I’m a grown up now, and I can do these types of things. Pumpkin Pie, to be more specific. It was leftover from the night before, untouched from Thanksgiving. We had plenty of yummy food, and it wasn’t even sliced into.
I have always been more of a “cake” person and not so much into pie. But I have been a convert for about six years now. What changed my mind? The Chopping Block’s Apple Pie made a pie believer out of me. I will only eat good pie, though. That excludes store bought pies and pre-made crusts.
I chatted about this very topic during a recent Google+ Hangout session with my colleagues Clair and Andrea. It is really cool to be able to view everyone on your laptop as you all hang out together and discuss cooking. We held the Hangout session to help our Chopping Block followers with the Thanksgiving holiday by providing great pie making tips, tricks and techniques. We made an Apple Pie from start to finish and had plenty of time to talk about the hard and fast rules of pie dough making and rolling out. Most mistakes made with pie dough fall under these two categories. We shared some stories and had some laughs and hopefully, rewrote the histories of anyone who just can’t tackle homemade pie for Thanksgiving.
Watch it here.
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When I plan a cooking project, I like to think of it as a multimedia experience. You have, of course, the food itself, the ultimate expression of your creativity. However, the area in which you will be creating can benefit a lot from proper atmosphere. Ideally, you’d have a professional light show, complete with pyrotechnics, but if you’re on a shoestring budget and/or have a malfunctioning fog machine, some tasty jams can go a long way toward cultivating the mood. For example, let’s say you’re making chili. Chili is renowned for its Tex-Mex blend of flavors, so why not choose some music that has these qualities as well? Maybe some Los Lobos. Of course, like a proper food and wine pairing, opposites can be complementary as well. What’s the opposite of Latin flair? Why, it’s James Taylor!
Or suppose you’re undertaking a complex baking project. As you’re preparing a pie filling, why not go with Devo’s “Whip It”? I guarantee you’ll be whipping something at some point, and having a song that describes exactly what you are currently doing can fill a chef with a sense of purpose. Plus, while you’re waiting for yeast to rise, you can have a private dance party in which you pretend you’re a sophisticated cooking robot. “Knead Sequence Initiated!”
Of course, if you’re dusting off the old fry thermometer and preparing to take a simple syrup to the hard crack stage, you have to play something that complements all that sugar. Once again, you can choose a song with a similar flavor. My personal choice is “Walking on Sunshine” by Katarina and the Waves. It’s probably the single sugariest song of all time (with the exception of “Sugar Sugar”) and would fill you with the adrenaline rush needed for some gold-medal candy making. You can also set your iPod to something a bit more complex and brooding. Tom Waits, anyone? This will really make the sugar in your candy “pop.”
If you’re doing something holiday-themed, then holiday music seems like the obvious choice. However, no matter what seasonal treat you’re making, resist the urge to play “Barking Dog Jingle Bells” on repeat for up to and including four hours. It may seem like an innocuous bit of dog-themed fun, but repeated listening can cause all sorts of mental problems. Nobody wants bay leaves in their wassail.
Now, for those slow-cooking projects, you want something that will slowly simmer and eventually boil, just like the ridiculously delicious cut of meat you will eventually have. I suggest Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” which takes an insanely long time to get going, but is well worth it in the end. Or you can put on the Ramones’ self-titled first album, and listen to approximately 100 songs that are all around two minutes long. Come to think of it, that would be good for candy making, as well. That’s the beauty of creating your own audio cooking experience. There are no rules! Except for in the recipe. Those have rules. Please follow those rules.
These are just some suggestions that will help you get started. Sonically speaking, the sky is the limit! Just don’t play “Barking Dog Jingle Bells” a bunch of times. Seriously. For more information on “Barking Dog Jingle Bells,” stay tuned for my next blog, “Cursed Volcanoes of the South Pacific.”
Jordan Posner grew up in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. He studied English at The Ohio State University, and then moved to Chicago to study law at Loyola. After passing the Illinois Bar Exam, the next logical step for Jordan was to reconnect with his long time love of cooking by joining the retail team at The Chopping Block. When Jordan isn’t selling you potato ricers, he enjoys playing music, reading, and geeking out about U.S. Presidential History. He can often be found daydreaming about what it might be like to own a dog.
It’s never too early to start your holiday shopping! We have been in “holiday installation” mode for the last 72 hours at our Merchandise Mart location. What is holiday installation you ask? It is when we transform the store into a gorgeous winter wonderland with holiday inspired entertaining, gifts and décor.
We have everything you will need for this Thanksgiving including roasting pans, turkey brining kits and mulling spices. Turkey basters, fat separators, and nutcrackers are also fully stocked in both of our stores. If you need some support this Thanksgiving, sign up for one of our Thanksgiving focused cooking classes.
This November, we will be offering ‘Thanksgiving Crash Course,’ ‘Vegetarians Eat Thanksgiving Too,’ and ‘Delicious Thanksgiving Leftovers.’ I’m hungry just looking at the calendar! If you would like to skip making a dessert this year, sign up for Thanksgiving Pie Pick up the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. You can choose between our famous apple pie, made in its very own cast iron skillet or a pumpkin pie in a disposable aluminum tin.
Now if you REALLY want to get the best bang for your buck, join us for our annual Customer Appreciation Day November 14th at the Merchandise Mart, and November 10th in Lincoln Square. Not only will you get to taste our Chef’s own favorite holiday appetizers and sides, you will also receive 20% off all of your purchases that day. This is a great opportunity to get not only what you need to pull off a fabulous holiday dinner, but to get a jump start on your holiday shopping as well.
This is my personal favorite time of year to be at The Chopping Block, and I hope to see you all in our stores enjoying our handpicked gifts, candies, and entertaining!
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.
I will be participating in my first pie contest next month. I’ve made countless pies over the years, but one can never be too ready. So, last week I made a couple of practice pies.
The first one was my “control” pie. It’s the ever famous Chopping Block Apple Pie that you all know and love. The second was the same pie with some modifications. I called it Caramel Apple Pie. I used the same pie crust recipe (see below) on both pies. Why try to fix something that isn’t broke, right? I played with the filling to see if I could make it stand out from a regular, albit great apple pie. I sliced my apples on the thicker side to hold their shape and texture, added cinnamon, flour, a touch of fine sea salt, then instead of regular white sugar I added about half the amount in brown sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla and some chopped up caramels that you can buy individually wrapped.
I baked both pies at the same time, 350 degrees until I saw bubbles poking out of the slits on top of the pies. The hardest part was waiting until they were completely cool before tasting. I had two judges of my own try them – my husband who has the most amazing palate ever and my mother-in-law who has NO problem being critical… I mean, giving me constructive criticism.
Both of my judges agreed that the crust was amazing. My MIL even said she never eats pie crust because it’s never very good but she loved mine. It was flaky and buttery and melted in your mouth. My “control” pie was just as awesome as it is every time I make it. My experimental pie has some good and some not so good results. The addition of brown sugar added a nice depth of flavor but made the pie a bit too sweet even though I cut the sugar down. I really liked the addition of the caramel, which also added to the sweetness of the pie. I thought it was a nice surprise when you got some in your bite but my judges had a hard time detecting it due to the addition of the brown sugar. So based on my practice pies, I know what I’m going to do for my final pie entree. You’ll have to check back to see what that is and how I do in my first pie contest. Wish me luck!
Pie or Tart Dough
Makes one double crust Apple pie
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch fine sea salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into 2 tablespoon sized pieces
1/4 cup shortening, cold
1/3 cup cold water
Put flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter to the processor and pulse mixture until crumbly and butter is in small pieces throughout the flour. With the machine running slowly add the entire 1/3 cup of cold water. Process until the dough just forms a ball.
Turn out dough onto a work surface and form into an oval. Cut the oval in half and press the cut side of each disc down to form a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Clair Smith is a Lead Chef's Assistant at The Chopping Block's Merchandise Mart and Lincoln Square locations. After being a long time student, Clair joined the TCB team in 2006. When she's not helping people learn how to cook, she enjoys traveling, camping, and entertaining family and friends. Clair lives in Hyde Park with her husband Ken and her cat named 'Kitty'. She loves Mexican cuisine and her "go to" dish of the moment is Pozole.
Sweeeet. It’s the Fall again. Frankly speaking, I get more excited about this time of year than a two-year-old venturing into FAO Shwarz for the very first time. Let’s be honest. What’s not to love about a season that combines sweater weather, rusty orange leaves on trees, wood-burning fireplaces, Dogfish Head Punk’n Ale, and the opportunity to throw things at your television on Saturday mornings because Lee Corso made the wrong mascot choice? It’s nothing shy of the best. No, really. Nothing beats it.
After spending a day making a whopping 225 batches of pie dough with my colleagues in preparation for Lincoln Square’s annual Apple Fest, I found myself craving all things apple related. There is just something about the sweet, juicy, crispness that makes me drool on myself. However, I didn’t just want to make any old “apple-whatever” recipe. I wanted something a little off-kilter and different, and I wanted it to be as sexy as a 1940s pin-up girl drinking a stiff Manhattan in a smoke-filled cigar bar.
Apple butter, my friends. Smoked Bourbon Apple Butter. Hello, McFly. All the cool kids are doing it.
The next thing I knew, I was stumbling up three flights of stairs to my apartment with enough apples, bourbon, and mason jars to sink James Cameron’s latest and greatest 4D version of the Titanic. How much apple butter was I seriously planning on making? And, more importantly, where was Leo to carry all of these groceries for me?! What an a——-. *Sigh*
Regardless of Leo deciding to save Rose instead of me (we later ended up duking it out on the Jerry Springer Show, but whatever—he can have her), I still managed to get all the way upstairs and unload everything without dying. I then pulled out my handy-dandy stovetop smoker, added the perfect mix of cherry, oak, and pecan wood chips, quartered all of my apples, and threw them in to get all sorts of sexified. Within 10 minutes, the heavenly scent of smoked apple filled my entire apartment. I was onto something.
As soon as the smoker was done working its magic, I transferred the apples to a stock pot which was already sizzling with melted butter. Lemons, a few bay leaves, crushed black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, fresh thyme, grated ginger, garam masala, and apple cider all followed suit—and the whole pot was then brought to a boil and reduced down to a simmer, allowing all of those flavors to marry. Finally, for the piece de resistance, I turned the heat off, added that luscious bourbon, and blended it into pureed perfection. Mission accomplished.
If you know me well enough, you know that my brain tends to have a mind of its own. I tend to beat to the tune of my own drum, and most of the things I create in the kitchen are a true reflection of that. This batch of apple butter was no exception. Simple and classic– with a sexy, smoky, warm and fuzzy twist that brought together everything that I love about the Fall season. It doesn’t get much better than that.
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.