ATK Kids

Kitchen Classroom: Week 31

Week 31 of resources to help kids learn in the kitchen—and make something delicious along the way.

Published Oct. 9, 2020.

Welcome to week 31 of Kitchen Classroom, where America’s Test Kitchen Kids is sharing a weekly list of kid-tested and kid-approved recipes, hands-on experiments, and activities paired with suggestions for how to bring learning to life in the kitchen.

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This week, kids will learn all about spices as they make a hearty Beef and Bean Chili, test their knowledge with a pop (tart) quiz while making their very own homemade Strawberry Pop Tarts, find out what secret ingredient gives a Classic Grilled Cheese sandwich the brownest, crispiest crust, and observe how sweet potatoes transform during cooking while making Baked Sweet Potatoes as a simple side dish.

Don’t forget to share what your family makes by tagging @testkitchenkids or using #atkkids on Instagram, or by sending photos to Visit the America’s Test Kitchen Kids website for more culinary content designed especially for kids, plus all of the Kitchen Classroom content in one easy-to-scan location. 

Here’s what’s cooking for the week of October 12th through 18th. 

From left: Beef and Bean Chili, Strawberry Pop Tarts

Beef and Bean Chili

When it’s a chilly day, think chili for lunch or dinner! Kids will learn about the origin of the spices that give this hearty chili its signature flavor and test their knowledge with a spiced guessing game. If you like, you can substitute black or kidney beans for the pinto beans in this recipe. Serve your chili bowls with toppings such as shredded cheese, sour cream, crushed tortilla chips, or chopped scallions. 

What You’ll Need
1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
2 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¾ teaspoon dried oregano
1½ cups chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

Learning Moment
Life Science (Plants)
This chili recipe relies on herbs and spices to pack a lot of flavor into a pretty simple dish. While the chili is cooking in step 5, have kids smell the chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Can they describe how each one smells? Explain to kids that all spices and herbs (oregano is an herb) come from plants. Ask kids: Can you guess which part of the plant each of these ingredients comes from? After they guess, tell them that chili powder is a blend of ingredients that includes dried, ground chile peppers (the fruit of a plant); cumin is a ground-up seed; and oregano is the dried leaves of the oregano plant. 

Tell kids that spices are the dried bark, roots, seeds, and fruit of plants. Some are sold whole and some are ground into a powder. Herbs, on the other hand, are the leaves and stems of plants. We might use fresh herbs or dried herbs. Have kids look through the other spices in your pantry or spice cabinet and observe them up close (this works best with whole spices). Can kids guess what part of the plant each spice comes from? Here are some examples kids can look for:

  • Cinnamon (Answer: bark)
  • Turmeric (Answer: root)
  • Nutmeg (Answer: seed)
  • Black peppercorns (Answer: seed)
  • Cayenne pepper (Answer: fruit)
  • Cardamom (Answer: seed)
  • Ginger (Answer: root)
  • Paprika (Answer: fruit)

Strawberry Pop Tarts

This homemade version of a store-bought favorite from our new book, The Complete DIY Cookbook for Young Chefs, is a great weekend baking project. After making their dough in a food processor, kids shape and cut the dough into rectangles before dolloping jam on half the rectangles and closing the pastries with the remaining rectangles. If desired, kids can top their pop tarts with a simple icing and colorful sprinkles.

What You’ll Need
½ cup sour cream, chilled
1 large egg
2½ cups (12½ ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for counter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled
¾ cup strawberry jam
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water

Learning Moment
Review and General Knowledge:
While their pop tarts are in the oven, challenge your young chef to a quick pop (tart) quiz! The questions below include some pop tart trivia, as well as a few review questions from previous weeks of Kitchen Classroom. See what you can remember! (See the key at the end of the quiz for the answers.)

1. Which of the following was NOT one of the original four Pop-Tarts flavors?
     a. Strawberry
     b. Blueberry
     c. Cinnamon Roll
     d. Apple Currant

2. True or False: Pop-Tarts were invented over 100 years ago.

3. In step 9 of this recipe, you prick holes in the tops of the Pop Tarts. What escapes through these tiny holes? (Hint: Look at Garlicky Skillet Green Beans in Week 17, Fancy Fish in Foil in Week 24, and Fried Eggs in Week 30 to jog your memory.)
     a. Water (a liquid)
     b. Steam (a gas)
     c. Bubbling jam (a gel)
     d. None of the above, the holes just make it look pretty!

4. True or False: In step 7 of this recipe, you add cornstarch to the jam to help it thicken and make it less runny. (Hint: Look at Free-Form Summer Fruit Tart in Week 25 to jog your memory.)

5. When Pop-Tarts first came out, they quickly became the most popular fruit-filled pastry treat on grocery store shelves. Can you guess the name of the other boxed pastry that tried to compete with it at the time?
     a. Country Squares
     b. Toaster Strudels
     c. Fruity-Time Pastry Bites
     d. It’s a trick! Pop-Tarts had no competition when they came out.

6. Math break! This recipe makes 8 pop tarts. If you eat 1 yourself, give 1 to your grandfather, 1 to your cousin, and 1 to your sibling, how many pop tarts do you have left to share?

7. What’s the most popular Pop-Tarts flavor today?
     a. Strawberry
     b. Brown Sugar Cinnamon
     c. S’Mores
     d. Wild Berry

Answer Key:

  1. C. Cinnamon Roll. The fourth original flavor was Brown Sugar Cinnamon
  2. False. Pop Tarts were invented over 50 years ago in 1964
  3. B. Steam (a gas). The fork pricks create vents for the steam to escape from. This helps prevent your pop tarts from exploding.
  4. True. Cooking your jam briefly with cornstarch helps to thicken it.
  5. A. Country Squares. Post brand originally created Country Squares before Pop-Tarts came out. They were a breakfast innovation because they found a way to add fruit to pastry without having to refrigerate it. But, Kellogg’s brand quickly developed their own version and were able to get it into stores before Post’s Country Squares. 
  6. 4 pop tarts are left.
  7. A. Strawberry is the best-selling flavor, followed by Brown Sugar Cinnamon.
From left: Classic Grilled Cheese, Baked Sweet Potatoes

Classic Grilled Cheese

A handful of ingredients are all kids need to make this lunchtime favorite. Kids will learn all about why griddled sandwiches, including grilled cheese, turn brown on the outside—and how to achieve the ultimate crispy crust. This recipe makes one sandwich, but can easily be doubled to make two sandwiches at a time in a 12-inch nonstick skillet.

What You’ll Need
2 slices hearty white or wheat sandwich bread
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (see Learning Moment, below)
½ cup shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

Learning Moment
Physical Science (Chemistry):
After they read through this recipe, ask kids: Why do you think this recipe brushes the bread with melted butter? What do you think the butter will do as the sandwich cooks?

Explain to kids that for the ulitmate grilled cheese, you want the bread to turn golden brown and crispy on the outside to contrast the soft, melty cheese inside. When bread is heated, it undergoes the Maillard (“MY-yard”) reaction, which means the sugars and proteins in the bread interact in new ways, turning it brown and creating its signature toasty flavor. Adding melted butter to the outside of the bread adds even more sugars and proteins into the mix (butter contains both proteins and sugars), promoting even more delicious browning. 

To see this in action, and make an even MORE Maillard-y sandwich, turn this recipe into an edible science experiment.

  • In step 1, have kids brush one slice of bread with melted butter, and the other slice with mayonnaise. 
  • In step 3, start the sandwich cooking buttered-side down. 
  • Have kids keep track of which side is which as they flip the sandwich and transfer it to the cutting board when it’s done cooking. 
  • After cutting the sandwich in half in step 5, have kids flip one half over and observe the two different sides. Ask kids: Did one side of the sandwich turn browner than the other side? (Kids will likely notice that the mayonnaise side turned browner.) Have kids take a bite of the sandwich. Which side is their favorite? 

Explain to kids that lots of us put mayonnaise on the inside of our sandwiches, but it can also help with browning when it’s on the outside of a cooked sandwich. Mayonnaise is made from oil (a form of fat), egg yolks, acid (like lemon juice or vinegar), a little bit of sugar, and sometimes a little bit of mustard. The proteins from the egg yolks and the sugar help spur along the Maillard reaction’s browning and flavor building.

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Kids can enjoy these baked sweet potatoes as a weeknight side dish l or as part of a special holiday meal. As they prepare their sweet potatoes, kids will learn how cooking affects the texture and consistency of food. You can serve the baked sweet potatoes plain or with one of the creamy sauces found in Food for Thought at the bottom of the recipe.

What You’ll Need
Vegetable oil spray
4 small sweet potatoes (about 8 ounces each)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper 

Learning Moment
Science (Sensory Science, Plants):
Ask kids to make a prediction: How will the sweet potatoes change from when they are raw to when they are cooked? What will happen to their texture on the inside of the potatoes? What will happen to the skins on the outside?

As they gather their ingredients, have kids observe the physical characteristics of the raw sweet potatoes, asking them to pay close attention to their texture. Ask kids:

  • What do you notice about the skins of the sweet potatoes? Are the skins tight and smooth or loose and wrinkly? 
  • What is their texture like? Use your fingers to gently press the sweet potatoes. Are they hard or soft?

Before placing the sweet potatoes in the microwave in step 2, have kids use a scale to weigh the potatoes and write down their weights. In step 3, have kids observe what’s happening to the sweet potatoes in the last 2 minutes of microwaving. What do they see? (Kids should see steam escaping from the potatoes.) When the sweet potatoes come out of the microwave in step 4, have kids observe them again. Ask kids: Have the sweet potatoes changed in any way? 

After the sweet potatoes have been baked and cooled in step 6, have kids observe them one more time. Ask kids:

  • How have the sweet potatoes changed after baking?
  • What do you notice about their skins?
  • What is their texture like? Use a dish towel to hold and gently squeeze a potato. 
  • Have kids weigh the baked sweet potatoes. Have their weights changed? (Kids should see that the potatoes weigh less than they did before cooking.) Why do you think that is? 

Explain to kids that there are many different types of sweet potatoes. They can come in a variety of colors that range from a very pale yellow to a deep, dark purple. Some are sweet and moist while others are dry and starchy. The bright orange variety used in this recipe is sweet and moist. In fact, this variety is almost 75 percent water! During cooking, sweet potatoes can lose up to 30 percent of their water as it turns to steam and evaporates. Remind kids that they saw this happening as they saw steam escaping from the potatoes at the end of microwaving. Pricking the skins of the potatoes with a fork gives the steam holes to escape through, leaving behind a creamy, concentrated sweet potato to eat. This is why the potatoes weighed less after cooking than when they were raw.

Take It Further
Life Science (Plants)
Do you have an extra sweet potato on hand? Learn how to sprout your own sweet potato plant indoors to see how they grow by following this video

On sale through October 31, 2020, explore the wide world of spices in the November edition of the Young Chefs’ Club. Use spices—a couple of which are included in the box—in a range of different dishes that are filled with flavor (but no spicy heat!), from Spice-Roasted Carrots to Chicken Fajitas to Chana Masala and even sweet Spice Cake. Explore the scented science of spices in a hands-on experiment. And make spiced popcorn YOUR way with our Make It Your Way Challenge!  
Learn More

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