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Minn. author's new book teaches kids the 'science' of cooking

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Science & Technology News

EDINA, Minn. -- The timer beeped, and Liz Lee Heinecke handed her 13-year-old daughter, Sarah, two oven mitts. Her latest science experiment was ready.

Sarah opened the door of the oven and took out a silvery pan containing the result of a chemical reaction that demonstrated how heat turns water into steam: popovers.

Heinecke plucked one of the eggy rolls from a large muffin tin and tore it open so steam shot out of it. Then she slathered on a bit of butter and took a bite.

"Edible science," Heinecke said with her mouth full.

Her popovers -- airy buns that rise without a leavening agent due to the steam that forms when putting liquid batter into a hot pan -- represent only one recipe in a book full of ways to teach kids about scientific principles, while also making dinner.

Heinecke is the author of "Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: Edible Edition" (Quarry, 144 pages, $22.99). It's the Edina author's fifth book that helps parents utilize common objects found in the home to educate kids about chemistry, biology, botany and more. While her previous books' lessons yielded more crafts and playthings -- glue-based slime and self-inflating balloons, for example -- her latest book contains step-by-step instructions with edible results.

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"Cooking and baking are science," Heinecke said in her kitchen while she waited for the popovers to rise. "Once you understand the basics -- you can add an acid and it makes it taste a little sour and brings out the salt -- it becomes second nature. So then you can say, 'I know this experiment is going to work.'"

A living room end table stacked with books has her favorite, "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" by Samin Nosrat, on top. Where that book dives deep into the principles of each of those four aspects of cooking, so does Heinecke's, but on a pint-sized level. Every recipe includes a sidebar where Heinecke explains "the science behind the food."

She discusses tomatoes' chemical properties that give them their color and flavor alongside a Marcella Hazan recipe for tomato sauce. Gluten's elasticity is the topic in a recipe for pizza dough, and emulsions are demystified in Julia Child's recipe for beurre blanc. Young cooks working their way through the book aren't just learning how to make a dish; they're learning how cooking works.

"I think it's good for kids to do stuff like this, because then they're not afraid of tackling recipes," she said. "You know, 'You can do anything.'"

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