food science lab!

This semester I am taking food science class, which also has a lab. That lab is essentially home ec for grownups. It is deeply exciting.

Every week we do a different topic. Thus far we’ve had four.

First, egg day!

You can tell how fresh an egg is by how tall the yolk is and how far the thick part of the egg white  spreads (it should stay close to the yolk, like the one on the upper right). Color does not equal freshness- people can cheat the system by feeding their chickens marigolds which makes their eggs golder.

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Different hard cooking techniques: I’m always team start with cold water.

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One group made these Indonesian eggs that were really good. You hard boil eggs and then coat them in cornstarch and pan fry ’em.

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Then make a spicy tomatoey gingery sauce to go with ’em.

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Meanwhile, my group was making souffle. Taylor was a badass and beat the egg whites by hand (she used to do crew so she has STRONG ARMS).

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Carolina smiled adorably and made the white sauce.

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Our professor was a little flummoxed about a container in which to bake our souffles, since we did not have a souffle pan. However, one of my group members went to culinary school (yes, our group is extremely lucky, since we incur much less of our professor’s wrath as a result) so she suggested we use plain old muffin tins. This was successful!

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This photo sort of captures them as they deflate. Sad. So that was our finished dish…

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The Indonesian eggs…

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A frittata that doesn’t look like much but which was DELICIOUS! It had onions and potatoes that had been sauteed together all beautiful and golden, and broccoli, and lots of cream cheese.

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Gougeres, in a pretty ring!

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Part of the goal of food science lab is to learn how to write about food, so we use a hedonic scale to rate the foods we’ve eaten and write a few sentences about the taste/texture/aroma/temperature/appearance/etc. of the food.

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Noms! I probably went back for a little more of all of these. Wednesday afternoons I never go hungry now!

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Oh did you think they were done? HAHA NEVER.

The last group made a chocolate custard pie with a nut-meringue crust.

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It. was. bliss.

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Starch day! Yall know I love me some carbs.

We started by making white sauces with varying amounts of flour and then comparing their viscosity via a spread test.

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It probably would’ve gone better if the table were flat, but you get the idea. The one the farthest back has the least flower, and they have increasing quantities.

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Next came polenta, which was so good I later made it for Valentine’s Day brunch. Stirring it was quite soothing and nice.

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It was finished with butter and real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and was so so creamy and dreamy. And full of umami (from ribonucleotides attaching to glutamate, obviously :D)

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Another group made pasta puttanesca. It smelled so good cooking I kind of almost lost my mind. The taste was a letdown, but that’s probably because our sense of smell is 10,000 times stronger than our sense of taste (!!!)

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This group made a barley salad with edamame and corn that was REALLY good, mainly because of its judicious use of fresh dill.

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And because this class is ridiculous, there was also more chocolate, via pudding.

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Again, this plate was all really really good.

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Another group had a dish that took a little longer, so we concluded our meal with a bit of quinoa and spinach salad, which was just okay (but I don’t love quinoa). I also went back for more tastes of the barley and puttanesca!

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Plant protein day!

Our group pressed and then marinated tofu (sesame oil, soy sauce, lots of garlic and ginger).

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Made a good peanut sauce (good but not great; the best peanut sauces, IMO, have coconut milk).

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And here was our final assembled dish: soba noodles, the tofu baked and chopped up, fresh red pepper, scallions.

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(OMG, who is that hot mess wearing flip flops in a test kitchen?! I am silly. It is now really really really cold and I am back to boots).

Another group I think wins Most Beautiful with their tostadas.

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Here’s my friend Steph’s arm as she removes their caramelized onions from their pot.

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They made mujaddara, my love: Lebanese lentils and rice and caramelized onions. So simple, and so delicious. Sorcery.

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Rounded out with another group’s Greek salad with chickpeas, and another group’s chili. I really don’t need to bring lunch on Wednesdays, ever.
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Finally, last week we learned about two of my favorite things: fish and fats.

My friend Camille’s group made this flounder crusted with almonds which was PERFECT. PER.FECT. You should definitely only cook founder this way. You dredge it in flour and cook it really fast (two minutes per side) and the texture is exquisite.

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Another group made this Chinese-style steamed fish with spinach and green onion. OH MY GOD THIS WAS REALLY GOOD TOO. It’s hard to tell in this picture but the salmon was this deep orangey red. Beautiful!

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At my request, my group made mussels. I wasn’t heavily involved in the cleaning/debearding/checking for dead guys because I was involved in another project (oh just wait) but my group members did an excellent job. Threw ’em into the pan with the aromatics, and cooked them real fast.

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Okay so while they were doing that I was EXHAUSTING MY POOR ARMS taking care of our contribution to the *fat* portion of the day’s activity, in the form of… homemade mayonnaise! Different groups did different things with fat emulsions: one doctored Hellman’s mayonnaise with fresh herbs, one made a homemade vinaigrette with shallots and capers, one made a homemade mayonnaise in the food processor, and I… I went “OH GUYZ IT’S COOL WE’LL MAKE THE HOMEMADE MAYONNAISE FROM SCRATCH IN A BOWL WITH THE POWER OF OUR ARMS.”

So I whisked and Lesley poured and we took TEN THOUSAND YEARS to make homemade mayonnaise and I thought my arm was going to fall off by the end.

It was really good.

In fish week instead of serving everything at the same time we just ate stuff as it was ready because fish sitting around is no bueno. So plate one was the flounder, the steamed salmon, and the four fats: from the left, that’s the green mayonnaise, the food processor mayonnaise, my homemade mayonnaise (we used lots of olive oil which probably is what accounts for the color), and the homemade vinaigrette.
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After that tasting we wrapped up our mussels. Strained them out into the serving bowl…

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Then bulked up the broth with heavy cream (!) and reduced it a bit and poured it over the top.

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There’s something a little dirty looking about shellfish, eh?

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The groups that finished last were well worth the wait: my friend Jenna’s group made the most lovely fish chowder. The cod and scallops were cooked PERFECTLY and were so tender! And the broth was so flavorful and rich and delicious! (There was pancetta in it, I later learned… oops). And the secret to the texture, IMO, was the corn, which was added near the end and added a nice toothsome pop.

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And finally, in more Valentine’s Day brunch inspiration, the last group made hollandaise sauce (their fat contribution) to top baked salmon (their fish contribution) and asparagus.

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NOT BAD AT ALL.

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Finally, readers in the wise about eggs may ask, “But Ileana, you made all these things using egg yolks… what happened to the whites?”

Never you worry, readers. What happened with those is called MERINGUES.

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Culinary School Grad Lesley saved the day again- she and Nate (who is himself a pretty excellent cook) whipped up some egg yolks with sugar and *swoon* crushed pecans and made the most tiny, dear little meringues.

My love of cooking is HUGELY influenced by the women in my mom’s family, especially my grandmother, and she was constantly making meringues (to use up egg whites, which were left over from her other baking endeavors with egg yolks, what with the creme caramels and the bechamel sauces and so on). I don’t think I’d had a meringue like hers- with the slightly chewy middle- since she died. It was really, really excellent.

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