Striped Mushroom Omelet

Omelets are the reason I roll out of bed in the morning. They make sacrificing thirteen minutes of precious extra sleep in order to swing by the dining hall on the way to the dreaded 9am class entirely worth it. They’re good. Especially topped with a little mushroom and cheese. Really good.

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And, to my delight, Modernist Cuisine at Home agrees because it dedicates an entire section to the these bundles of golden goodness. I opted to make one  of the most iconic modernist omelets called the “Striped Mushroom Omelet.” Ce n’est pas une omelette. No, this wasn’t just any omelet. It’s salty in all the right places, and alternates stripes of savory, dark mushroom puree with silky lines of the familiar egg to create a museum-worthy piece.

Maybe it’s like this for you too, but, at least for me, when I try to look up something on Wikipedia, I end up going on a wild goose chase of blue link clicking before I actually get where I wanted to go. Well this recipe was a lot like that. I started on page 40, which told me to “see page 63,” which redirected me to “see page 15,” which sent me to “see page 37,” which suggested that I “see page 35.” A few paper cut casualties later, I was ready to make the clarified butter for the Mushroom Jus for the Mushroom Puree for the Striped Mushroom Omelet (finally!). And to be honest, a lot of these steps seemed unnecessary, so below I offer my streamlined approach: sub in tap water for the Mushroom Jus which takes an hour to make and requires clarified butter and white miso (which required a trip to a speciality Asian grocery store). This substitution will also help control the saltiness, which I found to be a little too much when using the Mushroom Jus.

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Miso is a thick paste made from fermented soy beans used to flavor and thicken sauces, soups, and spreads. It’s not worth searching the world for Miso only to use in this omelet (my streamlined version bypasses it), but I fell in love with the other uses for Miso during the process, which are definitely worth exploring (quick Tofu Mushroom Soup anyone?).

Anyways, back to the task at hand. Things finally got crackin’.

There was a lot of chopping (four varieties of mushrooms)…

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and simmering…

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and gill extracting…

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to eventually finish the striped mushroom part of the omelet.

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The egg part of the omelet was smooth sailing. The cookbook suggests using one less egg white than yolk (I used three whole eggs plus an extra yolk) to create a higher solute concentration in the mixture, which creates a smoother, silkier texture and prevents the omelet shell from falling apart (an awesome trick even if you decide not to try the mushroom stripe fuss).

Don’t own a $20,000 industrial-grade combi oven like elBulli? Well, that makes two of us. But you can jerry rig something pretty close for our purposes. I preheated the lid of an oven proof pan at 350 degrees F, then loaded my omelet into the pan, topped it with the heated lid to create a more even temperature inside the pan, and popped the whole thing back in the oven. The contraption mimics the pressureless steam and convection heat of a traditional combination oven. Better yet, the omelet cooks at a slower rate, allowing a greater margin of error (one of the fundamental ideas of modernist cooking). So, if you get distracted by a package delivery at the front door and accidentally leave the omelet in the oven for an extra five minutes (who would do such a thing?), it’s still golden to perfection.

The Takeaway: The Striped Mushroom Omelet won’t be showing up on my next lazy Saturday breakfast in bed menu. But on the sunny side (pun intended), I learned how to cook eggs better, which if you’re as fond of them as I am, is invaluable. So here you go, and happy crackin’…

Mushroom Puree (from Modernist Cuisine at Home)

Saute sliced shiitake mushroom caps (4 1/3 cup) in unsalted butter (3 Tbsp) for around 10 minutes, until they turn golden brown.

Add minced shallots (2) and portobello mushroom gills (from 1 large). Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the shallots are tender.

Stir in *water (3/4 cup), and simmer on medium heat for 1 minute. Puree the mixture in a blender until it turns smooth and passes through a sieve. Makes 7/8 cup.

*The water substitues for the Mushroom Jus.

Striped Mushroom Omelet (slightly adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home)

Whisk together eggs (3), heavy cream (1 Tbsp), egg yolk (1), and salt (1/2 tsp).

Create the mushroom base by whisking together Mushroom Puree (3/8 cup), egg yolks (3), heavy cream (2 tsp), Albumin powder (5 tsp), and salt (1/2 tsp). Spread 2mm thick layer of the mixture on a round silicone mat (or wax paper) and draw even lines across the mat (the end of a plastic chopstick does the trick if you don’t have a pastry comb). Put the mat in an oven-safe, nonstick pan with a lid.

Gently pour the egg mixture over the lines on the silicone mat in the pan, and place the pan in the oven set to 350 degrees F. Cook for approximately 6 minutes, then remove from the oven and let cool before peeling the omelet shell off of the silicone mat.

Fill the omelet shell with your favorite sautéed vegetables or cheeses. Makes 3-4 omelet shells. To save time, omit the mushroom puree, to make a stripe-less omelet.

Eggplant Parmesan

As one year rolls into the next, I think we’re all ready for some change. Especially the weather. So I found a dish that at least brings back the taste of summer.
gardenSummertime at my house begins when the kitchen counters start to overflow with green beans, squash, zucchini, lettuce, tomatoes and eggplant from my dad’s garden. And, as the countertops fill up with goodies, we get creative with all the ways to put them on our plates. Raw, steamed, grilled, dipped, baked–you name it, we’ve probably done it. But eggplant is the real stumper. What can you do with it?

So, I knew I had to try the “Microwave Eggplant Parmesan” recipe from Modernist Cuisine at Home, that finally gives eggplant the spotlight it deserves. Layers of freshly steamed eggplant, combined with stringy mozzarella and velvety ricotta, topped with a homemade marinara that’s good enough to eat by itself (seriously).

Let’s start there, with the marinara.

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pureeIn fact, the marinara might actually be the best part for it’s simplicity and versatility. All it takes is minced yellow onions, carrots, and garlic tossed into a pressure cooker with some canned tomatoes and olive oil. The pressure cooker locks in the rich flavors and cooks the sauce evenly without any fuss. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, no worries. I tried simmering the sauce for twice as long and it worked beautifully as well. Every spoonful of this marinara packed with the sweetness of the carrots and onions and the earthiness of the tomatoes, reminding me of the taste of a summer garden–much better than its preservative laden canned counterpart. Save the leftovers in the fridge because it’s perfect atop pizza or whole wheat pasta the next day. Wins all around.

Now it’s just a matter of adding some layers of steamed eggplant, fresh cheese, and marinara, topping the whole thing off with some toasted breadcrumbs. The trick here is relying on the strengths of each kitchen apparatus separately. The heating element in the oven does a fantastic job browning breadcrumbs, while the microwave’s electromagnetic waves steam the polar water molecules that comprise eggplant.

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Besides a pressure cooker, which can be substituted by longer simmering time in a covered pot, this recipe is easily in reach of even the most basic kitchens. Yet, this recipe offers great insight into how to avoid common mistakes when cooking vegetables, while locking in rich flavor and nutrients. All the fresh vegetables in this recipe along with my new knowledge about cooking them get me excited for the garden to be back in commission next summer. I hope you enjoy and get creative with your own!

Marinara (adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home)

Mince yellow onions (260 g or 2 cups), carrots (160 g or 1 cup), and garlic (18 g or 5-6 cloves) in a food processor.

Put the minced vegetables into the base of a pressure cooker and saute in olive oil (20 g or 1.5 T) for approximately 4 minutes.

Add canned crushed tomatoes (1 large can) to the pressure cooker base and pressure cook at 15 psi for 45 minutes. {If you don’t have a pressure cooker, simply let the sauce simmer for 2 hours.}

Makes 4 cups and keeps in the fridge for 5 days or the freezer for 6 months.

Microwave Eggplant Parmesan: The Modernist Cuisine at Home At Home Version  (adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home)

Spread and bake breadcrumbs (1 cup) and grated parmesan cheese (1/2 cup) on a baking sheet for 10 minutes at 375 degrees F to brown.

Spread paper towels on a microwave safe plate. Place sliced eggplant (12 slices for 1 large plant) on top and sprinkle with salt. Cover the slices with more paper towels and steam in the microwave for 5 minutes. Remove and transfer the slices to a microwaveable bag. Microwave again for about 6 minutes until tender.

In a microwave safe dish (I used 5 x 4 inch), alternate layers* of fresh marinara, eggplant slices, freshly sliced mozzarella, and ricotta, repeating three times. Sprinkle the top with the browned breadcrumbs and parmesan. Place the whole dish in the microwave for 5 minutes, until the center starts bubbling. Enjoy!

*For variation, you can also add layers of whole wheat noodles.

Instant Chocolate Sponge

I sort of envisioned “modernist cuisine” along the lines of George Jetson’s Food-A-Rac-A-Cycle machine–a high-tech gizmo that instantly creates scrumptious foamy food with the push of a button. So, I thought, why not start off with a recipe that has “instant” right in the name? Well, it depends on what you call “instant.”

chocolateToday, I made Modernist Cuisine at Home‘s “Instant Chocolate Sponge,” mistakenly expecting a little more of the “instant.” The batter part was smooth sailing. I combined the milk, chocolate, and butter (nice and simple), and zapped them for a minute in the microwave to create a velvety (and quite delicious) mixture. Then I whisked in some eggs once it had cooled. It was sure looking good. And to be entirely honest, it was seeming a whole lot like the microwave cake recipes that dominate post after post on Pinterest.

Then came the modernist twist: a whipping siphon. The siphon infuses fluid, cake batter in this case, with carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide gas using a pressure gradient. While I appreciate Myhrvold’s amend to cut the centrifuge and rotary evaporators out of the “at home” edition of the cookbook, siphons aren’t quite your everyday household appliance either. Sure, there were days when microwaves were rare, but they speed up the cooking that was already happening. Until foamy foods become part of the American vernacular, I don’t really foresee siphons becoming a kitchen essential (although they apparently were back in the 1800’s). So, I got crafty and repurposed a soda seltzer machine into my own siphon to add some fluff to the batter.

cupAnyways, back to the cake. After flailing around with the seltzer machine, I was eventually ready to pour the batter into paper cups. I zapped them in the microwave, and watched as the batter expanded into fluffy goodness.

Now, spongy and springy aren’t usually two words I like to hear after asking, “What’s for dessert?” But with this cake it was different. It’s kind of like how thermometers aren’t usually all that exciting. But if you think about the science behind what makes the mercury rise, it can actually be amazing to watch. Well, it was the same for this sponge cake. I never get excited about the words “sponge cake,” but when you yourself are the one using science to add the sponge to the cake, it’s awesome to watch and to taste. I added some raspberries along side mine, and I recommend you do the same.

So this recipe certainly won’t be replacing that standby quick fix for a sweet tooth, and I won’t likely be investing in my own whipping siphon anytime soon, but it is something worth adding on your culinary bucket list–something worth trying at least once not for the taste but for the sciency beauty behind what makes it so airy.

chocolateSpongeInstant Chocolate Sponge: The Modernist Cuisine at Home At Home Version  (Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home)

Mix in a microwave safe bowl: whole milk (150 g or 2/3 cup), chopped semisweet chocolate (115 g or 3/4 cup), unsalted butter (75 g or 3/8 cup).

Microwave mixture for about 1 minute, stirring periodically, until melted. Be careful not to overheat (the chocolate will get grainy and lumpy).

Whisk eggs (100 g or approximately 2 eggs) into the cooled chocolate mixture.

Combine dry ingredients: wondra (125 g or 1 cup), powdered sugar (125 g or 1.25 cups), cocoa powder (6 g or 2 tsp), salt (5.5 g or 1.5 tsp), baking soda (0.6 g or 1/8 tsp).

Gradually fold the dry ingredients into the chocolate and egg mixture and allow the mixture to sit for 20 minutes.

[If you don’t have a siphon or seltzer machine, you can omit this part although the cake will be a bit less fluffy. Otherwise, pour the batter into 1 L siphon and charge it with 3 cartridges of nitrous oxide. Let the gas infuse for 20 minutes at room temperature.]

Meanwhile, cut four equally-spaced slits about 1 inch long in the side of a paper cup,* and puncture four holes in the bottom (be careful not to make the holes too large or the batter will seep out…whoops). Spray the inside of the cup with cooking spray, and fill it 1/4 of the way full with batter. Pop into the microwave for 50 seconds. Let the cake cool for a few seconds, then dump it upside down over a plate, releasing the cake. Top with cream or your favorite fruit. Makes about 6 miniature cakes.

*Make sure the paper cup is entirely paper. Wax and plastic will melt, yuck.

Hi there.

I’m Haley.

This blog is an experiment  in modernist cuisine at home for my writing seminar class “Food Matters.” Maybe you’ve heard of the stuff, but for those of you who haven’t, modernist cuisine has been making waves in the culinary world by focusing on the science and technology of food to make futuristic dishes. And, up until recently, it’s been confined to high-tech laboratories and avant-garde restaurants.

That is, until Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet created this:

modernist cuisine

Modernist Cuisine at Home (2011), a cookbook aimed to “empower the home cook.” That’s where I (see orange arrow below) come in—the home cook part (as in lacking a centrifuge, rotary evaporator, and any real culinary ability). The reception—from traditional chefs, food journalists, and serious foodies alike—has been fairly consistent: praises have been sung for the cookbook’s quality and clarity of its groundbreaking instruction, but criticism has been dished out for requiring equipment and technology still out of the everyday cook’s reach. For those visual people, here’s how critics have framed the target audience of Modernist Cuisine at Home and the full version Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.

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So, I’ve decided to take a swing for the everyday cooks out there. No Assembly Required is dedicated to experimenting and trying recipes that, as the name suggests, don’t require expensive special equipment and don’t require me to assemble my kitchen into a full-scale laboratory. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

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