Posts Tagged ‘Lincoln Square’


Apples, Apples and more Apples

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 by Patrick

After participating in yet another Apple Fest in Lincoln Square this year, one would think I have had my fair share of apples. Rather, I have a new found appreciation and respect for the fall fruit after watching our amazing chefs and assistants knock out over 300 Apple Pies this year. That’s over 100 more than last year!

Patrick & Chef Carrie

Patrick & Chef Carrie

This year, we went through 28 cases of beautiful Granny Smith apples, hundreds of pounds of flour and sugar, countless cast iron skillets, all over a four day stretch that challenges even the hardiest bakers. I could not be more proud of our team who rose to the challenge: from our retail team who manned the store while others slung pie at a staggering rate, to our dishwashers who had to clean most of the 300+ skillets, to our pie production team who worked tirelessly rolling, crimping and baking. All that being said, I’m not here to just give you stats about how great Apple Fest was, but how amazing apples are this year.

piesI heard all during Apple Fest that the pies this year were the best tasting to date, and even though our team performed flawlessly, I have to give some credit to the apples themselves. This year has been outstanding for apples, no matter what type is your favorite. As I mentioned earlier, we use Granny Smiths for our famous Apple Pies, but you can’t go wrong no matter what variety you choose this year. The great tasting apples of 2013 are not limited to one region either.  Our Granny Smiths came from the great state of Washington this year, but there are fabulous local apples right here in the Midwest.

The day after Apple Fest, I was recovering comfortably out in the burbs when my mother came in with a bag of Honey Crisp Apples she just got from a local orchard. Admittedly, that was the last food item I wanted to see, but I sampled one of the fresh apples and I was blown away at how good it was. The natural sugars of the fruit gave the sensation of eating a bowl of candy verses a healthy fruit. Needless to say, I ended up having a few more that day.

orchardA few days later, I took advantage of a day off and drive to my family’s cabin in Door County, Wisconsin.  Once there I stopped at a well-known orchard called Seaquist Family Orchard. Seaquist has a wide array of apples to try; I counted well over 10 different varieties, and they were all fantastic! I asked one of the Seaquist family members, why apples were so good this year, especially the Honey Crisp. He said it was simply the way the weather had been during the spring and summer, the right combination of heat and moisture. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it happened because these apples are better than I can ever remember. I encourage everyone to get out and give some local apples a try. Usually, I’d recommend a recipe at this point in a blog, but I think the apples are good enough on their own. Sometimes it’s best to just enjoy the simplicity of a darn near perfect piece of food.

What’s your favorite variety of apple?

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.


The Wine for Food Fall Challenge

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 by Robyn

There’s something about the cooler months that just makes me want to share. It could be that there’s a day coming in November entirely devoted to giving thanks. Or it could be that I realize, as I wrap myself in scarves and blankets, that I am among the lucky who can, in fact, wrap myself in scarves and blankets.

LS Friendship DisplayNo matter the reason, as soon as the air cools, I start measuring what I can afford to give. Sorting through my clothing, participating in alumni days of service… these things, along with apple cobbler and squash soup, make me feel like I’m really experiencing the joys of the season.

I heard someone say once (perhaps on a TV commercial) that she makes it a policy to always give something away before she buys something that she arguably doesn’t need. She doesn’t apply this to the purchasing of food, but when it comes to clothing or household items, it helps keep her in check. “I really love that dress” turns into “Do I like it enough that I can give away something in order to have it?” It’s not a bad policy, and this fall I’m going to try to do it, but in a way that’s relevant to me. This means I’m making it about food and wine. Instead of trading an old article of clothing for a new one, I’ll donate food each time I buy a bottle of wine.

LS Friendship Center LogoIt should be easy. The Lincoln Square Friendship Center just opened, and The Chopping Block in Lincoln Square is now accepting donations items for the community center. I’m looking forward to this little humbler every time I purchase wine. I hope it will make me realize I’m lucky to be able to do this and if I’m indulging, I can certainly splurge so someone else can have dinner.

If the scents and sights of fall put you in the giving mood as well, you can bring donations of non-perishable food items to our store in Lincoln Square any day and we will deliver them, along with the leftover ingredients from our cooking classes, to the Friendship Center. Keep in mind, you can find many donate-able foods on our shelves – along with a bottle of wine if you’re in for my challenge!

Here’s a list of items the center could always use:

  • Nuts
  • Canned chicken/tuna
  • Coffee/tea
  • Pasta and sauce
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter
  • Powdered milk
  • Hearty soup
  • Beans
  • Cereal (hot and cold)
  • Baby food and diapers
  • Rice
  • Canned fruit and veggies

The Lincoln Square Friendship Center’s Grand Opening will be held on Saturday, October 12, 2013 from 6pm-9pm at 2733 W. Lawrence Ave. There is a $20 suggested donation at the door.

Will I see you there?

Robyn recently moved to Chicago from Boston, where she taught math and reading in an urban high school. During that time, she discovered with dismay a huge lack of food knowledge and access in her students' communities and got totally fired up. She started cooking with the kids and created a class in which students learned how to budget for and select healthy, ethical, sustainable food. She is now at The Chopping Block with the hope to further the mission of getting the world to cook! In her free time, Robyn enjoys cooking and eating, bicycling and running, blogging and reading and adventuring.


Ode to the Belly

Friday, March 8th, 2013 by John

I have spent the better part of the last year talking about my weight loss successes and have provided you many ideas for getting on the healthy horse. But from time to time, we have to sit back and enjoy some of the guilty pleasures in life that put smiles on our faces.

JPLast Monday, I helped represent The Chopping Block at the Common Threads event at Soldier Field. Common Threads seeks to reach out to young kids to expose them to the many different cultures and cuisines around the world.  A collection of 75 chefs from around the city gathered for the event to help raise money for this great organization.  The Chopping Block chose to represent Germany and the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

CommonthreadsdishWe served Slow-Roasted Pork Belly with Citrus-Braised Cabbage and Caraway Potato Pancake.  Pork belly has to be one of the earth’s greatest gifts to the culinary world.  We cured the pork with salt, sugar and caraway seeds overnight.  The next day, we rinsed off the cure and placed the bellies in a 200 degree oven.  The meat cooked very gently for a solid 12 hours, pork bellymuch like the cooking of a pork shoulder or brisket in a smoker.  Once the belly was cooked to tender, we placed the meat on a large sheet tray and placed another tray on top.  We used some heavy pots to add weight to the belly to press the meat together.  The next day, we cut our little tasting portions and headed off to the stadium.  We quickly thinseared both sides of our portions to provide a nice, crispy texture.  This, served with the caraway flavored potatoes and the nice touch of citrus in the braised cabbage provided the perfect representation of Germany.

Pork belly is indeed one of the most delicious, guilty pleasures to be enjoyed. Have you cooked with it before? Let me know here what dishes inspire you and your belly!

John Peters is the Sous Chef of The Chopping Block at the Mart. In addition to teaching several times a week, John orders and receives the products for classes and private events, manages scheduling, works with the private events team in party planning and organizing, and keeps an overall open eye to the entire space at the Mart. He enjoys both cooking and eating Mexican food and the thing he enjoys most about cooking is truly making people happy with food!


Two of my Favorite Things: Beer Cheese

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 by Carrie

Grilled Cheese 1When beer and cheese collide, magic happens… birds sing, rainbows appear, you see stars and all your troubles melt away.  If you’ve ever lived in or visited the Midwest, chances are you’ve seen a brand of cheese called Merkt’s Cheese.  Now, I know you’re thinking ”You mean a chef actually eats something like this?” Heck, yeah!  Everybody needs a good cheesy burger or hot dog every once in a while, right? If I ever go to a hamburger stand or the Vienna Beef  Café, it’s my right as a Chicagoan to have a Chicago Dog or a hamburger with Merkt’s Cheese on it.  It gets SO melty and delicious.

Burgers and dogs are just the threshold of beer and cheese, though.  Think soft, hot pretzels dipped in beer cheese (see recipe below), a cheese plate paired with beer, beer and cheese macaroni gratin (see recipe below), or my inspiration for this blog:  Grilled Beer Cheese with Bacon!

Grilled Cheese 2On my day off, I stopped by Gene’s Sausage Shop in Lincoln Square, conveniently located across directly across the street from The Chopping Block’s Lincoln Square location. I went in with intentions of making an outrageous grilled cheese sandwich for dinner that night because Melinda happens to share the same love for cheese as I do.  Lo and behold, there sat the Merkt’s Beer Cheese. But, I didn’t stop there.  I grabbed another local Wisconsin Cheddar,  Cotswold Cheese, pork belly, two tomatoes, one red onion and two ciabatta rolls. I chose the slab of pork belly so that I could slice it nice and thick.

When you cook bacon, always put it in the pan before you preheat the pan. That way, the fat renders as the protein of the bacon cooks. The result is a much more evenly cooked slice of bacon.

Once the bacon was cooked, I strained most of the bacon fat from the pan, and then toasted the ciabatta buns in that same pan to pick up some bacon lovin’. As the bacon was cooking, I caramelized the red onion and deglazed the pan with Lagunitas Sucks (my favorite beer at the moment).  Next, I spread the Merkt’s beer cheese on both slices of the bread, slices of Wisconsin cheddar on the bottom bun, slices of Cotswold on the top bun, caramelized onions, bacon and tomato slices in the middle.  I happened to have a few roasted poblano peppers left over from some quesadillas I had made earlier in the week, so I threw some of those on there as well.  The result = absolute heaven. Get out there and cook, microbrewed beer fans!

Cheddar-Beer Fondue

Yield: 4 servings

Active time: 25 minutes

Start to finish: 25 minutes

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

One 12-ounce bottle lager beer

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 cups (1 pound) sharp cheddar cheese, grated


For dipping:

2 Granny Smith apples, cut into slices

2 cups broccoli florets, blanched and shocked

1/2 loaf of crusty bread, cubed

  1. Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add the beer and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beer has thickened.
  3. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard and cayenne.
  4. Add the cheese 1 cup at a time, melting after each addition.
  5. Pour the fondue into a fondue pot, and serve with the apple slices, broccoli florets and bread.


Beer and Cheese Macaroni Gratin

Yield: 4 servings

Active time: 20 minutes

Start to finish: 1 hour

1/2 pound macaroni, penne or other short pasta

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups Goose Island Honkers Ale (or any Ale style beer)

1 1/2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 pound sharp cheddar, grated

1/2 pound Gruyere, grated

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain, toss with a splash of oil to prevent sticking, and place in large bowl.
  3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in the flour to make a roux and cook, whisking constantly, for about 2 minutes. Add the nutmeg and cook 1 minute more.
  4. Gradually whisk in the beer. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour in the milk while whisking. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until thickened.
  5. Season the béchamel with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in 2/3 of the combined cheeses until melted.
  6. Add the sauce to the pasta and mix well. Spoon the mixture into a buttered baking dish. Top the noodles with the rest of the cheese and bread crumbs.
  7. Bake on a parchment-lined sheet tray until golden and bubbly, about 40 minutes.


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 Chopping Block, Full Circle

Monday, October 8th, 2012 by Sara

After teaching at The Chopping Block for over 10 years now, you can imagine that I have had the pleasure of teaching a multitude of classes and working with many, many amazing students.

One of the questions my students repeatedly ask me is “What is your favorite class to teach?” The answer to that question has remained the same for many years… it has to be all of the technique-based classes, such as the 101 classes, Pasta Workshops and our sauce classes.

But now, after teaching our Farmers’ Market class at the Lincoln Square location twice in the past month, this is my new favorite class to teach! It’s ironic because this was the style of class that I used to teach back when The Chopping Block was located on Webster in Lincoln Park.

Way back then, our original classes did not have recipes, so our students would take very detailed notes during class. The chef had the creative freedom to prepare the food in their own style, allowing their unique culinary point of view to shine.

The farmers’ market class brought me right back to the beginning of my career as a chef instructor, and teaching people how to cook has never felt better! My students and I walked over to the Thursday evening farmers’ market in Lincoln Square and purchased produce that inspired us. We took the uber-fresh ingredients back to the store and I cooked a three-course meal, totally impromptu.

A few highlights from the two classes were roasted garlic and ricotta bruschetta with caramelized butternut squash, parsnips and balsamic glaze; fried green tomatoes with remoulade, and freshly made fettuccine with grilled shrimp, beet greens, and shiitake mushroom and bacon cream sauce. For dessert one night I made caramelized apple crêpes with orange caramel sauce and gelato.

As a chef instructor, this was my dream class to teach, and what a great learning experience for my students! This is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to pair the season’s freshest ingredients with the most appropriate cooking techniques to showcase their natural flavors, resulting in an amazing meal!

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.