Category: cooking

Hot – Edible Sugar Science (Weekly Unplugged Project)

comments Comments Off on Hot – Edible Sugar Science (Weekly Unplugged Project)
By , August 11, 2008 7:19 pm


Finally, here is my hot post that disappeared into the ether last night. Thanks so much to Julie K in Taiwan, Angi and Nature Mama for having the brilliant idea of emailing me the post from their Google Readers. That saved me at least an hour of rewriting! I was so down on computers this morning, but this evening I am uplifted by the fact that three people I have never met in “real life” can help me out! Thank you!!! Now, on to the post:


The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was hot. Finally, we managed to get back on schedule and do it, although we broke away from our usual craft project and went in a more scientific direction.

While away this summer, I found a number of good books in my Dad’s favorite thrift store (he’s a packrat too). One is called Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb (more about the book at the end of this post). While we were trying to come up with hot ideas, my 7 year-old daughter picked up this book and wanted to choose a food-related project. We decided on Caramel Syrup: Sugar Decomposes from the Kitchen Chemistry chapter.

Older children will find this scientifically interesting and fun to do. Younger kids will enjoy the end result!

The goal of the experiment is to teach about chemical compounds and how they can sometimes be broken down into completely different substances. Although I always liked science in school, I am not a chemist so forgive me if I am not 100% perfect in my description.

Since I am a terminal nerd, I didn’t trust the book’s very simple explanation, and actually researched sugar and how it decomposes. I learned that sugar and its breakdown process is rather complicated. (If the mysteries of caramelization keep you awake at night, then read this.)

I tried to keep it 7 year-old simple and explained to my daughter that sugar is actually carbon and water fused together. When you heat sugar, it breaks down into its original carbon and water elements. I showed her the scientific formula for table sugar (sucrose): C12H22O11 . She already new that H2O was water and could see that in the formula. After I explained that C meant carbon, she saw the carbon and water in the formula.

Heating the sugar would cause it to become watery (the release of the water) and dark (the carbon). It would no longer really be sugar.

What we needed – sugar, water, a heavy frying pan:

First my daughter poured half a cup of sugar into the frying pan:

We heated the sugar over medium-high heat and my daughter stirred it:

After about 5 to 10 minutes, the sugar started to melt:

As my daughter continued stirring, the sugar melted further and began to darken and become very watery:

Finally it turned “straw-colored” and we had transformed our sugar into a new substance – caramel. We turned off the heat and slowly added half a cup of water in order to create a runny, edible solution. I did the pouring as the caramel was so hot that it steamed and spattered:

The shock-cooled caramel formed a brittle sort of candy-lump that we just had to taste:

My daughter continued stirring the mixture on low heat for about another ten minutes – until the big caramel chunk dissolved into a solution:

This is what we ended up with: a delicious carbon-water mixture that we ate over ice cream!


If you haven’t heard of Science Experiments You Can Eat and you have scientifically-inclined children (or you homeschool), you might want to check it out of the library. Ours is an old version (1972), but the new one is supposedly revised and updated. I haven’t seen the new one, but our book has the following chapters about the science of food: A Kitchen Laboratory; Solutions; Suspensions, Colloids, and Emulsions; Carbohydrates and Fats; Proteins; Kitchen Chemistry; Plants We Eat; Microbes; and Enzymes.

If you did this week’s hot Unplugged Project, please put your link in Mr. Linky below so we can all find you. If you didn’t, please read how to join in, and consider doing next week’s project.


Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:


Have fun!

Idea: Kids Cooking – Dinosaur Pancakes

By , May 19, 2007 8:00 am


Kids cook idea: dinosaur pancakes. These fun molds (and other shapes too) are widely available from cooking stores and catalogs. They make cooking fun for kids. And of course a dinosaur pancake tastes MUCH better than an ordinary round one.

No, The World Does Not Eat Mac & Cheese

By , March 27, 2007 10:04 am

While we are on the subject of picky eaters, I want to feature a cool book that teaches kids that the world does not revolve around mac & cheese. I have already written a post about this book, but since it is SUCH a great book, I thought I ought to write about it again.

The book is called Let’s Eat: What Children Eat Around the World (author Beatrice Hollyer). Each chapter features a child from one of five countries: India, France, South Africa, Mexico and Thailand. Through text and numerous colorful photos, we see a bit of their daily lives and the food involved, as well as a festival or a special day involving food.

At the end there are also five easy recipes, one from each child: Condensed Milk Tart (South Africa), Tomato Salsa (Mexico), Thai Fried Eggs, French Chocolate Cake, and Coconut Sweet (India). None of these is shockingly exotic, but some might introduce a bit of a new taste to American palates. Reading a chapter of this book and then cooking the corresponding recipe could be a fun “Kids Cook Night” activity.

An added bonus: all royalties go to Oxfam, so by buying the book, you are actually helping children and families around the world too!

PS: “Great Diaper Challenge” update: Sorry we have not started yet. The baby is suffering from some sort of gastrointestinal bug so I thought it best to wait until her digestive tract and her mood have returned to normal before we try out the new gDiapers!

The Cure For Picky Eaters!

By , March 26, 2007 9:42 am

I never planned on having picky kids. Before my first child was born I decided I would introduce her to French cheeses, garlic, and strong spices right away. When I lived in France I watched little French toddlers devouring Camembert and Brie as if it was peanut butter, in fact they thought peanut butter was a disgusting concept! Therefore children learn to eat what they are given. Therefore, my child would eat EVERYTHING! Right? Wrong. I had not anticipated food allergies: milk allergy, egg allergy, nut allergy. I was forced to abandon my French cheese toddler diet and my children became PICKY.

However, today I am going to share a secret. This may not be a secret to some of you, and as usual, I may just be way behind the times. But…I have just figured out how to get my picky kids to try and to actually LIKE new foods! My secret? Let them cook it themselves.

It all started several months ago. I was making crepes for dinner one night and the children wanted to “help.” I grumbled to myself because, as all seasoned moms know, it is always easier and faster to do things yourself than to accept “help” from the kids. But, I was in the mood to try and be a Good Mom that night and I put them to work. Much to my surprise, we actually had fun!

Cooking for me has become such a necessary evil. I no longer take pleasure in cracking an egg or stirring batter. It is simply a daily task to be accomplished as quickly as possible so that I can move on to something more fun. It sounds awfully sappy to say this, but that evening I was able to rediscover the magic of cooking through their eyes. Children are so excited about every new experience, even those that are quite boring and mundane to us grown-ups. My kids loved every task, every smell, every texture of our crepe-making adventure!

Since then, we have been trying to do a “Kids Cook Night” as we call it, once a week. At first we just did crepes. But lately we tried a Rachel Ray recipe of pasta with ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, garlic, and broccoli. Saturday we made a creamy Tarragon Chicken recipe in the Crock Pot. The children announced that they wished we could eat Tarragon Chicken every night. That is when I had the epiphany: My kids would not have eaten the ricotta cheese pasta or the Tarragon Chicken if I had made it.
Of course I won’t tell them, but I think we shall gradually try more and more exotic dishes and see what happens. If I find a good recipe that I fear they will not eat, we will have it for the first time on a “Kids Cook Night!”

The “Kids Cook Night” is actually quite fun for all of us, plus I figure that if we do this once a week, by the time they are teens, they should be really good cooks. Maybe I could get them to cook ALL the meals! And clean the house…and do the laundry…

Thanks to and photographer Scott Liddell ( for this yummy photo!

Panorama Theme by Themocracy