ATK Kids

Kitchen Classroom 2021: Week 1

Resources to help kids learn in the kitchen—and make something delicious along the way.

Published Jan. 1, 2021.

Welcome to week 1 of Kitchen Classroom 2021, 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 can cook dinner (that’s also a small science experiment) with Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Chimichurri Sauce; make Olive Oil Cake while learning about the different types of oils commonly found in the kitchen; take charge of breakfast using our recipe for French Toast for One; and discover where salt comes from (and grow their own flaky salt crystals) in Be a Salt Farmer. 

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 January 4th through 10th, 2021.

From left: Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Chimichurri Sauce, Olive Oil Cake

Kids Cook Dinner: Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Chimichurri Sauce

Put kids in charge of family dinner this week! This simple chicken recipe teaches kids how even a 30-minute brine in saltwater can change the flavor, and the texture, of meat. (See the Learning Moment, below, to learn how to turn this recipe into a simple science experiment by brining just two of the four chicken breasts.) Save any leftover Chimichurri Sauce to drizzle on eggs, cooked veggies, and more. To round out the meal, these chicken breasts can be served with our easy Baked Brown Rice and/or Garlicky Skillet Green Beans.

What You’ll Need
For the Chicken:
2 quarts water
½ cup table salt
4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the Chimichurri Sauce:
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Learning Moment 
Physical Science (Structure and Properties of Matter, Chemical Reactions):
To learn more about how a brine works, kids can turn this dinner into a simple science experiment! 

  • In step 2 of the recipe, have kids place only two of the four chicken breasts in the bowl of brine, keeping the other two plain and refrigerating them separately on a plate. 
  • When placing the chicken breasts in the pan in step 6, have kids keep the brined chicken breasts on one side of the pan, and the unbrined chicken breasts on the other (make sure to keep track of which side is which!). 
  • Cook as directed, and place the brined and unbrined chicken breasts on two separate plates to serve (kids can label the plates with “brined” and “unbrined” using masking tape or sticky notes to keep track of which are which). 
  • Then, have everyone in the family try some pieces of both types of chicken and discuss what they notice. How are the brined and unbrined chicken breasts different from each other? What do tasters notice about the flavor and texture of each sample? Which sample is each person’s favorite, and why?

Share with kids that in the America’s Test Kitchen Kids Recipe Lab, we did a blindfolded taste test of unbrined chicken breasts versus brined chicken breasts. Our tasters agreed that the brined chicken was juicier and more flavorful than the unbrined chicken. Salt transforms chicken in two ways.

    1. Salt adds seasoning: Tiny molecules and ions (such as the salt dissolved in the brine) naturally move from places where there are a lot of them to places where there are fewer of them. This is called diffusion (“di‑FEW‑shun”). The brine contains more salt than the chicken. As the chicken sits in the brine, some salt moves from the brine into the chicken. This makes the chicken taste saltier and more seasoned.
    2. Salt makes meat juicy: Water moves from the brine, where there’s a lot of it, to the inside of the chicken, where there’s less of it. This process is called osmosis (“oz-MOE-sis”), and it makes brined meat juicier than unbrined meat. But water alone doesn’t make meat juicy—salt helps, too. When salt in the brine travels into the chicken, it changes the shape of the proteins in the meat. This helps the chicken hold on to its water, even after cooking, and makes the meat more tender. 

So, the next time kids cook chicken breasts for dinner, make sure they leave time to brine!

Weekend Project: Olive Oil Cake

While your young chefs might be familiar with using olive oil in savory recipes, they might be surprised to know that it adds a surprising boost of flavor to some sweet baked goods, too! Extra-virgin olive oil contributes to this cake’s light, fluffy texture and its delicate flavor. Sprinkling sugar on top of the cake before baking gives it a crackly, sparkly top.

What You’ll Need
Vegetable oil spray
1¾ cups (8¾ ounces) all-­purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1¼ cups (8¾ ounces) plus 2 tablespoons sugar, measured separately
¾ cup extra-­virgin olive oil
¾ cup (6 ounces) milk

Learning Moment 
Science (Structure & Properties of Matter):
Your young chef might be surprised that they’re baking a cake with extra-virgin olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Help your young chef set up a taste test to explore the differences between these two types of oils–and any others that you have on hand, such as toasted sesame oil. 

  • Ask your young chef to make a prediction. Which oil will be the most flavorful? Which oil will be the least flavorful? While an adult gathers the oil samples, your young chef can get a glass of water and some plain crackers or bread to eat between sampling each oil. 
  • To set up the taste test, put 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil into 1 small bowl and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a second small bowl. Before placing the 2 bowls in front of your young chef, ask them to put on a blindfold so that they can’t see what the oils look like. 
  • Ask them to take a tiny taste of the vegetable oil. They should smell it, swish it around in their mouth, and think about the flavor. Ask them to describe what they notice. Does the flavor or the smell of the oil remind them of anything? Tell them to sip some water and eat a little bit of their cracker or bread before moving on to the extra-virgin olive oil. 

After they’ve sampled and rated each oil, reveal to them which oil was which. Were their predictions correct? Are they surprised by their results? Baked on this taste test, why do they think vegetable oil is usually used in baking? (It doesn’t really have any flavor, so it allows the flavors of the other ingredients to shine through.) What does the extra-virgin olive oil in this recipe add that vegetable oil cannot? (It adds a special and unique flavor to this cake—­many people describe it as peppery and grassy.)

If you have any other oils in your pantry, such as toasted sesame oil, hazelnut oil, or avocado oil, have kids smell and take a tiny taste of those. What do they notice about their flavors? What kinds of recipes do they imagine using these types of oils in?

From left: French Toast for One, Be A Salt Farmer

Cooking For You: French Toast for One

Kids can use easy pantry ingredients to make their own special single-serving recipe for French toast. It’s simple enough to make on a weekday morning, but delectable enough to serve on the weekend. Serve French toast with maple syrup, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon sugar, butter, and/or fresh fruit.

What You’ll Need
2 large slices hearty sandwich bread
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut in half
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt

Learning Moment 
Math (Measurement & Data):
Explain to kids that we use time to measure how long something lasts. It’s especially important to keep track of time when you’re cooking! A second is a very short amount of time—it takes just a few seconds to process something in a blender. A minute is equal to 60 seconds—it takes about a minute to whisk together ingredients in a bowl. An hour is equal to 60 minutes—it can take about an hour to make a batch of cookies. Ask kids to predict how long it will take to toast the bread in step 1 of the recipe. Then, have them use a watch, clock, or timer to measure how many minutes and seconds it takes for the bread to turn into golden-brown toast.  

In this recipe, kids have to keep track of time as they soak their bread slices in the egg mixture and cook their French toast in the skillet. As they’re enjoying their French toast, have kids practice converting different units of time.

  • You soaked each piece of bread for 20 seconds on each side. How many total seconds did you have to soak each bread slice? (Answer: 40 seconds) If you had to soak 6 slices of bread, how many seconds would it take altogether? (Answer: 240 seconds) How many minutes would it take? (Answer: 4 minutes)
  • You cooked each piece of French toast for 3 minutes on each side. How many minutes did you have to cook them in total? (Answer: 6 minutes)  How many minutes would it take to cook 3 batches of French toast? (Answer 6 minutes x 3 = 18 minutes) How many batches of French toast could you cook in 1 hour? (Answer: 1 hour = 60 minutes; 6 minutes/6 minutes per batch = 10 batches)

Kitchen STEAM Lab: Be A Salt Farmer

In this activity, kids will learn where salt comes from and then see how beautiful, geometric salt crystals form in real time. This activity requires only a few minutes of set up, but kids will need to wait 24 to 48 hours to observe their results and harvest their salt crystals.

What You’ll Need
¼ cup distilled or filtered water
2 tablespoons kosher salt

Learning Moment 
Physical Science (Structure and Properties of Matter):
Salt is a key ingredient in almost every savory dish we eat. Salt has been used by humans for thousands of years both to make food more flavorful and to help preserve it. Ask kids if they know where salt comes from. Have kids measure out a pinch of salt and observe it. (This is a great time to use a magnifying glass, if you have one.) What do they notice about the salt’s appearance? What color is it? What shape is it? If you have more than one type of salt at home, such as kosher salt or flake salt, have kids compare different types of salt crystals. How are they different? How are they similar?

Explain to kids that all salt comes from the sea. Some salt comes from the ocean and some comes from underground salt deposits left from ancient oceans that dried up millions of years ago. As explained in the “Food For Thought” section at the bottom of this activity’s page, when salt is mixed with water, salt crystals dissolve into tiny ions. When dissolved ions find one another they cling together, like puzzle pieces and fall out of the solution, which forms salt crystals. Salt is harvested from sea water by evaporating the water and harvesting the salt that is left behind, just like kids can do for themselves in this activity! If kids would like to learn more about salt they can check out this video (more appropriate for older learners) or this one (more appropriate for younger kids).

On sale through January 31st, the February edition of the Young Chefs’ Club brings the delights of a diner breakfast into your home kitchen. This month’s diner-ific recipes include DIY Breakfast Sausage, Breakfast Sandwiches, and Lemon Buttermilk Flapjacks, inspired by the Palace Diner in Biddeford, Maine. Kids can also discover how egg whites and egg yolks cook differently in a simple experiment, learn three ways to cook bacon, practice making fresh orange juice, and tackle this month’s Make It Your Way Challenge: Omelets! Finally, they’ll create their dream diner using our colorable, creative poster.   
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