The Chopping Block

Have you ever wanted to be on Iron Chef or Chopped, but don't find yourself ready for the competition or maybe are not even sure what some of the basics of cooking are? Well The Chopping Block is a perfect venue for you! From beginner cooks to those with more experience who are just looking for a new recipe to try, this Chicago kitchen is the perfect location for experimenting with food. The Chopping Block started back in 1997, and they are a "recreational cooking school that combines education and entertainment". With locations around the Chicago area, the company has spent the past two decades working towards their vision and mission to get the country cooking.

Recently I went to a Chopping Block event at their Merchandise Mart location, and I must say that they blew me away. Not only was did I have the opportunity to experience 3+ new recipes, but it was also a great opportunity to socialize while working to make a fantastic dinner.  On the menu, we had: an Arugula Apple Salad, Goat Cheese Ravioli, Roasted Pork Loin with Fig and Pine Nut Tapenade, Oven-roasted Butternut Squash, Gingery Pear Upside-down Cake.

We had three different kitchens working on the different dishes for the night. In the first kitchen, a group was cooking the Roasted Pork Loin with Fig and Pine Nut Tapenade as well as the Butternut Squash. Another room was dedicated to the Arugula Apple Salad and Gingery Pear Upside-down Cake. And last - but certainly not least - the room I was stationed in was working on the Goat Cheese Ravioli with Brown Butter & Sage.

Wanna try these dishes at home? Well you are in luck because The Chopping Block provides all their recipes to attendees to take home. So let's get into the recipes!

1. Arugula Salad with Celery, Apples, Parmesan and Lemon Vinaigrette 

[Serves 8]

For the vinaigrette: 1 large shallot minced; 1/4 cup lemon juice; 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard; 1/2 to 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil; Salt and pepper to taste
8 cups baby arugula 4 ribs celery, thinly sliced on the bias' 2 apples, julienne' 2/3 cup shaved parmesan cheese

Food Preparation

To prepare the vinaigrette, whisk together the shallots, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking to create a temporary emulsion. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toss together the arugula, celery, apple and cheese in a salad bowl. Dress with the vinaigrette, and add salt and pepper to taste

2. Goat Cheese Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce

[Serves 8]

For the Pasta Dough: 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; 1/4 cup semolina; 3 eggs; 1 to 2 tablespoons water

Food Preparation

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Add eggs and 1 tablespoon water, and process until well combined. Test dough to make sure it will hold together. If it is dry, add up to a tablespoon more water as needed to make the dough moist but not sticky.

Turn dough out and knead for 1 to 2 minutes until dough is smooth. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic, and allow it to rest at least 20 minutes. Roll out in a pasta maker until smooth, then roll into sheets and cut into desired noodles.

For the Filling: 1 cup goat cheese, room temperature; 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated; 1 tablespoon basil, chiffonade; 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest; 1 egg
For the sauce: 1 stick butter; 8 fresh sage leaves; Juice of 1/2 a lemon; Salt and pepper to taste; Grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Food Preparation

Mix together the cheeses, basil, lemon zest and egg, and set aside.

Use a pasta roller to roll the dough out into thin sheets. Lay one sheet of dough on your work surface, and place rounded teaspoonfuls of the filling in a row along the sheet, leaving 2-inches between each.  

Brush egg wash around each mound of filling, and then carefully lay a second sheet of dough on top. Press the top dough around the mounds of filling, pushing out air bubbles.

Use a ravioli stamp or pasta cutter to cut out ravioli. Set aside on a floured-sheet tray.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Boil the ravioli for 3 to 4 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. You may need to do this in batches so the pot is not overcrowded. Drain well.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter and cook until it just starts to brown. Add the sage leaves, being careful because they will pop, and remove from the heat. Season with the lemon juice, salt and pepper.  

Carefully toss in the pasta and mix well. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan. 

3. Roasted Pork Loin with Fig and Pine Nut Tapenade Sauce

[Serves 6-8]

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil; One 3- to 4-pound boneless pork loin; Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter; 1/2 red onion, minced; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 1 cup dried figs, coarsely chopped and soaked in 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar; 1/4 cup black olives, pitted and rough chopped; 1 cup chicken stock; 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar; 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, rough chopped; 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, rough chopped; Salt and pepper to taste; 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

Food Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the grapeseed oil. Season the pork loin with salt and pepper to taste and sear in the hot pan until deep golden brown, all the way around.

Transfer the pork to a roasting rack set in a roasting pan. (Reserve the sauté pan for making the tapenade.) Roast until the internal temperature reaches 135º to 140º, about 45 minutes.

While the pork is in the oven, prepare the tapenade sauce: Heat the same sauté pan the pork was seared in over medium heat and add the butter. Sauté the onion lightly caramelized, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute.

Stir in the figs, including the apple cider vinegar, and scrape the bottom of the pan with a spoon to release the fond.  

Mix in the olives, chicken stock and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Add the thyme and parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  

Once the pork is done, allow it to rest for 10 minutes on a cutting board with a juice groove. Cut into 1/2-inch slices, and ladle on the tapenade sauce. Garnish with a sprinkling of pine nuts, and serve. 

4. Oven-Roasted Butternut Squash with Almonds

[Serves 25]

2 pounds butternut squash, 1/2-inch dice; 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil; 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, rough chopped; Salt and pepper to taste; 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Food Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Toss the butternut squash with the olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Spread out on a parchmentlined sheet tray and roast until the squash is tender and lightly caramelized around the edges, about 25 minutes.

Toss the roasted squash in a warm serving dish with the toasted almonds.  

5. Gingery Pear Upside-Down Cake

[Serves 8-10]

For the topping: 1/2 stick unsalted butter; 1/4 cup dark brown sugar; 1/4 cup honey; 2 tablespoons dark rum; 2 semi-ripe pears, halved, cored and sliced

For the cake: 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour; 2 teaspoons baking powder; 2 teaspoons ground ginger; 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon; Zest of one lemon; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature; 1 cup granulated sugar; 2 large eggs; 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1/4 teaspoon almond extract; 1/2 cup milk; 1 cup heavy cream + 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, whipped to soft peaks

Food Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan and set aside.

To prepare the topping, melt the butter in a sauté pan. Add the brown sugar and honey and whisk until smooth.  Stir in the rum and pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Arrange the sliced pears in a concentric circle on top of the sugar mixture. To prepare the batter, combine the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, lemon zest and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Place the butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, mixing in one at a time. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, and mix until blended.

Pour the batter over the pears. Set the pan on a parchment-lined sheet tray and bake until the cake is golden brown and when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 1 hour.

Allow the cake to cool for about 25 minutes, and then carefully invert onto a serving plate, cake stand or cutting board. Cut the cake into slices and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

The Chopping Block is truly a unique cooking experience! I recommend it for everyone with even the slightest passion for cooking. In the future I will definitely be going back to find and try some new recipes. But until then, try these out and let me know what you think in the comments below!!

All recipes in this post have been sourced and provided by The Chopping Block.