It was April 4, 1997.
Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down by Puff Daddy featuring Mase was the Billboard top song, the Cubs lost (5-4) to the Braves while playing the first game ever played at Turner Field in Atlanta, CNN reported a minor earthquake and aftershocks in Los Angeles, gas was $1.23 per gallon, and Chef Shelley Young was busy changing Chicago’s culinary education scene by opening The Chopping Block on Webster Avenue in Lincoln Park with the mission of getting the country to cook!
20 years later, we’re still focused on getting the country to cook, and we’re planning two huge celebrations to commemorate this momentous occasion! Join us on April 1st at Lincoln Square and April 8th at the Merchandise Mart from 10a-5p each day as we welcome back former chef instructors to lead both hands-on and demonstration classes. No sign up is necessary and the events are free. We’ll have delicious appetizers, fun favors, giveaways and lots of activities.
Speaking of appetizers, I think they’re essential for any gathering or party. After all, who doesn’t love a big variety of small bites?! Appetizers are great to encourage socializing so that guests can move around and mingle, and personally, I feel a lot less guilty indulging. I love to host gatherings, and some of my favorite appetizers have come from The Chopping Block's cooking classes. On Valentine’s Day, I took our Nouveau New Orleans class which featured Crispy Crawfish Cakes with Bearnaise. If you haven’t read Chef Carrie Bradley’s blog, make sure you check it out! The Chopping Block's Crab Cakes are so outstanding that they’re making an appearance at the anniversary celebrations, but if you’re looking for something a little different, try the crawfish cakes! They’re sure to impress anyone.
Yield: 12 servings; about 24 small cakes
Active time: 40 minutes
Start to finish: 40 minutes
For the cakes:
1 pound cooked crawfish tails, rough chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon Cajun Creole seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red bell pepper, finely minced
1 small leek, white light green portion only, finely minced
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 to 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
For breading and frying:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs, beaten well
2 cups panko bread crumbs
3 to 4 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
- Combine all of the crawfish cake ingredients, adding enough breadcrumbs to bind the ingredients.
- Form the crawfish mixture into 24 small cakes using your hands. Set aside on a parchment-lined sheet tray.
- Place the flour, eggs and bread crumbs in separate shallow bowls. Dredge each cake in the flour tapping off any excess. Dip in the eggs and then place in the bread crumbs coating the cakes thoroughly.
- Heat a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat and add the oil. Sauté the cakes until breading has turned golden brown and crisp, about 3-4 minutes per side adding more oil per batch as necessary.
- Transfer the cakes to a paper towel-lined sheet tray to drain any excess oil.
- Transfer to a platter and serve warm with Remoulade Sauce.
Another of my favorite bites from The Chopping Block is from the sweeter spectrum: Cheesecake with Bourbon Cherries. Everyone knows that the best part of an Old Fashioned cocktail is the cherry and cheesecake is the perfect vehicle for these cherries by Jack Rudy. I know you’ll be hooked once you try them! Better come to the anniversary parties to make sure.
Until I worked at The Chopping Block though, I always assumed that cheesecake was sweet. That was until I got to taste the Mushroom Thyme Cheesecake. This is one of the most unique, delicious, dishes I’ve had, and just another reason (as if you needed more) to stop by our anniversary celebrations.
Mushroom and Thyme Cheesecake
Yield: 6-8 servings
Active time: 30 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 30 minutes
For the pan:
1 to 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
For the mushroom mixture:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound assorted mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry sherry
For the cheese mixture:
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
Pita chips, bread or crackers
- Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Prepare an 8-or 9-inch springform pan by coating it with a thin layer of butter or olive oil. Then coat with a thin layer of breadcrumbs.
- To prepare the mushrooms, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add the butter and olive oil.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they have a deep golden brown color, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Stir in the onion and garlic and continue to cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and set aside.
- For the cheese mixture, place all of the ingredients in the food processor and mix until smooth.
- Pour in half of the cheese mixture into your prepared springform pan and top with half of the mushroom mixture. Repeat with another layer of the cheese mixture and finally with the mushroom mixture.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until set. It will still be a bit jiggly.
- Wait at least 20 minutes before unmolding, so it doesn’t collapse. Serve hot or room temperature with pita chips, bread or crackers.
While couples celebrating their 20th anniversary are traditionally gifted china, or more recently platinum, we decided to gift you something even better! How about a private cooking party or Culinary Boot Camp at The Chopping Block? We’re raffling a free private party valued up to $1000 and a spot to one of our coveted Culinary Boot Camp, valued at $1950! This is your chance to learn everything they teach in culinary school in 5 days. Talk about the ultimate staycation! All you need to do is stop by one of the 20th anniversary celebrations (though you'll definitely want to come to both) and submit an entry! We can’t wait to see you there, and thank you for being a a vital part of the last 20 years. We’re looking forward to showing you why our past and current employees think that The Chopping Block is the best job we’ve ever had!