Friday, April 25, 2014

Happy DNA Day: DNA Day Food and Activity Ideas

Happy DNA Day everyone!!!  Today, April 25th is the day we celebrate the discovery of DNA's double helix structure by James Watson, Francis Crick (and lets not forget Rosalind Franklin!) in April 1953 as well as the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003.  Although, they weren't really finished.  We still keep learning fascinating things about ourselves through the study of genetics, and it is more complex than we ever imagined!  

PS. Did you know that if you put all the DNA in your body end to end, it would measure approximately 200 billion kilometers? Sound familiar?

PPS.  I've actually been able to see James Watson speak on several occasions--what amazing experiences (that were far more entertaining than I would have thought).

What an amazing year of discovery and technology that we are celebrating!  In the past year:

  • The Supreme Court ruled that human DNA in its natural form is a product of nature and is not eligible for patent. This invalidated many patents on the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, opening up many additional testing options for people at risk.
  • Angelina Jolie announced that she had a prophylactic mastectomy after finding out she carried a mutation in one of the BRCA genes, bringing increased awareness to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome.
  • The oldest human DNA recovered to date was extracted from a 400,000 femur bone found buried in a Spanish cave.

Ok, yes, I get a bit excited about this stuff.  But genetics has been a huge part of my life for quite some time now.  I was probably one of the few kids who LOVED doing Punnett Squares in school.  Since then, I've seen the way genetics can work to save lives, and so, I feel strongly.  It has also lead to some pretty funny and dorky the time my brother asked me to play hangman, and my phrase was deoxyribonucleic acid :-)  He didn't guess it...

So to celebrate the day, I decided to make a dinner inspired by DNA!  These are fun and easy recipes that can be made quickly and maybe even spark some learning at the dinner table!  My DNA Day menu consists of DNA and histone meatball skewers, double helix pasta salad, and a side of Mendel's peas.  I was excited that my husband got some of these references...and that he doesn't look at me with a blank stare when I throw out some genetic terms.  

The DNA and Histone Meatball Skewers were a completely serendipitous find on Pinterest.  I had decided on my way home from school that I was going to do this, and when I got on to Pinterest, this just happened to be something pinned by someone I follow.  I changed up the recipe a bit, using James' standard meatball recipe.  Added bonus:  meatballs now frozen for meals months in the future.  

I also made a double helix pasta salad.  "Double helix" due to the fusilli pasta that I used in the recipe.  This is an old family recipe from my mom.  You can basically mix in anything you want into this salad.  It's great for picnics or on days that you want LOTS of leftovers (or just cut the recipe in half).  

Finally, I finished the meal with a side of Mendel's peas.  You may remember Gregory Mendel from school--he did the experiments on the pea plants that we used to do all those awesome Punnett Squares!  

PPPS.  If you want some fun activities for kids for DNA day, check out these links:

Extracting DNA from peas  (in case no one in your family actually likes those peas you cooked for dinner!)

DNA Day Dinner Menu

DNA & Histones Meatball Skewers
Adapted from Cookies and Cups

1 lb ground beef 
1/2 lb ground pork
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 tube solid sheet crescent dough 
Mozzarella cheese
Marinara sauce for dipping

Note:  this recipe makes a lot of meatballs.  You may want to halve this recipe if you don't want extras.  

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, pork, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, eggs, milk, garlic powder, salt and pepepr.  Use your hands to combine ingredients until just mixed.  Be careful not to over mix.   

Form mini meatballs and set aside.  

Unroll the crescent dough and use a pizza cutter to cut 1 inch strips.  Arrange the dough and uncooked meatballs on the skewer beginning and ending with the dough.  Be sure to leave some room for the dough to expand.  

Place skewers on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes.  Flip skewers and bake for an additional 2-3 minutes.  Flip skewers back over, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, and return to the oven until the cheese is melted.  Serve with marina sauce for dipping.

Double Helix Pasta Salad

1 lb fusilli pasta
1/4 package baby carrots
3/4 Cucumber
2.25 oz. sliced black olives
1/2 package sliced pepperoni
8 oz cheese of your choice (I used colby jack)
3/4 of a 16 oz. bottle of zesty italian dressing
3/4 of a 2.62 oz. jar of salad supreme seasoning mix

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions. In the meantime, chop the carrots, cucumber, pepperoni and cheese into bite size pieces and put into a large mixing bowl. Add the olives to the bowl as well.

When pasta is cooked, drain and rinse with cold water.  Strain well and add the pasta to the mixing bowl with the vegetables and cheese.  Add the salad dressing and salad supreme and stir until well combined.  Store pasta salad in the refrigerator until serving.  

This pasta salad is great with a variety of raw veggies, so add as many additional as you want.  

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