I am sure that I am not the only person that finds starting a new diet challenging – the knowing we need to is not the hard part, it really is in ‘the getting started’.
I was recently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and so have needed to start, by necessity, to consider doing things a little differently. I have been ‘a work in progress’ indeed, and the need for constant medication is not the route I want to choose over the longer term. My body also has a tendency towards inflammation, and this has not helped. What has helped is the guidance of my rheumatologist and also a conversation many months ago with Shelley (Owner/Founder of The Chopping Block) – that diet can make a difference.
Today I chose to ‘get started’.
During my lunch break I looked at food choices that actually work to fight inflammation – and there is a multitude of sources available to consult. Although not all make the exact same recommendations, there is considerable overlap in the topic generally.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was already practicing many of the recommendations such as fatty fish (what’s not to love about sardines?), low fat dairy, dark leafy greens, whole grains and nuts. Where I could do better – wine (more red, less white; that I can do!), soy (not sure on this one; edamame all day long yes, the salt on it is a
Ginger & Turmeric (Photo Courtesy of medicaldaily.com)
NO!), ginger and turmeric (love them both – need to find some fabulous recipes that will incorporate them well). Oh, and how could I forget chocolate – thrilled to see it at the top, and probably not with the caramel center or toffee chips in it that I love.
One of the things I am most excited about is adding tart cherries into my diet – starting with some tart cherry juice. The key is that it must be tart – not just a luscious, sweet cherry or its juice!
Photo Courtesy of tartcherryjuice.com
This has me pondering, very fleetingly, if a Cherry Ripe would work – and I know the answer already. This beloved, chocolate coated Australian candy, from Cadbury will not do the trick.
Today I am armed with a little more information than I started with, a quick list to take home and a better connection to what is possible with some relatively straight forward changes in the way I choose to eat, and cook. It has also given me an incentive to look at how to incorporate these concepts into a full meal – and I am loving that The Chopping Block has just the class for me – “Fresh Start” – which sums it up beautifully.
Since joining The Chopping Block in February of 2010 as Sales Manager of Private and Corporate Events, Lisa has truly been able to indulge her passion for all things food. Growing up in Australia, surrounded by family orchards in a rich rural farming community, she is an especially firm believer in supporting the dairy farmers, enjoying all things cheese related. When not working with her team to plan events and welcome guests, she enjoys gathering friends around her dining table at home, grilling outdoors, trying her hand at a range of classes at The Chopping Block, traveling and reading.
Making fresh fruit crumbles has become an obsession for me. I love developing the dessert with rich, fresh, luscious flavors from seasonal fruits. With the addition of just a few good flavorings, nuts and spices, you can create a really superior fruit crumble.
The topping is what makes a crumble so special to me. Of course, the fruit is a major component, but when you take your first bite into a crumble and you taste the rich, buttery, sugary, crunch topping, you just know that what’s to follow is going to be spectacular. The fresh fruit, combined with spices, sugars, flavorings and hints of citrus cook down so that all of the fruit juices create a smooth, thick, lush, gooey and scrumptious syrup. Sometimes a little cornstarch can help achieve that thick syrup consistency.
My tale of three crumbles begins with one I started making this summer: Peach Crumble.
Take 6-7 large, peeled, firm, fresh peaches, slice them into wedges, and place them in a bowl with a half of cup of sugar. Tossing the peaches with the sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice and letting it sit for half an hour helps to release juices, ensuring a deep peach flavor. After that, place the peaches in a heavy saucepan and cook the peaches on medium to low heat until they just begin to soften.
Next, add the spices and flavorings:
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
a couple of grates of fresh nutmeg with your Microplane
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
As a chef at The Chopping Block, I have the opportunity to try amazing products like Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla bean paste and the Pride of Szeged ground cinnamon. You can also use the vanilla extract that you might already have in your pantry as well as any brand of cinnamon. But I warn you! Once you try this vanilla bean paste, you’re going to be hooked.
Once the peaches and their juices come to a slight boil, I slowly add a corn starch slurry, which is one tablespoon of corn starch dissolved in a couple of tablespoons of water. Make sure to keep an eye on the peaches. The corn starch will thicken the peaches in a very short time. Depending on how juicy your fruit is, you may not need the entire slurry.
Place this filling in a buttered casserole dish or pie plate and dot the top with a couple of small pieces of unsalted butter. Next, it’s time to prepare the crumble topping.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks of very chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces.
Mix all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, work the butter into the dry ingredients, until large clumps form. This recipe will yield enough topping for a second crumble. After generously sprinkling half of your crumble topping on top of your peach filling, place the dish on a parchment or Silpat-lined sheet tray. You’ll definitely want something under that sheet tray to aid in clean up in case the juices overflow.
Place the crumble in a 350 degree oven, set the timer for 30 minutes and rotate the pan halfway during cooking time. After a half hour, you should see juices bubbling and the topping turning a nice golden brown color. If that hasn’t happened yet, leave it for another 5-10 minutes or so. After it’s done baking, pull the crumble out of the oven and place on a wire cooling rack. Let it sit for about a half an hour and then dig in! If you want to make it a seriously over-the-top dessert, serve with a really good Gelato or ice cream. Salted Caramel Gelato goes nicely.
My second crumble tale involves tart sour cherries.
Sour Cherry Crumble
If you can grab a bunch of sour or tart cherries from a farmers’ market, go for it. But you can also use frozen ones from the supermarket. My favorites are actually from Costco. Once I stumbled upon these frozen beauties, my life making crumbles got easier. No more pitting cherries and their availability is pretty frequent. Did I mention not having to pit cherries?
With this crumble, I follow the exact same cooking technique as for the peach crumble, but I substitute almond extract for the vanilla bean paste. Nielsen-Massey also makes a great almond extract. I usually add ¼ teaspoon almond extract and 1/2 cup sugar to the frozen cherries. If you want to add a citrus note, a teaspoon of lemon juice will do the trick. Cherries work incredibly well with the flavor of almond. Omitting the cinnamon and nutmeg will keep that fresh cherry taste.
Cherries tend to leach out a great deal of liquid, so a bit more corn starch might be necessary for your slurry. In fact, you might need to double it. Once again, keep an eye on the cherries as they cook and thicken.
I like to vary the topping for this cherry crumble by adding a half a cup of tasted slivered almonds to the same recipe used for the Peach Crumble.
The third crumble tale is actually my favorite: Apple Crumble.
I love using Honey Crisp apples for crumbles this time of year, but Granny Smith are also nice. Peel and core 6-7 apples and cut them into 2 inch chunks.
Place the apples in a large bowl with a couple of tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a teaspoon of cinnamon, ½ – 1 teaspoon whole teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract. Add ½ cup of granulated sugar and ½ cup of dark brown sugar. Instead of cooking the apples in a heavy sauce pan and adding a corn starch slurry like I did with the peaches and cherries, instead just add 2 tablespoons of corn starch to the raw apples. Mix together and pile high in a buttered baking dish. Dot a bit more generously with butter, about a tablespoon or so. Pile your crumble topping on the fruit and once again place on a parchment lined or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Place in a 350 degree oven and cook for about a half hour, making sure to rotate the pan halfway through the cooking time.
Once the crumble juices begin to bubble and the topping turns a nice golden brown, you have one seriously, buttery, crisp Apple Crumble.
These are my tales of three crumbles. Why not come up with a few tales of your own? Try other fruits. Try additions to the fruits like brandy, rum-soaked golden raisins, maybe even some toasted chopped walnuts. You can add fresh blueberries to the peach one, and a couple of tablespoons of almond liqueur to the cherry crumble. Experiment, and let me know how it goes!
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.
It is done. My husband just cut his head off, and everybody screamed. The party was about to end, but at least it was a tasty ending.
In Denmark, kids celebrate their birthdays with a cake in a shape of a girl or a boy, which the Danes call a “Kagemand” (“Cake Man”). My husband discovered the idea while living in Denmark, and since then he secretly wanted a real Danish birthday party.
It was hard to find an original Danish birthday cake recipe, especially when you can’t read Danish, so I had to improvise. I used a recipe for a Danish pastry as a base and made some slight changes to create the birthday cake Kagemand.
Danish pastry dough recipe requires you to start making the dough one day before, so keep that in mind – you’ll need to start one day before the birthday party.
Danish Pastry Dough
1.5oz fresh yeast
2/3 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream (can substitute with ½ cup almond milk)
¼ cup caster sugar
1 tsp ground cardamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla sugar or 1 tsp vanilla extract
3½ cups flour
1½ cups unsalted (sweet) butter, chilled
1. Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Heat the cream gently to barely lukewarm, and then stir the yeast mixture into the cream and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
2. Beat the sugar with the eggs until light and frothy. Stir in cardamon, salt, vanilla sugar or extract. Add yeast mixture and blend well. Gradually stir the bread flour to make a soft dough. Knead the dough in the bowl for couple minutes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Take the chilled dough from the fridge and using a lightly floured rolling pin roll it into a 16-in x 16-in square about ½ in thick on a lightly floured surface.
4. Cut the butter into thin slices and place them side by side down the middle of the pastry square, ending about 1-in from the edge of the dough. Fold over the sides of the pastry so that the butter is covered. Seal the ends. Fold the dough intot hree layers like folding a napkin, rotate dough a quarter of turn, and fold into thirds again, making a small squares. Turn over dough. Repeat rolling and folding another two-three times. You should finish with a small square. Wrap the dough and chill overnight.
Now that you have the dough ready, it’s time to make the filling. You’ll want the filling to be fresh, so wait until the morning of the birthday to make it.
½ cup unsalted (sweet) butter
½ cup caster (superfine) sugar – NOTE: personally, I only use 1/4 c so you can taste more of the almond flavor.
½ cup ground almonds or almond flour
3 tbsp double (heavy) cream (can substitute with almond milk)
½ tsp almond extract
Combine the butter, sugar, ground almonds or almond flour in a bowl, and stir the cream or almond milk and almond extract.
Making the Kagemand
Now that your filling is ready, take the dough from the fridge and roll out one of them into a 50-in long strip about 4-in wide. Add the almond filling down the middle of the dough along the entire length of the strip. If you want, you can add berries and nuts as well. Fold the sides along the length of the strip so that they cover the filling.
Divide the pastry into 2 pieces: one about 20-in long, and the other 30-in. Turn the 20in piece upside-down and make it into a bow. Do the same with 30in piece of danish pastry dough. Place on the baking tray first 20 in piece, that 30in right under it so that you will end up with the shape of a person.
Preheat the oven to 400 F and let it bake till golden in color. I also combined an egg with milk in a small bowl and brushed it over the pastry. NOTE: If your cookie tray is small, you may want to bake each part of the cake so that you don’t have it flow over the pan. You can hide that your cake is two pieces when you decorate it.
Take out the birthday cake, let it cool slightly and start decorating! By the way, you can ask your kid to decorate the cake with you. It’s lots of fun.
The Danes love to decorate their kagemand with marzipan and gummies, and will also use chocolate paste, nuts, and berries – basically, anything sweet and colorful. They dye the marzipan and make them into clothing (especially for the girls’ birthdays, to create a pretty dress) and use the gummies to make hair, buttons, mouths, and eyes for the cake from it. For this Kagemand, I used marzipan for his shirt and bow tie; nuts, raspberries, gummies for his legs; and Belgium chocolate paste from The Chopping Block for his shoes. It turns out that people loved the chocolate, raspberries and almond together because his shoes were the first thing to disappear.
To make your kagemand really authentic, decorate him or her with Danish flags. To the Danes their flag belongs to the people, so you always know when a Dane’s celebrating their birthday, because they put Danish flags everywhere.
Once your birthday cake is done the real fun comes. When you’re ready to eat the birthday boy or girl take a big knife (with some help from mom and dad – remember safety first), the guests sing happy birthday, and then the birthday boy or girl puts the knife at the cake’s throat. The guests start screaming, and the birthday boy or girl cuts off the head the cake. You may think that Danes are weird, but they definitely know how to make a party unforgettable, fun and very tasty!
Anna is originally from Siberia and got her master's degree in Saint-Petersburg, Russia before moving to the Windy City. Her priority in life is to make people happy, and that's why Anna is excited to work at The Chopping Block as a Retail Associate. Her passions in life are traveling, baking, dancing and dogs. She typically ends her evenings with a nice book, her husband reading next to her, a glass of good wine, and their pet hedgehog.
This month I want to offer a few of my favorite kitchen tips and tricks. These are all small things that make cooking (and eating) much more enjoyable.
1.Use a Microplane
They are super handy little tools. My number one use for mine is to zest lemons, limes and oranges. The zest of citrus adds so much flavor to food. If a recipe calls for the juice, I often add some zest as well. I also use it to grate fresh nutmeg. It takes about 30 seconds longer than measuring nutmeg from a spice jar, and the difference is worth it. Lastly, a Microplane is great for grating Parmesan and other hard cheeses. It quickly turns the cheese into a fluffy pile of goodness for your pastas, soups, salads, etc. Want to try this tool? Come try it out at The Chopping Block.
2. Toast your Nuts
The difference between a salad with raw walnuts or almonds and one with toasted nuts is undoubtedly worth the time it takes to toast them. If your oven is on 350-375 already, just spread the nuts out on a sheet tray and pop them in. It only takes 4-5 minutes and they go from lightly browned to burned very quickly, so the only challenge is to not forget about them. Set a timer! You can also put them into a toaster oven (which is what I use) or toast them in a skillet, stirring or shaking them a few times until you start to smell the aroma of the nut. That’s the sign that they’re very close to ready. Let them cool and they’re ready to go. I’ll often toast more than I need so I can save them for later.
3. Butter ‘em Up
Save the wrappers from your butter, fold them in half, and store them in a Ziploc in the freezer. When a recipe says to butter the pan, just pull one out and rub it all over the pan. There’s enough butter still clinging to the wrapper to grease your pan, and you’re getting one more use out of it before it’s thrown away.
4. Buy spices in bulk.
How many of you have a cabinet full of old spices? Or how many of you have bought a bottle of turmeric for an Indian recipe you wanted to try and have never used it again? One year I got so tired of this that I bought a set of glass spice jars and started buying all my spices as I needed them at Whole Foods in the bulk section. You can buy as little or as much as you want and it costs way less than the jars do. If you don’t have a Whole Foods or spice shop nearby, another good option is to buy spices in bags rather than bottles. I’ve often seen these at ethnic grocery stores.
I would love to learn more tips and tricks from you, so please share yours in the Comments!
Maggie Swanson is in her third year working as a class assistant at the Chopping Block. She and her husband have lived in Chicago for over ten years and they love the endless dining opportunities in the city. Maggie has enjoyed being in the kitchen for as long as she can remember and is now thrilled to introduce 3 year old son Eliot to the joys of cooking. Maggie has been on a gluten free diet for over four years. She has developed significantly as a cook through discovering how to make gluten free food delicious. Maggie always has a hard time answering questions about her favorite thing to cook or eat because she's always trying something new!
A perfect tossed green salad — balanced, satisfying, well-dressed — is the mark of a great cook. When salads get overlooked or treated as a side, it really shows. But a perfectly made salad, with fresh greens and homemade dressing, can make a meal. Take a moment to learn the principles of a good salad and take your next bowl of mixed greens toward perfection.
Choose the Greens
Use fresh-cut lettuces for the best green salads. Look for tender leaf lettuces. Farmers’ markets will have the best selection.
Keep it Simple
More than one tossed salad has been ruined by too many ingredients. The perfect tossed green salad is just that: tossed greens. Use fresh greens, homemade dressing and one or two embellishments such as nuts or cheese if you must. But stop there. When you’re going that extra step to get great produce, let it speak for itself and enjoy its natural flavor.
Clean and Dry the Greens
Clean and dry your lettuces as soon as you get them home (they’ll keep longer): Rinse lettuce leaves in a large basin of cold water (it’ll perk them up if they seem a bit dreary from the car ride home), lift them out of the water, spin dry in a salad spinner or dry on several layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. If you’re not going to use them right away, roll up the lettuce leaves in a layer of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, seal in a plastic bag and store in your refrigerator’s hydrator or “crisper” for up to 1 week. This storage method keeps the leaves hydrated but not damp, keeping them crisp without wilting.
Make the Dressing
Bottled salad dressings may be convenient, but homemade dressings take minutes to make and you know exactly what’s in them. Best of all, they taste great. Once you get the general principle down — about 3 parts oil to 1 part acid (such as lemon juice or vinegar) — you can play with variations until the cows come home. Salt and sweeten to your tastes; use mustard (dry or prepared), cream or egg to thicken and “bind” the dressing, if you like. Mix in cheese, use nut oils, add toasted spices: the possibilities are endless.
The secret to a perfectly tossed salad is simple: use your hands. Wash them first (and after!) of course, but no tongs or salad tools can possibly replicate the delicacy and feel of human hands. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back to brutalizing your lovely salads with bruising, damaging spoons or forks:
Put 2 to 4 tablespoons dressing for every 4 cups of clean, dry greens in a clean, dry bowl that seems much too big.
Add the greens.
Hold your fingers as far apart from each other as possible and run them down the sides of the bowl to the bottom, lift up, bringing the greens that were touching the dressing on the bottom of the bowl to the top.
Karen Britton handles Accounts Payable for The Chopping Block. Her love of the culinary arts and desire to experience new and exciting adventures makes this job a perfect match. Although she is an experienced cook, she is always learning more. She understands the emotional connection that comes with food. Different food offerings can take you places that you have never been before. They can expand your pallet while broadening your knowledge. This world offers so much that we can hardly experience it all. She believes that through food one can change their life. If it is true that you are what you eat, she wants to learn to make the intelligent choice. Karen is a vibrant, enthusiastic and loving person who believes in living life to the fullest. Eating healthy will certainly be a contributing factor in assisting her in her life's pursuits.