Pasta Showdown: Week 5, Faribault, MN

If you ever turn on the TV to a cooking channel, it is more than likely that you will land on some form of a cooking competition. Whether it be Iron Chef, Cake Wars, Top Chef, Chopped, or Shopping Cart Wars,tv  channels are practically littered with timed, high pressure competitions. For our last Young Chefs lesson of the term, we decided to do a spin-off inspired by this trend, creating our own sort of cooking competition for the students.
When the students walked in the door, they were split into three teams. Each team was to create a unique pasta dish using only ingredients that they could buy at a “store” we had set up. At the front of the room, we organized an array of ingredients into three piles. One pile contained the most obscure ingredients such as figs, pumpkin, mango, and vanilla extract. This pile of ingredients was the cheapest—5 dollars. The middle pile contained fairly common ingredients that they may be somewhat reluctant to use. This 10 dollar pile consisted predominately of vegetables such as mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, onions and eggplant. The final pile was the most expensive and had the most desirable ingredients. In this pile they found marinara sauce, cream and various cheeses. Each team got a different type of pasta as a base (orzo, rice noodles, and twisty noodles) and then headed to the store to “shop” for their other ingredients. As they did so, they were forced to be creative and were encouraged to stretch their comfort zones, as there was a limited pool of ingredients and they had certain budget constraints.
Once they had their ingredients picked out, they were faced with the challenge of how to best prepare them and how to determine the ideal proportions of each. For instance, regarding tomatoes, groups debated whether oto roast them, broil them or dice them and add them raw. Similarly, with the onions, they discussed the merits of caramelizing them instead of sautéeing them. As they worked to create their dishes, they naturally pulled upon and applied their range of cooking skills and culinary knowledge, which was incredibly rewarding for the volunteers to see. Perhaps more impressively, they voluntarily applied the scientific concepts that we had addressed earlier in the term. As we caramelized onions, they suggested adding baking powder to speed up the reaction and when we added salt to the pasta water they hypothesized that the salt would  help flavor the pasta. Furthermore, the groups took the idea of culinary creativity to the extreme. After they were done making their pasta, one of the groups decided to blend the avocado, mango, and coconut milk and vanilla together to create a smoothie to compliment their pasta.
When the time was up, we had a buffet of three incredible pasta dishes. One of the groups made orzo with puréed spinach cream sauce, garnished with roasted tomatoes. Another used short noodles and made a sauce with tomatoes, caramelized onions, red peppers, garlic, goat cheese. and mushrooms. The last group mixed the rice noodles with anchovies, eggplant, roasted chili paste, shiitake and baby bella mushrooms, and red peppers. Though many were reluctant to try the unusual ingredients at first, there was ultimately a consensus among the students that the pastas were absolutely delicious. As for us, the volunteers, there was nothing more rewarding than seeing their passion for food, their endless creativity and their budding curiosity in science.

Written by Rebecca Fairchild, ’18

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Starting our Garden! Cultivating plants and minds in Northfield, MN.

Our garden, which is funded by Kitchen Garden Laboratory, is two weeks in the making!

Last week was our first garden class at the Northfield Middle School and we got to meet some of the students who will be the founding gardeners of the first ever middle school garden in Northfield. We began by talking a bit of gardening and the conversation soon progressed to what types of plants to grow—from jalapenos to rhubarb, there were great ideas! After talking plants, it wasn’t long until the conversation hopped to what we we’d want to cook with these crops—pizza, pie, and salads topped the list! Following this brainstorming, it was time to get our hands dirty and plant some seedlings—soon we’ll have peas and beans to snack on!

This week, for our second garden class, we explored the process of planning a garden—square foot garden style. There were three students and it was awesome to have some 1-1 time! Because of this, we were able to stray from the lesson and brainstorm as a team at the beginning of the class. After bouncing ideas back and forth (everything from trellises to solar cells), students designed their own 2×2 raised bed, calculating the number of plants that could fit depending the required spacing. Once the individual square foot beds were designed, we came together as a group and planned a raised bed as a team—using vegetables as stamps to decorate our design! As class ended, our focus turned towards the next big topic—what to call the garden! Such an important decision couldn’t be decided in a split second, so you’ll have to wait till next week to hear more!

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Erin Roth ’16, Young Chefs Garden Director

Hot Tempered: Week 4, Faribault, MN

When you are dealing exclusively with chocolate, it is nearly impossible to go wrong. This week at Young Chefs, we made no exceptions to this rule as we investigated crystalline structure and formation with regards to dark chocolate. As we transformed solid chocolate into its delectable liquid form and back again, we not only developed an understanding of molecular interactions, but we also explored the the complex process of chocolate production.
From a culinary angle, the lesson took no convincing. The kids were ecstatic upon discovering that we would be melting chocolate and then be dipping an array of fruits, pretzels and marshmallows into the sweet, rich product. Before we began the cooking process, we passed around a square of dark chocolate for them to taste and describe. Their enthusiasm was tempered slightly because the dark chocolate was “bitter”, “gross” and was not “normal good chocolate”. Despite this, they were able to describe their samples as creamy, smooth and shiny. These descriptors provided the perfect segue into the science portion of the lesson.
As it turns out, chocolate is a fairly complex substance. Its principle ingredients are cocoa butter and fat crystals. The fat crystals can align in six different ways which means that the chocolate is said to have six distinct crystal states. Each of these states has unique chemical and physical properties including shine, hardness and melting point. Crystal state 5 is a highly ordered state and, as a result, if the chocolate is in this form, it is glossy, smooth and hard. It also melts at 34°C which is a higher temperature than most most of the other crystal states. As it turns out, it is difficult to make chocolate harden into this desirable crystalline structure. To do so, the chocolate must be melted to exactly 34°C, then removed from the heat to harden. If the chocolate is warmed up any more than this, the molecules move too quickly to have order when they are suddenly removed from the heat.
With the goal of 34°C, we began to melt chocolate over a double boiler. As we stirred, we paid close attention to the thermometer. Within a minute, the chocolate reached the ideal point and we removed a spoonful and allowed it to harden. We continued to heat the rest of the chocolate so that we could compare the crystals that from from warmer melted chocolate to those made with 34°C chocolate. As the chocolate heated, we had a chocolate exploratorium. We had a cocoa pod, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, cocoa butter and, finally, a bar of chocolate so that they could see how the chocolate becomes the substance that we know and love. This part of the lesson went over extremely well and the chefs loved tasting the chocolate at the different phases of production.
By the time the exploratorium was done, the two samples of the chocolate had hardened and they were able to compare the chocolate that had been melted at different temperatures. Though the differences in the appearances were subtle, it was clear that the chocolate that had been warmer melted much more quickly on the palm of their hands.
Using the remainder of the melted chocolate, we launched into the best part of the lesson— the eating phase. Using strawberries, bananas, mangoes, raspberries, blueberries, pretzels, marshmallows and pears as vehicles, the students scarfed down the chocolate, regardless of the fact that it was “disgusting” “weird” dark chocolate.

Written by Rebecca Fairchild, ’18

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Caramelizing Creativity: Week 3, Faribault, MN

As one should probably expect, there was a decent amount of skepticism at Faribault this week when we announced that we would be eating onions. Students recoiled at the thought of tasting the strongly-flavored, tear-inducing vegetable. In their raw form, we explained, onions are not particularly appetizing. However, it is possible to caramelize them so that they are sweet and delicious. It was this golden form that we we dealt with this week.
Last week, we used popcorn to focus on the concept of physical changes. To complement this lesson, this week we explored chemical change associated with caramelization. Caramelization is a process in which the long polymers of sugar are broken into monomers, which we perceive to be sweet. This is classified as a chemical reaction, and, for a chemical reaction to occur, molecules must bump into one another. With this knowledge, we asked the students to ponder the effect of heat energy on molecular collisions. Intuitively, it made sense to them that warmer molecules would move faster and bump into each other more; this would make for a faster rate of reaction. Though heat does influence reaction rate, we explained that there are other factors, such as PH, that also impact the rate of reaction. Under normal conditions, onions take a very long time to caramelize. However, with the addition of the a pinch of baking soda, the reaction moves much more quickly. This happens because the baking soda changes the PH of the system and acts as a catalyst for the reaction.
We then broke into small groups to see these reactions play out in real life. To better observe the difference between the catalyzed and un-catalyzed reactions, we heated up two pans of onions— one with baking soda and one without. As the reaction was underway, the students remarked at how the onions with baking soda were so much more yellow and got softer much faster than those without the catalyst. While the onions cooked, we moved on to the part of the lesson that required a little more culinary creativity— omelet making. With the caramelized onions, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, jalapeños, spinach, avocado, mushrooms, goat cheese, cheddar and feta, the omelet options were virtually endless. The students seized the possibilities and each group ended up with a delicious and entirely unique creation.
This term, we have been having trouble with having enough students to make the program effective. In order to address this issue, we enlarged the pool  that we were working with to include eighth grade girls in addition to the boys. Though there was noticeably more chaos in the room, it was refreshing to once again have the degree of energy and enthusiasm for the program. Furthermore, the girls that were new to Young Chefs were fascinated by the science and thrilled by the cooking. In fact, they talked about it enough after the lesson was over that apparently the seventh grade girls are becoming jealous. Though their addition does take the program in a slightly different direction, as volunteers we are extremely excited to see the culinary creativity that will naturally arise from having a larger group of students.
As the large combined group grinned as they devoured their omelets, it was clear that the chemical transition associated with caramelization wasn’t the only effective transition of the day. Like the polymers in the pan, the students’ opinions of onions were reshaped and, likewise, the dynamic of the group was rewritten in a promising and exciting new way.

Written by Rebecca Fairchild, ’18

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Young Chefs Launches Mobile App Development

Smartphones and tablets are increasingly used as educational tools in classrooms and homes, providing new ways for experiential learning. Young Chefs is now jumping on the bandwagon. We are partnering with the CS342 class at Carleton (Mobile App Development, led by professor Jeff Ondich) to develop our lesson plans on an iPad platform. Soon, our curriculum will be available for students to snap photos, take notes, do experiments at home and in school, all with the guidance of an interactive tablet interface. The beta version will be available in June. Stay tuned!