Lean and lovin' it: Modernist spin on health-conscious cuisine

  • "Modernist Cuisine at Home"

    "Modernist Cuisine at Home"

Updated 3/13/2013 3:34 PM

As frequently said on Monty Python's Flying Circus: "And now for something completely different."

Today I'm not writing about trimming the amount of sour cream in a recipe or baking with applesauce. I'm diving into new waters called modernist cuisine.


I recently received a copy of "Modernist Cuisine at Home" (aka MC@H) by Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet and have this to say about it: If you're hungry, do not open MC@H without a bib or napkin handy because you're guaranteed to drool after just a few pages.

You may never use the ultramodern, scientifically sound cooking techniques carefully explained throughout the 462 pages, but you'll want to sample all the tempting tidbits captured in the exquisite photographs.

Not only is this one the heaviest, if not the heaviest, nonprofessional cookbooks ever published (nearly 11 pounds), but its $140 price tag is rarely seen on cookbooks. If you've ever paid $75 to $100 for a cooking class, this book is its equal and then some. MC@H even has a helpful website, modernistcuisine.com.

I don't have enough room here to cover everything that MC@H shares, so I focused my lean lens on Myhrvold's many low-fat and fat-free recipes that rely on sometimes unique techniques to boost flavor. I found turkey breast injected with seasoned milk, restaurant-quality pizza dough made with no oil or fat whatsoever and range of pressure-cooked vegetables that cook quickly with no fat at all. That's not to say this is a fat-free cookbook or one that includes nutritional information -- it isn't and it doesn't.

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If you want to dig deep into modernist cooking and ALL it has to offer, you'll need some equipment. If you have a pressure cooker, blender, convection oven or vacuum sealer you're ready to jump in but may still want to add a sous vide machine (a temperature-controlled, circulating water machine; about $325) or a whipping siphon ($60-plus) to your kitchen inventory.

You'll also need to shop for ingredients, some you may be familiar with -- gelatin, Wondra flour or whey powder -- and some you have to seek out -- sodium citrate (derived from citrus fruits; used to keep cheese from separating) and xanthan gum (derived from sugar fermentation; used to thicken and stabilize emulsions; you've seen it in salad dressings).

Myhrvold's techniques and recipes are exacting and precise and may require more effort than some of you are willing to give, but keep in mind the outcome is great tasting low-fat meals. So borrow a copy from the library or a friend and take a stroll through what is au courant in tomorrow's kitchen.

Try this recipe: I've loved macaroni and cheese for decades (it's one of my top comfort foods) and wanted to see how Myhrvold attacked what he calls "Fat-Free" Mac and Cheese.


The recipe does not require any unusual ingredients but it is prepared in an unconventional manner -- with a sous vide machine. Don't have one? Me neither. So I created a sous vide-like cooker by heating a large pot of water to 176 degrees (as explained in the book) and holding it at that temperature for 30 minutes.

A completely different approach to familiar comfort food for sure.

Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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