Cooking Cheat Sheet

Cooking is math because it is all about proportions. You follow the recipe but are too lazy to use a spoon to measure the required half teaspoon of salt, and suddenly a big ball of salt rolls down into your mixing bowl. What are we going to do??!! Some say that sugar can be used as an "anti-salt" ingredient to compensate for a salty taste, but the real solution is to increase the proportions of the remaining ingredients and invite your neighbors for dinner.

But wait before doubling your ingredients and your guest list to dissolve this extra salt. You may need to triple them! Interestingly, spices and herbs spread their flavor non-linearly. So, when you double or triple your recipe you do not need to double or triple the amount of spices. Expert chefs advise to add only 1.5 of the spice amount when doubling your recipe and two times the spice amount when you triple your recipe. For half a recipe - use 1/3 of your spices. Here is your cooking cheat-sheet:



Frequently we have the choice of stove versus microwave cooking. In the microwave, cooking times grow almost proportionally with the number of items you heat. Most microwave cookbooks advise doubling and tripling the time as you double and triple the heated portions. We have extensive experience with it in our household as a mere suggestion of a hot dog (unfortunately) leads to many "me ," "me too," and even "me two."

On the other hand, when heating in a conventional stove, the initial warm-up time is longer but it will take just a couple of minutes to heat two pizzas rather than one. So, enjoy stove’s “altruism” and feel free to "share a ride" and add frozen fries or chicken nuggets while baking a salmon or a birthday cake. Also, use the heat on top of the stove to defrost the dessert. An additional benefit of stove cooking in winter is home heating. A friend of mine even survived a couple of days with a broken home heater system by periodically heating the oven with its doors open, just like our ancestors with their open kitchen hearths.

So, the kitchen may very well be the everyman math laboratory, where we start a day calculating how long the remainder of coffee beans will last, and finish with the puzzle of how to split an 8-slice pizza among five friends.


Photo by deapeajay. Distributed under Creative Commons license.

Try it at home:
Do you like crispy brownie edges or soft chocolate-rich middle squares? Can you design a brownie pan where all the squares would have at least two edges? Do some brainstorming with your family and then check out this solution and try solving the cheese puzzle: Cheese and brownies

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