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.
Being new to the great city of Chicago, I’ve discovered that there is something that calls to us “newbies’. It’s not the buildings, it’s not the site-seeing, and even as a chick, it’s not the shopping. The voice that has called me constantly to the streets of Chicago, even when the weather is quite formidable is the food! From the fine-dining elegance, to the hole-in-the-wall burger joints, Chicago does food like no other. It is common knowledge that hundreds of restaurants fail within the first year, so in order to brave the culinary business in the Windy City, you’ve definitely got to bring it! “What are your plans tonight?” You may ask. “We’re goin’ Chicagoin!” That means we’re looking for the best among the best places to eat in the Chi.
As a chef, I’m always asked what restaurants are my favorite in the city. Well, keep your eyes open for the “Goin’ Chicagoin” blogs and I’ll let you know.
Goin’ Chicagoin for a tasty sandwich?
I love finding quaint town areas within the city. The little shops with their wonderful ideas and the carefree atmosphere is always a breath of fresh air. I wandered into a deli in one of these areas and found myself raptured in its abundance of choices in fresh butchered and deli meats. Because I was hungry, and it was an option, I ordered a Turkey Pretzel Sandwich and walked out. “I’ll eat it as I go,” I thought, because it was “just a sandwich”. Oh, how happy I was to be wrong! This was not just some sandwich, it was a deliciously crafted delight whose sole purpose was to bring joy to one’s palate! When I came back to my senses four minutes later, I was sitting at a picnic table with my face six inches deep in the deli paper which used to hold a sandwich. People were staring.
Where can you find said sandwich?
Go Chicagoin at Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessan in Lincoln Square, which is right across the street from The Chopping Block. My recommendation… the Turkey Pretzel Sandwich!
Goin’ Chicagoin for Pizza?
If you’re looking for pizza in the Chi, it’s pretty difficult to choose a place that serves a bad pie. So, my quest was to find somewhere that did the job with authenticity and flare. Now, I’ve been to a few pizza places in the city and one has stood head and shoulders above the rest
My boyfriend (who is now my husband) took me to a little pizza shop near Wicker Park. After we took our seats on the patio, (the weather was perfect), he proceeded to order. “Can we have a Garbage, with…” and he then ordered 7, (yes SEVEN) different toppings for the pizza. I was still stuck on the “garbage” part, but I didn’t comment because I knew that look in his eye. (It’s the same look that Wile Coyote gets when he sees the Roadrunner.) At any rate, the server scurried off to the kitchen with our order. After some conversation, the server returned with a bubbly, hot thin crust pizza pie. I pulled a square onto my plate and took a bite…
… into one of the BEST pizza’s I’ve ever had! Now I’m going to be honest. I am definitely not one of those ladies who is shy about eating, and after my 6th (yes SIXTH) square, I knew that my boyfriend had to make a difficult choice. Luckily he chose correctly, and I took the rest of the leftovers home with me. Smart man!
What makes their pizza so special? It’s Authentic Romanian Pizza 10 years in the business!
Where can you find such delicious pizza?
Go Chicagoin at Pizza Metro located at 1707 West Division Street! My recommendation… the Garbage Pizza. For our 7 toppings, we chose: chicken, sausage, basil, onion, spinach, garlic, and sautéed mushroom.
Dionna Israel is a chef instructor for The Chopping Block. Cooking has been a part of her life since she was a child. From using the little Easy Bake Oven she received on her 7th birthday, all the way to running a professional kitchen, she has enjoyed every new discovery along the way. She moved to Chicago in the winter of 2011 and has been on a fun food-finding adventure ever since. She enjoys teaching her students how to make life tastier in their own kitchens and discovering amazing restaurants in the city, testing them out, and passing the word on to other food-lovers like herself.
And I love you! Actually I can’t get enough of you. If you haven’t been eating or cooking with Rhubarb, this is the time! Rhubarb is a group of plants that belong to the genus Rheum in the family Polygonaceae. They are herbaceous perennial plants growing from short, thick stalks and cultivated for harvest in late spring/early summer. In culinary use, fresh raw stalks are crisp (similar to celery) with a strong tart taste. Most commonly the plant is cooked with sugar and used in pies and other desserts. Rhubarb was considered to be a vegetable; however, a New York court classified this in the fruit family in 1947. Now, enough about the facts, let’s delve into how to cook with it.
I have to say, I haven’t started cooking with Rhubarb until recently. In classes we have been making a most delicious strawberry rhubarb crisp, and I have to admit I cannot get enough of it. As a result, I started to wonder about how to cook with Rhubarb and here is what I discovered:
One way is to cut up the stalks into 1 inch pieces and stew them, you only have to barely cover the stalks with water because rhubarb stalks contain a great deal of water already. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar for each pound of rhubarb then add cinnamon and/or nutmeg to taste. Sometimes a tablespoon of lime juice or lemon juice is added to brighten the flavor. Cooked with strawberries or apples as a sweetener, or with stem or root ginger, rhubarb makes excellent jam. You can also consider adding such fruits as blackberries, raspberries, apricots, and cherries to your jam as they pair well with the tart flavor of the rhubarb.
Now for my most favorite obsession- strawberry rhubarb PIE! One of the things I treasure most in life is my grandmothers Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook circa 1940’s! You have to take it with a grain of salt, as a lot of the recipes from it are ancient; however, the pie recipe is the BEST! I have already made 2 and taken them to different summer parties and it was the hit of the night.
Lastly, since Rhubarb is harvested during this time of year, I had the idea of wanting to preserve it so that I could enjoy it later in the summer when more of the berries are coming into play. I purchased a few pounds of the stalks and sliced them up and have stored them in Ziploc freezer bags so that I can use them later on this summer. While I don’t expect them to last longer than a couple of months, I am excited to see how well they preserve and make some late summer berry jam.
So, I encourage you to get out there to your local farmers market and get to know your rhubarb!
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!