The Science of Cooking Workshop 2015

WS_Science_of_Cooking_Photos_7.13.15-021.JPGDo you approach cooking as a fun experiment? Do you think of yourself as a "Kitchen Chemist"?

After The Science of Cooking Workshop we walked away with a scientist's mindset and ready to try (and sometimes fail, but keep learning) new ways to turn our food into delicious, nutritious creations.

We started with a quick and easy Focaccio bread recipe and learned the 4 basic ingredients to any bread:

  • Flour - provides the base structure of the bread in the form of gluten, a protein (glutenin and gliadin). 
  • Water - combines with proteins in flour to form gluten.
  • Salt - allows gluten to develop it's structure and adds flavor (TIP: Not enough salt and your gluten won't develop structure, too much salt and it will kill the yeast)
  • Yeast - living, single-celled fungus that eats the carbohydrates (sugars) in flour creating Carbon Dioxide (or as Miranda said "farting out carbon dioxide") which forms bubbles in the gluten making the bread rise. (Note: Yeast strains are specific to an area, what makes bread rise in Pensacola, Florida won't necessarily make bread rise in Durango. But more on that later, See Sour Dough.)

While we put the Focaccia in the oven and waited for it to bake we dove into the molecular changes happening when we cook our food. WS_Science_of_Cooking_Photos_7.13.15-024.JPG


We learned about myoglobin proteins that give steak it's red color. When heat is applied the iron atoms in the myoglobin loose an electron and the proteins lose their coiled shape, making the meat easier to digest and turning the meat brown.

The Maillard Reaction (pronounced "My-yar") and how it gives browned food its distinctive, delicious taste when amino acids react with reducing sugars.

For more info checkout the Grilling Handout
and these links to find out more about cooking the perfect steak:




We also learned that when you fry an egg you are denaturing the proteins. If you slip that phrase out at breakfast beside the eggs and bacon you can just explain to people that proteins are long chains of amino acids that are folded up on themselves and when you heat them up it breaks the weak bonds holding them together and the protein unfolds. As the temp heats up stronger bonds are formed so you can't ever unscramble an egg!

For more on frying, cooking oils, and smoke points see the Frying Handout.


Steaming, Boiling, and Blanching:

Leisha_Lawson.jpgBoiling is cooking food in, obviously, boiling water. 

Steaming also uses heat from water to cook food but decreases the water and food contact which leeches some nutrients.

Blanching involves briefly submerging food in boiling water before being removed and plunged into cool water, therefore halting the cooking process which preserves the texture of food. 

All of these methods make our food more easy to digest though at the cost of degrading or losing some of the nutrients. Steaming is thought to be one of the healthiest ways to prepare your food (TIP: The important thing with any method of food preparation is to not overcook your food thereby losing the most nutritional value as well as taste and texture.)

For more info on the science behind these techniques as well as some cooking hints check out the Steaming, Boiling, and Blanching Handout.


More handouts:

Info on the controversial Microwave Oven and it's pros and cons.

More info on the science behind Baking.


Sour Dough Bread and Starter:

Smelling the sour dough starter...a little sour, a little yeasty.

Actually, living yeast organisms are everywhere, floating around in the air. So if you don't want to buy it at the store you can just catch some, the same way you would catch any other living thing, attract it with food. If you put a bowl of flour and water uncovered out on your window sill (or walk with it through a pizza parlor) eventually some will land and start eating away, eventually colonizing the mixture. In the spirit of science you can think of your flour and water as a petri dish!

Now there are many types of yeast and not all of them taste delicious so once people find a delicious strain (by chance floating in from the window) people want to keep hold on to it. So they keep providing it food (flour) and water and it will go on living. This is the Sour Dough Started, the colonized mixture of flour and water that sits out at room temperature feasting away. As Miranda said "it's kind of like a pet, it's a living thing!"

Once you have your starter you can care for it and spread it amongst your friends as people have been doing for generations! Here are instructions for how to care for your starter:

Sharing the sourdough starter.

Store your starter in the fridge and plan on feeding it once a week. There may be a bit of light amber or clear liquid on top. Either drain this off, or stir it in, your choice; it’s alcohol from the fermenting yeast.

Remove 60% and keep the remaining 40% it should be at least 4 ounces. Use this “discard” to make pancakes, waffles,cake,pizza, flatbread, or another treat. Or, simply give to a friend so they can create their own starter.

Feed your starter by adding a 2:1 mixture of lukewarm water and  flour to the remaining starter (Mix until smooth, and cover. Allow the starter to rest at room temperature (about 70°F) for at least 2 hours; this gives the yeast a chance to warm up and get feeding. After about 2 hours, refrigerate.

If you are not using your starter often enough you freeze it for up to 2-3 months in a plastice bag. Remove as much air as possible

Here are some Sour Dough recipes to get you started.

Let us know your favorite recipes and techniques!

Yum! Foccacia


Science of Cooking Workshop Handout (full)

"The Bread Bakers Apprentice"

"Wild Fermentation"

"The Hungry Scientist"

The Amateur Kitchen Blog by workshop presenter Miranda Martori

We have more great events coming up soon!

Pies in the Garden pie_pic_2.2.jpg
Saturday, July 25th
What pie are you bringing?

Workshop: Wild Wisdom of Weeds
Monday, August 17th
w/ Katrina Blair of Turtle Lake Refuge

Workshop Presenters  

Miranda Martori comes from a family of cooks and eaters, none by trade but all for the love of good food. "Perhaps it is my family's heritage, Italian, that inspires this love. Or perhaps it is simply the consequence of having a large family, with so many bodies the few times we're all together is seated around a table enjoying a meal. Whatever the reason, my family inspired me to cook and more importantly to cook well." 

"This is where the science of cooking  comes in for me. Just like building a table or painting a beautiful portrait we must understand the "why" of what we are doing to do it well. Why do we add eggs to cookie dough? Why must we cook it at that temperature? And why are there so many steps in this recipe? Aided with this knowledge of "why" I am allowed to let my creative spirit wander onto the cutting board and the real fun begins!"

Miranda is the Head Baker at El Morro Spirits & Tavern.

Check out her cooking blog The Amateur Kitchen.

 Leisha_Lawson.jpg Leisha Lawson is a youth educator on science, gardening, and cooking. 

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