Posts Tagged ‘nuts’


Kagemand: A Headless Danish Birthday Cake

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 by Anna

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

2 eggs

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.

Almond Filling 

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.
























chocodreamThe 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.


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.