Posts Tagged ‘raisins’


The Best Part of St. Patrick’s Day: Irish Soda Bread

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 by Susanne

Every year around this time, I can’t help myself from bringing home a corned beef from the store, to transform into the quintessential Irish American way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  Admittedly, I am not even one bit Irish, but that hasn’t stopped me from learning to play the bagpipes  (a story for another time) or make a traditional meal.

Technically speaking, corned beef and cabbage is not an authentic Irish meal, but something that developed in the melting pot as Irish immigrants rubbed elbows with other ethnic groups. In fact, some believe that the Irish first discovered corned beef from eating in Jewish delis and from food carts in the early years after emigrating from Ireland.  At any rate, to me, what really makes the meal special is serving it with a loaf of Irish Soda Bread, which is truly authentic!















Irish Soda Bread is a quick bread, not requiring the time-consuming process of waiting for a yeast-based dough to rise; the Irish traditionally baked it fresh every day.  For purists, there are only four basic ingredients in Irish Soda Bread: 1) flour; 2) baking soda; 3) buttermilk and 4) salt.

Scientifically speaking, the importance of the combination of baking soda and buttermilk is that the lactic acid present in the buttermilk combines with the baking soda to form carbon dioxide that acts as a leavening agent for the bread.















I stumbled on a website that dedicates itself to the preservation of Irish Soda Bread! Called, The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, it contains a bit of history and several different recipes, including a gluten-free version. There are probably dozens of ways to make Irish Soda Bread, but I like to make it with raisins and caraway seeds.















I have been using the same recipe over the years from my very first cookbook I bought when I was in high school, The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. Admittedly, this recipe is not strictly traditional, as it includes baking powder in addition to baking soda, as well as an egg in the dough, but it comes out very moist and the crust is quite crumbly and crisp, making an interesting combination of textures.

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups flour, sifted

1 ½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

¼ cup chilled butter

½ – 1 cup raisins or currants

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 egg, beaten

⅔ cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit.  Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Cut butter into dry ingredient mixture with a pastry blender until crumbly, like the consistency of corn meal. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds.  I used a generous ½ cup of raisins in my loaf.

Mix together buttermilk and egg and add to dry ingredients, stirring until mostly well blended. Try not to over mix or dough can become tough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead briefly until a bit more consistent.















Form loaf into a ball and place into a greased 8” round baking pan.  Flatten the loaf slightly to fill in the pan with the dough.















Take a large knife and cut a big “X” or cross, across the top of the dough.  This is to prevent the loaf from splitting during baking. Some tradition believes that this was also to ward off the devil!  Take a brush and a bit of buttermilk and brush the top of the loaf lightly before baking.  Bake 35 – 40 minutes or until crust is a light golden brown. Enjoy!















For a step-by-step video on how to make Irish Soda Bread, check out The Chopping Block’s Owner/Chef Shelley Young demonstrating how easy it is to make a loaf at home!

Éirinn go Brách!  Ireland Forever!

Susanne Wiesen's love of cooking started when she was 10 and her mom landed in the hospital, leaving nobody to prepare dinner at home. The former Director of Finance at The Chopping Block has never looked back and enjoys experimenting in the kitchen for family and friends. She can usually be found with some knitting project in her lap and also enjoys reading, swimming, mountain biking and spending time in the great outdoors.


Energy Packed Snack for Kids

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 by Carrie

I recently had the honor of volunteering at a local elementary school to teach kids about the importance of preparing and eating healthy after school snacks. Of course, when I asked them about their favorite foods, they answered pizza, French fries and macaroni and cheese. I told them that those were my some of my favorites too, but unfortunately, if I ate those foods all of time, I wouldn’t feel very good and wouldn’t want to play with my friends.

Chef Carrie at Prescott Magnet Cluster School

Chef Carrie at Prescott Magnet Cluster School




















The theme of the evening was Science Night, so the kids were learning about stretching and exercises as well. As I talked with them, I asked them what their bodies needed in order to do all of the fun stretches and exercises they had just learned. Energy! This isn’t anything new. We all know this. Our bodies are machines and food is our fuel for energy.

The school set up an interactive experience for the kids and their families and decided to have me demonstrate how to make “Ants on a Log”.  If you aren’t familiar with this culinary creation, let me enlighten you. There are only three ingredients: celery, peanut butter and raisins which equal fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. All of this is packed into a quick, fun and easy afternoon snack that the kids can assemble themselves! If there are any nut allergies in the house, try Sunbutter which is made from sunflower seeds.






















Another cool fact about this healthy snack is that it hits several key notes to a great dish. It has different color, several textures and it is sweet, salty and refreshing. If you aren’t a big fan of celery, try it with an apple instead!















Ultimately, this experience spoke to me because our mission at The Chopping Block is “to get the country to cook.”  That’s why we offer cooking classes for all ages. It’s never too early to start planning summer camps for the kids. Our camps for kids and teens start June 8th at Lincoln Square, and of course, there are weekend classes between now and then. Check out our calendar!


Carrie finally found her culinary niche as a Chef Instructor for The Chopping Block in May 2008, but only after a hilariously traumatic demonstration interview (of which you will have to attend one of her classes to hear about). She gets a thrill of sharing the things she’s learned about food and cooking with others and the memories and experiences around food that have made her who she is today. Her hope is to take away the apprehension people have of cooking by pouring on her southern hospitality and charm and having fun in the kitchen. When she isn’t cooking, you can usually find her at a concert, a neighborhood restaurant or just hanging out with friends and enjoying their company.


Overcome Your Fear of Desserts

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 by Quincy

I love having friends over for dinner and sharing my love for food with them. When people walk into my home for a dinner party of any kind, be it an intimate gathering of four or a Thanksgiving table of 15, it needs to be a special, hopefully perfectly timed evening where everyone feels comfortable and welcome.

These dinners always begin with a special cocktail that I create for each occasion, along with appetizers or nibbles. Then there’s usually soup or salad and then the entrée.  At this point I’m very cool, confident and am patting myself on the back with how smooth everything is going. But now it’s time for dessert. Agh!

I start to panic a bit when I think of desserts because they aren’t necessarily my strong suit.  I love eating dessert; I enjoy making dessert; I was brought up in a great dessert-making family. My sister Kathy is, seriously, the best with desserts, as were both my grandmothers, my mother, and my other three sisters. I’m thinking it was a gene that was inherited by the women in my family.  I say this because my younger brother, who is studying to become a chef, and I didn’t inherit that gene. We’re definitely savory guys through and through.

But once you have a few tried and tested desserts up your sleeve, there’s no need to stress over the last course of your meal.

Here are some of the tastiest desserts I’ve created:

  • Italian Zabaglione
























I prepared this dessert to finish one of my favorite dinners for a small intimate party with good friends and neighbors.  I made Seared Cod with a Dry Riesling Beurre Blanc Sauce. For dessert, I served an Italian Zabaglione, which is a rich, egg yolk-based custard, made with Marsala wine. By whisking together egg yolks, Marsala wine and sugar in a heavy bowl over a sauce pan with simmering water, you can create one of the richest and most delicious desserts. I layered the Zabaglione with an assortment of berries that were macerated with Amaretto Liqueur.  For someone who shies away from sweets, I have to admit that this was a pretty spectacular dessert.

  • White Peach Upside Down Cake with a Brown Sugar Amaretto Crust

peach upside down cake














Over the summer, I had a small brunch on the back deck of my apartment for friends. It was a great brunch with Peach Bellinis, several breakfast meats, egg dishes, and several veggie dishes as well.  While shopping for the brunch, I saw some beautiful white peaches. I bought a few to make the nectar for the Peach Bellinis and then thought why not pick up some more and come up with a dessert using them as well.  I got home, did a bit of research and came up with White Peach Upside Down Cake with a Brown Sugar Amaretto Crust.  It turned out to be another one of my all-time favorite desserts.

  • Mexican Chocolate Pot de Crème, topped with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream and Chopped Dark Chocolate Bark

mex pot de creme














The next dessert was inspired by my love of traveling! For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been traveling to an extremely beautiful colonial city located in the central highlands of Mexico called San Miguel de Allende.  I go once a year and spend an entire month there.  It’s a charming city with amazing restaurants, great chefs, friendly people and is very walkable.  There is a restaurant there, Café San Agustín, which specializes in Mexican hot chocolate and churros. You go there any given night and the place is packed with people there to experience the cooked-to-order churros and the hot chocolate.  So I wanted to pay tribute to not only San Miguel, but also Café San Agustín with a dessert inspired by their Mexican hot chocolate.  I’ve made this dessert twice already.

The inspired dessert was a Mexican Chocolate-Pot de Crème, topped with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream and Chopped Dark Chocolate Bark.  This is another one of those egg yolky, custardy, pudding-like desserts, except that it’s made with chopped Mexican chocolate which is found in most grocery stores in the Hispanic section. If you are not familiar with Mexican chocolate, it is sweetened with ‘piloncillo’, Mexican raw sugar, spiced with ‘canela’ (the Mexican variety of cinnamon), vanilla and almonds along with some incredible bittersweet chocolate.  It ends up being a very rich and very decadent, a truly special dessert, made with lots of love for very special friends.

Along with dessert and coffee, I also served this amazing liqueur called Mandarin Napoleon. Produced in France, it’s a liqueur that is Cognac-based and infused with macerated mandarin oranges as well as a blend of aromatic spices.  This is truly one of my favorite after-dinner drinks.  Years ago,  I worked as a wine bar manager at a popular Chicago French restaurant and this was one of the best selling items on the bar menu.  That’s why I love it!  Along with its great flavors, it brings back memories of this wonderful restaurant, its amazing cuisine and my fellow co-workers.  It also has a very special place in my heart because it was the place that my stepdad proposed to my mom.

  • Apple Crumb Pie with Walnuts and Raisins















The last dessert was actually a spur of the moment decision that involved an abundance of Honey Crisp apples I had on hand.  It was an apple crumb pie with walnuts and raisins.  I loved the simplicity of the topping for this pie.  The recipe for the crumb topping was just ¼ cup of brown sugar, ¼ cup of all purpose flour, ½ a teaspoon of cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of chilled butter, cut up into small pieces, all blended together to resemble coarse corn meal. After tossing together ¼ cup of brown sugar, ¼ cup of granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 3 tablespoons of flour in a large bowl with 6 cups of sliced apples.  I placed it all in a 9 inch, unbaked pie crust shell, top with the crumb topping, cover loosely with foil and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25 minutes.  Remove foil after the 25 minutes and continue cooking for 25-30 minutes until top is golden brown.  If you prefer an apple that has a bit more tartness, I would recommend using Granny Smith apples.

The lesson I learned was that, even though I had not inherited the dessert-making gene from my grandmother, I was able to conquer my fear of making tasty desserts. And I encourage those dessert-challenged home cooks to conquer their fears as well!



Quincy has been a Chef Instructor with The Chopping Block since 2006. He has a great passion for cooking and enjoys teaching others to cook. When he is not at The Chopping Block, he can be found trying out new recipes on friends and family. Quincy also travels throughout Mexico, especially in the town of San Miguel de Allende, where he checks out the many new and exiting restaurants opened by chefs from all over the globe. This love of traveling has also taken him to such far off places as China, as well as several European countries, which brings inspiration to his cooking and teaching.


Brussels Sprouts: My Favorite Fall Treat

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 by Mario

sprouts2In our household, we are what you might call Brussels sprout snobs, and yes, that is the correct spelling.  My wife will refuse to eat them before the first frost even though I tell her most of them are from California. For her, it is just a matter of principle. Both of us prefer them to be smaller than the size of a quarter as generally speaking, the smaller they are, the sweeter they are. I have always felt that these little beauties have gotten a bad rep, mostly due to culinary mistreatment.  Once Brussels sprouts become over-cooked and gray, they start to produce these little nasty compounds that become very bitter and stinky… not very tasty.  Not to mention that they lose most of their nutritional value. But when cooked properly, they are sweet, savory and down right delicious!

sproutsAbout a week ago, I was at a gas station, and I got a curious knock on my car window.  I rolled it down and a gentleman asked me if I happened to have a set of jumper cables.  I said “of course” and was happy to give him a hand in starting his panel truck.  He explained to me that he and his co-pilot are farmers and they were on their way to the last farmers’ market of the season and their truck had stalled out.  I helped them get it started and he wanted to show his gratitude by offering up some of his veggies that he had in the back of the truck. He opened up the door and I swear beams of golden light came pouring out!  These guys had some of the most beautiful vegetables I have ever seen!  There were fingerling potatoes, red and golden beets, kohlrabi, turnips and squashes of several varieties. Then I saw what would be my prize for my good deed… Brussels sprouts, and still on the stalk no less! Happily, he gave me two of them and said that I had a good eye for great food, as these were the sweetest ones that they had in years. I was so excited to go home and cook them, as I had just the recipe in mind for them.

brussels-sprouts-with-bacon-and-raisinsScordato Family Brussels Sprouts

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3oz Pancetta, diced
  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 (or 2) tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

sproutcaramelizedHeat oil in a large heavy sauté or cast iron pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, turning occasionally, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, transfer pancetta to paper towels to drain. Let cool. (Make sure pancetta is unreachable by children and fathers, or it will disappear before you need it again.)

While pancetta cools, add the Brussels sprouts to drippings in pan and increase the heat a bit to caramelize them which should take 5–7 minutes. Add raisins, shallot, and butter; cook, stirring often, until shallot is soft, about 3 minutes. Add broth to skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until broth has evaporated, 1–2 minutes. Stir in vinegar and pancetta and pine nuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This dish would make a lovely addition to any Thanksgiving table.

What’s your favorite way to eat Brussels sprouts?


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.


A Chef’s Travels Through San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 by Quincy

Walt HouseI love traveling. As a chef, it gives me inspiration for my greatest passion: cooking. Every year, I journey to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. My trip always begins with dropping off luggage at the house that I rent for the month from my good friend, Walt. Just opening the doors and windows to let in the famous San Miguel light and breezes makes for a very happy and calm Quincy. My buddy Walt truly has an amazing house, and it’s centrally located to practically everything. San Miguel is a beautiful colonial Mexican city with cobblestone streets and charm wherever you look.

Now it’s off to Bonanza, a  local store that caters to the American expat community, for coffee and cream. After a long day of travel, I have to make sure there is coffee and cream for the morning. And what’s coffee in Mexico without some great Mexican bread to go along with it? So I head to The Blue Doors, for some of the best Mexican bread ever! The place really isn’t named The Blue Doors, and I’m not entirely sure if anyone really knows its true name. But it has these enormous blue doors, and if the doors are open, you’re in for a spectacular assortment of Mexican breads, cookies and empanadas, both savory and sweet. It is one sad day when you go and those gigantic blue doors are closed.

Chiles en Nogadas at Pegaso

Chiles en Nogadas at Pegaso

My next must-have is Chiles en Nogada. They are a welcome seasonal treat in Mexico, during Mexican Independence Day celebrations and shortly afterward. These are roasted poblano chiles that have been stripped away of their roasted char, leaving them a velvety green. Then their seeds are removed and filled with a savory & sweet filling made from pork and an array of spices, raisins and almonds. The chiles are then topped with a rich creamy walnut sauce. The sauce is a blend of spices, raisins, Mexican crema, toasted walnuts, all puréed together to create one rich and yet delicate sauce. The whole dish is then topped with a sprinkling of  beautiful gem-like pomegranate seeds. This dish is associated with Mexican Independence Day because the colors of the dish represent the Mexican flag. The poblano is green, the walnut cream sauce is white and the bright red pomegranate seeds are red.



My favorite places in San Miguel for Chiles en Nogada are Pegaso and Bugambilla Restaurants. Bugambilla always wins out because it has the tastiest filling, plus they have the best Guacamole con Totopos and they have Candelaria, the most amazing waitress, person and piece of history that San Miguel has to offer. I make a point of having dinner at Bugambilia every year to be greeted & hugged by this beautiful woman, who has been a fixture of the restaurant since 1952.

Brenda & Giulio

Brenda & Giulio

The other restaurant that is a must for me every time I’m here is Mare Nostrum. It has to be hands-down my favorite restaurant in San Miguel, and it’s because of the chef owner Giulio & his lovely wife Brenda. I always feel like family whenever I walk into this restaurant. And although I don’t speak a lick of Spanish, every bit of communication or my attempts at Spanish are understood & greeted with kindness & patience. This year, I brought Brenda & Giulio a gift of Cream of Balsamic and Casina Rossa salt collection from The Chopping Block.

Their restaurant is Italian. Giulio hails from Sardinia, Italy & Brenda from San Miguel de Allende. Their combining of Italian food and Mexican culture creates one of the finest restaurants in San Miguel. It’s a cozy restaurant that helps in creating an intimate and relaxed dining experience. They have some of the most authentic pizzas, great handmade pastas and beautifully prepared salads. I always start out with their grilled vegetable platter.

Pappardelle with Bolognese at Mare Nostrum

Pappardelle with Bolognese at Mare Nostrum

It consists of grilled zucchini, eggplant, red cabbage, mushrooms and roasted red peppers, dressed in a prefect drizzle of olive oil, with balsamic vinegar on the side if you want. My favorite entree is handmade Pappardelle pasta topped with an incredible Bolognese sauce  but you can choose from several other handmade pastas. It also has one of the best margaritas in the city, as well as a very nice assortment of red and white wines.

San Miguel offers a huge variety of food options and you never know what you’re going to stumble upon as you’re walking down the charming streets. Those dining options include Lebanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Uruguayan, German, Japanese, Argentinian, etc.  It’s truly mind blowing.

Margaritas at Sunset Lounge

Margaritas at Sunset Lounge

After having a couple of margaritas at the newly reopened Sunset Lounge, we stroll along the streets leading to the centro, where the Jardin is located, across from where you’ll see the iconic magnificent church, La Parroquia. Heading up a few more streets is where we discovered Los Milagros. One of the best discoveries so far on this trip!

Botanas at Los Milagros

Botanas at Los Milagros

We went there on a Friday night and started with a margarita. Hell, you should always start with a margarita in San Miguel! While waiting for your margarita, the waiter places before you an assortment of ‘botanas’,  accompaniments to snack on. They consisted of chunks of cucumbers, jicama, carrots, with a squeeze of fresh lime and topped with Tajin, a blend of ground up chiles and spices. There was pico de gallo, chips and salsas. We were going to order an appetizer but there was no need. My entrée consisted of a perfectly grilled medium rare skirt steak, rajas (sliced roasted poblano peppers), black beans, guacamole and an authentic cheese enchilada, covered in an incredible mole sauce. All for an amazingly reasonable price!

Salsa Tray at Don Taco Tequila Bar

Salsa Tray at Don Taco Tequila Bar

I also have to mention Don Taco Tequila Bar for their great tacos and a salsa tray that consists of every type of salsa you can think of. The outstanding one being ground up roasted chiles in oil & garlic. It’s so simple and yet so complex, with flavors of smoke, heat, sweetness and earthiness. And then there’s the pickled onions with habanero peppers. You know it’s going to hurt, but oh the hurt is so good!

There are several other wonderful places that I have failed to mention and several more I’ve yet to discover, but I’ve got two more weeks here in the city.  That makes me smile!


Quincy has been a Chef Instructor with The Chopping Block since 2006. He has a great passion for cooking and enjoys teaching others to cook. When he is not at The Chopping Block, he can be found trying out new recipes on friends and family. Quincy also travels throughout Mexico, especially in the town of San Miguel de Allende, where he checks out the many new and exiting restaurants opened by chefs from all over the globe. This love of traveling has also taken him to such far off places as China, as well as several European countries, which brings inspiration to his cooking and teaching.