You Can Thank Science for Helping You Cook an Awesome Thanksgiving Dinner

Loosen your belts boys and girls, because we are approaching Thanksgiving, the day where diets and portion control cease to exist. To make things a bit easier for you, I have compiled some tips on how to make your Thanksgiving dinner a winner. And how do we do this? With science of course!

Turkey
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When it comes to cooking turkey, the star of your Thanksgiving dinner, you have to make sure your bird comes out moist, tender, and flavorful. First thing to know is the cooking style and time depends on the parts of the turkey you are cooking. If you are going Ren-Fest style and just serving up turkey legs, a longer cooking time at a low temperature would be better to allow the tissue to break down slowly. However, if you are just serving up a turkey breast, it can be cooked at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time since there is not as much tissue as is in the legs.

Now I am going to assume that you are a Thanksgiving champion and are cooking the whole turkey. Here’s what you should do to make a winner winner turkey dinner:

  • As mentioned above, the breast and legs have different cooking times, however if you are cooking the whole turkey, this isn’t really an option. However, there is a way you can help differentiate the cooking times before putting your turkey in the oven. “Take the bird out ahead of time and let the legs warm up a little bit while you keep the breasts covered with ice packs. That way, you keep the breasts cold. The legs warm up by maybe 10, 20 degrees, and that way, when you put the bird in the oven, you’ve already built in a temperature differential. The breasts are going to end up, at a given time, less-cooked than the legs.“ – NPR- “Delicious Turkey Tips From Food Scientists
  • We have all had that dry, chewy turkey before, and I don’t know about you, but I would rather not repeat that experience. To help your turkey maintain its moist deliciousness, soak your bird in a saltwater solution prior to cooking–aka brining. Brining helps loosen the structure of the muscle fibers and increases the turkey’s water weight, these steps combined result in tender and juicy meat. Check out Butterball’s brining guide to find the correct brining time for your turkey.
  • If you are roasting the turkey, cook it on an elevated rack a few inches off the bottom of the pan to allow the heat to circulate evenly around the turkey. If your turkey is resting on the pan, the heat will not be able to fully circulate resulting in an unevenly cooked bird.
  • Have ever cut your turkey (or steak, too) while it is hot and seen the juicy deliciousness seeping out? Well, sorry my friend, but you are watching the flavor leave your meat. When your meat is still hot, the juices are still flowing and have not rested into the fibers yet. Therefore, you should allow your turkey to rest prior to carving. The rest time depends on the size of your turkey and can be anywhere from 5-20 minutes. Letting your bird rest will also make for easier carving.

Sides

  • Green beans
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    Blanching green beans brings out their vibrant green color, but you may have noticed that their color dulls over time. This is “a result of the chlorophyll molecules losing their magnesium ions in the heat.” To stop this, shock the beans with an ice bath immediately after they finish cooking.
  • Pie 
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    Who knew the secret to a flaky, yet easy to work with crust was vodka? When rolling out pie dough, water is often added to form a more cohesive crust that is easier to place into the pan. This is fine up to a certain point. Adding too much water will activate the gluten development causing the dough to lose its flakiness. However, vodka will add the extra moisture you need without activating the gluten development. (Don’t worry your pie crust won’t taste like vodka.) Source – Live Science
  • Stuffing
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    While cooking stuffing in the turkey is tradition, you may want to rethink that. Most stuffing mixes contain eggs which need to be brought up to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill the bacteria. In order for the stuffing temperature to reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit, you risk overcooking the turkey and drying out the meat – not cool. Instead cook the stuffing on its own and serve it on the side or add it to your turkey platter after the turkey has been cooked.
  • Rolls
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    Rolls are one of the best parts of Thanksgiving in my opinion, but making it is not. If you’ve had homemade rolls you know there is nothing that you can get out of a box, carton, or frozen package that compares to the delicious fluffiness of homemade rolls. No one has the time, especially on Thanksgiving, to endlessly knead bread. Unfortunately, kneading is a necessary step in the break making process to “break down existing bonds and form stronger, straighter gluten sheets.” However, you can save your hands five minutes of kneading thanks to autolyse – i.e. let the dough rest before kneading (about 20 minutes). The resting time allows for the existing bonds to break down on their own. 

    Now get ready Thanksgiving, because we are coming for you!
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Chemistry in the Kitchen: The Science Behind Ice Cream

Legend has it that the Roman emperor Nero discovered ice cream. Runners brought snow from the mountains to make the first ice cream.

Making ice cream at home is easy – no mountain marathon required! Just read the instructions below and enjoy your very own homemade ice cream.

ice-cream-bowl
 Creative Commons LicensePhoto Credit: Jessicafm

Materials:
Sugar
Milk
Vanilla
Rock salt
Pint-size baggies – heavy duty
Gallon-size baggies – heavy duty
Measuring cup
Measuring spoons
Spoons

Procedure:
1. Fill the large bag about ½ full of ice.  Add 6 tablespoons of rock salt to the ice.

2. Put ½ cup of milk, ¼ teaspoon of vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of sugar into a smaller baggie and seal.  Put this inside another small baggie and seal.  This will prevent saltwater from seeping into your ice cream.

3. Place the double bagged small baggie into the larger baggie and seal.

4. Shake the baggie until you have ice cream. 

5. Remove the smaller baggie from the larger one.  Wipe off the water, then open it carefully and enjoy your ice cream! 

UPDATE: Check out our Science of Ice Cream video to learn more!

Chemistry in the Kitchen: The Science Behind Butter

stick-of-butter
 Photo credit: booleansplit

People have been enjoying the rich and wonderful taste of butter for more than 6,000 years.  Archaeologists have found pounds of ancient butter buried in the peat bogs of Ireland.  Butter is still made in essentially the same way as it has been for thousands of years.  Roll up your sleeves and make butter like the ancients!

Materials:
Heavy whipping cream – you can buy this at the grocery store
Crackers – any kind you like
Salt
Cheesecloth
Clean baby food jar
Butter knife

Procedure:
1. Fill your baby food jar about ½ full with whipping cream.
2. Add a pinch of salt for taste.
3. Seal the cap on tight.
4. Shake your jar up and down vigorously.
5. You will notice that soon you will have a creamy substance that we know as whipped cream.  You’re not done yet!  Keep shaking!
6. Soon you will have a clump surrounded by a liquid.  The clump is your butter and the liquid is buttermilk.
7. Drink the buttermilk if you like, it’s full of protein.
8. Place your butter in a piece of cheesecloth and squeeze the excess liquid out.
9. Use your butter knife to spread your creation on crackers and enjoy!

Background:
When milk straight from the cow is left to stand it separates into skim milk and cream.  The cream rises to the top.  The cream is full of proteins and fat.  When you shake the cream and agitate the fat globules, they stick together to form butter.  The leftover liquid is called buttermilk and it is full of protein. 

Interested in learning more about cooking and the science behind it? BEYONDbones will be bringing you The Science of Food - a series of videos exploring the science involved in the culinary creations of some of the best chefs in town. Its all part of Big Bite Nite on April 30, an event featuring food from over 30 restaurants all in one location – HMNS.

Crickets: Trick or Treat? Let your little one find out at Tricks, Treats, & T-Rex!

Why would you bother Trick-or-Treating for the same old boring candy? Aren’t you exhuasted from the same old M&Ms, Snickers Bars, and Sour Patch Kids? Do you like a good crunch with nutty overtones? Perhaps you have a love for adding the element of slow-roasting to your main dish or maybe you just like the smell of good old fashioned food coming from your oven! Have you ever thought of adding a little cricket to your crock pot or putting some grasshopper in your gazpacho?

A cricket is looking at you
Creative Commons License photo credit: fdecomite

Throughout human history, bugs have been a traditional source of protein. Did you know that hamburger is roughly 18% protein and 18% fat? Cooked grasshopper is 60% protein and only 6% fat! Shrimp and lobster are also considered arthropods; other creatures that share that phylum? Try insects and spiders – Yummy!

Taste for yourself… or better yet, let your kid do it for you! This Saturday from 10am – 2pm, HMNS is serving up bugs for food at Tricks, Treats & T rex – try our “Cajun Crispy Crickets,” or “Chirpy Chip Cookies”…mmmmmmmmmm Mmmm!

We wouldn’t leave you hanging on all of the other fun stuff happening here – you also get to see Mad Scientists perform crazy chemistry demonstrations, you get to touch real brains and eyeballs, and best yet -your ticket includes a show to a world-renowned illusionist, Steve Wallach! It’s a heck of a deal for $5 (nonmembers) or $4 (members)!

When you purchase your tickets you also get the opportunity of purchasing tickets to Dinosaur Mummy CSI at the group rate!