Eat! By Design

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I'm so excited for this event. I have been so excited for this event since the beginning of this class. I cannot wait to see what everyone comes up with, and how they orchestrate the event. I've always enjoyed hosting people and feeding them, but I have never really done it on this scale. Funny enough, I am not intimidated at all.

I really did not have any clue of what I would want to do for this event until the first lecture we had about experience in food. I was very inspired by the the first image, of a person reaching up to grab coloured vials above their head. I imagined an orchard that our guest could move through and reach up to pluck a 'fruit' but that fruit would be some savoury bite instead. I drew up ideas for creating edible ways to affix those bites to the branches, or thought that if I could find a suitable open container I could place it in a vessel and then hang them from a tree.

My second serious concept played with the idea of brushing one's teeth. I wanted to create a fully edible toothbrush, paste and possibly a mouthwash as well. When I first proposed this idea I had no idea of the flavours or logistics that would be involved. I didn't know if we would be able to make an edible toothbrush or if it would be more of a real object. Would the paste be mostly a foam or with more of paté? If the paste had body to it would the mouth wash have to be hot to dissolve the protein in your mouth? How would we keep it warm?

It didn't really help that when I introduced this concept to others in the class it was met with immediate disgust. It was really discouraging, I couldn't get any useful feedback, instead everyone just wanted to explain about how personal brushing their teeth felt and how they thought the logistics were impossible. It wasn't until I talked to Barry that I was able to develop the concept any further. We started talking about creating a utensil, edible or not, that would capture some food and you would have to scrape it into your mouth before eating it.

Eventually this idea was scrapped because of time, we forged ahead with the edible ornaments project. I really wanted a jewel like quality to our savoury bites. When Felize proposed this idea to Barry he suggested getting a live tree, unlike the dead branches that I was imagining, his suggestions were for a rosemary topiary or a small pine/spruce/fir/conifer and to pair our flavours with either of those scents. I enjoy how this engages more of the user's senses than just sight and taste. We decided to get a pine tree because it would be easier to track one down this time of year, it would be larger, cheaper and the flavour of pine is more interesting and complicated to try pairing food with.

I immediately started doing research into recipes with pine. Most everyone makes a pine simple syrup. Over the summer, when I was working with some bartenders and we made infused simple syrups and served them in cocktails and over soda water. I decided to use some of the needles from our tree and make a soda for our guests to drink to go with the hors d'oeuvres.

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Here's the syrup before straining.

Continuing on, I found a pear and pine jam in my recipe search. The Finns make a bread with pine bark. My mother suggested looking at recipes that use gin, because gin tastes like juniper which is similar to pine. Steven sent me a great email suggesting about ten different flavours/ingredients, on which I settled with pear, rosemary and vanilla. I made a simple pear marmalade with vanilla extract and fresh rosemary.

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Slowly, our savoury bite was taking form. I wanted to have a piece of chicken breast or thigh in the bite, but with a more attractive form than the meat would necessarily allow, Steven once again came to the rescue and told me about transglutaminase. Colloquially known as meat glue. It is an enzyme that binds proteins together, meaning that you can take a piece of meat, sprinkle it with 1% by weight transglutaminase and shape it as desired and hold it there in that shape for 4 hrs to overnight. After that period of time it will always remain that shape. It's what makes chicken nuggets, but here in a more high brow fashion.

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The last element to pull together was the wrapper. I knew that if people were going to grabbing the bite from a votive hanging from the tree they would need a dry piece to hold onto, no one wants to reach their hands into a wet mass of fruit and meat. We thought of a traditional cracker but ruled it out because when a person reached in with their fingers, they would still be meeting the wet topping first. A puff pastry clam shell around the bite was our next concept, and that how we drew it on the proposal sheet.

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Steven suggested a wonton wrapper, since it's about as basic as you can get for a dough. When we got a hold the wrappers of themselves, we had to come up with a way of baking them in the shape we wanted them to have. Looking through the drawers in McNeal we found a bunch of little beakers that seemed just the perfect size to drape the wrapper over. It took the advice of both Zeta and Kendra for us to get to a desirable texture and colour of our wrappers. Without the brushed milk and oil the were gummy and pasty, not fun to eat at all. Here is one our test batches in the oven:

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Once we got the method down, we went into full production:

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Then we had to fill the cups with the marmalade and chicken

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I had already bought tealight holders from Ax man to use as our vessel, I just needed to make a wire collar on each of to hang them from the tree. I didn't want to bring other ornaments onto the tree, so that people them wouldn't be distracted. I did want to light the tree, casting a warm glow over the food.

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We used disposable cups for the soda, just to make it easier on everyone.
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People seemed quite happy with our presentation at the event, lots of people were very taken with the spruce soda. I heard it described as tasting 'like walking through a wintry forest in the afternoon'. I'm pleased with how this event came to pass, and I'm very glad that I took this class in it's experimental run. I can't wait to come back to it in the fall and help out.

Utensil/Vessel

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We had to create an original utensil or vessel for this assignment. The brainstorming session on that Monday we had in class was just the first step of this process. For that session I had an IDM rate of .89, so pretty high for the 20 minutes. Our prompt was to think of wooden utensils that could be used for Thanksgiving Dinner. My ideas often continued on the same themes, just expanding or contracting the scale. One idea was wooden blinders that could be worn on the face for a more private dining experience for families that don't get along, it became "dining walls' that surround your plate for more space to yourself. It being my first of four brainstorming sessions that I did that week, I was fresh and ready to go.

One of my early ideas was based off a long held pet peeve of mine and my mothers at our Thanksgiving Dinners. We both really like the canned cranberry sauce, but hate the look of it. Those curves and distinctive ridges just scream unnatural and 'came from a can'! I wanted to make a mold in a more attractive shape for canned cranberry sauce. Since I really didn't know if this process was going to work at all, getting the sauce from the mold intact seemed like a challenge, I first made a prototype. This also was a way to give myself a shop primer in some of the tools I haven't used before.

Scrap Pine from the bin meets the chop saw in our first move:
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Add acorn in marker as a rough template of where I will be carving:
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Begin carving with hand tools:
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Keep carving:
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Test depth:
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I carved a little more after this point, filling out the shape and smoothing it down. The wood was so soft that the blunt hand tools were really chewing it up, so I switched to dremmel tool. Patrick from the shop was especially excited about this product, he has the same desire for more attractive sauce. If I had success, he wanted me to make mini molds for people to have individual servings of cranberry sauce on top of their dinner. Once satisfied with the quality of my carving I took it home to meet the sauce.

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Failure.

The roommate suggested trying using a base layer of sugar in the mold, and then laying in the cranberry sauce. Reminiscent of the citric acid/sugar mixture that Diane had me put on some jelly like petite fours, it dried the exterior and made it easier to handle.

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Failure. Again.
I didn't try any longer, I didn't want to waste my time.

It was time to start anew. I wanted to use this project as an opportunity to learn a skill that I would use later in life. I had drawn out a salad serving set in my original sketches, and did extensive product research to figure out the best forms.

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I really liked the positive/negative space play of one of these sets and set out to make something similar. When drawing in my sketchbook I kept on drawing swirls, and swirls is what I drew on the wood. It was only when i cut into it did I realize how magical it looked.

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I got it to a workable shape pretty quickly. The bandsaw and I made light work of the hard maple I had picked up from Youngblood Lumber.
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I really liked the shave. Which I used to smooth down the sharp sides of what I had cut with the band saw. This was easily the most enjoyable part of the experience for me. The shave works so well, quickly, and quietly.
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I had a friend take a little movie of my work with the shave. He said it was the most boring video he's ever taken.

Soon after the hard maple spoon was in a workable state, I started working on a spoon. This one I choose black walnut for the wood. I wanted a stark contrast. I think I got it here.

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And here I have them together! I had a great time with this project. Thanks for assigning it.

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Graphic Cake, Architectural Pastry

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At the onset, this was the most difficult project for me so far.
I had no idea how to approach it after the initial lecture. I was familiar with a lot the principles presented, because they're the elements and principles of art and design: contrast, symmetry, balance, emphasis, shape, form, colour, etc... I've been using these in my daily life and all of my work for a long, long time, it comes from having an art teacher as a mother. But thinking of all of these things as a way to present cake, I was unsure of how to make it creative, original, unexpected.

The Wednesday lab wherein we made the cake with Diane clarified my mind a little. I felt like I had a better footing now that I knew what the cake tasted like. I think often as moving through a series of textures, shapes, forms, touching them as I go by to push for the next idea. Without any sort of tangible basis, I was unable to think about this project in any meaningful way, but that became resolved upon tasting that cake.

Even before Diane showed us what garnishes she had brought to class, I was thinking along the same lines as her. I wanted to emulate a carrot cake almost, with sweet carrot garnishes, possibly apple and other fall flavours.
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Diane cracked open her containers and we had a chance to see a master at work. All of her motions had confidence and grace, and what she put down on the plate was effortless and beautiful. I had a fun time trying to make a cornet with her of the white chocolate mixture, I never did get a proper one.
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That night I happened to go to Tilia again. I went out with my boyfriend originally to go dancing, but we ended up in Linden Hills after we discovered our milonga was cancelled. I asked if Steven was in the house when we arrived, and he came up from the basement to meet us. He made us concord grape seltzers from the grapes that he had just had delivered the last time I had been there. We ordered three courses to share, jerked chicken thighs, the bacon cheeseburger (a must try for the incongruity) and a dark chocolate and orange dessert.

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First off, the flavour of this dish was more than amazing. Incredibly well balanced with extremes in bitterness, sour, sweet without pulling you too far in any direction. It was a dark chocolate cake crumbled between dollops of orange/lemon marmalade with milk chocolate cayenne pepper ice cream. The garnish on top was a candied orange slice. It was cut so thinly that the light shone through it and cast a gem like quality over the whole dish. The plate was arranged with alternating points of light and dark in a crescent on the right hand side of the plate. It seemed fresh and playful, and invited us as diners from other side to partake. I took heavy notes and brought this example in mind for my creations.

During Wednesday lab, Diane invited me to come stage in her kitchen at La Belle Vie, I was overwhelmed by the offer and immediately made plans to take her up on it. I was to come in the next Friday at four and stay until things slowed down. She wasn't going to have me watch only, but work in the kitchen alongside her and her assistant pastry chef, Alex.
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When I arrived, everything started at once. Diane was in a meeting, but I was escorted to the kitchen by the FOH house manager, and given off to Alex. She introduced me to the most important of the chefs back there, and gave me the whirlwind introduction to the line. We rushed downstairs and she showed me the cooler, freezer and locker room. She handed me a chef's coat and told me to meet her upstairs.
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Consider this my obligatory selfie in a chef's coat, in the basement of La Belle Vie

I went upstairs and the real work began, once I got started I didn't stop. I cut chickory/chocolate panna cottas, blackberry gels. I plated petit fours. I made brioche, I cut pears, cubed old brioche. I watched Diane and Alex plate desserts later in the evening. I tried to memorize the elements, analyze the plating and the flavours included in the dish.
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The lessons I learned in that kitchen:
You have to do everything perfectly, and quickly.
Everything must be clean.
Give the diner enough negative space around the edge of the plate, and weigh more negative space towards the front of the plate.
Analogous colour schemes are delicious, but make sure there is some point of contrast on the plate. I really liked the concord grape sauces and amaranth leaves that gave a deep, dark purple to these two plates above.
Curl your fingers to protect them from the knife blade.
Don't. Mess. With Diane.

Seriously, don't get her angry.

The night before our critique I made my cake for the morning. Every time I have made this cake, I've had dramatically different results. This time around one of the cakes came out way under done and the other was fairly flat with a more consistent texture. The egg that I made it with was a surprise in its self.
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I wanted to incorporate the dark purple of La Belle Vie's desserts into my own work. Since I do not have concord grapes or amaranth, I used red wine to achieve a similar colour. I made a red wine reduction that I thickened with a little cornstarch.
I love a full bodied red, and my background in Argentine tango means I often have Malbec in my house.
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I tried to incorporate some wine into whipped cream, I wanted to achieve an attractive colour in the cream. It never happened, for the record. But have some evidence.

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I practiced once again by doing an impromptu plating for some friends during our movie night. I took the slightly failed cake I had made, cut it into rectangles and cubes that eliminated the bad parts. Continuing with the theme I've had for this assignment, no, that's not autumnal flavours with bright points of contrast, that theme would be using what I have on hand. This time around I had marscapone, powdered sugar, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries. I balled up the marscapone, mixed with powdered sugar.

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I made three plates, all with the same elements, but with slightly different arrangements.
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My final was another iteration of the plating I had made in lab before. Carrot, apple, buttercream, rectangles balanced on top of each other. I made the colours brighter, focused on those contrasting moments, looked for height with my garnish and brought my deep purple to the table.

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Amuse Bouche

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Amuse bouche, a term for a bite sized hors d'oeuvre, literally a mouth pleaser, was our assignment this time around.
It is always hard for me to limit my range when I'm excited about an idea, making it quite the challenge to scale myself down to a single spoonful, while being creative and unique and not sparse on flavour. Being encouraged to cook within the flavours of the season was nothing new or difficult for me. I always pay attention to what's in season, what looks the best, is the most appropriate flavour profile for that time of year. Its gotten to the point for me that I crave certain vegetables just before their time of year arrives. It is so tempting to stay within a safe and tested range of what flavours to pair with fall ingredients, so I really took it upon myself to try something new. The last constraint for this project was to gel one ingredient or substance, and this is where I hesitated, being one not too fond or familiar with different gel, custards, puddings, spheres and the like.
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I started in the garden. There's a huge community garden behind my house and I unabashedly eat from it often. I can't abide going to the garden and seeing rotting vegetables on the ground, that's when I intervene. For this project I came home with carrots, beets, black kale, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos. When I went to the grocery store I found acorn squash (one of my favourites), butternut squash, apples. I also took a chance and bought something that I had never heard of before: shiso.

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These beets were especially calling my name. I love beets for their colour. Ranging from deep purple to bright fuchsias, there is nothing quite with that hue. One of my first ideas was to make different versions of the Italian dessert Panna Cotta, since it is one of the only things that I know how to make with gelatin other than Jello. I hate Jello. I had this idealized picture of perfect domes of panna cotta in bright colours, orange for pumpkin or carrot, purple for beets.

This is where the ideation came to my rescue, I made big lists of base ingredients and possible flavour combinations that could be had, out of what resources I had on hand, and what I felt like I could make effectively. This list was long. And well spaced.

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I'm a huge fan out roasting tough vegetables, like the ones I've presented myself with here. The acorn squash ended up in some enchiladas and not into the project. I ended up roasting the carrots too long as well, and subsequently were not suitable for pureeing into a panna cotta mixture, they instead became tasty snacks.

I made a base panna cotta mixture of your typical milk, heavy cream, sugar and gelatin and the added the different variants of ingredients.

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Here lies a sweet pumpkin mixture, it tasted just like pumpkin pie. And why should it not? They're basically the same ingredients.

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I love a pumpkin curry, and here it is in gelatinous dessert form.

The beet root had more process along with it. The beets I first pureed in the blender.

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They didn't have enough liquid for me, queue the milk:

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Then I had to extract the juice from the beet product. This became quite the endeavor. I put the product into cheesecloth and wrapped it up. Then came the careful squeezing.

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Product in the cloth.

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Wrapped and ready, already bleeding.

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Juice in the bowl.

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Juice on the hands.

The resulting tray of beautifully set gelatin masses:
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I wanted to pair these creations with something dry, something possibly warm in the mouth, soft without being a gel. I then brought together a pumpkin cookie recipe, making sure I had baking soda and baking powder in the cookie, for leavening. The first iteration was too flat with not enough flour. The second time I doubled the flour and was pleased with the results.

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They ended up being better whoopie pies than paired with the panna cotta. The flavours were too similar, too familiar, too safe.

I had gotten shiso leaves from the grocery store, simply because they were green and purple, and I had no idea what to do with them, or what they tasted like. I looked up recipes when I got home and found out that shiso paired well with tomato, which I had picked some of from the garden.

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I went to the second seating of the TIlia dinner, and I was incredibly inspired by this meal. I asked how Steven created the spring leek ravioli, he said it was a cream sauce made with gelatin, allowed it set and then when he boiled the ravioli the gelatin broke down again, creating a burst of liquid when you bit into the pasta. I tried the same technique with a tomato cream sauce with shiso.
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We decided in the end that they tasted like restaurant food, but that the wrappers were too gummy to be presentable. I will be making them for my meals at home in the future. The shiso is lemony and light and delightful. I know that now.

This whole assignment was interspersed with lists of ideas for me. Here's a frantic whiteboard list I made before I left the apartment.

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Lists made in my sketchbook:
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IMG_6158.jpgFirst taste test.

I went back to the panna cotta that I had started with and figured out a flavour combination that wouldn't be fall appropriate, safe or expected. In the past I had made a cilantro mint chutney, and loved its obnoxious brightness. I made up a batch.

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I don't think the ingredients could be more obnoxiously green than they are.
When I brought the two elements together, the chutney and the panna cotta I was pleased with the contrast but disappointed in the polarity. They need a bridge, and binding element. I thought of where I most commonly have beets, in a Greek salad. The sheep's milk feta that I got from the Seward Food Co-op was the perfect match, a little burst of bright white on this colour contrasting spoon.

I was confident in the taste of this dish, but not in its appearance. This became exceedingly clear when I presented the dish to my first taste tester. He had a small panic and did a countdown before tasting the spoonful.

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Assignment One, Innovate an Ingredient

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Our first assignment asked us to look at a basic ingredient, I chose white rice, and innovate it. The result has to be novel, have value and exist in a realm of feasibility. White rice, being a plain starch, has the wonderful attribute of taking on any flavour you give it. It can be sweet, savoury, rich and creamy, or sharp and sour.
I am lucky enough to have introduced to many different food traditions, so my first foray into this project was to write a list of everything I've done with rice without listing all the times that I've sat a dish on a bed of rice.

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I decided to make several versions of one of my favourite desserts, rice pudding. I wanted to make versions of the pudding that used flavours from the other food traditions that I had explored. Coconut rice was an obvious choice, since coconut is readily sweet. Spanish paella was also an option on the table, but I decided not to pursue it because of all the seafood and meaty flavours that are so important to that dish. Wanting to get my hands into this project, I made a traditional rice pudding first, making sure I knew the methodology of it.

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After I made this first pudding, I decided to freeze it on a whim. I thought maybe the texture would be soft enough to be eaten like ice cream. I read the section about ice cram and other frozen milk products in On Food And Cooking, and realized how much fat content was necessary to keep it soft while frozen. Not wanting to inject that amount of fat into my recipe, I figured that processing the resulting product in some way would achieve similar results.

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It emerged from the freezer hard as ice, which makes sense. Technology came to my rescue at this point in the form of a blender. After blending the pudding, it emerged creamy and smooth. I was surprised at how much I wanted to keep eating it. I passed it off to a happy roommate for a second opinion, she gave it full marks.

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The second version of the pudding was much the same as the first, just replace the cow's milk with coconut. Over the summer my father became one of the many Americans who are suddenly now allergic to bread. He also realized an intolerance for dairy as well, tough news for a man whose favourite food is pizza. Since these developments in his diet, I have had to become much more familiar cooking with coconut milk.

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Now that I had the (r)ice cream, I needed an appropriate vehicle to serve it, I figured I would make rice flour cookies and sandwich the coconut (r)ice cream between them. I borrowed a grinder and gave my arms a work out grinding the rice down into a fine powder. I ended up making much more rice flour than I used, but it was good to have it around to play with. We'll see what I end up using it for in the future. This stage is where I had to do the most research. I am not familiar with the ins-and-outs of gluten-free baking, so I had to learn about the limitations of rice flour and what I need to add to my recipes to get it to act like a traditional wheat flour. I made a chocolate cookie, since the strong flavour of chocolate would read over the bitterness of the rice flour.

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The actual making of the cookie was interesting. After doing as much reading into the process as I did, I had a good idea of what the mechanics of what I was baking. Therefore I could cook more intuitively than I ever do with baked goods. The first challenge when I was melting the chocolate with the butter is that there wasn't enough liquid. I reached for coconut milk which I had left over from the (r)ice cream and it worked well in a pinch. I kept dividing the batter while I was making it, so that I could test versions of it that had less ingredients, seeing where I went wrong.

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The batter in pan:

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The first version of the batter when baked was not starchy enough, making the cookies more like wafers, and then I burned them. Not a great moment for me during this project.

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The second round of cookies, with more flour, more starch and less time in the oven, turned out beautifully. I was so pleased to see my creation together on my delicate little plates.

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I had a French boy named Thomas try it out as well, he's very pathetic and often needs food. But being French he is naturally very snobbish, so a thumb's up from him means slightly more to me.

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