Posts Tagged ‘nuts’


Kitchen Tips and Tricks

Thursday, October 17th, 2013 by Maggie

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

microplaneThey 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

butterSave 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!


How to Make Perfectly Tossed Green Salads

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 by Karen

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.

wash greens















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.














Toss It

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:

  1. Put 2 to 4 tablespoons dressing for every 4 cups of clean, dry greens in a clean, dry bowl that seems much too big.
  2. Add the greens.
  3. 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.
  4. Repeat until salad is evenly dressed.
  5. Serve with pride.














What’s your favorite salad combination?

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.


Simple Scones: My Baking Accomplishment

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 by Emily

My first memory of being in the kitchen was baking with my grandmother, Shirley.  This is a woman who loves to bake homemade pies, cookies, and my favorite: scones.  To clarify with you, however, I am not a baker, nor do I aspire to be one.  The chemistry and precise measurements always throw me off.  Although I am no Betty Crocker, I do love to make drop scones.  They are flaky, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth goodness—and fairly easy to create.

sconesMy grandmother set the precedent for proper scone creating for me at a very young age.  She has a solid recipe that she has used for many years, one that was passed on to her by her mother.  She uses dried fruit (mainly, dates) as her main flavor component.

When I make scones, I enjoy mixing it up a bit with the add-ins.  I like to use dried fruits, like my grandmother, such as dates, currants, figs and nuts.  It’s wonderful to have a sweet, fruity-filled scone with a morning cup of joe, but I tend to crave savory foods instead.  Add-ins such as smoky bacon pieces, mild cheddar cheese, chives/green onions make for a delicious, savory delight.

At The Chopping Block, a lot of the chefs make scones for students to enjoy at the beginning of class.  I’ve learned an important tip from each chef who has made these:  do not overwork the dough.  If the dough is overworked, the scones will resemble something like a hockey puck after baking.  When making scones, please keep this in mind!

scone & coffeeHere’s a basic scone recipe that I use.  What are your favorite flavors to add to scones?

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

8 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, and cut into 1 tbsp pieces

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  If you’re adding any sweet or savory ingredients, add them now to the flour mixture (if adding savory ingredients, omit the 1/3 cup of sugar).  Cut in cold butter pieces, use your fingers to work in the butter so it resembles something like course meal.

3.  In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and milk slightly with a fork, then add to dry mixture.  Work the mixture only slightly, but until well blended.  Do not overwork the dough, or you’ll end up with dry, hard scones.

4.   With floured hands, transfer the mixture to a floured surface, and pat into a square/rectangular shape.  Use a pastry cutter or a knife to cut into triangle or square pieces.

5. Place on an ungreased sheet tray, about an inch apart.  Brush with heavy whipping cream.

6. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.  Let them cool for a few minutes, then enjoy!

Emily Kinnaman is originally from the tiny town of Hanover, Illinois. She studied Speech Communication & Environmental Studies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale before moving to Chicago, where she is currently working as a medical staffing coordinator full-time and a part-time class assistant with The Chopping Block. When she isn't working, she is obsessing over music, attempting to finish reading multiple novels, and perfecting her tacos al pastor recipe.


Get Real

Friday, October 26th, 2012 by Dawn

It’s a smart food philosophy: Eat More Real Food. But what does that ‘really’ mean? Below are some definitions and examples to pave the road for a more wholesome way of eating…. it’s time to GET REAL!

Real foods:

-are minimally processed and closest to their natural form
-include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, meat and dairy
-often have no label (as in the case with fruits and vegetables) or have short & simple ingredient lists
-contain around 5 pronounceable ingredients or less
-are loaded with nutrients to fuel and energize mind and body



Processed foods:

-have long unpronounceable ingredients lists
-contain unhealthy ingredients such as saturated fat and partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat), high amounts of sodium, excessive refined sugars (such as high fructose corn syrup) and artificial additives & preservatives
-can cause you to gain weight because they are high in calories and are easily overeaten since they don’t have filling, nourishing ingredients
-even the “diet” versions can sabotage weight loss efforts since research suggests once people see the word diet or healthy on a wrapper they eat about 30% more than the original version


Not Real vs. Real

Strawberry toaster pastry – Whole grain toast with 100% strawberry jam

Artificially sweetened berry flavored yogurt – Plain yogurt with fresh berries

Cold cereals (with enriched flour, artificial coloring and high fructose corn syrup) – Oatmeal with honey

Processed lunch meat and hot dogs – Sliced chicken/turkey breast, steak, tuna

Pancake syrup – 100% maple syrup

Diet shakes – Low-fat milk & chopped fruit smoothies

Diet snack/protein bars – Nuts & dried fruit

Chocolate flavored packaged cakes or cookies -Dark chocolate bar

Whipped topping – Whipped cream

Fat free salad dressing – Olive oil & vinegar

Boxed flavored rice mixes – Brown rice with fresh herbs

Enriched wheat breads, rolls, English muffins – Whole wheat breads, rolls, English muffins

Pretzels or cheese flavored puffs (with white flour ) – Whole corn tortilla or popcorn

Fruit snacks/rolls – Sliced fruit

Soda (regular or diet) – Club soda with 100% fruit juice

Artificially sweetened powder to flavor water – Lemons, limes, orange slices to flavor water

Flavored coffee creamers -  2% milk

Peanut butter (with hydrogenated oils) – Natural peanut butter

Processed cheese dip – Salsa or guacamole

Stick margarine – Whipped butter


Real food rocks.

Tweet me! @djblatner

Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, CSSD, LDN is the resident nutrition expert at The Chopping Block and teaches healthy cooking classes every month. She also works with the Chicago Cubs, USA Today, NBC Chicago and national magazines. In her cooking classes and her book, The Flexitarian Diet, she shows people how to eat a more plant-based diet without giving up meat. Words of wisdom: Be good to your body and it will be good to you.


Instead of a Debate Undecided Voters Should Try This

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 by Shelley

After the last presidential town hall debate, I thought about the question that I might have asked if given a chance. I’d probably ask “What is your favorite food?” or “What would you serve if I came over for dinner”? Seems to me what people eat may say something about them. I wonder we might garner from taking a peek at some of our president’s favorite foods!

No Party Affiliation:

George Washington: Cracked Nuts. By the way, he did this with his teeth!


John Adams: Hard Cider. For breakfast, that is.

Democratic Republican:

Thomas Jefferson: Bordeaux. He spent the equivalent of $212,000 on wine during his term as president!

Republican-Republican National Union

Abraham Lincoln: Gingerbread.


Barack Obama: Fran’s Chocolate Covered Caramels with Smoked Salt. He apparently has a sweet tooth.

Bill Clinton: McDonald’s. However, he’s been a vegan since 2011.

John F. Kennedy: Fish Chowder.

Harry S. Truman: Well-done Steak.

Franklin D Roosevelt: Grilled Cheese.


Mitt Romney: Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwiches.

George W. Bush: Cheeseburger Pizza.

George H.W. Bush: Fried Pork Rinds with Tabasco.

Ronald Regan: Jelly Beans.

Richard Nixon: Cottage Cheese and Ketchup.

Lyndon B. Johnson: Cheeseburgers.

Theodore Roosevelt: Fried Chicken with Gravy.

Warren G. Harding: Knockwurst and Sauerkraut.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: Beef Stew.


I’m kind of partial to Thomas Jefferson myself.

Shelley has been teaching people to cook since she opened The Chopping Block in 1997. She spent 17 years as a professional chef, working in busy restaurants and private homes but realized her calling was to get other people to cook. Shelley’s unique concept of a recreational cooking school, gourmet kitchen store and private event business provides Chicago with over 300 cooking classes and private events each month. Shelley loves to garden and entertain for family and friends in her Lincoln Square home.