Being an employee of The Chopping Block for 12 years has given me a great opportunity to teach our students and help them create some wonderful recipes from the numerous cooking classes we offer.
Our 20th anniversary celebration kicked off last Saturday at Lincoln Square, and it was so much fun! The next celebration will occur at our Merchandise Mart location this Saturday, April 8th, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. There will be food, wine, cocktails, games, cooking classes featuring current chefs and some of our alumni chefs from over the years. We’re also offering 20% discounts on most of the items in our retail spaces. This is a Chopping Block celebration like none other that we’ve ever thrown!
If you’ve ever taken any of our classes, attended a private event or wandered into our retail stores, you’ll notice how much our staff has this enormous passion for food and cooking. A lot of that is thanks to the passion for food, cooking and teaching that our Owner/Chef Shelley Young has demonstrated for the past 20 years.
I'm honoring this occasion of our 20th anniversary by looking back on some of my favorite recipes that I’ve taught at The Chopping Block.
If you’ve read any of my blogs, you know that I love entertaining at home and cooking for friends and family. I’ve highlighted several of those dinner, grilling, picnicking, brunch and breakfast parties in my blogs. Sometimes I think my blog should really be called “Dining with Quincy”!
So I thought I would have a dinner party for my niece Vicki and her friend Josh featuring some of my favorite Chopping Block recipes.
As long as I’ve been working at The Chopping Block, one of my most favorite appetizer recipes is our Bacon Wrapped Dates. We feature the recipe in a few of our classes as well as on some of our private event menus. So I knew that I had to have them as one of the appetizers for my dinner party. What’s not to love if you love bacon?! It’s of course the crispy, smoky and delicious pork flavor of bacon wrapped around sweet and gooey dried dates. After baking in the oven, they are topped with a drizzle of Cream of Balsamic Vinegar and finished with thinly sliced scallions.
I also wanted to serve our Crab Cakes. This dish is individual portions of seasoned crab, coated in a light coating of flour, egg and panko bread crumbs, then lightly sautéed until golden brown and crunchy, served alongside a Rémoulade Sauce.
For dinner, I served one of my favorite recipes as a side dish. It’s an oldie but definitely a goodie: Wild Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding. As I was looking at several of the recipes that I’ve accumulated from the 12 years of being a Chef Instructor at The Chopping Block, I stumbled upon one that featured a savory bread pudding recipe. It absolutely made my day! It’s a recipe that we featured in a class we called “Cooking with Pride”. The classes only lasted for a short while, but those classes had a huge impact on me as a chef instructor. I taught a few of those classes with great pride as a representative of the gay community.
Offering those classes was a bold and timely move at the time, but those classes were very well received by the community. The classes weren’t limited only to the LGBTQ community; they were open to anyone who wanted to take part. It was definitely cool to offer a class where people from the gay and lesbian community could bring family, friends, their partners, and a few even chose to take the class as their first date.
My favorite recipe from that particular series was the Wild Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding. It’s made with an assortment of fresh and dried mushrooms, Gruyere cheese, which adds a wonderful nutty note, and rich custard made from eggs, milk and heavy cream. It’s made with herbs and spices that add another layer of warmth and complexity. And at the heart of course are cubes of day old bread.
Wild Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 shallots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 1/2 cup dry sherry
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
2 tablespoons parsley, rough chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 loaf day old French bread, cubed
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Preheat the oven to 350º. Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat and add the butter and olive oil. Sauté the mushrooms until they are golden brown, stirring often. Add the shallots and garlic and continue to cook an additional minute. Add the soaked mushrooms, sherry, herbs de Provence, parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the cream and milk. Add a few gratings of nutmeg and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Add the bread and allow it to soak for about 10-15 minutes. Toss in the cheese and mushrooms and transfer to a buttered shallow baking dish. Bake until the pudding is set and golden brown, about 45-55 minutes. Serve warm.
The other side dish I prepared was Grilled Asparagus with Shaved Pecorino Romano Cheese. This is also one of my favorite recipes because of its simplicity and fresh flavors. I used one of the Sarah’s Sea Salt Mediterranean blend that we sell at The Chopping Block to season the asparagus. The blend is a mix of sea salt, garlic, lavender, rosemary, canola oil, rosemary oil and basil oil. It’s perfect to use in savory recipes as well as a finishing salt.
The night’s dinner was to not only to feature some of my favorite Chopping Block recipes, but also a way to celebrate our niece’s birthday. So I went just a bit extravagant and served one of my fave’s, Whole-Roasted Beef Tenderloin with a Red Wine Reduction.
Buying beef tenderloin isn’t for the faint at heart. The price tag is a tad bit hefty, but it's one of the most tender and delicious cuts of beef, makes it worth it for those very special occasions. It’s a cut of meat that is perfect if served medium rare and definitely no longer than a temperature of medium.
It was paired with a silky-rich sauce flavored with red wine, fresh thyme, shallots, beef stock and Dijon mustard and finished with cold-diced butter and, finally, sprinkled with some rough chopped parsley.
We have a recipe for a Sweet Olive Oil Cake that is featured in some of our Italian menus. This cake excels in taste and texture because of its ingredients, and it doesn’t require much fan fare after baking. Just a dusting of powdered sugar, maybe served alongside with some preserves or as I did with a variety of fresh berries, macerated in a bit of sugar and a tablespoon of Grand Marnier. The freshness of the citrus zests, the crunch of the almonds, the savory and sweet anise flavors of fennel seed and the olive oil gives this cake an exotic taste that’s worth trying and serving anytime.
It was a pleasure as well as an honor recreating these recipes for my niece's birthday dinner. The joy I’ve had teaching these recipes to our students has also been an honor. Our success is due in large part to all of the students who walked through our doors to take our classes and to all of the customers who shop in our retail space. Thanks for allowing us the opportunity to teach and serve you for 20 years and to also get you cooking. Part of our success is due to all of our team members past and present, but it was the vision, passion and dedication to cooking of Shelley that made The Chopping Block possible and the success it is today.
Happy birthday to The Chopping Block! We'll see you this Saturday at the second of our 20th anniversary celebrations.