Learning As I Chop

A Pretty Little Treat

Posted in General by R @ Learning As I Chop on August 31, 2010

An old colleague stopped by the office today and brought us cupcakes! I placed mine on a plate and immediately thought “must share with LAIC readers.” I like the juxtaposition of the colors and most food-blog readers can appreciate a good-looking cupcake. Plus, food photography is something I’m trying to improve upon.  So here you go. Underneath you’ll find Tara Austen Weaver’s The Butcher and the Vegetarian. Now to dig in!


A Good Use of Summer Ingredients

Posted in Baking/Cooking, Food Philosophies, Tips by R @ Learning As I Chop on August 31, 2010

It’s hot in NYC. Gonna hit 95 degrees today. So H and I wanted a light, no-oven type of dinner. H suggested this pasta salad but in the interest of LAIC I wanted to try something new. So I did something I normally don’t do – I searched through the pages of Cooking Light. Now, I love Cooking Light. I read it shortly after it arrives in my mailbox, and dog-ear many recipe pages. But then I forget about it. The magazine sits somewhere in my home and I turn to my usual suspects (epicurious, J of C) when I need an idea. But not this time! This month they smartly focused on quick dinners for the working family.  Dinners that could be ready  in about 30 minutes. Genius.  So I decided on this dish of fettuccine with tomatoes, basil and a little bit of Parmesan cheese.

1 (9-ounce) package refrigerated fresh fettuccine
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved (about 1/2 cup)

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain; place pasta in a large bowl.

2. While pasta cooks, heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic to pan; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes and salt; cover and cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in basil and pepper. Add tomato mixture to pasta; toss well to combine. Top with cheese.

I tried to follow some tips I learned from this month’s issue. Specifically, aim to have all of your ingredients prepped before you start. The tomatoes cut, the basil torn, the cheese measured… It can save you time and stress. We (ok, me) usually think we have to start right away, because we don’t have a lot of time/we’re hungry/we’re excited, but taking 5 minutes to prepare everything can actually work in your favor. It’s a bit like organizing the outline before writing the paper. But I digress..

Ironically, I’ve also been trying to slow down in the kitchen. Work more methodically. As Carla from Top Chef would say, “put some love into my food.” So even though I wanted to rush though chopping 4 cups of cherry tomatoes, I put on my patience cap and paced myself.

Tasting my food is another lesson I’m trying to learn. H and I always laugh that I’m so into cooking and eating, yet I forget to taste my food before it’s served. He jokes that I want to be surprised at the table, which frankly isn’t the best plan. At least when it’s not just dining a un. I’m also way too reliant on packaging. If the box says, “cook six minutes,” I’ll pull the pasta from the water after exactly six minutes. I won’t even taste it.  But I’m trying to do better. So yesterday I tasted the pasta before draining and it seemed good to me.  However after the water was gone, half of the pasta was undercooked. Like sticking together, definitely way too al dente, under cooked. Does anyone have any tips on how to avoid this debacle?

Nevertheless, this dish was delicious. Fresh, light and budget friendly.  Definitely recommend it. Enjoy!

Another Type of Pancake

Posted in Baking/Cooking by R @ Learning As I Chop on August 30, 2010

As you know, I’ve been following lots of profiles on Twitter. One of my favorites belongs to the NY Times Dining Section. They’ve been posting a lot of retro recipes, which I’ve been loving, and shared this one the other day. I knew I had to try it:

1985: Corncakes With Caviar
This recipe appeared in an article in The Times by Craig Claiborne.

3-4 ears of fresh corn or 2 cups frozen whole kernel corn, defrosted

1⁄3 cup whole milk

1⁄3 cup flour

1⁄4 cup melted unsalted butter

1⁄3 cup cornmeal

2 large eggs

1 yolk from a large egg

3 tablespoons finely chopped chives


Freshly ground black pepper

1⁄4 cup melted unsalted butter, preferably clarified

1 cup crème fraîche

6 tablespoons golden whitefish caviar, preferably fresh

6 teaspoons black caviar, preferably fresh.

1. Cut the corn kernels from the cobs, enough to produce 2 cups. Put the kernels in a food processor and add 2 tablespoons milk. Blend until a little of the texture is left. There should be about 1 1/4 cups.

2. Put the corn in a mixing bowl and add the remaining milk, the flour, 1/4 cup melted butter and the cornmeal, stirring to blend well.

3. Add the eggs, egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of the chopped chives, salt and pepper and blend thoroughly.

4. Heat the other 1/4 cup butter, preferably clarified, in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the batter at a time into the skillet without letting the cakes touch. Cook about 1 1/2 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. Turn and cook on the other side until golden brown and cooked through.

5. Serve 4 slightly overlapping corncakes on each of 6 salad plates. Add a mound of crème fraîche in the center of the plate. Spoon 1 tablespoon golden caviar on top of the crème fraîche and 1 teaspoon black caviar on top of the golden caviar. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped chives and serve. Serves 6 as a first course.

I was really excited to make these cakes. Corn fritters are definitely a yummy calorie splurge, and I thought they would go perfectly with some chicken and salad. A nice, summery meal. So I set off the buy the ingredients. Per usual, I made some tweaks. My grocery store had no chives (I know, I know), so I substituted scallions, also known as green onions. I also decided to skip the creme fraiche. I’ll buy creme fraiche, use a little and then it’ll sit in the fridge until expiration day. Always feels so wasteful so I thought we could do without it.

Then there’s the caviar. Honestly, I LOVE caviar. I’ve been to Russia and have had the real deal. From what I saw, they eat caviar like we eat bread. It’s like nothing. So much cheaper than here, and so delicious. But this is NYC, and caviar is expensive and pretty indulgent. Way too fancy for a normal meal. So I nixed the caviar. I figured a good corncake could do without the accessories.  Here is a prep picture and the fritters on the skillet

A few weeks ago, I posted on Cooking Light’s top cooking mistakes. One is don’t crowd the pan. I made sure to listen!

See all of the butter in the pan? On Friday I learned about clarified butter. The recipe suggests you use it, but I had no idea what it was. Can you buy clarified butter in the store? Luckily my office is chock-full of foodies, so I asked my friend C. She explained that clarified butter is just butter without the fat. Apparently cutting the fat prevents burning, and also helps the butter last a long time. The next day I explained this to H who nodded in recognition. “You use a cheesecloth to separate the butter,” he said. Amazing. I have a husband who knows about clarified butter. Why do I insist on being our household chef? He’s obviously eons ahead of me

But back to the cakes. Truthfully, they turned out “eh.” The cakes were edible, and we ate them as a side dish, but they were pretty bland. They definitely need their accouterments. And then it hit me. These are supposed to be eaten like blinis! That’s why they’re bland on their own. Lesson learned. Next time, don’t skip the caviar.