One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling is the ability to make connections between the dry facts contained in textbooks and real life activities. We spend lots of time in the kitchen anyway, so it follows that we would find ways to apply the concepts we’ve learned in school to cooking.
Kitchen Lesson One: Read the directions and assemble your ingredients and tools. This is known as mise en place, which is French for “everything in place”. Following instructions is something we all know is best, but we often jump into a project without taking the time to read the directions and make sure we have all of our supplies in order. Mise en place is a good habit to form as a preparation for any project.
Kitchen Lesson Two: Adjusting a recipe. When we make pancakes, which is our favorite breakfast, (even though it puts everyone in a carb coma), we usually double, and sometimes triple the recipe. This means the kids have to do the calculations for every ingredient, and re-inventory our supplies to make sure we have enough of each ingredient to do so. They also have to choose bowls of the proper size so that mixing doesn’t result in more batter on the counter than on the griddle.
Kitchen Lesson Three: Understanding the reasons behind the process, and working through it. We are very fond of cookbooks and cooking shows that explain and illustrate the chemistry of cooking. We love Alton Brown and Good Eats, cookbooks by Pam Anderson, and I just found How to Read a French Fry at the local discount bookstore for $1.80. Our favorite pancake recipe is from The Perfect Recipe by Pam Anderson.
Pam Anderson explains, in detail, every aspect of obtaining the perfect light and fluffy pancake. Batter consistency, a skillet heated to the correct temperature, the proper proportion of leavening. . . all contribute to a pancake that either hits your place like a brick or is a cloud of yummy goodness. She tests different kinds of flour, combinations of baking powder and baking soda, and why she uses buttermilk and regular milk to achieve the right amount of fluffiness. Even the addition of eggs and butter is tested in a search for a lumpless batter that produces airy and tender pancakes.
The results is a three step process that would shock the system of any Bisquick fan, but the kids are willing to measure and sift and separate in order to sit down with their plate of perfect pancakes.
Kitchen Lesson Four: The chemistry of cooking. Being avid Mythbusters fans, we prefer our chemical reactions to involve a loud BOOM!, but the exception to that is kitchen chemistry. Cooking is a science that involves the combination of acids, bases, protein, fat and water molecules, and other chemicals such as sodium chloride. The addition of heat also affects the outcome. The alteration in amount or treatment of just one ingredient can substantially change the flavor and texture of your dish.
There are many great resources, other than those already mentioned, for learning about the chemistry of cooking. Check out these links:
The Science of Cooking by Exploratorium.
"A Biochemist explains the chemistry of cooking" in Science Daily.
"What's the chemistry of cooking?" in Science Week.
Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking by Simon Quellen Field