Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cooking for the Classroom

Last Saturday Helen Labun (Discovering Flavor) reviewed some new (and newish) cookbooks for kids that are also useful for teaching subjects beyond cooking. Here's a run down of what we discussed with notes and links to additional information:

Laboratory Science

Exploring Kitchen Science published by the San Francisco-based Exploratorium. This book focuses on scientific principles you can demonstrate via things in your kitchen. . . the experiments may be technically edible, but not all stuff you want to eat. It has lots of classics - the cornstarch solution that's solid under pressure and liquid otherwise, food coloring moved through celery capillaries, Mentos in Coke bottles - and short simple explanations of what's going on. Some experiments do require special equip, but mostly easy to order, inexpensive items. The Exploratorium also maintains a kitchen science section on its website, here.

Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb. This book has many of the same concepts at Exploring Kitchen Science, but with slightly longer explanations of what's going on and chapter-by-chapter groupings that lend themselves to lesson plans. It has more edible experiments than Exploring Kitchen Science but, again, they may not be things you want to eat (for example, cabbage water used in a Ph test). An old version of this book is out right now - an updated version with a more modern look is coming out this summer.

The Lemon Fizz:
(Experiment from Saturday)

Put 4 Tb confectioner's sugar, 2 Tb citric acid powder (available at Hunger Mtn Coop) and 1 Tb baking soda in a food processor and whirr to a fine, uniform powder. This is the British candy sherbet powder - like a Pixie Stick but with fizz (Wikipedia gives a nice run down of all the ways it's used). Added to lemonade or cider it makes a pleasant fizzy drink. It's a more fun version of adding baking soda to vinegar to watch it fizz up. You can take the experiment even further by making a Ph test using red cabbage juice to test for the base (baking soda) and acid (citric acid) and also the Ph resulting from the full reaction of the two. Just grate a red cabbage, let it soak in warm water until the water is well dyed, and pour through a sieve to remove the cabbage. The juice will turn color to indicate acid levels.

The fizzy sherbet powder also has historical tie ins. The search for fizzy water (and there are lots of ways to make water fizz) turns out to be an ancient one, as detailed in this BBC Food Programme episode.

Related Resources:
  • Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is the definitive science in the kitchen tome and would be an excellent reference for any adults working with kitchen science. 
  • The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is a new cookbook that reads like a textbook (that's a compliment), and also goes into the science behind the food. Lopez-Alt focuses on detailing experiments conducted to get a better outcome from his recipes. If you've ever read Cook's Illustrated and thought "I wish they went into even more detail on how they developed the recipe" then Food Lab is for you.
Social Science

National Geographic Kids Cookbook This book is full of little factoids on cooking and culture along with the recipes, arranged by year. The drawback is that it's primarily scattered factoids and difficult to use as an organized reference book, it's more of a skim-through book.

Fairy Tale Feasts by Jane Yolen. This book does a nice job of finding a diversity of fairy tales, some that are familiar and some that aren't, and retelling the story with a recipe to follow. More options than simply baking the gingerbread man. Another resource on using fairy tales in the classroom is our 2014 Author-Educator workshop by Meg Allison "Why Fairy Tales Still Matter"

Kids Cook French / Kids Cook Italian Dual language cookbooks for kids. Recipes are a good starting point for translation, since they're mostly a list of vocabulary words (aka "ingredients") plus simple sentences using a known universe of verbs. Learn culture, language, and cooking skills at once.

Related Resources:
  • International Night by Mark Kurlansky - If you're looking for sample recipes and menus from around the world, this book shares menus (with recipes) that he prepared with his daughter - each country chosen by spinning the globe and cooking from the country her finger lands on. The book is for adults, but the recipes are designed to lend themselves to cooking with children's assistance. 
  • The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman - This book offers a large collection of recipes from around the world, with sample menus. Designed for cooks of all skill levels. It's currently out of print but I believe they're reissuing it (and of course you can order it used).  
Art and Nutrition
An unusual pairing, but it will make sense. . . 

The Forest Feast for Kids by Erin Gleeson. Erin Gleeson is known for her striking food photography and particularly the use of strong color. This artistic sensibility (you can see examples at her website forestfeast.com) lends itself both to arts instruction for kids and to embracing the nutritional advice "eat the rainbow." Gleeson makes the connection to nutrition clear in her introduction, and this book really does make eating a variety of healthy food look enticing. The Forest Feast for Kids comes out this spring and you can preorder it; the longer adult version Forest Feast is available now.

Cooking Experiments: One aspect of Gleeson's recipe style of highlighting one (sometimes two) high-flavor ingredient is that it makes it easy to try out variations on her foods. The Flavor Bible and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible make experimenting with recipes like Gleeson's particularly easy. These books' authors have interviewed well known chefs to find out what flavors they combine together, then they distill these into lists of amenable flavors. So, for example, if you look up "apricots" you'll get a list of ingredients that taste good with apricots and examples of menu items that use apricots in interesting ways. In the workshop we tried Gleeson's Rosemary Shortbread with the addition of powdered bay leaves. It tasted good. If I were to buy one Flavor Bible or the other, I'd choose the vegetarian version (everything goes with bacon! We know that already!)

Related Resources:
Other posts on this website related to food and cooking in the classroom:

    Addendum on Explorers: 

    We promised the folks who were there on Saturday that we'd include these two explorer-related links:

    Now that you've read this far, it's time to change writerly hats-- this is Jane. And I'd like to give a HUGE shout out to the mastermind of these educator blogs, the woman of many hats, Helen Labun, who is moving on (and less quickly than she'd like to as we are so reluctant to let her go!) to make experimenting with food an actual job description. If you haven't yet heard about her new endeavor, be sure to check out Hel's Kitchen on Barre Street in Montpelier. Delicious international food for take-out and unique eat-in dinners with special menus each week. After last week's Indian feast we're hoping Helen will linger on Indian cuisine for a bit. We'll miss you, Helen! (but Jane will most of all!)

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