The kids — now aged five and nearly seven — have some interest in cooking. After all, they see one parent or the other making dinner daily, usually with some narration. Once they’re old enough to hold a paring knife and not cut off their little fingers, I’ve been herding them both into the kitchen for odd jobs like chopping mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers. Recently I’ve started trying to explain principles to them as well — like what can you do with an egg. Fried or scrambled is familiar to them, and I’ve started explaining why a boiled egg can be soft- or hard-boiled (and playing with the kitchen timer to show them how). Recently we moved a step further with separating an egg and making meringue from the whites and custard from the yolks. Kitchen chemistry at its best.
This weekend the “kid’s science corner” in the paper (with Dr. Zeepaard) had an item on “gummy cheese”, which they made with milk and vinegar — warning that it’s inedible. That prompted me to go looking for edible recipes, which are of course paneer and its cousins ricotta and the like. Some recipes for paneer call for vinegar — it’s a little random out there on the web. In any case I wonder why the paper added that warning.
We went for a lemon-juice based paneer, bringing three-quarters of a litre of milk to a boil (in retrospect I should have kept it cooler, around seventy degrees) and then adding half teaspoons of lemon juice until the milk curdled. This was quite remarkable to watch, as the transition from milk to curds and whey went quickly. One minute it looks like milk, the next it’s lumpy and watery — then add one more half teaspoon of lemon for good measure, cut the heat, stir, strain, press and serve. The curds need to be strained out of the mixture. I discarded the whey. I suppose I could have made fake Rivella as well or boiled some rice with it, for full use of the ingredients. The whole process yielded a lump of white gummy stuff — very little lemon taste — about the size of my fist. The kids didn’t like it much, because they’re more into aged goat cheese, but as a first excursion into this kind of chemistry I think it was a success. With soy sauce and coriander leaves it was great.
There must be a movement somewhere striving for awareness of ingredients and participation in basic foodmaking — any tips? (Of course, such a movement would be very much tied to Europe; when I lived in Yemen my mom made this kind of stuff regularly if only because you couldn’t get cheese otherwise so then there’s no real point to emphasizing it)