Unit 4: Woodworking, Utensils, and More...

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With the Thanksgiving holidays looming, our latest assignment was to produce a functional and finished utensil to be used in creating Thanksgiving dinner.

Idea Generation

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For this first assignment, we were able to do some brainstorming with a small group of our peers. I was able to come up with 7 ideas myself, and 30 ideas total as a group. Additionally, I did some idea generation at home, and made more detailed sketches of the top five ideas I felt like I could work with: the cutting board, the ladle-whisk, the pie slicer, measuring bowl, and an alternative strainer.

Exploring Ideas & Prototyping

Following our lab session of wood shop training, I considered the fact that I have zero woodworking experience and very little time to complete the project. because of this, I narrowed my ideas down based on what objects I would be able to create mainly utilizing straight, clean lines with rounded edges that would be easy to create utilizing only a few basic tools. My remaining ideas were the pie sliced, the cutting board, and the alternative strainer.

I made two prototypes of each using foam, changing aspects such as the physical design for the cutting board, and the handle length for the pie slicer and the strainer.

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Hunting & Gathering

I drove out to Rockler in Maplewood to buy the materials for my project.

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At this point, I nixed the idea of the pie slicer because it would require additional materials such as screws and wood glue, which I didn't have the budget for. After talking to the men at Rockler, I found that the best wood that was also in my price range and suitable for my project was a long 1/2 inch thick plank of cherrywood.

Execution

My plank of wood was only about 8-9 inches wide, so I decided to craft the alternative strainer. This product would also be the most useful for me, since I already have three cutting boards at home.

I started by tracing the foam model out on my plank of wood and then using the miter saw and band saw to cut out the shape. From there, I sanded the shape so it was smooth, and the handle so it fit comfortably in my hand.

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I then ran a few tests on a piece of scrap wood to see how big I wanted to make the holes, and began drilling into the actual utensil to make the holes. I finished the product with mineral oil.

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Finished product

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My anti-strainer is smooth and functional, which is all I can truly ask for considering my lack of woodworking experience. If I did this project over, I would likely consider the following things:


  • Drill Holes all the way to the top

  • Make larger holes to drain more water

  • Using a grid system to align the holes

Unit 3: The Plate as your Canvas

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It's one thing to cook something, but plating and actually making food look appealing is another story.

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Learning the Basics

Although we're not being judged on flavor in this assignment, the first thing I did was identify flavors that were in the cake. Logistically, this makes sense because it can help narrow down what ingredients I can incorporate into my design. I also took note of some ingredients Chef Yang used during her demonstration.


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One of Chef Yang's creations during the in-class demonstration

From the lectures, I gathered there was a few things I should take into account for my design besides flavor: color, texture, and shape.
From our last few restaurant visits, I noticed that the dishes I really enjoyed had a variety of textures. Chef Yang herself said she likes to incorporate different textures, such as something creamy and something crunchy, into her dishes. I feel like this not only creates an interesting design aesthetically, these textures each have a different "flavor" to them when you eat them.




Initial Experimentation

Before I planned my concepts, I also wanted to experiment with the cake itself and potential elements to my design. I had two goals in mind: first, experiment with the cake structure, and then experiment with garnishes and sauces.

After we got the basic cake recipe from Chef Yang, I made a larger version of the cake at home to cut up and experiment with. I utilized the design concepts we learned in class, such as keeping odds, asymmetry, and varying shapes.

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In the end, I decided to focus my designs utilizing three small bite sized cylinders, and the "perfect rectangle" shape.

In working with garnishes, I really loved the way the dehydrated carrot crisp looked on the cakes Chef Yang demo-ed in class. However, I felt that recreating a carrot crisp would be the easy way out, so I chose to use a different fruit: mango!

I pureed the mango in a blender with some water and added sugar, and then I strained it to eliminate the fibrous parts of the fruit. I utilized half of the puree to create a crisp by dehydrating the puree in the oven for a couple hours on Silpat. After the crisps were dry enough, I quickly cut pieces off the warm film and shaped them into different shapes including abstract shapes and spirals. I stored these in a tupperware.


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With the other half of my mango puree, I experimented with plating a sauce. With the initial mango puree, I found the sauce was too liquid and slid around my smooth plate too easily, making it difficult to hold a design. To remedy this, I heated the mango puree in a saucepan and added a pinch of rice flour to help thicken it. This worked pretty well, and I was able to get more distinct patterns.

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Creating Plating Concepts

From my initial experimentation, I drew out two designs and identified the elements I wanted on the cake so I could go grocery shopping.

Concept 1: Utilize the circles, create three different bites on the plate. Utilize mango garnish. Plate with creamy frosting, candied nuts, and use lines/dots to plate.

Concept 2: Utilize perfect rectangle base. Create height with a cookie reflecting texture of the cake. Contrast with smooth cream on cake, utilize garnish, and also utilize candied nuts.

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Execution of Concept

I started out with Concept 1. I candied almonds and a coconut creme to ice the cake with, and I piped small rosettes on each of the three cake pieces. I then garnished the cake with the mango crisps I made and used the mango sauce. I initially wanted to utilize and orange sauce, but the oranges I bought did not have a very good flavor so I decided it would be best not to use them. The finished design is below.

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I then prepared for Concept 2. To do this, I made Lacy Oatmeal Cookies which is a recipe I I've been familiar with for a while, but I never made in my current apartment. As a result, my cookies melted into each other and slightly burnt - it took me a few tries to get them right for the cake.
I also candied apples in various shapes. I debated between just using the apple flesh vs. using the peel. I decided to use the apple with the peel to add some color/contrast to my otherwise monochromatic design.

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I decided on utilizing Concept 2 for my final plating for the in-class critique. Ultimately, this worked out the best because when I woke up on the morning of the critique, I found that my mango crisps had absorbed the moisture in the air: they lost their structure, and I did not have time to remake them. However, I was still able to utilize one of the crisps by leaning it on the cookie (which held its structure).

This final design for the critique utilized the following elements: perfect rectangle, variations in texture, monochromatic warm colorumns and dots/lines (albeit, not very well done lines due to issues with the squeeze bottle).

Fresh Fall Flavor

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Assignment #2: Flavor and Texture pairing in an amuse-bouche seems to have come much faster than the first assignment. And with more requirements than the last.

We were assigned to meet the following requirements:
a) Utilize an in-season fruit or vegetable in Minnesota
b) Create an interesting flavor pairing
c) Change the "typical" texture of your product

Luckily, with the fall season comes a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables. In the week after I received the assignment, I picked up several fruits and veggies to try: A eggplant, a bell pepper, acorn squash, and apples.

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I didn't have a chance to play with the eggplant and the pepper went bad before I experimented with it, so that only left the squash and the apple.

At this point, we hadn't experimented much with texture manipulation so I just tried to develop the flavor of the squash. I utilized brown sugar and roasted the acorn squash in the oven.

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However, the caveat of utilizing the squash was that it took a long time to cook the squash. Additionally, the acorn squash did not seem as flavorful as I wanted for my amuse-bouche so I decided to use apples in my final project. Some of the more successful projects from the first assignment were sweet, and I prefer pastry and baking to savory cooking so it worked to my advantage.

Flavor chemistry is a also a huge interest of mine. Although I don't have a great grasp of chemistry, the science of how the different chemical structures affect flavor and work together. The "On Food and Cooking" book had a really great diagram of common flavors that I found very helpful and interesting.

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Vanilla and lemon both contained the "floral" flavor compound linalool. Lavender, star anise, and ginger also contain this compound which is why these flavors may pair well together. When we were at Cooks of Crocus Hill, I really enjoyed the products with a citrus flavor, and also the vanilla paste. I actually bought some of the vanilla paste for myself, although it wasn't the same brand that we tasted.

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Salted Caramel has been a growing flavor trend over the last two years, but there are always new trends on the rise. A flavor company recently visited the U and a friend of mine mentioned that she tried a sample with salted vanilla - a trend the company anticipated would be the next "salted caramel". Additionally, the vanilla paste would be perfect for this.
I tried tasting the plain vanilla paste with a fresh apple, but the paste was too overpowering.

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Using the Food Pairing website, the website mentioned lavender honey would be a good pairing for fresh apples. To develop the flavor of the apple, I fried the a cube of the apple in order. I then paired it with a little honey, vanilla paste, and sea salt.

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This combination tasted better, reminding me of an apple pie, but I still had not met the textural requirement of the assignment. I really enjoyed working with the sodium alginate and calcium for spherification, so I tried using a variety of materials in the process, including apple juice, lemon juice, and honey. The apple juice (which I do not have a picture of) did not spherify at all due to its low viscosity and high acidity. The apple juice fared a little better but did not hold its shape during the jellification process well because of its low viscosity. I tried to remedy this by adding corn starch (the only thickening agent I had on hand) but I forgot that you needed to heat the solution, so it did not work for me either.

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However, the honey did work very well. I tried both regular spherification and reverse spherification (honey with alginate vs. honey with calcium). The regular spherification worked the best and held the shape well when I utilized one part honey and one part sodium alginate situation. To form the "honey caviar" I spherified the honey and the soaked the beads in honey after they formed.

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At last my project was coming together! The floral notes of the honey with the apple and salted vanilla were starting to work well.

For the actual critique, I created an apple gelatin on the actual spoon to further enhance the apple flavor in my presentation.

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I soaked the apple in honey and vanilla paste diluted to a syrup and then fried the diced apples...

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I also created a salted vanilla honey by mixing a small amount of vanilla paste with honey to sweeten it and mask the slightly bitter taste of the paste. Once the apple gelatin solidified, I dipped the spoons with the gelatin into the vanilla honey and then dipped them into sea salt. I then placed a cube of the fried apple on the top of the spoon, and added some of the "honey caviar" for my finished salted vanilla apples and honey amuse bouche. Bon Apetit!

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Food and Design (and Science)

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When I first saw a flier for this class, Food and Design, I knew I had to take it as soon as possible. As a Food Science major who seriously considered graphic design, I knew that this class would be a perfect marriage of the two concepts from the name of the class itself.

Prior experience: I love baking and cooking. I haven't had much culinary experience other than volunteering at Open Arms for a year, but I am well-versed in the basics of food science. With this knowledge, I'm slowly becoming more creative in how I cook and bake - but definitely not to the caliber of a professional chef. Honestly, I have a newfound respect for the genius that it takes to be a real chef. I always thought the work they did was amazing, but before this class I didn't realize how challenging it was to be innovative in the world-wide web of food.

For our first challenge, we were asked to create an innovative dish out of the most boring and mundane food out there: rice or orzo.

I don't have much experience with orzo except for seeing it in my mom's soup, but rice and I are in a complicated relationship. Being Filipino, rice is an everyday staple for me - but always as a side dish. And despite rice acting as a side-kick to my ulam (entree), I can't live without it. I remember on our family trip to Disney World, we had an amazing meal plan that provided for our 1-week vacation. The food was amazing, but by the time we got back to Michigan, everyone in my family was dying for some Chinese food - or anything with rice really.

Given my breadth of knowledge about rice, I decided to start my creative process by attribute listing everything I knew about rice: what it looked like, tasted like, how it was used, etc.

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I also like to gather a lot of information, so I read our textbooks for more information on how rice is used, its history and property. I took a class called Food in History which really taught me how influential food is in cultures, so I hoped to find inspiration for what ingredients I could pair rice with in my dish.

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Unsurprisingly, the origin of rice in southeast asian cultures sparked my interest. These cultures also had ingredients such as banana, coconut, yam, cabbage, and citrus fruits. Based on this, I started to list out potential paths to take, including, mango "fried rice", "fruit sushi", and rice "cupcake".

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I tried to use SCAMPER when I was coming up with my ideas:


  • How could I substitute rice into another dish?

  • How could I combine two rice dishes or a dish without rice into one?

  • How could I adapt rice used in one form and use it in another?

  • How could I change rice so it was innovate?

  • How is rice used and how can be used in other ways?

  • What is a complicated rice dish that I can make more simple to focus on the rice?

  • Can I deconstruct a rice dish?

From this, I latched onto a few ideas. Namely:
1. A rice brittle
2. Rice in a dessert
3. Cooking Rice in a different liquid

I suddenly remembered the idea of a "torta" one day: a sort of deconstructed taco with a hard tortilla shell, beans, meat, salsa, and sour cream. I figured if I could make a rice brittle that would serve as the tortilla shell, rice pudding as the beans, and a fruit salsa.

I had a recipe for Lacy Oatmeal Cookies that I decided to substitute rice into. The recipe called for instant oatmeal, but all I had was normal jasmine rice, so I just used it instead. I also substituted rice flour instead of all-purpose flour.

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The idea clicked in my mind so suddenly that I didn't think to soften my butter before, so I had to find an alternative way to get my butter soft quickly. My answer: a hair dryer. P is for Put to Other Use, after all...

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At this point, I was thinking "rice brittle here were come"! And then the entire mixture ran into each other...

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I used a drinking glass to cut into the finished "brittle" and surprisingly came out with a nice circle...

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However, the rice in the brittle was uncooked - as expected. The buttery, sweet, sugary cookie part was great but the rice got stuck in my teeth and definitely wasn't cooked.
At this point I had two options:
a) cook the rice before putting it into the cookie
b) buy instant rice to put in it
c) find another way to make the tortilla for the torts

Going back to basics for the torta, I knew the bottom was a corn tortilla, so I asked myself: why not make a rice tortilla? There is a recipe in Filipino culture called "palitaw" or "float" - it is a sweet dough made of rice flour that is boiled until it floats to the top. Then, it's coated with sweet coconut and typically dipped into a sugar and sesame seed mix. I wanted to try to fry the dough instead to do that instead of a soft and chewy texture, the dough would be crispy.

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I found that when the dough was on the pan and hot, it remained very squishy, soft, and malleable. Since the dough was difficult to form in your hand because it was so sticky, I would just use the spatula to flatten it once it started to brown. I was worried that the dough would still be soft and chewy, but when I took it off the heat and allowed it to cool, it got a little more crispy. I also experimented with shaping it while it was still hot to come up with several variations.

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I decided to stick with the typical torta shape: a flat disk, so that it resembled the torta. I thought that if I changed the shape of the rice tortilla, it would be too "out there" for people to recognize.

The rice pudding was fairly easy and came along without any hassle. I cooked 1 part rice in 3 parts water until it was soft, and then added sweet coconut milk until it was the texture I wanted. I also added some sugar and a little salt to enhance the flavor.

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Lastly, the fruit salsa: tortas are usually associated with spanish culture, just like corn. Likewise, I wanted my salsa and my torta to stick with the southeast asian filipino-inspired rice theme I had going on. Reflecting upon my earlier reading and personal experience, some of the fruits they had included coconut, citrus, and mango. I really wanted to do a mango salsa with strawberries, but unfortunately the grocery store I went to did not have any. I knew peaches carried a slightly similar taste and texture, so I substituted that for mangoes although they didn't keep the southeast asian theme. I also utilized some coconut to go back to my cultural theme, and some cilantro just to add a contrasting flavor.

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I ran into a few troubles when preparing my dish for the critique, because I forgot the coconut milk I wanted to use in the rice tortilla and the rice pudding. I substituted in the sweet coconut flakes to bring out the coconut flavor and utilized heavy cream in the rice pudding to make it more creamy. I also forgot my non-stick skillet so the tortilla kept sticking to the pan, so I utilized a cup and my paring knife to cut out a circular shape. I finished off the plating with some fresh whipped cream.

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Rice and beans have historically been paired together to promote health as they have complimentary proteins. However, I've never seen anything that had rice as beans. However, reflecting now, they do have a similar starchy texture which is why I think the rice pudding worked well in my dessert torta. I am not 100% satisfied with the final result, and I wish I could've found time to really innovate the rice brittle. However, it did innovate with rice in both the use of rice (pudding) in a different way and also the creation of a rice tortilla. I hope in the future I can continue to innovate with boring ol' rice to make it more exciting!

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