Additional Math Pages & Resources

Monday, January 24, 2011

Math for Cooking, Part I

The intent of this blog is to show how we can use arithmetic, mathematics and geometry learned in elementary school. That's the kind of math we present in our Excel Math curriculum. I'm not making any promises that you will ever use calculus, trig or other advanced math that comes along later in your higher education.

Last March I devoted a week to food math - or as it turned out - mostly nutritional math. Calories, costs, labels, etc. [Click here to check it out] This week I've decided to tackle cooking math (not eating or nutrition or economic math).

One definition of cook is preparing food for eating by the application of heat, such as boiling, baking or roasting.

This definition implies that we may need to know quantities (of the food and/or people to eat it), temperature (how much heat to apply) and time (duration of heating). We could possibly need to know other numbers, but we'll wait and see about that.

Let's start with a number-free, math-less recipe for a rice dish I prepared last night:

Rice and sweet potato, with coconut and cranberries

Boil water. Put olive oil in skillet. When oil is hot, add Basmati rice. Stir until rice turns light brown. Add sweet potato, coconut and cranberries. Add boiling water, cover and put in oven. When rice is done, fluff and serve.

An experienced cook could easily make this dish using this feeble, math-free recipe. But most people would demand some more information. Here's another version, using numbers everywhere we can:

Rice and sweet potato, with coconut and cranberries 
  • serves 3-4 as a side dish or 2 as a main dish
  • active effort 15 minutes; total time 60 minutes
1 cup sweet potato
1 cup Basmati rice
2 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
4 ounces of dried sweetened coconut
4 ounces of cranberries
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Heat oven to 275°F
  2. Put a skillet with oven-proof lid onto a burner set on medium-low heat. 
  3. Using a separate pot or tea kettle, start heating 2 cups of water to a boil.
  4. When the skillet is hot, add the olive oil or butter. 
  5. After the oil is hot, add the Basmati rice. 
  6. Heat and stir for 5 minutes, or until some of the rice grains turn a light brown color. 
  7. Add sweet potato to the pan along with coconut, cranberries, salt and pepper. 
  8. Stir the mixture to integrate the rice and sweet potatoes.
  9. While continuing to stir, slowly pour the boiling water into the skillet.
  10. Cover the skillet and place it in the hot oven.
  11. Leave skillet in the oven for 40 minutes without opening the lid.
  12. Remove skillet from the oven and remove lid.
  13. Fluff and mix the rice with a fork, and allow to cool slightly.
  14. Serve.
Tomorrow we'll talk about recipes and the measurement units and math involved.

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