Posts Tagged ‘scallops’


Why You Should Always Have a Camera When You Cook

Monday, January 27th, 2014 by Quincy

When you have a dinner party and you have to write a blog a few days later, you might want to have a camera nearby to take photos of that gorgeous and delicious meal that you just prepared. However, I failed to do so, which means that this blog will have descriptions of a truly beautiful and delicious meal. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

A couple of friends came over for dinner and a movie last weekend. These friends have come over numerous times, so I decided to use them as my guinea pigs and try out a new recipe on them. We started out with a simple appetizer of cheese and fruit. The cheeses and breads came from a fairly new place in my neighborhood that I’ve wanted to try for a while now, Baker and Nosh on Wilson Street. They are incredible artisanal bakers and have a great array of products for noshing. And since I spotted it there, why not pick up a pint of Salted Caramel Gelato to go with dessert? Easy peasy!

Caesar Salad

Dinner began with a traditional Caesar Salad with all the fixings. I used the best of the romaine hearts and made croutons from a French baguette. I hate those tiny croutons that you find in most grocery stores, so I cut mine into fairly large cubes. I coated them in butter, olive oil, a Mediterranean sea salt blend and a touch of smoky paprika, spread them out on a baking sheet and baked to a nice crispy crunchy texture in a 425 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes. It’s easy and nobody should have to buy croutons from a grocery store.

As for the dressing, here’s the recipe I used. It’s fool-proof and full of flavor:

salad plateIn a wooden salad bowl, smash 4 anchovy filets along with 2 cloves of mashed garlic and ½ a teaspoon of coarse salt, using a couple of forks until it formed a paste. Next, add a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, ½ teaspoon of Dijon mustard and whisk everything together. Slowly drizzle and whisk in ½ cup extra virgin olive oil until you have a completely emulsified dressing. Add some fresh cracked pepper, lettuce and gently toss with your hands, coating all the leaves and being careful not to tear any. Place the leaves on chilled salad plates, top with your crisp croutons and shavings or gratings of a good Parmesan cheese.

It’s such a delicious salad and looked so gorgeous on this salad plate. I’m sure you can just imagine the crispy green salad, croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese on it.

Scallops & Polenta

pastabowlMy friends are pescatarians, so there’s no meat in this meal. I decided on seared scallops in a wild mushroom sauce and served on top of creamy polenta. I was most pleased with the sautéed wild mushrooms that included crimini, chanterelle, oyster and shitake. I sautéed the mushrooms in two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil, scallions, fresh thyme, deglazed with a Spanish sherry and reduced by half.  Next, I added ½ cup of mushroom broth, again reduced by less than half the original liquid. Then I added 3 cups of fresh baby spinach leaves until those wilted, ½ cup of heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste and let the mixture thicken slightly.

I served seared sea scallops on top. The scallops were seared in butter and olive oil until they were a nice golden brown and had a nice caramelization on them.  I plated the dish in a nice wide, shallow pasta bowl. I placed a couple of dollops of the creamy polenta, topped it with the creamy wild mushroom mixture and placed the sea scallops on top. I gave five scallops to each guest since they were a bit small.  I topped it with some fresh cracked pepper, a drizzle of truffle oil and some grated Parmesan cheese.  This was also a delicious and gorgeous dish.  Can’t you tell by this beautiful empty pasta bowl?

Tarte Tatin

tarttatinMy dessert was an Apple Tarte Tatin, and I did manage to take a photo of that. It was awesome, especially with a scoop of Salted Caramel Gelato on every slice.

So, when having a dinner party that you want to remember, recreate or just show off, keep the camera close by! Experiment with angles, lighting, close ups, black and white. Show the world what your passion for food has create and then relax and enjoy your delicious meal. I certainly learned my lesson!

By the way, the movie that night was “Before Midnight” starring Ethan Hawke and Julia Delpy. Great movie, amazing company and a truly remarkable meal.

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.


Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 by Mario

Today is Christmas Eve and one of my family’s favorite meals of the year. If you read my blogs, you will know that no event happens without some sort of feast, and Christmas Eve is certainly no exception.

fishesCena della Vigilia di Natale, the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner, is known as Festa dei Sette Pesci or Feast of the Seven Fishes. It is a meal without meat honoring the midnight birth of the baby Jesus; a custom that originated in Sicily and has since spread throughout Italy and around the world. Italians and Italian-Americans alike still celebrate this old-world custom that has been handed down from generation to generation.

fishrawIn order to honor the tradition, a variety of seven different fish or shellfish are served, and while the menu and preparation varies from region to region and family to family, traditionally it is a meal that begins with antipastos and bread, an abundant feast of seven types of fish, pastas, vegetables and ending with an assortment of i dolci (sweets). This celebratory feast captures the spirit of Christmas and offers Italians a chance to unite with their families around the table.  It is a tradition that my family has upheld ever since I can remember and is one that I will uphold as long as I am allowed to be on this Earth.

My Grandmother, the classic “old Italian lady”, is now 92 years old, so she has passed on the traditional methods and recipes to both my mother and me, who have now taken the reins for the feast. It is always a great time for us to spend together in the kitchen.  This is what we will be enjoying this year. Let’s start with the staples:

  1. Baccala: a salt cod and olive salad which takes several days of soaking the cod and changing the water to prepare.
  2. Squid: We stuff them with bread crumbs, onion and garlic and braise them in tomato gravy.  This my Dad’s absolute favorite!
  3. Shrimp: we lightly bread them in homemade bread crumbs with dry basil and oregano and fry them golden brown.
  4. Crab Legs: simply steamed with lots of drawn butter.  This is a replacement for the more traditional dish of Langostinos, a crustacean that is like the combination of a shrimp and a lobster.

We like to rotate the other three dishes a bit and try some new ones every year.  This year we will also be having:

  1. Octopus: I like to cook the legs in olive oil until they are deeply caramelized, then add some garlic to the oil as it cools.  I chop up the legs and dress them with the garlic oil, fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.  This has very quickly become a “new” staple to our meal and is my personal favorite!
  2. Mussels: steamed in a broth of white wine, tomatoes, and garlic. These CANNOT be eaten without the addition of some great homemade bread to soak up all the broth.
  3. This one is up in the air a bit, we are deciding between Sole – sautéed in brown butter, Skate Wing – also sautéed in brown butter, or Scallops – with fried capers and lemon.

What do you think should be our 7th dish this year?


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.


Derby Dinin’

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 by Bailey

OrbOh, the Kentucky Derby. It’s perhaps the coolest, fastest, most hoity-toity and expensive two minutes in all of May. It’s the one day a year that you can wear a peacock on your head, drink minty bourbon until you’re blue in the face, and scream, “Go, Orb!”—and no one thinks anything of it because they, too, are wearing peacocks, drinking minty bourbon, and screaming for Orb. Might I also add, as a side note, how I feel excessively tall on Derby day. You must understand that it’s a rare occasion when (standing at 5’2 on a good day) I actually feel like a giant.

Kentucky Derby HatI kept things pretty cool, calm and collected this year for Derby day. In fact, I believe the majority of the day was spent on the 22 Clark bus, which, while there is never a shortage of free entertainment—hanging out on the 22 is quite the opposite of being cool and speedy. I did, Mint Julephowever, manage to pick up some gorgeous sea scallops and fresh veggies (golden beets, daikon radishes, fresh fennel bulbs, carrots, and other goodness) for dinner. I also stopped by my best friend’s wine shop for a short and sweet tasting, and then headed home in time to watch the race. It was at this point that I proceeded to make a glass of minty bourbon, and then attempted to put a giant sun hat on my cat, Rita. Yep. That went over well. This hat clearly ruined Rita’s hopes and dreams of winning the Kentucky Derby during her 278th nap of the day. Sorry, honey. Orb beat you.  I promise it was the hat’s fault… not your mother’s.

Seared Sea Scallops with Simple Asian Slaw

scallopsServes 2

12 Sea Scallops, feet removed

Grapeseed Oil

10” Skillet (I prefer All-Clad Stainless, but any heavy bottomed skillet will do.)

1 medium golden beet, julienned

1 daikon radish, julienned

4 red radishes, julienned

1 medium bulb fresh fennel, sliced thin

1 carrot, julienned

2 scallions, sliced on the bias

1 jalapeño, finely diced (seeds optional)

Fresh cilantro, to taste

Large bowl (or salad bowl)

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated on a Microplane

1 clove garlic, grated on a Microplane

1 tsp honey

1 tsp Asian-style mustard

2-3 tsp soy sauce

1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil

The juice of one lime

Good quality olive oil, to taste

Salt and Pepper, to taste

For the dressing and slaw: In the bottom of a salad bowl, combine all ingredients for the dressing together (with the exception of the olive oil). While constantly whisking, begin to add the olive oil (in a slow, constant drizzle) to the rest of the ingredients, and whisk everything together until the dressing is completely emulsified. Add all veggies to the bowl and toss. Allow to sit in the fridge for at least an hour, or up to a day in advance.

For the scallops: Crank the stove to medium high heat. Once the skillet begins to smoke a bit, add the grapeseed oil to the pan. Add the sea scallops, flat side down, and sear for about two minutes on both sides (or until each side is golden brown and caramelized). **If the scallops are sticking to the pan when you are flipping them, leave them alone. Once all sugars from the protein have caramelized, the scallops will release themselves. You should only need to flip them one time.** Remove from the pan and allow them to rest for about a minute or two.


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.


Healthy Grilling Guide

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by Dawn

Give your stove and microwave a much-needed vacation and get grilling! June 20th marked the official first day of summer and there’s no denying that grilling is one of the best parts of the season. Whether you have an outdoor grill or condo rules make the great indoors your only way of making grill marks, build yourself a better BBQ this year with the healthy tips and tricks below:

Buy Better-for-You Burgers

Four out of five people say burgers are their favorite grilled food. Typical burgers made of ground beef can average 300 calories and 9 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat per one 4-ounce burger. Here are options that are lower in calories and saturated fat:

Lean Beef Burger (93/7)         170 calories, 3g saturated fat

Turkey Burger (95/5)              180 calories, 2g saturated fat

Salmon Burger                        110 calories, 0.5g saturated fat

Veggie Burger                         110 calories, 0.5g saturated fat

Portobello Caps                       40 calories, 0g saturated fat


Get Grainy Buns

– Read bun labels for the word “whole” since whole grain versions provide more fiber, vitamin E and healthy minerals such as zinc and magnesium than white, processed ones.

– Try whole grain pitas or English muffins as an alternative since they are fewer calories than bulky buns.


Be Condiment Conscious

– Ketchup contains lycopene, a natural cancer fighter. Choose organic options without high fructose corn syrup.

– Mustard is not only low in calories but also contains mustard seeds which help reduce inflammation (this is good for achy joints and heart health).

– BBQ sauce adds great flavor but be sure to buy brands with tomatoes, not sugar or high fructose corn syrup, as the first ingredient.


Barbecue Beyond Burgers

Even though burgers are the most popular BBQ food, here’s a list of other healthy proteins to put on the barbie:

Salmon Filet (4oz)                               160 calories, 1g saturated fat

Chicken Breast (4oz)                          135 calories, 0.5g saturated fat

Chicken Sausage (2.5oz link)              130 calories, 2g saturated fat

Tofu Cutlet (4oz)                                110 calories, 1g satuated fat

Shrimp (14 medium, 3oz)                   60 calories, 0g saturated fat

Scallops (10 medium, 3oz)                  60 calories, 0g saturated fat


Cut Out Charring

The bad news: Grilling and charring meats can produce cancer-causing compound called Heterocyclic Amines (HCA). The good news: Marinating for 30-60 minutes will help decrease dangerous HCA compounds by more than 80%. The best marinades contain three things: 1) oil, 2) acid such as vinegar or citrus, 3) dried herbs. Here’s a Universal Marinade recipe for 1 pound of your favorite fish, chicken, beef and even veggies and tofu:

1/4 cup grapeseed oil (good grilling oil since it can handle high temperatures)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste


Take Temps

Whether you are a grill novice or a seasoned veteran, use a thermometer to determine when it’s time to take your grilled goodies off the burner. Cooking to the right temperature ensures you aren’t over or undercooking your food and that means you’ll have both optimal juiciness and safety. Stick a thermometer in the thickest part of the food and you know it’s done perfectly when it hits the following proper temperatures:

145 degrees F for fish

160 degrees F for hamburgers & medium-steaks

165 degrees F for chicken breasts


Pile on Produce

Vegetables & fruits are low in calories and high in nutrition. Aim to have 50% of your grill loaded with veggies while the other half is cooking your favorite lean meats, poultry or fish. Grilling brings out natural sweetness of fruit so they become a natural sweet treat to end a summer meal. Here are some of my favorite grilled produce ideas:

– Vegetable kebobs (mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, zucchini)

– Whole carrots

– Heads of broccoli

– Spears of asparagus

– Fruits such as pineapple, strawberries, bananas, peaches, plums and even watermelon.


For more food & nutrition information visit: and follow on Twitter: @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.


Memorable Meals

Monday, May 21st, 2012 by Lauren

Every now and then a person will experience a meal that can only be described as life changing. That’s the amazing power of food, and I am a firm believer in the taste buds being a great judge of character. Now that I’m working in the cooking industry, all of my coworkers are constantly suggesting new and exciting restaurants to try and experience, and I’m always hearing about dishes that literally blow people’s minds.

A few weeks ago, Steve and I went out to eat with his cousin and wife as a thank you for watching their dog. They had been talking for weeks about their favorite neighborhood dinner place, and were really excited to finally have an excuse to bring us there. That night, we all went out to Sola in Ravenswood. This fantastic place is a Hawaiian-influenced American style restaurant with a wide variety of options and an impressive wine list. (Two of my favorite things.)

As soon as we sat down, I was overwhelmed at the possibilities. I happen to really enjoy seafood, so offerings of scallops, halibut and salmon seemed like heaven. Steve was particular to the steak and duck offerings, while Becky and Mike couldn’t stop talking about the tuna and Wagyu burger. Whatever were we going to choose?! We settled on 4 different options with the promise of trying everyone else’s selections as well. Mike also pointed out that every time he comes he orders the mac and cheese. To me this seemed like an odd pairing for all of the seafood we had selected but he insisted. We started with appetizers of scallops and crab cakes, which honestly were so good if they had been the meal, I would have been perfectly satisfied. For the main course, I ended up with the most delicate salmon I had ever tasted while Steve chose the Hanger steak which he STILL compares to every piece of red meat he has eaten since. Conversation was sparse as we filled the time with cries of “You have to try this!” and “Oh my God, this is so good!”  All of us cleared our plates (including that added side of Mac and Cheese) and finished by discussing what we would choose the next time we came.

The meal was incredibly flavorful, the wine was plenty and it was an overall amazing night. We are still planning on going back multiple times, hopefully to try everything else on the menu. Great food and amazing company: always the recipe for a fantastic night.


Lauren Fountas is the newest member of the Private Events Team at The Chopping Block. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Lauren moved to Chicago about 5 years ago and has been living it up ever since. Lauren has a background in Theatre and Photography, but has always had a love of all things food (even if she's never been real good at cooking it.) She loves learning and trying anything new, and looks forward to all the adventures The Chopping Block is sure to provide. She lives and enjoys life with her new husband and their puppy and can often be found dancing through the hallways and singing along to the radio.