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Create a Hot Chocolate Bar Your Kids Will Love

Dec-21, 2020

two mugs of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows beside chocolate squares and twisted pastries

Well, the weather outside may be frightful, but the holiday season can be delightful! As the weather gets colder, we enjoy winter activities like sledding, snowball fights, making snowmen, and, of course, warming back up after all these outdoor pastimes with a mug of hot chocolate!

Hot chocolate or cocoa is a traditional winter beverage kids love. It's sweet, chocolate-y, and the inclusion of marshmallows and candy canes make it one of the rare foods you're allowed to play with. What could be better?

Since we're on a quest this year to make the holidays extra-special, let's take a look at a way to make this winter tradition an unforgettable, over-the-top experience: The Hot Chocolate Bar!

Much like a s'mores bar or a charcuterie board, a hot chocolate bar allows the family to make their hot chocolate their way, with toppings, flavors, and snacks to suit anyone's tastes. Let's build the ultimate hot chocolate bar, one element at a time.

Step 1: The Cocoa

Hot cocoa is traditionally made one of two ways, either by adding cocoa powder to hot milk or water, or using chocolate syrup instead. Hot chocolate mixes can also be used rather than cocoa powder alone. While these are all good options for a typical hot cocoa, today we're going a step further, and that means crock pot hot chocolate!

The crock pot, or slow cooker, has many awesome uses in the kitchen. For your hot chocolate bar, it's the vessel that you make and serve the beverage out of, keeping the leftovers at the perfect temperature for a second cup. In the slow cooker, you can combine milk or cream, sugar or sweetened condensed milk, and real chocolate to melt together into a decadent mix. Using the slow cooker also means you can add spices like cinnamon sticks or chili powder. You can make it as spicy, rich, light, or sweet as you want!

Another option is the hot chocolate bomb. These adorable orbs are usually made of chocolate and filled with surprises like marshmallows, edible glitter, and more. When gently placed into heated milk, the chocolate melts, revealing the contents within. Kids love these trendy treats! You can make or purchase a special chocolate bomb for each member of the family based on what they like most. Or, you can set a random assortment that the family must choose off the bar, creating some tension and anticipation to see what comes out when the bomb breaks open!

Step Two: The Toppings

Whether you choose marshmallows or whipped cream, hot chocolate requires some sort of topping that will melt into the steaming liquid. With a hot chocolate bar, you don't have to choose, you can have both! You can whip your own cream with a hand or stand mixer, or surprise your kids with flavored gourmet marshmallows. A little extra effort can have a sweet payoff.

Now, let's get really over the top, literally! Consider adding syrups like caramel, chocolate, or mint to drizzle over your cup. Dust with pumpkin pie spice, toasted sugar, or cocoa powder for a bitter bite. Layers of flavors make those first sips all the more special!

Step Three: Sweet Snacks

You can't have hot chocolate all by itself on a hot chocolate bar. Let's bring on the snacks. Just like with coffee, hard and sweet baked goods like biscotti, gingerbread, or shortbread are perfect for dunking. A little fruit salad can also be both a compliment to the taste of the chocolate while cutting through the creaminess with bright and tart flavors. Or go old school with pound cake, banana bread, or chocolate chip cookies. You can even set your hot chocolate bar up like a fancy tea time with scones and jam, finger sandwiches, and petit fours. Whatever you think would be the most special for your family. The best thing about the bar set up is that you don't have to choose; you can include them all!

Step Four: Get Personal

Maybe your family isn't big on drinking milk, or you need to limit your sugar intake. No problem! You can adjust your hot chocolate bar to reflect your dietary concerns. Use almond or coconut milk in place of regular milk as a delicious substitute. In fact, you might want to do this anyway, as too much lactose can be hard on sensitive stomachs. Consider sugar substitutes like agave nectar or sucralose.

Perhaps hot chocolate itself isn't really a tradition in your family. That's fine, too! Set up a hot chai or tea bar instead, with a sweet and spicy blend you and your kids will enjoy, with sweet snacks reflective of your culture. Bond with your kids as you share your cultural heritage through food.

This season, take a moment to reflect on how you can create special memories for your family. Though we may be going through difficult times, we're doing it together, and that's worth celebrating!


Three Classic Kitchen Science Projects

Oct-12, 2020

kid scientist, child scientist, science experiment, beakers with liquid, science

Due to the social distancing because of COVID-19, families have been finding new and creative ways to turn their homes into everything from a school, to a playground, to a movie theatre. Today, we're going to talk about turning your kitchen into a laboratory. Opportunities for learning are everywhere! So, let's take a look at 3 classic science experiments you can do with ingredients you probably have in the kitchen right now!

Baking Soda Volcano

This is probably the most classic, often made, and iconic kitchen experiment of all time. Made by combining baking soda and vinegar, this experiment uses a chemical reaction to simulate the raw power of an erupting volcano.

Mixing baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, with vinegar, or dilute acetic acid, transforms these two substances. The molecules mix together and create carbon dioxide gas (the same gas we produce in our bodies when we exhale) and liquid water. The gas separating out of the baking soda and vinegar combining is what makes the explosion, much like boiling water when the steam escapes the surface tension of the liquid water.

Kids love this experiment because it gives them permission to be as messy as Mother Nature herself! Baking soda volcanoes are the definition of making learning fun. Of course, a real volcano has a lot more going on than a simple chemical reaction. You can read more about volcanoes in our blog post, Five Facts About Volcanoes.

Invisible Ink

The favorite experiment of aspiring sleuths, creating invisible ink can make any child feel like Enola Holmes or Harriet the Spy. Invisible ink has been made by different cultures for hundreds of years, and there are many recipes. The easiest to try first can be made by mixing lemon juice and water, which dries clear and only appears when heated.

When lemon juice is subjected to heat, like the ambient heat of a lightbulb, a process called oxidization happens to the juice. This causes the juice to turn brown and your secret message becomes visible. Siblings can have tons of fun hiding secret messages to each other around the house, or leaving notes for friends in common spots around the neighborhood. It's a great excuse to get up to some parent-approved mischief!

Oobleck, or Cornstarch Quicksand

Subscribers to our YouTube channel are already familiar with cornstarch quicksand. This fascinating experiment creates a substance which is often called "Oobleck,” named for the strange green substance from the classic Dr. Suess book, "Bartholemew and the Oobleck." Because of this, people traditionally mix a few drops of green food coloring into their cornstarch quicksand to match its literary counterpart.

Cornstarch quicksand is defined as a non-Newtonian fluid, referring to the scientist Isaac Newton. Non-Newtonian fluids behave both as solids and liquids depending on how they're handled. Oobleck can pour like a normal liquid, but when exposed to pressure, it reacts like a solid. Small batches of Oobleck can be hit with a hammer and not move. For a bigger experiment, an entire wading pool can be filled with Oobleck and kids can experience the strange sensation of walking on top of a liquid. There are tons of other fun things that can be done with Oobleck, so whip up a batch and start playing!

We hope your little scientists-in-training have some fun with these cool kitchen experiments!


Breakfast Solutions: Frozen Breakfast Sandwiches

Sep-28, 2020

bagel sandwich, breakfast, eating out, breakfast on the go

Is there any food item more versatile than the sandwich? The portability, the versatility, the customizability? That Earl of Sandwich sure knew what he was doing the day he put a piece of meat between two slices of bread. Since that day, sandwiches have traveled the world and evolved to suit anyone's taste, spread across cultures, and have the power to turn exotic flavors into approachable experiences. On any given day, about half of all Americans are eating a sandwich for at least one meal. And for many of us, that meal is breakfast!

Fast food companies have made a push in recent years to add breakfast to their menus, providing many convenient and tasty options to our morning routines. Unfortunately, this can also lead to an excess of calories and spending. Can we think of a better solution? Of course we can!

DIY frozen breakfast sandwiches are the perfect alternative to the drive thru or the dubious box of egg sandwiches at your local grocery store. If your family is running around every morning, making a plan to meal prep a week's worth of tasty frozen breakfast sandwiches will save you time and money. Plus, reheating these sandwiches is a breeze, and a great way to give kids a taste of responsibility, since they're usually awake before we are!

Most breakfast sandwiches use scrambled egg as a base, plus an extra protein of your choice. Vegetables like onion, mushroom, and spinach are all healthy additions to the breakfast sandwich, usually with a slice of melted cheese on top to hold everything together. If prepared with minimal butter or oil, a breakfast sandwich can be a surprisingly low-calorie option, and provide enough protein to keep your kids full and focused until lunch time. We've spoken before about the importance of a balanced meal, so keep those ideas in mind as you put your sandwich together.

How to Make a Frozen Breakfast Sandwich

Preheat your oven to 325°F/165°C. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, salt, pepper, and other spices you like to put in eggs. You can also add a liquid like water, milk, half and half, etc. However your family likes their scrambled eggs will do. Pour the mixture in a greased baking tray and cook until eggs are set, about 18-22 minutes. Feel free to undercook a little, since the eggs will be reheated later. When eggs are set, cut into squares and place on your bread of choice. English muffins tend to be a favorite, but you can try bagels, croissants, or rolls. Next, add your other proteins and vegetables, and optional hot sauce if you prefer a little kick. Cover with cheese and then top the sandwich with the other half of the bread. Compress sandwich slightly so that the individual items on the sandwich seal themselves together.

Now we're ready to store. Wrap each sandwich individually in parchment paper or tinfoil, or both! Be sure to label each sandwich based on ingredients or the names of your family members. Store all sandwiches in a resealable bag for up to 1 month. When ready to reheat, move the individual sandwiches from the freezer to the fridge to thaw overnight. In the morning, unwrap and reheat the sandwiches using your preferred method. If using the microwave, wrap sandwiches in a moist paper towel. If using the oven or toaster oven, simply leave uncovered. Making and reheating these sandwiches can be a collaboration between family members, and is a great way to give older kids an easy chore they'll be happy to complete.

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Tags Family Food

Why Are There So Many Types of Dogs?

Aug-31, 2020

dogs, big dogs, small dogs, poodle, puppies

There are so many breeds of dogs that's it's hard to think of them all as the same species. In fact, there are estimated to be about 339 recognized dog breeds in the world. So, what does it mean to be a "recognized dog breed?"

While all dogs are the same species, Canis lupus familiaris, and share a common ancestor, the Canis lupus of Central Asia, they have changed and evolved from thousands of years of living with humans. Different dog breeds developed as their owners bred their dogs to encourage certain traits, behaviors, and physical characteristics. Some breeds of dogs have existed for a long time, but most are fairly recent, only a few hundred years old. Organized groups of people began to form who bred dogs, whether for a living or as a hobby. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), or World Canine Organization, is considered the authority on dog breeding, but there are other respected organizations like the American Kennel Club and the Westminster Kennel Club, who hosts the famous annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

These days, opinions tend to be mixed on dog breeding. Some argue that many dog breeds have changed too much with time and will only continue to change, negatively effecting future generations of dogs. Some people say that, given how many stray dogs and dogs looking to be adopted there are in the world, we should focus on finding them fur-ever homes instead of creating more puppies. On the other hand, people who like dog breeds would point out that dog breeding has allowed for so many different types of dogs to suit any family and any lifestyle, meaning every person can choose the dog who has literally be designed for them.

Dogs have been with us as companions for over 10,000 years. They enrich our lives, teach responsibility to our children, protect us when in danger, provide comfort and support to the disabled, and so much more. It's easy to assume that dogs will stay by our sides for the next 10,000 years, perhaps following us as we venture out into the solar system and beyond. What forms do you think our furry friends will take? We'll just have to wait and see!

Want to learn more about dog ownership? Check out our series "What's Pup!" over on the Best Brains YouTube channel!


The Science of S'mores

Aug-24, 2020

s'mores, food, dessert, camping, sweet treats

In addition to their yearly cookie sales, the Girl Scouts are also responsible for another iconic treat: the s'more! First published in 1927, the s'more recipe has remained a favorite for backyard barbecues, camping trips, or any place where you can safely roast a marshmallow.

Believe it or not, there's a lot of science that goes into this classic dessert. Let's take a look at what makes a s'more so irresistible.

Part 1: The Graham Cracker

It may surprise you to learn that the sweet cracker with the perfect snap was originally created as a healthy biscuit for vegetarians way back in the 1800's. The two flavors that make graham crackers so distinctive are the sweet taste of honey and the hearty flavor of the wheat, kept whole and coarsely grained for a rustic, robust taste. Graham crackers are the perfect balance to sweet marshmallows and smooth chocolate.

Part 2: The Chocolate

An average chocolate bar melts between 86 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that you can enjoy that delicious melted texture without risking burning your mouth. Chocolate bars get their flavor from a balance of cocoa powder and cocoa butter, both extracted from the cocoa bean. If the cocoa beans are treated with an alkaline solution before being processed, this results in a milder chocolate flavor and a less acidic taste. We call this "Dutch processing," and it's usually very popular in baked goods. However, Hershey chocolate and other chocolate bars are not Dutch processed. This gives the s'more a little bit of a tangy flavor, which again compliments the sweetness of the marshmallow. Chocolate bars are also tempered so that they can retain their shape. Chocolate is heated and then mixed with unmelted chocolate chunks. This combination, along with strict temperature control, creates a stronger structure and allows for the chocolate to set in various molds.

Part 3: The Marshmallow

Marshmallows are one of the oldest confections of all. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, bakers would mix honey with the roots of a pink and white flower called a marshmallow to create a sweet, fluffy treat. Over time and lots of trials which were probably very delicious, bakers created a method using gelatin, sugar, and corn starch to create a fluffy, puffy candy. Originally, marshmallows were laid out in trays and traditionally square or other cut out shapes. But modern automation created the rounded shape we're all familiar with today.

Part 4: The Fire

When a marshmallow is heated, three things happen. Firstly, the air inside the treat heats and expands, making the marshmallow puff up. Secondly, the gelatin inside the marshmallow begin to melt. This creates the molten, gooey interior of the s'more. Lastly, the sugars on the surface heat up and bubble. This process is called caramelization. The sugar molecules begin to oxidize, changing the flavor and color. Too much oxidization and the sugars start to burn, although a charred marshmallow is preferred by many.

When the cooked marshmallow is placed on the chocolate, heat transfers from the marshmallow and into the chocolate, causing it to melt as well. Now that this marvel of science has been constructed, you're ready to begin testing. Taste testing!