Posts Tagged ‘lasagna’


Taking a Risk in the Kitchen

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 by Marissa

chefmovieHave you seen the movie “Chef”? Although I’m not sure if it will receive a lot of awards, I am sure that this film portrays someone who is inspired and takes a risk. I like to think I’m headed down that same path now.

I was fortunate to get a personal chef job recently. I had wanted to get involved in the personal chef world, but wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. During lunch with a business associate, we stumbled upon the opportunity. As a single dad & recent widower, my client suggested that we may have a symbiotic relationship to explore: his adolescent children need more healthful (non-fast food and frozen) dinners and after school snacks, and I love to spend my free time cooking. I accepted the proposition to cook weekly for his family. It is an opportunity for me to be both challenged and inspired!

We set up a consultation to meet the adolescent omnivores. Not surprisingly, the 14-year-old young chap doesn’t like some raw vegetables. The 12-year-old girl didn’t have too many qualms about the foods I inquired about. Instead, they both enjoy what some may consider more sophisticated food stuffs such as curries, seaweed soup and sushi. I also made sure to tour the kitchen to browse cookware, utensils and other kitchen regalia. But I noticed I would definitely need more spices and dried herbs in order to set myself up for success at my client’s house.

Luckily, I live for spice shops and am somewhat of a spice and herb hoarder. I highly recommend Epic Spices in West Town/Ukrainian Village. The Chicago Avenue shop may appear to be quite small, but if you simply ask, there is always plenty more “in back”. The owner once gave me a sample of a cilantro-infused salt he was testing. Epic Spices also has extremely reasonable prices, which is great since I don’t want to spend a small fortune on my spice habit. A bag full of yummy spice and herb pouches cost less than $35! Additionally, this small local business does all of their spice grinding and blends in-house.

Beyond shopping for spices and herbs, I’ve done a lot of family-friendly recipe research online.  Here is an example of a recipe from Food Network that I have experimented with:

Lasagna Roll Ups

Photo Courtesy Sandra Lee/Food Network

Photo Courtesy Sandra Lee/Food Network

Nonstick cooking spray

Kosher salt

1/2 (16-ounce) box lasagna noodles, or 8 noodles

1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese

Reserved lemon zest from Linguini and Clam Sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

Reserved pork ragu from Pork Ragu over Penne

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 by 8-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lasagna, cover the pot, and bring it back to a boil. Remove the cover, stir, and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  • Put the ricotta into a bowl and stir in the zest and sage. Put a lasagna noodle on your work surface and spread 1/4 cup ricotta mixture onto it, leaving 2 inches on one end clear. Top the cheese with 1/4 cup ragu and roll up the noodle starting from the filled end. Place it into the baking dish and continue with the remaining noodles, ricotta, and ragu. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the rolls, put the pan onto a baking sheet, and bake until the cheese is bubbling and browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Most of my creations are not by following a recipe to the letter, but rather a combination of all of the good parts of recipes. My young clients will attest that I have introduced a few new ingredients to their dining experiences: jicama, eggplant and fingerling potatoes. They were not super fond of the eggplant in a veggie curry. Beside that, my track record is pretty good so far. I am continuing to build upon my previous experiences and looking to new ideas.

I’m also relying on the skills I learned in The Chopping Block’s Cooking Lab series I took last April.

Photo Courtesy Felt Like a Foodie

Photo Courtesy Felt Like a Foodie

I won’t spoil it for you, but here are some of my favorite parts of the classes:

  • Learning about flavor profiles by tasting a jelly bean with and without your nose plugged.
  • Being confident enough to let my food brown before I down the heat.
  • The idea of having “reprieve for the eye” on the plate, or in other words, leaving some space.

Stay tuned for the next Cooking Lab coming up next year. In the meantime, read these four articles by one of my fellow students Barb Felt Miller for her blog, Felt Like a Foodie.

I have definitely taken some risk with my first personal chef client, but it’s been well worth the positive response which keeps me inspired!

Marissa Wright has been with The Chopping Block since November 2013. She has been a culinary enthusiast since a young age. She is always scheming the next opportunity for a dinner party or birthday cake baking. If you can't find her buzzing around a kitchen somewhere, she is exploring. Marissa enjoys biking in the city, practicing yoga, knitting, sunlight, and fresh air!


A Thank You Note to Toscana

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 by Bailey

Dearest Tuscany,

Thank you for allowing my mom and me to enter into your majestic, pristine, lush and romantic world. Thank you for being the place where we’d develop a lifetime full of friendships with our Backroads tour group, and thank you for countless days and nights full of gut wrenching laughter.









Thank you for the experience of waking up to views of rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see. Thank you for the morning mist on the mountains. Thank you for the hikes and explorations. Thank you for your fiery red poppies and Cypress tree-lined pathways. Thank you for rows upon rows of olive trees, and thank you for producing the world’s greenest grass.















Thank you for dinner at Mimma’s house, where we were all instantly made to feel as though we were a part of her family. Thank you for the most incredible Gorgonzola and Arugula Lasagna that has ever touched my lips. Thank you for Mimma’s hilarious lesson on how to curse in Italian, and thank you for the Prosecco that we all sipped during this lesson.






















Thank you for the delightful picnics. Thank you for the honey tastings at Benedictine temples. Thank you for olive oil tastings with olive oil experts. Thank you for the Brunello, Super Tuscans and for the cellar full of Chianti Classico ranging all the way back to 1937. Thank you for the introduction to Paolo, the truffle hunter, and his awesome truffle hunting dog, Millie. Thank you for the art. Thank you for your endless years of history. Thank you for the church choir that serenaded us with Ave Maria as we walked in the door.















Thank you for our fearless leaders, McKynlee, Michael, Edoardo and Vincenza, who all played a role in changing our lives. Thank you for that precious child who I watched run into her father’s arms in Pienza. Thank you for all the moments that I got to hold hands with my mom, and thank you for our renewed relationship as mother and daughter. Thank you for the smiles. Thank you for unabridged happiness. Thank you for giving me something to constantly dream about, and thank you for the BEST memories.















Ciao, Tuscany. Until next time…






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.


Cheesy Comfort

Thursday, March 14th, 2013 by David

As the weather starts to warm up, time is running out for decadent winter comfort foods.  You know the ones I’m talking about: braised short ribs, slow roasted pork shoulder, etc.  As much as I love them, they are just a little heavy to eat during the hot Chicago summer months. So, my wife and I decided to give the season one last hurrah this past weekend.

lasagnaWe decided to make homemade lasagna from scratch. We spent all day making a gallon of homemade meat sauce, letting it simmer for a good 4-5 hours.  I made and rolled out enough pasta to feed a small town in Sicily.  My wife chopped piles of fresh herbs and grated enough Parmesan cheese to make a mini ski slope.

The only thing we couldn’t do was make fresh ricotta or mozzarella.  I didn’t have enough milk or the time to make it.  It was kind of a bummer since we were making everything else from scratch.  So my wife and I vowed next time we would at least make our own ricotta.  She already found a recipe on the internet and if spring doesn’t come too fast, we might even have a chance at another round of lasagna this winter. Side note: a gallon of meat sauce yields approximately enough sauce for two 9in. by 13in. casseroles, so we had 5 days’ worth of homemade lasagna for lunch and dinner.

Brie BookFor those of you who also have a true love of fresh cheese, check out our upcoming Homemade Cheesemaking classes. We are also excited to welcome Kirstin Jackson, author of “It’s Not You, Its Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese”  in April at Lincoln Square. She will lead a discussion of American cheese producers and share her insight to the growing cheese market in our country. The price of the class will include a copy of her new book as well as a tasting of her favorite cheese-inspired dishes featured in the book. Sign up here.

Have you ever made your own fresh cheese? How did it turn out? Share your experiences here.


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.


Gluten Who?

Friday, March 1st, 2013 by Jennifer

Gluten Free PicI receive a lot of inquiries and requests regarding gluten-free cooking. So, I took it upon myself to get educated. A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein complex known as gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Fun fact: corn and rice contain gluten, however they are considered gluten-free since they do not cause Celiac disease. The more I read into these dietary restrictions, the more I understood why there is such a call to action around gluten-free cooking classes!

Ask and you shall receive. This March at The Chopping Block, we are featuring two different gluten free cooking classes.

Gluten Free PastaGluten-Free Pasta Workshop includes pasta alternatives that are within reach with fun, tasty, and–yes!–gluten-free dishes.

Here is the menu:

  • Fresh Gluten-Free Pasta Dough
  • Three-Cheese and Spinach Lasagna with Tomato Sauce
  • Fresh Fettuccine Primavera with Pesto
  • Quinoa Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Mushrooms, Bacon and Gruyere Cheese

Skills covered in class include:

  • Working with Gluten-Free Flours
  • Rolling and Cutting Fresh Pasta
  • Sautéing Vegetables
  • Making Béchamel Sauce and Pesto

Based on the description, I want to take this class gluten free or not!

Gluten Free MuffinsGluten-Free Baking offers both savory and sweet alternatives, which is neat.

That menu includes:

  • Cinnamon Rolls
  • Cheesy Herb Quick Biscuits with Seasonal Veggies
  • Butternut Squash and Brown Sugar Muffins
  • Buckwheat Pancakes with Blueberry Compote

Skills covered in class include:

  • Working with Gluten-Free Flours and Yeast
  • Preparing Gluten-Free Dough and Batter
  • Rolling and Shaping Dough
  • Determining Doneness in Baked Goods
  • Griddle Baking

Although you get a copy of your recipes emailed to you after class, don’t hesitate to check out our retail floor for a fun gluten-free cookbook. We’ve expanded our assortment to include some new cookbooks, both technique and recipe based.

What’s your favorite gluten-free recipe source? Share it here.

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.


An Interview with Santa

Friday, December 14th, 2012 by Chloe

Santa Claus is a legendary hero whose identity is as mysterious as the North Pole. I was recently lucky enough to have a conversation with the bearded bloke. Below is just a glimpse into the wonderful heart and mind of ole Saint Nick, as he answers the most pressing questions for The Chopping Blog.

*Please note that due to his request for privacy and a signed affidavit, I cannot reveal the details of how, where or when we met. I am only legally allowed to reveal this conversation.

Chloe Ditzel: Mr. Claus! Thank you for having me. The Chopping Blog is thrilled to have you and we appreciate your time.

Santa Claus: Absolutely! I’m so excited to be speaking with an official reporter of one the most celebrated blogs in the North Pole. But please, call me Santa. Or Stan.  A lot of people call me Stan here.

Santa Eat 1CD: (blushing) Okay, Stan. The Chopping Blog is, as you know, a food blog for The Chopping Block, which is Chicago’s most popular recreational cooking school.  Have you ever thought of taking Mrs. Claus out for a fun date night?  Or perhaps going alone and learning something new?

SC: Oh my!  I’m surprised you didn’t know, but I actually have taken some classes at the C-Block. I am a huge fan of the Pasta Workshop class. The summer menu was delicious.  I still make that lasagna, when I can get the veggies in.

CD: I had no idea. Does Mrs. Claus like to take the classes, too?

SC: Oh no.  She does a lot of the meals for the North Pole and our employees. She likes to take breaks from the kitchen on her nights off, understandably.

CD: She sounds like a great gal.

Santa Eat 3SC: Chloe, you have no idea. She sure does take care of us up here.  The old girl sure does know her way around an oven. Her quinoa pilaf and pork sopes are some of my personal favorites.

CD: They sound great. Let’s get down to it, shall we, Stan? The biggest question on everyone’s mind is what do you really want on the night of December 24?  I know I grew up leaving milk and cookies for you and carrots for the reindeer, but what does Santa really want?

SC: Great question, Chloe. Honestly, I am incredibly grateful that so many children think of me before they go to bed, and its not even the ones on the Nice list! I love cookies and milk just like any other Claus. I will say horchata is a delicious and unexpected treat. I also love tea sandwiches. Cucumber and butter, egg salad, ham and mustard. They give me that little kick in my step that I sometimes need on Christmas Eve, without filling up my tummy. Now, the reindeer are currently on a diet, per the suggestion of our vet, Dr. Snowplum. I know they love carrots, but I think they would love a nice little treat, as that is a special night. They actually love Naan bread and hummus!

CD: Really?!

Santa Eat 4SC: Absolutely. Mrs. Claus and I went on a Mediterranean kick one summer.  They had one taste and couldn’t get enough.

CD: That’s very interesting, and I’ll be sure to remember that this year. What is your favorite meal?

SC: Chloe, you’re really pushing the envelope with these questions.

CD: Stan, that’s my job.

SC: Of course. To be honest, and this may be a shock to some of your readers, but I love pizza. Bunny Boo (his nickname for Mrs. Claus) makes delicious fresh dough, and we have a pizza stone the elves made years ago. I love it when there’s a nice blend of cheeses and herbs. Simple and classic.

CD: I’m hungry just talking about it, Santa.

SC: Me too. Bunny Boo just made some homemade corndogs- if you’re interested.

CD: Holy cow! I’d love one!

(Brief break for corndogs)

Santa Eat 2CD:  Those were fantastic. I can’t wait to try them at home. Thanks for the recipe.

SC: Absolutely.

CD: What’s your favorite kind of food to order out?

SC: I love Thai and Chinese food, as most people do. Who doesn’t love a fortune cookie?

CD: (laughing) I know I do. One final question for you today: If you had a last meal, what would it be?

SC: Chloe, you sure do know how to put the pressure on an old man. I have thought about this before, actually. Bunny Boo makes a homemade turkey potpie that is absolutely delicious. It makes me feel warm and full, and there are always leftovers. We usually have this with a fresh green salad and crispy French bread.  Sometimes it’s those meals that make you appreciate what you have and the wonderful people in your life.

CD: (crying) Santa, you are an absolute pleasure to speak with. I am so honored to have learned about some of your culinary interests, and get to know you better in general.

SC: Chloe, the pleasure was all mine. And might I add that you are the coolest and neatest person I have ever met. You’re probably the best person in the world.

Born and raised in Florida, Chloe Ditzel is a former class assistant at The Chopping Block, and would like to make it clear that she did not go to culinary school. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA, and is discovering the culinary treasures of the west coast one delicious food truck at a time. Her biggest goal in life is to somehow combine the following three mediums: food, comedy & unicycles. Bon Appetite!