Posts Tagged ‘pie’


Falling for Fall

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 by Andrea L

I am really excited, okay almost delirious, about fall. Here are just some of the things I love about fall: cozy sweaters, the fact my Starbucks order turns from boring iced coffee to pumpkin lattes, crispy days, burning candles and finally getting back into the kitchen!

I started cooking again a couple of weeks ago. Usually during the summer, I avoid my kitchen because it is too hot. Instead, I turn to gallons of ice cream and seasonal fruits and vegetables for my sustenance.

frenchovenThis fall will be even better since I now have a Le Creuset French Oven.  As I pondered over what to make on a crispy day last week, I decided to give some sausage soup a shot AND make the sausage from scratch.  My mom used to make this for me a lot as a kid, however, her idea of making sausage was rolling ground hamburger into round balls and adding Quaker oats. It was gross, but bless her for trying. So, I decided to jazz up her recipe a bit and came up with my take on it.

A couple things to remember about making sausage: you will need some fat. In this case, I used pork fat and ground it up with my Kitchenaid meat attachment.  Mix about ½ cup of pork fat to 2 cups ground pork and add spices. I use salt, pepper, cinnamon, coriander and cumin. Then bake off, and voila! The soup is really easy to make and is pretty healthy, too.

soup2Sausage Soup

  • 5 cups water
  • 3 large white potatoes, (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved
  • 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, undrained
  • 3/4 cup sliced olives
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon aniseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 lbs sausage
  1. Cook hot and sweet sausages in a Dutch oven over medium heat, breaking them up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 6 minutes. Drain fat.
  2. Stir in water, potatoes, celery, zucchini, onion, tomatoes with their juices, beans, olives, garlic, aniseed and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Now, for dessert. I am inspired, no obsessed is more like it, with all things pumpkin.  I love this time of year because it is perfectly acceptable to put pumpkin flavoring in just about anything from coffee to cake! So, I was inspired to try some Pumpkin Pie Panna Cotta. I love this dessert: it is easy, cheap, and so yummy. I was the kind of kid that used to eat the entire 6 pack of Jell-O pudding packs my mom used to get, so my love of custards began as a young child.  If you want a new twist on something pumpkin-licous, I encourage you to try this recipe.

soupPumpkin Pie Panna Cotta

  •  1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated fresh ginger
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (an 8-ounce container) sour cream
  • 1 cup pureed pumpkin (could be roasted sweet squash, like Kabocha, or butternut, or canned pumpkin)

1. Put the cold water in a small cup, and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let it stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a 3-quart saucepan, warm the cream with the sugar, salt, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla over medium-high heat. Do not let it boil. Whisk in the gelatin until thoroughly dissolved. Take the cream off the heat and cool about 5 minutes.

2. Put the sour cream and pumpkin puree in a medium bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream, a little at a time, until it is smooth. Taste the mixture for sweetness; it may need another teaspoon of sugar. Turn the panna cotta into a serving bowl, or 8 2/3-cup ramekins, custard cups, or coffee cups. Fill each one about three-quarters full with the cream. Chill 4-8 hours.

Now that the seasons are changing and the sweaters and scarves will soon come out, I encourage you to get in the kitchen and start experimenting. What are some of your favorite fall recipes?


Andrea Larson is a lover of all things food and wine. She is a culinary graduate of the Illinois Institute of Art Chicago and has worked at such local restaurants as Uncommon Ground, Spring and Custom House. Currently she is working on her local dream of eating her way around Chicago and probably spends more money on dining out than she should!


Preserving Summer for Warming Winter Cocktails

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 by Mario

I have been enjoying good whiskey and bourbon lately more than I have in the past. I have become partial to the “Old Fashioned” which is a cocktail comprised of bourbon (or even better with rye whiskey), simple syrup, a dash of orange bitters and a large strip of orange zest. One very common addition to this delicious cocktail is a brandied cherry (or five of them!), and in my humble opinion, this is what makes this cocktail fantastic.

rawcherriesI went on a search high and low at large and small gourmet groceries, high-end liquor stores and any other place that I thought might carry brandied cherries. Much to my surprise, they were very hard to find, very expensive, and at the end of the day… not as good as I had hoped. I spoke to several of the bartenders and waitstaff of the establishments that I have been enjoying a good cocktail at and asked where they were getting their brandied cherries. Once again, to my surprise, they were all making them in house. I thought this was a fantastic idea that I should be doing at home too.

This time of year we are getting into the tail end of cherry season and what better way to keep warm on an impending winter evening than enjoying a good cocktail with a summer fruit that you preserved yourself, especially when it is so darn easy. I am a fan of cherries to begin with, as I have been known to eat a whole bag of them in one sitting, but I am always sad when they start to disappear for the season from the farmer’s markets and produce sections.  Now I can have cherries year round, granted I don’t think I will be eating a whole jar of them, but they do make a great cocktail and satiate my desire for a sweet fruit in the middle of winter.

Here is the recipe that I have developed for the best Brandied Cherries ever! This recipe can also be easily doubled and tripled if you have the time to pit all of those cherries. I personally did eight pounds of cherries this year and bought myself an early Christmas present…  a cherry pitter.

Mario’s Brandied Cherries

cherries2lb          washed and pitted sweet cherries, such as bing cherries

1 Cup     water or a mix of water and the juice of the cherries from pitting them.

½ Cup    light brown sugar, packed

½ Cup    turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)

2 Cups   brandy, don’t get something really expensive, but make sure it is of good quality.

A cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves

A couple of mason jars and lids

Start by placing the water, sugars and spices in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugars.  Turn off the heat and add the brandy, stir to incorporate.

Place the pitted cherries into mason jars, packing them in as tightly as possible without crushing them.  Pour the warm brandy sugar mixture into the jars to completely cover the cherries.  Place the lids on and let sit at room temperature until cool.  Refrigerate and anxiously wait for at least 2 weeks to enjoy them.  They will last in the refrigerator for at least 4 months, if you have them that long!

I am also starting to find other uses for these other than just elevating your favorite whiskey cocktail.  They make an awesome cherry pie and if you save the liquid, you have an amazing cherry infused brandy that you can use to mix into your own cocktail creations.

Are there any fun things that you like to make with Brandied Cherries?


Mario Scordato is the Culinary Training Manager and a Chef Instructor at The Chopping Block. In addition to teaching, he is responsible for overseeing the training of all chefs and class assistants, as well as the scheduling of the culinary staff. Mario is an accomplished Sushi Chef of over 12 years, working both in Denver and Chicago, but his food interests and kitchen prowess don’t stop there. He grew up in a fairly traditional Italian family and has not lost his love for true rustic Italian fare. Mario has spent many an hour in several butcher shops perfecting his skills in butchery and charcuterie. When not in the kitchen, chances are that Mario is in the shop creating and working on his custom line of knives.


I Have a New Favorite Class

Friday, March 22nd, 2013 by Michele

I recently taught Pie and Tart Boot Camp and it has moved to the number one spot on my “Favorite Classes to Teach” list.

IMG_2110It’s a question that I get often from my students. They are always curious as to which class to take next. The Chopping Block’s class calendar offers a wide variety of options to choose from, from different cuisines and techniques to special skill sets and intensive Boot Camps.

I enjoy any class where we spend more time in the kitchen preparing a few more recipes than usual and the opportunity to really dissect the subject matter. Ask any Chef’s Assistant if I like to talk in class and you will get a resounding “YES”. I talk almost to a fault.

doughAnd pie dough happens to be my wheelhouse. In all its simplicity, it really is about the preparation and handling of the dough. But it does make all the difference. In this class, we execute recipes that straddle the worlds of sweet and savory.  Banana Cream pie with just a hint of rum. Chicken Pot Pie that we enjoy for lunch. The students get to stuff their take home bakery boxes with Pecan Chocolate Tartlets and Apple Crostata. They also get to make their own pie dough and take it home. We have plenty of time to discuss the finer points of making the dough and how to handle it with ease and sophistication. I love this class!

Sorry Laminated Doughs (my previous #1 class).

What’s your favorite class?


I Had Pie for Breakfast this Morning

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 by Michele

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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Cooking Mixtape

Friday, November 23rd, 2012 by Jordan

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.