How to hard boil eggs

How to hard boil eggs

Hard boiled (actually hard-cooked) sometimes baffle people who want eggs that are easy to peel. There is so much misinformation out there that making good eggs becomes a huge worry. It’s not.

  • It doesn’t matter whether the eggs are fresh or old.
  • You don’t need to prick the end of the shell.
  • You don’t have to chill them much to make them peel. Just run them under cold water until they aren’t hot any more.

The key trick to making easy-peel eggs is that you start them in or above hot water. We tried all three in this longer article last year. They all work great.

Vegetable steamer

eggs in steamer

For us, the simplest way is to put a vegetable steamer in a pan, and add water till it is just below the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to a slow boil, and quickly lower the eggs onto the steamer using a slotted spoon.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Then run cold water into the pan, drain it and run cold water in again. Then, refrigerate them until you want to dye them, devil them or eat them.

Instant Pot

eggs in IPYou can make one or two dozen hard cooked eggs at once if you have an Instant Pot or other counter top pressure cooker. Just place a cup of water in the pot, and put your eggs on top of the trivet above the water.  Seal the pot and pressure-cook for 8 minutes.  Do not allow any cool-down time after the 8 minutes as the eggs will continue to cook. Release the pressure immediately, lift out the inner pot and run cold water into it. Rinse and run cold water on them again. They are then ready as above.

Boiling water

You can do this same trick in a pan of slowly boiling water. Bring the water to a boil and then quickly lower the eggs into the water and cook for about 10 minutes. Drain and cool as above.

3 cut open

This photo shows eggs cooked in the vegetable steamer, in a pan and in the Instant Pot 

How to fail

boil failYou can fail and get unpeelable eggs by starting them in cold water whether in a pan or on a trivet. You will also find them slightly harder to peel if you overcook them beyond 10 minutes. The yolks will become quite hard, and the eggs will be less flexible when you try to peel them.

Remember: start with boiling water!

That’s it!  Enjoy your holidays!

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Knot Norm’s: Best lobster roll in the state

Knot Norm’s: Best lobster roll in the state

If you want one of the best lobster rolls in New England (and probably the very best) you need to eat at Knot Norm’s: a new restaurant cum caterer along the harbor in South Norwalk. While the façade may be unprepossessing, the food is superb and Chef Jay LeBlanc really knows what he’s up to. The restaurant is at 10 1st Street, just around the corner from Seabreeze Ave. If you’ve gone to Harbor Lights, this is just around the corner.

The menu at Knot Norm’s is straightforward, but everything on it is excellent. In addition to the above-mentioned lobster roll, they have fried oysters, fried chicken, steak and cheese, brisket, BLT and pork belly rolls. Other entrees include roasted oysters,  fish tacos, fried chicken wings and beet and apple salad.

They also have a large number of bottled craft beers and a number of wines. On tap were Allagash White and Allagash Hoppy Table.

They also have various daily additions, which on Tuesday included clam chowder, potato-leek soup and lobster bisque. We had to try the Chowder ($8): it was served with frizzled onions and chives on top as well as the usual oyster crackers. The soup was thick without being gluey, full of potatoes and plenty of clams and was absolutely delicious.

Platter

But to get to the main event: the Lobster Roll is simply amazing. The lobster is steamed and then the shells removed and the lobster poached in butter. The lobster is served on a traditional toasted New England hot dog roll, with that same lobster butter poured over it. You also get a large bowl of potato chips, lemon, coleslaw and pickles. And, according to the chef, you get an entire lobster on that roll, about 6 oz of delicious lobster. You’ll probably never have a better lobster roll. And it is only $23.

blintzes

And if that isn’t enough (and it was really filling) it turns out that the chef tries out new dessert ideas on Tuesdays, and I got to sample a delicious Cheese Blintz made by rolling out those same hot dog buns, sprinkling them with cinnamon and sugar, spreading sweetened cheese on them, rolling them up and toasting them briefly. They were served with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream. Utterly amazing!

Here is a restaurant you simply have to go try! The food is terrific and the service excellent. The restaurant is small: about 16 seats, but there will be more outside as the weather warms. Tables turn fairly rapidly, I would expect because the menu is fairly limited. Parking is on-street and you may have to hunt a bit if it is busy. The 15 minute parking sign is not enforced at night.

The waitress told me that next time I really had to try the Lobster Bisque: unlike most bisques, this one has pieces of lobster floating in it!

 

The Grille by Thomas Keller on Seabourn

The Grille by Thomas Keller on Seabourn

Chef Thomas Keller is a consultant to Seabourn Cruises, and has created unique high-end restaurants on each the of larger ships. Keller is best known, of course, for his well-regarded French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Per Se in Manhattan.

While “The Grille by Thomas Keller” does not aspire to the nine courses you find in his land-based restaurants, it is an extremely good restaurant, especially since the standard ship dining room serves excellent 4-course meals every night. The Grille is smaller, however, and you must make reservations in advance. In fact you can make them on-line as soon as you have booked your cruise, as the restaurant is very popular and getting reservations once you are on board is very difficult. Repeat visits are nearly impossible to obtain.

seating

Literature provided in each room includes a booklet on the purveyors Keller uses for his floating gourmet experience. Farms, orchards, seafood, chicken, smoked meats, veal, cheese, beef and olive oil are all spelled out. (There is also a booklet on Spa and Wellness by Andrew Weil which is utter bull-pucky and can be discarded.)

Dinner at the Grille is served from 6pm to 9pm nightly and consists of starters, plates, sides and sweets, each served impeccably by an experienced staff.

iced veggiesOur dinner began with a dish of fresh vegetable on ice.

There is an element of theater to presentations in the Grill, with a number of dishes prepared table side. At our table, an order of Caesar salad was nearly a 3 act production, but quite entertaining, and the resulting salad was indeed very good.

 

They also prepare Dover Sole Meuniere at table side, as we noted when the next table ordered it.

Our other starter was a “Double Consomme ‘Celestine’,” with Black Winter Truffles and Julienned Crepes. Like most soups in the Seabourn dining rooms, the waiters bring you a bowl with the dry, floating ingredients and then pour in the soup liquid.

 

This was a light but really rich and flavorful soup that we picked because our main course was quite rich. The definition of “Celestine” is “heavenly,” and it was that good.

 

One of our entrees was dubbed “Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Medallions with Herb Crust,” and the lamb as tender and juicy as any you could imagine. It was prepared table-side, to the extent that they poured sauce over the lamb. As noted, it was delicious.

Our other entrée was Lobster Thermidor,  which amounts to lobster out of the shell served with a creamy sauce made with cream, vegetable and mushroom stocks, and a few croutons.

thermidor

Here is a typical recipe. While we didn’t get much in the way of table-side theater, this was one of the best lobster dishes we have ever had.

We also shared a side vegetable dish of excellent, multicolored buttered carrots.

 

Finally, our dessert was a gorgeous and delicious Lemon Meringue Tart, and since my birthday was the previous week, it came with a candle.

Dinner at the Grille is a delightful experience with superb service. However, the menu changes little during the week (the lamb wasn’t on every night) so if you are able to return, you may have to plan from the same menu. They are, however, delivered daily to your room for that purpose.

Other Keller influences

Once each week, the main dining room has a special Chef’s Dinner. On that same day, the secondary restaurant, called the Colonnade has a single menu dinner by chef Keller, consisting last week of Waldorf Salad, Grilled “RR” Ribeye, Cypress Hill Humboldt Fog cheese with wild flower honey and country bread, and Chocolate Silk Pie.

The service is “Family Style” meaning that they bring one platter for the whole table. Since most people on a cruise are just couples, this isn’t very significant, but cute. This is modeled on Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant in Napa. The kitchen staff also shouts out the order numbers, which is even sillier when everyone is getting the same meal. While we loved the beef, cheese and dessert, the Waldorf salad was rather weird, with just a few ultra-thin slices of apple mixed with the lettuce, celery, nuts and currants.

Seabourn Cruises: what are they like?

Seabourn Cruises: what are they like?

Seabourn is one of 4 or 5 providers of “luxury cruises,” where the level of service is very high: the price is pretty much all-inclusive. In Seabourn’s case, this means that gratuities are included as is all food and drink. (If you order a whole bottle of premium wine, you pay for it, but this is about the only cost.) Excursions are not included. Seabourn’s ships are rather small: most carry only 450-600 passengers, so you get exceptional service and attention.

We found the experience delightful and of high quality from beginning to end: our Caribbean cruise began on Barbados, and ended there, too, a week later. From the moment we arrived at the ship terminal, Seabourn personnel took over, welcoming us and taking our bags to be delivered to our suite. They quickly produced scannable ID cards that would open our rooms and served as identification to get on and off the ship, and sent us to the gangway with instructions to go to the 8th deck for lunch at the Colonade.  Lunch was more or less buffet style, but our waiter promised to bring us the food himself if we preferred, along with some nice wine.

After lunch we went to our room. We were greeted by our room stewardess, who helped us with anything we asked for. In fact, to our surprise, our luggage was already there.  Most rooms on Seabourn ships have a King sized bed or two single beds, a sitting area with TV, a veranda, a walk-in closet with ample storage, a bath with a two sink vanity, and a separate tub and shower stall.

We were on the Seabourn Odyssey, but the Seabourn Sojourn and Quest are essentially identical. Most of the rooms are 300 square feet, with a 65 square foot veranda.

Food on Seabourn cruises is uniformly excellent: the ship provides 5 dining options:  the less formal Colonade, the main Restaurant, which serves 4 course dinners every evening, the Patio by the pool, which serves pizza, burgers and similar fare, and the Grill by Thomas Keller which we’ll write about separately. Room service is also available 24 hours at no charge.

The  Pool area is a great place to relax both in the sun and in shaded areas, and in addition to the actual pool, there are two very nice whirlpools. The ship has 4 more such whirlpools on other decks, and these are terrific for relaxing after a tiring excursion. And, of course, the waiters are happy to bring you any drinks you might like.

pool

Service on Seabourn is uniformly excellent: and since there are only 459 passengers, the staff soon has learned your names and some of your preferences. Our waiter brought us one coffee, one tea and two glasses of orange juice every day before even taking our breakfast order. And since we had to vacate our rooms early on our last day, our room stewardess offered to bring us breakfast in bed.

While Seabourn’s offices are in Seattle, these are European ships with European electrical outlets, and only two US outlets in the suites: one in the bathroom for a razor and one on a little vanity shelf, while we charged our cell phones. There are no outlets near the bed and no US outlets near the desk for plugging in a laptop. However, the staff quickly provided a US extension cord for our needs. You might bring a European to US adapter with you.

There are more entertainment events than you can possibly attend: there was a cooking demo on making a Vietnamese fish stew by the head chef, and there are lectures on the geology of the islands you are visiting. The Seabourn Singers and dancers provide highly competent pop music performances and even one called Opera Favorites (if you believe Lloyd-Webber is opera). They also had a superb jazz combo and singer.

One silly Seabourn tradition is Caviar in the Surf, where the crew, dressed in whites stands in the surf handing out plates of caviar. However, because of rough seas, we could not take the water shuttles to land on Mayreau. So the crew set up the caviar ceremony in the pool, followed by the lobster barbecue. Brilliant improvisation!

WiFi is available for 40 cents a minute or for a flat weekly fee of $239. We only used it to check for news from our family and the minute charge was a better deal. The ship’s free internal WiFi allows you to check the ship’s daily schedule as well as to read a number of newspapers on line using the PressReader app, which you should install before you leave home.

While we spent most mornings on some sort of tour of the islands we visited: Guadeloupe, Nevis, Martinique, Grenada, Tobago and Barbados, we rested in the afternoons in a whirlpool and reading on our veranda.  This was for us an absolutely ideal vacation.  The prices on Seabourn are a little higher than on the larger mass-market cruise lines, but when you consider that gratuities and all food and drink are included, this is really a very good deal. And the service is simply superb.

sunset

HomeAdvisor: is it worth it?

HomeAdvisor: is it worth it?

As many of you know, HomeAdvisor has been blitzing the airwaves with their service to find contractors for  home improvement projects. So it was not unreasonable that we try them out when we found that we had 3 projects that we wanted carried out while we were on vacation last summer and our dog boarded so he wasn’t in their way.

We’ll tell you about our 3 contractors (2 great, one not) our experiences with HomeAdvisor and how contractors feel about dealing with them.

The floors and rugs: excellent job

We had our hardwood floors redone about 20 years ago and the finish has begun to wear off, and dirt was ground into the heavily trafficked areas.  We interviewed 3 contractors and settled on one of the more expensive ones, because they would move and replace all the furniture. Since we were redoing 4 rooms, there was no way we could to it for them because there just wasn’t room for all the furniture in the other rooms. The contractor we selected, Custom Floor Installations of Lake Carmel, NY, did an excellent job in all respects. We returned from vacation to beautiful new-looking floors, with all the furniture where it belonged. Five Stars.

Since we were having the floors redone, we also wanted two oriental carpets cleaned as well, and we hired Poohbear Rug Cleaning (also known as PJ’s) to take the carpets away and return them when we came back. They picked them up the day before we left, and brought them back the weekday after we returned. The rugs were clean and they put them back in place perfectly. Also Five Stars.

The driveway

We also decided to have our asphalt driveway sealed: another job best done when the dog is away. From three contractors, we selected Driveway Doctor of Bridgeport, explaining that we wanted the work done during the second week we were away. Scott quoted a fairly low price and promised to patch several holes with asphalt before sealing, and do it during the second week. He didn’t. In fact, he called that week to ask how our vacation had been. He hadn’t started and thought we were back. I told him it needed to be done by that Saturday when we returned.  It wasn’t.

In fact, when we called and left messages on the phone number on the HomeAdvisor web site, he never returned our calls. We finally contacted HomeAdvisor, who both called him and gave us his cell phone number. He finally showed up to do the asphalt patching a week later. Then we had to call to remind him that he still needed to seal the driveway. This took 2 more weeks, but when his driveway worker showed up, he didn’t first seal the cracks/ When we pointed that out, he promised to come back and do that and reseal over the cracks.

Our review vanished

He never came. In fact, after two more calls, it was apparent that he wasn’t coming back. So, we went to post a One Star review on Home Advisor. However, there was no sign on HomeAdvisor that we had hired him, so we created a review anyway.  Our review was never posted. Since it was a One Star review, HA noted in a popup that they may call me to check on the report. They didn’t.  And the review still hasn’t been posted.

A few weeks later, we got an Email from HomeAdvisor reminding us that we’d get a $50 credit if we hired 3 contractors. Of course, we had hired 3 contractors, but either HA or Scott had deleted records of that third contract, because he had never completed it satisfactorily. We contacted them to point that out, but they never responded.

It looks like there are very few negative reviews on HA, because they can be (and have been) deleted. This tends to skew the ratings, and makes me suspicious of the entire enterprise.

What do contractors think?

It doesn’t take much effort to find a site that reviews businesses like HomeAdvisor, and the reviews at SiteJabber are really very negative indeed. Contactors complain about being billed for bad leads, and referrals that are irrelevant to their business. So you might very well be ones of those bad referrals and the people you talk to might not even be in the business you are looking for.

We think there are better services to use than HomeAdvisor, and would never use them again.

Sweet potatoes were naturally made using GMO techniques

sweet-potato-fries-with-sea-56276If you look at the packaging for Alexia Sweet Potato Fries (which are actually very good) you will see “Non-GMO” and that annoying GMO Free butterfly label.  This is called fear-based marketing. We don’t use that scary GMO stuff (whatever that is) in our potatoes. But in the case of sweet potatoes, nature beat them to the punch.

Farmers breed plants all the time to get new, stronger and tastier varieties by crossing them. This is tricky because you usually then have to “back-cross” your new variety with its parents to make it more like its parent. And this can result in exchanging of over 10,000 genes! This was the way the pioneering plant biologist Norman Borlaug bred the wheat that saved Mexico and later India. For this he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Another way farmers and breeders have used is irradiation of seeds. This is kind of a crude technique, called mutation breeding, but it is how we got the current Ruby Red Grapefruit. You just have to plant the seeds and see what comes up. Then you save the good ones.  You can also perturb the seed using mutagenic chemicals (such as colchicine) to cause it to mutate. This is just as uncertain, but we have gotten a lot of nice flowers and a few vegetables that way.

The last way is using biotechnology to insert just the gene we want for the trait we want. This is the most precise method, but not everyone (except most scientists) is convinced that there aren’t some sort of unknown side effects. They usually use a bacterium called “agro” (for agrobacterium tumefaciens) which is a sort of a ring of DNA called a plasmid. This bacterium can insert genes into plants, and that is where the bulges come from you see on oak trees, called oak galls.

Now if biologists make that ring of DNA longer by including the genes they want in the plant they can persuade agro to do their insertions for them and this is the way most genetically modified crops are made today.

Here’s the news. This wasn’t our idea! That intellectual property belongs to a sweet potato! Virologist Jan Kreuze of the University of Washington in Seattle reported that they examined the genes of some 291 varieties of sweet potatoes from around the world, and found in all of them foreign genes from bacteria. Further, they found genetic sequences analogous to those in agro. And while they found these in sweet potatoes, they did not find them in close relatives.

Now, sweet potatoes are just the swollen parts of the plant’s roots and the authors theorize that this modification is what gives sweet potato plants this bulge; both are lacking from the close relatives. So sweet potatoes did their own “genetic engineering” some 8000 years ago, and farmers selected the plants with the best “bulge” to plant each year. And clearly after 8000 years we can be pretty sure there are no ill effects from eating them.

This is a pretty good indication that such genetic modification is perfectly safe, and every major scientific organization world wide agrees that this is true. You can find declarations from the AAAS, the AMA, and the EFSA.  Every major scientific society and national scientific organization has indicated that GMO foods pose no harm of any kind. Here is a good review in Scientific American by Pamela Ronald. And the position of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is very clear in stating that GMO crops pose no harm.

So, ignore those meaningless “non-GMO” marketing labels, and avoid products making those specious claims when you can. You may actually save money, too.

 

 

The Times, detoxing and other pseudo-science

The Times, detoxing and other pseudo-science

In last Sunday’s NY Times “T” section, an article by Kari Molvar asked “creative people to share their homemade recipes they count on to detox, cleanse – and refresh.” This should have been a very short article indeed, because there is no such thing as a detox or cleanse. Your liver is all you need to “cleanse” your system. And it does it very well! (See our article Medical Science says that Cleanses are Bogus.)

In this article, they interview artist Ana Kras about her recipe for a cleansing drink. How about another article on the kinds of sculptures scientists make?

At least that would be based on facts! This one, not so much.  Kras is known for her “modernist furniture, abstract drawings and photography.” But not for her knowledge of science, apparently.

She claims that her recipe (from California friend) is not only tasty but can have “medicinal properties.” NO proof, of course.

Her recipe consists of vegan, organic masala chai spice and ground vanilla powder. Well, both “vegan” and “organic” are more ritualistic concepts than ingredients, and “chai spice” is just a mixture of common household spice like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom, as shown above.

Where she goes off the rails is in adding a mixture of weird, unpronounceable “adaptogenic” spices like “ashwagandha, cordyceps, mucuna pruriens and reishi.” None of these ingredients have been found to be safe and effective for any purpose, and some can be dangerous in quantity.

Adaptogenic” is a pseudo-scientific term implying that the herbs may adapt to your body’s needs. This has never been shown to be true.

Kras claims in the article that this spiked tea drink may improve immunity and mental clarity. Of course, none of those crackpot ingredients do anything of the sort, and same may be dangerous, because they are pretty much unregulated.

Kras serves her chai with cashew cream (with a crushed date) or almond milk. Probably tasty, but of no particular benefit. It looks like she is trying to avoid dairy (for no good reason) but adding cream instead would be easier and cheaper, and still taste very good. Make your chai tea and enjoy it. Leave out the wacko spices, and tell the Times they are full of malarkey!

The Tavern at Graybarns: Excellent

The Tavern at Graybarns: Excellent

The Graybarns Inn opened in mid-2017 where the old Silvermine Inn used to be. The Glazier Group has undertaken substantial renovations, and created six luxury suites from around $650 a night. More to the point, they completely redid the old Silvermine Tavern to the somewhat smaller and much more elegant Tavern at Graybarns, which opened last October.

Tables

The restaurant, unlike its sprawling predecessor with indifferent food, is a single room with around 20 tables and a crackling fire and excellent food created by Chef Ben Freemole. There is also a second smaller room for group events. Last night it looked like there might be a birthday party there, maybe a Sweet Sixteen party for about 15 young women.

It seemed difficult to get weekend reservations there because of the restaurant’s popularity, so we decided to go on a Thursday evening at 5:45. OpenTable gave us a choice of only a couple of early times, but in fact the restaurant was never more than half full, with about  seven tables occupied. This may have something to do with how many tables the restaurant releases to OpenTable or who might be coming for later dining.  However, even on weekends, the waitress told us you may be able to get a reservation by calling and asking if there have been cancellations.

barBecause of the foggy weather, we left and arrived early, and while we could have gone directly to our table, the hostess suggested we might want to have a drink at the bar before being seated. This was a great idea:  the bar was warm and comfortable and just steps from the dining room. It was beautifully decorated, with the mid-bar pillar being some of the tavern’s original lumber. In addition to the conventional drinks, they have a selection kooky sounding cocktails, including “Greyhound” and “Corpse Reviver.”

When we were seated at our table, we were immediately provided with some wonderful, crusty bread and unsalted butter topped with a bit of sea salt (you can get it without the salt if you want). And, soon after we ordered we also got a lovely bowl of mixed olives to munch on.

The menu is not huge, but consists of 9 Small Plates ($13-$21) and 10 Large Plates ($19 to $36), plus $50 Strip Steak and a 40 oz Porterhouse for two ($130). While you can order a number  of lovely things, you can also just order the beautiful Tavern Double Cheeseburger for just $19.

crab toast

The menu varies daily, with their additions printed on the menu that day. We were both taken with the Crab Toast ($21) as an appetizer, served on sourdough toast with espelette pepper in the sauce, and topped with chives. The crab was plentiful and the mildly peppery sauce way more interesting than the usual creamy goo you might have had elsewhere.

duck

For one main course, we ordered Duck Breast ($36) served with grilled radicchio strips, a bit of parsnip puree and parsley, along with some surprise sweet potato chips. The duck was tender, juicy and medium rare as we’d hoped, and the portion was substantial.

Our other entrée was Reginetti Pasta ($24) with short ribs sugo, rosemary and pecorino.  This is the sort of dish where the short rib meat was in hiding under the pasta, so we include a close-up to show the featured meat as well. This may have been the winning dish that night: the flavors of the pasta, beef and pecorino harmonized so well.

pudddingThe dessert menu was limited to just 3 items: Apple Crisp, Chocolate Mousse and Sheep’s Milk Triple Cream cheese, each for $9. We elected to split the chocolate mousse, and this was the evening’s only misfire. It was just chocolate pudding, with no liqueur flavor or anything else to distinguish it. Little different than the classc pudding I use in making a chocolate pie.

Even with the relatively small house that night, the noise level was significant, with some noise coming from the patrons and more from the bar area. If the restaurant had been full, it would have been quite a bit more so.

Our bill, with tax but before tip, including 2 drinks($22) and 2 glasses of wine ($32) was $187.18.We also needed to tip the valet parking and the coat check.

However, over all, this was a top notch experience with excellent and service and décor and excellent food and drink. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

outside

Antioxidants: another scam?

blueberriesWe know that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables are generally more healthy than those who don’t and people have hypothesized that the antioxidants in those fruits are the reason. According to this hypothesis, free radicals in the body can do damage to cells and genes and even cause cancer. And antioxidants can vacuum up free radicals by combining with them.

This theory keeps being repeated by cooking writer who somehow have taken this as gospel, particularly those exposed to the unaccredited Institute for Integrative Nutrition, who scams hundreds of students each year. They push the idea of colorful fruits and veggies being more healthful.

The trouble is, we really don’t have any idea what those free radicals are there for and whether they really should be Hoovered up. This discussion comes from one I found in Ben Goldacre’s delightful book “Bad Science.”

You can buy all kinds of antioxidants in pharmacies and health food stores, pretty much unregulated, and to hear the pill peddler talk, they might do some good and can’t do any harm, but we don’t know for sure.

Actually we do know. There have been a number of very good studies on these issues and the results are not encouraging.

In a 1996 Finnish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of 29,133 male smokers were randomly assigned to receive the antioxidants alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, both or a placebo for 5-8 years. The study followed incidence of lung cancer in the subjects, and it was found that

No overall effect was observed for lung cancer from α-tocopherol supplementation, and

β-carotene supplementation was associated with increased lung cancer risk.

 

In another trial called CARET for Carotene and Retinol Efficiency Trial, the results were worse. They followed 18,314 smokers, former smokers and workers exposed to asbestos, giving them a combination of beta-carotene and retinol (Vitamin A) daily, or a placebo. They found that the risk of death from lung cancer was 1.46 times greater in the active treatment group than in the placebo group, and the trial was stopped 21 months early.

The Cochrane Database is a collection of reviews of papers on hundreds of medical topics, and is a major destination for scientists seeking to review the work in any medical area. The review Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases was published this March and finds similar conclusions:

The current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases.

So, it would seem that eating your fruits and veggies is still a great idea, but antioxidant supplements are useless or even worse.

 

Should you buy an Instant Pot for Christmas?

Should you buy an Instant Pot for Christmas?

dsc_0004The Instant Pot is as much a cultural as a culinary phenomenon that was successfully marketed using social media as well as through Amazon.  If you followed the online comments and the various Facebook groups (which come and go regularly), you would think that this is the cooking appliance of a lifetime which not only prepares delicious meals in a single pot, but can also walk your dog and pay your mortgage.

It’s a handy appliance, but the hype easily gets out of hand. Basically the Instant Pot is a counter top electric pressure cooker: easier to use and possibly safer than the clunky old stovetop pressure cookers but that is its main function. However, they call it a “multicooker,” because you can also use it as a rice cooker (which it does very well), a slow cooker (which it does, but not so well) and a sauté pot, which is silly because you can do that on the stove without getting out and washing that big pot.

As the Instant Pot Internet fad grew, people were trying to make all sorts of recipes in their new gadget: some terrific and some not much better than the usual way. Like any other tool, you just need to ask whether you save any time, when allowing for dragging the pot out of the cupboard, and washing it all afterwards. The 6 quart pot is deep enough that your dishwasher may not get it completely clean.

In fact, there were at one time, quite a number of Facebook groups sharing Instant Pot recipes. Many seemed to have been sponsored by the Instant Pot company, and while they generated a lot of early enthusiasm, most have been shut down, partly because they were full of recipes that really weren’t very good.

So here are the things the Instant Pot does really well:

Stews

Anything you can make as a beef or chicken stew will come out faster and better in an Instant Pot. For example: Beef Bourguignon,  Beef Stew, Coq au Vin and any similar dish. If your stew  recipe includes wine or brandy, cut back on it as the alcohol won’t evaporate during cooking, and the steam may be flammable.

steaming-stew

Ribs

DSC_0007

You can make really good pork ribs (or beef ribs) in the Instant Pot, cooking them with a couple of cups o

f liquid (like apple cider) for about 30 minutes. But then, to get the browned flavor, you need to spread them with sauce and brown them under the broiler or on a gas or charcoal grill.

Stocks

dsc_0002

You can take the bones from a roast chicken or a turkey and turn them into several quarts of delicious stock. This works for beef stock too.  I add some veggies and a leek to the liquid along with the bones. You can freeze the resulting stock for some months. If you want to call it “bone broth,” cook it a little longer.

Tomato Sauce

Filled pot

If you are into canning fresh tomatoes to make tomato sauce, you can save a lot of time by using the Instant Pot to cook down the fresh tomatoes.

Rice

Yes, absolutely. Not only does the rice cook perfectly, the pot keeps it warm for a long time afterwards. We often make the rice, take it out and cover it and keep it warm and use the Instant Pot to make the main dish. It really doesn’t matter if the rice cools a bit if you are covering it with hot stew anyway.

Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs

3 cut open

The main advantage of the Instant Pot is that you can make hard boiled eggs that peel perfectly. But, if you are making one or two eggs for garnish, you can cook them more quickly in a vegetable steamer. But for Easter, or for making a dozen or two for deviled eggs, the Instant Pot is your friend. We recommend cooking them for 5 minutes and letting the pot cool for 3 more before opening it. The timing is the same no matter how many eggs you cook: the pot just takes longer to heat up.

Scrambled Eggs

plated

Just for fun, we decided to try scrambled eggs in the Instant Pot. They take about 7 minutes, but you can do them just as fast or faster in a pan. The only real advantage is that you don’t have to keep stirring them while they cook.

Poached Eggs

Some people have tried to make poached eggs in the Instant Pot, but since you have to put each egg into its own cup, you can’t make very many at once, and getting the eggs out of the cups without burning yourself is difficult. Further, it is much quicker to just poach them in boiling water as we show here.

Desserts

Cheesecake

sliced2

Once of the best dishes you can make in the Instant Pot is Cheesecake. It cooks at about the same rate as in the oven, but because of the steam, it never cracks and is much smoother. The only disadvantage is that you are limited to a 6.5 to 7 inch pan that will fit inside the pot.

Steamed puddings

You can also make quite a good Indian Pudding in the Instant Pot as well as a good Christmas Plum Pudding.

Things that don’t work very well

The place where the Instant Pot falls down is in recipes where browning of the food is integral. You want the browning so the Maillard reaction add flavor, and unless you can brown after cooking, like with the pork ribs, most other recipes aren’t improved by the IP. Be very suspicious of any recipe that only take 3-5 minutes. You probably don’t need to get your pot dirty for it.

Fish and Seafood

This is really not a useful idea, since you can cook fish in 5 minutes or so. Why haul out the pot, when you can do it in any pan more quickly?

Macaroni and Cheese

Like a lot of other things that aren’t that good, macaroni and cheese really needs to be backed and browned. There’s no way to do that in the Instant Pot. It just gets another dish dirty.

Steel cut oats

This was one of the big recipes early on, but since it is just oatmeal, people have decided that there is very little different than other packaged oats recipes you cook in a pan. Even the Instant Pot recipe only takes 3 minutes.

Chinese Stir Fry Recipes

Chinese cooking involves browning, and just doesn’t work in an Instant Pot.

Clam Chowder

Even the Recipe in the Instant Pot recipe book only takes 5 minutes. You don’t need the pot for this one.

Mashed Potatoes

At  first we thought cooking the potatoes in the Instant Pot was an improvement, but after several trials, we decided we could do just as well in a saucepan on the stove.

Veal recipes

Veal scallops are sautéed quickly.  The Instant Pot won’t help you here.

Vegetables

For the most part, vegetables cook too quickly for the IP to be much use. But you can quickly cook dried beans in your Instant Pot, and there are some decent recipes for squash soups.

Casseroles

Need to brown. Not much reason for the IP.

Fruits

Probably the same as vegetables: not much use for the pot. Making jams and marmalades requires cooking the fruit down slowly, and this is not possible in a closed pot.

In closing

The Instant Pot is a valuable kitchen tool for shortening long cooking recipes and for making rice and maybe for hard cooked eggs. But don’t be over sold and throw away your pots and pans and cookbooks!