Assignment #4

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Step 1: idea generation.
I liked the exercise we did in class generating ideas in the round table setting. I came up with about twelve ideas. They were
1. A bowl that had the insides etched with a leaf pattern on the inside.
2. A cutting board with a whole on one end that could go over the garbage.
3. A bowl with chalkboard paint on the outside so when passing around a big group you could initial after you'd had a serving.
4. A pie dish that looked like a crust so you could serve "gluten free pie" or only pie filling.
5. Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of a wishbone when placed together.
6. A long board centerpiece that had special ceramic hot pads built into it so you don't have to put a bunch of individual hot pads all over the table.
7. A bowl that was textured like cranberries that could hold cranberry sauce.
8. A ladle that can stand up on it's own. Square bottomed.
9. A two piece centerpiece that goes around a candle holder with ceramic hot pads built into it.
10. A whisk with a handle fitted for a fist that has individual prongs good for gravy whipping.
11. A gravy boat in the shape of a turkey drumstick.
12. A casserole in a wooden shape for hearty salads.
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This left me with a lot of ideas and not a whole lot of direction. I sat down again later in the week to flush out a couple more ideas (why they are a good idea, and what in the market is like them) and come up with some others.

1. Square Ladle - This idea appealed to me because at my job as a waitress the ladles are always rolling everywhere and getting things soupy. With this tool it would stay put and not make a mess. In my research I didn't find anything like what I had in mind.

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2. Good Grip Carving Fork
This one came to me after having some real difficulty carving a chicken. I tried using a regular fork to hold it steady and it was nearly impossible to keep the extremely hot poultry in place. I've also used traditional carving forks, and these only get one small vantage point with their sharp skinny prongs and handle, and rip huge holes through the breasts of the bird. I wanted a handle that had less wiggle room with a good grip, and sharp but wide prongs for carving stability.

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3. Leaf Hot Pad
This sprouted from the idea of making a bowl with etchings of leaves. I thought this would be a really cool accent to any autumnal table, and I figured a hot pad would be a lot easier than a bowl. The leaf hot pad was more decorative in my mind, and I thought it could turn into a neat accent piece.

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4. Cutting Board with Drainage.
This one also came out of the chicken carving debacle. When I was carving the bird, hot juices got all over my kitchen. I imagine with a turkey this would only be multiplied. I figured if there was a way that the juices could collect and drain, it would be easier to keep the mess to a minimum.

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So now I had four great ideas. I eliminated the leaf etched hot pad, because although pretty, I thought it was too basic of an idea. There are a million different types of hot pads out there already, and no one sees them because they are covered by dishes anyways. I nixed the cutting board for similar reasons. I've seen cutting boards with little moats around the edge, and they usually end up overflowing anyways. So now I was between the square ladle and the good grip carving fork. I went in and talked with the guys in the wood shop. They told me that if I wanted to make the square ladle I would have to be very precise and measure things exactly. I have basically no woods experience, and wasn't really confident enough in my ability to pull that off well. The carving fork however I knew I could make look "primitive" and "rough" and it would still be cool. I decided to go with the fork. I went home and did some more sketches to show the wood shop guys my idea and get their advice.

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This shows the rounded prongs, the rounded handle, and the indent that I wanted to make for a good thumb grip opposed to the straight and skinny traditional carving fork:

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The wood shop guys said my first step was to sketch the shape onto a board and cut it out with a band saw. I did just this. I flipped it on it's side to trim the tips into points. Then, on the big sanders I sanded down the edges so they were a little rounded. After the first day, it looked like this:

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The next day I went back. To make the indentations in the handle I wrapped my had around the fork as if to stick it into something to carve and traced my thumb and the line of my pointer finger. I used hand carving tools to hollow out these areas. Then I sanded down the whole tool with a hand sander and finally fine grain sand paper. When I was finished I was really happy, but something was missing. Last minute I decided to make a serving tool to serve the meat, because it always seems awkward to move meat from the plate with the knife. This way, the fork and scoop can be passed around with the meat tray and no one has to worry about a sharp knife. Using my scrap wood, I followed the same pattern as to how I made the fork. Finally, I wrapped the tips (the parts that touch food) in paper and taped the handles. They got a coat of spray paint. After drying I rubbed the tips with mineral oil. Here is the finished product:
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Assignment #3

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The plate as a canvas is an interesting concept. I knew at the beginning of this unit, that it would also be my most challenging. I think I can easily create a dish that is tasty, but it is harder to create one that looks as good as it tastes.

My initial strategy for this dish came out of necessity. I grabbed the first things in my fridge, some lemons and some eggs. I looked at the ingredients for a long time and thought how can I present these in an unusual and visually pleasing way? What could I do that would be unexpected. Making it a dessert added an extra challenge. The first sweet thing I thought of with eggs? I could make meringues! Ok, how could I use the rest of the eggs? Aha! Lemons and egg yolks = lemon curd. Now how could I put these together interestingly. For some reason, reconstructing the egg as a sunnyside up egg looks really tickled my funnybone. I decided to center my dish around this look.

My first sketches looked like this: sketch1birdsfood.jpg
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After these initial sketches it was time for the experimentation day. I had developed my idea a little further along playing off the pun of the "egg" to include a nest out of shredded apple and lemon zest.

Luckily, I happened upon a really cool mold during the experimentation day. I decided this would be much better than the free form meringues I had originally planned. The finished round blobs looked like this: meringuesfood.jpg

Also during the experimentation, I consulted Diane Yang about how to make my dish better. She suggested using a peeler or mandoline for the "nest" part of my dish. This would create a greater impact visually, she said. I found that she was correct.

After my experimentation day, I did another round of sketching:
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One other crucial change that came out of experimentation day, and is shown in the sketches is the shape of the cake base. I played around with different circles and geometric shapes shown here:
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Of course, the most visually pleasing cake presentation ended up being the simplest circle cookie cutter shape. It fit perfectly beneath the meringue "egg."


When I went to the store to pick up my ingredients, I decided to switch my "nest" of apples to something else. I was really struck by the beautiful autumnal colors of some very special red pears, and some very bright persimmons. These colors are so much more vibrant, and add a lot more to the plate.

When I was practicing plating at home, I decided, on a whim, to try plating on a deep navy blue plate of my roommate's. It turned out to be a great contrast. I noticed these new orange and red ingredients were all in the same color wheel side. This looked very comforting, but I wanted to give it a pop. I decided to add a splash with some fresh spearmint leaves.


Trials and tribulations

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It all came down to the cooking marathon in my tiny studio apartment. I had my basic concept. Potatoes three ways -- mashed, fried, and a skin chip. (After some more revision I decided the potatoes fried with the bacon would be equally as delicious and more efficient than roasting them separately in the oven.) with a bacon, onion, apple topping, and a sour cream blob with sodium alginate. After some more brainstorming I decided to infuse the blog with a powdered cheddar cheese mixture and some chives to give it a little kick. Now I just had some things to decide. What kind of apples would be the best in the mixture. I cooked two batches of bacon and onions. One with Granny Smith apples, and one with the softer McIntosh apples. 20131015_164350.jpg
Here are the apples cooking with some red potatoes frying in the middle.
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I also had to figure out the best method for cooking the potato skins. I boiled all the potatoes, some of them I peeled before hand, and other I peeled after they were cooked. This resulted in very different textured chips. The ones that were raw cooked slower, and were much thicker. Some of the skins from the boiled potatoes were to thin, and became greasy. My favorites were the skins that held on to some of the meat from the boiled potatoes. They were crispy, not too dense, and tasty.
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Clockwise from the bottom that's the raw chip, the boiled chip with some potato meat, and the skin only chip.
After the mashing some potatoes and adding some butter and cream, I realized they were a bit bland. I added a splash of smoky paprika that I thought would play nicely with the bacon and apple flavors.
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I created my alginate blobs by mixing together chopped chives, cheese powder, and sour cream. Here is the process:
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The last thing I had to figure out was how to arrange my components on the spoon to create the perfect bite. I had initially thought I wanted the mashed potatoes on the bottom to stick the whole thing together like so:
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After arranging the rest of the ingredients however, it looked WAY too messy:
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I tried arranging the mashed potatoes and the fried potato side by side with the chip sticking in the mash and the apples, bacon, and onion arranged in the back, but this looked too disjointed.
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I realized that It would look best to spread the mash on the fried potato on top of the onion bacon apples with the sour cream blob on the side. Here is the finished product:20131015_180144.jpg

Sketching it out.

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I now knew I wanted to do a play on a baked potato, but I needed to figure out how to make this both a novel flavor combination, and really tasty. My first thought was a mashed potato filled dumpling, kind of like a polish pierogi. My family has been making these for years, and we always serve them with the traditional toppings of bacon and crispy fried onions. The smell of this dressing alone fills the house with an intoxicating aroma. I knew this unbeatable combo was pretty plain, so I thought if I dressed it up with some apples to add a pinch of sweetness to the bite, it could be really great. 20131015_194909.jpg
I also wanted to add another textural element to make my bite more interesting. I thought the sour cream blob could contrast really interestingly with a crispy potato chip like topping. I thought I could use the skins of the potato filling for this. After thinking about it a little longer, I realized that it would be extremely time consuming to make a dumpling dough in the allotted time, and still have enough time to finish the external elements. I revised my sketch so the middle bit was a roasted potato instead of a mashed potato filled dumpling. I switched it so the roasted potato was sitting on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes and topped with the crispy skin chip. 20131015_194922.jpg

A change of plans.

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After our lab on Wednesday, I was really inspired. Being more of the old-school-cookery-school, I was expecting to be turned off by our lab experiments. I don't like gelatinous textures very much, and sometimes I think some of those elements are more for show than for flavor, but I was pleasantly surprised by the sodium alginate yogurt bubbles. I thought this wacky science experiment like food manipulation was just weird enough to be intriguing, but still kept the integrity of the flavors of whatever was in that bubble in tact. During the lab I mentally scanned the contents of my fridge for inspiration for my dish. I had a half tub of sour cream from a cake that I had made earlier in the week. I thought about sour cream and what I could serve with sour cream blobs. My immediate thought was baked potatoes with various toppings and sour cream. This would work out perfectly with the seasonality element of the challenge, and I had some beautiful red potatoes and russets that my parents had given me a while back. Now I just needed to figure out how to make a perfectly plain potato something special.

Seasons of Minnesota.

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Seasonality is such a crucial part of flavor. I think in a place so seasonally driven like Minnesota, we develop even more sensitive palates to things like fresh vegetables and fruits. I'm lucky enough to have parents who are avid gardeners, so when we received this assignment, I knew their produce would be just the ticket to kickstart my brainstorm. First I made a list of all the things that are in ample supply this time of year in the garden:
-Tomatoes
-Potatoes
-Apples
-Squash
-Pumpkins
-Onions
-Various herbs
I knew I wanted to steer clear of the pumpkins, because I find them often much to sweet to play with flavors unless they are a traditional accompanying dessert such as pumpkin pie. I also thought they would be pretty difficult to deal with in terms of logistics. (Carrying around a 10 pound gourd on the campus connector isn't really my idea of a great time.) I liked the idea of potatoes, but I think they are sometimes too starchy and bland for an amuse course. I decided to start experimenting with a sort of fresh tomato salad and baked squash The first dish I made was a classic Mediterranean salad. It was a mix of diced tomatoes, red onion, fresh basil, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. I threw in a couple black beans to add a little protein, and I served the whole thing with a wedge of simply baked yellow butternut squash. I baked it at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes with a little bit of butter and salt and pepper. I thought for my amuse I could maybe serve the salad in a ring of mashed squash (this could be my change of texture). After sampling the dish, I realized that although the salt and acidity of the salad were intense it was no match for the sweetness of the squash. I decided to scrap the squash component all together. Now I just had to figure out a way to change some element of this dish to a different texture, and figure out a more novel flavor concept.20131014_200855.jpg
Leftover squash and tomato salad.

Working out the nitty gritty.

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Now that I had my inspiration, I had to figure out how to innovate my dish. I thought I could pick one of my favorite rice dishes, and sort of blend the two. I picked sizzling rice soup. I knew this would be a challenge, and probably taste delicious. My taste test night didn't go exactly according to plan. I only set the smoke alarm off once though! The broth would essentially be the same as the stew recipe, but I decided to strain it, making it more like the clear Chinese broth that traditionally comprises sizzling rice soup. I decided to use baby eggplants for a more visually pleasing plate. I cooked to slices, and then set one aside and added one into the broth to continue to cook. I decided that although I lost the cool sear marks when I added it to the broth, the tenderness and flavor depth was a fair trade off. Alright, that was settled now on to the sizzling rice. I knew with our time constraints this was going to be a challenge. The rice not only has to cook, but it then must be spiced and baked, and then deep fried to achieve that perfectly crispy/chewy/sizzly thing. I tried two batches. One was baked longer than the other and then fried in canola oil over coconut oil. I settled on the coconut oil. It can get hotter without smoking, and cooks the rice in a nicer way. It also gets a little less greasy. At the last minute in the super market I picked up a pomegranate. I don't know if this is a traditional Persian, but the pop of sweetness and acid was a delicious addition.View imageView imageView image

Inspiration Strikes!

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Last week I finally got inspired by a recipe sent to me by a friend. I made this Persian chicken and eggplant stew and served it over a spiced jasmine rice. It was so delicious, I knew it would be the basis of my dish. View image

The best rice dishes I've ever had.

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When we were given the assignment of innovating rice or orzo, I instinctually chose rice. For me, pasta is simple -- boil, add pasta, drain. I ate pasta endlessly as a teen and it remains one of my favorite foods. However, rice is my untrained stallion. I can't quite get a handle on it, but I love to eat it. Some of my favorite rice dishes I've ever had in no particular order are:

Spanish rice with seafood -- Valencia, Spain.
Arroz con pollo with lemon and crispy chicken skin at ABC Cocina -- New York, NY.
Baked chicken legs in dirty rice hot dish-- Mora, MN
Yellow rice and black beans at Brasa -- Minneapolis
Sizzling rice soup at Shen Hua -- Berkeley, CA.
Shrimp tempura onigiri -- Nagoya, Japan

As I looked at the list, it hit me that these dishes have a lot in common. The rice component in every dish is cooked in some kind of juices or animal fat (with the exception of the onigiri). I think this is a good jumping off point for my recipe development and testing. Until next time --