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.
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.
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".
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.
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...
At this point, I was thinking "rice brittle here were come"! And then the entire mixture ran into each other...
I used a drinking glass to cut into the finished "brittle" and surprisingly came out with a nice circle...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!