can, channeling not only the holy ghost but the spirit of the vomitoriums of yore. Here in America, we call this meal the Feast of Seven Fishes. His Aunt’s Cioppino blew me away, from the flavor to the serving pieces to the delicious bread for dipping. Yum.

Christmas Day: the Mega Feast

Dirty SpaghettiThis meal started off with homemade Italian Wedding Soup, with homemade ravioli and meatballs. I’m going to stop saying homemade at this point, since just about everything was! Now, I was instructed not to fill up on this soup, so I felt set up for success around this meal. Alright, here comes the pasta – I’m ready. Ravioli stuffed with veal, more stuffed with cheese. Cheesy focaccia, marinated antipasto and artichoke. Spaghetti with anchovy aka “dirty” spaghetti and spaghetti with bolognese. I was in heaven. I made it a point to try everything and boy was I stuffed! When we finished, I quietly asked my boyfriend if we could go sit in the living room to stretch out and relax. That’s when it happened. He took my hand, looked at me with compassion in his eyes and calmly said ‘Babe, we still have the main course.’

RavioliHam, turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad, and vegetables magically appear on the table. I’ve been had. I thought I had this thing under control, but alas. When the feast was all said and done, I was a new definition of full. Full of the best Italian food I’ve ever had, full of appreciation for being welcomed into their home, and full of love from his big Italian family.

Best first Christmas ever.

 

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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.

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Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 by Mario

Today is Christmas Eve and one of my family’s favorite meals of the year. If you read my blogs, you will know that no event happens without some sort of feast, and Christmas Eve is certainly no exception.

fishesCena della Vigilia di Natale, the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner, is known as Festa dei Sette Pesci or Feast of the Seven Fishes. It is a meal without meat honoring the midnight birth of the baby Jesus; a custom that originated in Sicily and has since spread throughout Italy and around the world. Italians and Italian-Americans alike still celebrate this old-world custom that has been handed down from generation to generation.

fishrawIn order to honor the tradition, a variety of seven different fish or shellfish are served, and while the menu and preparation varies from region to region and family to family, traditionally it is a meal that begins with antipastos and bread, an abundant feast of seven types of fish, pastas, vegetables and ending with an assortment of i dolci (sweets). This celebratory feast captures the spirit of Christmas and offers Italians a chance to unite with their families around the table.  It is a tradition that my family has upheld ever since I can remember and is one that I will uphold as long as I am allowed to be on this Earth.

My Grandmother, the classic “old Italian lady”, is now 92 years old, so she has passed on the traditional methods and recipes to both my mother and me, who have now taken the reins for the feast. It is always a great time for us to spend together in the kitchen.  This is what we will be enjoying this year. Let’s start with the staples:

  1. Baccala: a salt cod and olive salad which takes several days of soaking the cod and changing the water to prepare.
  2. Squid: We stuff them with bread crumbs, onion and garlic and braise them in tomato gravy.  This my Dad’s absolute favorite!
  3. Shrimp: we lightly bread them in homemade bread crumbs with dry basil and oregano and fry them golden brown.
  4. Crab Legs: simply steamed with lots of drawn butter.  This is a replacement for the more traditional dish of Langostinos, a crustacean that is like the combination of a shrimp and a lobster.

We like to rotate the other three dishes a bit and try some new ones every year.  This year we will also be having:

  1. Octopus: I like to cook the legs in olive oil until they are deeply caramelized, then add some garlic to the oil as it cools.  I chop up the legs and dress them with the garlic oil, fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.  This has very quickly become a “new” staple to our meal and is my personal favorite!
  2. Mussels: steamed in a broth of white wine, tomatoes, and garlic. These CANNOT be eaten without the addition of some great homemade bread to soak up all the broth.
  3. This one is up in the air a bit, we are deciding between Sole – sautéed in brown butter, Skate Wing – also sautéed in brown butter, or Scallops – with fried capers and lemon.

What do you think should be our 7th dish this year?

 

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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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‘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.