You’re slowly losing your mind trying to home-school all day and cook a million meals. Enter edible science experiments — two birds with one stone! Don your teacher and chef hats at the same time for a meal that will engage the entire family. These recipes/science experiments come from Diana Chen, a science teacher and mom of two (who also happens to be my sister).
Have you ever tried mixing oil with water? They don’t like to stay mixed. If you want to sound like a scientist, you might say that they are immiscible. Immiscible liquids like the vinegar and oil that make up our salad dressing will settle back into layers if we allow them to sit. That’s why we have to give it a good shake, then quickly pour it over a plate of greens.
Steps: For a simple vinaigrette, mix ½ cup olive oil and ¼ cup balsamic vinegar. To add flavor, take a pinch of minced garlic and shallot and a teaspoon of honey and Dijon mustard; dump everything in a jam jar; and shake vigorously.
Fresh butter tastes waaaay better than anything you can buy. It is so easy to make: just shake heavy cream for a long time. Milk contains emulsions of butter. Butter, like oil, doesn’t normally mix well with water. In an emulsion, these two substances will not separate if left standing. This is because the bits of butter are held in the watery milk mixture by proteins in the milk. When you agitate the mixture, it causes the clumps of butter to stick together. Heavy cream is the part of the milk that is skimmed off the top. It contains the highest concentration of the butter that we need.
Steps: Pour heavy cream into a jar and add a marble. (You’ll end up with roughly half the amount in butter when you are all done.)
Shake until your arms cramp, and then continue to shake. After a while, you’ll stop hearing the marble. This frothy stuff is whipped cream. But keep going. You shake for a very long time and then, whoosh! The buttermilk separates, and you’re left with butter.
Scoop up the solids and enjoy as sweet cream butter, or add a little salt or herbs to taste.
Shaking by hand is a great way to keep your child labor occupied. But I am lazy (and I have lazy children) so we use an immersion blender instead. A handheld whisk or a fork will also do the trick.
The main course
What makes burgers so tasty? It’s a bit of chemistry, actually. When we apply high heat to protein, a series of chemical reactions occur that end up turning meat brown and flavorful. This reaction is known as the Maillard reaction, named for the scientist who discovered it.
Steps: Add the spices you like to ground beef. Roll into flat, round disks and grill until desired doneness.
Ice cream in a bag
Do you ever wonder why we sprinkle salt on the pavement in the winter? Adding salt lowers the melting point. In other words, it makes ice melt at a lower temperature. When we place a salted ice mixture next to our ice-cream concoction, the heat energy from the ice cream is transferred to the salted ice, melting it. As heat energy is removed, the ice cream freezes.
Steps: Add 1 cup milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Zip into a quart bag. You can experiment with flavors by adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract, a scoop of your favorite jam, a dollop of honey, etc.
In a gallon bag, add lots of ice (enough to fill most of the bag) and about ½ cup of salt. Place the milk mixture into the gallon bag along with the salted ice.
Shake until your ice cream freezes. Add sprinkles and enjoy!